Sunday, October 19, 2008

Little Man's recipe for Pumpkin Muffins

"Put the canned pumpkins in a bowl of sugar. I really am a recipe because I make up recipes, you know those things that make up recipes and are boys? They're called a recipe man because they make up recipes.

"Let it sit there for a minute and get a little bit of water. Then we have to find, cut-it-out, paper coffee filters, for the paper of the muffin, and the bread part has to be soil, bread and a recipe cook. So we have to be a expert for that. OK? Well, that's it. The pumkin muffins are cooked. Want to look at them?"

Another one for the cookbook.

Friday, October 17, 2008


"Mommy, you smell good-- look, smell yourself! That's why I like you better than Daddy, because you smell gooder than Daddy. Daddy smells like a planet dipped in sauce. You smell like ice cream!"

birthday hell

Does anyone but me freak out about their children's birthdays? My mother used to make birthday cakes in the shapes of animals: horses, elephants, rabbits. The neighborhood kids would be invited, along with local family members: aunts, uncles, cousins. We would all wear those cardboard birthday hats with the slightly painful elastic string under our chins, sing "Happy Birthday to you!" and watch the birthday kid blow out candles and open presents. It was fairly simple. Nowadays, the parents host their birthday parties at children's gyms, amusement parks, bowling alleys, fire stations. They hire magicians or clowns or storytellers. They invited not three or four but twenty kids. I have taken my kid to these parties. The birthday kid is often looking a little shy, holding back. The whole scene looks like a class on a field trip, rather than an individual kid's party. That would make more sense for an eight-, or even six-year-old. But three-going-on-four? Too young, I think.

Last year, I invited the entirety of Little Man's playgroup from my pre-back-to-work days, all of whom he saw regularly for a year or so. It was maybe six kids and their siblings and moms (and, in one case, a palpably bored dad). Not so big, right? And yet, Little Man was overwhelmed, and mostly sat anxiously in my lap while I chatted with one or two of the moms. Granted, we have a tiny house, and it felt very cramped, but I was still surprised, since he had known these kids most of his life. It was only after the cake part was over, when many of them left, and it was only two kids and their moms in the backyard, that he started having a good time, running around and giggling with the two kids who were still there.

So I was thinking, this year for my kid's birthday (in two weeks), No. How about, instead, inviting two of his closest friends, and some (adult) family friends that he adores, letting the kids play in the local playground and them bringing them home to the house for pizza and cake? I did look into other options: a local indoor kid's gym, etc., but they seem to expect a big party, and I wanted to avoid that. So I'm planning this very low-key event, pleased with myself for staying so sane, when Little Man starts telling me in no uncertain terms, "I don't want my birthday to be at home! I want it to be somewhere special!" Did I mention his birthday is in two weeks? Well, I planned the party a week early, because his dad has to go out of town the weekend of his actual birthday. So, one week.

So, what I do now is, well, what? Keep the small event, and plan something bigger for sometime next month? And who would I invite to a bigger party, in a more fun place than our little cramped cave of a house? His entire preschool class? He's only been at his new school for a month and doesn't seem yet to have made individual friends. There are 25 kids in his class. He barely remembers his playgroup friends, and we've only stayed in contact with one kid from his old school.

Now that I'm writing about it, I realize that the problem is really numbers. I don't want a party of 20 kids, because I know my kid, and it's too much. He wouldn't like it. He does want it to be in a special place. So, maybe I call the local firehouse and see if they'll host a 3-kid party? In a week?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Young and big, old and small

It's the blending of big-guy independence and little-guy vulnerability that shivers my heart into splinters at unexpected moments. Not the independence itself ("I can do it, Mama!" he insists as he squirts something close to his body weight in soap onto his hand), nor his not-infrequent moments of wanting to be a baby again ("Can I cuddle you, Mommy?" he says sleepily, sliding his bare feet over the wood floor to my chair at the dinner table, his hands already preparing to grip my arms as he climbs up into my lap, all forty-some-odd pounds of him). Both of these make me smile and grimace at the same time, amused and touched. They happen daily, so frequently that they barely register in the crowds of other, needlessly anxious thoughts about work to get done, money to scramble for, character flaws to worry over, small annoyances to dwell on. (Who was it who said "My mind is a bad neighborhood I shouldn't go into alone"?) Rather, the eerie, minor-key overlay of one perspective on the other.

This morning, I drove Little Man to his new school (which I love: it's a Montessori school, much more suited to his quiet temperament than his old school was). It's a beautiful autumn morning, the first chilly day, a little cloudy, but in that pretty autumn way that makes you want to build a wood fire and eat apples while wearing hand-knit sweaters. Little Man is getting over a cold, so his voice is a little rough, he's a little less chatty on the way to school. He's wearing his new back-to-school clothes: a long-sleeved shirt, tan cargo pants, froggy rain boots, carrying his dinosaur lunchbox. When he's climbing into my lap at home, or pretending that I'm the big bad wolf and he's the woodsman who cuts me open to save Little Red Riding Hood and her hapless grandmother, he seems huge, strong, ferocious even, able to withstand anything. In this moment, on the way to school, he seems so small, so vulnerable, so open to anything. I ask him if he wants a handful of Kleenex to stuff into his pants pocket, in case his nose gets runny, and he nods, having admitted that he would feel shy about asking his new teacher for one. His hand as I put the Kleenex into it feels warm, silky, and very small.

I pull up to the door to drop him off. One of the teachers comes to the car to retrieve him from his car seat. He's very business-like about this: hands her his lunchbox, pauses to push the Kleenex deeper into his pocket, takes her hand to step out of the car in his green froggy boots, barely pausing to respond to my "Bye sweetie! I love you!" with a quick waved hand. He's preoccupied with getting out of the car, following the teacher's directions; he's in his school mode now. The teacher leads him to the steps to wait while she retrieves another child from the car waiting behind mine, so I have to go, but as I start driving away I look back to see Little Man standing on the steps, not watching me leave, looking strangely small against the gray stone steps, his cheeks a little flushed with the morning chill. Not clinging to me or begging me to stay, as he used to do, just waiting for the next stage in his school day.

I surprised myself by blinking back tears as I pulled into traffic. Do I want him to stay a baby? Well, yes, of course I do, in a way. The idea of his growing up and leaving home eventually is awful and wonderful at the same time. But it's the small sensualities I'm afraid of losing: not only the "Can I cuddle you, Mama?" moments, but also the "karate-chop!" moments when he pretends to cut off my arm. All of it, the profound and the mundane.

The other night, in my pre-bedtime sleepiness, I was sitting at the kitchen table, idly looking through the newspaper before starting bedtime rituals, and Little Man came in, engrossed in examining the wheel of one of his trains, to see why it wasn't turning anymore. He saw me sitting there and came over close and leaned against my arm, still fiddling with the train wheel. My arm came out and went around him and I kissed the top of his head as I went on paging through the newspaper. We stayed like that for several moments, until he wandered away to find a different train car. I wanted to call after him, "Honey, will you still do that when you're forty? Promise me!"

If he does -- if when he's forty and living in his own house with his own family, and I am visiting him, and I am sitting creakily at the kitchen table, paging with arthritic crone-like fingers through whatever freaky digital form of newspaper they will have by then (maybe floating slightly above the floor because we will be living on a space station, having caused too much destruction to earth to live there anymore), and he comes in idly tinkering with his kid's toy and leans against me for a moment, unconsciously, before wandering away again -- if he does, I will be grateful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

See, I could be an advice columnist!

A word of advice: if you're a slightly overtired parent who accidentally got into the shower with her glasses on, and you then took them off and placed them carefully on the shelf over the toilet while you finished your shower, don't -- and I repeat, don't -- wait until you've slathered your hands with moisturizer before you attempt to retrieve them from the shelf.

Which, as I say, is over the toilet.

I'll leave it at that.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Little Man's recipe for homemade bread

"I know how they make bread. First they pop the popcorn. Then they put the bread on top. Then they plant it outside in the garden. Then they put the crust on. Then they put it in the oven. And then it comes out really tasty and yummy!"

I hope you're taking notes.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Little Man: Why can I walk now?
Me: What do you think?
Little Man: Because my knees are all better.
Me: That's right!

Jumping from the arm of the couch into a pile of pillows. Hopping from one foot to the other across the room. Explaining that the reason he didn't fly when he jumped from the second highest rung of the playground ladder is because "I forgot to flap my wings!" Disappearing for a few minutes, and then yelling from the bathroom, "Mommy, I'm pooping!"

I am grateful to be on the road to taking these things for granted again. It's a strange age, 3-going-on-4. He is articulate for his age, but he is still a three-year-old, who doesn't like talking about boo-boos very much, because talking leads to looking, and looking leads to bandaids, and bandaids leads to the horrible taking off of bandaids, which is best avoided. He will answer differently at different times, because he lives zennishly in the moment; so, in the morning he will say "I'm not standing because it hurts" and in the afternoon he will say "I'm not standing because it feels weird, but it doesn't hurt."

All of which brings to mind the time I had him in the doctor's office with some minor virus or other, and a trainee doctor asked him whether his ears hurt, and he said "yes" and Dr. Trainee looked at me and asked me, in so many words, whether to believe him or not. I thought for a minute, and then looked at Little Man and asked, "Honey, did you vote in the last election?" and he said with easy-going assurance, "Yes I did!" Language is fluid, definitions are foggy, assurances are creative. This is not lying so much as practicing the grownup art of conversing, as when Michael and I are talking about something boringly grownup at dinner, some kind of long-term financial planning or whatever, and Little Man will pipe up and say something like "I think life insurance is due at the library!"

He wants to be a part of adult conversation, and he's feeling his way, just as he did with learning to walk, or feed himself. It's a beautiful thing to watch, but it makes it hard to judge whether an injury is scary or not. So you develop the ability to wait and watch without panicking. Well, without panicking too much.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


The surreal experience of Little man's enigmatic injury got a little bit worse before it got better. When we finally got to talk to his doctor at 10:30 pm. the day after the x-rays, she said they were inconclusive ("ossification on the patella -- injury to the knee can't be ruled out") and that we should go to a pediatric orthopedist for a bone scan. "Pediatric bone scan" -- not a reassuring phrase.

The next morning, she had her office staff call around everywhere to see where they could get us in that day, since it had already been so long since the fall, and her receptionist called and asked "So tell me, are you on skates?" This was 10:30, and we had to be in Wilmington, Delaware by noon, with the x-rays in hand. We zoomed out the door with uncharacteristic efficiency and were there half an hour early, starving but armed with the box of power bars my husband keeps in his office to stave off hunger pangs. (We each had one in the car on the way. Michael reading to me from the map quest printout: "Was that exit 8 or exit 9? Get into the right lane!" while L.M., chewing, musing: "Ack-chooly, I don't really like these. Can I have another one?")

Little Man got very interested in the huge fish tank in the colorful waiting room of the children's hospital ("Is that big orange one playing hide and seek? What's that big pink thing? Why is there bubbles? Did he just eat a rock? Why did he spit it out?") while Michael and I stood around chewing our nails. Finally we were called in to a "room" which was not so much a room as an area (it was instantly clear this was a hospital and not simply a doctor's office: the weird pastel-striped curtain hanging from the ceiling on little metal tracks was a dead giveaway, plus the shuddering flashbacks I was having to my appendectomy and also my ovarian cystectomy).

The first doctor who came in was very nice, despite looking alarmingly like Doogey Houser, M.D. -- too young and too earnest to actually know anything. He had us go in for more x-rays down the hall and then come back, and when we came back we waited and waited, and the only reason we figured out what we were waiting for was because little chipper L.M. (as far as he was concerned, we were on a mildly entertaining adventure of some kind) got bored and wanted me to carry him around for a walk, where we happened to run into Doogy, who mentioned as an aside that he had called in his boss and was waiting for a reply. Gee, thanks for letting us know!

When at last the long-awaited authority figure came in -- an older tall, thin man with a nearly cadaverous face and owlish wire-rimmed glasses, very grim-looking and expressionless -- I thought to myself, Uh-oh, let's make this quick and get out of here before he scares Little Man to death. But he didn't. He spoke with us quickly, efficiently, and then crouched on the floor to address Little Man directly where he sat on my lap. "So what stickers do you have there?" he asked him conversationally, matter-of-factly, as if he took it for granted that Nemo stickers constituted reasonable adult conversation. Little Man told him a little bit about the stickers the nurses had given him, and answered each question thoughtfully, seriously, backtracking as needed to correct his own statements: "I think this is Nemo. No, I haven't seen the movie but I know about him. He's orange and he's a fish. This other one has stars I think. I think they're stars. No, here's a butterfly. Butterflies can fly but they don't sting." The doctor looked calmly into L.M's eyes and peppered him with questions, and it took me a minute to notice that both of the doctor's hands were gently manipulating and exploring L.M.'s knees with efficient, practiced fingertips, as if he were reading Braille. L.M. did not react to the doctor's fingers except here and there, and the doctor seemingly paid no attention but kept his fingers moving while continually asking questions, "Does Nemo eat fruit? What do butterflies eat? Did you ever see a butterfly that was orange?" And L.M. answered him, responding comfortably to the doctor's conversational tone and respectful eye contact.

I was a little bit in awe. When Dr. Cadaver finally stood up and reported his findings to us ("he's not reacting to any discomfort except in one area of the left kneecap, and there's no swelling or any evidence of a fracture. I think it's a bad contusion, and he's being intuitively careful to let it heal..."), it became clear to me that he had been purposefully engaging L.M's conscious mind in order to gauge his bodily reactions. This is probably pretty standard stuff for a doctor, particularly one who works with kids all day, particularly one who works with kids with broken bones all day -- and it occurs to me that I've probably watched our regular pediatrician do it here and there, but still. What I liked about it was that I came expecting a bone scan with fancy machines and lots of lights and beeps and buttons, and what I got was a sixties-ish guy's skinny hands, massaging my kid's knees while speaking directly into his eyes.

It seemed a very old-fashioned kind of medicine, like a medieval midwife or a tribal healer, and I liked it. His recommendation was that we watch him: "Don't force him to stand, but don't stop him. If things don't improve in one week, bring him back to me." In other words, trust him and leave him alone. Geez, trust the 3-year-old patient? what is this, some kind of voodoo? Michael and I were grinning all the way home.

And L.M. straightened both legs by bedtime, and the next morning tentatively half-stood on both legs. "How does it feel?" I asked him. "A little weak," he said ruefully, and smiled at me. He's still not walking -- and tomorrow will be a week since he fell -- but I am entirely comfortable with it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

In matters of importance

Little Man and I had this exchange this morning.
Me: You're more important to me than anything else in the whole world!
First he starts a little, then a pause, and then:
LM: It startled me when you said that!
Me: Really? Didn't you know that?
Another pause.
LM: [shaking his head in wonder] I really didn't know that.

He's had a weird injury this week. He fell along the cement walkway in the backyard and skinned both knees pretty badly. Not a big deal, I thought, even as he cried and cried. His dad and I got his knees washed, sprayed with antiseptic and bandaged, and then he wanted to curl up on the couch with me and read a book together, which we did. Then he fell asleep, which was odd at that time of day, but not entirely unprecedented.

It's three days later, and he has yet to straighten his legs, much less stand or walk. We've been to the doctor, we've had an x-ray, we're waiting for word. At night he yells and cries in pain, and I give him as much Tylenol as I dare to, but during the day he seems just fine, except for the no-walking thing. He plays, he laughs, he puts dinosaur stickers on a sheet of paper and displays them proudly to me. I lift him on and off the toilet, I carry him from room to room; he stay on the couch or the floor or at the kitchen table for hours. He scoots around on the floor just like The Little Lame Prince, making my heart shrink in my ribs so that it's hard to breathe properly.

The doctor felt all up and down his legs and nothing hurt; she could find no evidence of any other injury besides the surface scrape. The X-ray technician was very kind and patient with him when he refused to straighten his legs because "it hurts!" Bit by bit, inch by inch, she managed to convince him to straighten his legs: "just a little tiny bit more! you're doing great! you're braver than Superman!" And he did, he managed to straighten not only the less-injured leg, but the leg with the dreaded neon-orange bandaid with the more terrible scrape, almost all the way, long enough for four X-ray shots on each leg. He cried a little and clung to me, pulled my head close to his and gripped my neck tightly with both arms, but he did it.

And hasn't done it again since. We're waiting for the doctor to call with the results of the X-ray, and I can't concentrate on anything else, even though school starts in a week and a half and I haven't done my syllabuses yet. What the fuck could it be?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Foggy-Minded Mama

There is something wrong with me, seriously wrong. (That was part of the original impetus for this blog, actually, but being me I never got around to saying so.) I don't get things done. I'm disorganized. I actually have fantasies of living in a different kind of environment, one in which things get done in a reasonable and orderly way. Is it weird to fantasize about order?

Maybe not, if you're the mother of a 3-year-old. Little Man's interactions with the world are, of course, appropriate for his age. He wreaks havoc quite naturally, unconsciously, with no malice aforethought. He gets interested in the refrigerator magnets, and so ends up dropping all the schedules, photos, artwork, invitations, etc. to the floor, and doesn't notice. He wants a particular tiny truck to drive on the road he's just drawn on a piece of paper, so he dumps out one of his many toy buckets on the living room rug -- and then another one, and then another one, until he finds it. He doesn't care or even notice that his parents can no longer walk through the living room without twisting an ankle on a circus train, or tripping on a large plastic dump truck. Or that, the next time he's rushing to the stairs to go up to the bathroom, he will have to pick his way carefully among the many obstacles in his way.

Of course, I could be better at training him to put things away after he makes the various messes he has every right to make. But can I, really? When I am such a slob myself? The slob thing is actually new to me. When I lived alone in a studio apartment, with minimal furniture, straightening up after myself was not a problem. I did it naturally, unconsciously, in much the same way that Little Man makes his messes. But now that I live with a family, a family with too much stuff and not enough room, and the straightening work is undone thirty-four seconds after it's done, my old system does not work, and I have not replaced it.

Part of the problem is that I read too much. If I have 30 minutes to wait while a casserole is baking, will I take the opportunity to de-clutter the kitchen table so we can eat when it's done? I do not. I sit down and read. Often a book or magazine I've read before, or a random cookbook (I like reading cookbooks), or a stray newspaper that's been sitting around for three days. Why? Because straightening up is boring and repetitive, and I have no tolerance for it.

What's wrong with me is not that I'm a slob, it's really that I daydream too much. And reading is just an extension of daydreaming for me. It's like floating. Oh, once in awhile I can get into a frenzy of action and usefulness, and I zoom through the house, cleaning and straightening and organizing as I go, like a ferocious wind, or like that machine near the end of The Cat in the Hat, when the cat-of-disorder becomes the cat-of-order. (I love that machine. I want that machine.) But mostly, action does not come naturally to me. I hesitate; I avoid. When I start a clearing project, I often abandon it halfway through.

Here's a telling incident: I was driving to the train station to pick up my partner, Little Man in his carseat in the back. I noticed the setting sun to our right, and pointed it out to Little Man (channeling my naturalist father, who died while I was pregnant; I compensate for his absence in my son's life by attempting at every opportunity to infuse Little Man with his love of nature). However, at the time I was driving through an intersection. I had stopped at the stop sign, of course, because I'm not that far gone yet. But I had forgotten that the cross street did not, in fact, have a stop sign and so the cars on that street had no reason to stop or even slow down. So I'm driving slowly through the intersection, pointing idiotically at the setting sun while oncoming traffic is attempting to get through the same intersection, only my car is in the way. I am, in fact, pointing at them, or through them, at the setting sun. And the driver immediately facing my pointing finger? A police officer. A bored police officer, frustrated with his boring job in a small town where nothing ever happens.

Of course, he pulled me over. And equally of course, he misinterpreted my pointing finger as a rude attempt to communicate to him that I wanted him to stop. He was very angry at my perceived rudeness, of course. He did not at first believe that I was pointing out the sunset to my son. He didn't even see my son at first, and actually asked, when I tried to explain, "Who were you pointing out the sunset to?" in a very sarcastic voice, as if he were talking with either a hallucinating lunatic, or a particularly unskilled liar.

Of course, he was a jerk to yell at me. But my point is, he may have been right to have a hard time believing that anyone would be so stupid as to be paying attention to the setting sun in preference to the oncoming traffic bearing down on her son's car seat, not noticing that she was pointing directly into the face of a cop. It was a moment when my slightly altered state of consciousness was made vividly clear, even to me. I'm not usually that bad; I'm actually a very good driver, but it did worry me. Is it dementia? lack of sleep? Will my son live to adulthood?

Note: at this very moment, I'm writing this post instead of grading the 106 papers sitting in front of me. Of course, maybe avoiding that is not indicative of anything except common sense.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A detour on the way to where you're going

In an earlier post, I mentioned a trip to the zoo which led to a minor epiphany.... That might be overstating the case. It was one of those weird moments when part of your mind is deeply uncomfortable, while another part of your mind is trying to tell you, "Hey -- pay attention. This might be important." (Hm, that sounds familiar. Is that a quote from Harriet the Spy? Geez, be careful what you read in your youth -- the quotes never, and I mean never, leave your, I mean my, lunatic head.)

And, um, am I the only one whose mind splits up into parts that speak to each other? (Nevermind. Don't answer that.)

Anyway, back to the story. One lovely Saturday in early spring, we took Little Man to the zoo. His idea. One or the other of us parents sometimes suggest to him, of a Saturday, "Should we go somewhere? the zoo maybe?" And often he will answer, "No, I just want to stay home." Which might just mean he's spending too much time in daycare, or it might mean that we have raised a reclusive future hermit and/or serial killer, or it might just mean that he wants to keep doing whatever he's doing: drawing, playing with trains, whatever. We're not sure. But this day he actually said to his dad, "Daddy, can we go to the zoo today?" And so we did.

I am uncomfortable with zoos. However preservation-minded they might be, however far their attempts to recreate an animal's natural habitat go, however kind-hearted individual zoo workers are, I don't like seeing animals in cages as entertainment for crowds of people walking by. There's something strange and awful about it. Still, I go; and I take my son, who appears to believe that some animals just live naturally in zoos, which chills my soul a little. But I also don't want to be the kind of parent who continually just subtracts things from her kid's life. I have recently gone vegetarian, and so I'm not buying meat. I hesitate before I let my kid have a hotdog at a picnic. I try to say No to the obvious baddies of nutrition. I don't let him watch too much T.V. I'm the gatekeeper, and I hate it.

Because my nature tells me to say Yes, yes, yes, all the time, in nonsensical repetition, like Molly Bloom or somebody. Can we dance in the supermarket? Yes! Can we climb this tree on our way to the car? Yes! Can I see what dirt tastes like? Yes! Can I take this marker and draw orange circles all over my face? Yes, damnit, yes yes yes! Can I put a pile of oatmeal on the table and "paint" with my spoon? Why not? I like giving him avenues of exploration that are, basically, harmless and fun. Zoos are more complex, but maybe the time to talk with him about my feelings about zoos is not yet. And in the meantime, my paltry admission fee is not going to keep zoos in business. (I see the flaws in that argument, yes I do. And I'm going to ignore it for now.) The elephants in particular break my heart, but I still love to see them, I admit it.

Am I ever going to get to my story? Probably not. But really it's quite simple. We got to the building where the primates are kept, and we were walking down a winding path towards the door. Outside the building was a winding stream, with bubbling jets under the surface, and plants leaning over into the water. Little Man wanted to stop and watch the stream, and so of course we stopped. He ran up and down the path, looking down over the railing into the stream. Then he sat down on the pavement, and just sat and watched the stream. I felt vastly patient, and wondered at his ability to watch water endlessly. And then I was not. Isn't it time to go? muttered my restless mind. But the primates are inside! And still he was fascinated. My husband, oh he of little patience, was delighted, and kept grinning at me. Our son the maverick, his expression said to me, as clearly as a thought bubble in a cartoon. Why should he do what's expected, and rush in to see the monkeys, when he's fascinated by the water?

In principle, and even in reality, I agree with him. Of course. Water -- moving water -- water washing over itself in interesting patterns! What could be more fascinating? And, truth be told, seeing animals in cages is, besides somewhat disturbing, rather less than fascinating, if all they're doing is staring disconsolately into space, or chewing on an old piece of lettuce for hours on end, or trying to avoid the endless eyes staring in on them. But I don't fool myself that Little Man had some beautiful, intuitive sense of the wrongness of it all. He just got interested in something, and it wasn't what one might expect.

It went on, and on, and on. It turned out that we never left the water until it was time to go home. Eventually we did move a little bit away and sit on a bench and laugh at the squirrels, but he never wanted to go inside. What made me uncomfortable, finally, was not Little Man's lack of interest in the unique attractions of the zoo, but my own discomfort with it. I heard Katherine Hepburn's voice in my head: "Let's get on with it." Moving toward a goal; approaching a destination. Why would I be so invested in that?

But this moment: this very moment; this very young 3-year-old boy, grinning and grinning and grinning over the water, and running back and forth from one end of the brook to the other, watching the mini-current and shifting shadows, and plopping down in his grinning dad's lap to watch it some more. What it came down to was something like, I wish I were more like him. And maybe I can be, just a little bit, if I keep working at it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Penis Envy

"Mommy, do you wish you had a penis and tex-acles like me?"

"Well, maybe a little, sometimes. Do you wish you had a vagina?"

"No. I like what I have."


"Every peoples likes what they have. Right?"

[Pause, while Mommy considers whether it's time to talk about the transgendered community. Hm, probably not.]

"Yes, I think you're right."

Friday, April 4, 2008

Pockets of Patience

My husband says that, while he is an impatient person, with intermittent pockets of surprisingly deep patience, I am overall a patient person, with strange pockets of frantic impatience. This is true. Generally, over the course of the day, I am able to deal with the random disruptions of parenting, working, taking care of a house, a job and a family pretty well. I rarely lose my patience; I am used to living this way. I am not one of those orderly people who had to get used to a chaotic lifestyle when I had a baby -- I carried chaos around with me from childhood, spreading it around liberally wherever I went. So when my kid is crying, the dog is howling in response (a sympathetic, strangely moving song), the pasta is overcooking itself into a soft, unappealing mush, and I'm tripping over toys all over the floor to get to the source of the original problem, while realizing that I've had to pee for about 2 hours, my inner self shrugs its shoulders and says, OK, whatever, so what else is new?

Whereas my husband, in this same situation, will feel blood spurting from his stomach lining directly into his consciousness, his muscles and even his skeleton clench up, and he want to run far, far away, where constant reruns of classic T.V. play gently in the background, and he can flip through a large pile of The New York Times, uninterrupted. We all have our nirvanas.

However, in certain random situations, I instantly turn into a monster, entirely (I'd like to think) unlike my normal self. Why tooth-brushing, for example? My son has a horror of tooth-brushing, and I can't say as I blame him, given my drill-sergeant approach to the teaching of this important skill. "No, honey, you have to brush the teeth -- it has to make the brushing sound. The brush has to come into contact with the actual teeth. Do you want me to do it for you? OK, spit into the sink, not across the sink to the wall. Into the sink -- down into the sink! No, you have to swish the water around first -- swish, then spit!" I can feel my spine harden, my shoulders tense up; I feel as if my small son is deliberately trying to make me crazy and I feel an urge to punish rising up inside my chest wall. How can he not know that tooth-brushing must involve actual physical contact between the bristles of the brush and the surface of the teeth, rather than just twirling the toothbrush around inside his mouth like a magic wand? Of course he knows, he's just being perverse. And then I have to remind myself: It's not been so long that he's actually had teeth. He really doesn't grasp the concept of what brushing is for, exactly; he just knows it's one of the things Mommy puts him through twice a day, like all the other inexplicable things grownups impose on children.

So I'm working on it. Now I say things like "Good job, honey! I can really hear the brushing sound!" I'm learning to let it go a little bit. "Did you do the top and the bottom and also the front? you did? good! now let's swish and spit and go get a book to read, OK?" Having accepted the fact that the feelings which my son's toothbrushing triggers in me are not rational and not helpful, I can usually now acknowledge and then ignore them, rather than indulging and acting on them. Still, it's weirdly hard.

Shampooing is another one. My son has had, since birth, a horror of water running over his head, no matter how gently and carefully. It's not just a dislike, but a real phobia, with the sobbing and the refusing, and the twisting of his entire body to get away, limbs flailing in desperation. Throughout his babyhood and young toddlerhood, I dealt with this by extending, to probably antisocial extents, the amount of time in between hair-washing events, and then doing it as carefully and also as quickly as I could, to get to the cuddling and laughing afterwards. But when he became a preschooler, and more verbal, for some reason I lost patience with this problem, and tried to push it, tried to argue rationally, got a little snippy.

My husband, on the other hand, a snarky New Yorker whose impatience and sarcasm are a band of regional pride, can sit down next to the bathtub and become a Zen master. His gentle voice and touch, his mild questions and explorations of his son's feelings and preferences, his creativity in coming up with solutions and new perspectives, gradually soothed the child's fears and protestations into a tentative ability to negotiate, to make progress, to take proud note of his own courage. My response to this ability of my husband's is multi-faceted:

1. I'm envious. There's no getting around it. Why can't I be a zen master, too, instead of a raving lunatic?

2. I'm grateful to the spiritual forces of the universe -- you know, the ones that clearly conspired to lead me to choose Mr. Zen New Yorker to have a child with.

3. I'm perplexed: how is it that a man who wants to poke a stick into his own eye when a pile of Tupperware falls onto his head from a cabinet can have such limitless patience with a preschooler -- hardly the most soothing of presences?

No matter. I'm going to focus on #2 above, and also try to emulate him. If we can't learn from the unsuspected talents of our partners, what are we married for, anyway?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

zoo dreams and missed chances

The other morning, we were all in the kitchen, my husband making another pot of coffee, me trying to clean up a little, while Little Man sat at the kitchen table (wearing his usual breakfast garb: nothing but a huge navy blue Reed College sweatshirt covering his silky nakedness), eating his oatmeal mixed with blueberries and maple syrup. He likes to be naked, this boy ("No, I want to be naked boy!" he says whenever I offer him pajamas at bedtime), but in the morning the kitchen can be chilly, so once I slipped my own sweatshirt over his head, which made him laugh and laugh, it was so big. Slipping down over his small shoulders, like an off-the-shoulder evening gown (albeit of worn, navy-blue cotton) and ballooning over his seated form, making him look like a cotton-clad, fat sitting Buddha. His arms and hands disppear into it; in order to do anything (play with the plastic motorcycle on the table, eat his oatmeal), he must either thrust his tiny arms into the long, long sleeves, or (his preferred option) shimmying the neck-hole down to his waist, turning his evening gown into a skirt. Now it's his everymorning attire, a kind of signal to the world that he is now awake and eating breakfast and readying himself for the day ahead.

Anyway, there may have been some stress in the room (although I admit nothing). Work stress, get-the-kid-to-school stress, what-have-you. Neither of us adults paying much attention to the magic of childhood. Note: every parent has stories like this one: my little brother (little, ha, all 6'2" of him) was once, at some ungodly hour of the morning, carrying his toddler out to the car to be dropped off at her grandparents' house on the way to work, all in a rush, when she said "Look Daddy, what a beautiful day!" He tells this story with appropriate ruefulness, his expression clearly saying, Why do we need our kids to tell us this -- and yet, thank god we have them! And Little Man, this early morning, stopped eating his oatmeal long enough to say ... to say ... what?

Well, that's the problem. I didn't write it down. And when you're hear a kid's magical statement, you have to write it down, immediately, before you've washed another dish or even dried your hands. Write it in soap, etch it on your skin, scrawl it on the back of your husband's T-shirt. Because I know what he said, but not verbatim. And that's the problem. Verbatim is not just part of the point, it is the point. It get it across. What he said was something to the effect of, I love everything in the world. (Which, if you knew my cynical and black-humored husband, and my sarcastic self, would make you raise your eyebrows and say, From whom did you apparently kidnap this child of "yours"?)

But it wasn't quite that. It was . . . more kid-like, more charming, more like a person who is still feeling his way around his native language. Which increases the charm and also the profundity. As I was mentioning in my literature class this morning, quoting some outdated critic or other, "paraphrase is heresy." Which I don't really believe when it comes to literature, but when it comes to children's speech, I most emphatically do. So I hate myself for not writing it down. I wake up at 3:00 a.m., berating myself for not writing it down -- this, and a thousand other things that have flown out of his mouth like little irridescent birds.

But I try to stop myself. Another lesson I try to teach myself: don't get stuck on any one thing. Start carrying around a little pad of paper with a pen on a string, but don't get stuck on the last one. And this lesson I learned at the zoo . . . but that is another post, for another day.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

In the Moment

All right, it's not like I don't get the irony of wishing your child would go away & play by himself so that you can read the Kabat-Zinns's book Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting in peace. I get it, I laugh ruefully at my sorry-ass self: if only you could go back in time and read and memorize such books before giving birth. But it also makes sense: if you want to engage in the project of continually becoming a better parent, you do need some time to read & think about it, so that you can come to your time with your child armed (hoo, bad choice of words there, maybe supplied or nourished) with new ideas, a fresh perspective, a renewed spirit. And of course, a working mommy has no time to herself; that's a given. I'm not sure why this is true; my husband manages to carve out little blocks of time for himself: half an hour here to go eat his favorite snack (lemon and pretzels) alone in his office, 20 minutes there to go lie on the bed and watch what to me seems extravagantly boring T.V. (videotaped local government meetings, yawn, although I suspect that that's more or less the point).

But Little Man's need for his father has a somewhat different quality than his need for me. He adores his dad, plays with him, laughs with him, hugs and climbs on him just as he does with me. In fact, in some ways they're better at being together. Maybe because his time with his dad is more limited, they both make better use of it. There seems to be little distraction on either of their parts; they can play trains on the floor for long periods of time, with an intense focus that is often missing when he's with me. (Or maybe I idealize it. I have occasionally peaked into the living room from the kitchen where I am ostensibly making dinner -- but really flipping through a book or magazine -- to see Little Man driving his trains around the tracks, and my husband surreptitiously reading a nearby newspaper. Poor Little Man, living with his reading-addicted parents.)

But Little Man's need for me is, or feels anyway, both more constant, and more elemental. It's like his dad's his best friend, whereas I am his -- what? right arm? rib? the cultural references proliferate in my head like little tadpoles, or rabbits. My husband often remarks that he is not the recipient of quite as much of Little Man's bad behavior as I am. He doesn't get the attitude I often get, or the expressions of affection that are hard to distinguish from violence: sometimes Little Man veritably tackles and pummels me with love. It's so clearly love, and when I say "Honey, I need you to be more gentle," he tries, but in another moment is lunging at me again, boots whirling, big old hard skull flying towards my rib cage like a cannon off a pirate ship. Oh, he does this with his dad too -- the objects of his love sometimes appear to take the form of tackling dummies. But I have more bruises to show for it.

And the meltdowns, the refusals ("Time to brush your teeth and get ready for bed," I say, and he glares at me, yells "NO!" and runs into another room), the pushing of boundaries (doing the forbidden: spitting, kicking, calling of names). I get more of that sort of thing, as rare as it is these days. But his dad is more often the recipient of "Daddy, go away, I need some Mommy time!" (a phrase his dad taught him, when trying to get him not to say just "go away, go away, go away" in a rude voice). Mommy time is always. Mommy time is vital. And for the most part, I feel lucky, blessed. People ask me how my son is, how being a mommy is, and I have a hard time not gushing like a 14-year-old Beatles fan circa 1964. A therapist friend once looked at me, in response to a typical gushing moment, with eyebrows cocked in a certain, therapist-y kind of way and hinted that I might, just might be avoiding some of my negative feelings about motherhood. No, I'm really not avoiding them; my own therapist hears about them, well, let's just say, a lot. Regularly. As does my husband. (It's very messy, this parenting business. And I just have one, a fact which will always, I assume, retain its power to make me cry spontaneously in inconvenient moments. But having more -- having four or five, even -- it's hard to imagine.)

The moments, though: those amazing moments that I'm using the Kabat-Zinns book to become more aware of! Last night, after a long day of work/preschool (with apparently no nap), we were all tired and flopped on the parental bed together. Little Man was making what might be a rather rude noise with his mouth, and I was attempting to copy it but failing, which made him crack up laughing. And his laughter is beautifully extravagant; a nation full of brilliant poets could find no words for his laugh. And he asked me to do it again, and I finally did it right, but he made it clear that he wanted me to do it wrong, and so I did, over and over. And at some points he was laughing, and at others he was not so much laughing as pretending to laugh, or fake laughing, but very very hard. And I realized that I always thought of fake laughing as sort of pathetic: why pretend to be amused? But laughing as we all know is like sneezing, or an orgasm: you can't really force it. Either it comes, or it doesn't. And he wasn't fake laughing to make me believe he was amused when he wasn't; he was fake laughing in exactly the same spirit that you have when you are floating in a river and you lose the current and you paddle around again until you find it. He was continuing the moment, which was precious to him, in the best way he knew how. And he did: the genuine laugh did come back, over and over. And I found myself wishing I could freeze time, and be here with my laughing Buddha son, and my husband (catching my eye over his head in amazed appreciation of his capacity for random joy), and my silly self, forever and ever. And I was, I mean I am: Little Man and the Kabat-Zinns together are teaching me that to be fully in the moment, at the moment, makes that moment infinite.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Honest and true

What kills me about the Little Man is how honest he is. We have a mini-power-struggle every morning over getting him dressed, and today I asked him, "Do you not want to get dressed because you don't want to go to school?" He looked up at me and nodded, saying "yeah." I said, "I wish we didn't have to go to school, too -- I wish we could just play together all day, every day." And later, when we had our coats on and were (finally!) on our way out the door, he stopped and turned to me with tears in his eyes and said "I don't want to go to school! I want to stay home with you."

I squatted on my haunches to be able to look into his sweet, sad face and held his hands. "Oh, bear, I know how hard it is. It's hard for me too, to be away from you during the day. But maybe in the summer I won't have to work so much, and I can come pick you up earlier, and we can spend more time together." He turned and sat down in my lap, and then asked me to say that again. So I said it again: "You know how it's so cold out now? Well, in a few weeks it will start to get warmer, and then even warmer, and then I might be able to work a little less, and you won't have to stay at school for such long days." He nodded, and thought for a minute, and then got up and we left the house.

I don't really know what he's thinking. I don't even know if it's a good idea to let him know that summer will be easier, since fall will undoubtedly be hard again (unless I can pull some scheduling strings somehow). I just can't stand how long he has to be at preschool (in other words -- who am I kidding? -- daycare) at his young age. On Friday, the day before what for most people was a long weekend, I couldn't pick him up until 5:00, but most of the parents had already picked up their kids. When we got home, Little Man orchestrated this game where he stood up on the "firetruck" (really it's his old crib mattress, which we keep on the floor in the living room for him to jump on -- this image perhaps allows you to imagine the level of domestic elegance we have achieved around here), pretending to drive, and I had to be the kid thinking every firetruck that passed was Mommy and Daddy coming to pick me up, but none of them was, and so I had to cry and be sad. Preferably quite loudly. I have perfected my "loud" cry.

We played this game all weekend. Seriously, just shoot me.

But I am encouraging him to tell me all about it. Tell me how sucky it is. Tell me how sad and mad it makes you. I don't know much about parenting, but I know he should get to feel how he feels, he should get to talk about it, he should get his feelings empathized with, even if we can't change the thing that's making him sad and mad. I know I want him always to tell me about it, even when he's a surly teenager who's telling me about experimenting with drugs in the basement of the neighborhood lowlife. Tell me, tell me, no matter how ugly. I believe in talking. I am much more afraid of the isolated feeling that comes when you can't find someone to talk to about it, than I am of whatever the It is that day, or week, or year -- than I am about any It I can think of.

So when Little Man breaks my heart by telling him that the thing I am making him do is breaking his heart, I try to respect his broken heart. I can take care of mine later.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Only Child?

Well, it's official. My 3-year-old son will be an only child. He was an IVF baby in my late thirties, and we waited until he was 3 to try the rest of the frozen embryos, resulting in pregnancy and miscarriage.
This failure to provide the little man with a sibling has given me a strange new perspective on life. There is sadness, but also relief: we are older parents, not well off, struggling on a few levels, and we were unsure how well we would handle another foray into the weird, wild world of parenting an infant, this time with a preschooler in the house no less.

The sadness is great, though: the other day I saw a friend of my son's walk out of the preschool door holding the hand of his 2-year-old sister, and tears came into my eyes. My little man would have been a wonderful older brother: curious, generous, affectionate. I base this on what, exactly? I ask myself. Well, mostly how he treats the dog: a mixture of delighted affection, irritability, and teacherly guidance. ("This is a bus, doggie," he explained one day, showing the dog a picture of a wildly decorated schoolbus I cut out of a magazine for him. That was the day I first talked with my husband about the sibling question, tears in my eyes.)
Friends with more than one children have that inevitable photo: the first gaze of the older on the new younger sibling in her hospital bassinet. If possible, you want to get the photo shot in the exact moment that the most moving look of wonder comes into the older sibling's eyes: "Who is this new creature in my life"? the child's eyes seem to ask. And, "Did I come out looking all wrinkly like that?" Who knows if that's what they're really thinking, no matter how poetic the gaze. Probably it's more like "Will this creature bother me while I'm playing trains?"
Or maybe not. It's unfathomable to the Little Man that anyone would bother him during such a sacred activity, until someone does and he looks up with a kind of incredulous indignation.

But I digress. The idea that I will never hold an infant in my arms again, or feel her desperate searching for the nipple 800 times a day, or feel the wriggling around in the womb again, makes me clench up to avoid sobbing. But what made me wait so long? Did I secretly want an only child? Did I know myself well enough to know that two children would be too much for me? It may be true, but that doesn't mitigate the grief.

The grief, though, may be instructive, or even creative. Will it make me get back to writing?