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.