Sunday, August 27, 2006

When push comes to shove

"Mama, don't push me," Ittybit says sternly as I interrupt her latest game of "King of the Mountain" (my shoulders being the mountain) by putting her back on solid ground. "I didn't push you," I tell her, "I helped you repel down to the foothills."

She clamors up my chest and over my shoulders again, this time all slit-eyed and daring me to thwart her ascent. I drag her halfway down the mommy mountain, roll her over my knees and prop her back up into a sitting position at my feet. All the while she clings to two fistfuls of my uncombed hair.

She begins to protest again, but this time her tone has changed: 'NOOOOO, I wanna stay wit you, mama. I wanna stay wit yooooooou!'

Lately, I've noticed, she's been playing this game more and more. "But I wan YOU, mama" has become her mantra, especially when all mama wants is to be left in peace.

The look on her face when she changes from gleeful to glum is positively heartbreaking. It snaps me out of my annoyance and into another test of self. It makes me ashamed to think about all the times I haven't been fully present with her because I am lost in my own inner world. Whether she's manipulating the situation doesn’t seem to matter. I know that it won't be long until she doesn't want me within sight distance, let alone acting as the chair (or the mountain) beneath her.

However much I want to eat my toast or drink my coffee in peace right now is how much I'll want her to be her raucous little-girl self later, times two.

This particular morning, as we have in the past four mornings, we trundled out of the house forgetting rain gear. We were late this morning, which meant no sit-down breakfast again. A cup of "hot milk," an apple and a bag full of cereal were packed to go. I strap her into the car, hand her the breakfast and go back for her "um-bella," which she insists on propping above her head as we drive so she can munch on her "seer-we-wool" and stay dry, because it's "rainy out, mama."

I wonder, as we are driving along, if anyone will notice the car seat adorned with a blue and yellow-polka-dotted umbrella bobbing along with the unheard rhythm of The Wiggles. I wonder, if I were me in my previous life -- the childless one that seems as if it were 100 years ago -- and I saw this traveling circus drive by, would I laugh or shrug?

I contemplate the phenomenon of such annoyances in other people's children, but I can't sustain the notion. Because the fact is I really don't care what other people think anymore, and I'm sure glad I'm laughing now.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Eyes wide open

"My daddy was a baby, too," Ittybit tells the nice woman, who takes our paperwork and searches for any spaces left blank. "That's right. He was a baby, too," she says adroitly, rustling through the sheets, not finding the small For Emergencies, Contact card.

"Oh that one always gets caught on the bottom of the envelope," she chuckles, as I absently fish it out from underneath the manila flap and hand it over.

I am thinking about all the things Ittybit's six-word announcement doesn't explain. It didn't explain how wide her eyes got when we told her the story that her father had once slept in the very same cradle she had slept in when we brought her home from the hospital.

It doesn't explain how miraculous such a notion must be -- that her big, strong dad was once small -- that she is compelled to let the world in on the secret. My. Daddy. Was. A. Baby. Too.

It also doesn't explain the mind-boggling reality that Ittybit is now, officially, a pre-schooler. And, come September, she'll be attending the same nursery school I attended as a tot.

As we stood in the scrubbed-clean room, filled with summer-stored toys, I can tell she's excited. Her eyes are as wide as mine, as I looked around at the tiny chairs and tables feeling a little like a giant who, in a former life, was a Lilliputian, too.

She delightedly runs off to play with the toys, while I wait to speak with the intake coordinator and other chairpeople about our future roles as new pre-school parents. My head is spinning. My baby isn’t a baby anymore.

The school is a cooperative, which means the tuition is reduced for parents who pitch in to assist in the classroom, fundraise or maintain the property as needed.

With a list several sheets long of chores that need doing, the facilitator’s eyes open wide when she sees what I've checked off on the "expertise" portion of the form.

"You and your husband have a power washer?" Oh that's so great. That's wonderful. We were worried about that this year. We have to clean all the playground equipment in the backyard, and no one thus far seems to have the abilities in that department. We were sure we'd have to hire a professional."

The man's chest puffs up a little, as he realizes his services will be appreciated, and his daughter will benefit from his labor for a change.

Off we go into the play yard filled with all manner of ride-on toys, climbing towers, slides and playhouses ... even a real fiberglass boat sunk into the grass as if it were sailing an imaginary sea.

Ittybit stands stock-still. Presumably paralyzed by indecision, she waits for an impulse that will hurl her tiny body toward the best plaything.

That's when I noticed the man's eyes have lost their usual almond shape. "Something tells me I'm going to be very popular around here."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Secret handshakes and all

"We have to stop meeting like this," I laughed.

But his cherubic face and Panama hat were a magnetic combination.

He giggled. The one-armed man he was attached to thought it was funny, too.

It occurred to me then, as I passed another similarly disabled shopper -- his charge in a ball cap, eating shell peas from the bag -- there was another club to which I cannot belong.

Fathers at the grocery store -- a kid in one arm and a grocery basket in the other -- is apparently the new black.

It's something I might never have noticed, though, had it not been for the fact that it was 8 a.m. Saturday morning and we were out of Milk. After all, my husband usually does the grocery shopping.

Where the supermarket was once the ballywick of the harried housewife, juggling bottles and sippy cups and corralling children aisle by aisle, I am noticing more and more men taking their place in line at the checkout.

As I push on the skins of melons and paw through bags of grapes for one with just the right amount, I notice the one-armed man going through pretty much the same motions with the lettuces.

We trailed each other through the store, missing each other in some aisles and meeting up in others. I wonder to myself: 'Is mom at home, enjoying a much needed break?'

I smile in line at the checkout when his items bump up against mine on the conveyor belt. I think of my own husband at home with our kidlet, and how he's probably done the very same thing with some other mommy who'd managed to sneak out of the house for some quiet, alone-time grocery gathering.

By the time I reach my car in the parking lot another one-armed man makes his way toward the market. He stops to greet the man with whom I’d been doing the grocery store shuffle just moments ago.

I started to pack my trunk with my purchases, taking extra time and trying to handle the bags gently so the rustling wouldn’t impugn my ability to eavesdrop on their conversation.

What were they talking about? I imagined they were discussing the best baby foods, sleepless nights and the-cutest-baby-in-the-world-has-changed-my-life small talk. But I couldn't make out all the words. It was as if their club had a secret vocal tone only dually sworn and initiated members could hear.

I stopped trying to hone in on the discussion, snapped the trunk closed and returned my cart before slipping into the driver's seat. I told myself I'd just be disappointed if they were talking about beer, or porn or who's head-butting who in major league sports.

They were still locked in conversation as I eased out of my parking space and drove in their direction. I couldn't contain my curiosity, though, and I lowered the window as I passed, just in case. As I passed, they just shifted the weight of their kids from one hip to the other and with a wave of their hands, they parted ways. Perhaps they have secret handshakes, too.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Next time I think I'll just spell

"We'll that’s not appropriate for toddlers," I say as I switch off the television blaring "The Sopranos," a video that somehow made it into the VCR instead of "Winnie the Pooh."

It was so much easier when Ittybit didn't appear to be so sponge-like in her absorption of knowledge. Oh sure, she was learning at a crazy pace but we were still a long way from having to spell out words, such as I-C-E C-R-E-A-M, to avoid unpleasantness. Back then she was too busy smashing sweet potatoes into every crevice of her face to notice.

Those were the days.

When my husband's right eyebrow arches upward now I know it's because I've dropped the ball and it's rolling away from me faster than you can say: "That prolly wasn't a good I-D-er."

  • Yes, she has eaten cake for breakfast on more than a few (10) occasions.
  • Yes, she knows all the people at our local pub, and sometimes they yell her name when we walk through the door on Friday evenings.
  • Yes, she watches "Shrek" (even though the characters are rude to each other). And yes, she sometimes doesn’t go to bed until after 10 p.m. once she’s eaten chocolate and NOT brushed her teeth.
Somehow you brush these failings aside. After all, do we not search high and low for child-friendly activities at museums and other cultural centers? That has to count for something.

Recently that meant attending Art Omi's open day, a culmination of three weeks of uninterrupted work by approximately 30 international artists. Open Day is an annual event in our house … or at lease it has been for a number of years (prior to Ittybit).

There's always something at which to marvel and scratch one’s head, such as an ordinary folding chair abandoned in a field that has dozens of people standing around, conversing in 'art speak.'

And every year there's at least one artist whose work makes my head spin: A memorable one a few years ago came from a woman from Tokyo who stained Kotex sanitary pads with a red substance and affixed them to the wall of her studio. That was fun.

Of course I wasn’t thinking about THAT this year, despite 'WHAT' and 'WHY' being the staple words of Ittybit’s conversations.

Like most modern parents, we've adopted the parenting style of explaining truisms in an age-appropriate manner. Say that three times, fast.

It's not easy. Especially at times when the imaginative part of my brain is more ready than the part of my brain that remembers 8th grade science. When she asks me why the sun goes away and it gets dark at night, I watch the hairs on The Dad's neck stand up as I tell her the sun has to take a nap, otherwise it couldn't shine as brightly.

Let’s just say I was not prepared when she pulled me into a studio space filled with paper-mache figures.

"Mama? You wanna see a stulpture, mama? Tum on."

The sculptures were life-sized, paper mache body casts of figures writhing in pain. One showed its head exploding from the back. Another had two men in a pose that appeared ... to be ... well. ...

"Mommy what is that man doing to that other man?"

"Damn the Dad for foisting this studio visit off on me," I grumble to myself as I wonder what the appropriate response should be.

"Um. Well. They’re-making-love. Oh look, lemonade! ... Let's go get some, OK?"

Later, of course, she tells The Dad that the "mens in the stulpture were makting love."

"Ok … let me get this straight. You explained sex, but not what happens to the sun when it gets dark? Nice."