Sunday, September 24, 2006

New shoes are bound to cause blisters

Some people like to tell me that I've changed now that I've become a mother.

They say this gleefully, as if they always knew my softer, nurturing side would win out over my acerbic, cynical side. I don't have the same zest for off-color humor I once had, or so they say. I wax nostalgic about just about everything, even wax.

But as I stare into this empty white page, I wonder: What happened to me?

Did I just become a mother and all the other aspects of life faded into unimportance?

Did I buy into the notion that raising a child was the most important thing I would ever do in my lifetime, all the rest be damned?

Had I gone over to the dark side? The one I had eschewed from every precipice of my adult life. It was possible; my new wardrobe was starting to show pinks and other airy hues from beneath its comfortable layers of black.

One thing is true, where once all roads lead to my hatred for (but undeniable urge to watch and take in) morning talk/news shows or national politics or pretty much anything that comes from a spigot at Starbucks, my love for this little creature growing (too fast) before my eyes overshadowed it all.

But that does not mean I ceased to exist, does it? The world as I knew it wasn't an illusion.

I propose what might have happened is that I ceased to be an expert.
All of a sudden, I didn't KNOW anything. I had to feel my way through one problem to another with little by way of guidance. I had to stop and ask for directions. I learned what worked for someone else didn’t necessarily work for me.

I had to admit when I was wrong, because clearly my mistakes were increasingly visible.

Neighbors, you know, they talk:
  • The kid leaves house looking like blind person dressed her.
  • She hasn’t combed her own hair now, 8 days.
  • She washes floor with sink hose? (ok, I’ve done this forever, but I’m blaming motherhood now).
  • When was the last time Ittybit had her hair washed? I think a forest is growing in there.
  • When she drags the recycling to the curb its mountainous terrain threatens to blot out the sun.

Other things are only visible to me:
  • I can remember the last book I read because it was only one of three in the last three years, although I can’t remember how it ended.
  • I haven’t been out with friends for more than a year.
  • I miss my old self sometimes.

I once had a globe trotting friend who told me that life, when you are unsettled, is always the most challenging to your sense of self. It almost always takes you away from the person you thought you were and hands you to someone you hardly recognize. And for a time you don't even realize what’s really changed.

When you are trying to figure out the ins and outs of a new city, trying to get the business of living all squared away — get a job, meet new people, learn a new language and customs — you forget that you once wrote poetry or enjoyed nature walks.

When you finally remember, and mourn the loss, the new challenge will be to fit bits of your old life into the new one.

Until you make the business-end of life fit like comfortable shoes, it seems, blisters are an unavoidable part of the process.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Tantrum yoga

She wanted to draw.

After breakfast, before work, she wanted to "draw a pisher." But there wasn't time.

Her body is board straight: legs pressing agilely against the back of the driver's seat, arms stock still and clamped to the rim of her car carrier. Her bottom will never make contact with seat.

Her ability to wedge her tiny weight against me, leveraging it against my will, is a sight to behold. No matter how I beg, plead or push there’s no physical way to for me to buckle her in.

Regardless of our divergent goals, we sound alike.

"I. Have. To. Go. To. Work."


"But. I. Have. TOooo."


As crazy as it sounds, this is nowhere near as dangerous as the Lunch Strike of '05, when Ittybit refused to eat anything put on a plate in her presence, unless the sustenance in question belonged in the ice cream family.

Nor is it as frightening as the early Sleep Strikes of '04, when her tiny infant body, worn in a Snugli frontpack by a sleep deprived mommy, writhed uncontrollably amid cat-like sobs until suddenly falling slack-limbed into a scream-induced sleep. The immediacy of which caused a hand mirror to be placed under her nasal passages to assure life signs.

In some ways, I suppose, the latest incarnation of histrionics – this real, honest-to-badness frustration fest — is just more entertaining. I'm beginning to think of it as TANTRUM yoga.

For those of you unaware of the persistence that is necessary to perform such feats, let me go over some of the poses:

Sitting poses are especially appealing for capture avoidance. In them, toddlers can easily avoid interception by one of two variations. First, they may ball up into a tight little package. If the sheer force of will were enough, giant spikes would protrude up from their overalls and onesies to repel meddling parents. Another option at their disposal from this position is to turn into a noodle. This is when the toddler relaxes every muscle in her body at the very same rate as each and every one of yours tenses.

While neither variation will aid the child in staving off the inevitable, it will throw a parent off long enough for them to bring out the big guns, known to all grown people as the "wriggling fish."

This is the pose, in which you finally are able to get the child into your arms, they struggle with the vim of a brown trout trying to get away from a black bear.

Tantrum yoga is an art every toddler tries to perfect and every parent tries to counteract. It’s the yin and yang that brings us together.

Sometimes when I witness these escalations — usually before work, going out to dinner or even just to go to the bathroom by myself — the positions I find her in, and often have to extract her from, are truly astounding. Each episode, I think, would make a good exercise program. Before I can plan my cable access debut, however, I realize the routines are really too taxing and should be less routine.

Every parent finds themselves in the position of defusing these minor catastrophes. We decide which battles to wage, which to relinquish and which to handle diplomatically. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. Sometimes we draw.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A fair to remember

There was a time (exactly a week ago last year in fact) that Ittybit's love for barnyard animals was trapped inside the pages of her story books.

At an early age she could tell chicks from cygnets, and cygnets from ducklings. Her voice boomed bass (or as low as a toddler can sound) for the MOO a "daddy" bull says, while she screeched up high for the moo the "baby" makes.

Since we'd traipsed through the farmyard, page by page, for months, we naively thought she'd enjoy a trip to the fair to see the real things up close and in person.

But picture books, we learned, don't really prepare tots for the realities of livestock. Toulouse Geese don't make their truck-horn sounds apparent under the stylish bonnet of Mother Goose stories, and the size comparison isn't even close. I don’t even wish to recount the meeting of toddler and ewe.

The nearest I think a picture book can really come to life on the farm would be if publishers employed scratch and sniff technology, and let's face it, there are a few among us who'd pay money to give the smell silage and manure space on our bookshelves.

Understandably, as the year wore on following what turned out to be a traumatic experience -- screaming and crying from one barn to the next until we found ice cream -- her interest in the farm books waned.

So with a little apprehension, we headed off to this year's fair and aimed ourselves in the direction of the livestock exhibits first thing.

I figured we could get them out of the way quickly if she decided the animals were too scary, go right to the food and proceed eating our way through the attractions. (After all, who wants to eat fried dough at the goat barn? Not I.)

It was as if she'd remembered the torture of a year ago, and decided to settle an old score.

"Cows!" She instructed. "Cows, mama." And off we went, past turkeys, sheep, goats and pigs into the cattle barns. No sooner had we gotten there then she'd reached out her itty bitty hand to give Bessie's head a little pat. "Enough!"

"Chickens! Chickens, mama." So off we went to see fowl. "They're funny ... and loud," she laughs.

"Rabbits. Let's go see rabbits next," she instructs, pulling at my pant leg and grunting with exertion. "Ooooh, they're sooooo cute," she coos into the wire cages, wriggling her nose in imitation.

"What are we gonna see next? How about the chicks?" And off we go to find something that looks like a popcorn popper, containing twelve eggs. Many of the orbs are still intact, but others have large cracks and holes made in perfect circles by the tiny egg teeth on the tops of the chicks' beaks. Some of the babies, still covered in the gook of life, lay spent on the warm grate, resting from their hours-long struggle to get free.

"See that right there," points out a woman overseeing the exhibit. ... And I look into the incubator to see a foot protruding from an otherwise perfect shell. "I've never seen anything like that in my life. They never come out feet first."

Turns out, the eggs came from Cornell, where their genetic codes have been collected and studied. She tells me the University expects one of 12 to die. "That could be one that doesn't make it," she says sadly.

So we leave with a little bit more knowledge of the miracles and mysteries of life, but wondering if that little breech chick will survive the night. Ittybit wants to stay and make sure the chicks, which have made it into to the world unscathed and are running around their shaving-strewn pens, "go to sleep."

We coax her out of the building with the promise of a corn dog I'll have to "peel" and a ride in a tea cup I'll undoubtedly regret. And by the end of the evening we have an entirely new experience of the fair.

"It's fun here, mama. Let's go again."

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Something change doesn't change

Growing up in the northeast, and now raising a child here, it shouldn't shock me to learn I have a special fondness for places that remind me of my childhood.

I shouldn't be surprised at the delight I take in enrolling my child in the same nursery school I attended as a tot, or even the calm of knowing that she won’t attend the high school I wished I'd never seen from the inside.

It's the kind of comfort that comes from a smidgen of experience and a smackerel of pride. But such comfort is deceiving. What I never count on is change.

As she napped her way to the North Country, unaware of our advance to the Great Escape -- a late-in-the-season theme park visit, only the second of her lifetime -- my mind processed the road signs and mile markers as I drove, and yet my thoughts were clearly steering toward Storytown USA.

Of course I knew about all the transformations that have taken place since a theme park chain attached itself to Charles Wood's creation a decade ago. Mr. Wood himself made enough big-time changes during my own adolescence to keep the park viable as tastes and generations changed. But somehow, traveling up the Northway on a fall-coming afternoon, the movie in my mind was running the Mother Goose stories, swan boats and pumpkin carriages of my own tiny tot-hood on a Technicolor loop.

It's a good thing I was trailing a friend or I'd never have found the entrance to the new parking lots. Gone were the gravel-strewn acres with attendants in orange vests and folding chairs, waiting to show us where to dock our car. In their place was a landscaped, black-topped expanse that meanders past a new swanky resort-style hotel and little guard shack, where a woman collects my $10 parking fee.

None of this was here two years ago when the park turned 50 and Ittybit turned 9 months old.

As I mourn the loss of the simple things, yet again, I realize I'm probably lamenting something that never really existed in the first place.

As we constantly weigh it, change tends to comes up wanting. But you can't deny change, and sometimes change is good. The pedestrian highway overpass, looming large over Route 9, is a case in point.

After looking down at my squirmy wormy stroller screamer, I gaze up at the bridge thankfully. For that bridge alone I’d have happily forked over half a day'’s pay to park and gain admission had it not been for the special coupon my friend had procured.

It's a slow day inside the park. The threat of rain and cold temperatures had taken their toll on attendance. At a number of kiddy ride stations one operator is operating two. The lines aren't long but our timing is rarely perfect. Often we wait in a line and watch the operator move to the neighboring ride. Minutes don’t seem to matter. We chat and watch, and try to keep our kids from howling too loudly. It doesn’t seem to matter if the rides are new or the park is bigger.

As we pass Cinderella's castle my adult mind begins to doubt its childhood memories. It wonders about a photograph in my parents' collection: the one of me peeking out of a great orange carriage, waving with the shadow of celebrity beside me -- the graceful curve of a neck against a chignon twist, and the shadow of her gloved hand waving in the background has always seemed unreal and ghostlike, as if it were all illusion caused by stray lights.

As is usual, at least from recent experience, Cinderella's castle stands oddly vacant behind wrought iron fencing; locked up tight and no carriage in sight. As I look around at the throng of ittybits holding on tightly to the hands of their own mommies, I realize how near hopeless it would be to wait in line for a fairytale dream come true, even on a slow day.

I momentarily regret pointing out the castle to Ittybit knowing her love of the storybook princess may render me deaf. And in that moment Cinderella comes from around a corner, or out of nowhere, wearing a blue sparkling dress. She bends to give Ittybit a hug, telling her sweetly to have a magical day before she floats away.

"Was that Cinderella?" she asks me in a whisper.

"Yes, baby, it was."

Then it dawns on me: Perhaps the simple things will always be simple like this; something that change doesn't change.