Sunday, September 30, 2007

Broken mirrors

She was sitting behind the curtain, in the closet, on a stool. Sulking.

She didn't want to play with her friend. More specifically, she didn't want her friend playing with her favorite toys. Most importantly, she didn't want to play with "her friend," the child of MY friend.

It really stinks when your kid is the one being a brat ... (I really didn't want to write that aloud. I'd rather not even think it to myself). The torture is amplified by the fact that not only do you want your kids to be happy and wealthy and wise, you also want them to be on their best behavior at the most important times. When you're trying to impress someone.

But there it is, a fact of life: sometimes ALL kids are just bratty. Even mine. Even when I beg, plead and apply the most valid terms of logic I can muster. The kid will cross their arms, dig in their heels and give you a look that could melt steel.

There she was, sitting alone in her room in a self-imposed timeout all because she didn't want to share. Words of protest streaming out of her mouth as she slammed doors and carried on generally repugnant behavior that would make any parent shiver. She just wanted to be alone.

Her friend didn't understand why she wasn't being nice. And, honestly, I didn't understand why she wasn't being nice. Just before their arrival, hadn't she jumped up and down at the prospect of having a friend over to play? Wasn't she pacing the floor waiting? Was some other child pulling on my clothes, jumping around my feet asking: "Is she here yet, mama? Is she?" over and over again?

I've always thought it's much better to be the parent of a child who gets picked on than it is to be the parent of the kid who does the picking. It may be painful to watch a kid get chosen last for a team or called names or excluded all together, but it is even more disappointing when yours is the one responsible for all the heartache.

As parents I think we are always worried our kids will feel pain. We can't stand the idea of them being mistreated even by a same-size "friend." When Ittybit was a tot and we'd stroll on over to the park I would be traumatized by the preschoolers who'd laugh or spiral their index fingers by their temples -- sticking out their tongues and rolling their eyes -- when she'd tell them she was collecting "a-torns" even though they could plainly see her plump toddler fists were stuffed with pebbles.

I wanted to wipe the look of smarmy bratness right off their faces (preferably with sandpaper). And I wanted Ittybit to be their polar opposite.

And yet I knew that sooner or later, I'd be refraining myself from applying sandpaper to her twisted little face when she was old enough to know the difference between acorns and rocks, and old enough to forget about the wonderful world of pretend.

Was I supposed to ignore the festering child in the darken room? Was I supposed to drag her out and make a scene? I opted to speak to her quietly. Ask her how she would feel if she went to someone's house and THEY wouldn't let HER play with their toys? I suggested if there were special toys she was afraid would get damaged we could put those away so nobody would harm them.

A little while later (but not the instantly I was hoping for) she came around.

I thought about all those times on the playground, when I was wondering "where are the parents of this little boy throwing rocks near my infant daughter," I was too high above the situation to see it for what it was: just another clueless parent like me, wondering what they should be "doing."

I knew every mistake was supposed to be a learning experience. I just didn't think it would be my learning experience. Of course I also thought I had more time. Say, the teen years.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Second chances

Papa arrived promptly at 8:30 a.m. She was packed and ready. She'd been awake for hours, giddy with anticipation of her first swimming lesson. At exactly 8:31 a.m. they were out the door, headed to the car and the Y. She didn't even look back.

There wasn't even time to utter the words she's been repeating since we told her she'd be learning to swim with her grandfather: "OK. ... But I'm not going to put my head underwater, right?"

We didn't need to tell her that she wouldn't have to do anything she didn't want to do. She grabbed her bright yellow bag containing her new swimsuit and a blue towel (to match the color of the water) and she was gone.

Oh sure, Papa said I could go if I wanted, but I could tell by the sound of his voice that this was something he was hoping would be just for him and Annabel. Their special thing. He was a man on a mission not to mention a 45 minute drive to his destination.

So I stayed back to drink coffee without the interruption of her sing-song voice insisting I play with her on the floor of the living room, making her tiny animals come growling to life. Perhaps I'd head off to the the farmer's market without having to stop and check every crack in the sidewalk for treasures.

Mostly I just drummed my fingers on the table and paced the floor when Champ got fussy. (Turns out he's got nothing entertaining to watch when she's not around.) We are both missing her. He's missing her near constant movement and I'm missing one of her firsts.

Two and a half hours pass with no sign of them. I picture her sitting in the booth at a diner in a wet suit with chlorine soaked hair, clutching a damp towel she refuses to let out of her sight. Maybe she's eating French fries and drinking orange juice as my dad sips from a cup of coffee, laughing as she recants every detail of the event he already witnessed.

I'm just about to order her some dessert in my imagination when the door opens and her excited voice dances up the stairs.

"HEL-OOOOOO, anybody home?"

I hollered down, "Hey, how'd it go." And Papa answered, "Oh, Not too well."

Turns out the pool lost a motor or something and has been out of commission since Thursday. Papa was disappointed. Annabel was disappointed. A bunch of kids and their parents were disappointed. And an elderly woman who was headed in as Ittybit and Papa were headed out was probably disappointed, too.

ITTYBIT: "Are you going to swim?"
LADY: "Why yes I am. I go swimming here three times a week."
ITTYBIT: "Well not today. The pool is broken."

For a second I had a flashback to my ninth birthday (at least I think I was 9) and my father was taking me and two of my friends bowling in celebration. I was SOOOOOOOOOOO excited. It was going to be the absolute COOOOLEST, most SPECTACULAR birthday anyone under 10 EVER had.

But when we got to the alley we discovered it was closed. (Who ever heard of a bowling alley closed on a Saturday?)

Thinking fast my father hustled us back into the car. And, driving as swiftly as a man who NEVER drives faster 40 mph can, he high-tailed it across the river to what he thought would be a suitable alternative: The Port of Albany. The stinky old Port of Albany. Where for a solid half an hour we watched a garbage barge load up solid waste. I'm fairly certain I cried for a week.

And yet, it's the ONLY birthday I remember. It's the only one worth talking about.

So on the heels of such disappointment, I was a little surprised Ittybit didn't look sad.

I didn't say anything, but I wondered what he did instead since the pair of miscreants didn't come right back. Did he take her to the Port?

"We went to Old MacDonald's and Papa got me a Happy MeaI. I played on the toys with the kids. It was GREAT."

I tell you, there's nothing better than second chances.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

What I did on my summer vacation ...

Let's be forthright, shall we? Moms -- stay-at-home or not -- don't really get summer vacations, now, do they? There's always a nose needing to be wiped, a knee needing to be sprayed with disinfectant (and then kissed) and then sprayed with disinfectant again or a soccer/baseball/football player or track star that needs a lift to camp ... and back.

When I think of all the vacation time I wasted before children; time just frittered away walking on a beach, drinking in pubs or visiting places with breakables, I become wistful. Because of the Champ's arrival and the Family Medieval Leave Act, this past few months has been the closest to a summer vacation I've come since sophmore year, high school. (It was pretty much full-time summer jobs from then on.) Oh sure I had surgical recovery and the addition of a new person to the family -- one that requires maintenance every two hours -- to contend with, but I also had 10 hours a day that was normally taken up with work and commute. All I had to do now was fill it up by entertaining a preschooler. Easier said than done.

For the record:

Free play isn't free. For 90 seconds firstborn children will assemble all that is needed for a morning of spectacular, imagintive play. The debris will be scattered over four states. Yet as soon as you tell them that they will have to play by themselves, the scamps will lose all interest, abandoning the minefield of toys and begin a chant that will haunt you for the rest of the day: IDON'TKNOWHOWTO ...

Any craft projects that YOU conceive occupies a preschooler for approximately 13 minutes (and that's a successful one). It will also take 30 minutes to clean up, but you can't count those as part of your day since you can't push the vacuum for another four weeks thanks to the incision. And, once you've been cleared for takeoff, the baby will be sleeping during prime suction opportunities anyway.

Taking a walk to the nearest park will burn up a good hour and 17 minutes. You will be smacking yourself in the face with every pebble the kid picks up along the way (475) not to mention trying to figure out a way to slide down the curly slide with a baby in arms or bribe the only other child in the whole playground -- a bored looking pre-teen probably waiting for her ex-convict boyfriend -- to do it for you.

Be prepared for a workout on the way home as you WILL be returning with a kicking, screaming banshee, slippery from reapplied sunscreen, because the only way she will ever be ready to leave a playground is if you promise the circus is offloading elephants in the driveway as she lollygags on the swings.

Lunch will be a solid 10 minutes of fun (and another 20 minutes of agony). You will spend four minutes asking your firstborn what they desire and be told all manner of non-procurable vittles: "I would like chocolate covered bees, pleeeeze." Of course when you finally negotiate for peanut butter sandwiches (with the crusts cut off) and you start making them, she'll tell you she really wanted peanut butter celery canoes.

During all this you will have to change the baby four times, change your shirt twice and your pants once. You still haven't showered, and the firstborn is only wearing underwear. You bribe the child into wearing clothes by telling her she can help you make cookies if she puts on a shirt and shorts. Chocolate chip? Is there any other kind?

But lo' there's no brown sugar. So off to the store you go. Packing the car with a half-naked kid, a screaming infant and about a week's worth of clothes should your car break down and help doesn't arrive for an hour. Granted, grocery stores take about two hours whether you are getting one item or 100. (I would explain, but I might cry just thinking about it).

We get home and fire up the oven. There are some things that I think are FUN to do with kids and baking happens to be on the top of the list. Cakes from a mix, Toll House from scratch ... doesn't matter. If they lose interst between the creaming of butter and sugar and the spooning heaps onto the baking sheet, just thrust a loaded mixer blade in thier direction and watch them disappear.

But that only fills three-quarters of a day ... if I bake one more thing I will be faced with a horrid choice: lose my husband to heart disease or open the most inconsistent bakery in the world, calling it "Some Like It Hot (But Most Like It Cooked).

You know what's filling the rest of the day, right? The boob tube. Oh, yeah ... I've still got laundry to wash and fold. But then I swear, I don't care if it is midnight before the house is finally silent, I'm sitting down to read that trashy beach novel. It's still summer right?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Eating our way through the fair

Oh sure, you may think tractor pulls, demolition derbies, rides, exhibits and games of chance when someone mentions "county fair," but the only thing I'm thinking about as I walk through the fairground's gates -- having already paid a small fortune in admission -- is where to acquire a $5 vat of (real) lemonade and a king-sized pillow of fried dough.

No matter what I may tell you about the down-home goodness of attending the county fair -- the love of the poultry house tour or the leisurely stroll down the semi-clear aisles of the cattle barns, the local quaintness of 4-H booths or the nostalgia that comes with puffs of smoke from the barn where the antique engines rattle and hum -- deep down in my soul, it's the fair fare that makes the annual trek to the dusty grounds a must.

Blooming onions, cotton candy, corn dogs, fried dough, funnel cakes, vinegar fries, ice cream, pretzels, popcorn, pulled pork, steak sandwiches, gyros, chili dogs, barbecue chicken, Italian sausages, kabobs, sno-cones, corn on the cob, kettle corn, elephant ears, nachos, fritters, hush puppies, candied apples, carmel apples and NEW this year -- fried Oreos and fried Twinkies. Oh boy!

What could be better? Theoretically, as I wind my way from the grandstand to the cow barn I could consume 4 million calories ... not to mention a cow once I get there.

This isn't just the fair facts of life; this is what nursing hunger looks like.

Pregnancy hunger was nothing compared to what's on the menu for a person providing the primary source of food for an infant.

I swear I could eat morning, noon and night if it wasn't for the likelihood I'd soon wind up looking like a sideshow Dolly Dimples.

It doesn't help that the fair fare usually has an unfair cost. The folks at the concessions could rival movie theaters with their $6 for a tubs of popcorn. In addition to my billion calorie meal with its 29 million grams of fat I need a wheelbarrow full of cash to get it to the communal picnic tables near the Captain and Tennille cover band.

Most years we burn through the contents of our wallets at a few stops along the midway. We leave the place -- with its bright lights and blaring sounds -- with a moderate amount of food consumption guilt and a small, sawdust stuffed bear of unquestionably bad quality, usually purple. And as we leave it never fails that we pass the one food vendor that might have actually provided some nutrition: the county's own baked potato brigade.

These folks have been in the Grange Hall probably before the yellow building was erected. Wouldn't surprise me in the least to learn the hall had been built around them. Of course every year we pass by the hall on our way to the car, having stuffed ourselves with pulled pork, curly fries and double scoop milkshakes, leaving no room for a spud made to order.

Every year I vow to start with the potato.

And every year, including this one, I forget. I never even consider the hot potato when juggling all the lesser food choices ... Hot dog? Hamburger? One of each?

Of course this year nursing hunger allowed me to end the fair, as I always have, leaving the gates with a milkshake from the dairy bar but also with enough room leftover for a locally-grown spud with a pat of butter and a single dollop of low-fat sour cream. I was so proud of myself; I told them to hold the cheese.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Erasing the permanent record

The permanent record. Just thinking about writing everything down ... every little burp and hiccup ... makes my palms sweat.

Like all parents, I make note of the firsts: the first smile, the first laugh, the first word ... but I can't seem to commit to paper all the firsts that haven't been so pleasant.The first colicky night, the first high fever, the first tantrum, leading to the second tantrum and then the third ...

Get the picture?

I've tried to be positive. I've tried to turn each and every of the little miss' missteps into a learning opportunity. But the opportunities seem endless and my patience finite.

Why just the other day ... from sunup until sundown as a matter of fact ... Ittybit was testing my ability to refrain from checking e-bay's policy on listing preschoolers. The pleases and thank-yous that once came so naturally to her have been replaced by demands in nasty tones. The furrowed brows I once referred to as "storm clouds on the horizon" often erupt in volcanic proportions. And like her, I lose my cool at every turn. Before parenthood whine was something that came from a vineyard and is goes nicely with cheese.

Her testing ways have set me on edge.

My nice words have gone, too. I can hardly remember to keep the tone in my voice a click below rage sometimes.

Everything out of my mouth lately has been preceeded by one or any combination of the following phrases:







I try to remember just how much has changed in the past few months. I try to remind myself how many adjustments she, especially, has made. There was a time when she'd tell the world that "when you get a baby brother people are always saying 'congratulations'. But recently when I ask her what people say now that she has a baby brother she doesn't even have to think it over. "They say 'be careful!'"

Saying 'no' all the time is draining.

Keeping her at bay as he's crying and needy; pushing her back while she's pawing at him, begging to hold him even as he's screaming like he's being stuck with pins is exasperating. I find myself counting the hours and minutes until my husband's truck rolls home and I can hand over the kids and take a walk. A long, long walk.

Until then I try to keep it together. I try to find a new activity to replace the one that's growing old. It's never a seamless transition.

And it's not seamless for any of us.

While the Champ squirms and fidgets and cries under the weight of her kisses, I think about other times I've witnessed him stop squirming and fidgeting and crying in her mighty embrace. How he's even reached for her hand when she holds it out in his direction.

On the occasions he screams in her lap, I hear the pain in her voice when she tells me he doesn't like her.

I tell her that he loves her, trying to reassure her. A white lie, perhaps, but one that has a fundamental truth: Love doesn't always feel good. It doesn't always say sweet things in your ear. Sometimes it's loud and shrill and ill-tempered. But even if its voice is horse, love is always there trying to set itself upright. Wanting to lift itself higher.

Love stumbles sometimes, too. It's just too bad there isn't a little less permanence in the permanent record.