Sunday, December 28, 2008

How do you spell fun? We spell it S.K.A.T.E.

“She certainly knows what she wants,” said the manager of the Skate Factory. Ittybit was standing in front of her, rearranging the order of the games.

“No … I don’t think we should do the lesson just yet. … Let’s play some games first,” she told the woman, the roller rink’s manager and MC, who was standing in front of her holding a microphone, bemused.

It seemed appropriate to me: we’re always going ’round in circles but Ittybit is nothing if not decisive.

She’s known for a year that she wanted to have a roller skating party to celebrate the big F.I.V.E.

No manner of reason (or deflection) could dissuade her. It didn’t matter that she’s not a terribly agile skater or even generally interested in the sport.

All that mattered was that she attended a skate party at this place the year before and decided it had to be spelled F. U. N.

And spelling is big on her list of all-important things these days, as are playing games set to music and walking around on shoes that could cause her untimely demise.
What five-year-old wouldn’t love to strap on a pair (or four) of wheels and take a spin around the floor?

Well ... Me. I’d have rather gone bowling. But I’m not five. Neither is The Champ, but he was happy with her choice. Although his feet were a tad too small for the toddler skates, he was thrilled to walk around with the big kids and climb on the lap of anyone who sat down at an arcade game.

From his joyful squeals, I could deduce that he’ll like driving fast. (Not going to worry about that right now ... I’ll give it another year or 14 before I panic).

Where was I?

Oh yes, a roller skating party.

I said it over and over in my mind.

“What were we thinking?”

“Ice storm. Christmas. Looming nor’easter.

“No one is going to come.

“We’ll be like a handful of loose marbles, rolling around a big empty tin can all by ourselves.”

To be honest, my husband was a little more concerned about this than I was. I knew Ittybit only needs a party of one to be happy. Still, we thought we should prepare her for the worst just in case no one showed up.

We let her know that even if it was only the four of us, it was going to be the best birthday ever.

She looked at us like we’d grown a third head.

“Don’t worry. People will come ... it’s a S-C-R-J-F-P party.”

“You mean S-K-A-T-E.”

Of course she was right. People did roll in, some even came from considerable distances. Others brought their own skates. From the moment the music started, the hours just glided by. We cruised the floor like it was 1984. We did the Limbo and the Funky Chicken. No egos were bruised even though everyone fell. ... They got up ... and then they fell again.

Another thing we fell for, looming large and well lit in the arcade, was The Claw.
No matter what you call the thing (my favorite term is “Brother, Can I Have All Your Quarters” machine) it is more addictive than sugar to the kids.

My husband, trend-spotter that he is, had seen it coming when we’d preemptively gone to check out the place the previous week, and had brought a roll of quarters to keep their addictions fed.

The screams of delight when the fuzzy blue panda got snagged, and then the silly poodle with the purple hat, were deafening.

I’m sensing next year we might just as well rent one of those things and let the kids take turns trying to hook some stuffed animals.

Of course, with our luck, The Champ would be one of those kids; the kind who climb through the collection flap and get stuck inside the box with the toys. Then we’d be getting our own visit from the fire department.

Now THAT would be F.U.N.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holiday logic and Murphy's Law collide

I've been laughing at folks who tell me being without electricity for five days last week effectively put us back in the 1700s.

I laughed because my husband's generative powers -- with his Ranger 2000 and a few dozen gallons of gasoline -- it felt more like we'd effectively revisited the somewhat affluent '50s: Our refrigerator is running, but there wasn't much else in the way of amenities.

For instance:

We washed dishes by hand;

We watched television; but not cable;

We were able to cook on a hot-plate;

And, as a result of limited light, we turned in early.

Yet, it's not nostalgic or idyllic or even "romantical," as our firstborn would say.

The laundry is piling up but will have to wait until the power returns or we can schlep ourselves to the Laundromat, which mightn't be soon since I've had a sore throat for two days and The Champ got some vomity illness that is inconsistently realized (usually in the middle of the night when the generator has quit or run out of gas) as I'm fumbling around in the dark.

And this, for all intents and purposes, means I risk having to wear my prom dress to work (If I could muster the will to drag my sorry-for-my-Self out of bed again) because the aforementioned lack of clean clothes, combined with the growing pile of vomity duds are divided by no way to launder them (until the power comes back online or The Champ musters enough vim to make it through a trip to the local Sit and Spin).

But that's not the worst of it.

When I was able to get a few minutes away to run a cart up and down the aisles at the grocery store with Ittybit, I somehow managed to lose the car key between the shopping and the buying and the pushing of a full cart out to the parking lot.

Yep. Lost.

Which means I had to get the husband to pack the vomity kid into the car and drive me the spare set.

Yep. He did.

After we got home, put away the groceries, I promptly found the keys in my sweatshirt pocket.

Yep. Found 'em. ...

Right where I'd jammed my panicking fists about a half-dozen times.

Still, I was hanging on to the corners of my smile. "One more day," I told myself. "We'll get the electricity back and the bad luck will turn on its heel and march back where it came from."

Should have known better.

Enter regularly scheduled doctors' appointment, wherein I learn that my insurance isn't of the variety they accept any more.

Turns out I had to pay the full boat right there and then and submit the claim myself. Even the lady in the checkout area looked shocked for me when she whispered the total: $180.

So much for health insurance.

I almost laughed when I got to work and learned our struggling company will - as of January - stop contributing to our 401Ks (that are only two years old) in order to get itself in better fiscal standing. Almost. Laughed.

So much for retirement.

There's more, but I won't bother you with it. It'll just make me wish I were home with my vomity boy and my silly husband and my ice princess daughter.

I'll just try and count the one blessing this week had in store for me: I filled the gas tank up from empty (for the first time in I can't remember how long) for under $20.

Let's just say, with the luck I've been having, I'm not going to be taking any long trips ... not even with an $18-fill-up.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sugared snow dusts the houses of tradition

She was all ready to get started. She’d cast off her coat, hat and gloves and was eager to take a seat next to one of the fragrant gingerbread boxes dotting the centers of tables set up throughout the bakery.

“Which one is ours, mama?”

“Have patience, little might. They will tell us.”

It had been a long week of questions and concerns since some friends had signed us up to attend one of Zachary’s Pastry Shoppe’s gingerbread house workshop.

“When are we going to build the gingerbread house?

“Is it going to be just you and me?

“Can we invite more people?

“Can daddy come, too?”

“Are we really going to be able to take it home?

“Can we eat it?”

“How are we going to build it?”

I just shrugged my shoulders. I had no idea.

Though we’ve lived in various states of housing renewal during the past five years, none of us had any inkling of how to manufacture a confectionary cottage. And since I generally view consistency as the hobgoblin of baking, I felt it was probably best to go where the professionals can be on hand should a roof collapse or a wall cave in.

After all, weekend warriors such as myself, should never attempt heavy lifting –- even of the gingerbread variety -- without a spotter; safety first.

You can imagine my relief when I saw the houses had already been constructed, their sugared masonry perfectly cured, awaiting only finishing touches.

When I saw the bag of candy and the area of space needing to be spackled and shingled and decorated, however, I began to doubt all over again.

“We’ll be here all day,” I thought as my husband leaned back and cracked his knuckles, heaving a deep sigh of contentment. “This is what I’m talking about,” he says with confident bravado, no doubt assuming his years of home improvement with stand him in good stead.

I wasn’t convinced. I’ve lived in a renovation zone for nearly a decade without taping or trim.

When our friends arrived we were shown to our seats, at which point Ittybit started to sob inconsolably.

Turns out, no one answered her question about which house was “ours,” and when her friends sat down – one in front of each kit -- she assumed the answer was neither.

In moments that seemed like hours I was able to clarify the situation. Soon we were sitting, puffy-eyed but happy, next to one of the houses and a sweet little gingerbread girl, who’d quietly appeared next to Ittybit’s chair during the turmoil.

She opened the bag of building supplies and started looking through its contents as the bakers brought parchment-paper funnels of icing glue and specialty candy accouterments to our table. Carefully, she lined up all of her materials and asked if I might please spread some icing so she could get started.

Soon she was lost in her work, occasionally looking up at me with a polite request for more mastic.

She says please and thank-you a lot these days, keenly aware that Santa is watching.

She didn’t even mind that much when her father built a picture window out of pretzels on his wall, throwing off the symmetry she’d constructed on her side.

She never complained when her baby brother stuck a soggy gumdrop to the roof. She just handed him something he could unwrap and kept her nose to the grindstone.

She selected chocolate buttons for a chimney stack, and peppermint sticks for door jams. She’d carefully shingled the roof with Smarties and licorice whips.

She planted Marshmallow Christmas trees next to the doors as a landscaping feature, and affixed flower boxes made of chocolate truffles under the windows. She crushed up pink ribbon candy and sprinkled it on the roof … presumably ice that had formed from lack of proper insulation. She even cemented together a pile of pretzel sticks, presumably to feed the woodstove that she imagined to be inside.

She turned to look at the bakers’ example after she was a few candy pieces from finished, having barely tasted any of her building supplies.

“Oh, wow. Look at THAT chimney, daddy.”

“Yes. … but our house doesn’t have a fireplace inside … only a furnace. We don’t really need such an ornate chimney as that,” her father answered defensively.

“Well, after Christmas we should eat this house, move into a house WITH a fireplace, and then next year we can build another house that has a chimney like THAT one.”

“Let’s just finish this house for now,” her father tells her, licking a smear of frosting from his knuckles and eyeing the chocolate chimney, perhaps wondering if anyone would notice if it was one or two Kisses shorter.

From the smile on his face I know we’ll be back next year, probably armed with blueprints and an extra bag of chocolate, (for energy).

As holiday traditions go, I suppose eating the cost of a gingerbread house really isn’t that hard to swallow.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Retailers may feel Scrooged, but the kids won’t notice

I’m standing under the warm glow of our new, seven foot-tall Blue Spruce Christmas tree, cursing.

The Champ just ran over my foot with the back wheel of his ride-on car. As the ache subsides I realize I should really be thankful he careened into me and not the newly festooned tree with its many breakable baubles.

The dressed up house, just one day before December was official, is not the norm for our family. Ittybit insisted we decorate as soon as the first flake of snow floated down from the sky. She’s got the Christmas bug, and, evidently, only miles of twinkle lights and crinkled tissue paper can cure it.

And although I agreed to open the door to a tree (Ittybit can be persuasive) I wasn’t prepared to be ushering in the Christmas spirit so early.

I knew this holiday season was going to be a tough one.

I watched nearly half of my 401k swirl down the drain with a stiff upper lip. I laughed this week as people in-the-know finally announced the recession that the rest of us had already known about for months. We’re all tightening our belts, even those of us who are still wearing our “fat” jeans.

Sometime last summer I vowed to start living a more frugal life: I pledged to buy fewer things, leave my plastic money at home and do more with less. It didn’t really happen. My monthly Visa bill hovered at the same balance every month. Even when gas prices dwindled something else -- usually small trinkets, purchased on a whim throughout the year -- filled the gap in the balance sheet.

Nevertheless, I stashed the stuff away like a squirrel stashes nuts.

“Oh, maybe my sister would like that?”

“That would be fabulous for my mother-in-law.”

“What is that? The kids will LOVE it.”

I thrifted and crafted though I am neither thrifty nor crafty; I visited Goodwills from Maine to Connecticut, and looked for treasures tucked in among the Target overstocks. Sometimes I got lucky. Other times I took the loss, returning the items in another donation bin along my travels.

Yet, when I cleaned out my closet last week as part of my usual “let’s make way for the excesses of our Christmas presents by donating the excesses of our Christmas pasts,” I found the evidence of my Christmas future in the small bags filled with tiny puppets, pencil sharpeners, slippers and socks. There are sparkly shoes and story books, toy cars and drawing pads. There are change purses made in exotic places by people who were paid a fair wage. There’s even a set of wooden blocks I couldn’t buy in a store for a small fortune let alone the pennies I paid at salvage.

No one could be more surprised than I was to realize that not only am I prepared for Christmas morning, but by the time the 24th page of December is peeled off the calendar I will probably be simultaneously hiding eggs for Easter.
I’m not trying to gloat. My holiday organizational skills this year are purely accidental.

After all, it doesn’t take a lot of planning to decide you’re going to attend Christmas morning dressed as a modified Ebenezer Scrooge.

There will be no big ticket items and no expensive gadgets. There will be nothing of the must-have gift varieties under the tree. Santa isn’t visiting anyone over the age of 12 this year in our house, and he’s not bringing anything that requires batteries or an electrical outlet. He’s only bringing things that require an imagination.

I look though the bags wedged in between my shoes and handbags, and immediately make a mental inventory of their contents. I smile. In my imagination, I fill the stockings and stack the boxes under the now, very real tree standing in our front room.

There is more than enough, and there’s more than meets the eye.
There will be no more trips to mall. We’ll spend the rest of our weekends sledding if the snow permits or baking cookies.

It may not be a good Christmas for retailers, but I’m sure it’s going to be a good Christmas for the family.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Ittybity Gift Guide

If you spent Black Friday as I did — hunkered down over my computer screen, wishing the fairies of consumerism would just kill me already and put me out of my misery - you still have some shopping to do.

I mean, what are you to do when the last of the must-have toys was sold from the assembly line six minutes after the company manufacturing it leaked to news sources "Junior will likely revolt if it's not under the tree?"

Why, you improvise, of course.

So in the spirit of holiday giving, what follows is a list of gift alternatives that will probably break the bank, but who cares? The bank is already broken and you need to cover you posterior. And anyway, the kids and grandkids need to see something when they rub the sand from their eyes come Christmas morning.

Knitted Lab Rat, $62
The Crafty Hedgehog —

Your little scientist will be dazzled with this knitted curiosity. The white rat is hand knit from an acrylic mohair blend, and his little innards are needle-felted by hand out of 100 percent wool. He comes pinned into a framed corkboard. As he is not glued down he can be easily removed for cuddling. Poor thing. If you throw in an additional $18 your knitted biology project will arrive in an actual lab tray.
Also available in Frog. Makes the perfect gift for the pacifist biology student on your list.

The Tickled Pink

Deluxe Nursery Set, $300
FAO Swartz

You know what this means right? Now when you leave the house with your new little mother, not only will you have to schlep your kid's coat, hat, books, backpack, snacks, extra shirts, pants and various and sundry things … you're going to be toting double for your new plastic grandchild, too.

Because, this is the ULTIMATE doll set, and includes a custom made "Newborn Nursery Baby," stroller, diaper, backpack, four-piece dish set, piece hat and bootie set, snowflake snowsuit, comb and brush set, bed/changing table, bedding set, fleece gown and cap, fleece blanket, clip-on bunny pacifier and bunny rattle. And you thought real babies don't even need that much gear.

Wooden Cinderella Coach, $1,100

This limited production rocking chair will be hours of pretend fun (as opposed to real fun) for your little Cinderella. And it will only set you back a couple of weeks' pay. Don't be cheap. It is an heirloom piece that will live on forever in the heart of a child.

It includes rockers, gourd seating and clocks. You can speed through any fairytale story and still get nowhere, but at least you'll know when it's bedtime.

Penny Pony Ride-On, $350

FAO Swartz

Just drop the jumbo penny into the slot and hold on. The mechanical horse you know and love from visiting K-Mart will make clip-clopping and neighing sounds while swinging its head and tail.

It's a good investment, really. You'll never again have to empty your pockets of quarters and wait in the wind and rain to get to your Blue-Light Special.

Reborn Baby of the Month Club, $1,200
ShamrockLady —

Are your snarky teenagers driving you nuts? Do you miss the days when they were cute and cuddly and didn't speak? I think at least one major news outlet has done a feature story on these eerily creepy dolls and the collectors who love

Made to look like real newborn infants, these dolls have weighted bodies, micro-rooted wigs. You get a baby a month for six months: a newborn, a preemie, a micropreemie, at least one boy, one girl, one with open eyes and one with closed eyes. Just don’t let the kids tote these dolls around by their hair. You don’t want a visit from Social Services.

Makes the perfect gift for the kid who has dreams of running an illegal daycare.

Broken Bones X-rays, $27

For kids who just can't wait for spring - when they'll fall out of a tree, necessitating a trip to the emergency room and will wind up with a set of their very own. Or for the more girly-girls on your list who otherwise may NEVER have to have any part of their bodies set in a cast.

X-rays are also available in animal anatomy for all those kids who plan on becoming veterinarians.

Deliverance Van, $260
Stephen Fabrications —

The "sculpture" of a truck is just a rusty metal box with a deer antler on rollerskate wheels. I don't think I can improve upon this blurb, however: "I intended this to be a toy and halfway through building it, I realized it was dangerous and went with the danger thing. Delivery vans (vans in general) are creepy. So is this one."

Come to think of it, it's perfect toy for your least favorite nephew.

Lunch Lady Action Figure, $11
Archie MacPhee

Can't you just smell the fish sticks and Tater Tots? Nutrition may soon be coming to a school near you, but the lunch lady who serves it will always have a hairnet and see-through plastic gloves. Anything else would be un-American. The only thing that would make this toy better would be if the food choice stickers you can apply yourself had Scratch-n-Sniff technology.

Mmmmm. ... Lime Jell-O with mystery bits. Mmmmm.

Zorbit Double Wall Inflatable Ball with Harness, $2,000
The Kids Fun Company

It's a human hamster ball, folks! Even the ad copy says words like "maximize the thrill while eliminated unnecessary risks," just not in that particular order (or with the same spelling). It's perfect for any child with an overprotective parent, or anyone who just wants their kids to go play in traffic ... safely.

What if your kids prefer water play? You don't want to risk drowning do you? For the bargain price of $800, you can get Aqua Ball. (The company originally named the device Water Walker … but you know … sales were probably sluggish and Aqua Ball just sounds so much more entertaining.) After all, the Aqua Ball is guaranteed fun. (I'm not sure it's the money-back kind, though.)

I seriously doubt you'll be needing to look elsewhere for that perfect gift this year, but I'd still like to invite you to join me on Christmas Eve as I do my last-minute holiday shopping at the liquor store. I'm just going to ask for something in the back - something, say, among the recycling? The kids will be happy. They'd rather play with the box, anyway.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Twitter may really be for the birds

I was probably knee-deep in laundry or inspecting the insides of my eyelids last weekend when the social-networking site known as Twitter exploded into a frenzy of “tweets” decrying a new ad by Johnson & Johnson for its pain reliever, Motrin.

The hubbub was over the script in which a “hip” mom was complaining (in a chatty, conversational way) about the aches and pains associated with babywearing.

The transcript is as follows:

“Wearing your baby seems to be in fashion. I mean, in theory it’s a great idea. There’s the front baby carrier, sling, schwing, wrap, pouch. And who knows what else they’ve come up with. Wear your baby on your side, your front, go hands free. Supposedly [insert air quotes here] it’s a real bonding experience. They say that babies carried close to the body tend to cry less than others. But what about me? Do moms that wear their babies cry more than those who don’t? I sure do! These things put a ton of strain on your back, your neck, your shoulders. Did I mention your back? I mean, I’ll put up with the pain because it’s a good kind of pain; it’s for my kid. Plus, it totally makes me look like an official mom. And so if I look tired and crazy, people will understand why.”

The self-dubbed #Motrinmoms were reacting mostly to the tone of the piece, which was sort of valley-girl meets Dr. Sears devotee. (If you have access to the internets you might want to peruse Youtube for “Controversial Motrin Moms Commericial” to get the full experience.)

What they were ranting against was the perception that the makers of Motrin were calling attachment parenting admirers fad-chasing, whiners more interested in appearances than in mothering.

As a babywearing mother myself, I have to admit I was a little intrigued by the responses. Here are some of them. …

BethBader: Wearing the kid was as much as fashion statement as dark circles eyes, c-section scar and spit up. I was a GODDESS, I tell you.

JenKaneCo: if Motrin was smart they'd release a new spot where mommies are popping Motrin to deal with the strain of their corp. pandering

samrolken: #motrinmoms are missing the point. The big deal is: it makes #babywearing seem "too hard," it discourages future moms with misinformation.

Even after the company apologized and pulled the ad, the viral Twittering persisted; hundreds of posts continued to log criticism of both the company’s response and the media-crushing outcry of parents.

I suppose it was just too difficult to slow that train down once it had left the station.

The posts then turned to bask in the power of the Tweet -- a 140-character line of text you can upload from the internet or your wireless phone.

I’m not even sure why this has fascinated me so, to tell you the truth. I know there are more important things to rant about than what some company, whose goal is to sell me its $8 product that I can buy generically $4, says about parenting (as if anyone really has the corner on that market anyway).

I know there are more poorly executed ads. Remember the Snickers commercial that aired during the Super Bowl, which showed two men accidentally kissing while eating from opposite ends of a Snickers bar?

I could drone on for days about how much is marketed to children; how the cartoon packaging is always placed at kids’ eye level at the grocery store, making that much harder to get through the store without being THAT person who can’t control their kids’ outbursts. And how the “Iwant-Iwant-Iwants” that come as a direct result of this type of marketing, eventually wears away the resolve of even the most disciplined of parents.

But I won’t. I know when I say black someone else says white.

I’ll just say: Twitter might really be the best research tool for marketers yet. Or it may just be for the birds.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Living in another city of brotherly love

Ittybit loves her brother.

Sometimes she loves him a little too much.

Sometimes I have to exile her to her room for a little while so she can do a little reflecting on pushing him with her feet (until he falls).

"I was just trying to tickle him."

Sometimes I have to break up their hugs (before she squeezes the last breath from his little body) ...

"I was just trying to kiss him."

Often I have to ask her to lower her voice when she sings his praises.

“I was just trying to tell him I love him.”

All this loving comes with lots of admonitions:

“Please don't hold him back. Please don't take ALL his toys. Please don't try and pick him up. Please don't crawl on top of him. Please stop yelling at him. Please don't pull on his clothes. Please stop grabbing at him. ...”

"I was just wanting to play with him."

I've tried explaining to her that he won't be little for long. One day he may even be taller and bigger than she is. She doesn't believe me. She puts growing older and growing bigger in the same category.

"How old are you going to be on your next birthday? ... I bet when that birthday comes you won't even be able to fit in your car!"

She can’t comprehend that he could ever be bigger than she is since he will never be older.

She can't imagine (the way I can) that her brother may some day wrestle her to the ground and hold a droplet of spittle an inch from her nose until she screams for mercy and he sucks it back into his mouth like a strand of spaghetti.

All she knows is that when he pulls her hair or scratches her arm, in addition to reminding her that he's just a baby – a toddling baby but still a baby – that he’s getting a little admonition, too.

“Champ, Please don’t pull the dog’s tail. We use gentle hands. Uh oh; no climbing on the table … no throwing food … we don’t throw toys into the toilet.”

She beams with delight whenever he is told to be easy on his sister or to hand back the toy he ferreted from her grasp. She wants to know all the particulars about when he’s removed to another room for a little time away from the most recent trouble.

“I told him not to jump on the couch. He’s getting a time out, isn’t he?”

“Never you mind about that, Eddie Haskel.”

“Who’s Eddie Haskel?”

I suppose I was ready for the rivalry.

I was ready for the hair pulling and the complaints about pilfered toys and overstepped borders. I was aware that entire battles would be waged over the perception of one more teaspoon of ice cream in the other’s bowls.

But I wasn’t ready for the shock of that other thing that happens, too: sibling camaraderie.

I was stunned into silence when he first clawed his way past me to wrap his arms around her in a bear hug. I was almost moved to tears when she smiled and hugged him back; gently this time.

I still kind of stand in the background with my head cocked a little like Nipper, the RCA dog, when she’s barreling down the hallway on her Plasmacar yelling, “Let’s head ’em off at the pass,” and he follows along behind, pushing his own car with his tiny legs, happily yelling something just like it in unison.

It’s a joyful noise.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Of politics and preschool

Ittybit didn't like our selection at the polls. She didn't want to vote for "Rock the Bama" on Election Day.

And just knowing that drove me crazy.

Sure, she really doesn't have an understanding of politics as it applies to the presidency and she couldn't legally vote even if she did. But it's not as if she doesn't comprehend politics in general.

Like all children, she fully understands that positioning herself a certain way can affect a desired change. For instance, she knows that if she asks politely she can have Halloween candy after breakfast. She also knows that if she asks the right people (Amah and Papa) she can have cookies BEFORE dinner.

Yet when we talked about voting for Barack Obama and she became a four-foot wall of protest, I was at a loss.

She didn't want to vote for "Rock the Bama," she told me, because she didn't like his name.

I'm not sure what came over me, but I immediately went on the stump as if I were Move On Dot Org and she were the choir.

"Well, of course we're voting for Barack Obama. Disliking his name IS NOT an acceptable reason to disqualify him," I responded, reeling with the vision of my own daughter one day lambasting her parents to Rush Limbaugh for once - way back before the primaries -- putting an Obama pin on her pint-sized t-shirt.

I felt a twinge of guilt. Had the weight of that metal button tipped the balance toward rebellion already?

I launched into lectures of all the reasons her father and I wanted this man in office. I spoke to my four-year-old audience in much the same way I've spoken to friends: I spoke about decency and fairness and ideology and change. I talked about beliefs and goals and ideals. I even spoke about passion: "He gives me hope, and I think hope is what we need."

She was not swayed.

"I just want Yaya," she said, invoking the name of her beloved babysitter.

"You told me we could write-in a name," she argued after she left the booth with her father, having just pulled a lever on the top row. "I didn't see any pens."

I laughed, still feeling unsettled knowing that I, in my zealous liberal way, am probably destined to raise ultra conservative children who will likely cancel my vote starting in 2024.

"When you're 18 you can vote for whomever you like," I tell her, adding that maybe it would be a good idea for her to have her own voting booth made of cardboard and decorated with stickers so she can practice. "You can campaign for Yaya, or Mickey Mouse or Pluto if you like."

"Well, I've changed my mind. I think it's time for change, too. I'm voting for Minnie Mouse. She's the one for me. After that I'll vote for Rock the Bama."

Maybe she understands more than I thought.

Maybe she understands, in her own way, that we are probably more alike than we realize. No matter who we voted for, in the end, we are all Americans. Maybe from now until Inauguration Day parents around the country should start reading the book, "Everyone Poops," at bedtime as a simple reminder of that fact.

Perhaps we all should.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Ittybit's visiting pen pal parcel post

Ittybit was pleased with herself. More accurately, she was pleased with the paper doll her teacher at the Marilla Cuthebert Academy for Unspeakably Charming Children had given her to decorate, which she promptly named after herself and painted pink.

"Look, mama! It's me. Only I don't have a sheep. And I don't have blue eyes. And my hair's not that long. ... But it's ME!"

Having an artwork doppleganger is not easy, though. These characters are incredibly hard to work with; you can't hang them on the wall with the other artwork (that would be uncomfortable) and transportation - since they must travel wherever we go - is an issue because they are incredibly fragile and prone to tears and creases.

But trek with her we must as the Flat Ittybit - like her literary cousin, Flat Stanley - enjoys looking out of the car window while we run errands.

"What?!? We can't leave her in the CAR when we go shopping! You never leave kids in the CAR!"

Thus Flat Ittybit has gone grocery shopping with us; she's gone to the park and to play dates. Sometimes she's had to stay in the car but we've been diligent in checking in on her and never straying too far.

When the mother of her pen-pal (a nice little girl named Jaylene in Taiwan) saw a recent photograph of Flat Ittybit and suggested we mail her overseas for a visit, I knew it was going to be a tough sell.

"I don't want to send her away. I want to keep her here."

"I know. ... But don't you think it would be fun to send a Flat Ittybit for a vacation? She could pretend to be you and then your pen-pal friend will take her to all the places she loves and send you pictures.

"No! It would NOT be fun. I do NOT want to send her away."

With that she began to cry.

"Ok, ok. Don't worry. We won't send Flat Ittybit away. ... In a few years, when you understand, maybe we'll send her sightseeing."

She stopped crying.

"What don't I understand?"

"It's a project," I say, emphasizing the magic word. "It would be like YOU were traveling and seeing the sights. Your friend could even send you a Flat Jaylene, and we could take her to all the places YOU like to go."

"Like Hoffman's Playland?"

"Well, Hoffman's is closed for the season."

"How about the zoo?"

"Well, we won't be near a zoo for a while."

"This doesn't sound very good, mom."

"How about the state museum? We could take Flat Jaylene to ride the carousel."

"That would be fun."

"We could bring her to your dance class."

"That WOULD be fun. Let's do it. Let's send her to Wantai."


"Oh, right." >

And with that we agreed to send Flat Ittybit to Taiwan. The problem now will be making sure she has comfortable accommodations for the trip.

"Let's make a hole in the envelope, mama. Then she can have a window seat."

Stay tuned. ...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Not your average chilling goat story

I didn’t really want to go into the “petting zoo” at the apple orchard. It never even occurred to me that I might have to despite the fact that it was I who suggested that our play date companions meet at the farm precisely because it was so kid-friendly. “It even has a petting zoo,” I believe were my exact words.

I live in a world separated from reality by a mind swirling in fog. I can admit it.

In my defense, however, I had taken many a dear friend to this particular farm to pick apples and play on the playground equipment (not to mention gawk at the one thing that makes this particular apple place unique in all the region) and it had always been enough for our tender charges to look at the barnyard critters through the chain-link fence. No one had ever actually wanted to pet one.

This trip, however, it was immediately apparent things would be different. Ittybit had made a shocking discovery at the farm stand: a little tray of paper cups filled with feed.

Otherwise it had been an ordinary visit: We had stood in line at aforementioned stand in order to fork over $11.50 for an empty bag. We had walked forever to get to the wrong place and had to go back. We found the right place, dragging boneless children behind us, and picked our peck of apples. We even walked between the potty and the playground more times than I have fingers to count.

That’s when Ittybit remembered the paper cups. She’d seen people her size cajoling people my size into buying them. Now, as we were on our way out, she wanted to feed the animals, too.


What could I do? I had gone to Rome.

Not only did we have to walk through a mine field of goose grease to get to the pasture containing the sweet little rabbits and chickens and pigs and pygmy goats, but we also had to pay a buck and a half for the pleasure. This and nary a bottle of hand-sanitizer in hand or even attached to the fencepost -- where, arguably, a goat could have gotten into it and wound up either drunk or poisoned (I’m fairly certain goats will eat a tin can if you let them).

But I digress.

It’s not that I think having pint-sized farm animals eating out of the palm of one’s hand isn’t worth the price of a tiny disposable cup filled with grain. And it’s not as if the farm, an autumnal destination spot for folks just like us, was without a restroom where we would be able to wash our hands in warm soapy water later on. It’s just that I was ready to move on to the lunch portion of the program. I wanted my little cup filled with warm mochaccino not woody pellets.

Ah well, I put on a smile and marched the kids right up to the petting zoo gate and proceeded, in my unearned confidence, to release two goats.




Only, the goats didn’t actually disappear. The petting zoo inhabitants stayed nearby, munching on the lowest leaves on some apple trees and mostly ignoring our efforts to lure them back to captivity with our tiny cups of grain.

I was mortified.

Now mingling with the fog in my brain is a chorus of angry farmers singing (in unison and with four-part harmony) “WHO LET THE GOATS OUT?”

“They must be used to this,” said my friend, trying to console my guilty soul by pointing out there was no one in authority tending the zoo or assisting stroller-driving visitors safely past the gate and the wily goats.

“Maybe if I had that mochaccino I could have lured the goats back to the pen,” I tell Ittybit, reminded of a movie we’d seen lately in which an animated deer had a thing for frothy coffee drinks.

“I don’t think so, mama,” she told me, having herself taken a sip of one of my caffeinated beverages recently. “It really isn’t anything like ‘freedom in a cup’.”

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Llama Llama wedding mama

My right hand was hurting. I could feel the uncomfortable pull of muscle in the meat of the palm along its outer edge.

I started to worry a little. I am a worrier. That’s what I do; I worry.

“What is this?” I ask myself, wondering what injury could have happened as my attentions were focused elsewhere. “Why does my hand hurt?”

Then I notice the readout of my camera’s data card: “1,300.”

“Thirteen hundred photographs!” I blurted as my husband stealthily slipped a third piece of cake from the serving table. “Holy crow, that’s the most I’ve ever shot at one event in my entire life!”

He was a little startled by the outburst but managed to save the creamy slice of Persian Love Cake — garnished with sugared rose petals — from toppling over and falling to the ground.

“Don’t do that,” he chided drolly. “You could have made me drop the cake, and that would have been a REAL tragedy.”

We were at the wedding of a friend. It was the first time we’d been alone together – without children – for an entire day in years. But we were still kind of separate. I was “working” as the official photographer and he was “working” to ensure as many morsels of food were tested for possible contamination as courteously possible.

“I want to make sure there’s enough for everyone,” he joked as he sampled the rich dessert from my plate. “Mmmmmmm, cake.”

I laughed and plucked a petal from his plate with my good hand.

I’ve been photographing weddings semi-professionally for years, but I never really thought about how different each one is from another, especially since most of the circumstances that bring two people together seem identical. Even the progression of events from first blush to old hat seems utterly predictable:

Boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy gets girl back; boy proposes; girl rejects him; boy ignores girl, proposes again; she accepts; they set the date … and then all hell breaks loose.

Because in between the moment that true love is understood and the moment in which an officiate declares them to be husband and wife there are so many tiny details an otherwise happy couple can trip over. The whos, wheres, how muchs not withstanding, there’s also the whos will sit wheres; and the what colors will we use for the thing-a-ma-jigies on the tables; and the where should we registers, and how do we tell people where we registered once we have; not to mention the who’s going to catch the llamas if the flower girl drops the lead line as she pilots the wooly beast down the aisle?

Ok. Most folks don’t have to worry about that last one, but it was a logistical concern this couple had to figure out.

Months of stress over one day can rock any relationship. And, put in those terms, perhaps one might understand, if not applaud, the desire of some couples say their wedding vows in Vegas.

I’d always thought that’s what I’d do if the lie I always told myself — that I’d NEVER get married; that I’d NEVER have kids — didn’t pan out; I’d elope.

But I didn’t elope and I’m glad my friend didn’t either.

It just seems weddings, for all their headaches and expense, are the surest sign of hope we can share with hundreds of our closest friends and family.

Of course now with 1,300 captured moments to whittle down to a manageable number, I have to spend the next year processing my gift to the happy couple. Ah well, at least the llamas will keep it interesting and I’ll always remember that cake.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Covert redemption: Escaping - one toy at a time

Sometimes I feel like Andy Dufresne from the movie Shawshank Redemption, only without the dank prison walls or the murder conviction. I certainly lack his look of perpetual calm as he strolls through the "yard."

My prison walls have a fresh coat of paint and new trim. And our "yard" is littered with toys and weeds and other objects a more genteel writer might avoid mentioning at all. While I don’t have shackles or chains, I do have a dog and an ever-expanding array of consumables that don’t seem to ever get fully digested.

Not only is our lawn a mess of unmentionables, our house is cluttered with the damage of nearly six Christmases, six birthday parties and just as many years' worth of weekly trips to the grocery store and the local discounters during which some little plastic something always wound up coming home with us.

It's almost too painful to survey the wreckage because of guilt, or, more specifically, my inability to resist the ubiquitous two-part question: "Wow, that-looks-cool, mom. Can I have that?"

Some people look around in the spring and try and rid themselves of winter excess; but fall is when I look to fatten up the Army of my Salvation.

I am reminded of the "Shawshank" protagonist not entirely because I feel trapped in a prison of things, but also because of how Morgan Freeman's character, Red, speaks of him during that crucial point in the film where we realize Dufresne has done the impossible: he engineered his escape while under the careful watch of his captors.

He says: "Geology is the study of pressure and time. That's all it takes really, pressure, and time. That, and a big God-damned poster. Like I said, in prison a man will do anything to keep his mind occupied. It turns out Andy's favorite hobby was totin' his wall through the exercise yard, a handful at a time."

So in some strange way, It's Red's voice I hear in my head as I sweep the broken crayons off the floor and into the dustpan, silently dumping them into the trash whenever my tiny jailors are looking the other way.

I am reminded of the crinkle of the pin-up girl posters Dufresne toiled under late at night, and the tiny rock hammer that should have been futile, as I tiptoe through my ittybity warden's bedroom late at night, extracting clothes and toys she's outgrown to hide them away.

With respect to time and pressure, I am cunning. A trip to the park with her father offers enough precious time to rid the tub of moldy, soap encrusted toys and line the bottom of the recycling bin with precious, albeit quickly scribbled, coloring book pages.

Each time I drag a small piece of the growing pile of belongings out of the house unnoticed, I feel a little lighter. In that instant when I drop bag of last year’s shorts and sundresses into the donation bin, I feel — as the character, Dufresne, must have when he let the bits of his cell wall fall through his fingers — that much closer to freedom.

I've even learned -- through other mothers in partnership of such crimes -- to cover my tracks with only a fresh face and a little slight of hand whenever the spotlight glares upon my deeds.

"Mommy, have you seen my little doll (that I haven't ever played with but because it's now missing I've somehow remembered having owned it).”

“Oh, dear. I don't know," I say with my hand spiraling into the air, signaling toward the considerable clutter still remaining. "It must be around here someplace."

When she looks in the direction of my airy wave, shrugging her shoulders satisfied with my answer, wouldn't you know … the calm I've been waiting for washes over me.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

His bark is not worse than his bite

I just don’t understand the adage, ‘his bark is worse than his bite.’

Now I know the aphorism is meant to convey the idea that the proverbial dog in any given situation is bluffing, but you have to risk getting bitten to figure that out.

No matter how many times I turn the phrase over in my head I always come to the same conclusion: The bite is bad, and no amount of barking will ever be worse.

I know this because at this moment my whole body is tense from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. My shoulders are level with my ears. And my son is standing in front of me, feet stomping and fists pumping. He wants to nurse.

He knows I know what he wants. What’s confounding him, it would seem, is why I’m just sitting there with the twisted expression of dread on my face. He starts to stomp his foot louder and smack his lips. Soon he will squint one eye, open his mouth and shriek.

“Ok. … but if you bite me, we’re through,” I say, picking him up and unhooking the strap of my nursing bra, wary of the ungrateful behavior he’s recently adopted: biting the teat that feeds him.

My guess is he thinks I’m the one bluffing.

Neither of us is ready to wean: Even at 15 months of age he still consumes much of his calories from breast milk. He picks at foods and eats a spoonful here or there but mostly lives on air and ‘boob juice,’ as my husband so eloquently puts it. By the same token, I’m not ready to close down the diner because he’s my baby — my LAST baby.

Now, I’ve been down this road before. At the same age, Ittybit herself was taking little bites. The difference is when I said ‘No,’ in that stern voice the experts recommend, she got the message.

The Champ just laughs at me, and, once I’ve disengaged his teeth and set him down -- all while glowering at him with my mad eyes and protruding lower lip — he simply goes about his other important toddler activities, such as terrorizing the dog and throwing small toys into the toilet, mocking me.

I know the drill. I know teething can make little sharks out of children. I know I’m supposed to make it very unpleasant to bite. I’m supposed to practically suffocate him with my mammary glands so he’ll open his mouth, or pry my little finger in between his clenched jaws and force them open if I feel even the slightest pinch. I’m supposed to react in pain and disappointment. I’m supposed to startle him; to make him cry; to make him realize that he’s hurting mommy, and that hurting mommy is supposed to be unpleasant.

The books tell me when he gets that message he will stop.

Thus far, though, these reactions have only made him giggle or full out laugh.

Even when he is hungry, he nurses uneventfully until the very end when he bites down without warning – not even the tiniest little glint of a mischief-y eye.

“Somebody’s getting ready to wean,” says a childless friend in a sing-song voice when I tell her of my peril. She would know, she’s seen many-a-sheep mama kick their little lambs to the curb for just such offenses.

I ignore her and take comfort in talking to my human-breeding friends who tell me I’m on the right track: “Just keep making it unpleasant for him to bite you and he will learn. He will, you’ll see. The Champ will figure out the bark is worse than the bite.”

"That's what I'm afraid of ... he'll realize my bark has no teeth and keep on biting."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Goodbye Kitty

As soon as I stepped from the car I could hear the hysterics. The sounds of screaming, crying and carrying on were tumbling down the stairs and through the still closed door into the parking lot, daring me to turn around and drive right back to work.

“What is going on,” I say incredulously as I put down my bags and get the full force of our four-year-old ricocheting into my arms.

“Squeak is dead. Squeak is DEAD! Squeak is dead and daddy wouldn’t let me say goodbye,” Ittybit says rapid-fire through a curtain of tears.

“Don’t you check your messages?” her father hissed over the dinner preparations, tired of dealing with the aftermath of the news all by himself. “I called you hours ago.”

But I was stunned by the realization that one of our neighbor’s many cats — an animal that spent most of her waking life pretending to sleep on OUR porch — was gone.

“Squeak is dead?”

“Hit by a car. She didn’t make it.”

“How awful.”

“I wasn’t sure if I should tell her about the cat.”

“Well, I think you did the right thing. I’m not fond of telling kids that their furry friends went to live on farm or just up and ran away. And there’s nothing worse than telling a kid the animal ‘went to sleep never to awaken again’ right before bed.”

I’m not a cat person. But I am, I think, a tolerant person; and as a tolerant person I must admit that there are cats, which, from time to time make me rethink my aversion.

The cats that toy with my affections always seem to be a little more canine than feline. They act like lunatics standing up to and flinging themselves against invisible foes. They beg for morsels of food from my plate or just seem really glad to see me when I return. Even if they’re not really glad to see me at all.

Squeak, however, was the classic anti-cat.
A sweet little calico, she got her name not only from her penchant to 'talk' but the timber of her voice. She was neither timid nor feisty. She was friendly toward the children, and even tolerated our tiny screamer, The Champ, who had also recently started experimenting with affection by pulling furry tails and ears and appendages. She seemed contrary to the very nature of cats: She wasn’t aloof, she didn’t startle easily or seem skittish.

Of course she didn’t drool or bark their heads off with every leaf wafting down from the trees this time of year, but even some dog lovers wouldn’t argue those as a top qualities for their non-speaking companions.

Mostly, she just seemed to like us, not merely tolerate us.

Squeak greeted us each time we returned home by rolling onto her belly in front of our stoop and begging for affection. Even if we were carrying groceries we had to stop and give her a pat, we couldn’t help ourselves. She just seemed to have a smile in whatever she was doing.

I was stunned.

The house was quiet again except for the clanging of utensils in the kitchen and the scraping of rolling toys across the floor. Ittybit was silent, too, drawing a picture to give to Squeak’s owners; an offering of bereavement.

“I can’t believe squeak is really dead,” I said, looking at the picture.

“Maybe tomorrow we can bring flowers and put them on her grave.”

“I think that would be a nice thing to do.”

“And then the next day we should go and buy cat treats.”

“Well … Ittybit,” I stammer. “Squeak won’t be hungry anymore.”

“I know! But none of the other cats play with me. I’ve got to make friends with one of them now.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I'm not ignoring you ... or am I?

If you happen to call out to me on the street and I don’t answer please know it’s not my intention to ignore you. It is much more likely that I can’t hear you above the ringing in my ears from the screaming I’ve endured these last few months emanating from the 20 pounds of boy matter I’m still slinging around on my hip.

The Champ has found his outdoor voice.

And he’s using it every chance he gets.

Now, if you were to consult such highly genteel Web sites as (as I have done), you’d find that this behavior is totally normal for half-pints his age.

The electronic font of parental knowledge, which recommends I try to ignore the blood curdling wails, would also have me know that the shrieks emanating from my son are not meant to annoy but to express joie de vivre.
I for one could use a little less life in my joy, thank-you-very-much.

I’m fairly certain it doesn’t take a French scholar to realize that the high-octave shrieking that starts immediately after a parental-type figure removes the sharp, pencil-like object from aforementioned two-foot tall whirling dervish underfoot, is being reminded that such thefts are not appreciated.

And it probably doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that whenever your family ventures off to explore any cavernous space, such as a museum or library, the shrieking will reach decibels never before recorded by man. You know … just because they can.

It also doesn’t help when people who see this boy’s face as his lets rip some of the loudest exercises in voice projection our planet has ever witnessed, can’t keep a straight face themselves. Some of them even reply in kind, thus creating and reinforcing the game of Who Can Screech the Loudest.

I can’t take the noise.

Of course one can’t get angry at a little person who’s understanding of etiquette can be measured, conversely, by the length of time it takes a rational adult-type person to clean the remaining chunks of food from the “feeding area” once the dog has had first dibs on the carnage.

But what can we do to stop the madness?

Well, so far I’ve employed every tried and true method the Web site recommended:

I’ve attempted to keep to his schedule; running errands when he’s happy and well rested;

I’m trying to only go to noisy places where we can blend in;

I’m introducing the concept of an INDOOR VOICE … even though I’ve had to remind everyone in the family (and even myself) to use it from time to time;

We’re all trying to model a quieter tone in general conversation;

Most of all, we’re trying to keep him occupied.

With a devilish smile, he good-naturedly ignores any and all pleas for quiet. At every step, in fact, he’s laughing at my efforts and going about his merry way, screaming at the top of his lungs.

Perhaps it’s a good thing he’s making me a little deaf. … I’m fairly certain it’s the only way I’ll be able to do what the people recommend as a last ditch effort: “Ignore the onlookers.”

Hmmm. Maybe I am trying to ignore you.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Back to school just another lesson for mom

She wants to be a veterinarian.

That's what Ittybit told me in the car that morning as we drove her brother to the babysitter's house. We had a new routine wherein she doesn't stay with the sitter but rather goes along with me a few miles further to her preschool, and she was getting used to that as well.

Technically, it would be her third first day of preschool. She’s been attending the Marilla Cuthbert Academy for Unspeakably Charming Children since the tender age of two.

“Tell me again, mama. … Am I going to the four-year class or the five-year class?”

She is four going on 24 and she’s got her life planned out already.

Instead of using the word veterinarian, however, she called it a "doctor for animals."

Who can blame her: Veterinarian is hard to pronounce.

She wants to be a doctor who waits tables and makes pies. She wants to help babies and animals that are hurt and in need of sweets. Suffice it to say she wants to help cats who are sick and dogs with “grumblies in their tumblies.”

But she's going to need assistance, she explains. She's not sure if she can fix an animal that has had its foot cut off, an affliction she's sure will be commonplace in her practice.

She's not sure if there will be "antibotices" when she grows up, either. I tell her she's quite an astute little girl, especially given the up-tick in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

She takes umbrage, and accuses me of calling her stupid.

I tell her astute implies the opposite; that her observations are shrewd.

She's not swayed by my backtracking, but she's excited nevertheless to be going back to class with charming chums and perfectly proper professors.

This time around, however, it's her mother - and not a babysitter - who will get the full weight of the teachers' admonitions when she arrives at school painfully unprepared.

For those of you unaware of the uncommon talents of preschool teachers, let me tell you how incredibly skilled they are at making parents snap to attention not by raising their voices but by raising a single eyebrow.

See, unlike most working mothers of young children, preschool teachers are exceedingly organized. They know exactly what needs to be done in all manner of trying circumstances:

And aside from teaching their young charges to follow simple directions, become accustomed to sharing and social interactions, not to mention recognizing their own names and coloring inside the lines, what preschool teachers do best is teach children how to remind their parents of all the things they are messing up:

Teacher says I should have boots when it's raining;
Teacher says we need mittens instead of gloves;
Teacher says our hats should be attached to our coats;
Teacher says we need snow pants instead of snow suits;
Teacher says my clothes need nametags.
Teacher says you didn't hand in my book order, mom. … MOM? Did you forget my book order?

Mom? Mom? Mom?

I’m forever wondering how it is I’ve managed to raise a child who not only speaks in complete sentences but also points out my failings with such eloquence and grace in each and every one of them.

As my child learns to ask please and thank you, as she learns to wash her hands with soap before meals and keep her hands in her lap until everyone is seated at the snack table; I am reminded that we live like wolves.

She comes home from her first day of school bearing pictures she’s drawn and crafts she’s made. She talks about the things she’s learned. Meanwhile she also wonders why it is we don’t sit politely, hands in lap, waiting for daddy to bring his own plate to the table before we dig in. She’ll tell us that we should use our indoor voices; and that her brother shouldn’t eat with his hands; and that she really doesn’t understand how a person is supposed to eat without a full mouth.

“I think you mean shouldn’t talk with your mouth full.”

“Oh yeah,” she’ll laugh. “That sounds better.”

After she eats however many bites she’s negotiated before the meal, she’ll set her dishes precariously upon the counter above the dishwasher. Then she’ll turn and chastise her father – the chef - who’s moseyed on over to the freezer without clearing his plate.

“There won’t be any dessert for you, mister man if you don’t put your dish away. …”

He laughs, takes his plate and puts it down for the pooch.

“… And I don’t think you should feed those leftovers to the dog … it might upset her tummy.”

“Next year,” I tell her, “you’ll be heading off to college.”

“Will you still drive me? Because I think I’ll be a little afraid of getting on the bus.”

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Family Bed: Babies aren't sleeping with the enemy

He handed me the bib.

It read: “Babies Sleep Safest Alone.”

I took it, thanked him, and used the blue-fringed bit of cloth to clean the toilet.

“Babies sleep safest with mommies who wake up to their needs,” I muttered to myself, knowing full and well that some mommies and daddies are able to do their best jobs as parents when their infants are crying it out down the hall.

I don’t judge. How could I? They know themselves better than I do. They know their kids better than I do, too. By the same token, however, I think parents who sleep with their kids in a family bed — who have made the informed decision to do so — are not endangering the lives of their kids.

My vantage point in this belief comes from being on both sides of the debate. Our first baby thrashed and squawked until she was put down in her own crib next to our bed. She was still in our room, and I would wake up at the slightest sound to check on her in the night. She moved to her own room at around a year, and we all started sleeping through the night again. The doctor assured us, if she needed us we'd know.

The second baby wanted to be held and cuddled and soothed. Perhaps it was the circumstance of a rough recovery from his birth and my inability to get up and down for night feedings that made him accustomed to my constant presence. For the most part he slept soundly in the crook of my arm or on my chest where I could hear him breathe.

I can't report whether either of my kids' sleep patterns are good or bad or normal or abnormal; all I can say SHE still wakes up some nights and finds her way into our room, and HE is he is a BABY. He sleeps like a baby. But he won't be a baby forever.

So ... the long and short of it is this: I've become fond of co-sleeping. I think when done correctly, it can be rewarding. I think parents should consider it one option of many, and decide for themselves which works best for them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t agree. It has come out solidly against co-sleeping for reasons of safety. Joining it in its efforts are the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission and – not so surprisingly – the Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association (the association for people who make cribs).

While acknowledging that co-sleeping is widespread in many cultures, the AAP notes that “what’s often overlooked is that in countries where co-sleeping is routinely practiced, families almost never sleep in beds with soft mattresses and bulky covers. A baby may be less likely to smother when the family sleeps on a floor mat with only a light coverlet.”

However what the AAP overlooks seems mind boggling.

It seems as best as I can tell from reading, the reasoning all hinges on a three-year study in which 180 children (in an age range containing 12 million) died in bed with their parents or siblings. It makes no mention of the circumstances surrounding the deaths: Who was the adult? Mother? Father? Babysitter? Were they obese? Were they intoxicated? Taking medication that causes them to sleep more deeply than normal? Moreover, it doesn’t compare information from the same time frame that shows thousands of children died in cribs.
According to one report, more infants die each year in house fires (many of whom might have been saved if their parents could have reached them) than died in adult beds for all three years of the study.

I suppose it’s just an imperfect world. There are certainly some people who shouldn’t co-sleep. Still, somehow, we'd rather put our overwhelming trust behind manufacturers to keep us safe.

The question I really don't understand is why? Why do we look at the family bed deaths of 180 babies and shake our heads and mount campaigns while thousands die, alone, in cribs and not drawn the conclusion that every sleep situation can be dangerous?

It shouldn't be lost on us that it is the AMERICAN Academy of Pediatrics is in America where we have real issues with societal norms and differences. Nor that the AAP's precautions about sleeping arrangements go beyond the immediate safety concerns into the more social ones as to why it believes parents are co-sleeping in the first place: It suggests that parents who can’t afford to purchase a safe crib should be directed to financial aid; if the parent is sleeping with the child to “offset loneliness” it suggests counseling. It even goes as far to recommend that babies can be buffers when the marriage is troubled, and again recommends counseling.

All of these things make sense when looking at both hard data and anecdotal evidence, especially if you infer that their target audience is the poor, the illiterate or the potentially drug addicted.

But the truth -- especially about safety and sleep -- can't be gotten to in four words.

The real public service is to explain how to be safer in whatever choices we make.

The only problem seems to be that the information won’t easily fit on a bib.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Signs of the time: Now where did my baby go?

All of a sudden my baby disappeared.

Yesterday he was comfortably nestled in my arms, happy to see the world from the safety of my embrace, cooing and chortling and staring at his hands, and today … well? I’m not sure where he’ll be.

He’s on the move.

I might find him playing in the dog’s water bowl or trying to climb up to the sink or trying to drop any number of small items that he shouldn’t have anyway down the heating vent in the floor. It’s not out of the ordinary that as I try and put dishes in the dishwasher or clear the table for dinner, he might be emptying the lower kitchen shelves of their contents. I’ll catch up with him when I follow the trail of granola bars and macaroni and cheese boxes into his sister’s room, where she will undoubtedly be screaming for his eviction.

“He’s just a baby,” I say, trying to defuse the situation.

“Well, he’s wrecking everything.”

I’ll drag him away. I’ll put him down near a basket of toys that should keep him busy. Yet, like a mechanized toy that’s been fully wound, without missing a beat he’ll be heading off in whatever direction he’s least welcome to go.

If his father is trying to work at his desk in peace, the baby will go and empty a box of receipts or unravel a roll of stamps or have a three-way conference call with a client.

If the dog is trying to eat her meager bowl of kibble, the baby will be there to dole it out, piece by torturous piece.

If his sister is trying to color in her coloring book, he will be there to take sample tastes of crayons or to spirit them away altogether, never to be seen again.

It’s highly probable that when I try to fold laundry in the living room, he’ll make his way into the bathroom with a few choice pieces of clothing and shove them in the toilet. I can’t believe we still forget to put the seat down. I also can’t believe that one day I’ll be glad when he learns how to flush.

He’s not interested in correction. He’s still a baby. “Uh-oh!” and “No!” have come to mean “This is a fun game” when he sees the big people heading his way. The couch isn’t a place he’s forbidden to climb on so much as it’s a receptacle large enough to hide books or boxer shorts or the television’s remote control.

He’s not interested in learning sign language, either.

He’s got no use for clapping hands together to ask for “more,” or gesture with a two-handed wiping motion to tell us he’s all done. He’s not going to rub his open hand over his chest to say “please,” or put his hand in front of his mouth and lower it to say “thank you.”

Who’s got time for that? Especially when you can point at exactly what you want and yell “DAT” at the highest volume your tiny vocal chords will allow.

He knows that the people trying to get him to communicate with sign language will eventually give it up and just hand over whatever “DAT” is.

Many a time he’s been able to finagle the exact contraband he’s after:

“Uhm … Who gave the baby the cookie?”
“I did.”
“Well, because he was SCREAMING.”
“And that worked?”
“Like a charm.”
“Good to know.”

Of course, occasionally there is something he wants that will elude us big people. In those instances it’s entirely likely he’ll break down and use one of the signs we’ve been trying to teach him.

Just the other day, as we stood in line at the crowded coffee shop, he was no longer satisfied with chocolate chip cookies he was holding tightly in his hand. He didn’t want to let them go but he didn’t want to eat them, and all the screaming in the world wasn’t making me understand his plight. But I could see his eyes light up when he realized he had the power to make his desires known. He stopped wriggling and thrust out his hand, opening and closing his fist like he was milking a cow.

“What does he want,” asked the woman handing me my change and my cup of hazelnut decaf (black).

I thought for a second about pretending not to know, but didn’t get a chance.

“He wants to nurse,” said his sister. “He’s a baby, even though he’s kind of a big kid, too.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Burning the candlestick at both ends

On a particularly sullen-looking day during our recent vacation in Maine I had a bright idea.

What? I get bright ideas sometimes, don’t laugh.

It came about as I was taking a poll of what each member of the extended family wanted to do during our seven-day reunion.

The clan was sitting around on its duffs waiting for Maine’s state bird – The Mosquito – to vamoose. The sun was no where to be found. The mosquitoes were staying.

“Let’s go bowling,” I said, exuberantly.

Could you hear the groans from New York? No? Well, I was certain you could.

“Bowling? Bowling! Are you crazy?” my husband replied, the volume and pitch of his voice illustrating that there was no way on Earth the loud, smoke-filled lanes of his imagination were going to cut it for family fun. Not when he could be napping, anyway.

My imagination, on the other hand, drew pictures of Lavern and Shirley, sipping brewskis and pitching strikes and spares with The Big Ragu.

Nostalgia. Sure I was worried the kids wouldn’t really be able to participate fully; I pictured hulking bowling balls accidentally pitched through plate glass windows or dropped on tender piggy toes.

But I pressed on.

When we reached the alley, seven in tow, we soon found out how different New England bowling is from our ten-pin experiences.

“Oh. ... It’s candlestick bowling,” I chirp with glee after we paid the lady at the counter for the games and shoe rentals. “That’s CandlePIN bowling,” she good-naturedly corrects.

She must have thought me from mars when I asked for a three-part repetition of the rules.

What? You get THREE chances per frame instead of TWO?
What? Players get to shoot TWO frames per turn instead of ONE?
Really? The computer does the scoring for us? COOL.

Candlepin bowling, as it is really called, is unique to New England and maritime provinces in Canada. It was first played in Worcester, Mass. in 1880, 15 years before the sport was refined to the more common 10-pin standard. The differences (beside the rules of play and the shape of the pins) are smaller-sized balls (sans holes) that can be held in one’s hand, and the fact that the dead pins don’t get cleared from the alley between throws.

All of this means two things: It’s technically easier to play for all ages and abilities but more challenging to play well.

Once we had our shoes on we were ready to play.

So there we were. Standing in our adjoining alley’s sizing each other up.

TEAM ONE comprised Ittybit, her cousin and her father.
TEAM TWO was composed of myself, my sister-in-law and my brother-in-law.
The champ was a floater, getting handed back and fourth across the ball dispenser.

I felt good about our team’s chances: Collectively we are taller. I also feel confident because Ittybit can’t seem to wrap her head around the idea of wearing someone else’s shoes.

“Why do I have to wear socks?”

“Well, because we have to wear special shoes that other people have worn, too.”

“But why can’t I wear my own shoes.”

“Because the wood on the lanes is special and it has to be protected from outside dirt.”

“But inside dirt is ok?”

“Don’t worry about the dirt. Just remember that we’re taking turns.”

“OK … “ she says with uncertainty.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong about an easy victory.

In just a few frames my confidence proved overblown and her abilities blossomed.

She even developed a style …

She selected her ball from the dispenser and hop-skipped her way to the line. She swayed from side to side before she triangulated an underhand pitch from between her straddled legs. After the ball had left her hands and bounced down the alleyway, she did a little spin and sashayed back to the dispenser, where she draped herself over the hood like a fem fetal, waiting for the wood to fall dead.

I couldn’t help but laugh and the series of moves, the fluidity of which more resembled body Chinese than body English.

But I wasn’t laughing when she got a strike.

“Mom? Lets just stay here and go bowling every day.”

“If only we could. I could use the practice.”

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Thinking about divorce

“I’ve been thinking about divorce a lot lately.”

I could see the statement’s effect when my friend’s smile fell right off her face.

“No. No. Not me. ... I’m not thinking about divorce for me,” I stammer, realizing that it’s this exact scenario – the surprise factor - that I am turning over and over in my own mind.

Some friends of ours announced they are splitting up.

Outwardly they were the perfect couple. Well, maybe not perfect, but definitely not a pairing anyone would doom to failure. They just drifted apart.

They have three kids; one in high school, one in grammar school and one smack dab in the middle.

They have a nice house, a comfortable living and shared interests.

When you first find out your friends are considering separating, it is often a shock.

Aside from fleeting moments of frustration, they seemed happy.

Yet, they’ve drifted apart. There is unhappiness. There is tension. They want to try their lives separately.

Isn’t it natural to look at yourself in this mirror of friendship?

‘We seem happy.’
‘We have stress and tension and a tendency to meander into solitude.’
‘We have arguments about everything … and nothing.
‘Is it only a matter of time?’
‘Could this be us one day?’

You shake your head. ‘No. Not us. This is not going to happen to us. We are different.’

‘We love each other.’
‘We can work it out.’
‘Our frustrations are fleeting.’
‘There’s too much at stake.’

Yet, somehow, it’s already happened to us.

It’s our circle – our community -- that’s getting broken up, too. The guys we play cards with and the women with whom we swap recipes. The divide happens there, as well.

We look at each other and try and tease out a turning point; a place where the road started to get bumpy -- the kids, the job, the familiarity? Nothing we could change really, except in our attitude.

And who’s got the patience for that? Not her. Not him. What about you?

There will be anger and resentment for a while. Somebody will be the ‘bad guy’ until it’s the other person’s turn. The circle of friends twittering on about news and details will result in its rings expanding as if in a pond.

No matter how much you think you can remain neutral you can’t. Eventually you find yourself on one side or another.

My husband’s been down this road before with his parents. They split up when he was young. He understands what it means for the kids. I can’t only imagine. My parents are still together. Both of us want to be supportive.

But there’s only so much we can do. We can offer our condolences, and our heartfelt sadness. We can offer an ear and a shoulder to lean on. We can offer a room for the night or a hundred nights. We can hope.

The story’s not entirely finished -- there will be an attempt at reconciliation; there will be counseling, there will be efforts to address the problems as they become defined.

It’s not over. There is hope.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Reaching inside for answers to worries on the surface

The day had been ordinary, we all had our work cut out for us: employment responsibilities for the adults, play for the children.

Nothing was unusual. Everyone seemed happy.

But the sun is waning. The witching hours are setting in. And as night closes in, strange things start to happen.

Sudden fears pop up. Angry accusations. Every step lands in a potential minefield.
She is crying in the backseat of the car as we start the 11-mile commute home. A few minutes earlier she had been happy, bubbly; singing nonsense songs to make her brother laugh.

All of that was gone now; clouded over by the pitfalls of growing up.

"I'm so, so, so, so sad," she cries, and breaks into incoherent sobs.

I can hear the fatigue of a long day in her voice.

I am tired, too. I am at the edge where I would trade all the happiness in the world for a 20-minute commute filled with comfortable silence. I am at the very place where losing my patience meets screaming my head off.

But all of that building rage disappears the instant she finishes her complaint:
"I am not pretty. My hair isn't pretty. My clothes aren't pretty. I try and I try and I try but I am never going to be pretty. I am always just going to be me."

I do what every parent does when words their kids say rip at their hearts.

I search what's left of my mind to come up at a loss: Where. Is. This. Coming. From?
How could she think she's not pretty?

In an instant, I jump to cruel world of summer camp.

"Where did you get that from? Who told you that? Did someone hurt your feelings at camp?"

No, she assures me. No one stomped on her tiny little ego. Again it's JUST her.
I am taken off guard by the outburst, but when I think about how to answer I realize I shouldn't be surprised.

Hasn't she been trying to look different lately? Wearing dresses? Wanting her hair to look just so? She is watching and comparing and accounting for every slight, every stern look.

She tells me more about the problem's genesis: The kids, from weeks ago, who wouldn't play with her. They all had pretty clothes and pretty hair. That must have been the difference, she reasons. She wasn't pretty enough.

I feel like I'm trapped in a cave.

Of course I want her to grow up unaffected by societal pressure. I absolutely want her to be comfortable in her own skin, whether it's beautiful or otherwise. I know all about beauty being skin deep and in the eye of the beholder and underneath. But I don't want to tell her that beauty is unimportant, especially when it clearly holds importance to her at this moment in time.

I've thought about what I would say. I've pondered the possibilities. I've wondered if by telling our smart girls that wanting beauty is petty and shameful we haven't completed a circle begun when our grandmothers we're told they should be pretty and obedient. It's a circle that skirts the truth of the matter.

Yet I also thought I had more time to ease my way into the pool from the shallows.
Instead I dive into the deep end: I tell her that what she feels in normal; that we all feel unpopular and unattractive at times but that often these feelings, while real, aren't always true. We compare ourselves to ideals that can't always be met, and we're also not always the best judges of ourselves. ... I don't know how much she understands. She is, after all, only four.

But she accuses me of not understanding: "You are a grownup. You aren't like me. You don't know."

"You are right I am nothing like you. But I was a child once, only I never had the gumption you have. I would never have gone up to a stranger and asked them to play with me. I never would have had the guts to try. Your father even talks about how amazed he is with your courage. You are not like me. You are better.

"This is all the tricky stuff of growing up, you know. ... We humans are silly. Sometimes we belly up to the things that scare us and give them a good old poke in the nose, other times we take those same fears and give them a pat on the back.
"It's really hard to figure out which to do when. Even when you are a grownup, it's difficult."

I look back into the rearview mirror, and see her blotchy face, calm and serene. I know from her expression that the conversation won't continue. She's not convinced, she's just moved on to another topic.

"Can we have ice cream when we get home?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Two chairs, no waiting at the DIY clip shop

See if this sounds familiar: Parents are sitting on opposite ends of the couch, doing whatever it is parents do when their kids are quietly engrossed in play.

For my husband it means mucking around on his new iPhone, for me it means surfing the good old Interwebs.

Some people call it absentee parenting.

I call it parallel play.

Whatever you call it, for all intents and purposes the cats are away so the mice still play.

Imagine my surprise when I look up to find Ittybit, hitherto using a pair of scissors to render small pieces of paper even smaller, fluffing a rather large pile hair in the middle of the coffee table.

I sat there dumbfounded as her arms -- scissors in hand -- lift again toward her head.

“Um. … You’re cutting your hair,” I blurt out a little too sharply.

She stops mid-snip as if awakened from a dream and starts to cry.

I instantly feel horrible. I hadn’t meant to yell. I wasn’t angry I was just surprised. Her hair has always been a bit of a battleground. She never wants to get her haircut. In fact, she hardly ever wants to comb it or wash it or put it in cute little pig tails.

I take the sheers away and pick her up. I try to get her to stop crying, telling her it’s not bad. Hair is just hair and will grow back. In fact, she’s done a better job with shaping it than I ever have in the two years I’ve been trimming a little here and there to keep it out of her eyes.

I tell her it looks pretty, which I don’t really think was a lie.

My husband looks at me worriedly.

“It looks like a mullet,” he whispers. “What if the kids make fun of her at camp? She’s going to have to get that fixed.”

“When I was a kid we’d call this a shag.”

But I have to admit, with a square patch of pink scalp showing through in the back and triangular patch showing through in the front, a trip to the hairdresser would be unavoidable.

I had to phone my mother. She’ll get a kick out of this:

“Hi mom. Guess what? Ittybit got her first real haircut today at the salon.

“Yeah, the husband took her.

“Oh … because, you know, she cut it herself and looked a little too much like Billy Ray Cyrus.

“No. no! I was sitting right next to her, paying no attention, whatsoever.

“…. Go ahead laugh. It is kind of funny.”

But the DIY haircut is more than merely humorous, it’s a rite of passage for some kids.

My mom told me about how when she was about Ittybit’s age, she and a little boy in her neighborhood exchanged haircuts. She remembered snipping away at his hair carefully, trying to keep it straight. “His haircut looked pretty good but mine … well it was awful.”

Culling from my own experience, I would have thought she’d decide one (if not all) of her dolls needed cosmetic attention. I didn’t really expect my kid to play hairdresser on herself.

Apparently, the folks who fix such hairy situations don’t always see this play out this way either.

“Oh, honey? Do you have an older brother?”


“Oh. We’ll, we usually see kids experimenting with haircuts on their younger brothers and sisters.”

“I DO have a little brother,” she replies excitedly.

I guess we know what to expect next.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Don't read this ... it's probably wrong

Raising children offers nothing but lessons in failure.

I had no idea how many times I could be wrong in a single day until I became a parent. And my highly critical child is only four.

I start making mistakes usually around the time the alarm sounds in the morning and wander sleepily into the room occupied by my night owl, bedtime-cheating daughter and try to cajole her from sleep. When I manage to rouse the little bear from her bed, it is always the WRONG side.

Of course sometimes the mistakes start well before the clock’s infernal bleating, in the middle of the night when she is awakened by some arbitrary need that I didn’t foresee before kissing her goodnight several hours beforehand.

“Mama! YOU didn’t read me the last few pages of the book we were reading!”

“But I didn’t want to wake you after you’d fallen asleep!”

I can see her lower lip quivering even in the pitch black.

When the sun finally does make its return and we start sifting through all the possibilities, I still can't seem to do anything up to her exacting standards.

The clothes I offer are always the WRONG color or the WRONG style; the breakfast I pour from the box is never enough or else it's too much, and usually the milk that sloshes around it is either inadequate or in error. When we get out door and head to the car there's always something WRONG with sequence: she wanted to drive in her father's car, or stomp in the puddles, or pick some flowers. If it's snowing she wants to make snowballs or catch flakes on her tongue. At least twice before the car stops at its first destination, she wonders if I've not gone in the WRONG direction. Of course the music I turn on while we drive is not what she was hoping for, nor are the word games we substitute for the WRONG songs ever exactly right. I never can seem to follow the rules she makes and changes.

When we get to the destination -- let's say a doctors' office, where we have an appointment -- she wonders if I've gotten the WRONG time. By the time we leave, I know I was WRONG to worry.

Eight-gazillion choices in the day, usually hers, and every one of them WRONG. The furrowed eyebrows and pointy eyes always looking at me.

"Why did you get me the pink marker? I wanted the purple one?

"I didn't want four blueberries, I wanted six.

"I always like the small pieces of watermelon ... unless I want the big one.

"I don't want to take the stairs I wanted to take the escalator.

"I do not like Green Eggs and Ham ... "

I tell you, by the time she's eaten the WRONG dinner, brushed her teeth with the WRONG flavored toothpaste and taken a shower with all the wrong toys, I'm ready to throw in the WRONG colored towel.

Even reading three WRONG books the WRONG way, one might think I'd be able to just laugh it off and call it a day.

But of course there's always just one final question at the end of every day that gives me a chance to redeem myself. Usually it has to do with kittens or goldfish or one of her toys, and usually all I have to do is name the item or tell her a story about how it came to be.

I wasn't prepared to answer how babies are made.

Sure she knows about mommies and daddies being important components and all of that. She's not really interested in the twittipation that starts the whole thing off; she's interested in just how it is a person like her could live inside a being like me.

I know since I can't ever be right, I might as well make WRONG really interesting ...

"Do you know, that when I was pregnant with you my body grew an entire organ all on its own?

"It's called a placenta.

"Can you say placenta?'"


"That's pretty good."

"What is a pla-sment-a, mama?"

It's an organ that grows with the baby to make sure it has food and oxygen and can get rid of waste that could be bad for it."

"Food? Like ice cream?"

"Well, sorta like ice cream."


"Yeah. Wow."

"Thanks mom. That was really nice of you to do that. I guess you did something right."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dancing into mommy time

“Did you see me? Did you see me, ma?”

I wasn’t looking.

“No, darn it! I missed it! Can you do it again?”

“Oh, Ok,” she says with the same disappointed tone I use with her father when he forgets the ONE thing I sent him to the store to get. “This time watch, okay.”

She had on her best dress and her new tap shoes. She was excited to be taking a dance class. Perhaps even more excited to FINALLY have her mother all to herself. Finally, it would be her mother, and not a daddy or grand parent or babysitter, cheering her on from the sidelines.

She twirled around on one heel, her dress revolving around her with a flourish. But there wasn’t a perfect finish. The taps slipped out from underneath her and down she went. On her bottom with a thud.

“Whoops! That wasn’t supposed to happen,” she says with a laugh. I laugh, too, happy that the unceremonious fall wounded neither her body nor her ego.

She doesn’t even wait for me to tell her how lovely she looks or what a wonderful listener she is for the teacher before she disappears back into the room.

This is our “mommy time.”

But somehow, standing outside of the studio, taking turns with the other moms peering through the glare of the glass window in the waiting area, didn’t much seem like “mommy time” unless you define the term literally.

Dance class was something I had put off. I knew Ittybit would LOVE to dress in pretty things and pirouette around a dance floor, but I wasn’t ready for all the things I thought formality would bring.

Would the tights and leotards and learning of steps take away from her free spirit? Would it warp her sense of self? She would have to tame her wild hair and her wild style to play this role.

“You are really thinking about this too hard,” my husband said. “Little girls LOVE to dress up. To her this will be fun. And really what’s wrong with letting her learn about an art form the way it was intended to be taught.”

He was right.

I wasn’t really afraid of the tutus and the leotards.

I was worried about the other mothers.

I knew most of them had been through the drill: Kinderdance on Tuesdays, Kindermusic on Thursdays, Kindergymnastics every other Saturday.

What would they be like? Would they think I was odd? Would they wrinkle their noses because my kid was the ripe old age of four and some has never really been to a formal “class” of any kind? Would they like me? Would I like them?

Ittybit and I are early: the kind of early only anxiety can explain.

As the dancers start trickling in, I can see the parents sizing each other up. Such is human nature. I am sizing them up, too.

Their kids have sweet little dance outfits of all variety. Some are dressed in shorts and sneakers. No matter how many times they’ve been here before they counseled their tiny dancers to stand in line and wait until their names are called before entering the dance studio.

When the class starts, we all gather in front of a picture window in the wall for a glimpse of our kids waving at us from the other side.

We all have cameras and jockey for the best positions to avoid the glare, but we take turns. There’s just not enough space for everyone to camp out there.

We can’t really do much else, so we introduce ourselves. We chat about our kids, which leads to chats about ourselves. We learn of similarities. We laugh. Eventually we get so loud in our individual conversations that I’m sure at any moment the teacher will come floating out of the studio to shush us. I imagine she will close the door, and we will feel chastened until our kids coming running out to grab us around our legs, telling us how fun dance is and how they really LOVE their mommy time.

Little do they know, so do we.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

An ocean of time in a drop of water

The girls are sitting on the seawall, brown skinned and shiny. I can almost smell the imitation coconut of their suntan lotion. They have bottles of water and brightly colored towels artfully placed near the car they came in: a new Cabriolet. I presumptively imagine the compact white convertible is the most impressive gift one of them got for graduation, and the girls are showing it off along with their long limbs and summer sleeked outfits. Their clothes, although decidedly beach attire, were never meant to touch sand or surf.

They are here to be seen.

As are the boys, roughly the same age, who parked their Vanagon five spaces away.

The male delegation, however, has made no pretense of being at the beach. They have neither towels nor swimsuits. They take off their shirts and talk to each other in loud voices; the kind that want to be overheard. They walk on the sea wall in the girls’ direction but never get close enough to share any conversation. They punch at each other’s chests, trying to knock one another off balance. They are trying to establish who will be king of the seaside.

I remember this awkward dance of adolescence wherein being noticed is important. Each gesture is carefully choreographed for optimum effect.

I focus on their bodies, their beauty and youth; for a moment I am wistful.

I suppose none of the adults who walk by headed to the beach a few yards away — as I was doing just then, carrying a baby in a pouch and dragging umbrellas and bags of sand toys — give the teenagers much thought other than to briefly brood for their own youthful bodies, now weighed down by time and responsibility.

We are too busy keeping our little ones from eating fistfuls of sand or mouthfuls of seawater. We are trying to do whatever it is adults with families do when they’re on vacation: Mom reads a book under the shade of an umbrella as Dad builds an elaborate sandcastle that resembles the car in the James Bond movie viewed last night by the light of the computer after the kids were tucked into bed. Our children run off to collect mussel shells and sand dollars, pasting each one carefully onto the dashboard with water and sand.

I’m sure the teens aren’t thinking much about us either. The idea that they will look like us one day has no place in their minds. How can it? They haven’t been to college, or seen the world, or met their special someone. They are still looking. Their job, right now, is to stand beside that seawall and be discovered just as my job is to make sure the sun isn’t discovering my children’s tender skin.

We are where we are supposed to be; to each their own frivolity. And yet I can’t help but look over at them as I pretend to read my book. Wasn’t it only yesterday …

When we’ve finished our sandcastle and our beach-gritty peanut butter sandwiches, we pack up our things and head to the car. Sand is everywhere, which is why I didn’t bring my camera. There will be no pictures of the Aston Martin we carved into the ocean’s driveway. Soon the tide will come and wash the sand car away, and there will be only memories of the children sitting in the deep well of its cockpit, uttering the profoundly satisfying sounds of the pretend engine: “Vroooom-vroom.”

The sound echoes into reality as the girls and boys up above us on the seawall pile into their respective cars and drive away. They head in the same direction, and I wonder if their parallel play will continue at the clam shack or the pizza joint. I wonder if they will muster the nerve to speak to each other before the night is over.

I smile at the thought of this, a not-too-distant memory. I know they will see it too one day: How the days go by like years but the years go by like days. Cameras cannot capture it the way the mind can. Soon, the teens will be looking at their reincarnations at the beach wall from their place amid sand castles and beach shovels and tubes of SPF 55. I hope they smile, too.