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."