Sunday, June 29, 2008

Reaching for the stars

If you were to ask me what I want Ittybit to be when she grows up, I couldn’t really (or rightly) say.

I could only recite all the clich├ęs known to mom, and you've probably already heard them: I want her to be happy. I want her to have integrity. I want her to be kind and loving and generous. I want her to use her mind and never let people with ill-intent screw with it.

One of the most difficult things to explain to a four-year-old (or even a forty-year-old for that matter) is the question: "Why don't they like me?”

It’s in my explanation that I hear my own mother's voice waft out of my throat: "Honey, they just don't know you. If they got a chance to know you they'd like you.”

And it is in her reply that my own voice echoes back: "No, mom. I don't think they would."

It breaks a mother’s heart to watch her child run from one group of children to the next, hoping to be included in their games, and finding only quizzical faces and flying hair as the bodies attached run in an opposite direction.

“Why won't they play with me?” she asks before breaking down in tears.

I know it's because kids are like that. Even she can be like that. They can’t hide their bewilderment nor can they veil their reactions. They haven't the means of deception using polite smiles and fingers crossed behind their backs ... not just yet anyway.

So there we are she and I, sitting hip to hip, rocking on the hillside. I have no words of wisdom. I have no advice other than to tell her to persevere.

I know she doesn't want to just run with the gangs of youngsters that flock from hill to hill. She doesn't want to just be in their general vicinity. She wants to lead them and influence their play. She's got big ideas, this little boss lady of mine.

She’s also got alternate plans.

"Maybe if I play with my play picnic food someone will come up and want to play with it, too,” she says, her excitement returned.

But as the minutes go by in our staged picnic of wooden meats, fish, cheeses and vegetables, no one was enticed.

"I know! I'll get my stickers and hand them out. Maybe then they'll play with me."

I pull the sheets of colorful stars from my bag and she makes another run toward the children. She wordlessly holds out her offering. Some of the kids come closer. Some of the younger ones, prompted by their mothers, wordlessly accept. Others just say "No, I don't want any stickers."

In the end this becomes a game she plays with herself. She no longer needs the children. She only needs the stickers.

“I have to find more people. I have to make sure EVERYONE gets a sticker!" she tells me. And then she's gone. I catch a glimpse of her teal shirt, which, from a distance, looks perfectly free of the cherry-ice stains and ground-in dirt I know from several washes now are permanent.

She is milling about the clusters of adults sipping wine from glasses and waiting for the line at the buffet to draw inward. She is asking them if they'd like to choose a sticker.

Most oblige. Who can say no to a little girl bestowing self adhesive gifts?

Finally, she meets the only girls at the party willing to play her games: A trio of bluegrass singers hired to entertain - Those Darlins.

And they were. Darling.

From their patch of grass in front of the performance space, the singers and their friends accepted her stickers. They played with her picnic foods and juggled for her. They danced with her and played word games. They played and hide ‘n seek, and made sure to find her.

When it was time for their show to go on, Ittybit danced in the front row. They dedicated a song to their biggest (and littlest) fan. She was walking on air.

And she took every opportunity - every lull in the performance - to hug each one of them around the knees (often encircling their guitars, too).

It's every mother's dream for her children to reach for the stars. ... And it would be mine, too. I just wish she didn't have to be so literal.

“I know it looks like play, Ittybit, but really it's work. Let's just wait until the music starts again. And we'll dance."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Anything is possible

In 1961 ...

John F. Kennedy became the 35th president of the United States;

The Beatles performed for their first time at the Cavern Club;

The Peace Corps was established;

The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, allowing residents of Washington, DC to vote in presidential elections;

The Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba begins AND fails in two days;

A Freedom Riders bus was fire-bombed near Anniston, Alabama and the civil rights protestors were beaten by an angry mob;

The British protectorate ends in Kuwait and it becomes an emirate;

Ernest Hemingway commits suicide by gunshot in Ketchum, Idaho;

Construction of the Berlin Wall begins;

Amnesty International is founded;

Digital photography is presented in a technical paper at the American Rocket Society's Space Flight Report to the Nation in New York;

The Fantastic Four #1 debuted, revolutionizing the American comic book industry;

Rudolf Nureyev defects at Le Bourget airport in Paris;

Catch-22 is first published by Joseph Heller;

"Barbie" gets a boyfriend when the "Ken" doll is introduced;

AND

Ann Coulter, American author, political commentator and attorney was born.

Not all of those things were bad. Some of the developments of that year were downright wonderful.

Let’s not forget George Clooney was born that year, too.

Perhaps the most important development for mothers, however, also happened in 1961:

Proctor and Gamble introduced the disposable diaper.

Of course the Pamper — now a slender, soft, chemical laden, cloth-esque, urine soaking titan of its former self — has the unique distinction of being loved AND hated by many. Beloved because it freed women from the drudgery of piles of poopy laundry, and yet reviled because its padded puffs have added to our use-and-toss economy and tipped the balance inside our beleaguered landfills.

Over the years the lowly Pamper has gone from looking and feeling like a pile of paper towels wrapped in a plastic bag to a thin piece of padding "that gently gathers at the legs" and holds a literal shit load of liquid. It has confounded upstanding grannies of all ilk (the BIG cartoon character goes in the front, right?) with its easy tab closures and amazing moisture wicking properties. Even our moms did use disposables, they looked and worked nothing like the brands of today. Today’s Pampers, dear friends, ARE NOT your mother’s disposables.

The bubble-butts of yesteryear’s child are greatly diminished, leaks are less prevalent and diaper rash can usually be traced back to food sensitivities or teething, not moisture next to the skin.

So in honor of 1961, the environment and a recent announcement by Proctor and Gamble noting a 20 percent across the board hike in prices, I've made some small changes that will likely result in many, many, many more changes and at least one extra load of laundry a day: I've invested in cloth diapers.

For $150, I've purchased six fitted cloth diapers, two pocket diapers, two diaper covers, four additional absorbent inserts, four cloth wipes and something called an ICKYBAG (self explanatory, yes?). I’ve watched videos, asked friends for advice, researched brands and decided to buy a few different kinds of bum wraps to see which work best.

I'm starting slow (weekends and vacations at first) I don't want to scare the babysitter. But hopefully - at home at least - we'll see a little less of Ernie and a little more of our earnings. I doubt we’ll really do much to save the Earth, after all, what we keep from the landfill will we’ll be taking in additional water and energy to launder. But who knows? It’s possible.

I mean, truly. If I'm excited at the prospect of washing poopy diapers ANYTHING is possible.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father’s day surprises mom

Just two days after father's day last year, my husband (with my help, of course) had himself a son.

A boy; the gender than engenders the fear and loathing of some prospective parents and unadulterated adulation of others. Partiality be not proud.

Collectively thought of as all rough and tumble, wrapped in the added benefit (some may claim) of being the carriers of names into future generations, boys in many, many cultures are prized.

When I asked him to guess what we would be having, way back when, he never even hesitated. "A girl," he said without question.

Nope.

B.O.Y.

I could see the look on his face change from trepidation to disbelief.

To actually admit to having a preference seems monstrous. And yet many of us have our hearts set on one or the other, and we convince ourselves we will be happy with either.

It was plain as the nose on his face: This B.O.Y. was B.I.G.

Back then he was still known to rant about being raised by a pack of shewolves (his mother's many friends) whom he insists (ever so playfully) damaged his tender male psyche with their 1970s off-the-cuff male-bashing ways.

"Oh, they'd deny it," he says, "but I'd have to listen to them talk about how men really were horrible. And there I was, devastated because I knew that someday I was going to be a man."

My husband knows chapter and verse about the evils of gender inequality, and yet he believes that it’s all in the past. Women, he says half-jokingly, rule the world.

So it was no small thing for a man who bristles at having been surrounded by women for more than 30 years to come to the realization that he would have “the rich man’s family:” A daughter and a son.

I have to admit that I worried about the potential for favoritism.

Would the line of demarcation in our family become drawn at his’ and hers’ restrooms? Would father/son ski trips toss an avalanche of ill feelings toward the double X chromosome dwellers in our household?

Yet, this past year as our son squirmed his way into all of our hearts, I’d kept my squinty eyeballs peeled for any hint of The "MY BOY BILL," chest beating-type of sentiment that would ultimately make me want to get off the carousel.

I was possessed.

When our local public radio station aired an interview with Dr. Margaret Meeker, author of the book “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters,” I turned up the volume.

I don't know what I was thinking, really. If I were to be honest, I'd have to say that I thought perhaps I could catch something that he was doing that would forever alienate our daughter and send her skipping down the path of depression and self-loathing at break-neck speed.

But as I listened, I realized how lucky she is to have him as her father. How, even in these tiny years, he's engaged without being overbearing. He watches and guides, showing her every step of the way that he’s there and willing, and yet in many ways letting her lead the way.

Not even the slightest tinges of favoritism have I seen.

In fact whenever Ittybit brings up her own superlatives pertaining to gender – girls NEVER drive trucks or boys CAN’T wear pink – her dad is the first to disagree.
“I know women welders and women truck drivers ... AND oh, and lookie here ... the T-shirt I’m wearing is P.I.N.K.”

But most interestingly, perhaps, is that he can often meet her on her terms whether on the playground swings or among the princess things.

I suppose the real lesson in there was for me: "Mom, don't go thinking you know everything there is to know about girls."

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Good times call for cheese and whine

It's been busy, busy, busy here at the casa de la Toyland.

It all started last Sunday when we were invited to a cookout for which we were to bring a side dish, and for which I impulse purchased a Zyliss folding mandolin while we were buying produce at the grocery store, and so (as it turns out) I could more easily make mass quantities of tasteless au gratin potatoes AND slice a little skin off my left thumb.

Good times.

The fun continued into Monday, when, because I have this amazing device that drastically reduces prep time for thinly sliced root vegetables, I made a cucumber salad to add to lunches AND inadvertently sliced off several layers of the skin on my right thumb.

To add insult to injury the husband later informed me, with wrinkled nose, that he only likes sweet things made of chocolate so the sugared/vinegar dressing really didn't “do much for him.”

I suggested he hold a couple of the slices firmly on his backside ... and stop talking to me.

Good times.

Even MORE fun ensued after he dropped me off at the auto repair shop (afterhours, of course) where the kindly mechanic had finally figured out why the Check Engine light was in constant party mode on my dashboard and had fixed said conundrum.

Last year around this time the same mechanic fixed something presumably connected to the problem, turned off the light, slapped an inspected sticker on the windshield, I paid him, drove away and two hours later the eerie glow was back on. Being the lazy person I am, I chose to ignore it for the next 12 months.

But this time the mechanic pin-pointed a rusted-out valve in the gas tank and fixed it. He also changed the oil, slapped on a new inspection sticker, and my newly inspected, injected, detected and neglected old car was ready to go.

Whew.

Needless to say, Tuesday was its own disaster.

Not only were we slow in leaving the house in the morning as a result of a perfect storm of dawdling, lollygagging and dallying, I was further delayed by the stunning realization that I’d dropping off the kids at the babysitter's house while leaving the emotional equivalent of a swimming pool of frozen breast milk (about 40 ounces) out on the kitchen table. I had to go back home and return the milk to the freezer before it festered.

Since I was already late (and arguably deranged) I decided I might as well take the dog to the vet.

To the normal person a visit to any doctor, even a veterinarian, isn’t a spontaneous occurrence akin to stopping for a coffee.

But it was overdue. The dog had been chewing on her hind leg for weeks now and despite the husband’s best intentions, he hadn’t found the time to schlep the poor pooch the three or so blocks to get it checked out.

Ah ... time? Where does she go?

I call, they tell me to come on over, and the visit is in-and-out-here’s-a-prescription-what’s-your-hurry? and I’m back on the road.

So, so late now; might as well stop at the apple farm and buy some artery-clogging goodness for the people at work who are probably already picking up my slack.

Mmm … Doughnuts.

I get back into the car only to see the flashing lights of police cruisers ahead on the highway. Oh man, they're checking inspections, which (thanks to the mechanic and $375 worth of work) I now have, but because the registration expired three days ago and I haven't yet peeled it off and replaced it with the one in the envelope stuffed in my bag … I am forced to realize the horror of yet another delay: I have to go back home and get the husband’s car because I am NOT paying another fine for non-affixed registration thankyouverymuch.

So I casually take a left when I want to take a right.

And that's when it happened, folks, I kid you not. ... The Check Engine light blinked back on.

Cue never-ending stream of expletives.

Good times.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Trying to play my cards right

My husband and I are tripping over ourselves trying to out-witness each other with regard to our second child's firsts. (Just try and say that three times fast.)

Last weekend, my hulking husband scrambled to his feet after playing on the kitchen floor with his son and roughly three thousand plastic containers and lids, and, practically jumping up and down with excitement, exclaimed: "He took his first steps."

Without even looking past the countertop, where The Champ was hidden from my view, I told him in no uncertain terms: "No. He didn't. What he's doing is called 'crusing.'"

He could not be dissuaded.

"Well, I know what I saw, and this kid took a step."

"No. He didn't."

"Yes. He did!"

"No, he didn't."

"Yes, he did!"

"No he didn't."

"Yes he did!"

"Nohedidn't."

"Yeshedid!"

"Ok, this is getting us nowhere. I appreciate that you think The Champ has taken a step, and that you want to be the first to witness this event, but I assure you that he has not, in fact, started walking."

If I remain calm and collected, say my piece and turn back to what I was doing, I win. This, in poker terms, would be what they call a bluff.

Really, it's not fair that I get to witness all the firsts. I realize that. It's not fair that milestones in my babies lives don't actually happen unless I am there to witness them.

That old conundrum "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it; does it make a sound?" Well replace that old hunk of wood, root system and leaves image with that of a chattering, wobbly boy baby, who has a whole 'nother existence while his mommy's at work, and any mommy-type can unequivocally say: "Nope. Not a sound."

Daycare providers all know that firsts happen first at home (even if they don't). They know that any telling of a first happening elsewhere will result in the one of the following responses in ascending order of likelyhood:

"You're fired."

OR

"Oh, I forgot to mention, he started walking yesterday at 4:30 in the morning while I was trying to change his diaper, rearrange the living room furniture and figure out that world peace thing."

OR

A wordless response might also result, wherein good ol' delusional mom turns into a puddle of heaving, sobbing Jell-O right before the caregiver's eyes.

Most daycare providers understand that we working moms can be an irrational and fragile set, so they wait until we arrive the next day and triumphantly announce the kid's new skill. Some will even go the extra mile to act completely shocked and emphatically stress how advanced the child is (to be doing whatever milestone he should be doing anyway between now and the next three weeks).

This is called a strategy, and smart parents should remember such skillful caretakers at Christmastime with a generous bonus.

Of course, this strategy is wholly separate and apart from the ones we, as parents, are employing against each other to ensure we triumph in being the first name to pass our kids’ lips.

ME: "Who am I? MAMA. I'm MAMA."

HIM: "Hey Buddy, can you say DADA? Go ahead, say 'dada'."

ME: "Mama?"

HIM: "Dada!"

ME: "Mama?"

HIM: "Dada!"

ME: "Mama?"

HIM: "Dada?"

ME: "Mama?"

HIM: "Dada?"

*silence.

CHAMP: "Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!"

**silence.

ITTYBIT: "I think he said my name."

And that, dear readers, is what's called a trump.