Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ghosts of Christmas past, present, future

Lap, lap, lap …

"The cat is drinking out of the tree water again," shouts Ittybit in mock exasperation.

"CAT! Dinking! War! Gan," yells her tiny echo.

It is kitty’s first Christmas, and because of this each day when I get home I take the low-hung ornaments from the floor and position them higher on our evergreen.

"Trees like to share," I say, thanking a higher power for the fact that I haven’t come home to find the Frasier fir upended, ornaments smashed and littered like landmines in the family room.

It is enough work to wrestle the thing into its stand and a straight position. Having to secure it in place with fishing line and duct tape would just dampen the joy of the season.

"Lap, lap, lap."

Our dear, old, incontinent dog, who has been selectively feigning deafness for the past 15 years, perks up.

She loves the cat.

I shouldn’t tell you this, because it goes against the natural order of her sensibilities as a life-long dog’s dog, but she REALLY loves the cat.

She would knock the kids over to protect the little black feline.

She also loves cat toys and cat food and all manner of cat antics that are surprisingly fun to watch.

Ok … watching the cat all hunkered down in front of the cabinet of the kitchen sink waiting for mice to emerge is similar to watching paint dry, but the other things … the misjudging distances as the feline flies across the room, from one ledge and *almost* to another, makes the dog giggle just a tiny bit. I can tell.

It’s also a hoot when the furry little beast ping-pongs off the window in a failed attempt to catch a bird in the yard.

Not that I’m laughing.

It’s hard to laugh when I look at the old girl these days.

Not long after we decorated the tree, her hind legs gave up their efforts to make the nightly trek upstairs.

Her incessant barking, however, let us know she was hostile and that she considered these appendages traitors. I know she’s feeling her age, and that this very well may be her last Christmas with us.

My eyes sting just typing that out.

This is a dog, you see, that exemplifies my life. She wasn’t the cutest in the litter. She wasn’t particularly friendly or social. But she was sensitive and loyal. And smart.

She could open doors, steal food without jingling her collar, she always figured things out.

She never really seemed like a dog so much as an annoying little brother who had diabolical plans for your best toys … And who always made it up to you.

"Lap, lap, lap."

In a flash, the dog is on her feet and chasing the cat from under the tree. Around the dining table they go. The dog as fast as she can, the cat slower than usual. Soon the dog has the cat pinned — neck to floor — in the living room. An imaginary referee counts to 10, and she releases the now soggy cat.

There’s no barking, no hissing, no hard feelings.

In a few minutes, when I look at the tree, the two of them are laying underneath it, looking up.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lions and tires and kitten hats, oh my

The phone rang at 6 a.m.

I bolted upright in bed and immediately thought of Olympia Dukakis.

"Who’s Dead?" I growled in my best Brooklyneese.

Robocall.

Turns out the school day was killed by six inches of snow.

When I was a little kid, a person had to listen to the radio for what seemed like hours before they knew for sure whether they’d have to get out of their pajamas and slog to the bus.

"I think they closed the school … but there was static around the Es … I have to listen as it loops around again."

Television stations got into the school closing game when I was a tweenager, and we fixed our eyes on the ticker that traveled across the bottom of the screen as the names of the districts whizzed past faster than credits on a Disney animated movie.

It occurs to me that the death of this particular school day harbors another tiny demise: My kid will probably never bound into my room whooping and hollering that school is cancelled (YIPPEE!!).

I’ll be telling her about her time off once I get my breathing in check after the shock of a pre-dawn phone call.

It also occurs to me that being an adult on the first snow day of the season is about as fun as shoveling heavy, wet snow uphill in bare feet.

Not only do you have to dig yourself out and get to work, but now you have to get a sitter, fight your way through snow drifts the school bus wouldn’t risk AND then wait in long lines to get your winter tires changed over with the others who had bet Climate Change would make that little chore obsolete this year.

While the kids are eating snow off the car (DON’T EAT SNOW OFF THE CAR) you stand there with your snow brush dusting the windshield off into your shoes.

You think you should maybe wear boots, but then you’d just have to go back in the house.

"GO BACK AND GET YOUR BOOTS" your mom-voice chastises you. But as an adult, you ignore it.

Your kids however, look a few feet up from the footwear and wonder at what’s not on your cranium.

"Mommy? Where’s your hat?"

"Oh … I don’t know. … No time for that now. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go."

She hands you a black, fleece hat with pink ears and tells you can wear it. She’s got an extra one.

You thank her and take it, putting it into your pocket "for later," you tell her.

It will be alright. You’ll get the snows, you’ll have greater traction. It will be warm in the car and you will just go from there into a warm building. Everything will be fine.

Your car tire won’t blow out on the highway right after you get the tires changed.

You won’t be stuck by the side of an interstate in foot-high drifts as you wait for your husband to come and rescue you your Knight in Carhart coverall armor.

No. That NEVER happens.

But as you are standing by the side of that road with snow seeping into your shoes, you can be assured that when the police cruiser arrives to make sure your are OK (and that you have assistance on the way) you may not have the proper footwear but you will have a stylish hat.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

In sibling rivalry, batteries always included

I don’t care what implements of torture you use — squeaky mice, feather ticklers, New Bark Times — no one is going to get me to buy Christmas presents for our pooch.

Likewise, I will not cave to the pressure of pet parenthood and procure Chi-chi-chi-chia Cat Grass as a yuletide gift for our resident kitten, either.

Ok. Ok. So I bought her a holiday costume that will make our furry Felion look like a tiny reindeer (should she retract her claws long enough for me to Velcro the thing around her noggin and snap a picture) but that’s really a present for me. I draw the line at presents for pets.

Not when the pair we harbor will have spent the majority of the month of December ransacking the house, toppling the tree and unwrapping the presents they find underneath.

Ingrates.

Sure, pets are an important part of our household, but I’m not showing my love for them by hanging a tiny red mittens or faux fur green paws next to the kids’ stockings and filling them with raw hide and catnip mice. It’s just too dangerous. One might end up mixing human and animal treats.

I kid you not, there are dog treats out there dressed up as chocolates and gingerbread people that would fool any dedicated sweet tooth.

Don't believe me? Check out pamperedpawgifts.com and get a load of their "Wolfhound Clusters."

I am the grinch. I know.

My sister, on the other hand, is the kind-hearted animal lover who, as Santa Claws, has been known to wake up early on Christmas morning and brave icy temperatures just to bring horses at her favorite riding stable a few Christmas carrots. Not to mention shelling out big bucks to bring our dog a raw hide bone that would choke a brontosaurus.

She would also be the one who is genetically programmed to seek out and purchase the most annoying toys for the non-furry creatures in our household for whom she plays Auntie Claus. Since she has no children of her own she has the advantage of ineffective retaliation.

I'd especially like to thank her for the sweet little cheer leading doll that mechanically bleats out something I can't quite understand but think may be a little “blue,” if you know what I mean.

I don't know.

I DO know, however, that as The ParentTM, not to mention Younger Sister, it is my job to complain bitterly about the gifts and to try and persuade her to seek out educational toys. ... Quiet, non-messy educational toys.

You know. ... To make my life easier.

Of course I roll my eyes a little when I see the full-sized keyboard, complete with disco, hip-hop and a-tonal jazz presets.

You would, too, if for the next six months or until the batteries prematurely stop working (or inexplicably disappear all together) the only noise you hear will be wafting out from the toy synthesizer.

She never fails. As the kids unwrap the precious contraband, I can see on my sister's face that she's thinking the same thing.

All season long she plots. All season long I ponder what she's plotting.

But all that's on the outside. On the inside I'm thinking ... I would have bought that nightmare of a gift, too, if I were Auntie Claus.

We all have our roles to play. Mine, until the sun shines on our Christmas morning, anyway, will be practicing my game face for what she'll come up with next. I'm pretty sure I'm ready.

But if the gift du jour turns out to be a pipe organ for cats that plays 'Who Let The Dog's Out," she's toast next year.

I may even have to offer her a delightful little truffle, strangely named "Wolfhound Clusters."

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sleeping, awakening through the night

I vaguely remember the last time I slept through the night.

It was the last Saturday in November.

It was a fluke made possible by a stomach bug and my husband’s pity.

Prior to that, the last time I recall sleeping six consecutive hours was a few weeks before The Champ was born.

Lately my state of sleep deprivation has been so horrible, I've actually begun to miss the real baby baby-days of maternity leave. Back then naps just seemed constant and an appropriate amount of sleep could be achieved by collecting it throughout a 24-hour cycle.

The night routine these days, however, goes something like this:

6 p.m. Dinner.

7 p.m. Bath. Act out a pre-apocalyptic version of Waterworld using two wooden salad bowl "boats" and three bendy straws. Brush Teeth. Dress for bed. (No one is really sure which chore is done in which order as most of the time pajamas are wet).

8 p.m. Reading.

8:30 p.m.
Bed.

8:30 until ?
Mom (sometimes dad) sleeps in toddler bed until sleep sets in. Could be five minutes could be an hour and five minutes. It's a crapshoot.

10 p.m.
(regardless of when child fell asleep) Parent will unpretzel them self from the sleep position made famous by a sloth in the Movie Ice Age, and tiptoe downstairs to finish one of 3,000 ordinary household chores that have piled up.

10 p.m. and two seconds
Itty-bitty will awake and ask for water ... or why the parent trying to sneak away down the stairs didn't stop in and say a final "good night."

10:30 p.m. Parent who may (or may not) have finished washing the dishes will tiptoe back upstairs and go to bed.

10:35 p.m. Dog will bark at the bottom of the stairs until one of two adult humans gets out of bed and shows the dog that the gate HAS, in fact, been left open.

11 p.m. Dog will finally settle down after walking around the second floor, looking for toilets to drink out of and food to eat.

11:05 p.m. Dog will bolt up for no reason and run to the other side of the room.

11:30 p.m. Dog will resettle.

Between midnight and 1 a.m.
The Champ will wake up and start crying. He will not be consoled.

1:15 a.m. The parent who tried to get him back to sleep will bring him to bed.

1:30 a.m. The Champ will sleep.

2 a.m., 2:30 a.m., 2:45 a.m., 3 a.m., 3:15 a.m.
The Champ will want to nurse.

On alternating days of the week, which might potentially line up with the tides of the moon, the dog will become incontinent and require the work of a Haz-Mat team during the above-mentioned hours as well. (Last night was one such occasion. I'll spare you the details*.)

*You are welcome.*

4 a.m. The cat will crawl into the mom's hair and lay down.

4:01 a.m. through 5:30 a.m. Mom will try to get the cat to sleep on the dad while simultaneously trying to get The Champ to fall asleep.

She will lose.

5:30 a.m. through 6 a.m. The boy will want to nurse.

6:30 a.m. until 7 a.m. The non-sleeping boy will want to sleep.

7 a.m. The mother - who no longer understands herself when she speaks — will get up, untangle the cat from her hair and try to take a shower.

7:05 a.m. The hot shower and warm suds will make the mother feel somewhat human again. She may even sing.

7:08 a.m.
Ittybit — all tousle-haired and unintending – will sneak into the bathroom and sit quietly on the commode. She will say 'Good morning, mommy' and then will flush the toilet. Singing will stop.

And thus begins another day.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tooth fairy has toughest job of all magical beings

I couldn’t look at her.

Just the sight of Ittybit wiggling her loose tooth made my stomach flip on end.

With the crooked tooth dangling mid-mouth, she resembled Tow Mater from the movie "Cars" as she gazed into the bathroom mirror. She sounded Muppet-like when she asked me to pull it.

It had been hanging by a proverbial thread for days and she was ready for it to come out.

"Please?" she begged, hoping to expedite the process as well as add to her already bloated bank account. Three previous teeth have greatly inflated the piggy bank.

Our Tooth Fairy — thanks to the combination of poor financial forethought and a surprise tooth loss — set a payment precedent with a five-dollar bill.

(Had it not been for the Tooth Fairy’s desire for a chi-chi coffee drink the day Ittybit’s first central incisor came out, the damage could have been worse).

"Let’s just let it fall out naturally," I said to her stocking feet, thinking about the dust in my wallet and my desire NOT to think about the tiny bit of flesh tethering the tooth.

It also reminds the squeamish me about all those dreams I’ve had in which I spit out every tooth, one by one.

I’m told I shouldn’t worry about loose tooth dreams. It’s just the mind’s way of dealing with anxiety and aging and saving face. Perfectly natural.

I mean, it’s not as if I fear my twice annual cleanings.

I like my dentist. He calls my teeth perfect, even though I have the tell-tale coffee stains of adulthood and an acquired lower-tooth overlap. He has a similar smile.

My orthodontist, however, would cringe if he saw me now. All that work to correct my bite lost because of vanity and the desire to stop wearing a retainer.

Our Tooth Fairy, I told myself, should save her money for the dental bills.

After all, the poor girl got saddled with her mother’s crowded bite and her father’s susceptibility to cavities. One look in Ittybit’s mouth revealed her future will be filled with tinsel and rubber bands. Not to mention drills and fillings.

Ittybit cares about none of that. The fact that a space will appear where her tooth is now dangling is omnipresent. She plays with her toys and wiggles her tooth. She colors a picture and wiggles her tooth. She pets her cat and wiggles her tooth. She dances around the room, and stops only to wiggle her tooth.

Nothing.

Breakfast will do it. She eats some toast, dozens of apple slices, even a bagel with butter … still the tooth hangs on.

"Why doesn’t the Tooth Fairy bring a new tooth brush and floss," I wonder aloud. "Probably for the same reason she has run out of singles," I answer under my breath.

"What?" asks Ittybit.

"Oh nothing."

"You know," she says, her tooth flapping as she talks, "I’ve always wondered how the Tooth Fairy gets into the house?"

I wonder why it doesn’t worry her that some strange sprite will break into our house in the dead of night, steal into her room while she’s sleeping and extract a tooth from under the pillow beneath her sleeping head.

I suppose the ‘loot’ is worth the looting.

"Oh," I wave, matter-of-factly, "It’s just magic," as if magic was something one could just grasp from the air whenever it is needed.

And with that Ittybit starts to scream and dance about.

In her hand is a tiny square, and her smile is filled with gaps.

It’s the best sight ever.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Before we cast stones, let’s look at science

Whenever something new challenges conventional wisdom or standard practice, sparks will fly.

That’s what happened this week after a federal panel advised against routine mammograms for women under 50.

The initial reaction was quick and explosive. The government, skeptics say, wants to save a dollar at the expense of women’s health. Some even smelled the putrid waft of insurance companies trying to keep more of their premium pie as they lurk in the shadow of health care reform.

Healthcare providers say the recommendation could set women’s healthcare back decades as those who would rather avoid the discomfort of a mammogram forego the test. Everyone predicts more women will die unnecessarily.

It’s understandable. We all know someone under 50 who was diagnosed with breast cancer. It may have been our mothers, our friends, ourselves or even our daughters.

We have been told time and time again that our best defense against disease is early detection.

Screening, the way we’ve always done it, we believe saves lives.

But what if it doesn’t?

What if instead, the amount of radiation healthy women accumulate from a decade of better-safe-than-sorry screenings, in fact, makes us more prone to cancer?

What if the type of cancer has more to do with our survival outcomes than just the size of it?

What if improving routine care was better?

While each of us has a story about a woman diagnosed with cancer after a routine mammogram, how many of us know people whose cancers the mammogram missed?

It happens, especially in younger women because their breast tissue is dense, making reading the tests more difficult.

According to a German study published in the British Journal of Cancer in 2007, while it appears more cancer cases are found within quality screening measures, the correlation to better outcomes couldn’t be made. The study also found that a similar amount of breast cancer cases are detected outside of mammographic screening.

While it seems true that highly technical and scientific standards in diagnostic mammography, including expert reading can improve detection of cancers, fully two-thirds of all cancers are found initially through standard care – namely clinical examination and self breast exams.

No one wants to think of their health in terms of risk and reward. No one wants insurance companies to start barring women from potentially life-saving screenings.

But by the same token, we should be pushing the scientific envelope and finding better diagnostic tools, not just tools that are good-enough.

After all, it’s not uncommon to find women who fall outside of all guidelines — in their 20s and 30s — being diagnosed with breast cancer. By sheer virtue of that, one might think we should roll forward the age of screening instead of shoving it back, yet we must ask ourselves what are the risks? What are the rewards?

It seems pretty clear that mammography has been a good diagnostic tool to detect breast cancer in women since its invention in the 1960s, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in the arsenal.

Would we fear this if we didn’t all picture our insurance carriers foaming at the mouth and planning their Christmas bonuses at the savings they’ll reap at our expense?

I don’t think any of us should jump to conclusions just yet. We keep asking questions and have an open mind. If we don’t we run the risk of shutting down scientific advances to keep status quo.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

We all have a little ‘Max’ inside

In the dark, I sat next to my daughter, hissing a threat:

“If you DON’T calm down, I WILL take you out of this theater and we WILL go home.”

The constant motion of her anxious body continues, as does my threat:

“AND if we leave here now there will be NO MORE MOVIES until you can BE STILL.”

Her feet stop kicking the empty seat in front of her. She stops bouncing and the annoying squeak of the generations-old theater seat beneath her falls silent.

I mean business.

The irony that I want her to have self control for a screening of “Where the Wild Things Are” — Maurice Sendak’s classic tale of childhood angst and imagination, made larger than life in Spike Jonze’s latest movie — isn’t lost on me.

Nor is the fact that I’m taking my five-year-old daughter to a PG-rated movie on a school night.

I knew the movie would have tough subject matter for a kid her age.

I knew that, unlike the original book, the cinematic exploration of Max’s psyche would delve more deeply than might seem necessary for a small boy who willfully chases a dog, clashes with his mother over eating supper and disappears into a land of makebelieve.

I knew some details would go right over her head. I also suspected other details might be surprisingly different than what I had anticipated.

I knew the movie, with its larger than life characters and special effects, might be frightening.

But I also know my daughter and her love of excitement.

And I believed Maurice Sendak — who was involved in the retelling of his beautiful and lyrical allegory — would protect his work, thus protecting his readers and the audience.

I believe. I believe. I believe.

When the lights dim and the film starts, we are introduced to Max — a 12-year-old boy in a wolf suit, brandishing a fork and chasing a cairn terrier around the living room.

The hand-held camera adds terror as Max wrestles the pet.

I am quick to doubt my inner parent.

He seems too old to be in a wolf suit. He seems too angry, too violent, too frightening.

I look at my husband. I hope this wasn’t a mistake.

I am suspending disbelief. I am suspending disbelief. I am suspending disbelief.

As I expected, Ittybit is on the edge of her seat asking questions: “Why is he doing that? He didn’t hurt the dog, did he? He’s just playing, right?”

I assure her it is the story of the Max she knows from the books. I tell her Max is a boy who gets angry and frustrated just like she does. He’s a good boy who has bad moments.

Then Max is outside, having a snowball fight with his sister’s friends. He is smiling in his war effort. He becomes the child we all wanted to be, in a childhood we all wanted to have. He is joy personified.

For the next hour and a half we were unable to look away from the screen. She kept asking questions at every scene.

“What did he say? Why did he do that? Why is he so mad?”

She connects with Max as a child would while I see him the way a mother might. For a time we are both afraid for him.

“What will happen next? Why is he crying?”

There are no easy answers. “Just because” won’t cut it. You lived it, too.

“You know how it feels when you just want to play, but no one will play with you?

“Or when your brother wrecks something you worked really hard to build? How unfair it feels when people expect you to be a big girl, and not be angry? It’s frustrating.”

She nods.

“You feel invisible.”

That can make people even more frustrated.

She knows about that, too.

Like Max, she is every child. She knows what it’s like to be told to ‘Be Still.’

Sunday, November 08, 2009

When in doubt, blame the cat

My father phoned the other day to report on a report about my son that he’d gotten from his town’s librarian.

Every Wednesday, you see, our babysitter takes The Champ to the library for story time.

"He used to be so quiet. So shy," the librarian laughed as my dad probably sniggered silently (and uncontrollably) before emitting the short blast of "HA!" It is a laugh trait I never really noticed before my son inherited it.

I also happen to know that my son likes to sit as close to the librarian as physically possible without actually sitting in her lap. (I’m certain he didn’t get this from my dad). I get reports, too.

But I digress.

"Now it is pretty clear he has an opinion about everything and he’s not afraid to share it," the librarian continues.

He’s been known to storm clear across the room so he can lay his random* thoughts on some unsuspecting kid, who was just patiently waiting for the craft table to open up, and bellow in his big-boy voice: "MY MOM IS WORKING!" or "MY SCHOOL BUS ISN’T COMING."

He gets his randomness* from me I’m afraid. But I submit there’s a reason why I’m suddenly talking about the cat while discussing the disappearance of The Champ’s hand-me-down yellow and blue winter coat.

"Oh, glad you found it. Yes, yes. I was wondering what happened to his coat. … That STUPID cat!" (*It’s not really random. I blame the animal for its vanishing.)

My son’s communicative skills are blossoming with such speed I think it’s forcing him to stutter:

"My-my-my-my dad is working," he says with a smile, pointing as we pass the garbage hauler. "He-He-He-He drives that truck."

I try not to worry about the repetition. Ittybit did the same thing. And the glint in his eye with his devilish grin leads me to believe all is well.

Not to mention the slight tinge of Eddie Haskellism he shares with his sister.

"He was so cute, today," the librarian tells my dad. "A little girl started crying and he went over and put his arm around her. ‘It’s ok, It’s OK’ he said."

I could hear my dad’s pride swell.

"Yeah, but what she doesn’t know is that he spent the morning trying to balance things on her head while she screamed for him to stop."

Sweet, adorable, amenable Champ, who quietly goes about doing whatever it is he wants to as the rest of the world spins on three feet above his head.

He’s already figured out we’ll blame the cat.

"MOM! RAT!!!" screamed Ittybit one morning as we were ready to leave the house.

"Wha ….?" I stammer as I tug my attention away from trying to pull both of the boy’s lower limbs out of his left pant leg.

"RAT!?!"

I hulk over to the place from which she’s jumped three feet. The place where she found what appeared to be (from my viewing of it) the headless, tailless torso of a squirrel wedged between the cushions of a chair.

I jump back four feet.

"That's no rat."

My mind races with squirrel-like precision: Wha? Oh my g… I don’t want to touch … How am I … Cat. Outside. Call husband … double bag my hands? What kind of sick, twisted pet hides their kills in a chair? What do I do … the body? Uh .... CAAAAAAAAAAAAT!

After pacing back and forth, I find plastic bags and make my approach. I peel away the cushion and the thing flops lightly onto the seat.

Weightless and airy -- like bread gone stale overnight. ... Just as if it were the last crust of olive bread the boy begged for the previous night.

… When he was sitting in that chair.

I turn around to see The Champ all squinty-eyed and silly, looking right at me:

"STOOOOPID CAT."

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Imaginations made doll larger than life

Barbie qualified for her AARP card this year and so many people wish she'd just retire already.

Feminists I know have told me that Barbie is as diabolical today as when she was introduced in 1959.

They say she is a blonde bombshell that has a figure no human woman could (or should) achieve.

They blame her, in part, for the self-loathing women of a womanly size have manifested in these last five decades. They say she trivializes, objectifies and subverts women and reinforces superficial goals: Fun, sun and plastic surgery.

Her critics have long portrayed her measurements, if recreated in a flesh and blood woman, would create a freakish fem unable to support the weight of her own top half.

The argument over a doll with a perpetual smile and vaguely vacant gaze has been so intense that social scientists have subjected her to formal study.

Turns out that while it may be true a real-life Barbie would be roughly 6 feet tall and 100 pounds, it isn't true that her human-scale proportions — 39"-22"-29" — would make it impossible for her to stand without toppling over. Barbie the doll may not be able to stand without a pre-adolescent girl clutching her around the middle, but her human equivalent would certainly be able to stand unaided, provided she was capable of walking in heels.

Scientists also claim that the likelihood of a real-life Barbie existing is one in a million, which means there are at least eight of them in New York City alone.

Of course, I never really thought I'd be defending Barbie.

I wasn't a childhood fan. In my teenage know-it-all-ness, I likely spewed the same unverified facts in pontificating my self-righteousness.

But I did have a use for Barbie. Many of the girls I wanted to be friends with loved her. They had collections and clothes and whole little worlds mapped out in their tiny bedrooms. Barbie was a model, a veterinarian, a rocket scientist and a teacher. Ken was on the periphery, an accessory, a eunuch.

Yet, aside from bottle-blonde hair and the trappings of financial wealth — the condos, the cars, the Malibu excursions — Mattel didn't really sell what Barbie was to so many girls who loved her: imagination, catharsis, escape.

When our parents argued with one another; when our best friends forever found new best friends forever; when everything seemed to be going haywire, Barbie was stable and unchanged. Barbie, with her beatific gaze and perpetual smile, was safe.

She was more than a model, a career girl or jet-setter of our imaginations. She was the inanimate friend who sat with us and took us places as our own tiny worlds were temporarily on hold.

I look over at my daughter as she sits buckled into her seat on the plane holding the pink, ballerina Barbie she begged me for at the terminal. For the entire flight the leggy, plastic beauty danced on the tray-table stage in front of her.

I can only imagine, as these girls grow into adulthood, there will come a time when they'd like to just go back to their childhood rooms and just sit and "play Barbies" for a while.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Slamming our heads against the wall has different meaning in October

Slam. Slam. Slam. Slam.

I peek into the playroom. I can see Ittybit’s legs pressing down on the bed of the metal dump truck … and then lifting up as she absently watches her brother’s favorite show, Dinosaur Train.

Slam. Slam. Slam. Slam.

"That’s irritating. Please stop it."

"Ok, Mama."

Slam. Slam. Slam. Slam.

No, really. Stooooooooop."

Slam. Slam. Slam. …

I swoop into the room and snatch the offending toy.

I am not mad. I know there is a great big disconnect between her mouth and her brain as she tells me what I want to hear yet continues to stare at the television set.

It’s just a matter of rhythm and habit.

Habit is the same vice that force my husband to call my cell phone after he finds giant puddles of bodily fluid from one of the two pets we harbor, instead of just cleaning it up.

Habit is what makes him irritable after I question him further, seemingly disagreeing with his assumption that "nothing that big could come from a kitten."

"I TELL YOU THE THING IS HUGE!"

Is this going to be like the last time. … when you saved it for me to see (and clean up).

Another habit? Or just an unwarranted generalization that caused such wholly-imaginary organizations such as People for Less Unrest in Marriage (PLUM) to hire me, on occasion, to be its mouthpiece?

"I don’t do that," he protests.

"So your early morning discovery of a bunch of mutilated grapes with their sticky guts spread across a two-room expanse, which led to the late afternoon argument over why the mess was still there as you tried to elicit a conversation over which animal – dog or cat was the culprit … and the fact that I was the one who cleaned it up … was an isolated occurance.

"Yeah."

I stand there blinking.

He’s right. I’m guilty of those sweeping generalizations that peg all husbands as use-every-dish-in-the-house cooks not to mention, failures at dishwasher loading 101.

"Putting your dish on the counter above the dishwasher does NOT count as doing dishes."

"That’s not fair. I’ve done dishes."

"Once."

"And I’ve emptied the dishwasher."

"Once."

"Where’s the metal wall?" we agree in unison. "I want to slam my head so it makes that annoying sound."

Slam. Slam. Slam. Slam.

I’m not mad.

In the grand scheme of things, these picayune arguments don’t seem enough to warrant a special investigation by PLUM or any other imaginary-advocacy group.

Yet, some couples have serious problems that might start with a repetitive noise from a metal truck and escalate to blame and accusations. Other couples might not be beating their own heads against imaginary walls, but rather throwing each other into real ones.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. If you are being abused, know there are places you can go for help. Visit http://dvam.vawnet.org/ to find out more. No one should be slammed around.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Anyone can help a kid have 'A Better Bedtime'

A few years ago a moms’ group I belonged to on the internet hosted an autumnal meet-up. In preparing for the fall event some mothers traveled across country to attend, one member thought it might be cute to dress our kids all up in the same pajamas.

A brand and design was located and decided upon — red and blue robots over a heather-gray fabric — and each mother started the hunt to procure just the right size for their kids. Our fingers drummed keyboards and fingered through displays in the brick-and-mortar stores. When we found, what turned out to be the slightly elusive design, we just plunked down our money not worrying about the size. Someone in our group will want them.

But it never occurred to me that any one else would.

Truth be told, I kind of thought they were ugly. Truthier be told, I have to admit, my kids sometimes sleep in their clothes. There are times they go to bed without books being read to them.

Such is motherhood.

There comes a point when we wonder just what good comes of having that battle; the one in which we find ourselves physically removing the ground-in-dirt and toothpaste-stained t-shirts while our kids scream NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

So we just don’t fight it.

No one has died from wearing a grubby monkey t-shirt for three days, right? We’ll read four books tomorrow.

Mommy’s tired.

Again … we take such necessities for granted.

There are children most of us never think about, who wear dirty, ill-fitting clothes day and night because they don’t have mothers to clean, mend or replace them.

Some don’t even know there is a difference between street clothes and sleepwear.

Some have never even been kissed on the forehead and wished “good night.”

“If you’re a mother you can imagine what that’s like,” says Genevieve Piturro, the founder and executive director of Pajama Program, a not-for-profit children’s charity with a mission to provide new, warm sleepwear and new books to children in need nationwide.

Piturro, however, is not a mother. A decade ago, she was a single, corporate marketing professional who described herself as a workaholic.

“I really felt what was missing in my life were children,” says Piturro. With the encouragement of her husband, she decided to volunteer at a local shelter reading to children.

“The first night, after I had read, I turned back to see the children ushered into a room for bed. They had nothing. They were all huddled together. They were scared. It just seemed all wrong.

“After that I asked the staff if I could bring pajamas, and I went out and bought 12 pair. The next time I read, I gave out the pajamas. One by one everyone took a pair. One little girl just stared at them. She asked me, ‘what are these’?”

That’s when she decided she had to do more.

Piturro realized these kids, who were all entering the foster care system, were in a kind of limbo. “Every two seconds another child enters the U.S. foster care system. Many of these kids never had anyone to care for them. When they get taken from abusive or neglectful homes and transferred to new placements, they are also taken out of school. They are afraid and alone. They have nothing.”

So she kept bringing pajamas and books, and soon more and more people got involved.

“It just kept growing,” said Piturro, who says Pajama Program has 70 chapters around the country and has given out more than 400,000 pairs of pajamas since her initial dozen. By year’s end, she expects Pajama Program’s distribution to hit the half-a-million mark.

To make this happen, this month the organization has launched its 2010 fundraising campaign, “A Better Bedtime.”

The campaign’s aim is to bring awareness to the need for warm sleepwear during the “Danger Season,” the block of months between October and March when temperatures plummet.

“We need all sizes, from infant to aged 17,” says Piturro, explaining that until a child reaches 18 they are still wards of the state.

Visitors of pajamaprogram.org are shown how to host pajama and book drives, as well participate in a more personal way by connecting with Pajama Program’s Facebook page and sharing their favorite bedtime memories and photographs.

“Donations of money are always appreciated as we have relationships with manufacturers and publishers that allow us to buy so much more with our money … But we know people like to go an shop, and that’s OK, too.”

ON THE WEB

Web site: http://www.pajamaprogram.org
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ABetterBedtime
Twitter: http://twitter.com/pajamaprogram

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Parents should really listen when they're talking to themselves

Lately it seems as if I'm talking to myself.

“Please get some socks.”

“It's time for school, please put your shoes on.”

“The bus is coming, where are your shoes?”

“Why don't you have your shoes on?”

“GET!

“YOUR!

“SHOES!

“ON!

“THIS!

“INSTANT!”




And right at that moment my head twists around and pops off my shoulders, spewing a rush of venom and steam into the air … as my child looks at me in mouth-gaping awe.

This is better than a carnival ride, I see on her face.

She knows better than to say that out loud, however.

She's dutifully quiet. Later, I learn she was also sad I didn't give her a chance to get ready before I blew my top.

"I was getting ready mom. … I had one sock half on. …"

Maybe it's because I haven't slept through the night in six years. Maybe it's that my throat hurts and every word that escapes my lips rasps over tender flesh, reminding me with real pain of what a pain it is when no one listens.

She was getting dressed.

She was also dancing around the room, playing with the cat, chasing her little brother, poking around into bags she hadn't seen before and spilling her untouched breakfast cereal while I was trying to gather lunches, feed the cat, take laundry off the line and … well, all the other things we try to get done before the bus comes to swallow her up.

It's a race to see if we can all get out of the house at the same time.

Picture, if you will, a family of squirrels.

I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror leaning temporarily against the wall. I look tattered and frazzled.

Picture … rabid squirrel.

Maybe what irks me most is how children can go about their play with a mind much more elastic than that of an adult.

While we pride ourselves on being able to do four things at once, we rarely admit that the four things we accomplished are really only ever half done. I readily admit, I can't walk and chew gum.

Children, on the other hand, may not be listening but they take it all in.

While my daughter sings a little tune, dances around the room and plays with 10,000 tiny toys in her dollhouse I rethink speaking of adult concerns even in hushed tones. Inarguably, a few days later the questions will come forth …

"What does 'over extended' mean?"

“I thought you weren't listening …”

“I wasn't … but I still hear.”

"It means taking on more than you are capable of completing."


Write to Siobhan Connally at sconnally@troyrecord.com

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Getting in on social event of the season

All she wanted to know was if there would be kids at Amah's and Papa's block party.

I wasn't sure. I thought of all the people I'd known from growing up on the horseshoe drive; the home turnover rate didn't seem that high. I'm sure there would be grandchildren, I told her. Some might even be her age.

All I really knew was that my mother — Ittybit's Amah — was making her famous black-bottomed cupcakes and that was reason enough to attend.

She ignored my drooling over cream cheese-filled baked goods. Kids HAD to be at block parties ... who else would play with the blocks?

Block parties started out as urban affairs during World War I. City streets were cordoned off — often without permission of the authorities — and thanks to street lights, folks would stay late into the evening communing with the community.

With the migration of people to suburbs and even more remote locations, I suppose the lowly American block party has become an endangered species. Like zebra muscles, the more grand-scale, corporate-sponsored events have choked them out.

Until recently, my experience with neighborhood get-togethers was limited to sitting in the dark as a John Hughes' neighborhood swapped the silver screen for Anytown, U.S.A. It didn't bother me to think that I knew Kevin Bacon or Molly Ringwald better than good old what's-her-name from two doors down.

In my mind, block parties were those gatherings at which the cool people (that would be US) with urbane and cultured interests, stood around watching the time while guys in plaid pants pulled up to their chests (that would be THEM) talked about the useless plastic flywheel on their Yardmaster 2000. Their wives would share the secret ingredient of their secret-ingredient casseroles (Chinese noodles) as the "career gals," rolled their eyes.

Of course, No one understands what anyone else is saying because of their perky, uprooted Minnesotan accents. We just accept the slice of watermelon and lean forward as we eat it so as not to get any on us.

But what we miss by attending only the designed, Disneyfied fĂȘtes is HUGE even though the missing bits are small enough to fit on nametags.

As my kid played with her best friend from her old preschool, I sat munching an apple and marveled aloud: I had NO IDEA Sierra lived on this street. Or that Tyler lived just around the corner.

My mom recognized both kids but didn't know their names.

Who's that? She wondered of the pretty young woman wearing a purple shirt.

I don't know. … Never seen her before.

On and on through the day people sampled the apple, seafood and ambrosia salads, sleuthed out the chefs and ask after recipes.

Some neighbors offered their lawns, some their grills. Everyone brought something to share. One neighbor, bearing a trendy water bottle, offered up cups filled with samples of his favorite libation: pineapple and rum.

An all-ages egg toss, the crux of which was designed to get egg on one's face by NOT getting egg on one's face, proved to be the perfect ice breaker.

A little girl name Kelly got stuck with me. As I introduced myself to the little girl who'd drawn the short straw, the pretty young woman in the purple shirt stretched out her hand and introduced herself: she's Kelly's mom, she lives in the brown house in the center of the block. They've live there for four years.

Turns out, she was also extremely gifted at catching uncooked eggs lobbed at her from 25 yards.

Both Ittybit and I were eliminated in the early rounds. But despite being in the midst of the "bestest party I've ever been to in the whole of my life," and having no shortage of kids with which to play, she sat in my lap, eager to cheer on the egg-toss winners.

None of us wanted to leave as it got dark and the realization of it being a school night came into focus.

Just about then, I overheard the man from the blue house on the corner, apologizing for the condition of his deck. "Wait until you see it next year … it'll be amazing."

And I thought: "I can't wait."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Not a chip of the old (auction) block

I love the idea of yard sales.

I adore that on specific days of the year folks can browse the front yards of their neighbors and purchase things they want or need without paying sales tax or shipping costs, and in doing so save some perfectly serviceable item from an untimely demise in a landfill.

I also love the idea of being able to purge the house of clutter and get a small amount of cash in exchange. It is consumer recycling at its most efficient.

But in practice I have to admit I'd rather have a root canal.

Having strangers pawing over trinkets I've set out on a table, audibly sighing or making crinkled-nose expression as they weigh its value to them, usually outweighs my resolve to drag the inventory of my consumer-driven failings curbside.

For this reason the annual town-wide fall event often comes and goes without me, as I harbor only the tiniest of intentions to take part while making absolutely no effort on the organizational front.

This year, however, the potential stock practically organized itself when we moved to a house with fewer closets.

As an added incentive, Ittybit's inner entrepreneur was awakened over the summer when she saw kids selling lemonade by the roadside. She decided hawking beverages on our lawn would be the perfect accompaniment to a table offering mismatched salt and pepper shakers, a handful of outgrown kids' clothes and perfectly good toys missing only some of their parts.

I didn't lose hope, though. The weather forecast for the appointed weekend predicted rain.

When a gray blanket of looming precipitation covered the sky on the morning of our village's municipality-wide event, I was inwardly performing a thank-you dance to the gods of "Better Luck Next Year."

Loom didn't lead to doom, unfortunately.

At the crack of noon (because the sky just would not cooperate and rain on her parade) I started transporting the minimum amount of stock allowable by the bylaws of Respectable Yard Sale Standards to the driveway.

The neighbors (as good neighbors always are) were way ahead of us. They'd opened their driveway boutique promptly at 9 a.m. and had quickly sold out of their impeccably maintained and carefully tagged inventory. Ittybit kept me apprised of their progress with regular reports on the quarter hour.

When it was her turn to open shop, Ittybit happily chirpped away as I lined the bottom of a cooler with icepacks I'd grabbed from the freezer. Of course I forgot to get ice.

Typical.

Most of the work I'd done in preparation for the "Lemonriffic Yardsale of Ought 9" was preparing her for the potential of postponement and convincing her to sell cans of LemonadeTM instead cups of homemade.

I know … I know … the looks on the faces of her customers when she whipped out store-bought from behind her plywood storefront instead of scratch, told it all: I'd messed with the natural order of the universe (not to mention its subset of bylaws on tag sales) and disrupted the flow of karma, ecological living and even jeopardized the innocence of childhood, all in the pursuit of cutting corners.

I stammered trying to explain, launching into my usual stream of consciousness brain dump:

"I just couldn't do it. … I couldn't deal with cups and pitchers and the stirring of lemonade by a girl with grubby fingers who is always holding the cat. I couldn't think about replacing the pitcher I saw spill in my mind's eye every fourth pour as I tried to keep track of a toddler and a table of junk destined for Goodwill. I mean … Swine flu? Hello? Is this thing on?

"Maybe when she's older," I lied to myself.

"How much?" the first customer asked Ittybit.

My inner core of guilt, however, interrupted: "oh … fifty cents."

"It's a dollar," my daughter corrected, glaring at me.

"A bargain!" her customer declared, handing over the cash.

She thanked them and told them to "come again … Whenever you WANT," using her newly acquired eye-roll and head bob toward direction of "the help" - her two-year-old brother, who was busy drinking the inventory and yelling at potential customers to "GO AWAY from MY HOUSE," and her dear, old mom, who was trying to give away the store for free.

"Maybe next time I should just do the talking, Mom, OK? You can just give change. You're good at that part."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

All parents feel sting of 'Walmart slap'

To be honest, watching the media implode with anger and stunned disbelief that a stranger would strike a crying child in a Georgia Walmart seems like watching a train wreck from the safety of the wrong side of the tracks.

When I heard that story — after I fretted for the child, placed myself in her mother's shoes and telepathically hugged them both — I wondered if the man was having some kind of medical malfunction rather than merely exhibiting the manifestations of a man as mean as a junkyard dog.

Surely he must have had a stroke or is presenting with Alzheimer's disease. Something, anything, that would explain such abhorrent behavior.

In her essay about the slap heard 'round the world in the Huffington Post, Deborah Copaken Kogan ponders not the strange news story that had mothers from coast to coast clasping at their virtual pearls, but how it relates to all the strangers who would slap parents in the face with their unsolicited judgmental comments.

She calls it as she sees it: Unwanted or unsolicited advice from strangers is "aggression" plain and simple.

Yet somehow, as I was agreeing with the overall point of her message, the label seemed outlandish.

Even the anecdote Kogan related in her essay — her response to a stranger's concern that the boy, who was sitting in a hole on the beach, could be carried away if a tsunami-like wave were to somehow make its way from the sea to the place they were sitting — only seemed to reinforce the same judgmental snark she wishes to stop perpetuating: Snipe, snipe, dismissal. Fester, fester, fester.

It is not fair; People shouldn't just say every thought that comes into their heads. They should realize they don't have the full story. They don't have all the answers. Likewise we should react with the same measured resolve. Yet, aren’t we all a little guilty of wanting that perfect retort that will demote the pompous fool to the underside of the bridge most befitting their troll-ness?

When Ittybit was born, in December, we took her everywhere despite it being the most brutal winter I could remember. Numerous people chided us for "taking a baby out in such cold." The anger and indignation of being challenged rose in us. It felt like a slap in the face.

We slapped back, too: "Thank you for your concern, but you can go poop in your hat and pull it down over your ears."

I think it may have been the first time my husband gleefully told people he hails from Minnesota, where he spent a few of his less-than-memorable teenage years and where no one would ever leave home if they were waiting on timid weather.

When The Champ came around — a summer birth — I'd convinced myself that we'd avoid the same type of ear boxing.

But no. As I stepped out on the street one August afternoon, a sleeping infant in a sling and a preschooler in tow, a man sneered at me about what a "crime" it was to have a baby out in such heat.

I shrugged and gave him that pained expression that translates into "what-am-I-going to-do? I-have-to-buy-groceries." And I let it go.

He's never going to understand my seething rage. It's not going to change his genuine concern or beliefs. I know my baby was in no danger. Inhale. Exhale.

Instead I try to remember the kindness of strangers: people such as the older woman who leaned toward me in the lunch counter line as I juggled The Champ (who was wriggling to get down) and tried to assure Ittybit I’d heard “I’d like PEPPERONI pizza, PLEASE” the first time AND 50th time she'd said it. The woman smiled and said, "I don't know how you women do it. Little kids, groceries, shopping, up, down ... Maybe it's because I never had kids, but I'm always in awe of how you manage.”

I laugh and tell her what I know to be the truth: "Mostly we do it thinking we are failing."

She answered in kind: "Not from where I'm sitting you're not."

So now I make it a point to smile at the women who have their babies out in the cold, or in the heat. I mention how beautiful their children are as they cry or tantrum at the checkout. I tell them some days I'm there, too, with that same "what-are-you-going-to-do" expression.

I don't need to rage against injustice so much as I wish to offer a hand of support — a hand I know one day may be slapped away.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Cat tales: A pet saga in two parts

MEETING THE ‘FELION’

If it wasn't for the thin tinkling of a metallic vaccination tag against the clasp of an elastic collar, I'd have tripped over her a half-dozen times during the handful of visits I made to my office, which for the foreseeable future is really just a overflow room for homeless items.

Gingerly I stepped through the child gate into the makeshift storeroom expecting to see the black kitten perched on the school desk or higher up on the chest of drawers. She wasn't either place.

It had only been a few hours since she had been transported from the chaos of the local shelter and installed amid the chaos of our unpacked boxes still awaiting the final sifting, or permanent placement, in our own new forever home.

All indications were pointed toward positive: the little cat's transition was going well. She had allowed Ittybit to carry her in the most uncomfortable-looking ways without releasing her claws or even trying to squirm away. She was mush in her arms probably, I thought, a result of spending 16 weeks behind bars.

Ittybit chirped away as she slung the kitten from one arm to the other or one should to another (using one hold or another) in rapid succession. "Did you know they sometimes call cats FE-LIONS?" she said to the furry being in her arms.

Her new kitten was drinking up excessive love to excess.

Still, we didn't want to send her on bender from which she'd return angry and destructive. So, we ordered Ittybit into a forced television break to give her new charge a rest. But I couldn't help myself from sneaking into the room to get a look at the kitty, who I assumed would be tuckered from an afternoon of tussling and toting.

I took a peek into the gigantic cardboard box we'd emptied and outfitted with a soft bed and a litter box. Empty.

Scanning the room I found no trace of her.

I turned to leave but lost my balance as a fluffy shadow wove itself between my ankles, its feet sounding like tiny elephants rampaging off as I regained equilibrium and looked down to find empty floor.

Next, a tiny string mouse toy is sent scampering across my feet. And then another.

I smiled and switched off the light.

When her show was over, Ittybit launched into a game of a thousand questions -- all of them one variation or another of: "Can I play with my new kitty now?"

I shrugged. "She's not sleeping anyway. Go ahead."

I followed my daughter as she unclasped the gate and entered the room. There was no hesitation; no furtive peeking from behind cardboard. Just a black blur headed straight for her person.

And there was purring; lots and lots of purring.

TASTE TEST, CANINE

She was barking ... and peeing all over the floor. My poor, old incontinent dog didn't know what to make of this cat inside the house. "It should not be here," she seemed to bark insistently.

I might have felt a twinge of guilt having unleashed a cat on my geriatric dog had the canine smile not crept back into her face. She was more animated than I've seen her in a while.

I snapped on the leash and we trotted out for a walk.

It wasn't immediate, but she found the scent of a never-before-noticed neighbor's cat. She took off after it. Her spring seemed back, too.

The shelter folks had told us to keep the dog away from the cat for a few days, but shower her with love from hands scented with new cat smell.

I smiled, thinking that's what the nurses had told us to do with the dog when we brought the first baby home.

Other folks had warned me that the adjustment wouldn't be easy; perhaps it would even be impossible for an old dog like Maddy. But I didn't buy it. She's a companion dog whose been missing her companion for two years now. She seems bored, possibly lonely.

I was thinking all these things, wishing them to be true, when the kitten ventured out from the office and sauntered past the dog, who immediately gave chase.

We all stopped breathing.

Around the couch and through the dining room they went; big dog, little cat.

As fast at it had started, the race stopped. The cat crashed to a halt, flipping over on her back to reveal her belly to the dog. She just lay there for what seemed an eternity as the dog did a backpedal to avoid a collision of cartoon proportions.

Maddy wasted no time: She immediately pushed her snout into the kitten's soft abdomen. And out came the tongue for a lick to the face.

The house exhaled.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

An open letter to a kindergartner

Dear Ittybit,

The summer is scooting by.

I hadn’t been paying attention as most mornings have been encased in a cold crust and me in the desire to stay under the winter covers. The down comforter on my bed has been employed for a fourth season instead of stowed, and there are days I think I could employ another part time.

You never seem to notice the weather. You seem impervious to its grasp. Only when the possibilities of cooling ice cream or warming cocoa are in the offering do you pay it any mind.

But the heat arrived, finally, and with it the breathless realization of humidity and humility: School will start for you and with it comes a whole new life for all of us.

Not that we ever took off mid-week to go berry picking or to climb a hill and peer off its apex, the potential to just get away is monitored now by many someones else … principals and teachers and so forth. The eyes of the state will be fully upon us now that you will have to attend and be counted.

Not that I am particularly worried about Big Brother, although often I think I should be more concerned.

I know you will be brilliant. I know you will rise to any height you might want to reach.

As any mother does, I worry that others won’t understand you or that they’ll hurt your feelings. I worry that you will lose the confidence and the fearlessness you’ve shown to my ever growing amazement.

As most mothers do, I look for comparisons. I measure my untrained observation of you against my untrained observation of others.

I look around at girls your age and, still, you stand out to me. Your wit your perceptions your calm, measured approach to investigating new things all strike me as unique, though I know all mothers must see this in their children. All mothers marvel. It’s what we do.

We also doubt and get defensive. We project our tepid experiences and lie in wait for their return. I am awake late at night wondering about all the things I will not be able to control all the things I should not try to control.

I tell myself that my job is not to fix things for you, but to show you how to fix them for yourself. It is also teaching you how to accept and move on when what is broken seems beyond repair. My mission is to let you attempt lost causes in the hope that you will fix the unfixable: Mission impossible.

I was reminded of all of this as I tried to keep your brother from raiding the cake plates at a birthday party while you girls sat in a circle playing "pass the present."

The object of the game was to pass a gift among you until the music stopped. The girl holding the package would carefully unwrap it, revealing another layer of pretty paper. I listened as the music played and stopped three times. The giggling became quiet and nervous. One girl was saying how she never won anything. Another agreed.

I found myself looking in any direction but where the laughter was keeping time with the tune. I just couldn’t watch.

I didn’t want you to lose. But I didn’t want you to win, either.

That is my dilemma.

What to do?

While in Maine earlier this summer, I had an opportunity to take a surfing lesson for mothers and instead of happily rushing into the water I stood back, angry and indignant. The only reason I felt compelled to do this, I raged, was to prove myself to you, who would be standing in the sand, cheering me on.

It wasn’t proving anything to me.

I have no interest in surfing. I have less interest in balancing on a wave or wearing the seal-like suit that would keep me somewhat warm in the chill of an Atlantic morning. I said I would go through gritted teeth. I’d committed to looking like a fool and envisioned myself chasing a board through the waves.

As I stood by the surfshop counter, looking in any direction but the clerk, I almost didn’t hear her ask for the registration I didn’t have.

Face saved by reservations I didn’t have, but ego bruised with the reservations I did have.

What to do?

I want to calm the waves of this growing storm to remind you that life does seem unfair at times that you will feel the sharp words of others digging into the soft flesh of your innocent chatter. But you will, in turn, undoubtedly plunge your indignation into some poor soul’s inner core, and you will be the guilty party.

But what is life but a series of highs and lows an exploration into the unknown?

And I remind myself that my job isn’t to calm the waves it’s to help you learn to ride them.

Love and reservations,
Mommy

Sunday, August 23, 2009

'Staycation' has new meaning for mom

We returned from our vacation in Maine one person short.

Despite having numerous conversations with my husband all summer long wherein I pontificated on all the reasons why I thought Ittybit was still too young to be away from us for five days (six nights), when her grandmother suggested all the fun things she had planned for the cousins the following week, my reasons seemed ridiculous.

"Can I stay, mom? Can I?"

How could I say ‘No?’

The decision was made early in our week-long holiday that Ittybit would stay on with her aunt and grandmother. As the week went on the magnitude of her first extended separation eluded me.

But on the last night I could barely sleep.

The what ifs were shouting at me.

What if she gets hurt?

What if she’s afraid?

What if she decides that she wants her mommy … and I’m four hours away?

The answer was always the same: We’ll figure something out.

Isn’t that what it’s all about? Figuring?

The day we left, she was gangly in her grandmother’s arms with her newly sprouting limbs getting ready to take a grab at kindergarten. She waved amid tears as we pulled away.

"I’ll call you in a few minutes," she shouted after us.

We’d decided that she could call us as often as she wanted to hear our voices.

But the phone didn’t ring.

As soon as our car had rounded the corner, and her cousin had called her to help him build some imaginary contraption that was sure to feed the squirrels and relegate the red ants and mosquitoes to their rightful place in the belly of some beneficent bird, she’d forgotten her momentary homesickness.

It wasn’t until her usual bedtime, which coincided with our unlocking of the side door and unceremonious dumping of suitcases and gear onto the laundry room floor, that the phone call, complete with uncontrollable sobbing, came.

"I wanna come home, I wanna come home, I wanna come HOME. Can you come and get me now? How about tomorrow morning? Can you come and get me tomorrow morning? I miss you. I miss daddy. I miss my brother. I miss the dog."

Aw, I thought, she misses the dog! … the senile, old, incontinent dog. She must be overtired.

I was right. Her grandmother called back a short while later to report that it took only one book to transport the weepy child to the Land of Nod.

There was only a small part of my inner voice warning me that leaving her might result in an inopportune eight-hour round trip rescue operation, but mostly it reassured me: she’s my daughter.

I was only a little older than her when I stayed for weeks at a time with friends at their summer cabin. My father always felt bad when I cried … as he was picking me up to take me home.

Now that I am a parent, I know how he felt.

I want her to be confident without me, even though I want her to need me. I want her to have fun but not more than she’d have if I were there. I want her to miss me but not enough to warrant a rescue mission.

It’s a delicate balance, easily toppled by a sudden expulsion of held breath.

Reach Siobhan Connally at sconnally@troyrecord.com

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The first, official test of primary school is for parents

I knew it was coming: The letter that would send me off the deep end.

When it arrived, I could tell by its thickness that the legal-sized envelope contained a brewing storm of discontent.

Even my husband, who normally opens only those things addressed to him that he believes contain payment for services rendered, couldn’t wait until Ittybit got home to tear open the missive and see which Kindergarten teacher she wrangled.

He called me immediately. "Well … Ittybit’s teacher is …" he said over the phone at mid-day. He sounded disappointed after saying the name. "Do you remember her?"

He was hoping she’d get a teacher we knew from the community or one recommended by a friend. But neither of us wanted to be "THAT PARENT," the one with the squeaky wheels, always needing grease.

"I’m sure it will be fine," I said, believing our first born could charm a snake if she needed to. Not that I’d want to make that comparison with respect to a teacher of five-year-olds. Or would I?

When I got home and thumbed through the brightly colored pages filled with welcoming words and informative warnings, it was the light pink sheet with its tiny print that made the hair rise on the back of my neck.

I’d expected that, too.

I have enough friends with school-aged children to know budget cuts have meant parents shell out for all sorts of items that, when they were in school, used to be procured through purchasing departments things such as art paper and tissues, art supplies and in some cases cleaning products and disinfectants.

For years, frazzled families have told me all sorts of stories – using teachers’ names in vain – detailing how they’d nearly driven themselves to the edge of insanity trying to procure all the name-brand supplies, which inflate the over-all price of the Back-to-School shopping spree by 20 to 30 percent, listed on their supply sheets.

I also know that parents who stray from list find the offending brands sent back home with a note of derision.

When the following items:

n Kleenex (no lotion or perfumes)

n Crayola Twistable Crayons

n Crayola Washable Markers

n ZipLoc Gallon-sized bags

n Expo brand dry erase markers

n Elmer’s glue sticks

n Fiskars scissors (blunt)

n and Dixie Cups

were specified on our supply list, I can’t say I was surprised. But I was still disappointed.

"Tell me again," I asked my friend, who is now in her last years of public school procurement, "why do teachers demand Fiskar scissors and Ziploc bags? Why do they want Mead binders and Kleenex brand tissues? Why do they specify Elmer’s glue sticks? I mean, I must have two boxes of generic glue sticks that are probably made by Elmer’s but sold to companies who sell them with a different label anyway …"

She just looked at me with a pained expression and told me the same thing my husband said …

"Oh, you are going to have such a hard time with school, aren’t you?"

I know, I know, I know … I’ve been saying it all along. Ittybit will be brilliant and I will be bucking the norms.

I’m going to be that mother who sends generic tissues and glue and baggies … the one who sends her kid to school with generic glue and no-name dry erase markers, poised for battle.

Now, I understand the arguments that teachers have preferences, that students having the same tools lessens jealousy and other boneheaded (excuse me) reasons for brand uniformity but in public school, where uniforms have been fought tooth and nail, it just seems disingenuous.

Perhaps a more plausible explanation is that teachers are testing parents trying to learn early on which ones will be compliant and which ones are destined to roil the waters.

"Wait until she gets to high school," my friend laughs. "You are going to need a lifejacket."

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Moving at a snail's pace

I found it difficult to look at the "big picture" as we moved our home to a new house.

Whenever you endeavor to do something that has so many parts I think the tendency for the non-planners among us is to just shut down.

For months people with the best of intension and previous experience told me to start packing "now." I knew they were right, but whenever I looked around at the massive amount of stuff we’d accumulated in a decade, I saw all the things that more or less owned me.

Instead of packing in boxes I packed in my mind.

And I purged.

Every now and again I filled my car with things to donate to Goodwill. I dropped them off.

For a little while I felt lighter even though the donation hadn’t made a dent.
But when it finally came time to hunker down and get to the business of moving things, it was just a blind grab and toss.

Project Mayhem.

For a start, we didn’t procure enough boxes. Packing box after box unpacking, repacking. We found ourselves reusing worn cartons marked "Kitchen" for "Bedroom" or "Bath." It didn’t really matter, seeing as how all of it was just being dumped into the closest room to the entrance.

Our stuff has stuff, or so my parents like to tell us.

But relocation isn’t rocket science it’s merely the systematic organizing and schlepping and hauling and re-organizing until one finds a constant (or the set of car keys they lost two Christmases ago).

Perhaps that’s why I found myself wide awake at 4 a.m. trying to bring organization to the kitchen before the rest of the house arose, bringing chaos to the kitchen instead.

I made a pot of coffee and stared up at the cabinets. It strikes me as odd that I – the person who doesn’t really do the cooking – feel compelled to organize the space. As I unwrap the first of the glasses I realize that while the cooking part is creative, the cleaning part is compulsive. If I am to uphold my end of our "You Cook, I’ll Clean" arrangement, I should be able to organize them for easy replacement.

I get to work placing the dishes and the bowls, the cups and the saucers. Mixing bowls will go up there a little to the right. Wine glasses next … and then serving bowls and platters. Coffee is growing cold. I splash in a little more to warm it up. There’s the collection of water bottles and Thermoses to place next, not to mention the odd lot of things we’re keeping but never use. A corner of the cabinet, in view but out of reach seems good for those.

I begin to notice things. The kitchen appears smaller, but it’s holding things we spread over three rooms in our old house. Everything is finding its place something I’ve been longing to say. I know it won’t last. Space seems to have a way of overfilling, but in the early morning light of a brand new day in a new house, sitting back with a cup of coffee and a sense of completion certainly has its perks.

Moving is good. It helps a person sweep away the cobwebs of clutter … It also doesn’t hurt when you hear a familiar jingle of keys as you finally move the tiny fake Christmas tree from the spot it’s been inhabiting year-round.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

One can only be a girl on her way for so long

Whilst driving home from work recently I was forced to realize a truth that is only surprising to me: I am middle-aged.

Oh, this little pest had been flying around for a while. I swatted at it from time to time with the gestating and bearing of children at an age when most of my friends were getting ready to put their own kids in middle school and some *shudder* high school or college.

I thought of myself as an early starter but late bloomer "A Girl On Her Way," to quote the title of a Maia Sharp song and the reason for this inarguable new wisdom.

An interview with the rich-voiced Sharp was airing on National Public Radio as I steered my Civic home … (which are both key signs, I’ve learned, that a woman has reached a certain age: I came to this understanding a few years ago while attending a gathering known far and wide as a "Stitch and Bitch."

The term alone should have cued me in to this new lot in life but it was the husband of the host, after he’d found himself shuffling cars in the driveway, who enlightened me.

When he returned from his chore, he jovially announced that he’d been able to hear an NPR story in its entirety behind the wheels of seven different Hondas).

But I digress.

Sharp was telling me (and thousands of other listeners also somewhere along their evening commutes) that a girl on her way has only has so long before she become a woman who never arrived.

And there I sat, slack jawed, alone in a Honda, listening to NPR – a woman who never arrived.

The years really did go by that quickly.

Promise doesn’t fade so much as it lingers around, seemingly inexhaustible, before it just suddenly disappears.

You tread water waiting for your first "real" job. You get your first promotion. Then a second. Maybe you are named to the post of leadership before you turn 30 … like I was.

And then, perhaps, you get laid off. Financial cuts. Downsizing. Synergy. You adopt whatever catch phrase makes it seems less personal.

Maybe they’ll tell you how horrible you left things, even if you inherited the mess, as a parting gift. Don’t want you getting any ideas about your worth.

For a while you might spend some time thinking you are unemployable. But sooner than later you find yourself employed again. This time you are grateful. Fearful, too. Unwilling to take chances.

You stagnate.

You try new things eventually because you can’t help yourself.

And for a time you are on your way again.

People call you. They ask for things. Things look promising again.

But nothing really catches on. The phone stops ringing the inbox stops flagging for your attention.

Then children come and your interest is renewed. Your voice gains a new resonance. A new meaning transcribes your words and your thoughts. You have another chance.

For a time there are people asking for things.

You are encouraged. But again, same as before, nothing you spark catches fire.

And then one day a song comes on the radio. And the woman singing it, who finally feels she’s arriving at the place she intended, is younger than you.

And you look into the corner of the rearview mirror that you have angled toward your face. Finally you see the truth. Damn vanity.

And you swat dead that fly that was buzzing around you. It hurts. But turns out, it was not as painful as you thought it would be.

You tell yourself: If you had only sought to arrive you might have missed out on all the sights along the way. Maybe one day you will believe it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

If only moving house and home was literal

I know I shouldn't complain about the toils of moving, seeing as how I have not personally schlepped a box from one house to another in more than 15 years, but having done none of the effort and experienced all of the angst, I just feel as if I’ve missed out.

My husband, you see, is an efficient mover. When we moved from our last apartment about a decade ago I came home from work to find only the “essentials” were left for our last night at the first-floor abode: a lonely old futon mattress, a television and a bag of tortilla chips.

My couch and every other stick of furniture in the place was gone.

My husband’s friend had arrived early and they had nothing to do but get to work.

In no time they’d packed all the possessions in the four-room dwelling and driven them the three towns over to our first home.

It was a big deal.

Almost as big as the first Christmas in our new home, during which three generations of family were invited to attend, and who bought our first tree and decorated the room with lights — without me.

But I’m not bitter.

They saved the decorations for me to hang … alone.

Again, not bitter.

This time, however, as we spent the better part of six months renovating a new house and settling into a new venture, I have no excuse beyond denial.

In as much as I liked the new house for all the normalcy it offered — two floors, front porch, bathtubs — I loved the dwelling we were leaving; our barn. My children were born and raised in that house. We buried a beloved dog in its backyard and planted a tree on my first Mother’s Day in the front yard. I had envisioned ribbing them as they tramped through the second-floor apartment with muddy shoes and flaunted unclosed doors: “WHAT! Do you think we live in a BARN?!”

I know it’s for the best: The new house is better sized for our bigger family and also comes with an expansion for my husband’s business; a chance we couldn’t let pass.

But I can’t help but heave heavy sighs as I belatedly start the process of purging the things we don’t need and packing the things we do. There are two piles of everything: Clothes to keep, clothes to donate; papers to file, papers to recycle; trinkets to save, trinkets to sell.

The process takes forever.

Boxes I haven’t touched in years now hold treasures that spark my memory. I can’t believe I saved all these brochures from our honeymoon … Oh, will you look at that … a matchbook from our first date.

I toss them into the bag that’s headed for the dumpster; a bag that’s leaning against a wall with the tell-tale hatch marks of a growing family – pencil dashes with names, ages and dates.

I know soon that wall will soon get a fresh coat of paint, just as surely as I know I’ll probably find a dozen things that were lost over the years when we move the couch.

As I stand there looking at the smudge-covered partition, I know the reason I’m stalling: I’d rather put that wall into the moving truck and leave the couch.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Throwing marriage out with divorce is like throwing baby out with bath

I was all ready to pick up and hurl the first stone as Atlantic Monthly essayist Sandra Tsing Loh metaphorically suggested in her painfully personal work “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” in the July/August edition of the journal, wherein she bluntly and unabashedly revealed her part in the failure of her 20-year marriage, and as a result questions whether the institution has outlived its usefulness in modern society.

Her question: When modern convenience and modern technology has not only freed us from the drudgery of work but also the statistical likelihood of an early demise, would it not seem logical that the idea of making a life-long commitment to another human being would also be rendered obsolete?

Recounting her own mid-life crisis and those of her female acquaintances she wonders why anyone would not only commit themselves to something that has a statistical rate of failure of about 50 percent, but also defend such an institution with such a defective track record so vehemently.

Perhaps, it's just habit; a foolish consistency of little minds. Or perhaps it's something else.

I found the piece, oddly enough, when I noticed my Web site’s hit counter leading hapless readers to my site and an identically titled essay critiquing another piece Tsing Loh wrote for the Atlantic a few years ago on the so-called Mommy Wars.

As I read her latest treatise, my heart was telling me that she is a woman who is going through one of the more painful, demoralizing, defeating moments in life; a moment that – while perhaps a construct of some antiquated system of social support – is no less tragic for a family’s individual members.

But my mind was agreeing with her.

In as much as I am one of the 90 percent of Americans who willingly went into a marriage knowing the rate of failure; knowing that there would be times when the “work” involved could eventually outweigh the value of the relationship; I also believe that if I had made such a decision in my 20s … even in my late 20s … I most likely would not be married now.

Should we live with such mistakes for the sake of the children?

Tsing Loh makes an interesting, and seemingly logical point in her article that while statistics continually indicate two-parent homes are best for children, single-parent homes are not far behind. The problems, as she quotes the experts, come when parents continually bring new paramours into the mix, wherein children are forced to bond or compete.

It makes me realize, where she’s standing seems to be a strange place to be. There’s no one way to live a life, even though there are socially accepted norms.

It seems to me we are naturally moving toward new understanding of these obstacles, too.

Even in a generation, it seems, we’ve slowed the process immensely.

By my calculation, Tsing Loh would have been about 27 when she married the man she’s now divorcing 20 years later. In some eras 27 would foretell spinsterhood. But today, a woman in her 20s is expected to see the world, and make her mark before she settles down. Ask Rebecca Woolf, writer and essayist, who found herself unexpectedly pregnant at 23, marrying her boyfriend and trying to work family life around her rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

Woolf has parlayed her journey into a and a popular blog site – Girl’s Gone Child - despite worries that motherhood would more than likely derail her potential for career success.

And yet, only a generation ago, Woolf’s age wouldn’t have been an issue at all in the framing of family life. Many women had careers and marriage by the time they were out of college.

Now the 24-year-old mother is a unique and suspect being.

Still, I can’t see myself objecting to my children living with their love interests before marriage; in fact, I can more likely see the drawbacks of a more traditional scheme from my own narrative. Had I married the first (or second) person I lived with there’s no doubt in my mind I’d be in my third marriage as I sit here typing.

Yet, in as much as I agree with her theory, I am not ready to give up on marriage.

I’m not ready to file away the 50 percent rate of divorce under the heading of “failure,” any more than I would give up the experience I got from living with the two men I didn’t marry.

Perhaps, in time, Tsing Loh will realize that throwing marriage out with divorce is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Parenting pitfalls are rarely so black and white

My husband doesn’t like to be The Bad Guy, the one who always says ‘no.’

He feels he’s been pushed into wearing the black hat by Yours Truly, The Pushover.

He’s the one who tells Ittybit to eat three more bites before she can be excused, that she has to sleep in her own bed, and that we are dog people NOT cat people.

I am, by comparison, the scoundrel who replaces the fish the moment they die, lets her watch TV to her heart's content and allows her to have ice cream for breakfast.

I can feel his pain, sort of. I return home to the scampering of little feet and the excited cheer of “MOMMY’S HOME, MOMMY’S HOME, MOMMY’S HOME!” after I’ve walked out to the mailbox.

It’s a nice feeling.

But as the traveling member of our tribe — the one who goes away for nights at a time on business — he’d like to be welcomed back into the fold with at least a brief chorus of “DADDY’S HOME!” followed by big, wet sloppy kisses from the members of the family who are not completely covered in fur.

Instead he gets an “oh hi,” a wave and “does this mean I have to sleep in my own bed?” directed at me, the woman who, in his estimation and in his children’s eyes, is always wearing a white hat.

Even the dog yawns and goes back to sleep without bothering to get up. Traitor.

This is exactly the scenario my entirely fictional organization “People for Less Unrest in Marriage” was designed to counsel.

If I were not the leader, the folks at PLUM would completely take me to task for changing the rules; for not picking the battles I know he would have fought or, at the very least, for not scripting the return with a manufactured ticker-tape parade.

But as the creator of PLUM I’ve fired those who would defy me.

It’s not like THEY have to figure out how to get the kids breakfast, get them dressed, give the dog a pill, clean up whatever canine accident took place on the stairs (yuck), get a shower and get ready for work, pack lunches for daycare and get out of the house before we’re so late that the light from late is already blocking the sun, not to mention answering the age-old question: “Where are my keys?”

Now where was I? Oh, yes, disorganized.

Let’s backtrack shall we? A few paragraphs up I mentioned something about replacing fish? Let’s go back there. Yes?

So … Golfie died last weekend and, while my dear, black-hat-wearing husband was busy painting our soon-to-be new house I was practically promising little miss Ittybit a pony as a suitable replacement.

Before you cast that stone, let me just confess I just can’t flush one more fish down the commode. I just can’t handle the karmic responsibility. I’ve had better luck with mammals. That is why, as we stood – her eyes all teary – toilet side, I suggested a guinea pig to the girl as we watched dear old Golfie circle the bowl and descend.

But it might as well have been a stallion if you’d seen my husband’s eyes bulge when I told him.

I said we’d “TALK” about it, but we all know that means “DONE DEAL” to a preschooler.

I know Mr. Black Hat is only being the true voice of reason when he rightly points out that we are moving soon, after which we will be going on vacation. It doesn’t make sense to get a new pet right now.

He’s right. I know he’s right. Stop rubbing it in.

I break the news to her that we’ve talked and we agree that a new pet is not going to happen until after our lives have settled down again (in three to six weeks). Until then, we can go to the pet store to look at the little critter she’d like to harbor and buy a book telling us how to take care of her.

She does a happy dance, all is right with the universe, I’m still wearing the white hat and off we go to the pet store … where she decides on a hamster.

But now, after having read six chapters at bedtime on the nature and care of hamsters, her father and I are finally on the same page: We’d rather have a cat.

He’s going to break the news.

He gets to wear the white hat for a change.

Write to Siobhan Connally at sconnally@troyrecord.com or read more online at www.troyrecord.com, click on “Blogs.”

Sunday, July 05, 2009

No good deed goes unpunished

No good deed goes unpunished.

As a mother, I should know that. As a shopper, however, it never occurred to me.

It also never crossed my mind that my comeuppance would come in the form of a broken toe.

Before I tell you how I managed that, I'm going back to the beginning.

I am a dutiful shopper.

I follow the aisles the way that marketing psychologists intended. I weave my way through the produce section first and then meander around the outer edges of the store, picking up meat and eggs and milk before getting lost in the mire that is in the middle.

And when I say lost, I mean literally.

I walk around for nearly a half hour looking for the beer (beer being the only food group, in my husband's estimation anyway, that is improperly placed in the wasteland that is the store's processed food island). I have a distinct Deer-in-the-Headlights expression with a touch of Zombie when I finally find it and heft a case of some high-priced India Pale Ale into the cart.

But that's not what I really mean when I say dutiful.

My follow-the-rules personality flaw continues past the checkout to the parking lot, where the design of the cart corrals has always made me suspect that the designer might have also gotten lost in the beer aisle. Why else would a shared shopping cart park be accessible from only one row and impossible to squeeze carts through if cars are parked next to it? The answer has to be the Demon Drink.

No matter. Where there's a will there's a way, right? No one wants to have some errant cart bashing in the side of their minivan all because the last driver was too lazy to put it back.

When the kids were small, I'd leave them in the cart while I packed the car with our haul, and then we'd make a final drive back to the store or to the cart corral.

Now the kids are bigger and more likely to flee the scene or get into trouble if they're not strapped into their seats as I offload the natural granola bars and organic cheese puffs that they require in their lunches. I can't have them playing chicken in the parking lot with the other abandoned carts, you understand.

Instead I bribe them with one of the tasty-treats they were allowed for being quiet and docile in the store if they will sit tight while I run the cart across two lanes of parking spots to the badly designed car corral.

But as they sit and slurp their Gogurt (or whatever liquid sugar-y substance that comes in a plastic tube) du' jour, I have somehow managed to run the front wheels of the oversized kid-friendly/parent-mocking car shaped like a car right into the side of my foot.

Ow.

And with each step back to the car it just gets worse

Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Owwwwwwwwwwwwww.

It's broken. The toe is broken.

As I drive the throbbing only increases.

This isn't good. Usually time has a way of taking pain away, or at least dulling it.

I pull into the driveway.

Conspicuously missing is my husband's car.

There's no one to help me schlep two kids and six bags of groceries (not to mention that case of IPA) up the stairs and into the house.

And wouldn't you know it? Every single time the kids jump around in the waning light of approaching bedtime and processed sugar they somehow land on my battered, ballooning and now blackening toe.

Like I said, no good deed goes unpunished.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hoopla not worth every penny, but has its value

I really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY hate the end-of-year dance class extravagance.

That’s about $400 worth of despise:

Starting with $37 a month, including months containing two or fewer classes.
A $50 recital costume.

Having to pay $65 for four tickets to attend the recital (because it was booked at a professional performance space).

A mandate that five-year-olds wear make-up because "the lights will wash them out."
Dinner-time performance scheduled for preschoolers.

Not to mention that every minute of every class since February being entirely focused on "getting it right for recital," which often forced the cajoling of my wee one to actually participate after she lost interest.

Add insult to injury, just for kicks, and pay $18 + $7 shipping and handling for one 5x7 PROFESSIONAL PORTRAIT(TM) of the class (not to mention being told by a puckered-face woman that the pictures are copyrighted so I can't snap the action, too, even after I paid their highway robbery, no-customer-service, prices.) I hate the business model that demands parents herd their kids into a room and pay gobs of money for pictures, sight unseen, to arrive in six to eight weeks.

But the real end of my rope came as I was running around like a crazy person trying (and failing) to find nude-colored tights, a mandate for the dancewear that was not included with the $50 dancewear.

I practically broke down in tears when the husband, trying to be helpful, asked if I'd gone to WAL-MART. "I do NOT spend money at WAL-MART ... I'm NOT breaking THAT principle, too."

"OK ... Ok ...." came his soothing voice over the phone, evidence I'd gone too far; lost my moorings. I'd haplessly fallen over the edge of reason over sheer hose.
Much ado about nothing. Much ado over something that should just be fun. Something that no matter how it is presented, encourages the arts.

It wasn't the tights but my overall failure that I was lamenting.

My failure to find a class that met my desires for less consumerism. My failure to stand up and assert those values anyway. My insistence she continue when her interest waned. All the while feeling the emphasis was on the wrong place - the recital not the art.

My failure continues to kick me when I’m down as I recognize that the trappings were the ONLY part my daughter had any interest in after all these months: Having her picture taken in the dress and the chance at being on a real stage was poking me in the chest with my inability to NOT buck trends.

I knew it would be this way. I knew as they scheduled the circus, I was going to be playing an angry clown. I'm just utterly stunned and shocked by my own rage and stubbornness when it finally came to pass.

Can't just keep my mouth shut and smile. I know when the lights go down and the girls start their performances I will be just as proud as a parent can be.

And then a friend told me something that made it all fit together.
"Let your principles be a guide, not a shackle."

So easy to forget that, isn't it?

When we enslave our "principles" we really run the risk of becoming unprincipled.
I had said that I didn't want THIS to be our experience. And it won't be if I don't let my principles petrify. If I don't shut down and fold my arms to other possibilities.

... I just hope it's the dance that will be the reason she'll want to continue in six to eight weeks (if she chooses to continue) ... not just to see her picture on the wall.