Sunday, August 29, 2010

They don’t call ’em ‘action figures’ for nothing

"Mama! I can't find Monkey Baby," said my teary little boy, his grip on my slacks threatening embarrassment.

"He must be here," I soothed, uncurling his little vice grips from my legs and hiking up my pants. "You just had him a minute ago. I just saw him."

But lo … Monkey Baby — a recent purchase and identical to a Monkey Baby his sister adopted the week prior — was nowhere to behold.

Three weeks of sifting through garbage, moving furniture and scuttling through toy boxes proved fruitless.

It's a little more than creepy if you ask me.

The phenomenon of the sock missing from the dryer is nothing compared to the mystery of the black hole that has apparently formed somewhere in our home. It absconds with toys.

And not just broken playthings, or old, unused or annoying things that some nefarious parent-like person might store away in a cardboard box in the garage for a two-week trial period.

Typically, in such toy abductions, if the disappearance goes unnoticed, the plastic hostages are sent on vacation to the lovely and exciting lands of Salvation and Goodwill.

Ahem. Not that I would know anything about such things. …

This toy black hole sucks in some of our new and more expensive toys, never to be seen nor heard from again. Like Monkey Baby, whose replacement was engineered by a special shopping expedition.

I mentioned the plight to our babysitter, and her eyes widened.

"You're KIDDING me!" she exclaims in a way that made the hair on my neck stand up. "Buzz Lightyear and the Batman Cape have disappeared from my house, too. They were there and then they were gone. I've even moved the furniture. Poof, gone."

I didn't know what to say. My mind was spinning out of control. "Is there a hole in the universe that takes toys? Because, really, this stuff is just GONE. It would totally explain why the Toy Story trilogy is so compelling: it's partly based in fact …"

Blank. Stare.

I'd gone over the edge of Reality into the chasm of Just Plain Silly.

"It must be here," she said in a calm, measured voice. "Eventually this stuff will turn up."

She's right, I tell myself. Our houses are warrens of nooks and crannies. There are any number of places toys might be deposited and overlooked. …

But I don't really believe. …

The phone rings. It is Ittybit asking if I will bring "Amy," the expensive dolly her Amah gave her. She forgot it and Amah has splurged on new clothes.

I think nothing of the request until after I search her bedroom, the toy bins and even my closet where Ittybit has been known to play with her plastic doppelganger.

She's gone.

I ask my husband to check the house … he comes up with nothing either.

I call the babysitter, it's a long shot but I have to try.

"Have you seen Amy, Ittybit's super-expensive-grandma-doll? I can't find it anywhere. She didn't take it to your house, did she?"

"Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen that doll," she replied.

And then there was that eerie silence.

"There has to be a simple explanation," she says, hopefully.

"Yeah. I'm sure you're right. I bet Amy's just off some place playing Super Heroes with Monkey Baby and Buzz."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Facing life’s flow, ebb in the dog days of summer

"I remember the first time I ever saw mommy cry," Ittybit announced as I opened the car door, officially ending a tiresome five-hour drive and our two-week New England vacation. The car was ripe with the smell of damp bathing suits and wet dog.

She was still sitting in her car seat, surrounded by the necessities of travel and the trinkets of tourism, as I tried to catch empty bottles rolling out onto our driveway.

"What did you say?" I asked, catching the words but dropping their meaning.

"I remember the first time I ever saw you cry," she said directly and with careful enunciation, as if I had recently stopped understanding English.

I cocked my head, interested.

She stopped smiling and said "it was when Maggie …" Her voice trailed off.

We both looked down at Maddy, the surviving member of our canine duo, now 105 in dog years. The champ never met Maggie, her older sister. She left us a few months before he was born.

Maddy just lay there waiting for help down. She was tired from two weeks in vaguely familiar places just outside the ordinary routine of "eat, sleep and eat some more."

My husband helped her down from the car he had helped her into. No one said anything as we hauled the bags from the trunk and carried them inside, but we were all thinking "It won’t be long now…"

That sentence always seems to float around unfinished and unspoken when conversations lead to our furry friend.

It’s what I thought last summer at the beach, and in the fall when her incontinence seemed unmanageable, and at Christmas when she stopped going up stairs. It’s what I think with the increasing dosages and decreasing agility. "It won’t be long now …"

I’m never able to complete the thought, however, despite having spoken aloud that "I can’t wait for her to go."

It’s not true. It’s just gallows humor. Fear talking.

I even hate bringing her to the vet because I know one day she won’t be coming home. I hold my breath until the moment the vet gives his diagnosis. I wonder what expression he sees on my face as he tells me the news: "Other than the incontinence, she seems really healthy," his voice apologetic, as if my suffering was worse than hers.

I didn’t wonder why Ittybit chose that moment to bring back the memory of Maggie or my sadness in saying ‘Goodbye‘ to her, although I imagine she’s turning the same thought over in her fertile mind about Maddy's slow but steady decline. I just assume she can read my expressions better than our veterinarian can.

She was in swim class when I took Maddy for a morning walk the last day at the beach. Our morning walks with the dogs (now singular) have been a summer ritual more than a decade old. Ittybit didn’t see the tears the wind dried as my dog – my first non-human child – stumbled in the sand trying to keep up with me. Ittybit doesn’t have clear memories of her bounding into the surf, oblivious of the pounding waves. Those are pictures that play over and over in my mind.

The playful puppy is gone as are her more troublesome behaviors … the pulling and barking and running away seem like distant memories. On this day, as we walk, Maddy barely touches the moist sand and stops often to rest. She no longer needs a leash.

"It won’t be long now …" I think as I bend to pet her flank and she appears to smile.

I suppose it wouldn't hurt to hope for one more summer.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Oh, snap

Her hands moved quickly and efficiently through the paperwork. School rules can be so complicated. Had I filled everything out correctly? Her eyebrows stayed at a steady angle. Never raising, never lowering. Everything must be fine.

She was older, a grandmother perhaps. My attention was drawn from the task to the colorful elastics she wore on her wrist. I knew them immediately as Silly Bandz, the silicone rubber bands molded to look like just about anything. They had become notorious during the last months of the previous school year.

Kids ringed their arms with them until not a smidgen of skin was left showing. Teachers and administrators scorned them, since the effect of their existence may be cause for disruption. They had even made their way on to my own wrist, plucked - as I imagine this woman came by hers - from the floor while sweeping.

Innocuous and yet infuriating.

Ittybit came home from school with one of the demon bands a few days after news flooded the world about these dastardly abominations of office supply. Her school bus driver had given it to her. It might as well have been a band of gold for all her gloat.

"Isn’t it beautiful?" she asked, not at all like a question.

"It sure is," I laughed, thinking of the half-dozen rubber bands – virtually identical -- I'd bought on impulse at a museum shop four years ago … a pink pig, a yellow goose, a green goat. … I don’t remember what else, beside the original set having a much higher price tag and a lower rate of interest. They disappeared into the crevices of our home within a matter of days.

They were rubber bands, after all, and in addition to being easily forgotten were also prone to higher mammals (such as my husband) launching them toward small objects in an effort to knock them over for imaginary points. "Pig goes in for the pepper, but Goose gets in there for an upset. And the crowd goes wild … HARR."

Not everyone has such an imagination.

Certainly not the mother waiting in line behind us with paperwork of her own, who gave Ittybit the stink-eye the moment she saw the band wrapped around her wrist. I was smiling when she rushed over to me with an accusingly helpful tone of alarm: "You do realize her teachers don't allow those in the classrooms," she hissed. "I don't even let my daughter have them. Such a distraction, you know. Awful, awful distraction."

I just laughed and said I thought it was silly.

"They are not the devil incarnate. They are just rubber bands. Silly, clever little elastics that serve any number of purposes. Admiration, in the form of collectible shapes and phosphorescent shades, is probably long overdue."

I can't say as I blame her for keeping her distance after that. The cardinal rule in parenting has always been to disavow whatever it is that Kids Today are into. Short dresses, fast cars, long hair, rock music, pierced body parts, rubber bands that look like cows … All that stuff leads to sex and drugs and civil disobedience. There are rules. They must be followed.

Silly Bandz must be stopped.

Admittedly, I didn't care much about the Silly Bandz protests when the media plucked them off of Twitter one slow news day. I was more concerned about schools requiring doctors' orders and med-certified staff members to apply sunscreen to my kid before going outside mid-day.

And yes, I did make a pest of myself trying to get a reason why the administration would adopt a sun policy that undermined health curriculum, which stresses the use of protective clothing and sunscreen.

The first answer I got was an administrative one: There’s a tremendous increase in the number of children with allergies. I didn’t buy it. One child that the nurse knew of didn’t seem to me to be an overwhelming increase.

I asked again. "Teachers take the time to have children wash their hands before they eat. They require hats, boots and snow pants for winter weather. Why not practice the importance of wearing of hats in the sun and the use of sunscreen?"

The second answer was more honest at least: It's not fair to expect teachers to do a parent's job. If a parent wants their child to have sunscreen, they should apply it before school. The End. Thank you for calling.

I asked other parents but found few interested in raising any eyebrows let alone pitchforks. Sun damage doesn’t seem high on anyone’s radar. It’s definitely not as fun as ranting on Silly Bandz. Twenty years down the road, after all, isn't as pressing as right this very minute.

I shrugged my shoulders and let it drop. I decided to pick up a package of fruit-shaped elastics instead.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Listening to your own Inside Voice

"Where is he now?" I groaned, tired of trying to cast my attention over three places at once. "He was just here." … I'm struck by my own voice as I called his name. Louder than I intended. I sound like a prickly teenager told she must mind her baby brother.

Ittybit sounds more like the mom.

"Shush," she hissed at me. "We're supposed to be quiet in here."

We were in Barnes and Nobel.

Bookstore … Library … Makes no difference to Ittybit, the ad hoc librarian. Books in stacks or shelves, in any place other than our home, require the reverence of clean hands and hushed tones.

Library Voice, in her mind, is different than Inside Voice. The former is just a click or two above Silent, whereas the latter is always a few decibels too close to Playground.

It was obvious I was the one in violation.

"Shhhhh," she admonished again when I called for her brother to come out from wherever he was hiding.

She wasn't worried about him. She knew he'd not gone far. He was probably watching us, giggling. She was worried about me, and that my obvious disregard for library etiquette would get us banned from books.

Oh how the tables have turned.

Going shopping with children in tow can make a parent feel as boneless as the limp child they're trying to coax off the floor or away from the Dora the Explorer yogurt. It's why we take every opportunity to shop while we're temporarily childless.

On my way to work I stop for toiletries. On my way home I stop at the grocery store. I browse online, happily paying outrageous shipping fees just so I don't have to deal with corralling my roaming minions as I compare ingredients and prices.

I chuckle to myself sometimes as I linger in cosmetics taking a little more time than needed to decide on New and Improved or Trusted for Generations. These days being alone anywhere – even the bathroom of my own home – feels like a miniature vacation. "I'll take a load off AND a gooey blender drink in Aisle Six," I think as I picture a chaise lounge and pulp fiction waiting for me at the check-out counter.

But I'm not one of those people who needs a vacation from my children. I really don't see them enough. A few hours in the morning and at night on weekdays is something most parents get a taste of in the teen years when interactions include mostly blank stares, eye-rolls and unanswered questions. By then the limited face time extends to weekends as well.

"It all goes by so quickly," everyone – including our own Inner Voice – is prone to advise. "Drink it all in. Don't waste a drop. Savor every moment."

I know all too well. I'm a witness to this time-space continuum. Just yesterday he was born. Now he's gone. Gone momentarily, maybe, but still able to go.

"Where is he?" I say, more playfully this time. "Where is my boy?"

"Here I am," he yells in his best Playground Voice. He darts from under the bargain bin with his squint-eyed grin about to burst into laughter.

"He really is cute," she says, forgetting for a moment her role as sibling arbiter of appropriate behavior.

"But we really should use our Inside Voices," I whisper, remembering my maternal one.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

‘Don’t worry, mom’ just another oxymoron

She doesn’t want me to talk about it, and I can’t say as I blame her. The physical manifestations of tummy troubles are personal and often unpleasant. I get that.

Most people don’t want to know about the cut, color and clarity of the inner workings of the intestines, either. We’re not making diamonds after all. I get that, too.

Still, I was worried.

She’d run to the bathroom so many times. … More than usual anyway. Urgency with her isn’t new.

I’d always chalked it up to a combination of being lost in play and not being fully literate in her body’s cues. But, this was different. It had been days. It wasn’t getting any better and I was rethinking my assumptions. Maybe it’s something worse.

Worry, worry, worry.

A family history of tummy trouble coupled with the feeling that the entire world is on the edge of an immune-compromised cliff had me on the brink of panic.

Think, think, think. …

“Remember you were drinking from the garden hose … when was that?”

“Mom, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Oh, you were swimming in the creek Sunday. Maybe …”


Pester, pester, pester.

"When did this start?"


"What have you eaten today?"

"Please, stop."

"Are you drinking enough?"

"Enough, mom! Enough."

She didn’t want to show me anything. She didn’t want me following her. She’d begun looking for my location, and then sneaking into the bathroom furthest from me. She was hiding evidence of accidents. She was tired of my questions and increasing alarm. I was scaring her, too.

But as a parent, I believe I prove the point that "Don’t Worry, Mom" is an oxymoron.

She didn’t want to go to the doctor, I didn’t either, but I was sitting on my hands trying to keep from consulting Dr. Google. It was probably just a virus, but Dr. Quackdotcom was bound to take me someplace even more dark and frightening than my mind was already heading. Her real doctor, I hoped, would be more reassuring.

I convince her (and myself) going to the doctor will be the best thing. She’s not so sure, especially when we return home with instructions for a bland diet and a "hat" in which she should … never mind.

She was curious as to how the whole testing matter would work, and therefore positively gleeful when her stomach started its nightly rumble. It wasn’t pleasant, for sure. But oddly enough, having a scientific purpose for poking around in her private affairs made my interest less awkward for her. And it gave my fears something to do beside wring their hands and pace.

In the morning I was somewhat relieved see a little improvement. She wasn’t right as rain, but at least it was no longer thundering. I took the samples to the lab and crossed my fingers hoping the improvement was as sign, and getting the results would force my worries to rest.

I’m sure my fears would have rather been sitting in a beach chair with a mystery novel and a fruity drink instead of on a counter marked "biohazard," but who are they to complain? A holiday is a holiday.