Sunday, November 28, 2010

'Good Parents' just have less experience

Her gaze was sharp as I unfolded the sheet of paper she'd just handed me:

It read: "Will you com to are show?"

"Check 'yes' or 'no'" she said, jabbing her finger toward the rectangular shapes she'd drawn under the invitation, which was more of a misspelled demand gussied up in a question mark.

"The E in 'come' is silent," I said taking the pencil from her, erasing ARE and rewriting OUR.

What I neglected to do was check a box.

She frowned and asked again.

"Is it a 'Yes' or a 'No?' What's your answer?" she said, tapping her fingers repetitively on the paper as her foot stamped at the floor.

I stalled. Trying to think.

A good parent would be excited their child was displaying such creativity.

A good parent would happily check the box marked “Yes.”

A good parent would call the neighbors. Invite the grandparents. Get out the video camera.

A good parent would then follow their pint-sized usher toward the bedroom where The Show to End All Shows had been prepared.

A good parent would smile and applaud the unscripted play in which anything (though not likely anything good) could happen.

A good parent would wait around patiently until the bitter (and I do mean BITTER) end and demand an encore.

I was a "good parent" once, the experience changed me.

The last play I was invited to witness lasted longer than The Ring of the Nibelung and ended when the not-old-enough-for-prime-time players bounced precariously on the "bed stage" and started tossing all their props into the audience with gleeful, though ear-splitting, shrieks.

It was the elementary school equivalent of a 15-hour opera.

This new production had all the same earmarks.

"What is this play about?" I inquired pointedly.

"That's up to you," she said craftily, explaining that she and her friend had produced several themes from which we, the audience, could choose. "Like at the movie theater."

"No. Definitely not. I am not going to your show."

Her eyes narrowed to mere slits.

"Why not?"

"Let's just say not everyone finds unscripted entertainments entertaining."

"That's so MEAN! Why won't you come to our show?"

"Because ... if it's anything like past shows, it will end in drama. And drama isn't our strong suit. Drama just leads to time outs, rescinded dessert offerings and early bedtimes."

"This time will be different," she pleaded. "I'm in First Grade now."

But I know it won't be different. There will be a darkened bedroom theater with no place to sit but the floor. There will be a kerfluffle over the gate -- most likely one that questions the authenticity of The Champ's ticket. There will be a long list of previews, the titles of which will verge on inappropriate, but no feature performance. And someone will end up crying either because they weren't allowed to finish or they fell off the stage.

I'm serious when I say "Nothing good can come of a play."

The potential for hurt feelings is more real and the duration could go on forever. Think: the airing of family squabbles. Think: How some folks REALLY FEEL about stuff they just barely tolerate. Think: Do I really swear like a long-haul trucker? I must because she's added it to the script.

"Well what WILL you watch then?"

How about a music video? We'll pick a song and you can dance and sing, and it will only last two and a half minutes -- tops.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Making allowances for personal hygiene

I leaned across the breakfast table and smelled her hair.

“You owe me two dollars,” I said calmly.

She just stared at me, her expression slightly askew, as if her lips couldn’t decide in which direction to curl.

“… for the shampoo,” I added, looking in her direction from my peripheral vision as I poured coffee into my cup.

One half of her face decided to meet the other in a smiling grimace.

“Too much? Right?”

The fake cherry smell from the no-tears formula brand had followed me from the kids’ bathroom, down the stairs and into the kitchen. And yet, Ittybit’s hair still smelled of grit and grime.

“What I’d like to know is how is it possible for you to use an entire bottle of shampoo yet manage NOT to wash your hair?”

She shrugs her shoulders and says: "I'm sorry."

I'm Sorry is a pretty effective panacea at our place. Said with any degree of sincerity, an I'm Sorry is the universal Get Out of Jail Free card. It's akin to five minutes in the penalty box for murder via hockey stick. It's pretty much how we prefer to dust our hands of all unpleasantness.

But not this time. This is a battle I've decided to fight. This time it's serious.

“No, seriously, you owe me money.”

"I said I was sorry. I won't do it again."

Ah ... the "I-Won't-Do-It-Again" pledge.

The thing everyone says because they have a certain amount of security that the I'm Sorry card is actually a fairly equivalent substitution for the Get Out Of Jail Free card.

In fact, the only thing that seems to trump the cards she's stuffed up her sleeve is the calendar, and how quickly the numbers are careening toward Christmas, which is barreling toward my wallet at an ill-advised speed.

Slowing it down seems imperative.

The obstacles we've already encountered seem to indicate an epic crash is heading our way. We've seen grocery bills balloon, fuel prices rocket, not to mention having to bid farewell to a few hundred paper presidents we had planned to put elsewhere.

It's only money, we like to think. But the costs add up faster than a tub full of suds.

“Two. Dollars. Please.”

“Well,” she begins, “You know … I would pay you, because I've saved a lot of money -- from birthdays, chores, the tooth fairy -- but I have it hidden all over the house and it won't be that easy to find.

“Right. Now.”

“Well, eh-heh. This is kind of funny, because I've been thinking of all the things we could do to SAVE money and I think once The Champ is completely out of diapers we can use more shampoo.”

She thinks I'm bluffing.

“This is not interchangeable poo. This empty bottle of shampoo is a waste of unnatural resources, and you still owe me two bucks.”

“Speaking of poo … have you smelled The Champ?”

“Don't change the subject.”

“Well he IS in need of changing.”

“I tell you what. I'll give you two dollars if you change him.”

She smiled, her nose pitched in a knowing crinkle, as she disappeared into her room. A few minutes later she returned with a wadded up Lincoln.

“You owe me three bucks.”

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's hard to accept the 'gift' of the present

“Are you finished?” the waitress asked.

I looked down at my half-eaten swiss cheese omelette. Three plates were already piled on top of it.

‘It didn't get much more finished than that’ I thought as she lifted up the rattling tower of breakfast dishes. She was still waiting for my answer, her gaze smiling after my children who had just left with their father.

“Oh … I'm finished. Thank you,” I said and went back to finishing my coffee.

“So just the two, then.”

I laughed. She wasn't talking about food.

No matter. My answer was still the same: “Oh yes, two and through.”

It's rare that we go out for breakfast. One child only eats bacon and sausage and the other refuses to eat anything but chocolate and air. Trying to coax them into eating something relatively healthy, at least for appearances sake, doesn't usually make for a pleasant meal. For anyone.

She'll ask for juice, but she'll twist her mouth and scrunch her nose at all the offerings.

And while she's deciding, he'll drop his knife … and then he'll drop his fork.

She'll want syrup with her plate of cholesterol, which is masquerading as meat.

Having retrieved his fork and knife from under the table, he'll drop them again.

Then he'll ask for yours.

The food will arrive and be inhaled … literally. There will be no noticeable depreciation as they declare themselves finished and ready to go.

“Eat one more bite,” is the mantra I've adopted through each and every meal since they've been chewing on solid food.

It's also rare in these moments to have the luxury of finishing a cup of coffee while it's still warm There's always a game of 20 questions aimed in my direction. …

“What are we doing now? Are you finished yet? What are we doing next? Are you finished yet? Can we go now? I'm done. Are you done yet?”

The more I think of it, the more I realize it's usually a variation of two questions asked 20 or more times.

“When I'm finished with my meal then we will go.” This is neither a satisfactory nor satisfying answer.

“But when will that be?”

“Soon. I'll be finished soon. Try to be patient.”

My husband is just as eager to get moving. He knows from experience that antsy children are just one outburst away from potential implosion. He's failed at noticing the warning signs before, and he's none too excited about witnessing a epic meltdown.

I don't blame him. Time is something that only moves slowly when you're looking forward to what comes next.

When it's not something you relish, time spins out of control.

It's the biggest cliché going, and I'm living it. Not too long ago, these tiny people begging me to finish my breakfast weren't even thoughts in my mind. Now, I'm fairly certain I won't recognize them by the time I pay the check, pull on my coat and walk the two blocks to the library to meet them.

My children won't even be there, I imagine. The librarian will inform me the girl had gone backpacking through Europe and the boy was in just last week with his own kids. She'll console me by directing me to the audiobooks, where my husband will still be searching for the latest titles.

He'll be grumbling something about the how few adventures are left.

But, as usual, I am getting ahead of myself. Failing to live “in the moment,” as it were. I rush ahead to a future I can't fully imagine for no other reason than the present is what I've been coaching myself to “get through.”

Of course when I get there, the children are as they'd left me, knee-high and needing help reading titles. When they see me they drop everything and run toward me. In this moment I don't need reminding that the present isn't just another chore … it's a gift.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

He's neither tired nor shy ... he's three

Whenever you take your kids out in public ... more specifically, to any place wherein they are likely to come into contact with human beings who aren't genetically programmed to think they are the most adorable, intelligent, sweetly humorous, amazingly adorable beings to ever have walked on the planet ... you are on rented time.

The best of the best have daily errands down to a science.

"I can go grocery shopping between 10 and noon, so long as we are finished at noon so junior can have lunch and a two-hour nap. ...

"If for some reason we can't leave for the supermarket by quarter-past 10, we will have to wait until 2:30 when nap time is over and little pumpkin has had the smallest of wee snacks.

"Of course once we get there we will have to visit the lobsters first thing. Squash blossom really likes to count them, and really, it's not a lot of fun combing through the produce aisle when kids have their hearts (and their constant chatter) set on crustaceans.

"Now, to prevent any potential disruptions in the shopping excursion, we'll make sure junior is occupied with any of the 1,001 tiny distractions I've shrewdly stowed in my bottomless purse."

“Whenever we need to do something IMPORTANT we call a sitter.”

Ah ... to be so prepared.

That scenario is so far from me that the light from “That Scenario” would take 100,000 years to get to the place I am right now, which seems to be located somewhere between “Holding My Breath” and “Winging It.”

Grocery shopping for me -- a time that used to be filled with a moderate amount of welcome revelation when the children were still in arms -- has become a race to gather enough provisions before The Champ, who DEMANDS to use the aisle-wide car cart but REFUSES to sit in its cockpit for longer than it takes to navigate through the produce section, disappears into the bakery department not even glancing back.

Lumbering after him in a cart that barely fits past the pastries without upturning some flaky delight seems like the height of humiliation.

But it gets worse.

Worse are the times when you are forced to explain your child's "completely unusual behavior" to a kindly person who just wanted to strike up a casual conversation with your precious pumpkin and they were snubbed. Maybe even screamed at to "LEAVE ME AWONE!"

All of these things and more go through my head as I took my son to work on Election Day, hoping above hope that he would allow me to get just a few photographs of the candidate and his wife before the boy's head spun around and pea soup started spewing forth.

You hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Those times when your precious little pea pod actually thanks the grandmotherly pollster for her offer of a cookie or a doughnut are so remote you don't even hope for them anymore. All you can do is apologize profusely when he scowls and hides his face.

"He's just tired."

"He's a little shy."

"He's unusually grumpy today."

None of that is entirely true.

“It’s 9 a.m.”

"He's three."

“He wanted ice cream for breakfast.”

It doesn't really matter what you tell them. Most people understand timing can be everything. They might even understand your kid's meter just ran out.