Sunday, June 26, 2011

Silence might just be the new voice of parenting

Zombified, Ittybit sat staring at the T.V. watching a pint-sized prodigy perform a song from Phantom of The Opera.

The little girl, Jackie Evancho, is tiny but her voice is bigger than life.

"I want to be like that girl," she said emphatically. "I want to be famous."

It wasn't for art's sake that Ittybit wanted to make her voice lift above the songs she hears on popular radio stations. Although the beauty of the music drew her in, it was the sight of a pretty little girl in a floor-length dress that held her imagination hostage. "She's only a kid ... and she's on TeeeeVeeee!"

"You don't want to be that girl," I say immediately and without thinking. Just as quickly I want to kick myself for saying it that way.

Of course she wants to be just like that little girl. She wants to flesh out the mental picture we all have about fame. How special it would be. How good it would feel to be adored by strangers. How happy it would make you.

It's easy to find fault with the logic, but more difficult to dismiss the emotion behind it. Don't we all have some degree of desire for acknowledgement and adoration? Only we want the well-deserved kind of fame that wipes its feet when we invite it in, doesn't snoop in our drawers when it uses our facilities, and never wears out its welcome.

"No. I do want to be like her. I want to sing on a stage in front of lots of people. Or I want to publish a book. Or I want to act in the movies. I definitely want to be on TV."

I try a different approach.

"Well, I wouldn't want to be that girl. I was listening to an interview with her and she seemed extremely anxious for a little girl. She was worried about what would happen to her career when she became an adult. Would she be able to keep the momentum? Would her voice change? Would it be as pretty when it did?

“I just think that's a lot of worry for a little girl to handle."

Ittybit shrugs her shoulders. She doesn't share my concern. Time is fleeting. Even at her age she understands the importance of youth. The gun has fired and the stopwatch has started. The time to make your mark, she thinks, is now.

"She's already 11. Maybe that would be a problem if she were not yet 10," she explains as if she's already decided it's all over once you reach the chronological double digits.

Maybe I should have mentioned the hours of practice, the stress of performing for a crowd night after night after night and the lack of time to just play.

But that just takes the stance that hard work ise something to be avoided at all cost. And the idea that childhood is supposed to be carefree and easy, is just another lie we tell ourselves.

I just smile and let her dream alone.

What does her old mother know about fame and what it's like, anyway?

Maybe the best thing I can do is nothing at all. Don't help. Don't hinder.

We all have our dreams and anxieties no matter where we go or what we do. We all swim against tides. We walk down roads others travel and they're always new to us. The only thing I can really advise her to do is to follow what makes her happy until it makes her miserable. Then maybe she'll be ready to forge her own path.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The business of childhood

The guest room was awash in orangey-pink light. "Sunrise never ceases to amaze me," I thought to myself as I dragged my broom past its doorway, whisking a cloud of dirt and debris from the mudroom toward the laundry area.

"What are we going to do today," she asks fretfully, and then answers herself: "Probably nothing. Again."

Saturdays around our house aren't the joyous, lazy affairs they once seemed to be. Each passing year brings with it taller children, bigger messes, larger laundry piles and fewer days of the week for restoring order and restocking closets.

"I just need to get this done," I reason, "and then we can do something fun."

She just shrugs. She's heard it all before. I can’t blame her. I don’t believe me, either.

As I bend to try and sweep a week's worth of dog hair and snack crumbs into the dustpan, I know I've barely made a dent. This will take me all day.

The phone rings. I pick it up and hear the welcome voice of another mother who's trying to find something for her kid to do so she won't have to make dolls dance and ponies talk.

Magical timing.

Ittybit is squinting at me as I tell her her day — and mine — has been saved by a last-minute play date.

When her friend arrives the two girls skip off to discuss their plans for world domination, trailed by the "Little Bother." It's an often spoken rule in our house that if there are to be play dates little brothers are to be included in all plans for world domination or they are to be given chores that will make them less likely to require intervention from the Hague.

Oh sure, there are disagreements.

Blah-blah ... "It's not fair." Blah-blah "Why doesn't he have his own play date. Blah-blah "He won't leave us alone ..."

But I find that reciting the rules to myself, above the din of any screaming, seems to work to everyone's advantage.

That and "Maybe I should just call her mother and tell her it's time to call it a play day."

Silence. "No, no. Never mind."

It's amazing how fast they figure it out for themselves.

It's also quite something to realize that together, two little minds can come up with so much more entertainment value than any of the things my mind can scrounge.

They will build cities out of sofa cushions as I vacuum under the couch. They will have picnics of finger foods they forage from the fridge on the front porch.

It takes no more than an hour before they've settled on a plan that will take them all day to execute and be of no interest to the Little Bother. When they get my approval, the pair disappears into the guest room, which also houses my office, a stash of fabric for crafting and two sewing machines.

There is quiet. Which should be the first clue for any parent of trouble. And then there are more questions:

Can we use some of this fabric?

How about this fabric?

Do you have any glue?

What about tape?

Eventually they hit an impasse and came to find me.

The same orangey-pink light from the morning is spilling out into the hallway as I approach the room. This time, however, the sun has nothing to do with it; it was the light reflecting off a sea of fabrics they'd cut up and strewn about the floor.

I didn't even have time to be annoyed when I saw what was left of the stash: Two perfectly lovely doll quilts arranged on the guest bed awaiting a few sweeps through the sewing machine.

"Can you help us sew them?" Ittybit asked. "We've got to get them finished so we can start working on the marketing campaign."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Not everything gets lost in translation

"He was a Wego man but he didn't have arms, so my mom got me a new Wego man who did have arms, but I didn't wike his hair. I took it off. But now I can't find it. I frink I left him outside, but the cat won't bover it. I hope. I don't know. Dad said she awmust kiwed a bunny what's not living in our house anymore. If I were a bunny I would not like that."

The Champ was standing in the driveway, in his pajamas, talking a mile a minute and waving a toothbrush for emphasis. He looked like an eccentric professor.

A grandmotherly woman is smiling at him and nodding her head. He takes a breath and asks her: "Did you see dat?" She looks up at me. Her smile has tightened and I realize she didn't understand a word of what he was so emphatically telling her.

I perform a loose translation: His Lego figure lost its arms and so I bought him another one, however he lost it outside and he's slightly worried that the cat — who attacked a young rabbit recently and brought its stunned but still living body into the house — also may be hunting his toys. He was wondering if you may have come across any bald Lego people?

She pats his head as he hugs her legs. He tells her he has to wear "Aqua Arms in the pool swim."

"He wears a life preserver when he goes into the swimming pool," I say, and then whisper, "which is next on the to-do list today."

The Champ starts to bounce. We have to move on.

Schedules must be kept. We're on the meter. And everything has to be just so:

He's got his underwear perfectly positioned backwards so the Super Hero is in the front (where you can see it).

He's wearing his black Spider-Man shirt (pajamas) with his dinosaur pants (also pajamas), although he's changed twice because he spilled a drop of water near a cuff when he was brushing his teeth.

He's wearing his favorite shoes (his "golf shoes," though no one he's ever met plays the game) that must be worn at all times with socks, which are never the first ones you grabbed out of the drawer. His feet, once property encased, can never touch water — not even slight dampness — lest he have to deal with the dreaded squeaking.

His "packback" must have at least one toy, which is different from the toy he brought three weeks ago yesterday. And it must be red. ... Or blue. ... Or green. Though not today. Today is anyone's guess.

He's sleepy at nighttime and "watchy" in the morning time. Curious George on PBS is his favorite show, although sometimes he wants to watch Lego Spider-Man movies on YouTube ... unless he wants to watch "Not Wego Spider-Man moobies" on

Food is a whole other kettle of fish, and even my own understanding of what he'll eat is precarious.

Did I pack the right sandwich? Was it peanut butter on Daddy's Bread (wheat) that he wanted or was it Turkey Lurkey on a Pillow (roll)?

His father, holding out a buttered bagel the boy had just begged him to make, doesn't understand why he's now so upset.


"He didn't want his bagel toasted," I explain. "He likes it hot with butter, but not toasted. The brown bits make him sad. Microwave, 20 seconds."

Everything seems to get lost in translation, especially patience.

"Why does he get to do everything HIS way? Someday he's going to have to put his two feet on the ground even if it's raining," complains his sister, who only recently began wearing her left and right shoes on their proper feet.

"Because, little miss 'I-Don't-Want-To-Wear-Jeans-Because-They-Feel-Ichy,' you know as well as I do that some battles aren't worth fighting.

"And besides, I'm saving my energy for clean pajamas and brushed teeth."

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Attachment disorder in the reverse

I push on the door. It silently protests. It doesn't want to budge. I press harder against its panels, feeling as if I'm trying to move a big, lazy dog who is behind it, fast asleep. Slowly it opens.

Standing on the threshold, I stare into the eye of the disaster.

She's only seven but her room is teaming with a lifetime's worth of things. In the same way Dog Years inflate Earthly time, the Toy Years have a tendency of magnifying tiny collections and making mountains out of MEGA Bloks.

A pile of books leans precariously as it balances a full-sized China tea cup. All of them gifts from the neighbor's garage sale. A herd of stuffed animals, released from their basket holding pen, graze around the dust bunnies that have grown to freakish size in the darkness under her bed. All manner of skirts and shoes and socks, dropped where they were changed, mingle with dolls and drawing pads and greeting cards and bits of paper saved for no discernible reason.

I leaf through a stack that has spilled all askew.

The shiny, colorful postcards are emphatic: "SAVE BIG! TRACTOR SUPPLIES! PORTABLE GREENHOUSES! DOOR BUSTERS!"

So this is where all the junk mail goes. ...

And the cardboard out of the recycling pile. …

And sheets of bubble wrap, with only two cells left to pop. ...

And the plastic tags from the back of Band-Aids.

The shock of pink walls and chalkboard decals are muted by the realization that I can find no evidence of a structural surface below them. Not anywhere. The floors are carpeted with bath towels and blankets an all manner of trip-ables. The window ledges are encrusted with legions of colorful figurines.

I'm raising a hoarder.

Even the dresser is packed to overflowing. There are winter duds stubbornly planted amid the short sleeves and bathing suits. Didn't I pull these out and pack them away? I shrug. I consider culling the clothes again, but I know it's a waste of time. Instead I try to close the drawers, which are stuck open at perfect, stair-like intervals. It is another losing battle. The drawer exacts a fair price in winning, pinching my fingers as I try to tuck and stow its proud contents.

I am here, in her room, because she is not. My motive is spurred not by well-founded fears of fire hazard but a random request for "outgrown princess dresses." ... Dresses she couldn't find if I asked her for them, and wouldn't part with despite being unable to squeeze their size-infant bodices over her growing-girl body.

Attachment disorder in the reverse.

It took some doing, but I found oodles of the lacy, shimmery gowns in a bag at the bottom of her closet. They were big puffs of nylon and net that, by volume, could fill the room but when folded and slipped into a bag would compress to the size of a small pillow.

Mission accomplished, I was standing at the threshold again looking at the room. Satisfied there was no noticeable sign of my having been there. I knew she'd never miss the dresses I'd hauled away. But I wasn't as sure that I wouldn't miss them.

The weight of the bag was so light in comparison to the weight of what I was doing: a thief, in the afternoon, carting away her childhood one donation at a time.