Sunday, May 29, 2011

Not much difference between an Apple and a pear tree

Birthday breakfast made by a seven-year-old and delivered at the crack of dawn with the help of her father.


French toast and hot coffee in bed.


A slice of yellowing apple with a bite already missing.

Sigh, check.

Breakfast-skippers be damned. You will eat the delicate little heart-shaped toasts and you will LIKE them. The burned bits, you'll exclaim, are a delicacy.

It's a little daunting, though, when the whole family perches on the end of the bed, staring at you as you lift the fork to your mouth.

Extending my plate I offer samples to those who are salivating.

"Maybe we can go get your mom's present today," says the husband, who is always slightly behind on his special-occasion shopping. "This is a Birthday-Fourth-of-July-Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas-and-New-Year's present," he says with a wink and a nod.

I had dropped a hint that I would like an iPad.

"You know ... I think I might actually like an iPad," I said when he asked what I might want for my birthday. "I don't know. ... I'm just thinking that I'd like one for reading books. I read so rarely since the kids were born. And there are so many books being distributed electronically ... I'm just thinking ... maybe it's not as bad as I thought. Maybe I'd actually read more if I didn't worry about collecting books or library fines ... "

It was more of an inner-monologue gone astray than a hint, but he got the message.

He was still smiling at me as I looked at him in furtive horror.

"You got me an iPad?" I asked with the tiniest bit of apprehension.

His answer was all important: If he HAD ordered the tablet computer I would have be “thrilled” and immediately commenced searching the land of electronic libraries for available titles. But if he hadn't gotten the thing I would be … relieved.

"I didn't order it yet. I was trying to figure out whether we should get one that's 3G or not."

"Let's just forget it, OK?” I tell him.” Don't get an iPad. As it is, with the phones and the computer and twitter and facebook and flickr and texts — and all the other made up words that sell gadgets — I'm already distracted enough. I don't want another screen through which the kids have to compete for my attention. You say all the time how much we're missing ... Let's not add to it ... "

I didn’t want to start a war based on the last time we argued over attentions paid to machinery, but there it was.

I knew he agreed with me, yet I could still see a sliver of disappointment. The problem of being without a gift was still at hand.

"I'd be happy with a tomato plant," I said. "We could go to the plant center."

He's a stickler, though. A $4 plant I would likely kill within 48 hours wasn't going to cut it for him.

"Let's go get a tree. What do you think? Wouldn't it be nice to have a fruit tree?"

I was a little skeptical. Trees are expensive ... and you probably need two if you want them to bear fruit. ... And then there's the thing of planting them ... and caring for them. ... "Maybe we should just research this a little before we jump in."

"You Google, I'll get the keys."

Before I knew what was happening, there we were at the apple tree store peering at rows of fruit-bearing plants. As we stood there reading the tags, the kids careened down the stone-covered walkways dragging the garden center's big-wheeled wagon behind them as if they had just been let loose in a theme park.

It dawned on me that the Apple store, with its many sales people and its knee-high computers loaded with games, may have been a less complicated place.

"What I don't get is what's the difference between the apple trees and the pear trees," he said to no one in particular.

I choked back laughter and any hope of a clever response: "Really! Really?"

He just smiled and said he was going to find someone who could help us.

"OK, but please don't ask that question when you get to The Genius Bar."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's not fun unless you guess

"Mommy! Mommy! Guess what I found!"

She was gently cupping something in her dirt-ground hands. And I was afraid.

I hope whatever it is it hasn't been dead long, I say to myself with complete disregard for the child who stood before me beaming. I was remembering a first grader from long ago, in the salad days before I was a parent, who lead a parade of preschoolers up a dusty hill carrying a flattened squirrel as a flag.

It took a long time after witnessing that macabre cavalcade before I thought I was up to the job of parenting.

"I can't guess," I tell her hoping to return to pulling weeds from my garden of ...well, more weeds.

"Try. It's not fun unless you guess."

"OK, let me think. ... It's not the neighbor's cat ..."

"MOM! The neighbor doesn't HAVE a cat!"

"Yeah ... that's why I've ruled that out. Smart, right?"

She squints in playful exasperation. "Really? OK ... I'll give you a hint: It starts with an E. What's your guess?"

"I dunno .. an earthworm."

Her mouth twists into the unmistakable expression deflated surprise. "Oh-how-soon-ye-adult-types-cop-out-of-this-very-fun-game-of-guessing."

I take another stab at an answer. "Is it a earworm?"

"An earworm?" She exclaims. “That's gross.”

"Oh, it most certainly is. ... I've had one all day from that ‘Kidz Bop’ CD you've been playing in your room."

We could play at this game all day if I had the patience of a saint. But I barely have the patience of a three-year-old and she knows it.

"So you give up then?"

"I give up."

Her hands open like a flower and inside is a tiny porcelain elephant.

She gives it to me so I can see it better. The elephant is a watery blue color, about an inch tall. It's striking a circus pose, standing with its truck tucked under and its legs evenly placed on a circular dais.

"I found it buried in the garden."

"Wow. That's amazing," I said trying to channel my own seven-year-old self as I handed her back the treasure. "You've found yourself a mystery for sure."

She looked it over more carefully, and read the letters she found embossed on the base. "'WADE, ENG'. ... What do you think that means?"

I slip my phone out of my pocket and start up the search engine. "I'm not sure, but we can find out."

I type the words into the machine and slowly it takes me to a well-known tea company. The figures, made in England, are modern and still given out as premiums with the purchase of tea. I start to tell her about their origins, but she holds up her hand and begs me to stop reading.

She likes her mysteries with fewer facts.

"I need to do more investigation. I have to search for clues," she says running into the house. "Where's my notebook?"

I slip my answers-at-hand back into my pocket and continue my halfhearted attempts at pulling weeds. I wonder if I can find some more of that tea.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mom never warned me about zombies

Ah. Modern times. Or are they Post Modern? We're probably beyond all that at this point. Ah, yes, I checked with Wikipedia. We're staring directly into the face of Hypermodernity.

I'm sure there's an App to figure it all out, but one thing seems clear: History, always repeating itself, seems to have recorded some new tracks as it careens at break-neck speed down the high-speed internet.

 Of course we're often wrong about such things. History runs in some strange and asymmetrical loop that can only be figured out by scholars or small children. Certainly not mothers, whose conversations with scholars and small children haven't changed since humanoids first started painting on cave walls.

Until now.

Let me set the scene:

It's the morning commute on a gray, rain-threatening day. The landscape, still crisp with fall colors though it has been spring for some time, rolls past our windows at 45 miles-per-hour. The boy is in his car seat talking non-stop about the things he sees - asking and often answering his own questions. The mother is only half listening.

"Ders a guy with wandry. Where's he going? Maybe to da wandrymat."

"Can we go the wong way? I yike the wong way. It's faster than the short way."

She wonders if she and her mother ever had conversations like this.

"The long way it is."

They drive past school buildings and playgrounds. Past apple orchards and cattle ranches. Past miles and miles of fields.

"Is that a farm?" He asks as they drive past acres of wide open land.

"Yes. That's a farm," she answer absently, momentarily wondering to herself if there will be a train at the crossing up ahead.

"What do they grow there?"

"Oh, I don't know," she says, trying to focus a little more on his conversation. "It's a pretty big field. It could be hay or corn, or something like that."

"Don't they grow zombies there? I bet they grow zombies there."

She starts to laugh. She and her mom never had this conversation, that's for sure. Her childhood nestled safely in an era before smart phone apps provided a crystal clear windows into the agricultural practices of the undead.

"That's just a computer game," she answers. "There's no such thing as zombies."

"Well ... I think it would be fun if they did grow zombies. Because if they grew zombies I could keep one for a pet."

"If zombies were real," she tells him (as if this is the most natural conversation in the world to be having with a three-year-old) you most definitely would NOT want one for a pet."

"I would. too. I would keep him in a cage and feed him every day. I would be a good zombie owner!"

"What would you feed him?"

"I don't know ... maybe Zombie Food. It costs five dollars and you can buy it at the store."

"I don't know how to break it to you bud, but zombies - which are not real anyway so don't go chasing nightmares - eat human brains. And that makes it completely unsafe to own a zombie."

"Well ... If I had a zombie I would train him not to eat human brains. That's what I would do."

 She excitedly thinkis of how this moment will look stretched out over the walls of her Facebook page. She can picture the primitive drawings she might use as illustration. And then she realizes history may be on repeat after all. Caves have just gone viral.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The day to celebrate hasn’t yet arrived

Where were you when you heard commercial airline planes had crashed into the World Trade Center? Or the Pentagon? Or that that one had crashed in a Pennsylvania field on its way to a Washington landmark, possibly the White House, on Sept. 11, 2001?

The events of that day created a picture you won’t ever forget.

We know where we were and even remember every detail of that day, and the days that followed, because it was more than somber, it was sobering. In our minds that day changed everything.

Now, nearly 10 years later, we mark a new memory in our minds' indelible ink -- the killing of the man largely blamed responsible for the terrorist events that killed nearly 3,000 people on U.S. soil.

When I heard the news of Osama bin Laden’s death I was watching the end of an episode of "Treme," an HBO series depicting another American tragedy -- New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

As I watch TV these days I find myself a slave to not only the ripped-from-the-headlines dramas, but also my smartphone, obsessively turning it on and off to allow the programs for email and text messages to update. (The latter obsession being the demon my husband would like to cast out.)

As he sees it, it’s not enough that we’re there on the couch, together, that matters anymore. With the constant contact of thoughts and ideas swirling around the ether, it’s what the world has to say about what we’re seeing that adds the spice.

It’s both alarming and amazing: We witnessed revolutions and every manner of revulsion alike, with strangers we know only by their avatars.

It is what it is, I tell myself in a brief sadness for the seeming demise of the simple life. Taking stock of an electronic timeline is just part of our present and probable future:

At 8:40 p.m. My children, just barely ideas before the first anniversary of 9/11, were now peacefully asleep upstairs.

At 9 p.m. we are watching television on the couch.

At 5 minute intervals I check my phone.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

Until 10:43 p.m. when the New York Times email alert read: "Osama bin Laden is Dead."

For a moment I wondered if his previously reported health problems had caught up with him. But opening the email I saw the word "killed" and realized it was not incidental.

I didn't feel anything. Numbness, perhaps. Definitely not the celebratory vibe that took hold overnight and lasted well into the next morning. I didn't even feel a sense of relief.

It's not over. We haven't closed the book on terror, or even finished the chapter. We've just torn out one sheet of paper as the prevailing wind fans all the other pages.

But it's not fear I'm feeling, either. It’s more of a low-grade dread. This interconnectedness we feel online offers the biggest disconnect of all:

As the picture on the television (now changed to a news broadcast) shows celebratory crowds in Washington and New York, I feel even greater dismay.

Not for the first time, I stare down at my phone and realize the crowd streaming into my life via the pound sign, are merely adding noise to my life instead of nuance.

I stop checking messages. I can’t be a witness to spontaneous outbursts of celebration. I can’t help them grow.

As a mother, I’m finding it’s the line I can’t cross.

There is something inherently wrong about celebrating a murder, regardless of how reviled the character.

May 2nd was an historic day, and one that will be pondered well into the infinite future. It was a day of reckoning. But it was not a day for jubilation. The day we all stand together as mothers and brothers and friends in reconciliation; that will be the day to celebrate.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Mirror images

"Are we there yet? When will we get there? Are we there yet? "How far have we gone? Are we there yet?"

"Yes! We're there!" I say with eye-squinted sarcasm. "And in a few minutes we'll be there, too."

She looks at me skeptically. She knew as well as I that we'd not yet passed the edge of town and it was going to be a long drive until we reached our destination.

What she didn't know was the exact number of hours in which she could continue making us wish we were rendered temporarily deaf.

"When the clock says ‘3:00’ we will be there," I instruct in my most stern Don't-Be-A-Pest voice.

I don't expect it to work.

It's not as if she were the first child to join the Society for Sapping Parents' Sanity. It's an institution that predates history. I'm sure somewhere, on the walls of a cave, there are drawings of bison hunts in which large stick figures are depicted holding their hands over their ears as smaller stick figures are cushioned by bubbles of text that would loosely translate as: "When do we eat?"

As much as we all complain about being a captive audience in a cross-over vehicle, it's all so tame compared to how it will be once we get to the hotel.

The questions don't stop they are just addressed elsewhere, often embarrassingly so.

"Why does that guy have a towel on his head? Did he forget to hang it by the tub after he showered?"

These are the kind of questions that make you wish you could just keep kids in their car seats and drive them right to the room. In fact you daydream that the entire vacation could be experienced via drive-in:In your mind a visit to the pool would be the same as popping the trunk, filling it with water and handing them swim goggles. Go ahead, kids, splash away.

The big problem we face as parents, though, seems to have little to do with our kids' big-mouthed questions and more to do with our pathetic and shriveled answers.

Often we just don't know what to say so we pretend we don't hear.

And thus continues the never-ending cycle. We avert our eyes and when we raise them again we are always catching the glinty-eyed disapproval of fellow travelers. Perfect strangers, we think, until they scrunch their noses in our direction and wonder aloud about children being seen and not heard.

We are THOSE parents. The ones all the single people hope not to be and newly retired folks have, up until now, successfully avoided. We feel slightly panicked by the notion that our kids could be an annoyance to the childless, but not enough to make us book our destination to Kid Central instead. I can't face that roller coaster just yet.

We just repeat The Rules as often as we can.

“You can not bother the desk clerk. It is not their job to get you a cookie.

“Your seat is next to mine. Do NOT try to sit on lap of the lady at the next table.

“We are not getting room service. Put down the phone. “

Thing is, children will be children wherever they go.

Ittybit strikes up a conversation with another little girl poolside and is delighted to learn they share not only the same grade number but also the same name, spelling and all. After the discovery the pair will be inseparable in their minds if not their activities roster. They call out their own names in novel delight.

The questions become more pointed.

“When can I see her again?

“Can we go to dinner?

“Can I see her room?

“Can we play tomorrow?

“Can we have a sleepover?”

I see where this is going.

"We are not going to stalk this little girl and her family. I am not asking the hotel for her room number. ... We can go to the pool and the lobby and if they're there fine ... but I don't want you to get your hopes up. Families have plans and they're not likely to include perfect strangers you meet at a pool."

She gave me the squinted-eye look again. I knew exactly what it meant.

Somewhere in the hotel was a mirror of the same conversation, being begged by a girl named Ittybit with a different last name. ... And we WERE going to stalk them.

Eventually we'd find each other and know that the really wonderful part about being THAT parent is the realization that we're not alone. And the only reason we gain this wisdom is because our children refuse to stop asking questions.