Sunday, May 26, 2013

Our kids are their kids, too

I was that mother. The one who looks critically at the school her child attends and wonders: Is this the right fit for my child?

At the beginning of each year the same question surfaces.

Is this teacher a good match?

This year, her teacher was sweet and affectionate, sentimental and caring. Every tattered card offered by grimy little fingers is accepted as if it were gold. This woman, who is so filled with emotion her eyes flood with every sad story she hears, is exactly what I fear most.

This is the sort of person, I tell myself, who will be steamrolled by this child of mine.

This child of mine, who hasn't fallen far from the tree.

I think I know everything, too.

My child, I tell myself, needs structure and sternness. She needs to know that she is not the boss of everything.

Because, I can admit, she IS the boss of most things at home. She can get herself up in the mornings, get herself dressed and packed for school. She'd even manage to prepare a somewhat healthy breakfast if we had such a thing in our kitchen.

Instead, she just harps at me about the lack of selection in our produce drawer.

"More melon, please. Fewer pears."

She'd run to the market if she could see above the steering wheel.

She'd run the whole show if we let her.

Of course, I've never SAID anything that would call into question the wisdom of the paring.

It occurs to me that she's not as soft a touch as I imagine.

It also occurs to me that my daughter is not the master manipulator I assume her to be.

All of that fresh-school-year angst came flooding back to me this week as news of a deadly tornado in Moore, Okla. devastated two elementary schools.

Probably shouldn't admit that, as a “newsie,” I haven't watched much of the news, but it's true.

I couldn't stomach clicking on links in my news feeds that paired “Horrifying” and “Watch” in the same eye-grabbing sentence. I didn't want to see a child's suffering face and feel helpless.

But I couldn't turn away from stories about the teachers. Their quiet heroism. Some of them shielding students against devastating winds with their bodies.

I couldn't turn away from photographs of teachers tearfully hugging students they were afraid might have perished.

It was an extraordinary sight, but one that shouldn't have surprised me.

Our kids are their kids, too.

And even in the day-to-day drudgery – the dog-eats-homework struggles -- teachers are there for our kids in ways we might not have expected.

They are buying school supplies and snacks, doling out high-fives and bear hugs. Listening to concerns and brokering solutions for everything from Josie left her sneakers at home to Johnny's family is homeless.

Most of us have breathed a sigh of relief (perhaps more than once) as the school bus swallows our children whole and carries them away.

More and more I find myself saying a silent prayer. ...

For their teachers.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dog days

She was trying to tell me something.

We were on the couch. I was pounding away on my laptop, and she had been curled up by my side. Then she rose and inched closer. Her sweet face pressed down on my shoulder for the briefest of moments as I continued to tap away at the keys. When she retreated, a moist puddle of drool was her parting gift.

“Thanks, for that.” I said aloud as she looked up at me with a start. “No charge,” I answered on her behalf and returned to typing.

My silent partner relaxed. She is not fluent in sarcasm, but she understands that the smile that settles on my face means she's not in the doghouse.

Most of our interactions have had this kind of lost-in-translation sensibility.

She barks at me when I'm on the phone. I tell her we don't have a son named Timmy, nor do we have an uncovered well. She is not convinced. She keeps barking.

I roll my eyes and put her outside. She is quiet.

She sighs and lowers herself to the ground to await my return.

“People!” she probably growls to herself, “What do they know?

Prattle on about nothing from sun-up until sun-down, check the box in their pockets every six seconds and it's not even FOOD.”

In allergy season, as each grain of pollen is explosively expelled from my sinuses, her canine outrage is awakened. She sees nothing to sneeze at. My irritation is her irritation by default.

“Dogs! What do they know?

“Eat, sleep, befoul the backyard, chase squirrels, ignore their toys, chew up something they shouldn't, cover their humans with slobbery substances when that human returns from checking the mailbox, eat, sleep and sleep some more.”

Of course, there are times when I'm sure we understand each other completely.

When I walk into the kitchen, she sits near the fridge.

When she starts using the couch as a trampoline, I get her leash.

And then there are days I wonder how ANYONE got the idea that humans and animals ever live together in harmony.

Take yesterday, for instance:

It started out as any ordinary spring day: The kids woke up; complained about it being a school day; decided they didn't want to wear weather-appropriate clothes; and got on the bus begging me to come and get them in an hour, “when it would be the summertime.”

The dog's day was ordinary, too: Woke the kids up, complained about not being allowed to go to the bus, ate the left-over breakfast and broke a dish in the process.

She needs a job, I think to myself as I sweep up the pieces and drop them into the trash. She thinks she's the dishwasher around here.

She just looks at me, tilts her head and sits. Her tail sweeping back and forth excitedly.

All day long, she follows me from one chore to the next.

Clear dishes. Start the laundry. Sweep floors. More laundry. Errands. Office. Bookkeeping. More laundry. She just watches.

She is maturing, I think, as I load the dish washer.

I glance up at the clock to look at the time, and realize the day has gotten away from me.

“Oh, the bus!” I yell and race out the door.

In no time, I am back, trailing two little humans who are babbling about their day.

And then suddenly … there was silence.

“What happened?” yelled the kids as the dog tries to slink away.

She couldn't move.

I'd guessed from the sight of her that she'd been licking the plates in the dishwasher, which I had left open in the rush to the bus, had gotten her tags caught in the lower rack. She'd panicked and dragged the thing through the house at a high enough rate of speed that its contents had scattered everywhere.

This was not what she expected either.

I patted her head as I unhooked the empty rack from her collar.

“You know … If you really wanted to be a sled dog you should have just told me.”

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mirror, mirror

Sometimes I think my mirror must have magical properties.

When I look into it – past the water spots and toothpaste spatter – I see the same person who greeted me during my high school days and showed up in college. She is the same woman who wore the bridal gown at my wedding … the same woman who got carded for an R-rated movie when I was 30. It matters not that I know this person peering at me from behind the glass isn't as youthful as I used be. Her hair is filled with silver now. She is wider in some places, thinner in others. But if I stand a certain way, hold in my breath and relax my eyes, the mirror still shows me what I want to see.

Stupid mirror.

It should have warned me about honesty ... the unguarded kind.

Instead, it let me stride in to my son's kindergarten class on a beautiful Friday morning – overconfident in my youth and vitality, believing that I was no different from any other mother of a five-year-old, helping classmates color inside the lines -- and be completely demolished by a single question.

A question not even addressed to me:

“Hey, Champ, is that your grandmother?”

I tried to make jokes with the teacher. I tried to laugh it off, but I touched my hair -- my metallic laced, straw-textured hair – and I just wanted to cry.

It wasn't just the way I looked. It was the way I felt. The way I'd defiantly accepted the wiry silver hairs once they'd started coming. The way I'd admired other women who refused to cover their premature grays. The way I'd hoped to be admired as I aged into my hair color.

Yet, one word spoken aloud – grandmother – and all of those good, empowering feelings were gone.

For the next hour, while I helped children wrestle with their shoelaces, backwards Bs and a sticky soap dispenser, I wrestled with my pride.

As soon as the bell rang, I was staring blankly at the hair color aisle in the pharmacy.

“This isn't a big thing, right?” I reasoned, tipping a box of Soft Maple Brown into my shopping basket, which was dangling from the crook of my elbow below the shelf. “It's just a bit of color. A boost of confidence.

“Think nothing of this container of chemistry going against everything you've ever said about accepting aging with grace. … or beauty being more than skin deep.”

Even with the purchase, I couldn't let it go. I paced the floors with the unopened box, ruminating on this thing I was about to do.

“Do I look like a grandmother?” I asked people neither gormless nor honest enough to answer in the affirmative after regaling them with the story of the kindergartners I'd encountered that morning, whose mother, I'd convinced myself, was surely a teenager.

“Are you still going on about that,” asked Ittybit. She had emerged from her dance class to find tap shoes and instead found me droning on about looking into an AARP membership.

She was right. All this time I'd told her looks aren't important and here I was obsessed. How could she ever listen to me again? I wondered.

But it wasn't that. She saw a more practical problem with my predicament.

“I saw that box you bought at the drugstore. ... If I were you, I'd go to a salon. Let a professional handle this. Really, you don't want ME to be the one saying 'I told you so'.”

Only nine and she is already a grownup.

“You don't have a kid in The Champ's kindergarten class you haven't told me about, do you?”

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Rude awakenings

A scream dashes down the hallway and into my bedroom. “Get down, Rosie,” shouts a gruff little voice, prematurely awakened by a cold, wet nose pressing into the folds of his warm neck. A soft thud will follow, and then the click-click-clicking of nails will trace into the next bedroom.

Another voice will sound:

“ROSIE! That's my sock! Give it back!”

There will be scurrying and pounding of feet. Something will overturn, but thankfully it won't break. A door will slam. The dog will run into our room and launch herself onto the bed. My daughter trails her, complaining. She says something about dogs not understanding boundaries as she crushes my shins climbing over the mountain of covers.

Within seconds, my son will make the migration from his bedside to mine. There's no snooze alarm to press; no nine-minute respite from day before us. There's just an angry little boy who hates the world at 7 a.m.

“There's no room for me,” he huffs. “Why is there never any room for me?”

The morning alarm clock is as fail-safe as they come.

It's always a rude awakening no matter how many times it happens.

I lift the covers and inch backward. Cold air reaches toward me with prickly fingers. It is a momentary shock as The Champ crawls in and goes back to sleep.

“How does he do it?” my husband will ask as the faint sound of snoring drifts upward.

I wish I knew.

Also wish I knew how to stop the fight that will ensue once he wakes up and realizes everyone else has migrated downstairs to fill themselves with breakfast and morning television. Without him.

For once I'd like to get through the morning without whine.

It's enough to drive a person to drink.

But this is our routine, more or less.

There is much dragging of feet. No decisions about breakfast. Lunch won't make itself. “Where is my favorite shirt? The one I've worn every day since three weeks before school began?”

These shoes don't feel right. Can you drive me to school? How about you just pick me up after math class?

I'm exhausted. I feel like I've run a marathon and the day hasn't even really started.

How many times have I run up (and down) the stairs since the loony alarm went off?

One trip for socks. Another for shoes. A red shirt. A New shirt. The wrong shirt. A blue shirt.

None of it makes sense. Especially the soft, warm depression my hand makes when it makes contact with the wood of the hand rail.

“Why is there oatmeal all over the banister?”

In a million years, I could never imagine those words would ever have reason to come together in question form, but there they were.

Why. Is. Oatmeal. On. The. Banister?

He musters as guilty a looking smirk as a little kid can muster. “I tried to feed it to the dog. She didn't like it either.”

I want to scream:

“What were you thinking? People are starving in Africa! This is why we can't have nice things! Who do you think you are?”

But I just stand there. … blinking.

I am exhausted.

We barely make it out to the curb before the bus passes us by.

Once they are seated, noses pressed against the glass, the doors of the bus fold shut. A smile stretches across my face, and I start to wave maniacally, anticipating the silence of the house upon my return.

I'm going back to sleep.