I’m Like a Bird Kind Of

October 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

I am sick (again) with no voice. But I am working on the whining thing, so today I’m not going to complain about being sick. Instead, I am going to tell you about something that happened a few weeks ago. I had just picked up my daughter from her preschool and we were walking home. And she was running ahead of me, flapping her arms and pretending to be a bird, a crow to be exact.

“Mommy, be a crow with me! Caw caw!”

I eek out a few meager caws, still just walking, still lagging behind her, still mostly in my own world, not yet thoroughly transitioned from my morning of solitude to my afternoon of being with my kid.

“No, flap your arms and do it!”

I look at my 4 year-old and can see that, to her, this is a totally reasonable request. To her, picking a dandelion for someone is a thoughtful gesture. To her, getting a sticker is exciting, even if it’s at the grocery store and it’s the same sticker they always give her, some ugly and sad-looking Christmas bear. To her, we are rich because we have a big jar of money (pennies and nickels) on the shelf. There is no reconciling our perspectives. No way to explain.

“Not right now, honey. I’m not feeling well.”

Always this. “I’m not feeling well.” I’ve come to rely on it as my old standby, my excuse for why I can’t participate, the reason I need to lie down for a while. “I’m not feeling well.” Go ahead. Try to refute it. You can’t. No one can. Ah, the beauty of not feeling well.

Now I am often, in fact, not feeling well. It’s not that it’s untrue. I do have an invisible medical condition that I struggle with. I do need to rest and recuperate sometimes. But– it bothers me that this should be part of my daughter’s “normal”. That Mommy isn’t feeling well. Gotta catch Mommy in one of her rare moments of feeling well, that’s when she’s really fun! The rest of the time… Mommy kind of sucks.

I was tired that day, sure. I was a little down. But were my legs working? Could I breathe okay? Would I most likely make it out of the experience alive, and not at all worse for the wear?

My daughter didn’t push. Already accustomed to me not bending on the not-feeling-well thing, I guess she gave up. She kept on caw-ing and flapping all by herself up ahead of me on the sidewalk. I surveyed the scene. I was seriously considering this thing now. Could I caw a little louder? Could I flap my arms? Could I run alongside my daughter down this not-entirely-deserted city block? Okay, there was a massive construction project happening across the street. Cars passing. Some dog-walkers way up in the distance. What would people think if they saw me? They might think I was a crazy hippie free-spirit type who didn’t give a fuck what anyone thought about her. That could either inspire or annoy. The other alternative was that they could think that I was TRYING to be perceived as such, but was actually NOT so carefree; maybe they would detect self-consciousness in my tentative gait or in the height of my arm-flaps. They might pity me for that, for being so desperate for attention and yet so transparently insecure. I reasoned that those were the two main possibilities. I guess a third could be just, “Oh, PORTLAND…”

But none of the possibilities were really that bad. None were really incriminating. A person might decide that I’m not their taste. That already happens all the time anyway.

I don’t know. I had a FUCK IT moment.

“Caw! Caw!” and it was me this time, and I was flapping my arms and doing some kind of leaping/galloping thing that I’m sure looked ridiculous but FELT LIKE FLYING. I mean, maybe it’s just been too long since I’ve really jumped up into the air, but I was really leaving the ground for what seemed like a pretty long time before touching it again, and when I did touch it again it was just to spring up again into the air! I felt so light. I know my arms are just arms, but I really felt like flapping them was helping me get higher. It was such an unbelievable feeling. Me and my girl, side by side, just being crows.

We passed people. I tried to stay focused on my leaping. I had a really nice rhythm going. I wondered if people were marveling at how much air I was catching. Because I sure was. And I am someone who is typically very hesitant to leave the ground. I don’t even like to lean back in chairs. I have more than once completely killed the mood on a guy who was just trying to be cute and lift me off the ground. PUT ME DOWN SERIOUSLY PUT ME DOWN SERIOUSLY I AM BEING TOTALLY SERIOUS RIGHT NOW thank you sorry I have a thing about that sorry.

For all my tedious analysis, the whole thing lasted like two blocks. We ended up at home, which was, after all, our destination, and it was just like any other day. It didn’t seem to make that much of a difference to my daughter that I had done what I did. She was happy, but she didn’t throw her arms around me and say that I was the best mom ever or anything. And as fun as it was,  I’m not going to do it every time. It’s not going to become, like, my thing. But there is something that I can’t stop thinking about– the way it felt to leap like that, and for a moment experience the tiniest bit of flying. It sounds so silly, but it was just so different for me, so fresh and new, and at my age I guess I do not expect to feel fresh and new things anymore. Another thing that I noticed is that it’s getting easier and easier to let go of caring what other people think, especially when the danger is just that they could find me “different”.

Today I am sick so I am actually, legitimately “not feeling well”. But I’m going to try not to be a total waste of human flesh about it. I am not going to vacate the premises. I am not going to opt out of the day. There is always something I can do. Even if it’s just sitting with my daughter and dosing off while she watches a movie. I’m going to be here.


On the Playground

May 2, 2012 § 1 Comment

I do not like the playground. There, I said it. The playground is one of my personal hells. And it’s actually a nice playground, the one close to us. It has wood chips for the youngest children to eat (excellent source of fiber), an empty wading pool for everyone to complain about not getting to use on hot days (brings people together), and see-saws for everyone to call teeter-totters except some people who know that they are called see-saws (sparks gentle, light-hearted debate that invariably leads to deeply satisfying exchanges about our regional idiosyncracies and cherished colloquialisms). The main play structure is made of sturdy plastic and metal, with multiple slides and stairs and ladders, and even an inexplicably Australian-themed educational corner and a place to play tic-tac-toe. The problem is not that it is not an ideal playground. The problem is that even an ideal playground is inherently flawed. It is designed to be really fun for children, but phenomenally boring for adults. I MEAN IT IS SO FUCKING BORING!

I’ve noticed that a lot of parents, myself included, have developed certain coping mechanisms, “playground personas” if you will, to deal with the overwhelming mental anguish that accompanies a trip with our children to the playground. Here are a few that I’ve encountered:

1. The Overly Excited: This parent acts as if being with his/her child at the playground is the BEST. THING. EVER. Ohmygosh it is so fun! The Overly Excited mom is pushing her kid on the swing from the FRONT, so that she can make silly noises and faces at the kid with every push. The kid is already FLYING THROUGH THE AIR. But this parent needs to insert themselves into their child’s experience in any way she can or she risks dissolving into a puddle of unidentified goo in the soul-destroying wasteland that is The Playground. I’ve been there. I know that, sometimes, pretending you are going to eat your kid’s feet every 2.5 seconds is more for you than for her.

There is also the Overly Excited dad who says, “WHEE!” while his kid is going down the slide, even though he himself is standing on solid ground. I think he feels a little disappointed that his kid is not showing more enthusiasm about being at The Playground. His “Whee!” is a plea. Come on, kid, please, I need you to be a little more forthcoming with the joy-sounds or I seriously do not know what I’m living for anymore. This is also the parent who claps when his kid gets to the bottom of the slide. “GREAT JOB!” he shouts. “HIGH FIVE!” he demands. If going to The Playground is going to be this excruciating, I’ve gotta believe that you’re building skills here. So I am going to completely ignore my knowledge of physics and pretend that my kid landing at the bottom of the slide was an uphill fucking battle.

2. The Wannabe Cool-Kid: This is going to bother someone, but I have found that this is usually a dad who only has his kids on the weekends. I have also seen a female nanny play this role. This is the adult who is chasing kids all over the playground in the throes of some elaborate game that he himself has created that includes pirates, dragons, monsters, and/or the stipulation that the ground beneath the play structure is comprised of hot lava. This person thinks that he is doing some great service to the children of The Playground, and that without his boundless energy and willingness to make a complete ass of himself, the kids would just be sitting around miserable and totally bored. He’s got one thing right: The Playground is The Most Boring Place on Earth. But what he doesn’t realize is that it’s only boring FOR ADULTS. Kids seem to find it pretty cool, and can usually figure out how to make their own fun. The Wannabe Cool-Kid does not understand that his perspective is that of an adult, because he still FEELS like a kid. Just one that is giant and covered in body hair. He actually thinks that this ability to operate at the level of a child makes him “good with kids”.

The Wannabe Cool-Kid always offends me more than any of the other types. Mostly because I really don’t think kids should be told by an adult about the ground being hot lava. That idea is supposed to spontaneously spread from child to child, from (actual) Cool-Kid to Less-Cool-Kid (who will in turn become a Cool-Kid when he/she passes cool information on to another Less-Cool-Kid). This is one of laws of childhood. It is the same natural cycle that perpetuates hand-clapping games and erroneous explanations of how intercourse is done. DON’T MESS WITH PERFECTION.

3. The Phone-y: These parents are REALLY FUCKING GRATEFUL for their phones. I mean, they can hardly believe that we are still calling them “phones”, what with all the amazing shit they can do, like make it possible to spend time at The Playground without erupting into homicidal rage. They like their phones so much, sooo soooo much, omg omg omg. You can tell because they have often bedazzled them and bought them fancy cases just to show the depth of their devotion. The Phone-sessed are VERY aware that The Playground sucks hard, but they barely have to look at The Playground, save for the occasional glance upward to assure that no one has made off with their child. They have a beautiful world at their fingertips. E-mail, Facebook, Words with Friends, and something I’ve heard of but never seen with my own eyes called Angry Birds. I would love to do these things at The Playground, myself; if only I had a Smart Phone, I would be totally Phone-sessed. But alas, I have a dumb phone and I suck at texting with it and don’t have that many people I text with anyway. But if it’s any consolation (to myself, or to you if you have a dumb phone too), I do notice this: these parents are never smiling. They are escaping the hell of The Playground only to occupy a tepid purgatory where everyone on Facebook’s lives are cooler than theirs and their Words with Friends racks have all vowels.

4. The Busybody: This person wants to know how old your kid is and they want to know exactly. If you give them a rough estimate, like, “I know she’s at least 2…” they ask you what her exact date of birth was, and then they will proceed to actually do the fucking math FOR YOU. As if you are incapable of doing it yourself. Because clearly if you COULD do math, you’d most certainly use that skill to know at any moment off the top of your head the exact age of your child. What could be more pertinent? “I’ve just calculated your daughter to be 2 and 7 months! So almost 3!” Wow! Thank you so much, lady! Not only do I now know exactly how old my daughter is, information that should help me navigate encounters exactly like this one with people exactly like you (at least for the next month or so), but I also know now that 2 and 7 months is almost 3! That is some really tricky math! I am so glad you were here to do it for me. Let’s be best friends forever!

Then they tell you exactly how old their kid is, and the exact birth date too, you know, to help your burgeoning sense of numbers and their relationship to other numbers, and you have to say something really inane so that you seem normal. Like, “Wow, neat.” Now that that’s out of the way, they want to know if your daughter’s gotten her 2-year molars yet. For fuck’s sake! “She has a bunch of teeth,” I say. “I really don’t know much about them.” Now this person is recommending pediatric dentists to you. PLEASE SHUT UP. Leave me alone. Seriously. Can you not tell that I am barely hanging on here?

I am:

5. The Done… Just… Done: These are the parents with that lost, forlorn, bleary-eyed look, the ones who can’t seem to find a good way to stand, or sit, because they have arms that seem suddenly unwieldy and pockets that are just a little too high and small to casually and comfortably put their hands in. (Though this will not stop them from trying.) The Done parent tries to smile, but there is so much pain and it’s not very well veiled underneath. All of her energy goes into determining the exact moment at which it is no longer too soon to leave. She whispers to her kid, “Hey, I think we’re gonna go soon,” and if the kid’s response is a horrified, “WHAT!!! NO!!!” she knows that it is not time yet. It is possible that only 45 seconds have passed since their arrival– she loses all sense of time’s pace at The Playground. But she will continue to ask until the response is a milder form of protest, and then negotiations begin. The kid wants to go on the swing before leaving, but this would be unbearable. Quietly, praying that no one will hear, the Done parent says, “Can’t you just go down the slide 4 more times instead?” voice cracking slightly with a mixture of false enthusiasm and utter loss of will to live.

I am Done with The Playground. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be back. Oh, no. Spring is just warming up around here, and you’ve gotta find a way to fill a day when you’re with a 2 and 7 month old. I’ll be back, you can find me there. I’ll be the one awkwardly shifting my weight from one foot to the other in the absolute lamest attempt ever to simulate the sensation of going somewhere.

5 Horrible Reasons to Have More Children

November 3, 2011 § 2 Comments

I don’t trust myself to come to decisions by thinking thoughts with my brain. I know that that’s how we’re supposed to do things, especially those of us who have the luxury of exercising some degree of control over what happens to us, but I deal with my brain every day and I know what goes on in there.

5 Horrible Reasons to Have More Children

(all of which have gone through my mind at some point and seemed perfectly sensible)

1. Because I’m gaining weight. After I had my daughter, contrary to my most sincere expectations, the baby weight did not just melt off. I had to work really hard to lose it. And you know what? IT SUCKED. I hate exercising, I hate dieting, I hate thinking about my weight constantly (which is what I had to do in order to keep from mindlessly committing such sins as EATING WHEN HUNGRY). But I did it! Yay me! I got my pre-baby body back! (Well, I got back to my pre-baby weight. The actual shape of my body remained quite jacked up. But look! With a push-up bra and Spanx I could totally go out in public with a long wrap-around sweater on!)

But alas, time passed, as time is wont to do… and my daughter discovered goldfish crackers, and animal crackers, and graham crackers, and suddenly I found myself buying things I would never have kept in the house before because I know what I will do to them. I fell in love with a chocolate bar called Ritter Sport (how bad for you can it be with the word “Sport” in the title?). A really good pizza place moved into our neighborhood, our default at-home dinners became quesadillas and macaroni and cheese, and anything we’d eat “for a change” would usually just be some other configuration of carbs and cheese. Bagels and cream cheese. Nachos. Ravioli.

At the same time that our nutritional standards were hitting an all-time low, favorite pairs of jeans that I had worn for years turned against me, refusing to stretch over my thighs. A little tiny voice in my head whispered: You know, there could be a very good explanation for this. You could be pregnant again. But I’m not, I say. But you COULD be. Get pregnant again and the weight will not be your fault. Get pregnant again and celebrate with a milkshake. I bet Burgerville has their seasonal pumpkin milkshakes right now. Mmmmm…. milkshake….

2. Because I want health insurance. For all the conservative hostility toward the poor and their use of social services, I have to say, I encountered nothing but pleasantness when I applied for and received Oregon Health Plan insurance for my pregnancy the first time around. I was kind of surprised that nobody ever said to me, “Why did you get pregnant if you couldn’t afford to pay the medical bills?” I mean, if somebody actually HAD said that to me, I probably would have had all sorts of outrage on Facebook and gotten lots of “likes”, but the fact that there was nothing of that sort from anyone at all, it just felt… too easy.

I had totally free health insurance for my pregnancy plus 30 days, and that included dental and vision. I went to the dentist for the first time in YEARS (don’t worry– I’m an avid flosser). I was able to get a new pair of glasses for free (I had to pick from three styles and couldn’t get glare-protection, but the ones I got were cute on me!). I got to go to a clinic of midwives who were amazing, and have my baby in the hospital without worrying about how long I could afford to stay there or whether I could manage to pay for regular trips to a lactation consultant afterward. People: it costs thousands of dollars to have a baby without insurance. Also, at one point in my pregnancy I got sick, and was able to go get a strep test for free, something that I did a few weeks ago without insurance and it cost me $119. So yeah, I am very appreciative of the care that I received during my brief fling with health insurance. I wouldn’t mind another go around. A pap smear? A flu shot? Another pair of those glasses, since the ones I got are broken now and held together with duct tape and fall off my face any time I look down? A general feeling of not being morbidly paranoid at all times about accidents and injuries and serious illnesses going undiagnosed until too late? Sounds great! I’ll help myself to some of that! I don’t qualify unless I’m pregnant? Ok, guess I better get on that then…

3. Because I have names picked out. I’ve enjoyed thinking about baby names since I was a baby myself. And well, I’ve got a few favorites stored up that it would be a shame not to slap on an actual kid before I die. I take pride in my taste in names, but it’s hard to be complimented for that when you only have one kid. That one name could have been just dumb luck. But if you’ve got TWO or even THREE kids with great names, well, my dear, you just might be an excellent baby-namer worthy of praise and attention (and me likey the praise and attention.)

4. Because we have all the stuff. I’m a frugal, thrifty sort of gal, and nothing excites me more than the idea of taking this baby stuff that we have just used for one baby and using it for another baby. It just seems so ECONOMICAL. It’s like, we might have to spend more money in the long run on things like a bigger apartment or a house, more food, ballet classes and karate classes and piano lessons and Barbie printable hair extensions, but think of all the money we’d SAVE by re-using all this perfectly good baby stuff that cost us NEXT TO NOTHING because most of it was given to us as hand-me-downs or gifts! I mean, if you consider the original retail value of all this stuff, having another baby just MAKES SENSE.

5. Because WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO DO WHEN THIS ONE STARTS SCHOOL? I am strongly considering homeschooling my daughter, and I swear it’s for a lot of reasons that are not this, but Oh My God what am I going to do if she really wants to go to school and so we let her and she is just GONE for hours every single weekday? What will I do with myself? I will have to get a job. Either that, or our meals are gonna have to get a whole lot better, the house will start having to shine like the top of the fucking Chrysler Building, and I’ll have to diversify my Etsy shop to include homemade soaps and candles. I do not like these prospects.

P.S. Even if we do decide to homeschool, I’ll be much more likely to invest in quality materials if I know I’ll get to use them for more than one kid. (See Reason #4). With only one child to educate, I might be tempted to skimp by accepting textbook donations from religious fundamentalist homeschoolers, and that could be really confusing for her unless we as her parents converted to the religion so as to be more able to answer her questions. And chances are, if we become religious fundamentalists, we’re gonna be having more kids shortly anyway. So… yeah… what was my point?

Anyway, clearly the decision about whether or not to have more children should not be left up to my brain. My brain interprets any paragraph with a seemingly-logical construction as a “valid argument”, regardless of the words it contains. No, this decision is too important for that. It’s got to be a feeling thing. What does my heart say? Does it have enough love inside it for more children? Or do I have some kind of grinchy heart that’s as small as a flake of dandruff that is actually kind of large for a flake of dandruff and makes you kind of nauseated just to see it? NO! My heart is the BIGGEST! At this very moment, it is literally bursting at the seams with more love than anyone who has never been a mother could possibly understand!

Actually, on second thought, my heart is kind of a ninny. I think I’m better off doing what I’ve always done: floating along being only semi-aware of my actions and their potential consequences, until I either accidentally get myself pregnant again, or don’t.

Suffering in Silence

October 5, 2011 § 2 Comments

This is the third day in a row that I have had no voice. And today I learned that when you have laryngitis, you’re really not supposed to whisper, either. Normally, I’d welcome the opportunity to “practice silence” as some kind of spiritual exercise. (Normally? What am I talking about? What is this “normal” life that my current life is just a temporary break from? Hello! Don’t you remember what the nice man with the shopping cart told you? YOU’RE A MOTHER NOW! YOU HAD YOUR CANDLELIT DINNER, NOW YOU HAVE HER!) But anyway, today I am finding that not being able to talk is 1) super inconvenient for obvious reasons, and 2) fucking with me mentally for reasons that may not be as obvious, so let me elucidate for you below.

I usually put my daughter down for her nap with a lot of verbiage to smooth the transition. I like to get her on board with what’s going on. If she says she doesn’t want to take a nap, for instance, I tell her about how nice it feels to sleep cuddling her stuffed animals. Usually she gets pretty psyched when I remind her of those guys. If she’s really resistant, I tell her that when she’s 5 she can stop taking naps, but until then she has to, because she’s 2 and 2 year-olds take naps. And then I name all of her friends who are napping at that very moment. This pretty much always does the trick. The day they stop working, I’ll have to come up with some new material, but so far these (excellent) points are enough.

Today, though, I couldn’t say any of this stuff. She went down for her nap crying, which is very rare for her, although I know that there are lots of kids who cry-it-out all the time and I am not judging their parents ok so BACK OFF. I just don’t happen to do it that way, and my daughter’s not used to it, and when it happened today I fucking hated it.

If I thought there were things I could have said, short things, I would have whispered them despite the fact that I’m not supposed to. But honestly, my points are all multi-word sentences, and usually along with the points themselves I have to supply answers to her counter-arguments (“But why?” being the main one). That’s a lot of whispering for something that isn’t even guaranteed to work. And ALSO… being sick is making me really tired and irritable, and I was just eager to get out of there and come make myself a cup of tea with honey and write a blog post about how bad I am feeling.

But mostly I feel shitty because there should have been some way I could have communicated with her non-verbally, like through mother-daughter telepathy. I mean, are we not close? I made a point of putting her naked newborn self on my naked chest as much as possible when she was born, because it was super snuggly, but ALSO because I was under the impression that I was establishing the kind of connection that a silly bout of laryngitis could never disrupt. I just wanted to kiss her forehead and have the words “You’re 2 and you can stop taking naps when you’re 5” just sink through to her brain. Or even just the 2 and the 5, and she could fill in the blanks. I would even settle for a general sense of love and sleepiness washing over her like some kind of wordless cotton candy-colored mist. Oh well.

Anyway, she eventually stopped crying and fell asleep, but when she did, instead of feeling relieved, I felt… lonely. Isolated. It is odd to be unable to talk to someone on the phone if you wanted to (even though I hardly ever talk on the phone when she’s napping because our place is small and I’m afraid of waking her up). And I kept thinking that if someone came to the door selling magazine subscriptions, I would have to just stand there listening to them because I’m pretty sure that they are trained to stay until they are explicitly told to GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FACE I AM NOT GOING TO BUY ANY OF YOUR SHITTY MAGAZINES BECAUSE I DO NOT EVEN KNOW HOW TO READ OKAY? And that just wouldn’t ring true if I wrote it down.

It’s also been odd these past few days to not really be able to talk to my husband. Not to be able to clarify WHY I want fresh chicken soup from the grocery store instead of canned if they have it. He thinks it’s because of the noodles. He keeps asking me if the noodles are okay in the different kinds he’s gotten me, and I smile and nod but the truth is, it was never the noodles that were the problem. It’s the chicken. IT’S THE CHICKEN!!!! The chicken in most canned chicken soup is weird, dried out chicken by-product. The fresh soup at grocery stores *sometimes* has better chicken. But when you can’t talk, you have to let some things go unsaid. Maybe I’ll tell him when I can talk again. I’ll probably forget though!

Beyond my husband and daughter, I haven’t even tried to talk to anyone else. Except, oh yeah, the doctor who gave me a strep test. That was pretty awesome. (It came back negative.) The visit and the test cost $119. That’s WITH a discount for not having health insurance. I don’t even want to talk about it. Luckily, I guess I can’t.

But anyway, the worrisome thing about this whole laryngitis experience is that I am turning more and more inward. And, not surprisingly I guess, when I turn really inward I start seeing things I hate. Like, I’ve noticed that I’m lazy. Do you know that I would much rather sit than stand? Also? I would much rather lie down than sit. Being sick, I have a lot of very recent evidence to back this up. Therefore: it is the truth about me. Also, it’s why I’m not skinny. And it’s also a metaphor for why I’ve never “gone for it” with any career plan. And don’t even get me started about what this means for the example I’m setting for my daughter. I might cry if I thought about that, and there is a lot of nasty mucus going on in my body already, and my throat is killing me just sitting here and not doing anything with it, if I start crying I will be pretty much inflicting terrible pain on myself for no reason and that is so stupid it will make me cry harder and isn’t that just like me? To get stuck in a spiral of crying and stupidity?

Like I said, not being able to talk is fucking with me mentally. That was the whole point of this blog post, so if it was meandering and self-pitying, that’s kind of okay because it just proves my point. And I would rather be right than dignified. (That’s another truth about myself that I’ve noticed since having laryngitis.)

Meanwhile, make sure you tell me to feel better soon. You do want me to feel better soon, right? What? You could care less? Okay, well that doesn’t make any sense. I think you meant to say that you couldn’t care less. Think about it. See? I’m right.

It Takes a Village

September 22, 2011 § 4 Comments

Today we were walking home from the library with some friends, when L decided that she could not wait till we got home to read her book. She sat down right in the middle of the sidewalk and opened it up, this giant colorful board book about Elmo brushing his teeth even though he doesn’t have any.

So as our friends walked ahead a bit, I crouched down and tried some strategies to get her to stand up and come along.

“We can look at your book when we get home.”

“Look, our friends are waiting for us!”

“Come on, let’s gallop home! You’re such a good galloper!”

Her response to all of this was to scream, “NO NO NO I DON’T!!!!” and a bunch of stuff like that.

At this point, I would totally have just picked her up and carried her and the book, in spite of her screaming, but there happened to be a man and a woman with a shopping cart standing right there. (Are you getting this picture? Did you just adjust the way these people were dressed in your mind when you read that they had a shopping cart? Can I get away with just saying that, and not alluding to their social class in any other way, not presuming to know if they have a place to live or not, or anything about their mental health? Can anything bad you think about them just be your fault?)

(But wait, you say: aren’t you kind of depending on their shopping cart to make this story worth telling? I mean, isn’t there, in every story about something a bum said to you, this inherent, automatic storytelling value in the fact that he even dared to utter something to you? It could be something totally mundane, but if a homeless person said it to you, it becomes an anecdote. But please, by all means, finish your story.)

So the couple with the shopping cart are finding this funny, and the man says to my daughter, “What are you doing? What’s going on with you?”

Miraculously, she stops screaming and looks at him, and in a very calm voice says, “I want to read my book.”

“Well, mama!” he says to me, “Looks like she’s gonna read her book!”

And the woman chimes in, “They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do.”

Inside I’m like, Yeah, but OUR FRIENDS! Our friends are down there! They’re waiting for us! But I don’t really want to say that out loud; I’m not going to let complete strangers mediate a conflict between me and my toddler. (Or am I just afraid they’ll be on her side?) So I just look to where our friends are standing and mouth a super-exaggerated SORRY!, hoping that the couple with the shopping cart will pick up on that. But they are busy telling me more things.

“You’re a mother now,” says the man. “Sometimes you gotta get down and read with her. How old are you? 25? 26? You had your candlelit dinner. Now you have her.”

Of all the mistaken assumptions in that sentence, the one I choose to correct is, of course, my age. Because I’m betting that if I say I’m 30, he’ll say something about me looking younger, and more important than defending my pride as a mother is affirming my attractiveness as a female. I can totally cash in here! I can double the ego-boost of what was already a compliment by forcing him to reiterate it more explicitly!

Except he doesn’t say that– he just says, “Well, I was close.”

Ok, dude. It’s all about YOU now I guess.

But anyway, just so you guys know, for the record, let it be said, because I think it’s really important: there was no candlelit dinner involved in the making of this child. Not even somewhere along the way. Because I’ve tried that once or twice, and it turns out I don’t like not being able to see my food that well.

And oh yeah, I guess I should ALSO point out that I get down and read with her all the freaking time. Just not on the sidewalk. When people are waiting for us. And maybe we all could have sat down on the sidewalk and read together, except that the kiddos needed to eat. And take naps. And well, she can’t always do whatever she wants. And it’s part of my job as a mom to teach her that. Right? Kind of?

“Okay,” I say to my daughter, “As soon as you get to the end we’re going to get up and keep walking.” She is like, one page away from the end at this point. But she’s smart. She flips the whole book back to the beginning. Ooooh, she is bad!

So I start prying the book from her hands, which of course results in screaming and yelling, and so the man says, “Hey! Your mama’s gonna give you some milk and cheese. Mmmm… and some bread. And some GRAPES!”

Suddenly she springs up. “GRAPES! GRAPES! I want grapes, mommy!”

“And there you go,” the man says. “See, I know what I’m talking about.”

The woman laughs and says, “Now you gotta go to the store and buy some grapes!”


Yeah, no, not doing that. Just going to go catch up to our friends and hope she forgets about the grapes before we get home. Remind me to tell you some time how I’m a terrible mother who deprives her child of fruit. Fruit! Seriously, I’m pretty sure that if I went to the store nearest our house and bought grapes it would be like $12.

But thanks, shopping cart couple, for the parenting advice. And the anecdote. I went home and blogged about it. I am an asshole.

Today at Dance Class

July 1, 2011 § 4 Comments

L stood scowling into the mirror, arms crossed in front of her, mad as a little girl could be. The room was a mess of noise and movement behind her, as parents awkwardly danced to terrible music and implored their toddlers to wiggle along so that they could look a little less stupid. But L would not be distracted from her brooding. A few parents laughed at how serious she looked.

“What’s wrong with you today?” the teacher asked her. “This isn’t the L that I know!”

I fought the urge to give some excuse, like “She didn’t get much sleep last night,” or “She forgot to take her meds”. I could say something like, “She is not herself today,” hoping everyone would revert to the image of her that they had constructed from the previous 2 classes, and throw today away as a fluke. Those other times, she was “The Real L”. Today doesn’t count. Just move along people, nothing to see here. You may continue hopping around like kangaroos. As you were.

But who is this “Real L”? She’s not even 2 years old and she’s already pigeonholed. It’s a good pigeonhole, it’s flattering and has all the amenities that a modern-day pigeon could want, but nevertheless, it’s a pigeonhole. Is that what a pigeonhole is? A hole for a pigeon to live in? Or is it the butthole of a pigeon? Either way, pigeons are the worst. They are idiots and they have no souls. But I digress.

“The Real L” is supposedly this super-extroverted, enthusiastic, life-loving little bundle of cute. She’s got “charisma”, commanding attention everywhere she goes. She’s “popular”, like, people know who she is when we go to the playground. She’s not particularly obedient, but that just adds to her charm– “She’s got a mind of her own, that’s for sure!”.  I keep waiting for someone to call her “spirited” (mostly so that I can get offended and passive-aggressively lash out at them on-line, and then immediately get some books out from the library like “Disciplining Your Spirited Child”).

Disobedience aside, this vision of “The Real L” has sweet implications for me as her mom. Her friendliness has made me popular by association, since we are a mommy-daughter couple, and people assume that, to have a kid who’s that secure and outgoing, I must be doing something right. There are lots of great reasons to cling to “The Real L”, to smile when she’s like that and frown when she’s not, to tell her that she’s like that and that she’s not being herself if she’s not, to describe her to others like that and continue to do so for the rest of her life no matter how she changes. And if I do that, she’ll have lots of great reasons to despise me and my influence on her life when she gets older, assuming she’s smart enough to figure out what I did, and she will be, of course, because, didn’t you know? Intelligence is definitely a cardinal trait of “The Real L”.

I honestly have no idea what set her off this morning in dance class. One minute she was smiling and stomping her feet and shaking what supposedly I gave her (although it’s a lot cuter than mine) and the next thing I knew she was scowling into the mirror like a teenager with PMS and a penchant for murdering. Maybe another kid looked at her wrong. Maybe she realized that the music was shit and the dancing bore no resemblance to what she’s been watching on reruns of Soul Train and trying to copy in our living room. Maybe she felt the weight of everyone expecting her to do what she “always” does [based on two (2!) previous times], and decided to take a good long look at herself in the mirror and figure out some stuff.

“This isn’t the L that I know!”

Well, then it must be the L that you don’t know. Because you know what? She’s not just one flavor. She is actually 32 flavors. AND THEN SOME. How many? I don’t know. I lost count after 32. And then I got confused because there was Vanilla, and French Vanilla. Do these count as different flavors? And what about Vanilla Bean? She’s a lot of flavors, okay? Not just one. Damn, now I want some ice cream.

Strawberry Picking

June 20, 2011 § 6 Comments

“This morning, L and I went strawberry picking.”

It’s nice when the things I do with my daughter happen to sound so great. It’s almost better to leave it at that, to let your imagination take care of the whole scene. You’re practically guaranteed to make it gorgeous. I know you.

You will imagine that the day was sunny, that L was wearing a hat and some overalls, that she carried a little wicker basket, that she kept eating the strawberries she picked and got her fingers and face stained with strawberry juice. And that the strawberries were the reddest, sweetest berries we had ever tasted. You’ll imagine us in mother-daughter harmony, in farm country bliss. You will assume that we got a shit-ton of strawberries at a bargain price. And that we’re gonna make some strawberry rhubarb pie with them. And/or strawberry ice cream. Strawberry shortcakes. Strawberry jam. Whatever you like. In your imagination, oh gee, we have so many berries we are a little overwhelmed by the prospect of using them all before they go bad! But then we remember that we can always freeze what we can’t use. In your imagination we always forget that freezing is an option. You think it’s one of our charms.

We went strawberry picking. Do you want to know how it really went? It wasn’t a fiasco. It wasn’t a total waste of time. But: it didn’t quite feel like I thought it would feel. Oh, the obscene luxury that I must enjoy on a daily basis to even be capable of thinking that thought! I don’t mean to be ungrateful… it’s just that… I mean… this was STRAWBERRY PICKING. Isn’t it supposed to be kind of, you know… transcendental???

To start with, the weather was overcast. The berries weren’t that sweet or red or big. L got cranky and dirty and cranky about being dirty, and kept wanting me to carry her, which was hard because instead of that cute wicker basket you were imagining, we had a big cardboard box. We ended up on the other side of the berry patch from our friends, for like the whole time. I kept lowering my strawberry standards just so I could be said to be picking strawberries. Our harvest was, in a word, meager.

But mostly, MOSTLY, it’s this: L is almost two.

There is pretty much never a satisfying ending to the things we do together.

It’s “time to go” when she starts acting like a punk-ass beeatch because she’s tired and needs to take a nap. Wrapping things up and heading home is always the worst part of any outing, because she starts getting defiant and I no longer have the carrot of whatever special activity to dangle in front of her.

When I finally get her in the car and into her car seat, she never says, “Mommy, that was so much fun!”, first because she’s too young to talk or think like that, but second because almost everything we do ends on a slightly (or sometimes very) bad note. And later, it’s like she has no recollection. I’ll ask her, “Remember how we went STRAWBERRY PICKING? Wasn’t that so fun?” Nothing. She is not currently able to reminisce. We might as well have watched TV all morning.

All’s well that ends well, they say. But what about all that does not end well, and is just sort of okay while it’s happening? I guess in these cases, you just try to be grateful that you did something that sounds nice, and don’t elaborate too much when you tell other people.

“L and I went strawberry picking this morning.”

“That sounds amazing!”

Doesn’t it though? It almost makes me want to go again.

P.S. I will, no doubt, go again. Next time I will bring a cute wicker basket, even if that means that I have to go purchase one. And the day will be sunny and the berries will be better, and L will run up and down the rows radiating innocent happiness like she’s supposed to, and I will feel waves of well-being wash over me… and if not?

That’s it, I’m not going again after that. Fuck strawberry picking.

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