Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fluffy Parenting Fun

Our life rarely even approaches “dull.” Most of the time I’d call life with S. and Little A. random, unexpected, and delightfully surprising. Life lately has been no exception.

Little A. gets a very intense, inward look when he concentrates hard on his thoughts. He got that look this morning at breakfast, then asked his sister to tell him words. As you can imagine, the precise, ridiculously accurate, dedicated-to-splitting-hairs, fourth grader gave him a bit of grief. How could she talk without words and what kind of words did he mean and did he mean words like…

I zoned out.

When I zoned back in, S. was saying, “So, like ‘TV’?” And Little A. said, “Yeah.” He still had that concentrating look.

S. thinks for a minute, then says, “Salt.” I can tell she’s just getting warmed up.

Little A.’s face relaxes; he’s not concentrating anymore. “Well, that works.”

He went back to eating breakfast while S. and I looked at each other. I took the bait. “What worked, honey?”

Between mouthfuls he said, “I wanted to see if I could listen while I was thinking about something else.”

Somehow, I feel that this does not bode well for me at all.

* * * * * *

So, Big A. has been working quite a bit lately and I’ve been hanging with the kids. Needless to say, I quaked in my boots when S. started singing a highly improbable song lyric last night and then said, “You know the song!”

See, the odds are that I don’t know the song. I’m not the one with the musical background or the extensive music collection. That would be Big A. But I really, really, really need to know the song. Why? Because otherwise I’d be stuck listening to S. sing cheerfully upbeat and endless repetitions of, “Your lipstick stinks on the telephone.”

No problems pinning that one down. Nope.

I dropped S. off at her activity and, to my surprise, Little A. started singing the song. Thinking he might help me, I started asking him for clues, Twenty Questions-style.

“I don’t know, Mommy.”

“Well, where did you hear the song?”

“I heard S. singing it.”

Dead end. But in the car on the way home that night, I managed to get from S. that it had a “normal” guitar (not electric), one guy singing, that it was not in a minor key, that Daddy plays it in late afternoons (like when we’re cooking), and that she would call it a “regular song” (not jazz, country, pop, or rock).

Now I KNOW my husband could probably identify the song within about three guesses. Not me. Luckily, the kids were headed for bed and I had a reprieve.

At breakfast we eliminated Toad the Wet Sprocket, The Avett Brothers (“It’s only one guy singing, Mom!"), and Nickel Creek. At the bus stop, I played to my strengths and went with words. I settled into some serious lyric Googling. And then…heart in my throat, I interrupted the five millionth humming of her lovely phrase.

“Is this it?”

It was.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister”? It comes complete with the opening lyric, “Your lipstick stains on the left side of my front lobe brains.”

I rock.

In case you’d like the less fluffy story of the last time I had to uncover a song S. described, read here.

The Song With Stars

The Song With Stars

“The song with the stars, Mommy!”
Begins weeks of mind-wracking,
iPod-searching frustration.

Finally the young questor/requester
Cries triumphant recognition, “The song with the stars!”
And her perception flummoxes me.

I hear the words as sung,
And never expected anything different.
For me, the scars are still there in the mirror.

Scars, not stars for the old woman-child
I was, innocence lost at seven,
Perfect mistrust my watchword for ages.

Can just wanting, just liking the thought
Transmute regrown soul tissue
To the astral glory of the night skies?

Can the magic of ignorance
Achieve desire without effort,
Change revulsion to perseverance?

My daughter’s stars create
A moment’s respite
In my injured marathon

A restful breath, a mental peace
The inward smile that says
At least someone hears stars.

I’m not a huge fan of explaining poetry. It limits the reader to the author’s interpretation of the words. To me, poetry gives us the gift of participating in the reading, more so than novels, for example. However, there is a back story here. Consider it optional!

When S. was a toddler, she asked me to play “the song with the stars” and I had literally no idea what she meant. I tried “Javert’s Suicide” from Les Mis, I tried Don McLean’s “Starry, Starry Night”, I tried “Seven Bridges Road”, I tried everything I could imagine she’d heard. This went on for months.

Finally, in the car one day, I put on The Road Less Travelled by Melissa Etheridge and S. just lit up. The song she’d been talking about all that time was “I Run for Life.”

I’d played that song endlessly when it came out. I know the song, as intended, became an anthem for breast cancer survivors, but for me it spoke to depression and mothering small children. My darkness came from depression, lurking always inside of me, and the lives I ran for—that I run for—are my children.

The song came out around when Little A. was born and saw me through his infancy. So S. heard it a lot. And I hope the poem conveys a little of how her interpretation of the lyrics affected me.

Friday, February 21, 2014

I Am Zoë

I blogged earlier this year about how great it made me feel that my daughter has literally hundreds of age-appropriate fantasy books with female main characters to choose from. I notice this because when I was growing up all the books I liked, the fantasy books, had male main characters.

I ran across another “How great is this?” moment this morning.

I got online to find a male college friend had just taken the “Which Joss Whedon Heroine Are You?” quiz on Buzz Feed. Another male friend of his had commented on it, giving his results. My mind exploded with the amazing awesomeness this reveals!

First of all, I have my priorities straight. I took the quiz and got Zoë from Firefly, which would be enough to make my day anyway.

Then I got to thinking. I love Joss Whedon’s work for so many reasons. He writes stories I love. He has a freakin’ fantastic sense of humor. He works with people I love to watch. His characters are interesting men and women, all the time. So I never really thought about how many there were of each. When I started counting up the characters who could be considered heroines in his four tv shows, two of which only lasted a season (shame on you, modern tv networks!), I quickly ran out of fingers. WOW.

So that was cool.

Then there was the whole reverse Bechdel test aspect of my experience. I found the quiz because I read two men’s posts about which kick-butt, named female character they’d like to BE.

This boggles my mind. I spent my childhood wishing to be a boy so I could do all the things that I dreamed of doing. And, yes, in the seventies it was possible for girls to be astronauts and doctors and junk like that. But I wanted to be chosen, to be special, to be “the one” to ride a magic steed and have a Power and save the world. And boys were still doing all that in the books I read.

So on behalf of all the girls like me, the girls who tried to shop for books at odd hours so they wouldn’t very visibly be the only girl in the scifi/fantasy section, thank you. Thank you, Joss Whedon and thank you, enlightened male friends.

I enjoyed that moment. And I am Zoë!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Judge Me By Size, Do You?

Size does matter. But not in the way you think it does.

I watched Little A. walk out of school today, joking and laughing with two of his best friends. They’re all the same age, but Little A. stood out, about a head taller than both other boys.

I grew in a family of tall kids. (Laugh now. Yes, I’m short.) Believe it or not, I was a tall kid until about fourth grade. (Laugh more, please. I understand.) One of my sisters grew tall exceptionally early and so I’m very aware of the downside of that.

You see, her height didn’t actually cause problems—adults’ assumptions based on her height did. People assumed, based on that one physical measurement, that she was much older than she actually was. Then they expected her to act according to the age they assumed.

When S. was little, one of her best friends was a little boy her exact age, but a head or more taller. His parents got so much grief when people say him crying or with his pacifier. He was two! But he looked four.

Big A. also grew tall very young and dealt with all those assumptions. I actually had the opposite problem by the time I hit my teens. I had a baby face and I’m on the—yes, okay—on the short side.

I married Big A. at the age of twenty-five and was repeatedly mistaken for a teenager. I had multiple people ask me if I got married right after graduation (as in, high school graduation) and I nearly wasn’t given a raffle ticket at a baseball game because I didn’t look eighteen. Karate parents mistook Big A. for my dad. It was pretty harmless, but ludicrous as I look back on it.

And now we’re seeing Little A. go through it.

At a playground recently, he ran without looking and knocked into a kid who, based on his behavior, was about four. His dad (who may or may not have anger issues) started ranting as Big A. and I ran up to the boys. We encouraged Little A. to apologize, but—as any six year old might—he got too upset by what he’d done to talk.

Surprised and devastated by what he really hadn’t intended, he cried and got that look every parent knows, the look that says, “Please take me in your arms and make this go away.”

I did take him in my arms. As Big A. attempted to apologize to the angry dad, the smaller boy’s mom and I exchanged glances over the heads of our upset boys. “I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s okay,” she mouthed.

I know that the kids-bumping-into-each-other scenario happens fairly often on playgrounds and I know most parents recognize that. And I really don’t know where that dad was coming from. But, as we walked away, it occurred to me that he might have thought an eight year old ran into his son. That doesn’t excuse his rant, but I can understand how angry it can make a parent to see a big kid hurt their little one. An eight year old would probably have more coordination and self-control.

We used the opportunity to have a positive talk with Little A. about how people who don’t know you sometimes think things based on how you look. We said that’s not great, but it happens. We assured him that we know him and we knew he was doing his best. Mistakes happen! And next time maybe he can apologize.

I can’t help thinking, though, how arbitrary and useless it is to judge kids by that one dimension. How many inches there are between your feet and the top of your head determines…what you can reach. And that’s about it.

So then I can’t help wondering why we do this with so many random numbers—weight, age, income, zip code, number of kids, number of cats, whatever.

We are all so complex that no measurement can encompass it. And nothing can measure our beauty, our power, our potential, our thoughts, our love. And maybe that’s why we lean on the numbers so much—numbers are easier.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Not My Kid

I’ve begun to enjoy being around small children again.

When ours were little, I got kind of…preoccupied?...with caring for them. I stopped smiling at babies in line at the grocery store—and, not coincidentally, stopped getting, “Are you a kidnapper?” looks from mothers.

Now I enjoy their adorable little antics again. I love the fun faces they make as their mental wheels turn. I love the excitable little hands. I love the toddler pronunciations and examples of toddler logic. And I even love the tantrums. In restaurants, malls, parks, and stores, the tantrums provoke a new refrain in me.

That’s not my kid.

It was once my kid, no doubt. You name it and my kids have done it, but now, it’s not my child screaming or grabbing or dragging feet. It’s not my kid who just can’t understand the intricacies of adult time management. It’s not my kid whose arched back makes an irresistible force meeting the immobile object of the car seat.

That’s not my kid.

Last week, we ate out at a favorite restaurant. A couple with a four-month-old sat in the booth beside us. I enjoyed seeing the cute little baby face resting on dad’s shoulder and peeking into our booth, but honestly didn’t notice a thing wrong. At least, not until I saw mom and baby vanish out the front door as the wait staff took two steaming plates of food right back to the kitchen to be boxed and dad drained half his wine in one swallow.

Then I recognized the unmistakable signs of a night out that didn’t make it. Big. A. and I shared a look.

That’s not our kid.

Yes, I miss things about being mother to babies and toddlers, but I also rejoice in the people they’re becoming. And I rejoice in the person I’m becoming. Once again an individual, not a mother-baby dyad, I rejoice in my physical and mental autonomy. I rejoice that my delight in children can be unalloyed by the sheer daily grind of raising them. I rejoice in this growth.

And if it is your kid dragging you through the trenches out there, know that, on the other side, waits profound appreciation and peace. You will all be just fine in a few years. The other parents you feel looking at you and your kid? They’re wishing you well and reminding themselves how quickly it all goes by.

They’re saying, “Not too long ago, that was my kid.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Transitions--Disney 2014

First of all, I call down all possible blessings on those who invented polartec fleece, those who make it, and those who bring it to us. I bless all the polartecs from which the fleece is sheared. I give thanks for fleece!

If you’re going to spend two days outside (sixty degrees and raining or breezy) while you're sick, you give thanks for what makes it possible. I’m also grateful for ibuprofen and coffee, to be fair.

Seriously, though, fleece is amazing. How does it do it? I think, like Magic Erasers, it’s a miracle I’d better not examine too closely.
What will we find this time?
Our more or less annual trips to Disney have become a benchmark for me, another mark on the wall to measure how the kids are growing. This year, I feel like we saw a big shift toward new territory.

We spent the first day in the Magic Kingdom in the aforementioned cool, rainy weather. I love Disney off season in “bad” weather! We hit fourteen rides in six hours without breaking a sweat—literally, there was no sweating. None of that horrendously irritating, I’m-a-giant-sticky-magnet-for filth, end of the day at the park feeling. Yay!

Plus no lines—we barely waited for anything. Yay! And there was the added bonus of seeing all the tour groups and family reunions in giant WDW-issue ponchos instead of perky t-shirts. (Don’t get me wrong, if I ever get a large group together a Disney, I want obnoxious t-shirts!) But the herds of people in white or yellow ponchos sloshing through the rain looked oddly surreal. It was fun.

What else was fun? We sat behind three couples, grandparent types, in the Tiki Room. Based on their sports shirts and VFW caps, they were from Ohio. I’d bet anything they’d never been to Disney before. Watching their faces as each animatronic gimmick appeared was PRICELESS! May we all still be open to delighted surprise throughout our lives.
We made a friend!
Delighted surprise brings us back to how much the kids have grown. Big A. and I give thanks daily for the amazing things they do for themselves—amazing because we no longer have to do them. I actually achieved my goal of being able to say, “Go shower and get into clean clothes” at the end of the day and having them do it! This. Is. A. Miracle.

We also loved the fact that all of us ran out of energy out at the same time. We all looked at each other and said, “Let’s go” at the same time. Sweet!

Tired, they still made it through dinner gracefully. They slept without that frantic, over-tired, toddler fighting sleep stage. They woke up in mostly one piece. Wow!

Of course, there’s a flip side. Both the kids look older these days. When you live with kids every day, you know that sometimes they just age six months in one week. We’ve had that here just now. I can see the shapes of the teenagers they’ll become peeking out from under the children they are. It’s beautiful and terrifying and I want to freeze time.
Seriously--does he look just barely 6.25?
I love the camaraderie our family has developed, but I do miss the wide-eyed wonder of small children seeing the “magic” of Disney the first time. Little A. has almost passed through the “terrified of characters” stage. He decided to go ahead and stand next to Belle for a picture. And he was so happy he did! S. has gotten nearly too cool for school—she’s trying hard not to smile in half the pictures. Luckily, she still has the smile inside.
Granted, we all felt that way about the ice, but just the fact that she can MAKE that face.....
And, having inspired nine- to thirteen-year-old girls to sing “Gray Squirrel” and “The Skunk Song,” I am having none of that. Girlfriend WILL have fun, or I’ll know why! I mean that in the most loving, healthy, balanced way possible.

Little A. still has his impossible moments, especially when he’s beyond tired, but he’s really getting a handle on it. I’m so impressed! And we found out in Animal Kingdom that he’s really interested in reptiles and fish. He wants to learn to take care of them. How cool is that?

All in all, our time at Disney highlighted the year’s changes and gave our family a fantastic couple of days to be with each other. That’s all the magic we need!
As long as they always know they can fly!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Gonna Be Fun

So, we decided to surprise the kids with a trip to Disney World. We got in the car “to go to dinner” and loaded up the dog and his bag of food. Speculation ran rampant in the backseat until the kids concluded we were going to the one restaurant where we sit outside and take the dog. Unfortunately, they felt it was much too cold to eat outside.

Big A. handed them each a folded set of three 11x17 maps and said, “I told you we were doing something special this weekend. Look at these maps and see if you can figure out where we’re going.”

The kids pored over the top map (of Animal Kingdom) and Little A. said, “It looks like some kind of Disney World for dogs.”

Big A. and I burst into laughter. I said something like, “Occam’s Razor, son, Occam’s Razor.” Clearly, that meant nothing to the kids. Big A. decided to be more useful. “S., why don’t you read the map?”

S. looked at it again and said, “We’re going to Disney! Are we really going to Disney? Can I bring my homework?”

Needless to say, we burst into laughter again.

At dinner, eating Mexican, we heard “Soul Man” come on. Big A. said, “Remember when you danced to this, Little A.?”

Little A. started grooving—I mean, that boy can dance. Big A. and I have a running joke about how I—having grown up on Motown and the like—can dance, but he seems to find his own beat. And if he can’t find it, he invents it. So I proudly, said, “That’s my kid!” and we laughed.

Then S. got in on the action and, honestly, she did a great job staying with the beat. I think it was her dad’s beat, but she did a great job staying with it. Little A., however, protested, “You’re not dancing with the beat!”

Big A. and I burst into laughter again. He refrained from saying, “That’s MY kid.”

This trip is going to be fun!