Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Ok?" and Indecision

The other day I was at a child's birthday party. Halfway through the party, when the kids were in the thick of playing, one of the mothers turned to her 3 year old and said, "Aubrey, we are going to leave in a minute so you can go to dance, ok?" The child's face reddened and her eyes welled with tears. "You want to go to dance, don't you? It's your last class!"

Kids raced around the girl. "I don't know," she said. She looked around the room, looked at her mom, threw her little hands into the air, "I DON'T KNOW!" and stormed away.

Over the next 20 minutes, I watched them have this same conversation 3 more times (they didn't leave early).

Not long ago I read an article in a parenting magazine about parents' tendency to tack "ok?" at the end of statements. We do it to include the kids, or, most often, because we feel indecisive ourselves (when it is clearly time to go, we don't usually ask our children how they feel about it). But the "ok?" turns a our assertions into choices, which, though they may sound nicer, throws everyone into a noncommittal state -- the parent isn't firmly the parent, the child isn't simply the child, the plans are loose -- there are no rocks.

This all seemed pretty as I watched that woman at the party (easy to see things in other people, isn't it?) waffle between wanting to stay herself and feeling they should leave... So instead, no one decided, they stayed, and no one had fun.

Oh, indecision.

Much of the day consists of decisions: Do I let Eden chew on those beads that were probably made in China? Do I let Silas have the cookie he's begging for? Do we walk to the park or drive to the library? Do I let Eden scream in her bed for 20 more minutes because she needs a nap or do I get her up because she's miserable? Do I sit Silas on the steps because he's knocked Eden on her face (once again) or come up with some other punishment? Do I take Silas to the museum with his friends and skip Eden's morning nap or stay home because she needs it? Do I pay for a babysitter and have a few hours to myself or have special time with Silas while Eden sleeps? Etc. And much of the time I don't know which choice is best (but definitely will later), or I know what is best but feel torn, myself, or bound by what I think I "should" do.

Whatever the reason, it's easy to pass the buck to the kid, even when (and especially when?) we have the best intentions.

So today I'm going to try to listen to myself, listen for that little friendly-sounding "ok?" and for snags of my own indecision that I need to square away first.

Now I'm off to make popcorn and go to the park with some kids from Silas's class. He's still lying in bed feeling grumpy and sleepy after waking up from his nap. I won't ask him if he wants to go...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

This Side of Parenting

I am sitting in a house of noxious fumes -- I came home from walking Silas to school and found that a plastic baby food tub had fallen into the depths of the dishwasher to burn and melt.
I've opened all the windows in hopes that Eden's little braincells will stay intact.

It's funny being on this side of parenting.

As a kid at Christmastime, one of my favorite projects was making ornaments: we would set those short, plastic punch cups upside down on the counter, puncture holes in the bottoms, (color them? i can't remember that part), put them in the hot toaster oven, and wait. We'd stare through the glass and watch the heat soften and torque the plastic until the cups melted into shiny rippled doughnuts we could hang... I remember learning this somewhere (church? school? a friend's house?) and teaching my mom. She was a good sport...

Another fun activity in my house was stair sledding. My brothers and I would pull an old crib mattress from the garage, climb up to where the stairs turned the corner, pile on the mattress and FLY -- slick plastic against carpet -- into the middle of the front hall. When the plastic finally ripped and the mattress foam slowed us down, my mom helped us put it in a garbage bag so we could keep racing. I have no idea how often we did this, but I remember it as a thrilling regular occurrence that happened mostly when my dad was out of town. I also remember its constantly being interrupted by someone falling down the stairs without the mattress; someone hitting the wall, the railing, the table near the bottom of the stairs, a brother; arguments about whose turn it was ETC. and this also not being a deterrent.

It's funny being on this side of parenting.

Will I keep an old crib mattress? Will I let my kids destroy it? Will I allow Silas and Eden to rocket down the stairs into each other and various stationary objects? At bedtime? When the fun is over will I find a trash bag to help them start it up again?

I hope so.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What Happens When I’m Responsible For Only Myself…

If there is one thing I’ve practiced the past few years, it’s efficient travel. I know how to move three of us out of the house in hours; I know what to gather, to sort, to carry on, to stow away; I know what we will miss if we leave it behind and about the unexpected necessities. Though I often leave the wake of a whirlwind through the house (sorry, Ben), the bags are organized to a T and logistics are seamless.

I can think of only 2 times in the last 3 years that I have flown without a child in tow (or on hip, or in stroller). And today makes #3. I spent yesterday laying wool sweaters on my bed, doing laundry, rounding up boots, scarves, gloves ONLY for me – no onesies, no sipply cups, no play dough, just magazines, books, a journal, a laptop, a few squares of chocolate to carry on.

My Mom arrived in California this morning to take care of the kids while Ben is at work (bless her!!) , and multiple times she commented on how relaxed I was, taking both the packing and the leaving children in stride. Yes, I thought, everything is squared away and I am relaxed.

Only after driving through chilly sunshine to the airport, zipping my credit card through the kiosk, and checking one bag, did I discover how relaxed I truly was traveling alone – I had brought no ID. The one essential item for travel, I didn’t bring.

Wheeling my enormous bag (yes, I’m only going for 3 nights and have the same bag I use to pack for 2 weeks. And it’s almost full), I ran to the escalator, outside across two streets to the taxi stand and dove in a car. We have to hurry. The driver tore down the road, weaving through traffic like we were in an arcade. We hit 70 on a surface street and hardly slowed down to grab my passport from my mom standing on the curb outside my house. He made a mad u-turn across 4 lanes of traffic and drove like the world was ending back to the airport. In retrospect, I should have tipped him more …

I hurried back to the desk, checked my bag, stood in the security line, and was on the other side with 25 minutes to spare. Whew.

At my gate I saw red letters flashing on the screen – DELAYS. The ever-so-friendly goateed man at the counter told me my flight was actually DIRECT (a welcome surprise that explained why I only got one boarding pass!) and that the flight was going to board 45 minutes late … Glory! I could get the mocha I’d been craving all day and settled in for a warm-beverage-ed time of solitude.

As I sat sipping the whipped cream, I suddenly heard my name over the loudspeaker, but not the loudspeaker above my head at Gate 4, but some other speaker: PASSENGER NEWCOTT PLEASE COME TO GATE FIVE FOR FINAL BOARDING FOR LAS VEGAS. Gate 5? Las Vegas? Ohhhhhh. Las VEGAS, the city where MY flight changed planes. ohhhhh…

So with ZERO time to spare I boarded my plane (they were again reading my name over the PA onboard) with my little paper cup and headed to Vegas where I would catch my flight to Chicago. Why do I have only one boarding pass? I can’t tell you, but hopefully I get to Chicago and let you know from there…

Monday, February 09, 2009

Thoughts on a Poem

I first read this poem in the New Yorker, then months later heard Galway Kinnell read it himself. I waited and waited for his book Strong Is Your Hold to come out so I could hold the poem, myself, and read it again.

It struck me as perfectly told -- the cake, the quick movement of disaster, the child's outrage, the humor, the entreaty years later. I was so thrilled with how he sculpted the story that I didn't even focus on the emotions woven throughout it. I was pregnant with my first child at the time.

When finally I bought the book, I read the poem to my mother on the floor of the guest room as I packed my suitcase and was taken aback by her reaction -- she quieted and withdrew and said something like, "oh, how many times we parents do that." Moment moved on to moment, and I never asked her about her reaction, though I have often thought of it.

Now Silas is nearly 3. When he becomes stern or earnest I often can't suppress a smile or even a little laugh. His sincerity is so sweet, his offences so unexpected. But each time he immediately looks into my face and says, "Nooo, don't LAUGH!"

Now I understand the poem, the heart of it in stanza 5. I understand how our jobs, above all, are to protect, to defend, to honor and to see.

It All Comes Back
-Galway Kinnell

We placed the cake, with its four unlit candles
poked into thick frosting, on the seat
of his chair at the head of the table
for just a moment while Ines and I unfolded
and spread Spanish cloth over Vermont maple.

Suddenly he left the group of family,
family friends, kindergarten mates, and darted
to the table, and just as someone cried No, no!
Don't sit!
he sat down right on top of his cake
and the room broke into groans and guffaws.

Actually, it was pretty funny, all of us
were yelping our heads off, and actually
it wasn't in the least funny. He ran to me
and I picked him up but I was still laughing,
and in indignant fury he hooked his thumbs

into the corners of my mouth, grasped
my cheeks, and yanked -- he was so muscled
and so outraged I felt he might rip
my whole face off. Then I realized
that was exactly what he was trying to do.

And it came to me: I was one of his keepers.
His birth and the birth of his sister
had put me on earth a second time,
with the duty this time to protect them
and to help them to love themselves.

And yet here I was, locked in solidarity
with a bunch of adults against my own child,
heehawing away, all of us, without asking
if, underneath, we weren't striking back, too late,
at our own parents, for their humiliation of us.

I gulped down my laughter and held him and
apologized and commiserated and explained and then
things were set right again, but to this day it remains
loose, this face, seat of superior smiles,
on the bones, from that hard yanking.

Shall I publish this story from long ago
and risk embarrassing him? I like it
that he fought back, but what's the good,
now he's thirty-six, in telling the tale
of that mortification when he was four?

Let him decide. Here are the three choices.
He can scratch his slapdash check mark,
which makes me think of the rakish hook
of his old high school hockey stick,
in whichever box applies:

[ ] Tear it up.
[ ] Don't publish it but give me a copy.
[ ] OK, publish it, on the chance that somewhere someone
survives of all those said to die miserably every day for lack
of the small clarifications sometimes found in poems.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Eden's First Haircut

Today I cut Eden's hair for the first time. Which pretty much means she now has straight hair.
Silas, grumpy from his nap, walked outside to us just as I was finishing and having a flash of buyer's remorse:

Silas! I gave Eden a haircut!
I think it's too short!!
It is.

He then turned to the little pile of hair beside her on the ground, cocked his head and said,
How we gonna get that back on?

Milli Vanilli -- Surprises

Just Goes to Show You Never Know What the Day Will Bring (published on Modern Parents)

Last time I was in DC, my mom and I dug up the audio cassette tapes of my siblings and me talking when we were toddlers. And after hearing Silas on the phone recently, I realized that I usually miss how cute and baby-ish his words sound because I'm focused on the complexity of his sentences and the actual communication. Yesterday, UPS appeared on our doorstep with a cassette player for Silas from my mom. He was beside himself. The blank tapes she sent, however, ended up in a separate box (that still hasn't arrived) so it was a little like Christmas morning without batteries. For some inexplicable reason, though, I remembered having recently seen a cassette tape in the fruit bowl (side note: we have no tape player and never ever listen to tapes -- why there was one in my fruit bowl? I just can't answer that). Enter Milli Vanilli. Apparently, babies and toddlers alike LOVE Milli Vanilli. Eden danced for the first time. Silas jumped around with his hands tucked into his armpits like some kind of bird. My neighbor came over. We sang "Girl You Know it's True," "Blame it on the Rain," "Baby don't Forget my Number." Loudly. And, for an afternoon, Milli Vanilli was resurrected.

Blogs from The Modern Parents

So since I've felt an identity crisis in trying to blog in two places at once, I am cutting and pasting my entries from The Modern Parents here (blog patrol, I hope this is legit since I am declaring the double posting!) in reverse chronological order:

Why 2 Year Old's Don't Chew Gum (or Shouldn't) Print E-mail
Monday, 02 February 2009 08:57

Silas, thanks to his grandparents, has discovered gum. Gumballs. Sticks of gum. Squares of gum. Gum.
The first few times he tried it, he chewed chewed chewed chewed chewed swallowed his teeny little piece before I even had the chance to ask him how he liked it. Then upon threat of being cut off from gum all together because of too much swallowing, Silas started spitting his gum in trashcans, smearing it on paper, or handing his little slobbery pieces to me.

Yesterday, Ben handed a piece of gum back to Silas in the backseat (he has learned to chew longer). About 10 minutes later:
Silas, where's your gum?
I don't know.
Is it in your mouth?
No, it isn't.
Did you swallow it?
No, I didn't.
Did you spit it out?
Yes, I think I did.
Where did you spit it?
I don't know.
Did you spit it into the car?
I'm not sure.
Did you spit it in your hand?
I don't think so.
Did you throw it on the floor??
I don't know. I spit it out.
I don't really know, Dada.

As soon as we parked, Ben got out of the car and lifted Silas out like a stiff little statue:
Don't move, Silas.
Ben frisked him. Shook out his clothes. Looked on all sides of the new booster seat. The seat of the car. The floor of the car.
Where did you put your gum, Silas?
I don't know.

An hour later, we got back in the car. As I situated Silas in his booster, he kept squirming and pulling on the back of his shorts:
What's the problem Silas?
What is?
My leg.
I looked at the leg of his shorts and didn't see anything, so I felt inside for something that was poking him.
And there was something. Something pasting a patch of his shorts to his leg. There was sticky mashed gum in the leg of his shorts.
And it may be there forever. And only tonight -- a full night and day later -- did the gum start to come off his skin...
Inauguration: A Part though Apart Print E-mail
Monday, 02 February 2009 08:51
Being from Washington, I've always taken Inaugurations for granted. They happen in January. In the cold. There is no election-like result. There is a crowd on the Mall. A slow parade. A train of armored cars. A swearing in. The President-elect & First Lady venture out to wave to crowds for brief moments. And then people go home.

Though this election made history, I somehow overlooked the fact that Inauguration would too. All I'd thought about was traveling alone with two babies, braving jet lag 3 weeks after just readjusting to California time, managing napless babies in the below freezing weather downtown, owning no winter coat, and schlepping back across the country alone again two days later.

But the week before Inauguration, it finally hit me -- millions in DC, Obama taking office, history in action -- INAUGURATION!! And I couldn't believe I was staying home. My high school friends plotted their walk for miles downtown to brave the masses and witness the day. My family dug out ski clothes to bundle up and watch the parade perched from a terrace a block from the White House. And I -- well I had no plans, not even with my husband who was going to be traveling. I gazed and gazed at the $700 tickets on Expedia...

Tuesday morning arrived. Still half heart-sick, I flipped on Washington rather than Diego (to Silas's dismay) and settled on the living room floor. Immediately, as I watched people crowd the Mall with gusto and the former Presidents file in, Silas started singing "Old McDonald", 3 inches away from my ear. I strained to hear Vice President Biden take his oath as Eden yelled and Silas pulled away toys. And as Silas squirmed and wriggled, trying to get comfortable on my lap, I watched President Obama take his oath, a standing testimony of such possibility and hope.

As I sat there listening to Obama speak about working to the bones for the future generations, I tried to tell Silas what a day this is, that dreams have come true, that Obama is our president. And it dawned on me as Silas nodded and rolled around the floor that I was sitting with two little drops of the next generation. And as we cheered with maracas and jingle bells, I realized that though I would have loved to be bundled up walking through the city sharing the thrilling morning, this moment in the living room, struggling to hear the television between shushings and scoldings, laughing at the absurdity of the commotion, I, like so many Americans gathered around televisions and radios, computers and car stereos, with tears in my eyes, was a part of it.
Our Family's New Year's Journal Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 January 2009 21:29
Before we got married, Ben and I met with Cary and Andrew, an older couple who mentored us. I know we talked about money, faith, families, expectations and lots of other stuff, but I don't remember that well. What I most remember is Cary's telling us about their family's New Year's book -- we started our own that year, and it's one of my favorite traditions.

The first week of every January (if not New Year's day), Ben and I sit down with our New Year's Journal and calendar and together recap the past year. We break our entry into categories and use mostly bullet points. Our categories: Trips, Visits, Highs and Lows, Family news, People (whom we socialized with),Trends (world news; TV shows we watch; music; the latest technology; gas, milk, house etc. prices; fashion), Books we read, Goals for next year. And this year we added height and weight (for Silas and Eden).

I love that our kids will have such a vivid glimpse into our years before they were born. And I love that we have a book that holds the sketch story of our years together. I hope when we're 80, we have a shelf of New Year's Journals for our kids and grandkids to page through.
Snow Day
Print E-mail
Wednesday, 07 January 2009 08:22
No snow in DC this Christmas, though we had practically promised Silas he'd see some. This morning, bleary and jet-lagged back in California, we woke in the semi-dark to cold foggy rain -- snow in the mountains? And after omelets and coffee with friends, we packed a bag full of sweatshirts and started to drive" to the mountains" (wherever that was exactly). As we pulled onto the freeway, Ben busily typed things like ""where to go for snow in Orange County" in his blackberry, and with a little GPS suction-cupped to the windshield, we headed northeast, following a winding orange line on the screen.

An hour later we winded our way up a piny mountain, glimpsing patchy snow above us. At the top of the road, we pulled over and piled out. With no mittens, boots, or coats, but wearing lots of sweatshirts, hats, and running shoes, we slipped our way to the icy snow. Silas started running.

Getting a sled never occurred to us, but standing at the foot of a towering hill, nothing would have been better. Magically we found a big plastic storage bin lid someone had tossed -- it was perfect! As we took turns bumping down the snow between jutting rocks, Silas squealed and squealed, his little pink face shining with the thrill of his first icy snow.

When the cold had sunk into our clothes (which didn't take long), we got back in the car and drove down to a little snack hut run by a big man who yelled at all his customers and got hot chocolates. I hadn't had a cup of Swiss Miss -- half powdery mix and half water -- for so many years. The second I tasted it, I was 8 years old, standing at the edge of the ice skating rink in my pink and green coat, my blades wobbling on the rubber mat, watching the Zamboni.

And though Silas was overloaded with grandparent cookie-candy-chocolate-lucky charm love all vacation, I felt so happy, standing on the dirty packed snow, watching him teeter along the ice with his cup tipped to his mouth, practically blocking his sight, that he was here in the cold, sipping swiss miss.

I Am, “That Mom” Print E-mail
Sunday, 21 December 2008 16:00
We've done a lot of shopping lately with Christmas around the corner. This week Silas and I were in a paper store where the walls are lined with racks of colorful handmade papers, and there are breakable vases and Christmas ornaments high and low. Silas knows this store well and to the dismay of the people working there, usually goes right to the shelves of loose pens, plucks them from their cubbyholes and plays "the matching game." He really is quite good at putting the pens back where they belong, so I always leave him quietly to play.

The day we were there, I was preparing to teach an art class so I had to focus on purchasing. After a while, I noticed Silas drift to another area of the store, but didn't pay much attention. It wasn't until I heard a sales woman saying, "come out of there!" that I tuned in to see Silas thrashing around inside a bin of $90 jumbo stuffed bears. Rather than whisking him out, scolding him, and marching out of the store, I vaguely shooed him out of the box and asked him to come stand near-ish me while I kept shopping (which meant he climbed right back in). In that flash I realized that I am that mother -! The mother who lets her child go wild in the store and ignores him -! The mother whom I would have shot a horrified look at and judged for her lack of control and discipline -! The mother I would have seen and pledged never to be -! As the realization dawned, I began to think over the evidence:

*We have been to H&M a few times recently and I've taken to letting Silas zip around the store on one of the wheeling stools the sales associates use for stocking high shelves. I know from past experiences that they do NOT like this, but he loves it, and he's occupied.... So I give him free reign catching sight of him whizzing by like a tiny robot, until I finally hear a sales clerk tell him to stop and ask where his mother is. I reclaim him and send him tunneling under the racks of clothes and listen as strangers yelp as he pops out at their feet...

*Last night, however, was an all time low. We were back in H&M. The stool had been huffily reclaimed by a sales associate and Silas and I were in the jewelry department -- the best and worst department for a child. As I was filling my stroller with various scarves and earrings, Silas, who was now wearing a headband he's found, was kneeling on the floor rattling all the long strings of beads together. To be honest, I hadn't even really tuned in to what he was doing, I just knew nothing was being broken, when I heard a sales associate (of course) come over and scold him, snatching the headband and necklaces. What did I do? As soon as I saw that Silas was safe and unfazed, I casually TURNED AROUND and PRETENDED I DIDN'T KNOW HIM!!!

And that was precisely the moment I was positive beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I indeed have become that mother. (And you know what? My Christmas shopping is done! And Silas never broke the U-break-it-U-buy-it rule).