Monthly Archives: May 2009

Tweedledette

            I don’t write much about Lilah, not because I have nothing to say but because what I would write would get awfully boring in no time at all and might make you hate me.  Writing about Zachary’s high sensitivity and social anxiety is interesting.  Benjamin’s rapacity and princess shoes are amusing.  And their attempts at mutual destruction make good copy.  A baby who cries only when tired, eats the food offered, plays by herself for long stretches, and prefers to spend her time beaming at anyone who will acknowledge her?  Who the fuck wants to read about that crap?

            It’s OK if you’re envious.  I would have been, too.  The boys were wonderful babies in their own ways, but no one ever accused them of being easy.  Zachary’s need for perfect order was exhausting, and Benjamin was so loud he would wake up the baby next door.   And they have remain supremely complicated and overwhelming, in large part because they are polar opposites who have been forced by the vagaries of fortune to share not only the same house but the same set of bunk beds.  Even as I sit here, I hear Zach yelling at Benjamin, “Get back in bed!”

            Sister, I have earned this baby.

For Maria, who asked how we are doing

           It is 9:17 PM as I write this.  The boys have been in bed for an hour and a half. Lilah finished nursing almost an hour ago.  The laundry has been hung on racks that I will put out in the sun tomorrow morning.  The dishwasher has been unloaded.  My teeth are brushed and flossed.

            I should be wrapping it up, heading off to bed, as the day will start far too early tomorrow.  I am up before six, pumping my daily five ounces before the children begin to emerge, one by one, from their rooms.  Days are long, even with the au pair’s help, especially when J is out of town.  I have help from a lovely young woman, but I am all the parent available for three small people who very much need parenting. 

            Lilah – so very attached to me right now.  Does she have hearing problems, or is she not yet babbling because I never get a chance to talk or sing to her?  Did she start crawling at 5 months because we kept putting her down and she had to find something to do to entertain herself?

           Benjamin, who has generously rediscovered his mother’s existence.  Potty training is going as well as can be expected, if by “well” you mean “sucking all the life out of our au pair and me without showing any results.”  And, he is almost three but cannot recognize any letters because, well, I have not taken the time because who would I be taking it from? 

           Zachary.  Oh, my.  Where did that mean streak come from?  The one that had phrases like “I am never going to play with you” and “you are stupid” tripping off of your tongue.  And where did it go, somewhere around 12:28 this afternoon?  How did you suddenly earn yourself five stickers in one day? 

           The one would be reading by now, if I just spent a little more time having him read every day.  The other would know his letters if I took fifteen minutes to help him.  The baby would be babbling if she got more conversation.

           Yet, when the youngest two are down for their naps, I often take a nap myself, leaving Zachary to be read to by or do art with our au pair.  I am just so tired.  Or, when all is calm, I prep for dinner dinner, sort the laundry, work on an article… pick your poison… instead of giving the one-on-one parenting moment each of them needs.

           Somehow, though, Benjamin has learned to count objects well, which seems kind of late compared to his brother, but I think he knew how to do it for awhile but just hadn’t found anything he felt much like counting.  And, he is consistently recognizing a few letters, although I don’t remember teaching that to him.

           Lilah, it seems, has finally started in on the D sound.  Not that her brothers are ever going to give her time to talk.

           And Zachary.  My little man.  When I wasn’t looking he reached the end of preschool, and he graduates in two weeks.  He will have to leave behind the teacher who has buoyed him ever since we moved to Los Angeles.  He will be thrown into more complex social situations without the support that has strengthened him.  He will have to meet all new children, follow all new routines.  I think he knows and it scares the living shit out of him, but he gamely practices the songs for graduation.

           This afternoon, I read Benjamin two books and played the drive-the-fire-truck-to-the-letter game.  I praised Zachary for good behavior and talked through a problem he had.  But I had to leave Lilah on the floor playing by herself to do so.

          And tomorrow?  One of the boys will get less of me than he would like.  But, now it is 9:39, and I really ought to be getting to sleep.

Behavior Modification

Thank you all for your feedback yesterday.  It was incredibly helpful and I am grateful.  I have a post up over at L.A. Moms’ Blog about one method of discipline that I have found to be particularly effective.  Please go take a look.

Cain and his brother

            Among the pearls of wisdom I wish to impart to my eldest child is the following: when you are among the smallest in your class, hyper-verbal, overly sensitive to other people’s opinion of you, and weigh only slightly more than your mother’s flip-flips, it is not particularly smart to taunt another child, particularly one who resembles a Mack Truck with hair. 

           Wait.  I don’t have to teach Zach that lesson.  His younger brother is taking care of it for me, one injury at a time.

            Zachary, you see, has a damned road map to his brother’s buttons, and he delights in nothing so much as pushing them. 

            “You can’t play with those,” he snaps, to which Benjamin replies, “I want it!”

            “You’re a baby,” he taunts, to which Benjamin replies, “I not a baby; you a baby.”

            “I had it first and I’m going to put you in jail and take away all your food and lock you up and then you’ll be dead,” he yells.  At which point Benjamin pokes Zachary in the eye with the stick for playing the triangle.  (The triangle is no longer playable in our home, due to the confiscation of said stick.)

            J frets about this, but I reassure him that it is normal.  Siblings fight, I tell him.  We have to let them work it out themselves, I sagely intone.

            Lately, however, I am starting to think maybe it is beyond acceptable in our house.  It seems we get an awful lot of surprised stares as Zachary comes into preschool with yet another black eye or lump on his head.  “How did you get that bruise?” the teacher asks.  It seems that by this point she could cut out the chit-chat and just ask, “What did your brother do to you this time?”

            (Although, in fairness to Benjamin, the first black eye was totally Zachary’s fault, as he fell off a stool while playing Go Fish and hit himself on the corner of a table.  Go Fish is now considered a contact sport in our house.)

            Zach whales on his brother plenty, don’t get me wrong.  While it is usually Zach starting it and Ben finishing it, sometimes it is the other way around.  And while Benjamin acts out of frustration, Zach has the finely tuned cruelty of an older sibling. 

            I worry because Benjamin is getting in the habit of resorting to physical violence, which does not help our efforts to keep him from shoving the other children in the preschool.  I worry because it feels like kids shouldn’t end up in tears this frequently.  And I really worry because one day, one of these kids could end up really hurt.

            God help us if I ever decide I need to start blow-drying my hair.

            So, I guess I’m asking you all: at what point is it out of hand?  When do we have to worry?  How much fighting is normal between siblings?

            In the meantime, rest assured: we never leave Lilah alone in the room with them.  And if we do, we arm her with a toy school bus.

Announcing

My brand new book review blog, Edge of the Page.  Please go check out my first review (and let me know if there’s anything you want me to review.)  Thanks to Brigid for the blog name.

I think the apostrophe should come after the S

            Friday was the Mothers’ Day celebration at the boys’ preschool, which meant that I scored myself a heart pin with rhinestones, a beaded necklace that Benjamin continually told me he had made for me while at the same time insisting he wanted it, a card Ben’s teachers had made and a card on which Zach had written “I love you Mommy, Zachary,” a keychain with my eldest child’s name on it, and a puppet that was supposed to look like me.  That last was wearing an awful lot of jewelry, so it was really Bling Emily, and Zach’s teacher confided that he had informed her, “My mommy doesn’t wear jewelry.”  I guess he was hoping I’d take the hint and learn to accessorize.

            All in all, a mighty fine haul. 

            The bummer about the day is that the school combines Teacher Appreciation Day with Mothers’ Day, as though they can just sort of glom all the women in these children’s lives together.  The “Buddies” get their own day, the “Grand-pals” get their own day, but mothers and teachers don’t really do all that much, so we have to share our day.

            The first part of the event is an assembly for Shabbat and Teacher Appreciation.  Come to think of it, that means the mothers are actually sharing the day with both the teachers and God, who frankly gets plenty of attention as it is.  At any rate, the Rabbi and the other Rabbi were up front, leading a large crowd of mothers, children and teachers in the service, although “leading” is a dubious term when dealing with a hundred preschoolers.  Zach sat next to me and Ben sat on my lap, an arrangement that made me rather nervous, given the hit-or-miss nature of the child’s potty training.  Next to me there was an empty seat.  Gil, a little friend of Zach’s, sat on the other side, continually turning about and craning his neck to look at the entrance.

            “Your mommy is coming,” I told him.  “It’s just hard to find parking out there.”  I looked back at the entrance, noticing a family seated a little behind me to my right.  All four children were there, as were both of their parents.  There was, however, no mother.  Because these children, although they have two parents, have no mother. 

            I don’t remember how I felt about events like these when I was a preschooler, sitting there without a mother while those around me cuddled in the maternal lap.  As I grew older, though, I was bitter about the assumption that everyone has a loving mother and a father.  I felt marginalized by the institutionalization of the family model.  This past Friday, I wondered how those four children felt at the Mothers’ Day assembly.  Was it different for them than it was for me because they have (to all appearances) a happy home and two parents, even if neither of those parents is a woman? 

            Sure enough, a few minutes in, Gil’s mother arrived, and he settled down, assured that he had the Mommy required for the Mothers’ Day event.

             It is not uncommon for me, this vacillation between assuming a certain status in my children’s lives because I am their mother and resenting the whole Cult of Traditional Families that oozes through every event I attend.  I can’t even define “mother,” because the truth is that there are biological mothers and adoptive mothers and foster mothers and people who mother who are not female and bad mothers and do they get to be called mothers because they aren’t mothering but they begot the child.  Yet I am such a plain-vanilla, easily-defined-as mother that I am loathe to give up the built-in recognition for the sake of the children with families that are not so clear-cut, such as the one that tore me into little pieces.

              Who shows up for Mothers’ Day when there is no mother?  In an ideal world, is there always someone mothering?  And what the hell does that mean, exactly?  Was my abusive step-mother closer to a mother than either of those two Dads sitting a little behind me to my right, simply by virtue of being a woman?  That sure as shit doesn’t make any sense.

               They occupied a moment, these doubts, and then we moved on to the brunch downstairs, where I got all teary in Zachary’s four-year-old room as he sang the sappy songs with the hand motions and in Benjamin’s two-year-old room as he stared blankly at the ceiling while all the girls sang the sappy songs with the hand motions.  And when we got home, I went to get my hair cut (it looks fabulous – check out my About page) as a little Mothers’ Day treat for myself.  After all, I have no mother to buy for and no mother who will think of me on this day.

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                Most of the time, I wander about, any old mama in a sea of other mamas.  On Saturday, we went to another event.  I had been invited because I am apparently part of the New Media (a relief, since the old media doesn’t want me).  I am getting solicitations to review crap here on my blog, despite the fact that anyone looking at this place for twelve seconds will realize that I don’t even carry ads.  I won’t try to sell shit to my readers, but I am more than happy to bring my family to your promotional concert, because I’m cheap as hell and times are hard. 

               We arrived late because we have three kids and simply going to the toilet and putting on shoes before leaving takes fifteen minutes.  The concert had already begun, so I sat in the back in the shade with the kids where I could assess whether my new haircut was within the category of all the other mothers about my age.  Betcha didn’t know I was so insecure.

               The singer was doing a little number about a kid who eats way too much ice cream, resulting in the requisite giggles from the under-seven crowd.  (And yes, I did like the songs, mostly because I am sick to death of children’s musicians who seem intent upon appealing to the adults as well, while Debi Derryberry sings songs the children actually understand without asking 72 questions.  They gave us a CD on the way out, for which I am incredibly grateful, as my children have kept me on a steady Peter and the Wolf, Dame Edna version diet for the past two weeks.)  There were chocolate covered bananas and fruit-kabobs, all meant to tie in to the theme of the Flying Banana puppet that Debi conversed with throughout the concert, which was really much less annoying that it sounds, although both of my sons now want a banana puppet.

               The whole thing was impossibly cute and well-rehearsed.  Except.  There was one moment, right near the end, when Debi mentioned something about “your moms and dads.”  We all do it.  Hell, I even do it, and I, of all people, ought to be more sensitive to the fact that not everyone is the Cleavers.  No one would have thought twice, but that perky little performer in her orange pants and teal top caught herself.  “And your grown-ups,” she added, stumbling a bit as she said, “We have so many wonderfully diverse families here today.”

               You had me at “hello,” lady.  You want to know how to get props here at Wheels on the Bus?  All it takes is recognition that one size does not fit all. 

              As we headed back to the car, the kids were worn out and whiny.  Lilah was wearing strawberries all over her face, and Zach had a drip from a chocolate-covered banana straight down his shirt as he clutched the gift bag and the card with the singer’s signature.  And Benjamin insisted, “I want Peter Wolf.”

               The definition of a mother?  I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I reached over and turned on Dame Edna.

Name that blog

Yesterday, I reached in my back pocket and pulled out a British coin.  That’s because I hadn’t worn those trousers since we lived in London.  Which is my way of saying I am fitting into clothes that I last wore before I got pregnant with Lilah.  Either the breastfeeding is starting to pay off or the flu I had two weeks ago had some side benefits.

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I am going to start a book review blog.  It’s going to be super cool because I will be writing about books in much the same way I write about everything else.  So, it might be just a little irreverent or edgy and certainly won’t be anything you’d find in the NY Times (sad to say, because I’d love to be found in the NY Times).  But, I need a name for this blog.  So, please, tell me what to call my book review blog.  Think of a kickin’ title, because I suck at titles (except for the article I wrote about Dreiser’s anxiety about the theater, which I titled “Performance Anxiety” — that was a good title.)