Tag Archives: parenting

County Fair

We went to the county fair this weekend because now that we’re living in the middle of nowhere, we do shit like that.  That’s sort of the point of living in the middle of nowhere, come to think of it.

First we took a hayride.  For some reason – perhaps because I was raised in sterile suburbs – I always pictured the hayride as an event that involved a horse.  Unfortunately, every hayride I encounter seems to consist of breathing in tractor exhaust while bits of straw poke into my thighs.

Whatever.  The kids loved it.  Plus, I gave them peaches to eat on it.

“I think if you live in New Jersey and you’re taking a hayride in July, you sort of need to eat peaches,” I said.

“Why?” asked one of my progeny.

“Because New Jersey is famous for peaches.”

“I thought that was Georgia,” mumbled my husband.

“No, silly.  Georgia has peanuts,” four-year-old Benjamin corrected.  Clearly, the ten bucks I spent on the U.S. States map is money well-spent.

We split up for the next event.  The boys are old enough that fire trucks no longer amuse them, so I took Lilah to sit in the fire truck while J took the boys to the hay maze.

If I may interrupt myself here for a moment, I’d like to comment that I love that I have a toddler who insists on wearing a “dess,” is obsessed with trains, and wants to be a firefighter when she grows up.  My daughter rocks.  I’m just sayin’.

We met back up with the gentlemen over by the baby chick station.  Benjamin was already inside, sitting cross-legged and holding a little chick.  I was a bit concerned he’d pull a Lennie, but he was holding it very gently.  Erring on the side of caution, I held Lilah’s for her while she stroked it with a finger.

Zachary, ever my animal husbandrist, freaked out the minute J put the chick in his hands and quickly exited to the hay maze, where he ran around with the kid he had met 3 minutes before and was now best friends with, even though they didn’t know each other’s names.

Lilah willingly put the chick back after a few minutes and we went out to look at the ducks.  J convinced Benjamin to put his chick back, too, but the minute they stepped out of the cage, he got this pathetically mournful look on his face and we let him go back in for another chick-fondling session.

“Chick-fondling session.”  That’s gonna mean something very different in a few years, isn’t it?

When he finally came out, he made a beeline for the baby calves, where he sat for five minutes stroking the white and brown one through the fence.  I was starting to worry we’d never get the hell out of that tent.  Fortunately, there were no more baby animals to be found, so after grossing Mommy out in the slimy snake section, we moved on to the small animal tent.

I was all for the cute little bunnies and the hamsters and even the chickens.  But, folks, I gotta tell you, I could have done without my son stroking a rat.  For a very long time.  On two separate occasions.

When we finally got Dr. Doolittle’s hands cleaned, it was time for the children’s watermelon-eating contest.  Now, my oldest son survives on air and water, and my youngest child takes her time eating, but Benjamin, oh Benjamin.  My middle child is made for the competitive-eating circuit.

We’re trying to train him up for the Nathan’s hotdog eating contest.  There just aren’t enough Jewish hotdog-eating champions.

The teenagers who ran the contest were joking about whether any of our kids would win.  After all, there were some pretty big kids there.  “Look,” I said, “he’s a ringer.”

Now, Benjamin did not win.  However, he sat there, poised to grab his melon the minute the contest started.  And he went at it like a champion.  Say what you will about my kid – he has heart.  He was absolutely determined to win, and he stayed focused on the task at hand.  When he stuffed too much in his mouth, he refused to spit it out because – damn it all – he was gonna win fair and square.

He managed to eat four pieces in the time the teenager next to him finished seven.  A teenager three times his weight.  I had to convince him that he had won for the four-year-olds or he would have eaten the entire seven pieces, which means he most likely would have thrown up the entire seven pieces.

Kobayashi better watch his ass, is all I’m sayin’.

By this point, Benjamin’s clothes were completely covered in watermelon.  I had stripped Lilah to her diaper, which was a good call, because she was also sticky from head to foot.

We’re going back to the county fair next year.  But next time, we’re starting Benjamin’s training in March.

And we’re avoiding the rats.

Sweetest thing

I took Benjamin to Toys R Us last week.  We had been there the week before, scouting possible birthday presents, but we hadn’t bought anything. Now, he had filled his sticker chart, and we were off in search of a reward.

“I’m going to get an Iron Man toy,” he told me as we drove through a light drizzle.  “I saw them down the aisle when we were there.”

“Did you?”

“Most people didn’t see them, but I have a sharp eye,” he said.

Because I have a sharp eye, too, I knew that the Iron Man toys were just around the corner from the Appelgate Farms Flocked Pony Set with Dog.  This is the very same pony set he had returned to three times on our last trip, sighing over the beauty of the horses and exclaiming that it came with a little brush for giving the ponies beauty treatments.  I strongly suspected – despite the best laid plans of mice and men – that my son would be leaving Toys R Us with an Appelgate Farms Flocked Pony Set with Dog and not an Iron Man toy.

That’s just how my middle child rolls: half Iron Man, half ponies.

Normally, I wouldn’t get him either cheap crappy horses from China or a plastic violent superhero, but we give a little more latitude with sticker chart rewards.  That’s sort of the point of a reward.

When we pulled into the Toys R Us parking lot, the rain was picking up.  “Mommy, do you have an umbrella?” Ben asked.  “It’s kind of raining.”

“I do, sweetie.”  I got out of the car, opened the umbrella, and then opened his door.  He stepped out, and I handed him the umbrella.

As we turned to walk across the parking lot, he raised the umbrella.  It wasn’t a conscious thought, and he wasn’t trying to do the right thing.  He just saw that I was getting wet, and it was natural to him to try to cover me with the umbrella.

That moment.  That little motion.  That’s how I know – despite his impulse control issues and his tendency to bend the rules and what can only be described as a double dose of testosterone – that Benjamin is going to be just fine.

Happy fourth birthday to my little Iron Man.

And yes, he is now the proud owner of an Appelgate Farms Flocked Pony Set, complete with brush.  He lets his sister play with the dog.

In the clearing stands a boxer

Last week, you may recall, began with the thirty-fifth anniversary of my mother’s death, followed by my agent dumping me, then rounded out by another house falling through while the Train House came back into play.

So what I really didn’t need on Friday was the call from Zachary’s camp director telling me he had gotten into a fistfight.

Awesome.

“As a camp director, I have to tell you that we can’t have hitting at our camp.  As a mother, I have to tell you that he probably did the best thing he could have done for his self-esteem.”  The other kids were teasing him, Zach’s feelings got hurt, and then the fight started.

While at camp, Zach claimed he threw the first punch while the other child insisted he had done it.  By the time I picked him up, however, Zach decided that first the other child had sat on him, so Zach had, in turn, sat on the other child.  “Why didn’t you tell the counselors?” I asked.

“I couldn’t.  He was sitting on me.”  Can’t argue with that.

The good news is that my thirty-five pound almost-six-year-old can defend himself.  The bad news is that he gets in trouble for it.  Now, I don’t like to encourage fighting, so I tell him never to hit first.  When he does hit first, I bring down the wrath of an angry mama upon him.  However, I also tell him that if another kid physically attacks him, he should defend himself.  That is advice I stand by.  Never hit first, but always hit harder.  If everyone followed that coda, we’d have no more fighting.

The camp treats all physical fighting as equal.  I get why, really I do.  But I’m still not teaching my kid to sit there and get pounded until a counselor shows up to rescue him.

Thirty-five years

If you read my post on Saturday, you know that today is the 35th anniversary of my mother’s death.  She died a few weeks before she turned 35, so she has now been dead longer than she was alive.

She missed half a lifetime.

She got the part where she grew up and went to school and got married (to an asshole) and had children.  But she missed the part where they grew up and went to school and got married (to nice men) and had children.

“How do you memorialize that anniversary?” a friend asked.

Well, I took Benjamin to camp at the Y this morning without having to yell at him (OK, just once, but it was a tiny reprimand because he was dropping sofa cushions on his sister).  On the way there, he called out over the music, “Mommy!”

“Yes, Benjamin?”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“Mommy?”

“Yes, Benjamin?”

“I still love you.”

“I still love you, too.”

I brought him into his group rather than doing curbside drop-off, as his sister had swimming right after drop-off.  He kissed me goodbye then scampered to his friends.  Then I took Lilah to the pool, which is her natural habitat.

I held her in the water while she squeezed out the plastic fishie, laughing with delight at the spray it shot out.  I tossed her in the air, held her while she kicked, and giggled with her.

I spent the morning in the moment.  That’s how I memorialized the anniversary.

Now, go.  Go squeeze a plastic fishie with someone you love.

Summer

My first clue that perhaps Zachary was having a rough adjustment to summer camp came last Tuesday – the second day – when I arrived to pick him up.  He was sobbing.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“It’s not fair,” Zach moaned.

The teacher, crouched down in front of him, held a worm made of colorful buttons all strung together.  “He left early,” she was explaining.  “He probably just didn’t look at the nametag and took the wrong one.  We can get it for you tomorrow.”

Zach began to wail.  “I’m never coming back here!”

Next to him at the snack table, a little boy looked on with contempt.  “Why does he always do that?”

It turns out that Zach had actually melted down two other times over the course of the day, once over a ball game and another time because some kid had put the brush for the yellow into the red paint.  Frankly, the paint-induced meltdown clearly was the other child’s fault.  Who would do such a thing?

On the way out, Zach rallied and began showing me the posters of different animals that he had visited on a safari with his group that day.  We’re sending him to this academic camp in hopes he’ll find other like-minded kids who prefer to spend their summers building rockets and learning about gazelles, rather than playing kickball.  This is a kid whose least favorite school subject is recess.  He’d be miserable at a camp focused around athletics.

Of course, at that moment, it pretty much seemed he was miserable even here.

*****

Midday Wednesday, I picked Benjamin up from his half-day camp at the Y.  It stands to reason that the very things that made us reject the Y camp for Zach are precisely what makes Ben so ecstatic to be there.  When I pick him up, he tries to tell me absolutely everything he did that day all in one breath: “MommyImadeapolarbearandwenttotheplaygroundandIwanttomakeapolarbearvillageathome.”  The counselor loading him into the car meanwhile is trying to nudge him into his seat so that the next car can pull up.

We had several hours before I had to get Zachary, and a babysitter was home to mind Lilah during her long afternoon nap.  I have hired regular babysitters for the summer so that I can take Ben out on adventures while his sister sleeps.  He’s feeling neglected lately.  Actually, he feels neglected all the time.  He’s a middle child.

This is the summer to set things right with the kids.  Zach is getting a break from his school peers, hopefully to reduce the social pressure he feels when amongst them.  He has a few weeks when he’ll have no camp but Ben will be at the Y, and he’ll get some focused time then.  Lilah is reveling in her mornings with Mommy, courtesy of her brothers’ camps.  And Benjamin is getting three afternoons a week to party with his mother.

This particular afternoon, I had slated a visit to our local working historical farm.  It has old-fashioned plows and farm animals and whatnot.  It goes without saying that we are members.

Ben rushed forward with verve, first to milk the wooden cow (don’t ask), and then to churn some butter.  Next, he rushed over to the washboard and basins, where he happily spent fifteen minutes washing little squares of cloth and then hanging them on the line.

By this time, it was time to crack corn and then feed the chickens.

Then, we had some time to kill before the highlight of the afternoon – the egg-gathering.  I wanted to go see how big the piglets had gotten since our last visit, but Ben wanted to go over to the giant workhorses.  The horses were standing in the shade next to one another, not moving except for an occasional flick of a fly.  I am pretty sure they were asleep.

“Do you want to go look at the pigs?” I asked after a few minutes.

Ben shook his head and pointed at the horses, uncharacteristically moved beyond words.  He leaned his body up against me and put his arms around my leg.  Most of him has lost the baby fat; he is, after all, on the cusp of four years old.  But his cheeks are still full and butter-soft, and I reached down to stroke one.  We stood there together.  Eventually, we sat down in the grass, him between my legs, leaning against me, watching the horses sleep.

Please, when he is sixteen and I catch him drinking and he shouts at me that he hates me, please, please, let me remember the day my baby boy sat with me at the working historical farm.  Let me remember the feel of his body and the firmness of his baby cheeks.

******

After the egg-gathering, we had to leave to collect Zachary at his camp.  When we walked into the building, Zach was eating snack and chattering away.  “How was his day?” I asked the teacher.

“Wonderful,” she replied.

“Yeah, I figured he had turned a corner,” I told her.  “He woke up this morning excited to come here.”

Zach was sporting a giraffe visor he had made for the next day’s trip to the Bronx Zoo. He was in such a good mood, he didn’t even bother to smack his brother for the crime of coming with me to pick him up.

******

Thursday morning, after we had dispensed with her brothers, Lilah and I went to the local children’s zoo.  She was interested in the peacock and charmed by the gibbons, but it was the cougars who really caught her eye.  She was much taken with them as they paced and wrestled right in front of her.

“Hi, cat!” she kept singing, waving at them.  We stood there for twenty minutes, just watching the giant cats go about their business.  Finally, the cougars got tired and we went off to ogle the little waterfall.  We tried for a pony ride, but she was too young.  Instead, we went over to the petting zoo where – you guessed it – we stood and watched a horse sleep.

The miniature train was our last stop of the morning.  It was late, and Lilah was tired.  She patiently stood in line, not getting upset when we didn’t make the first train because she had no idea she was actually going to be allowed to ride on the train.  When our turn came, she toddled over and wiggled herself onto the seat beside me.  The train began to move through the woods.

All the other children were shouting and exclaiming, but Lilah – ever the lady – sat quietly beside me as we drove past a lake and around a loop.  She leaned into me, the curves of her arms soft against me.

At this moment, on this day, in fact on these two days, all three of the children were happy.  No one was falling apart, no one was anxious or worried or destroying personal property or clamoring for attention.  We were all healthy.

I looked down, watching her perfect baby cheeks curve towards those eyes that intently drank in the passing scenery, willing myself to appreciate these few days, to store them up because synchronicity should be taken for the gift that it is.

Please, when I am ninety-eight years old and I cannot remember what I had for breakfast or where I put my teeth, please, please let me remember sitting on the train with my baby girl at the children’s zoo, watching the woods slide by.  Let me remember the feel of her body and the firmness of her baby cheeks.

****

I love that people are leaving me comments with the things they want to remember.  Please leave a comment with the memories you are hoping to preserve.

Little Auction on the Internet

It’s late at night, and I ought to be going to sleep.  But I am up, haunting Ebay.

I am not one of those Ebay junkies, you must understand.  In fact, only tonight have I even registered on the site.  It is my very first visit to the place.  I have heard of it for years, of course, but I never really wanted anything badly enough to bother.

So, what has brought me here tonight?  Why am I eschewing sleep to spend forty-five minutes competing for items on this website?

I am looking for a Little House on the Prairie dollhouse for my son, who wants one for his sixth birthday.  Now, mind you, he also wants a wii, but we’ve made it clear we do not think that is an appropriate item for a small child.  So, instead, I am trying to find a Little House dollhouse.

I cannot find one, unfortunately, although there are some fantastic other items.  I bid on a Little House calendar for his wall, but I have no idea how the site works and am unlikely to check back in a few days from now to see if I need to up my bid.  Then I see them.  Trading cards.  Little House trading cards.  For sale, not auction.  Of course, they are in Spanish, but no matter.  He won’t care, and he will likely spend hours in his tiny little room, arranging and rearranging those cards on his bedspread.  I doubt I’ll be able to wait till his birthday to give them to him, and they’ll probably be his next sticker chart reward.

I think we’ve dodged the wii bullet for at least a few more months.

Kiss me and smile for me

Long-time readers – which means anyone who has been here longer than three weeks – will recall that we moved here from Los Angeles in order to slow our lives down and find some peace.  My husband was travelling constantly, the kids didn’t see him, he was exhausted, and I was stressed.  J found a new job in a new place.

Surprisingly, it has worked.  My husband is home for dinner.  In the mornings, we take turns working out.  He is a present father and a happier man.  I am getting a little time to work, and the children are clearly feeling more secure, despite the stress of moving.

Unfortunately, J did have three week-long business trips over the course of May and June.  That’s it for the summer, which is a drastic improvement over the days when he was gone five days a week.

Zach has never been particularly fazed by his father’s travel.  He misses his father, but he has always invested most of his emotional capital into me.  Both boys grew up with Daddy travelling constantly, and Zach’s response has been to simply rely on Mommy.

Benjamin’s response has always been to fall apart.  Which he did continually back when J travelled all the time.

These three trips have been so hard on Ben, who feels things deeply. He refuses to talk to his father on the phone.  He hits me.  He gets out of bed at night, looking for reassurance.  I can’t get him back to sleep.  After two nights of this, I equipped him with a picture of his father to sleep with.

I try to keep my temper, but his emotional outbursts are very difficult to deal with, and it doesn’t help that I’m constantly changing sheets because Daddy’s absence seems to equal bedwetting.

Last night, putting him to bed, I stroked his hair.  “Do you think you can be a good boy for me and try to settle down nicely tonight?”  Translation: please don’t flail about, kick the wall, throw things at your sister, and play with the blinds.  To be honest, he does those things when his father is not travelling, as well.

“I know you miss Daddy,” I told him.  “I miss Daddy, too.”  He lay there silently, but after a minute, I saw a very quiet tear coming down his almost-four-year-old nose.

“Oh, sweetie, are you crying?”  He nodded and then the tears started coming faster.  “Baby, he misses you so much too.  He looks at pictures of you all the time and wants to be here with you.  He’ll be back in a few more days, and then he won’t have any more trips for a long time.”  At this point, the child was openly weeping, head in pillow, sobbing for his Daddy.

I sat there for a time, stroking Ben’s head, until he slowed down.  “Where’s my little flashlight?” he asked.

I found the flashlight on the dresser and handed it to him.  “Just please don’t flash it in Lilah’s eyes, OK?”

He nodded, slid his giraffie blankie in his mouth, and then rolled over to fall asleep, holding the flashlight in one hand and the picture of his father in the other.