Monthly Archives: February 2008

Hard to be three

            Zachary slips in and out of babyhood.  He is trying on his grown-up wings, stretching them out, seeing how they feel, and every now and then walloping someone on the head with them.  His verbal ability is far beyond his three and a half years, but emotionally he is still a tiny little person, overwhelmed by the enormity of the things he knows how to express.

            Sometimes this makes us so frustrated we want to reach deep inside his little throat and gently remove his vocal chords.  Sometimes we are more understanding, appreciating how hard it is to be small and unable to control major aspects of your life – like, say, moving 1/3 of the way around the world – and confused by your own ability to manipulate other aspects of your universe.  And sometimes, in his earnestness, the boy just makes us laugh.

            On our way home from swimming class, Zachary declared that he did not want grilled cheese for lunch.  We always have grilled cheese on Sundays, as this is a Daddy delicacy.  Zach loves grilled cheese, which is a good thing, because if he did not we would be down to four and a half things he likes to eat.  But, this particular Sunday, Zach insisted he did not want grilled cheese for lunch.

            That’s because he wanted cupcakes, instead. 

            “I want cupcakes,” he informed me.

            “I know, baby.  I want cupcakes, too.  But we are having grilled cheese.”

            “I want cupcakes with pink cream,” he repeated, perhaps under the conviction that the pink frosting had redeeming nutritional value.

            “Zachary, we do not have any cupcakes.  We only have cupcakes on special occasions.”

            “When we move to Los Angeles, I want you to get me a cupcake.”  This seemed a reasonable request, because I imagine there will be some occasion at some point when we are in LA on which the child will be given a cupcake.  We assented, hoping this would stop the discussion.  We should only be so lucky.

            All the way home, every time any one of the other three people in the car tried to talk about anything, Zachary would sullenly interpose, “I want pink cream for lunch.”  Since our new policy is that we do not hear him when he is acting like a fourteen-year-old boy, we ignored him.

            Finally, unable to take it anymore, he let loose with all the frustration, all the confusion, all the defiance that comes from knowing he can affect his life and yet cannot control it.  “I want everything,” he suddenly and emphatically declared.  “I want everything,” he repeated, voice so strong and sure while at the same time mired in bewilderment at the intense desires that he could not name because maybe they have no names.  “And I don’t want houses outside.  I don’t want there to be trees outside.  I want cupcakes.  I want Grandma and Grandpa.  And I want pink cream!”

            Forty-five minutes later found him sitting prim as you please at the lunch table, chewing on a grilled cheese sandwich. 

Her name

            My junior year of high school, I took English from Mr. K, who was somewhere in the vicinity of totally mad.  He sometimes went over the edge and hurt students’ feelings, like the time he waved a fake gun at a kid whose father was being tried as an organized crime boss and told the kid he might need said item some day.  That was not so nice.  Nor was it kind of him to make me cry one day, although I will grant that making me cry was not particularly challenging in those days.

            Nonetheless, he was the best English teacher the school had to offer.  He might have had an alarming tendency to holler “BEEEEEEE! I’m ExPECting you!” at random moments, but at least he was not halfway to unconscious as was my freshman/senior year teacher.  Mr. K had experience in the theater, serious experience in the theater, but he was never given management of the drama club, probably because the administration was a little afraid of what he might do.  I don’t blame them, given that he spent much of the unit on Tennessee Williams telling us how he had seen A Streetcar Named Desire performed “at Café La Mama… In draaag.” 

           I guess I don’t need to tell you that he was gay, although knowing the town in which I grew up, I suspect it was a don’t-ask, don’t-tell-the-impressionable-young-minds kind of situation, which is ironic now that the school, like every other, has a LGBT club listed alongside the Chess team.  In the eighties in Massachusetts, however, it was better to pretend to be liberal than to actually be liberal.  Maybe Chris can shed some light on what happened to Mr. K, but I suspect the administration finally found some way to get rid of him that would not engender a lawsuit.

            That was not before, however, he had the chance to teach us The Scarlet Letter, a book with a structure and complexity he clearly revered.  We spent an awful lot of time on the carefully constructed scaffolding scenes, the character development and the (I now know) rather heavy handed symbolism.  In later years, when I would go on to teach the same book to children the same age I had been that year, my greatest goal was to show them I loved that book as much as Mr. K had.  I suspect, in fact, that is was his early influence that led me to believe, for a short time in graduate school, that I might want to specialize in Nathaniel Hawthorne, a delusion from which I was awakened when I met Henry James.

            What I did not like about the way Mr. K taught The Scarlet Letter was that he always referred to Hester Prynne by her first name.  The minister was Dimmesdale, the mysterious creepy man was Chillingworth, but the woman with the big A on her chest was Hester.  Like her daughter, she was reduced to her first name.

            This struck me as infantilizing at best and sexist at worst.  Men, who go out into the wider world, are referred to by their last names, but women are kept more private.  Women are domestic, and so are addressed by the name a family member would use, but men are worldly and so are addressed as Mr. plus their family name.  They are given the respect accorded to their professions.  Women are treated like children and so called by their first names.

            This, of course, was not entirely Mr. K’s fault.  After all, generations of scholars also have referred to Mistress Prynne as “Hester.”  They probably do this because Hawthorne refers to her this way.  Hawthorne was deeply steeped in his times, and the cult of domesticity was full-swing.  He was not exactly a feminist; although he was rather close to a very forceful and intellectual young woman, he chose to marry her sickly and domestic sister, instead.  He would never have thought to refer to a female character by her last name.  You can hardly blame an eleventh-grade English teacher for following suit.

            Nonetheless, when I handed in my (completely brilliant) paper on The Scarlet Letter, I was careful to refer to her only as “Prynne,” just as I referred to her pathetic excuse for a lover as “Dimmesdale.”  I was breaking new ground, blazing trails, and getting my grade knocked down in the process.  Yep.  When he handed that paper back, Mr. K had crossed off every single “Prynne” and written “Hester” next to it.

            In retrospect, he was right.  I should have referred to her as the author did, unless I stated a good reason otherwise.  But, Mr. K did not explain this.  He just corrected me, which pissed me off and made me wonder what kind of a woman-hating, foaming at the mouth kind of cretin he was.

            So, no matter for whom you intend to vote, I ask you to do me one little favor.  I ask you to join me in remembering that Senator Clinton is just that, a U.S. Senator.  She is not a private, domestic figure; she is a very public person.  Yes, I know she has branded herself as “Hillary,” probably so we don’t confuse her with the other Clinton.  I wish she had not done that, because it sets back feminism in subtle and powerful ways.  It sends the message that her gender makes her less worthy of common courtesy, of the respect we give people in the public realm.

The American electorate should treat its public servants with linguistic parity, referring to the men and the women in the same way.  (With the exception of those you truly wish to denigrate; it is your business if you want to refer to the President as “The Shrub”; personally, I think that until he is out of office, he deserves some linguistic dignity so as to treat the office with respect.)  So, either the candidates are “John, Barack, and Hillary,” or they are “McCain, Obama, and Clinton.”

Do we really need to mark one of them with a scarlet W?

If only it were that simple…

Zachary: Mommy, why do you work after you put us in bed?

Me: Because I have a lot of work to do honey, but I want to be with you when you are awake.

Zachary: You should go to bed if you are really tired.

            Julie, who ever so eloquently uses her words, awarded me this:

candyhearts2.jpg

Now, technically, I have gotten this before, but, dude, I’ll take anything Julie wants to give me.  The award originates here, and recipients are to go over and register themselves.

            I worry sometimes about these awards.  Clearly, I think quite a few people are a daily dose, or I wouldn’t be reading their blogs.  Yet, if I listed 58 names here, no one would click, which would defeat the purpose.  You see, what I like about getting these awards is they give me a chance to pass them along to other people, so that maybe someone who has not discovered a great blog will head on over. 

            What I do not like about these awards is that it may give the impression that, because I have not named your blog, I am excluding you or I have some people I like better than others.  This is not the case, I promise.  I love to hear from new people, so everyone should always feel free to leave comments.  And, there are many, many blogs I like that I do not have a chance to recognize.  Please do not feel I am trying to be cliquey or exclusionary; I have found the people here in the blogosphere to be anything but.

            I am passing this award on to a few of the blogs I read, and I chose these particular ones because of specific things they have recently done:

                      Sober Briquette — Because her comments always hit the mark

                      One Plus Two — Because her posts make me want to be better

                      Woman on the Verge — Because any woman who mentions Habermas in a post on Valentine’s Day…

                      Milk Breath and Margaritas — because I jump for excitement when I see she has a new post up in her series on work/family balance

           I have three postcards from the British Museum and one from Hampton Court Palace to the first commenters who ask for them.

My dude

I have been commenting a bit less on blogs these days.  I am still reading, I promise, but y’all are writing an awful lot and if I commented on all those posts, well, I’d never see my kids.  And then what would I write about?

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           Benjamin, as I have mentioned before, is strongly anti-mitten.  Mittens, in his opinion, are designed for the sole purpose of restricting his tactile involvement with the world.  He has, however, lately softened his approach, demonstrating a willingness to wear gloves, at least, on what I refer to as “Bronte Days” here in London.  (These are the days I picture meeting Heathcliff on the moors in winds so fierce they could shear your nipples right off.)

             He seems to have recognized that my efforts to encourage mitten-usage are maternal concern, not maniacal, controlling, and creative attempts at torturing him.  He does not always consent to wear the gloves, but he has become less offended by the mere suggestion.

            So it was that, one recent weekend afternoon, we went out for a walk and I tucked his gloves into my pocket.  Our “walks” lately do not get very far.  Zach is on his scooter, but he gets awfully frustrated, because Benjamin is moving on his own agenda.  Pushing the doll’s carriage.  We make quite a sight on the streets of Southwest London, where gender stereotypes for babies and toddlers are all the rage.  Ben is very tall for his age and all torso, built like a brick outhouse with limbs, and he is also the only eighteen-month-old boy in a two mile radius to be seen plodding down the road behind his baby.  If the doll slumps over, he stops, looks at me, and says “baby,” while attempting to straighten it up.  He refuses to proceed until his progeny is comfortable once again.  Sometimes, he ditches the stroller and carries the doll instead.  He’s a new-age kind of parent, and he has taken a page from William and Martha Sears.  He is all about baby-wearing.

            It surprises me how many smiles he gets, how many people actually comment on how cute it is.  This is a neighborhood where little girls wear dresses every single day in the summer and many days in the winter, even just to climb the monkey bars at the playground.  When Zach wanted pink shorts, it was very hard to find them, because the boys don’t wear pink and the girls don’t wear shorts.  Since ours is the house where once-upon-a-time Zachary breastfed his panda bear, a pink doll’s house rises up between the large bin of vehicles and the toy farm, and it is a toss-up whether the play kitchen or the train set is the favorite plaything, we often stand out in a society that embraces gender stereotypes so fully.  Yet, people love to see my little guy charging down the street, stopping now and then to kiss his baby doll.

            Zachary can only wait patiently though so much of this, and on the day in question, when Benjamin stopped two doors away from our house to pull out his baby and carry it the rest of the way, his older brother scooted on ahead and knocked for his father to let him in.  Ben, however, had more immediate concerns.  He held his baby.  He examined its little hands.  He looked up at me.

            “Baby,” he said.  “Cole.” 

            “The baby is cold?” I asked.

            “Baby… cole… mitten.”  He looked up, brown eyes wide and serious, as he gently fingered the bare doll hands.  “Baby… baby… cole… mitten… baby… cole.”

            “You want to put mittens on the baby?”

            Ben learned the word “no” long ago.  “Yes” is a different story.  Instead of saying it, his whole face acts it out, lighting up with a mischievous smile and enthusiastic head-nodding, often accompanied by a full-throttle laugh.  And so it was that, ten feet from our front door, we found ourselves pulling out the gloves I had brought along, just in case my baby needed them, and fitting them onto his baby’s little hands, instead.

The Lazy Mother’s Guide to Groceries

One in an occasional series, entitled The Lazy Mother’s Guide to Saving the Planet.

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            You know what I do not like doing?  Shopping.  It is all so darned complicated, what with the parking and the walking and the searching and the never-finding.  I do not so much mind the crowds and the noise, if only each store would have a little display laid out in a discreet corner of the store labeled “Items Emily Is Shopping for Today.” 

            As you can probably surmise, online shopping suits me just fine.  For groceries, however, even that can get stressful, because I unfailingly manage to forget some essential item until three minutes before the truck pulls up outside my front door, at which time it is a bit too late to log back on and request a half-gallon of milk.  And, given the fact that we use three different kinds of milk around here (at least until Benjamin turns two), that’s a lot of kinds of milk for me to forget.

            Fortunately, here in London, there is someone who will remember to order milk for me.  He will then bring it to my front door, leaving it on the step, so that when we get up in the morning, there are little bottles of milk sitting out front.  And he will do this three times a week.

            Yes, it is true.  We have a milkman.

            He drives up in his little electric truck sometime in the middle of the night.  I suspect he arrives shortly after the Tooth Fairy and shortly before the sun.  He checks his little hand-held computer.  And then, he leaves me bottles of milk.  Actually, before he leaves my milk, he picks up my empties, provided I remembered to leave them out the night before.  Because the milkman deals in glass, reusable bottles.

            The only waste created is the tiny little foil circle on the top, which I put into the recycling.  He is delivering to other families on my block, and he is driving an electric truck, so the delivery is certainly less emissions-producing than my running out to the grocery store would be.  And, there are no plastic bottles to recycle.

            I did not realize how many plastic milk bottles we were going through in a week until I signed on with the milkman.  Suddenly, my recycling has been cut in half, if not more.  Here, around the Rosenbaum household, we are saving the planet by cutting back on our recycling.

            You may not live somewhere that has a milkman, in which case you are left with the options of either a) getting up at dawn to milk your cow, or b) buying your milk from the Super Fresh.  You know which option I would go for.  However, you may be surprised to find that there is a milk delivery service in your area.  Spend ten minutes online and do a little research.

            Just think, next week, there could be pints of milk, cream clumping at the top, waiting on your front step.  It is like having your own little corner of the dairy section.

 

            Also nice are the fruits and vegetables that are delivered to our door.  They come in these nifty reusable cardboard boxes that we leave out the next week for the driver to collect.   No plastic grocery bags, no extra packaging, and the driver is already delivering to the neighborhood, so there is an economy of scale in the petrol usage.  The produce is organic and mostly local.

            But, the best part is that I am free.  You know all that time that you spend in the grocery store, squeezing melons and searching through apples?  I never do that.  I get to use that time for other important things, like taking naps and reading Please, Baby, Please forty-eight times. 

            This service I know exists other places, and if you are in the U.S., you can go here to figure out who does it in your area.  Think of all the naps you could be earning.

Because I thought you all had earned something light

            After I put the boys to bed, I head up to my computer.  I check a few blogs and reply to a few emails, all to the music emanating from the room below.  Benjamin, you see, is busily taking off his socks and pulling all the stuffed animals off of the shelf into his bed, which he does while jibberishing at the top of his lungs.

            So, it’s no wonder that Zachary sometimes has a hard time falling asleep.  After about twenty minutes, by which point the opera below has reached a crescendo, Zachary often comes out for more water or a potty trip.  Or, in the case of last night, for something far more important.

            “Benjamin said something mean to me,” he informed me.

            “What did he say, honey?”

            “He said he’s not my friend.”

            Now, I have to agree that this is a mean thing to say, but given that Benjamin is 18 months old and thus far his longest sentence has been “Mommy… ready… outside… walk,” I am guessing that Zach might be exaggerating.  Of course, who’s to say what goes on between brothers?

Color me grateful

            It has been kind of rough around these parts with Zachary lately.  He was practicing Delightfulness for months, and we were starting to think we could get used to having a three-year-old around.  But, because we have big mouths and could not stop ourselves, we started talking about the move in front of him, and now he is a big ball of anxiety.  Now, no matter how much I explain that we will not move for awhile and he will have friends in his new school, he ain’t buying.

            Sometimes, he voices his concerns directly.  “I don’t want to move.  I want to be here for Halloween so I can go trick-or-treating with Caspar.”  Or, shockingly, “I don’t want to leave Timmy.”  (Dude, I have no problem leaving Timmy.)  I cuddle him and explain we will all be there with him.  I read him The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day constantly.  I know how to deal with direct concerns.

            Most of the time, however, Zach uses a time-tested technique to express his discontent.  He whines.  Sometimes, he screams and cries.

            Now, I know I am lucky to have a three-year-old who can and will ever tell me the exact source of his feelings.  I know that obnoxiousness is par for the course with an anxious pre-schooler.  I just wish he weren’t so darned good at it.

            So it was that one morning last week, waking up to find his father still traveling and me still working and the world not spinning at exactly the speed he would like, Zach was in a fragile mood.  As I took him to the bathroom, before getting Benjamin out of his crib, I found myself already saying to Zach, “If you are too tired not to whine, I will put you back into bed.”  He stopped and we went back into the boys’ bedroom.  And I opened the blinds.  Zach likes to help open the blinds.  And I callously opened them on my own because, contrary to popular opinion, I am imperfect and sometimes I cannot keep the entire script of the World According to Zachary in my head.

            Zach let out a moanscream and started with the hysteria, screamcrying and running over in protest.  I picked him up, dropped him back onto his bed, lifted Ben out of his crib, and left, shutting the door behind me.  I changed Ben’s diaper and took him down to breakfast.  Three minutes later, I heard a whimpering at the top of the stairs.  “Mommy?  I am ready.”  A slightly shaken but otherwise composed three-year-old joined us at the table.

            What is my point in all of this, other than that only morons talk about a move more than three weeks beforehand to a small child?  My point, and it is a significant one, is that nine months ago I would have yelled at him.  Or, I would have let him get his way without first composing himself.  Or, I would have fumed on about it for twenty minutes.

            Whatever I would have done, I would definitely have spent the entire day feeling like my childhood had predisposed me to be an inadequate mother.  I would have been sure that most of the problem had been manufactured by me.  My insecurity would have fueled me to either be too stern or too lax as the day wore on.  By nighttime, Zach would have been confused, I would have been frustrated, and we both would have been exhausted.

            But, for the last nine months, I have been writing.  Writing here.  And you have been responding, telling me that sometimes even parents who had lovely childhoods get frustrated.  You have been reassuring me that much of what I feel has nothing to do with twenty-five years ago and everything to do with twenty-five seconds ago.  You have helped me regain confidence as a wife, a writer, a mother, and a person.

            So, when Amy awarded me this…

 

…I was floored.  The fact is, I feel like I give so much less than I take here in the blogosphere.  I am grateful to each and every one of you for the hand you have held out to me as I have walked these miles.  And, so, while I pass it on to a few of you, please know that each and every one of you deserves it more than I could possibly find words to say.  Without further ado, six people who have left poignant comments, sent supportive emails, and basically been there every freaking step of the way:

Bub and Pie

Coco

Painted Maypole

Angela

Lawyer Mama

Julie

Honestly, it was almost impossible to break it down to this group, but I know if I list too many, no one will click over.  I hope that some of you will click over to the blogs of these amazing women and become friends with them, because they have so very much to offer.

            Thank you all.