Monthly Archives: May 2008

Written last night before bed

            Sometimes at night, I suddenly miss my child.  We have been together all day, we have driven each other up and down the walls of this godforsakenbeigetemporaryapartment forty-seven times, he has whined, I have yelled, and 7:45 has come as a relief all around.  But then, hours later, lying in my bed, I ache for him so strongly I almost get out of bed and go hold him.

            I never feel like this about Benjamin.  Cuddly though he is, I never feel like I must have him in my arms right away.  I am happy for us to be apart for the night and come together in the morning.  No, this is a feeling reserved for Zachary.

            It is not that I love Zachary more.  It is that I fail him more egregiously.  Part of that is because we are so similar, and part of it is that he needs more from me.  More patience, more understanding, more sympathy.  And lately, he hasn’t been getting it.

            There is a fine line between discipline and bullying.  A fine but bright neon line that pulses dangerously between setting strict limits and pushing a kid around.  It is a line I am not crossing – yet.  But I am close enough to feel its heat.

             I expect too much of my little man.  He is so good in so many ways, but so difficult in others.  He is so grown up, and so I expect him to be all grown up sometimes.  And, the truth is, when you tell a three-almost-four-year-old to put on his shoes, sometimes he gets distracted with a toy instead.  At 8:30 AM, I get that.  At 7:00 PM, when I need to take out the trash because my husband is not coming home again (work, not another woman) and the trash is too far away from the apartment to do it once the kids are in bed, I lose my temper.  I yell at him.  I tell him I need his full cooperation when Daddy isn’t there to help.

              But it’s not their damned fault that Daddy isn’t here.  It’s not their fault that Benjamin wakes up in the morning and says “Daddy working, Mommy right there.”  It’s not their fault that we are in a temporary apartment where the garage and trash are so far away I have to put Benjamin in a stroller to get there.  It’s not their fault the garbage disposal and stove went out at the same time.  It’s not their damned fault.

               I must back away from the line, a retreat mothers the world over know only too well.  I must remind myself that he is only little, despite his enormous vocabulary and outlandish math skills and serious little demeanor.  I must remember that he gets picked on enough by the big kids in the school play yard and bitten enough by his brother (although who starts it, kiddo?).  I tell Benjamin that if he wants to bite someone, he should bite himself.  I must take my own advice.

               And so, at night, I do not creep in there.  It is not his job to assuage my guilt in his sleep.  But, tomorrow afternoon, as we creep through to dinner-time and I start to wonder how the hell I will ever handle three kids, I will do better.

              Tomorrow, my sweet child, tomorrow we will do better.

A watched pot

            “I just feel like people are staring at me because she’s still in diapers,” my friend told me.  “It feels like a reflection on my parenting skills.”

            “No,” I responded.  “It’s a reflection on your potty training skills.”

            It’s one of those things we are not supposed to judge in one another, but somehow always do.  Like using a pacifier or shyness, we wonder whether the child is not yet potty trained because the parents are doing something wrong.  Maybe the parent is.  This is always a possibility.  But, even if this little girl is still not daytime trained at three because her mother ranks among the world’s most abysmal potty trainers, it still says absolutely nothing about her parenting skills.

            And, as those of us who have been around for a little while can tell you, with most such situations, it has a hell of a lot more to do with the child than it does with the parent.  Zachary may be a pickier or a less picky eater because of me, but you can be pretty sure he’d be picky to some extent no matter which mother he got saddled with.  Kids are who they are, and we can only help ease these traits so much.

            That said, people often want to know the secret of our potty training success.  And it seems unkind to tell them to parent an early potty trainer.  So, here’s the only advice I can give: start early.

            Ignore all the experts who tell you to wait till the child shows potty readiness.  When the kid is 18 months old, have a potty in the bathroom.  Talk about going to the potty.  Read books about it.  Every now and then, especially IMMEDIATELY after waking up, put the child on the potty.  Then cheer vociferously when the child goes.

            No, your child probably won’t be fully daytime trained for months to come, maybe even a year.  But, when he or she IS ready, you won’t be contending with a child who is afraid of the potty because it is new and different.  You won’t have a kid who holds it in for hours, rather than go on the potty.  He’s been using the potty as long as he can remember; now it is just time to use it more frequently.

            That’s it.  That’s the sum of my potty training advice.  Take it or leave it.  And don’t ask me for nighttime training advice, because I suck at that.

            It’s a reflection on my potty training skills.

Lest ye be judged

            Judge me if you will, and you probably will.  I have taken a shameful and illicit step that nonetheless, by its very nature, must remain painfully public.  There is nowhere to hide on this one, no doors to close over my failure and no curtains to draw over the evil that has entered my drawing room.  There is almost no defense for the place I have gone and the choice I have made, but perhaps you will cut me a little slack, anyhow.

            I have bought a leash.  A leash for my son.  Call it by some other cute name if you can, but there is no denying that Benjamin now walks about at the end of a very short leash.

            A leash is a sign that I see my child as a animal to be contained.  It degrades his humanity and stifles his explorative desires.  Instead of teaching him caution, I am one step short of putting him in a straight jacket. 

            Yeah, I get it.  I know how strangers look at me, wondering whether I keep him in a cage at home to complete the dehumanization.  But, since his explorative desires include runs through the parking lot at the grocery store, I find myself left with little choice.

            He is big and he is heavy.  He is strong and he is fast.  Unlike his older brother, he does not look for ways to win my approval.  He looks for ways to test the laws of gravity, traffic, and patience.  He laughs with glee when he hears the word “no” and tries new and inventive ways to elicit it.  I am too pregnant to carry his 27 pounds around all the time, assuming I still want to be walking by August.

            So, my choices are few.  I can limit him to the stroller, I can make him stay in the house all day long, or I can put him on a leash.  Other than that, I can scoop his splattered remains off of the parking lot.  I have chosen the leash.  The leash allows him to try things; it allows me to hold his hand and let him walk; it means he doesn’t get the satisfaction of a panicked “NO!” quite as often as he would like.

            So, judge me if you will.  You will not be the first and you will not be alone.  There are people way ahead of you in line – presumably people without children or with children like Zachary, who actually listens to what I tell him to do – who look at me as though I am using a cattle prod on the child. 

            I don’t care.  Better leashed than dead.

Clearly gifted

            Benjamin is highly verbal.  At twenty-one months old, he has left the two-word sentence in his dust, and he is now fully capable of expressing all his desires, which is why most of the time he sounds like a walking menu with trucks thrown in.  “No like it pita,” he insists when we put hummus on it.  “Ben turn,” he hollers when Zach is playing with, well, anything.  “Train, take it,” as we left someone’s house, and then “train, keep it,” just in case that would work, instead.  And, my personal favorite.  “Mommy eating big one.”  (He was talking about pieces of watermelon, people.  Get your mind out of the gutter.)

            But, words are not his greatest gift, despite how cute it is when he says “ladder, go up!” then crouches down for “ladder, fall down.”  No, his talent is clearly in the cuddling department.  Zachary, on the other hand, is not a cuddly child, although he does like to snuggle with me.  This is a trait, his father likes to remind me, that Zach comes by honestly.  His mother isn’t much of a cuddler, either.  I do, however, like to snuggle with my kids, and one of them is clearly supremely gifted at it.  Zachary snuggles because he needs the comfort; Benjamin cuddles because that is what he does.

            Ben is ample, he is strong, he is affectionate, and he loves to fit his body into the voids left by other people’s bodies.  And, as much as he likes to cuddle with people, he likes stuffed animals even more.  He feeds his giraffe blankie from right off his plate.  He runs about with his arms fiercely embracing bears and dogs and dolls.  He has them kiss each other, and he provides them with plenty of kisses, himself.

            This, too, is an honest trait.  His father was stuffed animal obsessed, by all accounts.  As a child, J had a bunk bed, because the top bunk was necessary to house the impressive plush collection.  Ben clearly got the gene, because every time we take him off to his bed, he clutches yet another stuffed animal to him.  “Cow come with!” he implores.  We comply, even though he is probably going to need to register his bed as a brothel if any more animals take up residence there.

            Someone is following in Daddy’s footsteps.

Happy Alternative Mother’s Day

            Long before gravity took over our bodies, long before little people took over our time, and long before 5 AM became an early morning rather than a late night, we attended an academic institution that had a lovely tradition called Spring Break.  Some people went to Cancun, some people went home and had their laundry done, and I generally tried to get a jump start of term papers because I was a raving geek (as opposed to the embodiment of coolness that I am today).  The really good kids, however, did something called Alternative Spring Break, which involved building houses for people unable to afford them or somesuch altruism.  And, although I don’t regret missing out on Cancun and I certainly don’t miss the trips home, I do wish I had an opportunity to spend some time just doing for people to whom I am not related.

            Well, here’s our chance, and many of you have risen to the occasion.  Here are the responses I got to my call for Alternative Mother’s Day suggestions:

 

  • Becky, at Mommy Wants Vodka, is giving money to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.  Please visit her post about parents who have lost children and what people are doing to honor those children.
  •  Coco, at Mommyhood and Life, is donating to Heifer.org, so as to help those suffering from the food crisis.
  • The Mad Hatter suggests donating to The Stephen Lewis Foundation in honor of the grandmothers in Africa who are raising AIDS orphans.
  • The Other Bear donates for breast cancer research each year in honor of her mother’s friend.
  • I also encourage those who haven’t to visit Julie’s post on uninsured children and spend some time today learning about this important issue.
  • Please spend some time reading the series over at MOMocrats.

If I have missed anyone, please send me an email or leave a comment and I will add your ideas.  Today is about motherhood, and motherhood is about children.  That’s all I have to say about that.

 

Alternative Mother’s Day

I don’t usually post twice in a day, but I wanted to get tomorrow’s post up early to give people a chance to think about how they might contribute.

            So, I am starting to think I was a little depressed (“no shit,” they say).  But, I feel like I am starting to come out of it (“about time,” they mutter).  Although I am not yet really returning phone calls and still wake up every day that I have social plans hoping the other party will cancel, I am beginning to think about people other than myself now and again (“good, because this blog was starting to get boring,” they reply). 

            As Mother’s Day rolls around, I start thinking about cards for my husband’s grandmothers and what to send his mother.  He writes out the cards to maintain the illusion that HE was the one to purchase the cards, but I suspect his mother is on to the whole arrangement.  She is hard to shop for, and we have taken to sending her flowers for Mother’s Day.  As I am increasingly uncomfortable with the environmental effect of cut flowers, we tend to steer towards potted plants, which actually stay alive in their house (as opposed to ours, which is where lavender go to die).  I just cannot stomach putting all those resources into growing and transporting flowers that will croak a week later.

            This year, however, as I tried to muster the energy to go online and order the flowers, I found myself listening to NPR.  I don’t get much time, as Zachary asks, “please can you turn it off?” the moment we get in the car, and Benjamin has now taken to saying “turn off, Mommy” when his brother isn’t around to enforce the news ban.  In the moments during which my children have actually lifted the news blackout, however, I noticed there seems to have been a bit of a natural disaster in Myanmar.

            My mother-in-law has spent her life educating children, hers and others.  In her spare time, she is a devoted grandmother.  Kids are sort of her thing (well, kids and speeding).  So, I decided that this year, the best way to say “Happy Mother’s Day” to her would be to help other mothers and their children.  And so, we are taking the money we would have spent on flowers and donating it to the American Red Cross  for their disaster relief fund, in the hopes that perhaps at some point they will be permitted to provide disaster relief.  For good measure, I asked J to give any money he was planning on spending on me to the same organization (which translates into $2.50 for the Hallmark he won’t need to buy). 

            Of course, there are free ways to celebrate Mother’s Day.  For example, click here to see Julie’s post on uninsured children.  You could spend an hour on Mother’s Day learning more about this important issue, if you aren’t familiar with it already.  Come election day, this issue ought to be somewhere near the top of your priority list. 

            Or, you could write a letter to a teacher, thanking him or her for helping raise our next generation.  Or, you could recommit to one environmental measure (eschewing plastic bags, for example) as a gift to mothers who want their children to inherit a planet that feels somewhat habitable. 

            Join me this year in celebrating an Alternative Mother’s Day.  Please leave your ideas in the comments or write your own post on ways to recognize all mothers on this important day.  Then email me the link (see my About page).  I will break my no-posting-on-weekends rule this weekend because Mother’s Day seems to keep falling on a Sunday.  I will post links and the ideas you suggest on Mother’s Day.

            As for me, I am hoping that, in addition to the donation to the Red Cross, I will get a day with no new pimples on Sunday.  I am starting to feel like a mountain range, and Benjamin does not help when he delightedly points out each new pimple.  Never should have taught him that word…

Another

            I had never met a child like Zachary.  Certainly, I know there are other bright, sensitive boys out there whose cognitive abilities outstrip their social skills.  Yes, I know that mine is not the only little boy who likes pink, sparkles, and all things beautiful.  Of course, I have heard that there are other children who dislike Band Aids.

            But I had never met one.  The children we knew in London were nothing like him, although his little friend down the street was surely as intelligent and eccentric as he is.  I was the only other Highly Sensitive Person who I knew. 

            And then we met him.  A few months older, a good head taller, Oliver nonetheless seems to be Zachary’s perfect match.  They each march to their own flutist, but they speak each other’s language.

            This little boy, he is probably even smarter than Zachary (although I imagine my in-laws would dispute such an outlandish claim), and social situations seem even more overwhelming for him.  He talks less than Zachary, but then so do most people.  He thinks inside while Zachary shares every last thought – with me.  But, playing together, they have no hesitation, no fear.  There is simply comfort.

            Zachary is playing well with all his new school friends, and they chat away with ease.  He is suddenly interested in “sports,” although he has no idea what those are, because a classmate talks about his adventures in soccer and baseball.  Dropping him at school, I watch Zach settle into conversation with a little girl who may be the only child I have ever met who speaks as much as he does.  Coming home for a playdate, he and another child giggle in the backseat, telling each other jokes that I don’t quite understand.  And, as always, he is watching them for cues: what is normal, what is appropriate, who am I supposed to try to be?

            But, with Oliver, there is comfort I have never seen.  The sense of being in the presence of a kindred spirit.  They work on different wavelengths, but together they create music.  Zachary never seems to be trying with Oliver, and playing with him creates no stress.  They just do it their way, coming together and moving apart through some understanding they have never needed to discuss.

             As their younger brothers play together, demonstrating the social ease that comes with second child-ness, as their extroverted mothers’ words spill out across each other, I watch these two boys.  They are released from their internal world and the burden of their own perceptions.  And, together, they are just two little boys playing with pool noodles.

All the children are above average

            Because I am not a competitive parent, I try not to talk about the fact that my children are smarter, cuter, kinder, and better behaved than everyone else’s.  I don’t want to make the rest of you feel bad, just because your kids weren’t born at Lake Woebegone.

            However, today we will make an exception, because we visited the pediatrician a few weeks ago.  Zachary, it turns out, has had some sort of crazy growth spurt and is knocking his head against the 25th percentile for height, a zone he has never before encountered.  It’s a good thing he’s bright, because basketball is probably not in his future.

            His brother, at twenty-one months, is only an inch and a pound less than Zachary, who is two years older.  He weighs in at the fiftieth percentile but has a head in the 90th.  That means his head is bigger than 90% of the other kids his age, which comes as absolutely no surprise to those of us who have to try and yank a shirt over that thing each morning.  And, he measures at the 97th percentile for height.  Given that we’re Jewish, that puts him at taller than pretty much every other child of his ethnic background.

            When he was born and we sent around an email with his name (which is not really Benjamin), a friend replied that we had chosen a name fit for either a pro linebacker or a don at Oxford.  I am banking that, given his size, he is still in the running for both positions.

            But, the part of the visit that showed just how extraordinary my kids are was the taking of the blood and the shots, when they screamed in the 99th percentile.  And my heart swelled when Benjamin began shouting “BAD” and hitting the woman making his big brother cry.

            Unfortunately, the blood tests revealed that perhaps my children are a bit below average in one way.  Both boys are anemic.  How, you may wonder, does a toddler who eats as much as Benjamin come up anemic?  As far as I can tell, there are two possible explanations.  Either his totally below-average mother keeps forgetting to serve meat or he eats so much damned produce that he flushes the iron right out of his system.  I suspect there is only so much iron in watermelon and peas.

Celebrity hound (part 1)

            The mark of a true Washingtonian is the ability to say things like “over by Capital Hill” and “down at the Smithsonian” without gasping at the sheer governmental importance of it all.  A Washingtonian would never do what I did, one New Year’s Eve, and walk over to Richard Gephardt at the next table in a restaurant to wish him well in the Presidential campaign.  Fat load of good it did him, of course, but a true native or a well-assimilated transplant would be cool in the face of political superstardom.

            Every city has these quirks.  Bostonians don’t visit the Cheers bar; Londoners find those double-decker busses useful, not charming; and New Yorkers for the most part do not visit the Guggenheim.  In Los Angeles, of course, you can tell the natives from the out-of-towners because they are way cool when they run into movie stars.

            And so, one day last week, had you been in Long’s Pharmacy, you would have assumed I was quickly assimilating to my new home (unless you, say, read my blog and know better).  Because, as I walked in the door, exhausted preschooler and hungry toddler in tow, and looked up at the checkout line by the front door, I did not swoon.  I did not fumble for a pen to get an autograph.  I merely gave a half-smile and a quarter nod in Henry Winkler’s direction before heading off to look for ice packs for Zachary’s lunch bag.

            Winkler, too, would have assumed, had he thought about it at all, that I was being respectful and giving him his space.  This would have been a gross miscalculation.  The fact is, I was not entirely sure it was Henry Winkler.  It’s not like he was wearing a leather jacket and waving out the window of the Cunningham’s garage.  And, I am notoriously lousy at recognizing celebrities. 

             I am the woman who, early in 2000, stood next to Martin Sheen on the curb at National Airport.  He looked oddly familiar, and as we drove away, I stared as I tried to place his face.  He smiled and waved, so I did too.  Then I turned to J.  “That guy looks strangely familiar.  Is he one of my old professors?”

              Whatever my next career move, I am clearly not cut out to lead any of those “spotting the stars” tours.

               And so, by virtue of my cultural idiocy, I will blend right in, respecting the rights of the stars to buy their cough syrup in peace.  Unless I spot Rachel Griffiths.  Girl, if I see you anywhere, you can rest assured I will drool all over you.

It’s hard being a younger sibling

            “Margorie, my younger son has come down with a cold, and I don’t want him around your kids because it is pretty nasty.  If I could drop him off, Zachary could still come over for his playdate.”

            “Sure,” she replied.  “Will he let you do that?”

            “I’m not sure.  I wanted to talk to you before I asked him.  I’ll talk to him now and then call you back.”  I hung up the phone and went over to Zach.

            “Zachary, Tom wants you to come over to his house.  But Benjamin is sick, so I can’t come with you.”

            “But, Mommy, you could drop me off!”  Well, that answered that question.  If only it had gone so smoothly in execution.  Don’t get me wrong; Zach was perfectly happy to be left at his friend’s house, and the friend was perfectly happy to have him there.

            Benjamin, however, was considerably less sanguine.  He has come to regard playdates as a joint activity, and he was not pleased to discover that he was to be excluded from the event.  Zach got to take off his shoes, enter the house, and go play with the trains, but Benjamin remained shod.  As we walked away to spend the hour tooling around the neighborhood, he screamed: “HOUSE!  HOUSE!  Shoes off!  Shoes off!”  Only the promise of blueberries could soothe his soul.

            Pickup went no better, with the child apoplectic that he had been barred from the festivities.  Zachary, on the other hand, was happy as a clam.

            “He’s really mature for his age,” the other mother said.  “He can come back any time.  He plays so nicely and behaved himself so well.”  If only the same could be said for the shrieking twenty-one-month-old I was trying to drag from her front hallway.