Monthly Archives: June 2008

A girl has to have standards

            As we left the restaurant, Benjamin was sucking on an ice cube he had nabbed from his father’s iced tea.  He is a social little bugger, so he was holding the slippery little sliver of ice in his hand while toddling towards the door and attempting to make eye contact with every person he saw.

            And he dropped it on the floor.  Now, my first reaction was to tell the not-quite-two-year-old to leave it behind, especially given that we were on a section of carpet clearly trod by every single person entering the dining room, not to mention the waiters on every single run.  As he leaned over and attempted to retrieve it, I tried to ignore the germophobe in me and remind myself that it is important not to make the kids neurotic about these things.  As the sliver of ice repeatedly slipped out of his stumpy little fingers and ground into the carpet, I had to bludgeon that germophobe into a corner.

            Finally, he picked it up, and we continued our meander towards the door, Ben contentedly licking the remains of that ice cube.  And, three seconds later, he dropped it again.

            I decided that there needed to be a limit to these things, and that letting him pick it up and suck on it again, well that crossed the line into negligent parenting.  As he knelt to retrieve it once again, I intervened: “OK, honey, let’s just leave it there.”

            So, that’s where I fall on the mothering scale: somewhere between the first and second drop of an ice cube on the floor of a busy restaurant.

Why I won’t be at BlogHer

            The problem with living far from relatives is…  OK, there are a lot of ways to finish that statement.

            … the kids don’t see their grandparents enough.

            … the kids don’t get to build a relationship with their cousins.

            … vacation time is spent visiting instead of vacationing.

            … the money and carbon emissions involved in maintaining a family relationship.

            Lately, the one that has been weighing on my mind is that my husband and I cannot go away together.  Who would watch the children?  We are hiring help, but we cannot leave the kids overnight with someone who has just started watching them.  The grandparents have been known to travel all the way to London to watch our children, but there has been no opportunity for that since we’ve moved (and, let’s be fair, should all their vacation time be spent traveling and babysitting?)  And the clock is ticking.  Once this baby comes, there ain’t no going away for another year. 

Despite all the frequent flier and hotel points my husband accrues, we have no way of using them to escape our children.

            We got no babymoon with Zachary because I was spotting and couldn’t travel.  We got no babymoon with Benjamin because we were neighborhood-hunting in London.  And, yes, there are a lot worse things than not getting a romantic getaway, but we’re starting to need one sorely. 

            Then, it occurred to me, right about the time J’s best friend asked if he could join the guys in Vegas for a weekend in July (he asked me, which I thought was sweet but a bit odd).  I have the perfect person to leave the kids with.

            So, in a few weeks, J will have a guys’ weekend.  And me?  I won’t be at BlogHer the weekend following that because I will be going on a babymoon with my best friend.

            Found a way to use those hotel points, after all.

You can go but be back soon

Zachary is back in school after 2.5 weeks off, and he has turned magically from a whine machine into the lovely child we all knew he could be.

Books are everywhere.

Working on finding more help.

Benjamin is potty training, which I intend to post about at some point because potty training is the fifth circle of hell.  Do I really need to sit here for 15 minutes after you have finished pooping because you want to discuss the fire engines in the book?

Putting my nose to the grindstone on the book, which means colonizing the night, but it had to happen sometime.

So, I guess blogging is taking a back seat to writing, unpacking, hiring, school runs, and pooping.  And you all thought you were high priority…

Back soon, once this draft of the book is back in my agent’s hands.

Unpacking

This post is a follow-up to the one I put up late on Friday, which was about a very important conversation I had with my son.

Thank you all so much for the support you sent my way after my post on Thursday.  Your comments and the emails from people I did not even know were reading were so thoughtful.  Things are a little better now. 

I have found a doctor for my husband. 

We are starting to look for some more full-time help, which we had hoped to hold off on till close to the baby coming.  However, I cannot force my body to be capable of what it is not, and if I keep up at this pace, I’ll see a repeat of my last pregnancy, when I could not walk for the last six weeks. 

Zachary’s school starts up again today after a two-and-a-half-but-who’s-counting-week break.  He is difficult unbearable when he has no programming, so we are grateful for an eleven-month school.  Unfortunately, June is the start of a new school year in this school, so after moving here three months ago, he finds himself in yet another transition into a new class.  The school, sensitive to this, has kept him with one of his teachers and a close friend, but he is still anxious about the change on top of change on top of change.  I can’t say that I blame him, but the last week has been one long chorus of whining, and I won’t be sad to drop him at school today.

Most importantly, I have started unpacking the books.  We save them for last, because there are so many and they need such careful attention.  I have a system, a system that would have left Whatshisname Dewey green with envy. 

I only took about 20% of my books to London.  It would have been absurd to bring the thirty or so boxes of books that went into storage.  You do the math on that one.  I missed them, and I always seemed to need a book I did not have with me over the last two years.

But, now I am unpacking them, and I found a few things.  I discovered that my book collection grew in London, and our children’s book library seems to have doubled.  Yet, we moved out of a house that had built-in book shelves.  Suddenly, there was an overpopulation crisis.  We found that we need more shelves.

The other things I found were tucked away in a box of books.  A childhood diary, written I think when I was living with my grandparents.  I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it is sitting in my closet glowing a bright, pulsing orange, begging for my time.  And a pile of photos.

The pile is small, maybe twenty in all.  They are photos of my childhood, all that remain.   In some, my sister still has long hair.  In others, our hair is cropped short by haphazard shears.  My father pops up here and there, and our stepmother is in one.  And there are many photos that include the half-brother I have not seen or heard about in twenty-five years.

I leafed through them, and Zachary came up.  “Who’s that?”

“That’s my sister. And that’s me when I was a little girl.”

“Who is that?”

“That’s my mommy,” the one I had just told him died when I was very young.

“Who’s that child?” he wanted to know of the toddler he saw in the pictures with me.  And I froze.  I did not think I could explain “half-brother.”  And I was not prepared to deal with follow-up questions about him.  My sister, her I am ready to talk about.  But the boy?  He is so far away and so long ago I don’t know what I would say.

And so, all of my honesty about my mother’s illness and her death evaporated.  I lied to him.  “I don’t know who it is.”

The day will come, the day will come my child.  You will know it all.  But you must be older and you must be stronger.  I learned too much too young, but you do not have to.  I hope you will not learn until you are old enough to face these truths with a man’s heart.  I hope you will never surround yourself with books, hoping that the walls will fortify you against what is beyond their pages.  I hope you will know that books can be good company, but they can never give you the answers, because sometimes there are no answers. 

I hope your life will ring with Louis Armstrong and Mozart, not Beethoven.  I hope your pages will read like Forester and Stein and Austen, not like Dostoyevsky and Dreiser and Woolf.  I hope your color will remain pink.

And I hope that when the time comes for you to know it all, you will have become an empathetic soul who can feel for the child I was without having felt it yourself.  

Ready or not

There are questions we are ready for and questions we can never be ready for.

“How will the baby come out of your belly?” he asked. 

This one, I was prepared for.  “I’ll go to the hospital and Dr. Chen will help the baby come out.”

Unfortunately, this opened the door for a follow-up question a few days later.  “But, Mommy.  How will the doctor get the baby out?”

OK, so not exactly a question I wanted to answer, but I am fortunate. I could answer honestly without having to explain the details of female plumbing.  I showed him my c-section scar and explained they would help the baby come through there.  Pitch, swing, hit.

Then, there are the questions about the war.  “Why is he angry?” my going-on-four-year-old asks of the President.  It is harder to answer this one, as I am not sure anyone really knows.  But, it is impersonal, and so the answer comes slowly but clearly.

In the airport, on the way to visit his grandparents, Zachary asks, “Where are your grandparents?” 

He asks about death a lot.  Remembering his lessons from the church school in London, he believes people can rise again after they have died, which gets a little sticky as we try to respect another religion without fostering beliefs we do not hold.  Much as I hate to feed his curiosity about death, I answer honestly.  I tell him my grandparents died, and when he asks why, I explain they were very old.

A whole summer before he turns four, and I am getting really good at the four-year-old questions.  I might even be called a master of being clear and honest while giving just enough information.  I even handled the recent, “How does the baby get in your belly?” with grace and sensitivity, giving some bullshit about mommies and daddies loving each other very much.

And, then it came.  Yesterday, we were in the living room.  Benjamin was napping, and Zachary was quietly playing while I tried to nap.  A wrong number woke me up, and he came over to cuddle.

“You look so much like your Daddy,” I mused, stating an obvious fact if ever there was one.

“And who do you look like?” he asked.

Well, the honest answer, the only honest answer, is that I look like my mother, a stronger resemblance than even his to his father.  And, so, I took a breath.  “I look like my Mommy.”  I prepared for questions about where she is and why he has never seen her. 

He seemed to know already.  “Is she dead?”

“Yes, she is, baby.”

“Why is she dead?” Zachary asked.

“Well, honey, she got very sick and so she died.”

His next question was immediate.  “Why didn’t you take her to the doctor?”  Doctors, he knows, make people better.

“I was very little.  I was as young as Benjamin,” I told him, not mentioning that I was almost Benjamin’s age, to the day, when my mother died.

“Is your Daddy dead?” he asked, rather relentlessly.

“No, he’s not.”

“Why didn’t he take her to the doctor?”

“He did, honey, but she was very sick.  The doctors couldn’t make her better.  And so she died.”

“How was she sick?” 

Good God, child, leave a few questions for next week.   “Well, take a deep breath.  You see how the air goes in?  It goes into your lungs.  Well, her lungs were very sick, so she died.”

He thought for a moment, allowing me to do the same.  Then, “I don’t understand the process of death,” he said.  “How you die and then rise again.”  (And, yes, these were his exact words.)

So, I tried again to explain that people don’t rise again after dying, although some people do believe Jesus did.  He seemed to accept my answer, and I preempted the worries I knew would follow by explaining that I eat healthy foods and exercise because I want to live a long time to be with him.

But the worries, I think they came anyway, because 3:30 AM found me standing on his bunk bed ladder, keeping one hand on him as he fell back asleep after an hour of anxious wakefulness.   Somehow, I think neither of us was ever going to be ready for that conversation, for the questions we both knew needed to be answered. 

Full disclosure

            Yesterday afternoon, I was sobbing, sitting on my bedroom floor, unable to stop even though Zachary was there.

            I am stretched almost as thin as I can be.  I have to unpack.  I have to take care of the boys, and although we have some part-time help, I don’t want to up it any more till the baby comes because they clearly are very needy right now after all our transitions.  I have to set up the details of our lives here, from doctors to camps to friends to voicemail.  With my husband, I have to make choices on renovations that are happening to part of the house.  I have to slide on into that third trimester.

            I also have to finish revisions on the book, which trumps all else because if it doesn’t happen before the end of September, it just won’t.  And revisions involve a lot of back and forth between me and various other readers at this point.

            Don’t suggest my husband take on some of it, because he is carrying more than I am.  He is at work so much the boys rarely see him during the week.  He is in charge of forms and mail and bills.  He is jumping through hoops to get parking permits for our cars.  And he is not well.  He is having some pretty intense medical issues right now that I won’t get into because this is my blog and if he wanted to spill all his crap out on the internet, he’d have a blog of his own.  Suffice it to say, I am working to find him better doctors, because the one he had found nothing and there is clearly something wrong.

            It is too much.  It is too damned much.  I do not get enough sleep because either a child needs me or I need to unpack or my husband cannot sleep because he is unwell and tosses about.  I do not cook much anymore, but with a picky eater, I sort of have to, because there are only certain ways he will eat his food prepared.  And I have enough to deal with without him dipping back below the fifth percentile.  My teeth are leaving a permanent imprint on my tongue because I am clenching the one and thrusting the other. 

            And the kids need dentists.  And it has been a year since I have had my teeth checked out.  And, thank god my sister-in-law gave me some of her maternity clothes when we were in DC, because I don’t have the energy to look for some and I do need to get dressed.  Between the baby hanging out the front and the ballast that is my ass hanging out the back, nudity is not an option.

            And the baby is coming at the end of September.  And the book, the book.  The book wants me to pay some attention to it, but it cannot throw a tantrum nor do I trip over it on the way to the bathroom, so I tell it that it will have to wait. 

             And it is time to potty train. 

            So, please, friends from real life, forgive me if you have heard nothing personal from me in way too long.  It will be even longer.  I need to focus on creating a social network for the boys here because they need the playdates, and picking up the phone too many times in a day overwhelms me.  I know you old friends will wait for me, as you have done so many times before.  Online friends, forgive me if your blogs go unattended.  J, forgive me if I cannot support you the way you need right now.  Neither of us is Atlas, and the earth seems to be sagging between us.

            And Zachary, please forgive me if the sandwich is cut wrong.  I just can’t take any more outbursts from you, even though I know, I know, I know that you are just acting out the sea of transitions and changes we have put you through.  And Benjamin, please forgive me if you are having to be the big boy right now.

            We will keep on keepin’ on because that is what we do.  But, please, everyone, forgive me in the meantime.  It is all too much right now, and I simply cannot add guilt on top of it because it will fall over.

Home?

The flight back to L.A. on Sunday went almost as well as the flight out, which leads me to believe that perhaps my children’s Stepford behavior is either a reflection of our parenting or of their rare love of sitting still for five straight hours.  Nonetheless, it was not a trip I am anxious to repeat.  Traveling that far with the boys is hard. 

They love their grandparents and relished the time with them.  Benjamin spent the entire time asking “Where Grandpa?” whenever he could not see either grandparent, as he called both of his grandparents by that name.  My mother-in-law was probably relieved because at the beginning of the trip he had called her “the lady,” shortly thereafter upgrading her to her given name, perhaps to differentiate her from the other Grandpa.

And, we got to see some old friends and relatives we have not seen for a long time: cousins who came down from New York just to see us, the boys’ great-grandmother, J’s best friend and his family, and, most notably by Zachary’s standards, J’s brother’s family.  While Zach barely acknowledged the presence of his aunt and uncle, he was completely smitten with his cousin.  He actually has two cousins, but neither boy was interested in the baby, because she cannot walk yet, so she falls away into that category of baby-who-belongs-with-the-adults.  But her sister is just a year younger than Zach is, and all they wanted was to play with one another, with Benjamin hopefully tagging along behind.  It made me mourn for what might have been, were we raising our kids in Philadelphia, less than two hours away from these cousins.

But we are not.  We are raising them here, three time zones away.  By the time the kids adjust to a new time zone, it is time to turn around and fly back.  I, of course, adjust sooner because there are always things that must be done on local time, but it does me little good, because I must also keep the time the boys are on.  This translates to little sleep there, and even less when we return and there are no helpful relatives around, J is back at work, and the boys take a week to adjust.  I end up burning the candle in two time zones. 

To be honest, only one of the boys takes so long to adjust.  Zachary has a strong internal clock, and changes like this are difficult for him.  While we’re going for full disclosure: disruptions of all kind are hard for him.  I spend most of my time with him putting out tantrums before they start.  Others wouldn’t even notice it, as he just seems happy and excited, but it is a song we are familiar with by now.  Zachary’s stress is underneath until it isn’t anymore, and even good things stress him out.  We’ve put him through a lot of changes lately, hard for any child his age, but particularly difficult for him.

So, now we are back, and I am paying the price, both in my sleep and his mood.  He will take a week to get back to normal, just as he does every time we take visits.  Were we living closer, these would be regular weekend trips, and they would be smoother.  But we are not, and so they are not. 

Getting off the plane, breathing in drier, more temperate air, I was glad to be home, although how this can already be home is a mystery to me.  It is a maze of boxes and unexplored side streets.  Nonetheless, it is the closest we have right now, and I am glad we will not be moving or changing or transitioning for a little while.  We need to spend a little time standing in one place – all of us.  Zachary, however, was not so happy.  “Why did we have to leave Grandma and Grandpa’s?” he asked.  “Did they not want us there anymore?”

Benjamin has been moping about, frequently asking “Where Grandpa?” a question that seems to include both grandparents.

They’re at their home, baby.  And we’re…?  Sometimes it’s hard to tell.