Tag Archives: Family

Brave boy

He’s fine, thank you.  The surgery went smoothly, the adenoids are out, and the child is resting on the couch, watching Lassie and eating his second bowl of ice cream.

I’m supposed to keep him in the house for a week, which is fabulous in theory, except that he looked up after his first bowl of ice cream and said, “Mommy, I want to go outside by myself.”  If he’s up for going out ten minutes after we get home, what’s he going to be like by Wednesday?

How many times can he watch Lassie?

More to the point, how many times can his sister watch Lassie?

Please send chocolate.

Popping the question

When he was four, he wanted to know if my mother was dead.  I told him she was.

When he was four and two months, he wanted to know what she died of.  I told him that she got sick and her lungs stopped working.

When he was four and two months and one day, he wanted to know how old I had been.  I told him two.

When he was five, he wanted to know about my father.  I told him he lived far away.  But then he wanted to know about my stepmother, and eventually, after the questions became more and more probing, I told him the truth.  She wasn’t very nice to me.

“Why wasn’t she nice to you?”

“I guess she didn’t like me very much.”

“But why didn’t she like you very much?”

“I don’t know, sweetie.  I don’t know why someone wouldn’t like a child.”

He wants to know more about what she did, I think.  He doesn’t have the words to ask because he doesn’t even know the word “abuse.”  It is all so vague for him, and it’s hard for me to figure out what’s going on in that little head.

I sure as hell don’t want to tell him more than he’s asking.  He’s not asking to know that she beat me.  He shouldn’t even know that she hit me.  He’ll have sixty or seventy years of his life to understand the specifics of what happened to me as a kid; right now, it’s not necessary for him to know I slept naked on the hallway floor and ate my own vomit.

But I also don’t want to tell him less than he’s asking.  Kids left to figure shit out for themselves can imagine some pretty horrible stuff, although I guess he can’t imagine much that’s worse than what actually happened to me.  So, I wait for the questions and field them as they come.

Except when I don’t know the answer.

Because there is one question I’ve struggled with for years.  The same question that grown men ask me every single time they hear my story.  The question Zachary asked me the other day.

“Why didn’t your father help you?”

Why didn’t my father help me?  Why, indeed.  There are a couple of ways to go about answering this one, but “because he’s a narcissistic asshole” doesn’t really answer the question.  Plus, then I’d have to define narcissistic and asshole.

Instead, I went with, “I don’t really know.  I think maybe he just didn’t care that much.”

This threw Zach for a loop.  Having no experience with stepmothers, he can accept that some are bad.  But he has experiences with fathers.  In his experience, fathers care very much.

My husband thinks I answered wrong.  And maybe I did.  Unfortunately, my husband does not have any suggestions for better answers.  I think that’s because there aren’t any better answers.

How do I answer a four-year-old who wants to know why the woman on the cover of Time magazine has her nose cut off?  I mean, other than to wonder why the hell the grocery store put the magazine at precisely four-year-old height.    How do I answer when my children want to know about war and genocide and mental illness and homelessness?  I answer as honestly as I can, trying to help them understand there are injustices in the world that they can help to right.

But, when my almost-six-year-old wants to know why a father stands by and allows his children to brutalized, why my father did that, well, I just don’t know what to say.

Mr. Charming

Since we discovered that Benjamin does not have allergies and does have chronic sinusitis plus chronic infected adenoids, he has had four sinus infections.  In as many months.  We get him off antibiotics, and within two weeks, he is miserable again.  Crying, hitting, not sleeping.  Then, we get him back on antibiotics, and twenty-four hours later, he is Mr. Charming.

I took him in to the doctor on sinus infection number three.  “I think it’s time to see the ENT about his adenoids,” she said.

“I think so, too,” I replied.

I took him in to the ENT, who looked at his CAT scan.  “I think we need to take the adenoids out,” she said.

“I think so, too,” I replied.

Now, I’m not a big fan of CAT scans and surgery and general mucking about in a four-year-old’s body.  But I’m also not a big fan of my kid single-handedly creating SuperBugs because he’s rendered all of the antibiotics ineffective.  He’s been sporadically miserable for over two years, and we’ve always tried to correct the behavior.  Turns out, he was just pissed off because he was playing host to a colony of microscopic critters.

So, Friday it is.  They’ll be giving my kid anesthesia on Friday the thirteenth.  He’ll come home sore and not be allowed out for a week.  We’re shipping his brother off to his grandparents’ house for the week because I don’t need Zach pushing Ben’s buttons all week long.

Also because Zach just generally drives me bananas.

But then, maybe, just maybe, Mr. Charming can stick around a bit.

Confusing concept

“I’ll be going away for the weekend,” I told the boys.  “Zach, Ms. S will take you too and from camp on Friday.  Ben, Ms. L will bring you to camp on Friday morning, but then you’re going to Joe’s house for a playdate after camp.”  Zachary nodded.  Benjamin looked confused.  “Do you understand, babe?  Joe’s mom will pick you up from camp and bring you home for a playdate.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to a conference for the weekend,” I explained again.

Ben turned to me, sweet and troubled look on his face.  “But I love you.”

Hangin’ tough, stayin’ hungry

He knew it cold.  He knew it backwards, forwards, and inside out.  He even knew a couple words of it in Korean.

I pulled the master aside to talk to him privately, asking one of the instructors to translate.

“Benjamin is a good boy.  A good, good boy.  He tries hard, and he really wants to please you.  And he is smart.  But he is slower than other children when you ask him a question.  It takes longer for it to go in and for him to answer.”  The master, who had understood up till this point, turned to the instructor whose English is far better.  I waited as he translated.  Then I went on.

“He has worked hard to know ‘The Easy Way is No Way.’  But if you ask him with another child, he won’t be able to answer as fast as the other kids.  He will get frustrated and give up.”  By this point, I was starting to tear up.  “Please, please, test him alone.  I just want him to understand that he is as smart as his brother is.”

The master nodded and said something slowly in Korean.  The instructor translated.  “He understands and agrees with you.  But sometimes he thinks it’s good for children to learn from their mistakes.”

“But it wasn’t his mistake!  He knew it.  It was his brother’s mistake.”

The master nodded again and replied to me himself.  “Don’t worry.  We’ll take care of it.”

The instructor gave Ben a practice run during the lesson.  Then, when the lesson was over, they sent him out to me.  He began to whimper.  “What’s wrong?” asked the master.

“I want a tiger patch,” Ben said.

The master, clearly having forgotten to test him, called him back in.  Fabulous.  Get him upset, then test him.  He began strong, but as the questions went on, his voice got softer and softer.  He had just been asked these questions so many times – at home, last lesson, during this lesson – and still no one had given him a tiger patch.  Why should he trust that he wouldn’t be sent out of this lesson empty-handed, too?

He is slower to process questions than his peers.  We’ve suspected this for a long time.  He is not just one of those people who thinks things through first.  In fact, he tends to do and think at exactly the same time. When in a group, he is fully a part of the conversation, unless it is a Socratic question/answer situation.  Then, he takes so long to process the question that the lesson has moved on without him and he gives up.

But he didn’t give up this time.  And now he has a tiger patch.

So many times, it happens too fast

The master told four-year-old Benjamin that if he learned “The Easy Way is No Way,” he could get a tiger patch for his tae kwon do uniform.  “The Easy Way is No Way” is a set of principles that the children must learn before becoming a yellow belt.  Zach – almost six – won his tiger patch awhile ago, as he started tae kwon do before Benjamin did, and he has since gotten a yellow belt.

Benjamin took that handout home, determined to learn every single word on the sheet.  He learned the first item immediately: the Five Benefits of Tae Kwon Do.  However, he wasn’t quite ready with the rest of the sheet when he had his next lesson.  No matter, we go twice a week.  He knew it all by the following lesson.

Which he missed because he was sick.

We kept practicing.  He belted out, “Discipline, sir! Focus, sir! Self-control, sir! Confidence, sir! Respect, sir!” with gusto.  He was ready.

I told the master to go ahead and test him.  This was a proud moment for me, watching my little boy who had tried so hard, with so much heart, stand up and be proud of himself.

The masters lined my two boys up together.

“What are the benefits of tae kwon do?”

Zach’s hand shot up.  “Discipline, sir! Respect, sir! Self-control, sir! Focus, sir! Respect, sir!”  The master gave it to him anyway.  Then he turned to Benjamin.

Benjamin stood flummoxed.  He had just heard Zachary do it wrong, but Zachary is his older brother, and thereby by definition never wrong.  He couldn’t do it.

“Why are you the best student?”

Zach’s hand shot up.  He fumbled it, not quite remembering the words.  Benjamin, slower to raise his hand but knowing the answer, couldn’t do it when his turn finally came.

I fought the urge to jump up and run onto the mat. It is important not to show up the masters.  But they were doing it wrong!  They were supposed to be testing Benjamin, and they were letting Zach answer every question first.  And he was fucking it up for his brother, for once not on purpose.

“What must you tell your parents every day?”

Zach’s hand shot up.  Benjamin started looking around at the ceiling.  My heart sank.

“I give you chance next time,” the master told them as they finished up, and the boys came running off the mat.

“Please,” I begged, “ask Ben again without Zach.  He knows it all.  He just got confused because his brother got it wrong.”  Unfortunately, he speaks mostly Korean and I speak absolutely no Korean, so we weren’t getting very far.

I haven’t been able to sleep the last couple of nights.

I watched Ben at the library magic show.  He was focused.  He was having a ball.  He would have loved to have been the volunteer.  But every time the magician asked, he was the only kid who didn’t put his hand up.  It was as though he didn’t quite register that he should raise his hand.  Ben’s best buddy was right next to him, and that child’s hand went up every time, along with every other kid in the room.  Except Benjamin’s.  Somehow, he is slower than children his same age.

He is a very, very smart child.  He is imaginative and incredibly verbal and has the most amazing building ability.  He has remarkable scissor skills. He is adding numbers together.  But he responds more slowly than his peers and from what I’ve seen in the last week, sometimes he gives up altogether because he is slower.  He won’t show it on his face – he has too much bravado to get upset about it… outwardly.  But that kind of continual defeat is going to wear him down.

I don’t know what to do.  I suspect a very mild processing issue, and I guess we should look into early intervention.

But first things first – tomorrow when we go to tae kwon do, I’m going to make sure they test him by himself.  He has earned that damned tiger patch.

Summer reading

“Let children choose what they want to read,” the summer reading handout from our school instructs.  “Even those popular fictions parents frown upon.”

Somehow, when they came up with that advice, I don’t think they anticipated the reading selections we’ve encountered around here this summer.

Lilah began the summer by plucking Sense and Sensibility off my shelf and insisting I read it to her.  She didn’t understand a damned thing I was reading, but she doesn’t get most of Blueberries for Sal, either, so I guess it didn’t make much of a difference whether we were reading Jane Austen or Robert McCloskey.

Then there was Benjamin’s fascination with The Making of Americans.  This is a tome that I once dedicated an entire month to reading.  Perhaps impressed by the sheer heft of it, Ben pulled it off the shelf.

“Mommy, can you read this to me?”  Sure, I can read it to you.  Just don’t ask me to explain it to you.

We did three sessions and made it five pages in, which is four pages more than most people do.  He dumped Gertrude Stein the minute the new American Girl catalogue came in.

“Mommy, I want an American Girl Doll,” Benjamin declared.  Now, I’m all for buying boys dolls, but those suckers go for a hundred bucks a pop, and that’s before the outfits, the puppy, and the outfit for the puppy.

This created a dilemma.  You see, if a girlchild asked for the doll, it would be because her friends had it and she was being invited to American Girl birthday parties.  Benjamin just thought the dolls looked pretty.  While he had just had his fourth birthday and we hadn’t gotten him a present, we were not interested in spending that much for a doll that would just be another toy to him.

We came up with a new policy: we will not discuss American Girl Dolls with children under five.  When they turn five, they are free to ask their grandparents for a hundred dollar doll with two hundred dollars worth of accessories.  Grandma would get a good laugh out of it.

I came up with an even more practical solution.  Lilah and I picked up a few Lionel train catalogues, and Benjamin has taken to reading one of those.  Lilah sleeps with the other one.

Zachary – the child with the actual summer reading list – is reading his way through the recommended books in whatever order I can get them out of the library.  We are keeping a separate list of the books we read to him.  Latest on the list?  Le Morte d’Arthur.  Because Malory is just the right speed for a five-year-old.

What amazes me the most is he actually comprehends what I’m reading to him. The book was published in 1485.  The version we have has somewhat modernized language, but it is still completely baffling to my husband.  Yet our rising first-grader understands it so well that it is keeping him up at night.

“Maybe we should stop reading that book if you can’t sleep,” I told him.

“Yeah, maybe I won’t get nightmares from it when I’m seven.”  That’s just what I was thinking – set Malory aside till second grade.

Maybe it’s time to start looking around for some of that popular fiction that parents frown upon.

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.

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.”


“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.