Monday, December 17, 2007

Secret Agent

Luke has always maintained--strangely, given his obsession with superheroes--that he wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. But yesterday, he told me that he wanted to grow up to be an astronaut and a good ninja.

"Is that a job, mom? The job of a ninja?" he asked.

The only respectable job I could think of that might involve some ninja moves was that of a CIA agent, although, in retrospect, I should have talked up acting. I mean, what mom wants her kid to be a CIA field agent?

But CIA field agent is now on Luke's list of possible career choices. And I must admit, I like the possibilities with this one.

"So Luke, you really need to work on your disguises. And also your spying skills. Why don't you very quietly try to hide and spy on me for about, oh, twenty minutes. Do you think you have the agent skills to do it for twenty minutes?"

Luke was off to work on his tasks.

Later, when he was complaining about having to go to school, I casually mentioned that CIA agents have to work very hard in school. They must be very smart so they can memorize everything, since it wouldn't do to write anything down. They also have to be very good at math and must know many languages.

Luke looked at me with determination and said, "Okay, Mom."

I asked Luke if he thought he might also like to get married and have a family in addition to being an astronaut and a CIA field agent.

"I won't have a wife," he said with the utmost certainty, "I'll have a boy master."

I knew that this must have something to do with a superhero partner or ninja master. But I didn't delve into it. I'll just save it, file it away for later use. Perhaps for a wedding toast?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Another Day in the Looney Bin


At the park yesterday, Luke jive talked me into another round of a variation on his standard game, When Skeleton Vampires Attack!!! Growing weary of yet another game involving fighting, blood, death and unwilling conversion to the dark side, I finally told him that I wasn't playing that any more, end of story. I would play Super Why, and if he wanted to join me, fine.

Super Why is a PBS show that involves superheroes who read and spell to solve problems. We've only seen it once, and on that day it was about Super Why and his friends going to a book, The Little Red Hen, and finding clues that would allow them to figure out why no one would help their friend. I hoped the superhero element would appeal enough to Luke that he would join in.

We started off by identifying who we would be. Luke, deciding to play, is Super Why (who is the actual main character of the show) but we can't remember the rest of the characters, so I'm Super Z and Henry is Super Red. Luke says that we have to find a wolf.

"What do we have to do when we find the wolf?" I ask in my best superhero voice. "Let's see. I think we need to L, that says llll, then we need to O, that says ahh, then CK, that says kkk. What do we need to do?"

Luke pieces together the sounds and says, "Lock! We need to lock the wolf in jail!"

I'm feeling pleased with the way this game is going, educational and yet fun, although certainly not Waldorf approved with its television inspiration. But hey, we are public school folks these days, so PBS lends me a feeling of moral superiority.

"I can't find the wolf! I can't find the wolf!" Luke yells. Then he crouches down, as if hiding. "Wait, I'm unzipping my Super Why costume. I'm the wolf in disguise! And I'm not actually a wolf, I'm a werewolf! I'm going to bite you!" he screams as he starts chasing me around the park.

Henry throws himself down on the ground and starts to K, that says kkk, I, that says iiii, CK, do you remember from earlier? What sound do the C and K together make?

"I am Super Red! I'm Super Red Hen!" he screams as he kicks, mixing up the original plot of our game, although I'm not sure any of us remember where we started. "I want to grow some corn for my chicks!" he continues to wail. Oh yes, except that Henry has trouble with first consonants, and so he says, instead of corn, porn.

"I want to grow porn! I want to grow porn!" Henry moans.

I kneel down beside him to try to reason with him. The werewolf jumps on my back and (pretend) bites me. Having given up on our learning game for the day, I pretend to die.

"Okay, time to grow some corn!" I say, jumping up from the ground. "Come on Henry!"

"Say 'Come on Super Red Hen Mama!'" commands Henry.

"Come on Super Red Hen Mama," I sigh. We go and pretend to grow some corn.

"Now I'm putting the porn in the microwave for my little chicks!" Henry proclaims, putting some leaves in the crook of a tree.

Luke, a werewolf or a superhero, jumps through the crook.

"Don't step on my porn!" Henry screams.

"Luke, don't step on Henry's porn! I mean corn!" I say.

"I'm not Luke, I'm Super Why," says Luke.

"Time to go!" I order, exhausted. And so Luke/Super Why/Werewolf and Henry/Super Red/ Hen/Mama and I, and our Leaves/Corn/Porn, go and hop in the car.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Spewing Some Volcanic Gunk

I wrote this post a few weeks ago and waited to post it because I wasn't sure if I wanted to. But I think I will. Just so you know that I don't happen to be exploding at the moment.

* * * * * * * *

I think I generally come off as a fairly together mom, in person and in my writing. One of the ways that I maintain my sanity in the face of a very challenging child is to try to keep a veneer of calm, even if inside I am screaming. There are cracks in that veneer, usually small--a tense voice, a hand too tight around a little arm. Sometimes, usually when I am tired, these cracks become larger. I yell at the kids, or cry a lot, or say mean things. Less a crack, more a fissure. This usually relieves some stress and I'm able to go back to the calm.

Sometimes, though, the lurking fear and darkness inside become difficult to manage. They never go totally away. And it is just primal and raw, this stuff that sometimes comes spewing out, and I can't even really write about it, as much as I want to. But of course I will try.

It is fear--fear that I am doing everything wrong, fear that Luke will turn out to be a horrible person and that it will be all my fault. It is childlike insecurity, it is a feeling that no one understands what I am going through, that everyone wonders what the hell I'm doing to my kid that makes him scream and thrash around (at age five) this day, try to steal something from my friend's house the next day, bite his little brother (at age five) still the next.

It is fear that people don't know that I know. I know. I know. I know and I read and I talk to people and I think and I pursue labels or don't pursue labels and seek professional help or don't seek professional help. I've time outed and time inned and sticker charted and spanked and talked, talked, talked.

And you know, it is really tiring. It is exhausting. And I know it is life. Repetitive, ongoing, challenging. But this life with Luke is life on fast forward, life special edition, life warp speed. I know, because I have another child that shows me what an easier, slower life could look like.

I'm not saying easier and slower is what I want, necessarily. Because then I would have a different child. I would have a different life. But sometimes, just sometimes--usually when I'm tired, when I've just recieved, as I just have, the fourth phone call in a week from Luke's teacher--I wish that I could maybe just pause this life for a little bit. Slow it down.

Maybe I'm being overly dramatic because I'm frustrated and I'm tired. Or maybe not. It is simply impossible for me to tell, because I'm in it. It is what it is and usually it is okay, even fabulous and joyous and wonderful. Because dayglow life is really great sometimes.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Happy Birthday, Blog!


Dear Weblog,

You turned a year old this week! Happy (belated) Birthday! I believe you have matured over the last year, although I must admit that I am biased.

Known by nearly all as "Blog," you are funny (I hope), honest, and decently written. Your most astounding strength is your ability to flourish despite everything working against you--two kids who don't want to share their mama's attention with you, a dirty house, and the dreaded "mommy brain."

You are wonderful at helping me feel connected, accomplished, and like a thinking human being.

Here's wishing you many fruitful years to come.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

(Some Rambling) Food for Thought

I've been thinking a lot about food lately. I mean, I always think about food, because I really like to eat it. I would consider myself a foodie, really: I love to cook and to bake and to read cookbooks and to eat and to grocery shop. But lately, I've been thinking a lot more than usual about food. Part of it is that I am finally reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, her book about eating homegrown and local food almost exclusively for a year. And, too, now that we are no longer dorm parents and no longer eat in the cafeteria, I am cooking again with regularity. And with the kids pouring Halloween candy down their throats and with Thanksgiving just around the corner and Christmas cookies to start baking, oh, just any day now, there are a lot of food topics for me to think about while doing the dishes and gazing out at the falling leaves. You know, because now that I am a full time stay at home mom, that is what I do with half of my day.

I have been reading food memoirs for a year or so now--a genre I didn't know existed until recently, actually. I never thought I could write about food, since I'm not actually a gourmet, or gourmand, or whatever. But a food memoir. You know, like, why I enjoy food and what memories I have about food and what role eating and cooking have in my life. Now that I could write.

But at this point I'm just brainstorming.

I think I was, perhaps, a strange child. I do remember liking a few foods typical of what many children like: macaroni and cheese (the boxed stuff, thank you very much, minus the tuna and peas my mother liked to add), popcorn, and anything sweet. But beyond that, what I remember aren't likely the foods we ate everyday. What I do remember are the coconuts, brought home by my dad as a treat or purchased with my saved up allowance--yes, I said already that I was a strange child--that we would crack opened with a hammer, catching the liquid essence of coconut inside with a bowl. We would spend the rest of the day slivering off pieces of the coconut meat to eat. In the same exotic fruit category, I remember my dad bringing home asian pears. The ones I remember were larger than the ones available today, although perhaps this is just the work of my memory, recalling the fruit proportionally to my age. There would be one asian pear for the entire family, and after dinner my dad would slice irregular pieces and dole them out one at a time around the table.

I also must have had a thing for fried foods, because I remember my mom making corn fritters and tempura. I think she only made each of these once, but my sense memories, especially of the tempura, are strong. I remember dipping each vegetable in the batter--I think I helped with this part--and then my mom would lower a batch into the hot oil. It would bob to the surface a few minutes later, the smell of the tempura mingling with the scent of the hot oil.

Also, I loved cucumbers with salt and filet o' fish from McDonalds. And "kippered seafood snacks" on saltine crackers, a snack so horrific I can't bring myself to try it again as an adult. Just think whole small fish, brined and tinned. But I tell you, I loved it as a kid.

On my list of "won't eat" at the tender age of seven? Liver, bologna and miracle whip. That is all I can honestly remember disliking. Although I probably still ate these things, because I ate whatever I was served. No questions.

Which raises this question for me: why are my kids so picky? Is it because I don't force them to eat whatever I'm eating? I just doesn't seem fair to force a kid to eat something, especially since I like things like shellfish and stinky cheese. I mean, my kids--Luke, really, because he is the picky one and Henry just sometimes follows his lead--do eat healthy foods. Luke in particular is just very limited in what is acceptable to him in each food category. Vegetables? Steamed green beans and broccoli, cooked corn and peas, raw carrots and pea pods. Fruit? Fresh and frozen berries, melon, and an occasional pear or apple. Protein? Beans, nuts, and only McDonalds chicken nuggets because, according to Luke, "they don't taste like chicken." Grains? White rice, any kind of buttered pasta, and bread that "doesn't have crunchy things in it." Dairy? Milk and melted cheese.

Of course, Craig will, and does, eat refried beans, cheese and salsa melted together with tortilla chips every night of his life. He swears that this is his secret formula, why he can eat whatever he wants and not exercise all that much and still remain slim and fit. I don't know about that, but maybe my boys have gotten their repetitive eating patterns from their dad.

Anyway, this isn't a great post, but I can't write any more. I need to go eat.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Available for Viewing: One Semi-Hippy


Remember that ritzy suburb that I took the boys to so they could run in the sprinklers on that really hot day in August? That day that Luke wore a crazy outfit and the little boy thought he was weird? Maybe the blog post isn't seared into your memory, but the day is seared into mine. It was a day that I was looking for friendship and connection, but I just wound up hot, defensive, and feeling like a loony lady who drives a half converted biodiesel car, nurses a toddler, and lets my five year old dress up in colorful outfits that get him mocked. Oh, and I don't think I mentioned how that day ended: we stopped by to pick up the farm share veggies of an online friend, but my heat-addled brain couldn't remember her name, and the farmer grudgingly gave me a few vegetables, thinking I was trying to scam him. I certainly looked the part. I even had heat rash all over my face.

Okay, so I have joined a book group in that same ritzy suburb. Crazy, right? I have a couple of old friends from graduate school that live here, and one of them lives in said suburb. She has two kids now, both boys, one of whom is named Henry. We got together a few weeks ago, and while it was so fun to reconnect with her, our kids didn't really hit it off. But when she invited me to join her book group, I jumped at the chance. The other grad school friend is a member, as well as several other mommy friends of the ritzy suburb grad school friend. This way, I can see the friend without having to worry about our kids' chemistry. And I might make some new friends, no?

So the first meeting was a few nights ago. We were to discuss Huck Finn. But since most people hadn't finished it, we mostly just ate a lot of snacks and talked. This was great, as far as I was concerned. While my mind does crave stimulation beyond what it receives during Sesame Street, I'm just as open to friendship and adult conversation. Most of our conversation revolved around our kids. All of us had at least one, except for the one grad school friend who was due with her first in just a few days.

I could tell right away that I was, perhaps, different from most of the moms here. First of all, since the one was about to give birth (and another was about to have her second) there were birth stories all around. All of these involved an epidural and an obstetrician. I didn't offer up my own stories, which don't involve either. But I had to chime in when someone mentioned "those crazy co-sleeping families." If I was going to regularly socialize with these women, we would need to get a few things straight.

"Well, my family is a co-sleeping family," I said.

"So do you all sleep together?" and "How did you start this?" and "When will you stop?" and "I was only joking!" rained down upon me.

I ended up telling the whole double sized bunk bed story, which is perhaps even stranger than the story of the average co-sleeping family--but funnier, too, and a bit more reliant on serendipity than The Big Hippy Manual of Hippy Parenting.

But that is what I automatically became, I think, for most of these women. I was the hippy mom on display. They weren't at all mean, but they had a lot of questions.

"So wait," said one, with new perspective on our chitchat that evening. "Did you have your kids, like, naturally? I mean," she said to clarify, since this term natural had been used in reference to vaginal birth all evening, "Without any drugs?"

I nodded yes, then offered that Henry had been born at home.

Later, it was revealed that I still nurse Henry at two and a half years old.

I left feeling strange. Like I would be the subject of many conversations between many of them for the next few weeks. Like I had been on display, an exotic creature for them to examine. But I also felt pretty good. I hung out with the "conventional" moms in the "conventional" suburb in central Ohio and it was okay. It was actually pretty fun. And there was some really good cake and wine.

Next month we are reading The Jane Austen Book Club.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

For those of you that know my friend Jenny, you know this: She is warm, genuinely caring, funny, thoughtful, and spontaneous. And she is very, very generous. She will, quite literally, give you the shirt off her back. On my recent visit to Chicago, I stayed with Jenny. The morning that I was packing up to leave, she was rushing around her house finding things to pack into my car.

"I bought these three new shirts, and I love them so much. I want you to pick one to keep!" she declared.

After I picked a very cute black t-shirt with a dragonfly on the front, Jenny went on to give me a wooden table, a clock, and many more things that I dare not mention for fear that her husband, more of a collector as opposed to his purging wife, will find out.

In addition to all of the above-mentioned lovely qualities, Jenny is a bit--let's see--zealously spontaneous? disorganized? abstract? artistic? I'm not sure exactly how to describe it. Her home is lovely and well organized in many ways, streamlined and beautifully decorated. But keys often elude her, and the set of measuring spoons that I gave her upon learning that she couldn't find hers has mysteriously disappeared. She wonders why her baking sometimes flops.

When Jenny both emailed me and called me while I was on vacation in Alaska this summer to find out my new address, I was not surprised to discover that it was because she wanted to send me a gift.

"I want to subscribe to Eating Well for both of us. It is such an inspirational magazine!" said Jenny. Not one to take a list to the grocery store, she will often pick up a copy of this magazine and shop based on the recipes that look good.

I had been looking forward to receiving my first copy in the mail here at my new home, and I was not disappointed when I did. It features beautiful pictures, delicious recipes, and the added bonus that it reminds me of Jenny each time I open the pages.

A few weeks after receiving the first issue, I got piece of mail from Eating Well. It was a bill. For my subscription and for Jenny's. Well, clearly someone had made a mistake, so I ignored the bill.

A few weeks later, another bill arrived. It included a gift card that I could mail to Jenny. I decided just to pay for our subscriptions.

On my recent visit to Chicago, I decided to tell Jenny about what had happened. She has always been a friend that I could really laugh with, and I just couldn't resist sharing this with her. As I expected, she found the whole thing hilarious, and we enjoyed chuckling over the situation all weekend.

Last week, I received another notice from Eating Well. My credit card information didn't go through for some reason. Our subscriptions will be cancelled if I do not pay immediately. I'm off to call them right now.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fishing, Pets, and Other Warm and Fuzzy Childhoood Memories


Last week, when the weather was still hot, I decided to take my kids to a nearby park with a stream that is the perfect depth for wading. We have been there many times, but today our purpose was clear: to capture minnows.

I used to love catching minnows, frogs, tadpoles--anything, really--in the local ponds and lakes. It always felt as though, through my own hard work and in defiance of strict animal rules in my parents' home, I had a new pet. Of course, I always had to make the difficult decision of whether to release the animal back to its natural environment or to let it die a slow death in an old canning jar with nail-punched air holes.

This was a lesson hard-won for Luke the summer that he turned four. On vacation in Alaska, we hiked up Mount Baldy, a small mountain near my parents house, where, for some reason a scientist could explain, large fuzzy caterpillars abound only at the very top. Luke has a major soft spot for furry creatures of any sort and so quickly grabbed a couple of these caterpillars and claimed them as his own. When I explained that he had to decide whether or not to leave them at the top of the mountain or bring them home where they would die, Luke had a meltdown. Of course, he had also climbed the whole mountain on his own. It was exhaustion speaking as much as his love for all things cuddly in the screams that pounded my ears the whole way down the mountain. For the record, he chose to leave the caterpillars there.

I began feeling nervous this warm fall day, then, when I noticed how fast these minnows were swimming. Armed with kitchen sieves and antique canning jars that I bought for a quarter each at a yard sale, we walked up and down the stream searching for our potential, but perhaps temporary, new pets. And I realized that, if we were lucky enough to catch one, we would be faced with this great and horrible dilemma: If we truly loved the fish we would have to let them go. So really, I should have been happy to tromp through the tepid creek, enjoying one of the last balmy days of October, content that we didn't have to make this difficult decision.

But I wasn't. As soon as we started dipping our sieves into the water in pursuit of fish, I was transported back to the desperation I felt at age eight--an urgent desire to have a minnow of my own. Once when I was 10 years old, I stood on the back porch, still as can be and with birdseed in my open hand, for an hour, in hopes that I would become the proud owner of a baby bird. The competition, the desire, the tireless patience all came back to me as I began to bark out orders to my kids.

"SHHHHHHH! You are scaring the minnows! Do you want one? Huh? Do you? Because if you do you will SIT ON THOSE ROCKS and be still and quiet! SHHHHHHHH!"

And my sweet little boys, wanting a minnow and sensing that mommy was very, very serious, sat quietly on those rocks for a good fifteen minutes as I walked farther and farther up the creek. At one point Henry must have fallen into the water, because when I waded back to them, defeated, he was soaking wet.

Oh, a good time was had by all. Yes it was. They may not have a warm and fuzzy childhood memory to store away, nor do they have a cool and slippery pet to starve in a jar or tearfully release, but they have their plentiful mosquito bites to show for it all.

I'd better use those canning jars to start saving my pennies for their therapy in a few years.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Double Decker Family Bed

We have tried out all possible configurations of the family bed. When Luke was a babe, he slept with us first in our bed unaltered, then with us on the mattress on the floor, with me in our bed while Craig slept on the futon, in a side-carred crib, in the bed with the co-sleeper attached but never actually in the co-sleeper, and I'm sure some other configurations that I have forgotten due to lack of sleep. But now we have a new arrangement: the double decker family bed.

Craig decided to build a bunkbed for the boys. In our fantasy world, once we moved the boys would share a room and a bunkbed, and we would have, drumroll please, our own bed! But, in reality, Luke still wakes once a night for cuddles, and Henry still wakes once or twice for songs. And the thought of running down the stairs multiple times a night was not good. And, too, there is Henry's strange habit of sleeping half on, half off the bed.

So the bunkbed Craig built is a double double bed. A double bed on top. A double bed on bottom. Craig and Luke have been sleeping on top. Henry and I have been sleeping on the bottom.

And our lovely adult bedroom upstairs? With wood floors and dormer windows? Our little oasis? Yet to be unpacked. And, what we jokingly refer to as the "marriage bed" after reading a conservative Christian parenting article about not letting children manipulatively "invade" said bed? We don't actually have one yet.

I don't know what this says about our marriage. Or our parenting. But we are all sleeping okay.

* * * * * * * * *

Postscript: I wrote the above post two months ago. I kept meaning to take a photo of said bed, but somehow, sadly, that is too difficult.

Sadder still: Craig finally ordered us our own, wonderful, memory foam queen sized bed. The boys have been sleeping through the night, and we can't wait to reclaim some of our adult space and time! But the company Craig ordered it from was running a scam, I guess, because they never sent us the bed and they won't return our phone calls.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The God of Monsters


My boys are really into monsters and all things creepy crawly. Henry probably gets this from Luke, who has always had a natural fascination with the dramatic and macabre. I used to be concerned about this (something about my three year old Luke yelling, "I'm going to chop your finger off and the bathtub will fill with blood!" didn't sit right with me) but after talking to a lot of mamas, I came to the conclusion that many little boys are into "scary stuff." But, in true Luke style, he forgoes "interest" and goes straight for "obsession."

I experienced something very reassuring just a couple of weeks ago. I was volunteering at the face painting booth at Luke's school during the back to school party with another mom. Most of the boys Luke's age requested something superhero-related, and most of the boys about age 8 or older requested something sports-related. One ten year old, however, who seemed very nice, asked for a vampire mouth on one cheek. Later, he came back and asked for a scorpion and "You bug me!" on the other cheek. As he left, he said, "Bye Mom" to the woman I was working with.

"Oh, he's your son!" I commented. "I was just thinking that my Luke will be like that when he is older. Luke is really into scary things," I added.

"Yes, my son has always been like that. They just come out that way," she said.

Whew. That is strangely reassuring, although I was beginning to suspect as much. I'm not into scary stuff. In fact, I despise scary movies and had to be taken, screaming, out of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves ride at Disneyland as a child. And we never exposed Luke to any monster/villain/bloody stuff as a young child. But he has always been drawn to it.

When watching the BBC version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I had to turn it off when Eustace Clarence Scrubb, who has been turned into a dragon, begins to turn back into a little boy. As he scraped the scales away from his body--a good thing, since he can become a little boy again--Luke began to scream. It was a scream that I recognized, because it was the same scream that issued from my mouth when, at age eight, the whole haunted house at a school carnival had to be dismantled in order to startle me from my hysteria.

"Luke, this is good. It doesn't hurt Eustace. Now he can become a little boy again. He isn't a real dragon," I said in my best reassuring mommy voice. But Luke would have none of it.

Luke had this same reaction when the beast in Disney's Beauty and the Beast turned back into prince Eric. Every time Luke watched that movie, I had to turn it off before the transformation occurred.

Clearly, Luke is a little boy with great sympathy for these oft-understood creatures. Creatures that I have always associated with evil, but that Luke believes have a place beside God.

When I turned out the light at bed time the other night, Henry began to whine. "I scared!" he cried. "Scared of monsters!"

Poor Henry. He has been exposed to too much scary stuff for such a little guy.

So, trying to reassure him, I said, "There is no one in our house except Mom, Dad, Luke and Henry. Mom and Dad will keep you safe. And your Guardian Angel is here to protect you, and God is here to protect you."

"Where God? What God look like? God is monster?" asked Henry.

Oh boy.

"No, God isn't a monster. God is Jesus and also like a big daddy who loves you," I said, sleepy and trying to pull a good answer out of my dream-tinged thoughts.

"God is everywhere," Luke added. "In church, and also in our house and in monsters, too."

Oh, yes. God is in monsters, too.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Like An Ugly Mama Ape


Yesterday, I was braiding my dirty hair into two braids. Luke helped me afix the ponytail holder, and said, "Mom, you look beautiful!" I began filing the moment in my precious memories file. After all, the sun was streaming in the window and Luke and I were spending time playing games of his design as I ignored the filthy house around me. Henry slept in the next room.

"I'm glad you don't look like an ugly ape this time. You know, an ugly mama ape," he added.

I really can't think of where this comment is coming from. Perhaps this is worth delving into with him, though. It is always nice to avoid looking like an ugly mama ape if one is able.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

ISO Friend


ISO friend. Single or married. Must have kids. 4-6 year old boy ideal.

I love walking laps around the playground, putting out fires, PBJ and goldfish picnics, and issuing warnings that sticks cannot hit bodies.

No unsolicited advice, reliance on benadryl in parenting, or girl-only households.

Must laugh at threats to life, potty language, and ninja kicks.

* * *

So I'm looking for new friends here in my new town. And I must say, it is a little hard negotiating this process with two kids in tow. When I was first making friends in Chicago, Luke was a baby. He didn't care who I hung around with. He just liked to get out of the house and stare at a face other than mine.

But now I have these two little stick-wielding, ninja-kicking, poop-talkin' boys with me. And it is so complicated.

I must like the mom. But also, she must be nice to my kids. And my kids must get along with her kids. And not, you know, like, gang up on them and beat them into submission with sticks.

The other day, we met a potential new friend at the park. I liked her. The playdate went well, but ended with Luke screaming, repeatedly, "I never want to play with you again! I don't like you!" at the 5 year old.

We all left in a hurry.

A few days later, I ran into the woman, and tried to make light of the situation.

"Yah, Luke is a pretty intense guy. But we are making progress. He used to hit other kids at the park. Then he started using his words and yelling things like, 'I'm going to kill you!' Now, finally, he is saying things that are more socially acceptable, although still not very friendly," I offered, adding a little laugh.

She laughed tensely.

The search continues.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Decisions

WARNING: I say penis in the following post. And Frued. Also foreskin and retract. Just so you know.

Here's the thing about parenting: You can toss and turn and weigh advantages and disadvantages about every decision, but you can never know for sure how things are going to work out. I guess that is true about life in general, but it just seems more pronounced with your kids. We feel like we have to make The Right Decision about everything, and we fool ourselves into thinking that there is one right decision to make. At least I do.

And now I'm going to write about one series of decisions that I thought was right, but perhaps wasn't right. And I'm going to have to delete this all when Luke turns about ten. Or eight. Or whatever age a kid these days could accidentally stumble upon a blog that his mama wrote.

We are enlightened, well educated people, my husband and I. We did not--absolutely not!--have our boys circumcised. What medical evidence is there to support such a decision? Of course this was The Right Decision.

But now Luke has had a few problems--we'll just leave it at that--and the big C word is being thrown around. And let me tell you, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES go and research circumcision on the internet unless you want to be persuaded that it is a very, very bad idea. At least don't go looking for pictures.

Which is what I did a few nights ago, because, enlightened mom that I am, I made another great decision. I told Luke--in anticipation of him hearing the doctors discuss "retraction" in regards to his health--that some day, the little opening where the pee comes out will get bigger and his inside penis will be able to come out of the outer skin and then go back in. Luke turned all pale and stammering on me, and started laughing and then crying.

"But what will it look like? I don't know what it will look like! Is it like my insides coming out? Does it happen to girls? I don't want it to come out! What will it look like?"

We tried to clarify, but it just wasn't working. So I asked him if he wanted to see pictures. And after much looking and stumbling upon pictures that I did not want to see, including pictures of older males being circumcised, I found a black and white drawing illustrating what I thought Luke needed to know. I called Luke to the computer.

Luke took one look at the pictures and went, shrieking, out of the room. Later, he fell asleep mumbling, "But what will it look like?"

The next morning I said, "Good morning Luke."

His reply? "I don't know what it will look like!"

Have we made the right decisions? I have no idea. I'm worried that I've mucked it all up, and that the messing about by doctors, the rubbing with ointments, the scary images in his head and the not-helpful pictures on the computer are giving him some sort of complex. I don't know. I'm fumbling around here, trying to make the right decisions, and I know in the grand scheme of things this is not a Huge Deal.

It is just that everything feels so monumental sometimes. And yes, Freud could have a heyday with all this.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Neverland

Luke starts Kindergarten in three days, and I'm preemptively beginning to mourn the peer pressure that I know he will feel. He will be going to a small, reputable public elementary school--a good school. I don't think he's going to be pressured into smoking weed after school or chugging a beer behind the playground equipment. But I did get a glimpse, just a few days ago, of the way he will begin to feel some pressures to conform.

In swimwear, Luke does not stand out from his cohort of five-year-old boys. We were at a local park with a "splash pad" a few days ago, and Luke was wearing his spiderman swim trunks. He fit in. But, when we emerged from the changing room, Luke had on his homemade batik, bug print cotton pants, his swirly blue crocs, and no shirt, since we were about to climb into our "project" car that doesn't have an air conditioner. A little boy who had been splashing with Luke asked, with a bit of a smirk on his face, "Are you wearing your pajamas?"

"No," Luke replied.

"Why aren't you wearing a shirt?" the boy continued.

I felt my breath quicken. What was this little boy implying? That Luke isn't cool? That Luke's clothes aren't sports- or superhero-centric enough? My Luke, who, other than his love of superhero T-shirts, couldn't care less about what he wears. Who likes bright colors, fun patterns, and who has worn his homemade Peter Pan costume to school (including green tights) on more than one occasion.

I calmed myself down and casually yet brightly (read: with an undertone of hysteria) replied, "These are his pants that his friend's mom made! Aren't they cool? And Luke doesn't have a shirt on because we are about to ride in our hot car without air conditioning!"

Of course, I probably don't have anything to worry about. Luke will likely be able to stand up for himself, even in public elementary school. When I looked over at Luke, to see if his feelings were hurt, I saw him place his hands over his ears and squeeze his eyes shut.

Then he shouted, for the whole park to hear, "I don't want to hear another word out of your mouth!"

I know he'll have to leave Neverland eventually. But I don't want him to yet.

First Crush


We went out to ice cream the other day, and while we were eating, Henry looked over at the line to the counter.

"Look, mama! That guwul!" he said.

"Yes, Henry," I replied.

"That guwul is bootiful!"

The girl looked like any other girl, I thought. Blond hair, cute enough, wearing an orange shirt and a brown skirt.

Then Henry added, with a smile on his face, "I want to go cuddle she!"

Saturday, August 11, 2007

My Henry, Turning Over a New Leaf

Remember all of those things I wrote about Henry being my sweet natured fellow? A people pleaser? Focused on others? Emotionally sensitive? Well, we seem to have entered a new era with Henry. We have entered the dreaded Terrible Two's. And really, this is just a cute way of saying this: the Angel Baby has become the Demon Child. Okay, okay, just indulge me in this hyperbole. He did, after all, take my icons off the shelf yesterday and place them, face down, under the table.

With Luke, I didn't buy the whole "terrible two's" thing. Luke was actually getting easier by the time he turned two. I thought that Luke from age two until age Henry Was Born was pretty fun. In fact, come to think of it, we decided to try to conceive again when Luke was about two. Let me tell you, that ain't gonna happen again anytime soon.

Because every ounce of our energy is spent dealing with these kids. Luke has always taken a good deal of energy, but we could sort of coast with Henry. Maybe that is part of the trouble: we have always expected him to go with the flow, and now he is putting his foot down. He has to make a ruckus so that he can make his opinion known.

Henry has to do everything for himself. Luke was, and still is, a child that prefers to be done unto. He likes us to dress him still. He actually told me that he does not want to learn to wipe his own bottom. But Henry. Oh, Henry. He must do everything himself. If we walk out the door together, he insists, insists, on going back in and doing it himself. And don't even think about pushing on the door one little bit with one finger. If this much help is given, Henry must start all over. If said door opening results in Henry, oh, say, falling out the door onto his face, as it did yesterday, the whole process must begin again.

And the nights. I'm not sure if these are the dreaded "night terrors," but every few nights Henry wakes up once or twice screaming for nursies, screaming to get up, screaming for his mommy, who he then does not permit to touch him. He lurches around the room like a half baby, half big boy swamp monster. He is permanently hoarse from these screaming sessions.

I suppose it only makes sense that it would be harder for a people pleaser to claim his own independence. And I'm glad he is standing up for himself and his desires. Only, it is just so exhausting. And his timing really isn't good, what with the move and all.

But at least I'll have more stories for my blog.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Move in Progress


I haven't posted in so long because, for the last several weeks, we have been moving. I mean, there was an actual move date, but the whole process has been going on for a while. We are only getting just a little bit settled right now.

And let me tell you, it is all I can do some days to keep the panic and utter mania at bay.

The problem is, every other time we have moved I have been able to actually unpack. The last time we moved Luke was one year old, and he took a long afternoon nap, during which time I would unpack as furiously as possible until I collapsed on the bed beside Luke for a quick snooze before he woke up. This sounds heavenly now. Almost up there with sleeping in, eating chocolate for breakfast, and having a pedicure while reading a book. Seriously.

Because now, this is what a day is like: wake up at 5 am, read books to the kids for two hours so they won't tear up the tenuous order we have begun to establish in the house, feed them breakfast, wake Craig so he can work, take the kids out of the house so they won't tear up the house and/or bug power-tool-wielding Craig, come home, feed them lunch, try to get Henry down for a nap, make some dinner and do some dishes and laundry. Okay, you get the picture. There is not a lot of unpacking going on, at least on my end.

This is all made much, much worse by Henry's recent development from Happy People Pleaser into Psycho Independent Man. This really deserves its own post, which it shall receive, but suffice it to say that our nights have been less than peaceful, what with Henry waking every few hours and lurching around the house screaming at the top of his lungs for whatever thing he has decided he needs at 2 am. I mean, nursies, cheese and books in those early, pre-dawn hours all sound reasonable to you, right?

I should have known that it would not be a peaceful move when we wound up leaving our car in Chicago on the day of the move. Who leaves their car behind? Oh, yes, and the vomiting on the airplane. Me. Vomiting for much of the flight while trying to take care of Luke and Henry by myself.

And now, the nightmares. A few nights ago I dreamed that we got in trouble for having such a long lawn, and so, since we don't have a lawnmower yet, Craig mowed it with a weed trimmer. The next night, I dreamed I was in Jenny's kitchen shredding chicken with my new suburban friends, who started lecturing me about Luke's behavior. We don't even really live in the suburbs, it is just that Worthington, Ohio is so very suburban compared to Chicago.

Every day I alternate, several dozen times, between giddy elation and despair. We are living in a house for goodness sake! With a yard! This in opposition to a small, two bedroom apartment in a dorm, where we were responsible for 78 undergraduates. There is parking at all of the stores, where the workers are friendly! There are lots of beautiful trees and parks. But, alternately, these parks are empty. Everyone must be hanging out in their own large backyards. And so, I stand out even more, the lone mom sitting on top of the playground equipment nursing my toddler, getting ready to return to my long-lawned house full of boxes.

But we are making progress.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

RIP, Doc Oc


While in Alaska, we got a call from our pet-sitter. Luke's guinea pig, the aptly-named Doc Oc (what could be more villainous than kicking litter and turds onto my floor?) had, sadly, died. We weren't sad for ourselves, really, since we always wound up caring for this messy, biting animal, but we knew that Luke would be very upset when he discovered that his only pet was dead.

We decided not to tell Luke about Doc Oc's demise until we got home from vacation. Luckily, when we arrived home at 7 a.m. from a night of flying, Luke was asleep. Sleep-deprivation was not something we needed to add to the mix when we were gingerly telling Luke about the death of his beloved villian.

The day before we flew home, I had casually said to Luke, "You know, when I was a little girl, my dog cocoa died. She was very old and just fell asleep and never woke up."

Knowing Luke and his intensity, as well as his great love of television and junk food, I ad-libbed a little extra, throwing in, "and my parents let me eat lots of candy and watch a lot of T.V. the day cocoa died since I was sad."

So when Luke woke up from his long nap that day we came home, he asked if our pet sitter was in the house.

"No, Luke, Charlie just came to our house to take care of Doc Oc but he slept at his house," I told him, realizing that now was the time to break the news to Luke.

With a nervous stomach, I told Luke that Charlie had called a few days before and told us that Doc Oc had died. Luke cried. He cried quite a bit. But he didn't scream. He didn't freak out. His reaction seemed appropriate.

And then, when he was done crying, he asked me, "Can I watch T.V. and eat candy now?" And I said yes.

I wasn't sure what we should do with the body, but I knew I wanted it out of my freezer. (Yes, we told Charlie to put the body in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer. What else were we to do? And, too, this carries on a family tradition that involves a dog and a suitcase and a deep-freeze.) So I told Luke that we would decorate a special box and put Doc Oc in it. Then we would have a memorial service and leave the box out in the hall for the pet buriers to pick up. That's all this city-dwellin' mom could come up with on two hours of sleep.

Luke made a great box, and at the service Luke asked me to say a prayer and he would share some of his favorite memories of his pet.

"Dear God," I prayed, "Please be with Doc Oc up in heaven and tell him that we miss him. Please give him lots of space to run around in and lots of produce to eat. Please take good care of him until Luke comes to heaven, too, in a long, long time. Amen."

Luke seemed satisfied with the prayer, and began his part of the service, speaking in a strange, sing-song sort of monotone.

"I remember when Doc Oc bit me on the finger," Luke said. "I remember when he ate his food. I remember when he sat in his cage."

Craig and I, in our sleep-deprived states, were beginning to get a little hysterical at this point, so we cut Luke off and carried the box to the hall.

A half hour later or so, after Craig took a furtive trip to the dumpster, we told Luke that the pet buriers had come. And in his sugared-up T.V. daze, he raced out to the hall with a look of childish, joyful belief, happy that the mysterious pet buriers had done their job.

I hope you are somewhere with a lot of space for running and a lot of produce to eat, Doc Oc.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Don't Hurt a Forest Troll's Feelings


Camping the other day, hanging out around the campfire, a little old lady walked through the edge of our large wooded campsite carrying a folded up tent in a carrying bag.

"A forest troll!" Luke shrieked loudly. Certainly loudly enough that the woman, as well as many other campground neighbors, surely heard. "A forest troll carrying a bomb case!"

We were feeling well embarassed when Luke added, as if for good measure, "Eeww! Gross! The troll is so tiny and wrinkled!"

The ensuing discussion, I think, did make an impression on Luke. The impression that he is supposed to talk quietly about forest trolls carrying bomb cases. One might hurt someone's feelings. But nothing seemed to dissuade Luke from his belief that this was a troll. And we focused on the hurting feelings issue more than the species of the creature.

The next day, when we were visiting with Wade Hampton Miller after hitting his bus, Luke, ever the social butterfly, threw into the conversation that he had seen a forest troll carrying a bomb case the day before.

"Do you have lots of imaginary friends?" asked the musician/bus driver.

"It wasn't imaginary," Luke said in a stern and deadly serious voice. "And it wasn't my friend."

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A Reunion, Alaska Style

We have been in Alaska for the last two and a half weeks, and I think I'm finally adjusting to the pace here. It takes me a while. Everything moves more slowly in this largest of large states. The daylight stretches on forever and the mountains surround us and reach for the sky. Life moves like the tides, inching up and down almost imperceptibly, against this monumental setting. I get anxious to hit the Chicago streets, one kid strapped on my back and one in the stroller, and visit bookstores, bakeries, parks, and friends at least one-per-block. Instead, every outing takes planning, two carseats, one vehicle, and large bottles of sunblock and mosquito repellant. The other day, stuck at the in-laws house without a car, I spent two hours looking under rocks for bugs with Henry as my only company. But once I gave in to this slower pace, I began to enjoy it.

When in Chicago, I run into friends all over our village-like neighborhood. It seems I can't walk anywhere without running into several friends and many acquaintances. In Alaska, these meetings-between-friends happen less often, but take on seemingly epic proportions. I visit the coffee shop where my sister works, only to run into my in-laws, whose friends happen to stop in, joining us for coffee. Then, it turns out, my sister has become friends, all on her own, with the friend of the in-laws. And I find these connections everywhere, snaking through almost every interaction, almost every day.

A few days ago, we were coming back from camping in a borrowed camper. Now, we used to scorn campers, but having kids and getting older and creakier, we decided to give it a try. The day before, on our way to the campground, Craig had crashed into one of the millions of roadside coffee stands (coffee too! monumental!) but thank goodness, the person working inside merely said, "Don't worry about it. This thing gets hit a lot harder by bigger RV's."

So we decided to stop, out in the middle of nowhere, to get some ice cream. As we pulled into the parking lot, we passed by a stopped bus in order to park in a spot in front of it. And again, Craig underestimated the size of the vehicle he was driving (vehicles too!) and he hit the side mirror of the bus. We got out, and the bus driver was nowhere to be seen. But moments later, walking out of the outhouse tucking his shirt into his pants, came Wade Hampton Miller, the musician who had played at our wedding ten years before.

"Are you Wade Hampton Miller?" we asked. After we reminisced about our wedding for a few moments, we asked if he was the bus driver, which, indeed, he was. As we waited for the insurance guy to show up, we spent over an hour catching up with this old acquaintance. We ate ice cream, and then burgers, and we talked about weddings, kids, camping and driving busses.

It was a scene right out of Northern Exposure.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Happy Birthday, Henry

Dear Henry,

You turned two a few weeks ago. The fact that I am writing this letter only now says so much about what it is like to parent you. Patience is one of your strengths.

You have been called a people pleaser. A follower. Even "the happiest kid I have ever seen!" by more than one. All of this makes parenting you so enjoyable.

But it's funny. Often, people tell me that you are so happy as if they are complimenting me. Congratulating me on what a good parent I am. And I can say this with great conviction: You came this way. Besides a bout of early colic, this is just your nature. You have always smiled at everyone, flirted with those around you, looked outward for congratulations after each new accomplishment.

My job as a parent might be to teach you that you don't always have to make everyone happy. That it is okay to be different. That you might make some people mad sometimes, but that it isn't your problem. These are things I'm trying to teach myself.

At two, you love having your toenails painted, wearing hear clips. You love shoes and clothes with lots of color. But these little quirks, these little things you do only to please yourself, might be not last. You might realize, at some point, that most little boys don't paint their toenails pink.

And then I hope I can help you to find some other way to express who you are, only for you. Because I don't know you inside out, and you might surprise me, but I think that you are a follower. You are concerned for those around you. You want to fit in. And this external focus is delightful, but I hope you never lose too much of yourself.

I hope you can keep the pink and purple in your life.

Love,
Mommy

Friday, June 15, 2007

Farewell, Steiner


Luke is finished with his second year of Waldorf preschool, heading for public school next year. We have found a place to live in Columbus that has half-day kindergarten, and that is what we have decided Luke will do. And I have to say, it feels really good.

Gone are the days of furtively distributing spiderman fruit snacks after we have distanced ourselves by two blocks from Luke's school. Goodbye to forbidding certain movie-themed clothing from Luke's school wardrobe. And a big farewell to Rudolf Steiner's reincarnation, gnomes, and early weaning!

Don't get me wrong: I love feeding my children wholesome, organic food; I believe in very limited television; I think simple toys are often the best.

But I'm tired of feeling like bad junk-food-pop-culture-plastic-superhero mama. And because Luke is who he is, I always felt like his teachers were asking, "What caused him to pretend he was shooting with that lovely driftwood? Does he watch TV? Does he stay up late? Does he eat chocolate?" And, also because Luke is who he is, he has a categorical knowledge of all things superhero, soda-pop, and weapon-oriented. And I'm sure he talked about this stuff at school.

So my feeling now that Luke is done with this school is one of relief. And I think he feels happy, too. When we visited his friend Anna's more mainstream preschool the other day, he watched very closely. I think he is eager to go on to the next phase of his education. And I'm eager to find a place where I can feel more comfortable with my moderate parenting style, one that values outdoor play with rocks and sticks, but that simply can't justify forbidding a spiderman fruitsnack now and then.

Friday, June 08, 2007

FasTracKids


I'm thinking a lot about educating kids right now. Actually, thinking might be the wrong word here. Obsessing is more like. You see, I've reached this critical point in my firstborn's life where he is the age for kindergarten. The issue can no longer be avoided.

I sent Luke to a waldorf preschool after having visited precisely one preschool, the one that he attended. I didn't agree with some of the philosophy and practice, but those teachers really seemed to love the kids. And there were those great organic snacks. Here's the thing: I didn't think it mattered so much what kind of school Luke went to for a few half days a week, so long as he got to play a lot with a lot of different kids.

But now we are facing the prospect of sending him to public kindergarten, which, where we are moving in Columbus, as in so many cities now, is full day. That is usually around six hours per day, five days per week. And most of the school's websites focus on "achievement" and "independence" and "standards." Of course these are not bad personality traits and goals--but perhaps not so essential for the under-ten crowd. And as I picture my barely five-year-old in such a structured environment for so many hours per day, I feel simply stricken with disbelief.

I truly don't believe that it could be good for him to spend so much time away from us at such a young age. I just don't. I know that it is good for many children, and necessary for many others. But I'm just talking about my Luke. My Luke who still has difficulty separating when he goes to the school that he has gone to for two years where the teachers love him and the teacher/child ratio is 1:7. My Luke, who is still very, very attached to his (somewhat odd) habit of "cuddling daddy's earlobe" or (odder still) "cuddling mommy's mole."

In the most recent issue of Brain, Child magazine--which, I should add, is the most balanced and interesting parenting magazine I have ever read, one that I read, cover to cover, as soon as it arrives--there is an advertisement for FasTracKids. This program, the ad promises, will "build communication and speaking skills, promote leadership and personal growth, and teach the application and transfer of knowledge." There is a picture of a girl, probably about Luke's age, giving a presentation with a microphone. This program is for children ages 0-6. Perhaps if children attend this program they will have the skills necessary to start a company with as clever a name, a company that, as the ad says in fine print, has "franchise opportunities available."

Compare this with the kids in the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, written in the 50's, that I am currently reading to Luke. They go to school, sure, and their parents certainly don't agonize over what school they will attend. All of the children go to the neighborhood public school. But school is really just an afterthought. The real drama occurs after school, when the kids wander home together in packs, eat large slices of applesauce cake that their moms bake, and spend the rest of the day building clubhouses, forming "neighborhood clubs," and being cured of their bad behavior with Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's magical medicines. 0-4 year olds are certainly not attending school or educational programs. In one story, the baby is dressed in his "ski suit" and put out to play in a playpen in the yard on a cold winter's day while his mom works inside.

Now this is not intended to be a 50's nostalgia post--and certainly the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books don't bode well for women in many ways--but my point is this: I'm stuck in a position where I'm struggling to manufacture a childhood experience for my kids that was standard in the 50's. I want to be able to send them to the local school that all the neighborhood kids go to and that is just fine. I want kindergarten to last half the day and to be about playing nicely. I want Luke and Henry to run around the neighborhood, to spend lots of time outside, and to while away the hours building forts and hauling rocks.

I'm just trying to figure out how to make this possible. I need Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and some of her magic: time travel powder, or urbanizing suburbia pills, or, well, I don't know. Even just some make up her darn mind juice would do.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Another Botched Parenting Moment


So last night Craig was giving the boys a bath while I made dinner, when Craig called for me in an urgent voice. When I got to the bathroom, Craig told me that Luke had something to ask me.

"Why are testicles important for making babies?" Luke asked, blushing slightly.

And then Craig and I started giggling.

What are we, sixth grade boys in health class? Come on.

And what was up with Craig pulling me into the middle of this? I didn't know what questions had come before this, what information Craig had already supplied.

So then we stepped out of the bathroom and conducted a whispered conversation. Another shining moment in our parenting history, to be sure.

I told Craig that he should answer the questions that Luke asks as simply and directly as possible. Play it cool. Don't give more information than Luke asks for. Apparently, this is what Craig had tried to do, but Luke kept pressing the conversation until Craig wasn't sure what to say.

So I went back in the bathroom, and answered as breezily as possible after that ridiculous series of events, "Well, a baby is made with a sperm and an egg. The egg comes from the mom and the sperm from the dad. The testicles help make the sperm."

"Why does the baby only grow in the mom?" Luke asked.

"Because the mom has the uterus, remember, the special place where the baby grows?" I replied.

"Why didn't God give men uteruses?" Luke continued.

"Well, Luke, that is a really good question," I responded.

And then that was enough, and Luke went back to splashing in the bath.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Spiritual Rewards

Today Luke was being nasty--truth be told, I don't even remember what he was doing, being that this was a day that started with Luke peeing in the trash can and ended with Luke punching our guests' little boy in the stomach--and he asked me if God can hear everything.

"Yes, Luke, God hears everything."

"Does he even hear when I whisper this quietly?" Luke asked, and then whispered something so softly that I couldn't hear him.

"Yes, Luke, He hears you all the time, even when you are just thinking," I answered.

Luke looked worried, so I went on. "God doesn't get mad at us, though. He just feels sad when we do bad things because we grow further away from Him. But God is happy when we are good because every time we do something good we grow closer and closer to Him."

"So is our house moving up a little each time I do something good?" Luke asked, "Or does God come a little closer to the ground?"

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Conversations With Henry

Henry is talking a lot these days, even using a lot of sentences, but I can't always understand him. Yesterday in the bathroom, Henry hovered over the toilet and said, "I stand go peepee fall down boom boom" and then spit emphatically. I asked for clarification. Henry repeated, vigorously, "I stand go peepee fall down boom boom!" and spit again. I got most of it, I think, but I'm not sure about the spitting part.

For whatever reason, Henry is obsessed with spitting these days. He spits his yogurt out repeatedly onto the dining table. He spits at me. He offered me a lick of his lollipop and when I declined, he spit in his hand and politely offered me a bit. And he really uses this spitting to communicate. He thinks it is an expression of emphasis, I think. But he also seems to understand the literal meaning of the expression "to spit out." The other day I told Henry to spit out his gum, just as he was taking it out of his mouth with his hand. He looked at me for a moment, puzzled, then put the gum back into his mouth and spit it directly onto the counter, along with a small puddle of saliva.

I think that something has clicked in his brain recently and he now understands my words much more than he recently did. But, of course, he still doesn't understand many of the nuances of expression (although he is forging ahead in his makeshift, spitting-for-emphasis way). I asked him to hang up the phone the other day, and instead of placing it back into the receiver on the counter, he started looking up in the air for somewhere to put it.

How is it that Henry's language development seems so miraculous to me? I've gone through it all before with Luke. But somehow, it seems new and story-worthy, even the second time. Maybe, like the fuzziness of memory that surrounds childbirth, this is one of the blessings that we are given as mothers: that watching a small baby grow toward a life of his own is fresh and exciting, each and every time.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Violence, Waldorf Style

We recently celebrated the Spring Festival at Luke's school. Activities included making cloth butterflies, blowing bubbles, and digging in the dirt. But the climax of the day was when each child was crowned with a wreath of flowers and we all danced around the May pole. It was hot, it was late, and five songs on the teacher's flute were just a bit much. Luke got in a chest puffing, spitting, yelling match with the twins, Van and Elvis, which climaxed in Luke tearing Van's crown off of his head and throwing it to the ground. Van burst into tears.

Aaah, these little boys that attend the Waldorf school. They dance their little gnomes around in the flowers but also use the driftwood to make toy guns. For a full year, the game of choice for the boys was "trap house." From what I can gather, this game had a slightly different meaning for each of them, but for Luke it meant building a machine (with chunks of wood, pieces of silk cloth, wooden kitchen tools and play stands) that would catch and kill the enemy. Unfortunately, the enemy could be someone from school.

While the days of trap house seem to be fading, the conflict at school remains present. The night of the Spring Festival incident, Luke and I said his standard guardian angel prayer, but he interrupted my singing later to add, "And God, please take care of Van and Elvis." Then, he told me, by way of explanation, "We are supposed to pray for our enemies."

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Mommy Diet

For some reason, my nurse-a-toddler-on-demand-but-eat-whatever-the-heck-I-want diet plan seems to be failing me these days. Much to my dismay, my baby belly seems to be growing right along with Henry. Maybe it is because what I want is a tub of ice cream after the kids go to bed, or four cinnamon rolls washed down with two glasses of wine.

Dont' get me wrong. I don't consider myself a binge eater--even though I have been in the past. On the whole, having children has been very good for my body image and my relationship with food. It is just that my relationship with food is--what shall we say?--a bit unrealistic. I used to have some self-discipline when it came to eating. Now I just don't.

I gained 50 pounds when I was pregnant with Luke. But then I nursed him on demand until I was four months pregnant with Henry. And Luke was a nursaholic. And I trained for, and ran, a marathon, a half-marathon, and a 10-k when Luke was little. Then pregnancy again, and nursing a hungry little Henry while running around after Luke. And then there are the runs that I squeeze in here and there, all while pushing 75 combined pounds of kid in the double jogging stroller.

So this is all to say that while growing and birthing and nursing two little people has made me respect and care for my body a lot more, it has also nurtured in me a false sense of sensible eating. Six full meals a day plus liberal servings of chocolate, ice cream and red wine have been fun, but as Henry nurses less and Luke stays by my side more, I've got to re-learn what normal portion sizes look like. In these last five years I have leaned toward the exercise-and-nurse-more-when-the-scale-creeps-up diet, but I think it is time to return to the world of normal eating.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Losing My Religion

I don't always know how strict to be with our religious practice and instruction with the kids. We are Orthodox Christians, but Luke, in particular, seems drawn to quite a spiritual smorgasbord. And, truth be told, we aren't strict at all. I'm always happy when my kids show some sort of spiritual inclination, even if it isn't within our religious tradition.

I think it all started when Luke was about a year old. We were at a long, crowded Orthodox service, and I took Luke outside for a walk. He immediately toddled over to the Baptist church next door where there was some great singing and dancing going on, and walked up the steps. He stood, enthralled, for about ten minutes, which was nine minutes longer than he had ever stood still at our church.

Then, when Luke was three years old, he started attending a Waldorf school. This type of schooling is based on the methods of Rudolf Steiner, who founded the Anthroposophy movement, which is basically a philosophy/religion. So while the school isn't a religious school per se, it is informed at every turn by anthroposophy--which, I might add, is pretty kooky. But we do love the school. Except there is this little detail: Luke prefers to say his school "blessings" before we eat rather than our Orthodox prayers. So as we light a candle, he says "Fire fairy, fire bright, thank you for your golden light." Then, making lovely little hand gestures, he sings something like, "Sun, that gives us golden light, earth, that gives to us this food, dear earth, dear sun, we won't forget what you have done." Now, it is probably all about the singing and the hand gestures, and also about doing his own thing, but I sometimes wonder if we should allow Luke to cultivate these little pagan-like rituals.

And then there was that time that Luke met his Guardian Angel. It was downtown in a Subway restaurant. Chicago was hosting the Gay Games, which I can't believe was a coincidence. We dashed into the place to escape a huge thunderstorm, as did many others. All the tables were taken except for one, and on it were four lovely, feathered, white wings. At the table beside the wings sat two men, both dressed in all white. "Excuse me," I asked, "Are these your wings?" They did belong to the men, who politely moved them. Luke then began to quiz them.

"Are you Angels?"

"Yes," they replied.

"Why did you take off your wings?" Luke asked.

"Because we are taking a break from flying," they responded.

"Why did you leave heaven?" Luke questioned.

"Well, we are on an exchange program," was their answer.

Later that night, when I said the Guardian Angel prayer with Luke, he said excitedly, "I may have met my Guardian Angel today!" I hmmmmmed a lot and left it at that.

Also, Luke is obsessed with Greek Myths. And Russian Folk Tales. And The Arabian Knights. Anything in the "Myths and Legends" section of our public library. All of which, obviously, go into great detail about other systems of belief. I don't broach this too much with Luke, besides an occasional, "Are these real gods?" question, which Luke always answers with a no. And then we usually laugh, because, really, what kind of a god would get mad at people and do mean things to them? Well, except the Old Testament God, I guess. But no problem--I overheard Craig telling Luke that the Genesis creation story is a metaphor. Whew! I'm glad Luke has that cleared up. I don't want him to get confused or anything.

Henry loves church. Every time I ask him if he wants to go to church, he says, "Yes! Church! God! (Father) John!" But Luke--not so much church love there. So I think I'm okay with his exploration of spirituality in all of these various forms. Who is to say, after all, that he didn't meet his Guardian Angel that day? I'll bet if Jesus were here today, he would visit the Gay Games.

And then, the other morning, I overheard Luke talking to God. He was muttering, "Dear God, let us all have a good day today. Let me be nice and let mommy not be too crabby."

Amen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Half Full, or Half Empty?


We are always struggling with how to deal with Luke's misbehavior. Lately, we have been working on being as positive as possible with him, as this seems to help him the most. So today, after he and Henry got in a punching match--and after I separated them and time-outed them and lectured them sufficiently--I sat them both down and told them that they are both very special. Each of them, I said, was made especially by God for our family. But, I threw in, they are each very different.

"Yes," said Luke. "I see the house half full, and Henry sees the house half empty."

And you know, I think I always thought of Luke as a half empty kind of guy, prone to moodiness and self-doubt, flying into rages at the smallest of setbacks. But I'm glad to know he thinks otherwise. And, in true, grandiose Luke fashion, his metaphor for life isn't just a glass. It's a house.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Oopsy Henry

Henry is extremely clumsy. I'm beginning to wonder if I should be worried. The thing is, I can't figure out why he bumps his head multiple times a day, how he manages to flip, headfirst, off of so many large objects.

Just this morning he was sitting on the counter, helping me make coffee. I was holding the glass caraffe over by the sink, while he sat a few feet away by the coffee maker. Then, before I knew it, I saw him rolling, headfirst, off the counter. My mama instinct kicked in, and I was over to him in a flash. Of course, I still had that caraffe in my hand. So I saved Henry from hitting his head on the tile. He did, however, shatter the caraffe with his head.

My instinct tells me that there is nothing wrong with him. But the way he approaches the world is so open and joyful and bumbling--he is bound to be tripped up by reality. Half his accidents are caused by his flirting. He focuses on a person, waves and smiles and carries on, meanwhile running into a wall.

I guess I hope he doesn't change.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Important Childhood Moments

"Now just a touch of fish sauce!"


Climbing a tree


Bouncing while chewing a frog



Chocolate Painting

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Artistic Process


Luke colored me this picture yesterday morning. He colored the balloons, the rainbow, the sky, and the little girl. Then he proudly handed me the picture.

"Thank you Luke! This picture is so beautiful!" I exclaimed.

"Wait!" he yelled in a panicked voice. "I forgot the gravestones!"

"Okay," I responded, waiting for the story to unfold.

And I really should have thought of it, you know. Surely I saw the gaping hole in this pretty scene.

"Long before Trader Joe's existed here," Luke began, "there was a fierce battle, and many fell. This is why there are gravestones."

Okay.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Parenting Advice

Here is the key to parenting: It is difficult. There is no way around it. And anyone who tries to sell you a book that will make it less unwieldy, less scary, less disorderly, is selling you a pack of lies. At least that is what I think. But if your experience is different, I'm okay with that.

But Dr. Spock. Dr. Sears. John Rosemond. Dr. Dobson. The FlyLady. They don't work for me. Timeouts. Spanking. Reward charts. Not my cup of tea.

I have been disillusioned way too many times.

Not to say that keeping an orderly house doesn't make life a little more bearable, or that a timeout or a sticker chart can't help in some situations. But I'm the kind of gal that needs a bag of tricks. A parenting toolkit.

And underneath it all, what really works for me is being a calm and gentle person myself, working on not throwing my own tantrums. Working on being the best example I can for my children. Communicating as authentically as I can with them.

I always have this little voice in the back of my head that chides me for not being in better control of my children. But here's something I have realized, and I know it may rub some people the wrong way: My goal is not to control my children. My goal is to help them be loving, thriving adults. And I think the journey there will be awkward, tiring, and not always very pretty. And of course, there will also be moments of nearly unbearable beauty and joy.

Maybe I'm letting myself off the hook. My children behave horribly sometimes. But I don't often feel that their behavior really corrolates with how "good" of a parent I'm being at the time, how strict a disciplinarian or how perfectly I remember to reward the good behavior.

The better I discipline myself, the better our life together feels. And that's about all the advice I can give.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Two Small Victories

I feel out of words, lately, which is strange. I think part of it is that I have been realizing that I am a far, far worse mother when I try to spend time on the computer while my children are awake (from 5 am to 7 pm), and after they go to sleep I'm really not good for much.

But I do have two small miracles to report: Last week, we went to Presanctified Liturgy (an evening church service that we celebrate during Lent that I love) and it went really well. It starts at 6:30, which is when we are usually turning off the kids' lights at our house. But we needed to go to confession and we really wanted to attend one Presanctified during Lent--a lofty goal!--and so we just did it. Henry fell asleep in the car and napped while we went to confession before the service, and Luke was in one of his unpredictable, wonderful moods. So it was all quite lovely. And, yes, there was the moment before communion when the boys were wrestling up on a pew over a baggie of goldfish. And, true, we did bring Luke's inflatable Batman bed, which for some reason distracted me. But when it was all said and done, the service was more fortifying than draining, which is not often the case.

And the other: I have, not once, but twice, been able to complete an exercise video with my children around. This might not sound like much, but it has been years--years!--since this has happened. It feels like some small piece of myself that I have reclaimed, and it is sweeter because I didn't have to pay or bribe someone to take my kids away in order for it to happen.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Baton Wielding Beauty

I love the absurd arguments that children get into. Well, I guess I don't always love the absurd arguments that my particular kids get into at the time that they get into them, but I definitely can appreciate the humor later. In our house, since Henry has recently been speaking much more clearly, the arguments have taken on new sophistication. Only three months ago, the verbal banter went something like this:

Henry: Gabba Gooboo!
Luke: No Gabba Gooboo!
Henry: Gabba Gooboo!
Luke: No Gabba Gooboo! (scuffling ensues, stage left)

But now since Henry is speaking so much more eloquently, and since he is recently becoming very, very opinionated, the arguments have taken on new depth, revealing much more character motivation.

Luke: I will be Schuyler "Sky" Tate, S.P.D. Blue Power Ranger, and you will be Sydney "Syd" Drew, S.P.D. Pink Ranger, the baton wielding beauty!
Henry: I Jack (translation, "I will be Jack Landors, S.P.D. Red Ranger.")
Luke: Baton wielding beauty!
Henry: Jack!
Luke: Baton wielding beauty!
Henry: Jack!

Luke always wants Henry to have the worst of things, and I'm not sure why. Even though Luke didn't want to "be" Jack himself, he didn't want Henry to occupy this imaginary position, since Luke himself likes red and Jack is the red Power Ranger. Henry must be the least desirable character, who is the pink, female, "baton wielding beauty."

This is a little game that Luke plays regularly, in fact, this game of deciding who he is and who Henry will be. In a recent reading of a Bob the Builder book (and no, adds that insecure angel on my shoulder, we don't only own television tie-in books) Luke decided on each page who he would be (always the truck) and who Henry would be (always one of the accessories). On one page Luke was the truck named Muck, hauling away Henry, a chopped up log.

Maybe it isn't that Henry must have the worst of things, but that Luke wants to establish that they are different. I feel like Luke has never actually recovered from Henry's birth. Being yanked from his position as the center of the universe, Luke is still fighting to establish his new identity. Many children cling to the "big brother" or "big sister" role, but this was never very appealing to Luke.

I think Luke often feels like he is witness to a great love affair between Henry and the world. Henry flirts, embraces everyone and everything with gusto and glee. This is not Luke's standard mode of operation. So Luke looks on as our front desk clerks say, "Hi Henry! You just make my day, Mr. Smiley!" These desk clerks have long given up on Luke, who, for a whole year, said "GO AWAY!" when they tried to talk to him.

Luke looks on as Henry chats on the phone with Grandma and Grandpa; Luke himself isn't much of a phone conversationalist. Luke looks on as Henry works the camera. And all this looking is with a mixture of humor, jealousy, and discomfort

Luke isn't Henry. I'm okay with that, and I think Luke is working on being okay with that, too.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Boys of Baraka

A few weeks ago I watched the first half of a PBS documentary called The Boys of Baraka. This was an amazing movie in many ways, and I'm excited to see the other documentary made by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Jesus Camp. But really, I digress, because this isn't about the film, but about me and my children. Film used to be an academic interest and hobby of mine; now my main hobby is obsessing about my children.

So this movie was all about these boys from a "bad" neighborhood in D.C. who go to the Baraka School in Africa. It is a school designed for inner city boys who are having a hard time academically and socially, and the school's focus is on nature, teamwork, and just letting these 11-13 year old boys be boys.

What struck me so much was how the physicality of these boys manifested itself in these two different environments. In their D.C. 'hood, most of them were physically aggressive at times, and, while this sort of physical aggression did happen at the Baraka School, it was much more unusual. Instead, the body language of these boys changed from defiant, challenging and aggressive to boisterous and curious. At the Baraka School, they danced, they chased lizards, they were very active and often wild, they were silly and creative and wonderful.

I think of my own boys, and how they change when they are in nature and surrounded by hard physical work and challenges. Of course, I haven't seen this in Henry so much yet, since he is so little, but Luke is a child who cannot walk three city blocks but can climb a mountain. He will dig and haul 25 buckets of dirt when given the opportunity. He has raked a whole lawn. Last spring when we went camping, he was a delight.

Even in the best of situations they are full of energy, often bursting at the seams with it. What was so wonderful to see in the movie was how the boys of Baraka were not expected to stop jostling each other and wiggling around and dancing and yelling. This was expected of them, being boys.

And while I could get bogged down in nature vs. nurture and justifying all of my statements about boys--and who really knows why my boys are as active and loud and obsessed with trucks and superheroes as they are--what I really know is that my boys need nature, and space, and places to be loud and rough and active.

I don't know where we will wind up living in the long run, or where or how my boys will be educated, but I know that I want to be somewhere that my boys don't need to pick a fight in order to be as active and loud as they want to be. I hope we can be in a place where they can chase bugs (and probably dismantle them) and build forts and run and yell at the top of their lungs with, not defiance, but joy.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Oedipal, Only More So


This morning Luke wanted to play Spiderman, as he does most mornings. Usually I am Aunt May who is just discovering Spiderman in Peter's room. This morning, Luke wanted to change it up. He decided that he would, as usual, be our hero Spiderman, Henry would be Doctor Octopus (otherwise known as "Doc Oc"), and I would be Mary Jane.

"You are falling in love with Doc Oc and you want to marry him, okay?" Luke commanded. "And then I convince you to marry me instead, okay?"

"Well, okay," I agreed, not quite feeling comfortable with this break-engagement-to-one-son-to-marry-another scenario, but too tired to argue.

"Okay, now tell Doc Oc you love him!" instructed Luke.

"Doc Oc, I love you," I dutifully told Henry.

At this point, Henry decided it was a good time to nurse and, being nearly two years old, he helped himself.

"Now tell him you want to marry him!" yelled Luke, escalating in his enthusiasm.

Feeling uncomfortable, I told my nursing son Henry that I wanted to marry him.

"You can't do that!" Spiderman-Luke informed me. "He does bad things!"

Indeed.