A: [Chuckle.] What an interesting insight. I love the way this woman chooses wisdom over bitterness as she learns from the challenges and joys of her life. And can she ever turn a phrase! (Although the wittiest lines do seem to originate from her son…)
B: Sheesh. This woman must be drinking at least half a bottle of whine a day with her meals. Could this post be any MORE self-pitying?
When I write a post, I want readers to have reaction A, not reaction B. If the draft has me thinking it might be B, I don’t publish it. That’s one explanation, anyway, for the large amount of blank space in this blog. I haven’t yet achieved the maturity, you see, to realize there is a lot of room between A and B. As dear CK and LL used to remind me (and as Wikipedia tells me can be ascribed to Voltaire), perfect is the enemy of good.
(Maybe you’ll see more frequent updates here in the future, and maybe you won’t. I’m not promising anything.)
I’m driving a new car. Please note: I do not HAVE a new car. I am just borrowing one from the dealership while they attempt to diagnose why my own car occasionally stops working. (When I turn left just after driving through a puddle. Any ideas on what part needs replacing?) Although the service department has been very kind and enormously accommodating, the cynic in me imagines that they may not be trying very hard to fix the problem. Instead, they might prefer that I get hooked on the 2013 model so that they can just sell me a new car.
Sorry, dealership. I hate the 2013 model. It does so much of the work of driving for me that I feel like I’m in my living room, watching TV. I might forget that I’m actually behind the wheel with a job to do. I say “watching TV” because this car has a video display, for the rearview camera and for the right-turn camera – an innovation that seems unnecessary given the ample windows and mirror on that side of the car. The camera does, however, offer a new opportunity. With the backward-moving video image visible and slightly out of sync with the actual view out the windshield, I am now able to get carsick even while driving. What a great feature.
It’s a good thing I like dairy products and broccoli. They are excellent sources of calcium, which I need when I go around slamming my forearms into door frames. Not that I make a habit of this, but it happens occasionally when I agree to take part in DB’s playtime. He’s a great one for inventing games that involve running in the house. He learned the word “blur” recently and, as five-year-olds do, has to act it out. And of course, one can never act alone. “Mommy, play the race with me!” It’s so tempting. I like to run, like to get places quickly. I like it when DB gets his requisite 700 hours a day of gross motor activity. But our apartment is not a gymnasium.
I’ve since put my foot down about races in the house. Just because the hospital is nearby does not mean I should give myself an excuse to visit the ER. And rules – consistent rules, to maintain the health and safety of household members – are not a bad thing.
“Who are you and what have you done with my child?”
This is the question I have for the boy sitting at the kitchen table, happily shoveling in a rice-and-broccoli salad with mustard vinaigrette. Vegan and gluten-free and, apparently, delicious in spite of its high vegetable content. Can this really be my kid?
It’s been a struggle, getting Discerning Boy to eat a healthy diet. To date, his body has been constructed almost entirely of peanut butter, bananas, and macaroni and cheese. He doesn’t like meat. He doesn’t like potatoes. He avoids sauces whenever possible. But there are flashes of hope, like this salad thing. DB has always loved broccoli, and recently he has decided that lettuce is edible.
I am very, very grateful for the pediatricians who advise that the balance in a “balanced diet” can be spread over the course of a whole day, or week, or even a month. Kids will take in what they need, these wise doctors assure.
How about four years? Can I spread out the balancing over four years? Or five?
Design-build Boy is very good at using blocks and cars of various sorts to make recognizable reproductions of objects he’s observed. He captures the essence of a thing in his models, in a way that never fails to amaze me. Sometimes the creations are elaborate, like a ferry boat complete with decks and railings and smokestacks and cars parked just as they were on the ferry we rode ONCE for 20 minutes. Sometimes they are spare and elegant: three triangular blocks arrayed in parallel atop a rectangular block form a pirate ship in full sail.
Once in a while DB’s creative brilliance is such that it makes me stop what I was doing and just admire. The problem, however, is that “what I was doing” in these cases is inevitably some DB-related business such as trying to get him ready for bath or bed. Just when I’m about to blow my stack over his continuing to play when it really is time to stop, he’ll haul out one of these marvels.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence.
Because I read to him a lot, and because I talk to him a lot using the same vocabulary I would use in speaking to anyone else, my Dear Boy has a good command of English. He’s also quite insightful, making connections between things without being explicitly told about them. For example:
“There’s some moisture on the windshield.”
“Proceed.” (When I took too long to turn the page while reading a book.)
“When I’m dead, will flies eat me?” (Because we saw some flies chowing down on a pile of dog poo. Forget how disgusting it is, and admit that’s a pretty sophisticated mental leap.)
Because he talks like a professor, I sometimes forget that DB is still a little kid. At this age, he has trouble distinguishing between reality (e.g., model trains) and fantasy (e.g., model trains that can run in our living room, drawing power from the web of yarn he has strung around the legs of all the furniture. “Please go to the store and buy some trains that will work on these lines, Mom!”) He has trouble controlling his impulses. He has trouble expressing his feelings in words at the end of a long day. All very normal and expected behavior for a four-year-old.
So now it is my turn to make a mental leap and remember not to get excessively exasperated when DB puts his socks on his hands instead of his feet while I’m rushing to get us out the door in the morning. Kids will be kids – they can’t be anything else.
“Mom, where’s my red car?”
I think about DB’s numerous toy cars scattered about the apartment – in closets, under beds, on top of the refrigerator. “Which red car?” I ask.
“My red car that I ride in.”
Huh? Mentally I go through the list of items that might fit this description. There is a wooden scooter-shaped “car” that can be ridden on, but it’s not red. There’s a big plastic car-shaped bed frame, but it’s blue and gets slept in, not ridden. It takes me a few moments to realize that DB is actually talking about: a cardboard box.
We moved recently, so there are lots of boxes in the house. DB has commandeered a red one that he crouches under and blunders around in. It covers him completely, so it looks as if the box were moving on its own. And although it lacks even the most basic of features, such as steering and windows, he calls it a car. “It’s in the living room,” I tell him, proud of myself for unraveling the mystery without having to ask for additional information.
Score one for mommy. Even though Decipher Boy’s speech is now almost 100% intelligible, it still doesn’t always make sense.
It is 8:30 pm and I am on my way home with DB from the last night of a marvelous but exhausting week of Vacation Bible School. (And I wasn’t even teaching. So wimpy that I get worn out from merely attending VBS.) But oops, I realize I need yogurt. This is an errand that cannot wait, because DB will eat nothing else for breakfast. We have a small amount in the fridge, but this will not be enough. I have been instructed to consume a daily dose of “good” bacteria to forestall side effects from the antibiotic that is, in its mercy, finally making a dent in this sinus infection I have been hosting for weeks. So: DB needs it, I need it. Must. Buy. Yogurt.
However: Neither DB nor I has been home since 8:30 this morning. DB has had no dinner to speak of, having eschewed the delicious and balanced meal the ladies of the church have lovingly provided. And after spending hours at school and then more hours being a Good Listener in VBS, DB’s capacity for behaving in a civilized manner has been reached. We are done. If we have to park the car, go into a store, wait in line, and get buckled back in the car seat, we are guaranteed to have a major problem (either DB or I will melt down, and it’s not clear which of us will hit bottom first). What to do?
I did this once before when we were out of milk, and I’m not proud of it – but it works. There’s a certain ubiquitous fast-food establishment that sells what I need, and I don’t even have to get out of my car. No buckling/unbuckling, no can-I-push-the-little-cart wrangling, no standing in line full of colorful eye-level temptations.
McDonald’s as emergency drive-through grocery store. If only they sold toilet paper and peanut butter, I would be a regular.
We have an ongoing contest in our household to see which one of us can stall more at bedtime. The other night I was the winner. My usual online and telephone chat partners had the audacity to be out of town simultaneously, and so I was forced to take the drastic step of cleaning the house for my evening entertainment. After that I needed to unwind with an hour of TV. Finally, for good measure, I read a whole mystery novel. In all, an outstanding performance.
Usually, however, DB is the champion bedtime postponer. He can’t settle down because the blanket is in the wrong place, he needs more water, he wants company, or his arm hurts. He begs me to sing the goodnight song THREE times, because he “forgot to sing along” the first two times. We have so many lights on that he could perform surgery, and yet it is still too dark. Or, “I can’t sleep because my toenails are growing.”
What is our deal? Why do we resist this thing that is so beneficial? Studies have shown that lack of sleep contributes to all manner of adverse health effects, not to mention the productivity problems. I’d look up some of the studies and cite them, but I’m too tired.
If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s self-criticism. (That’s undoubtedly somebody else’s line, but it fits.)
In my last post, I wondered about what obvious-to-others thing I’m doing wrong as I raise my son. I fret a lot about being a bad parent. I’m a perfectionist anyway about things that are important to me, and flying solo has made me worry even more about making the inevitable billion mistakes. DB is disadvantaged already by having only one parent, I say to myself, and so I have to be extra good at my job to compensate. The problem, of course, is that it’s impossible. I can’t be two parents. As I continue to not measure up to my ideals, I just make myself more anxious and overwhelmed. And I turn this great gig – in which I get to spend a lot of time with a smart, personable kid – into drudgery for both of us.
So I’m taking a page from DB’s teachers’ playbook, and making myself a chart. Every time I make a parenting anti-mistake, I get a sticker. (Clearly this notion is overdue, if I don’t even know what to CALL it when I do something right.) When I fill the chart, I get to pick out a treat. The point of the chart isn’t to encourage good behavior, as it was for DB’s rhymes-with-hottie chart, but rather to notice the times I get it right as a parent. In spite of what I seem to be fond of saying about myself, I could be worse at this job. Sometimes I set reasonable limits and stick to them, even when the resultant whining is really annoying. Sometimes I remember to pack snacks when we go out for a bike ride. Sometimes I expect DB to take age-appropriate responsibility for things. And I don’t stint on the affection.
“I’m patting you,” DB said to me, thumping me on the shoulder blade. “I’m patting you because you did a good thing.”
“Oh yes?” I replied. “What did I do?”
“You gave me a hug and a kiss. That was a good thing to do. Hooray for you!”
Hooray for me.