Secret Stashes

You can’t say our home is neat as a pin, the drifting tides of yellow dog hair put us right out of the running for any descriptions like that, but even if you can’t tell, I do clean. I straighten more than I care to admit. I remain constantly on the lookout for signs of disinterest on the part of the children and then at the first opportunity swoop in undetected to shuffle toys back into their “proper” places. When I was a girl my father did the same thing. He’d make a circuit through the shared living quarters and gather items on the kitchen table that we were then required to return to our rooms at the soonest possible opportunity. I remember groaning: But DAD! I was still using that!, annoyed by his preemptive cleanliness. We’d joke that Dad would clear a mug of tea from the table, still warm, if we left it unguarded, or immediately remove an unfinished craft project if left unattended for a five-second potty break.

But now, looking back? I get it. Not only do I get it, I do the very same thing.

I scuttle about in the background, like a fussy hermit crab, reaching between skinny kid arms to pluck the Littlest Pet Shop figurines from the mountain of mess and seal them into their zip-loc bags. Waiting for  plastic horse paraphernalia to remain idle long enough to justify scooping it all into the tub mentally marked: “plastic horse paraphernalia”.  It’s satisfying to pair like with like. A box with legos mingling with playing cards? Ew. Polly Pockets sharing space with bouncy balls? I don’t think so. So I gather and divide, sort and dissect, all the day long, and it all stays that way for approximately fifteen milliseconds. Until Echo rotates back around and says: Mom. Will you get out the toys I was playing with before? There were one hundred and two pieces.

When I’m not looking is the worst. I make my thrice daily toy parceling rounds to find, not only disarray, but a sense of “order” so foreign to me it feels like intentional disorder, like a code that only young girls in the mountain time-zone of North America could ever crack. They repeatedly dump out tubs and boxes, rid them of their original (rational) content to refill them with something else. No pattern at all as far as I can tell.

Jewelry box of tiny sea shells? Now harboring dried garbanzo beans, a geode, two of mama’s broken fingernails, plastic gems, and a bike reflector.

Polly Pockets’ Personal Zip-loc? Now storing three fuzzy mini-kittens, a plastic toy syringe, a princess playmobile figure, and a rubber band.

Sure, it all makes sense to them. When I ask what in tarnation they’ve done with the bottle cap collection, they say: Oh we dumped it out because that canister is now a prison. Or, what happened to the glass eggs that were in the woven basket? They say: They’re in the pink cowboy hat because this swan is magical and that’s her nest. And there is nothing left for me to do but wait until the swan isn’t magical, and the cowboy hat isn’t a nest, or at least until they aren’t looking, to put it all back in its “rightful” place.

It’s crazy, my part that is, especially since nothing ever stays in its rightful place for very long. But the funny thing is that it doesn’t work to leave things as the girls arrange them either. Their particular flavor of order lasts only as long as that piece of make-believe. When it comes time to find the glass eggs the next day they do not scan their mental card catalog and think: Well… glass eggs belong to the magical swan… and magical swans build nests out of pink cowboy hats… and pink cowboy hats always swing from the kitchen chair… so I know just where to look! Nope. They come to me. And if I haven’t already disassembled their various constructions, already de-stashed their various stashes, I’m screwed.

In some ways, even though I scratch my head at the logic, I like the little stashes. They give me a sense of how each girl thinks (or doesn’t) and what is important to them. Some stashes don’t make any sense, I’m pretty sure the dish with peanuts and earrings is a fluke, a whim from a pretend long ago, but other times the collection is like a snapshot, a glimpse of who these girls are.

If I’m looking for a lost baby doll I have to look through the eyes of a three-year old, a perspective that sees every nook as a cozy bed, every cranny as a little home. Baby dolls will never be found under the bed or lying on the floor, they are perpetually tucked-in, under the stack of towels in the bathroom, under the sled in the garage, within Papa’s moonboot, and if I’m not seeing the world this way I’ll never find them.

If I find my own trimmed finger nails stored with precious gems I am completely grossed out, but I’m also a little honored, a little tickled to see my girl’s love for me tucked away in a little red box.

If I wonder what’s important to Xi I have only to pull the curtain aside and catch a glimpse of her windowsill. Her heart is displayed there in foreign coins, pigeon feathers, silly bands, and movie stubs.

I still dream of school-classroom organization, tidy cubbies, labels, and color coordinated filing systems,  and I’ll probably still wear a groove into the floor with my own toy shuffling madness, but in some ways, at least from this late-night, sentimental moment, I hope I never succeed. Imagine how much I would miss, how many unusual still-life compositions I’d never see, how many clues to our girls’ values I’d never find.

There is still a part of me that would swoon at the sight of red legos sorted into red-lego piles, of  plastic horses arranged by size, of bouncy balls filling a jar and sealed with a bold-print label, but now that I think about it, I’m not sure it’s worth it.


October 18, 2010 at 9:31 pm 1 comment

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

I think it’s time for a town meeting.

We’ve been going to the park a lot lately because our neighborhood one has gotten a recent makeover. It wasn’t poplar before, a basic slide, some swings, but now there are things that spin, climbers shaped like animals, a towering spider’s web contraption, and the crowd has grown. At any given hour there are tons of kids, from toddlers to teens, and of course parents.

The people watcher in me loves it. My kids nearly plunge to their death several times a day because my eyes are riveted to the various outfits and social exchanges. My nose loves it too. As the fall sun warms the afternoon the wood chips, four feet deep under our feet, let out a sweet hamstery scent.

But the part I want to talk about is park etiquette and how it results in torture for us all. Yesterday we brought our metal water bottle, and a lunch box. We’ve fashioned a long ribbon to the water bottle to make it over-the-arm slingable and for some reason it’s become the main attraction for the twelve months and under set. They are like crows, drawn to shiny treasure, and they want nothing more than to haul that thing around, like a baby doll or a puppy. But park manners dictate that any time a grubby hand reaches for the water bottle or the also irresistible polka-dot lunch box, a mother follows closely behind to say: Ah, ah, ah. That’s not yours. Put that back.

And the toddler returns, again and again. Moms become frustrated, kids become inconsolable. It is sad.

Twice I went over yesterday to say that it was perfectly fine with us if the water bottle became a play thing and that we would just locate it anew each time we wanted a drink. But the thing is, in that situation, I was the weird one, the one acting out of turn, breaking the rules of park etiquette.

But the rules are ridiculous! I hate them.

Parents spend their entire time at the park saying: Nooo! That’s not yours. That’s hers. Yours is over here. Here’s yours. And the kid spends their entire time at the park being shunted away from their primary interest for no apparently logical reason. And the galling part is that when they do finally clutch the toy or sippy cup that is supposedly theirs, if another child approaches and reaches for that item, parents have the unbelievable nerve to say: Let him have it. You have to share! SHARE.

This kind of thing drives me bonkers.

Are you kidding me? Do we really want to emphasize “yours” and “mine” that strongly? I don’t mean to get too metaphysical or anything , but if you think about it nothing is really “ours”, “yours” or “mine”. We say: my chair, when we happen to sit down for a minute. We say: my parking spot, even though we know very well that it isn’t. We say it all the time when really everything is so transient, so temporary, and so quickly passed on when it isn’t of use anymore. And maybe as adults we can all understand that when we say “mine” we are really indicating that we are using it for the moment, that we don’t really own that parking spot or that chair, but kids are literal. When we tell them something is theirs, they believe us. At least until we yank it away from them and give it to someone else in the name of sharing. Then they just think we are mean, or confusing, or both.

(Later we wonder why our society is so greedy. Why everyone seems to only care about themselves. Why everyone hoards more than they need. Why they eat more than their bodies want. Why the more everyone gets, the more they want, and the less they share.)

So hear ye, hear ye.

My official proposals for the revision of park etiquette are:

1. Let’s switch to a different style of language.

That’s the swing that little girl is using right now, do you want to swing on this one? The snacks we brought are over here, those are the snacks that little boy is eating. No more “yours”, “his”, “not yours” etc.

2. Bring to the park only the objects you are willing to share communally.

Explain to your children that if they bring something, others may want to pick it up, play with it, and everyone has decided that that’s alright.

3. Do not punish your children on behalf of others.

I know this sounds weird but I hate it when a child picks up something that we brought and the mother asks the child to put it back and the child doesn’t and then the mother yanks his arm and makes him put it back and makes him cry and then makes him apologize to me, and the kid looks at me like I did this to him. Let’s first find out if picking up an object is okay with the owner, or not. If not, let’s take our time explaining the situation to our child, perhaps in private, always gently and informatively. And then if we feel an apology is necessary let’s make that apology ourselves.

4. Tell the truth and believe each other.

If I say: It’s fine if your daughter drags the water bottle we brought around the park, believe me. If it isn’t okay with me then the responsibility lies in my hands to say so: Well we keep losing track of those dang bottles and forgetting them so I would really prefer to leave it in the stroller.

5. Let’s stop worrying about politeness.

We all know that we are all good people. We all know that nobody is purposely intending to offend. Let’s just let the kids play, pick stuff up, put it back, smile at each other in a Don’t they always love other kids’ sippy cups more than their own? kind of way, and relax.


In any case, I won’t think you are rude, even if your child picks up “my” sweater and leaves it on the slide. But I will think you’re an asshole if you mistreat her for playing with it.

More on “mine“, manners, social awkwardness.

Nathan’s take on sharing, here.

October 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm 15 comments

Bonus Round – Hair Part III

Given the past few posts you might think hair is the only thing we think about around here.

And to answer that I’d say:

1. (defensively) Well, yeah, hair is like always around. In the morning its wedged under our backs, pinned in our arm pits. Later it dips into cereal milk, gets gilded by honey, stuck in nose snot. By afternoon its whipped by the wind, causing the tricycle to crash into bike racks. At night it is unleashed from it’s mangled pony tail holder with shrieks of pain and tearing sounds. And. It’s. Always. Tangly.

2. (less defensively) I’m not maintenance-y. It’s true! When I do laundry it is in triumph, like: Dang, I totally did a shit-ton of laundry. Laundry isn’t blended into my lifestyle. I don’t have a regular washing day. In fact even when I wash the dishes at night I am patting myself on the back, like I am giving myself a present (meaning a clean empty sink in the morning). I do not do them as a matter of course, no, each time I am (embarrassingly) proud of myself. When I was little and my mom pointed out some chore I hadn’t yet addressed, like scrubbing the toilet, I was always offended. I’d say: But Mom! I made my bed! And she’d say: Natty, I’m not going to reward you for something you’re SUPPOSED to do ALREADY. That’s how I am with hair maintenance, mine and Echo’s. When I see her heading down the street with Halloween-wig hair, the kind you’d wear if you were pretending to be a member of Poison, I say to myself: But I totally brushed her teeth! And we, like, did a craft project and shit too!

So hair is our struggle. I mean hair is my struggle. Echo is whizzing along in her toddler life without even a glance at her reflection. Maybe I mean hair is what I don’t tend to as often as my girl’s cohesive(adhesive?) locks require and then later feel sociological guilt or defiance about my lack of maintenance. And I also don’t like to force her to do things that she doesn’t like just because I care about strangers’ perceptions of me and my grooming skills and concerns (or lack thereof). Some mother-child duos struggle with sugar. Others parry over adequate clothing for the weather. We have hair.

But I must say the braids worked out. We went at least five days without hair troubles. And then after it had fuzzed into a transparent, blonde, ghostly, afro, I removed them. But lo! Wavy delight!

We rode those waves another three days, well actually we are still riding those waves. They aren’t as darling anymore, more a hung over version, an after-party version of the just-released, pretty as a mermaid stage but they’re still keeping on. I do believe the hair gods are on our side because somehow, inexplicably, the fact that those strands were once in braids makes them less tangly, even as the days go ticking by. I cannot explain it.

Now I just have to formulate a plan, somehow coincide every future hair washing with a visit from our braiding-genius friend, because this mama can’t french braid. Remember that whole maintenance problem? Right. So simply scheduling a braiding session from here until eternity ought to do the trick.

October 12, 2010 at 9:53 pm 7 comments

Reasons to Love ‘Em


1. This.



2. Booming, repeated, sing-songy, deep-voiced: I AM BUTT MERMAID! I AM A BUTT MERMAID! from the bathtub.

3. Honesty. To the cashier at the grocery store: My mama reads a book while she”s pooping.

4. The perspective of treasure. A feather, an autumn leaf, a rock from the parking lot, the pull tab from the soy milk container.

5. Culinary tastes. You like to eat your boogers too? I do too. They are so sweet and salty. Yum.

6. Love of everything teenager. Pretend that I was twelve but then I turned thirteen, so now I am a TEENAGER. And I was sitting on the couch… but I am a teenager, and then I went to the bathroom by myself, ‘cuz I’m a teenager?… and then I got a new puppy because I am a teenager and you let me…


7. This.



8. Dialog screamed while swinging.

Do you know how babies are made?


Isn’t it GROSS?


9. Suspension of reality. Mom, pretend that I am pregnant but we didn’t know it. But one day the baby popped out and you came over to see it and you were so surprised. Ok?

10. Glitter in the lint trap.


11. This.



October 11, 2010 at 8:01 am 3 comments

Open to Something Other Than Suckiness

If you can, quickly scroll down to the post before this, yesterday’s post. The one with the unbelievable hair, hair you’d never imagine reshaping itself into something smooth. Now you can appreciate the photo above. Now you might feel like I do, astounded.

It just goes to show that you never know. Even though it looks like things are headed down a beaten path, a path obvious and unavoidable, sometimes they don’t, and you are humbled and surprised. There are many times when I think I know best, when I’ve got a pocket so full of parental experience that I am smug and irritated. I say things like: No, honey that won’t work, or, That’s not an option sweetheart.

Take Echo’s hair for instance. I really would not have thought that letting it wind itself into a wild maze of tangles, a giant helmet of snarls, and not brushing it for days on end was a viable option. That path felt like a dead-end, like one that was going to end badly for all involved. The mama was sure to sweat while trying to untie the knots, performing that tricky limbo of holding the hair near the scalp to spare the child pain, while rip rip ripping downward to free the locks. The child was sure to cry, no matter how well the mama played her role.

But I was wrong.

Our bath was tender and sweet. I held my girl in my lap, swooping her hair through the warm water. We shampooed and conditioned. You know how sometimes, a particular bath will seem to have magical powers, and the child comes out shining? Virtually glowing with cleanliness? Well that’s how it was. And she sat on the couch and let me brush without any fuss, and then in true village spirit, our friend Romy (whose garage we occupy) separated and braided those little blonde hairs into the most groomed hair-do of all time.

It’s basically a miracle.

This kind of thing is like giving the child the benefit of the doubt, but it’s not only the child that deserves it, it’s everyone, it’s the universe too.

If we look I’m sure there are other times like this, when we could give the universe the benefit of the doubt instead of struggling against the tide. Late afternoon naps could be like hair tangles. Your child is headed for one of those late afternoon-almost evening naps and as a parent you groan with dread, so sure of the meltdowns and wild crying that is sure to follow, and so do everything you can to keep the child awake. Paddling upstream, trying to make a u-turn, anything to avoid the certain doom. But she could sleep through until morning. She might wake up smiling. Maybe it happened otherwise seventy thousand times before, but Echo had a rat’s nest yesterday and sleek braids today, so what do we really know?

Gum could be like hair tangles. Even though every other time I have let Echo hold the piece of gum she is obsessing over while she finishes her meal, of course with the condition that she not chew it until after the food, she chews it anyway. Right away. She slides down from the chair, asks me to not follow her, moves to the depths of the bedroom, faces the wall, slowly unwraps the gum, and begins to chew. Her logic is that if I do not see her do it I will not be upset. My logic is that I will never give her another piece of gum to hold until after, again. But Echo had a tangled beehive yesterday and sleek braids today, so what do I really know?

Remain open. It sounds like an admonition from a new age calendar, not a notion I keep handy in times of parental strife. But maybe I should.


October 7, 2010 at 8:16 am 5 comments

Where We Are

Hair update? Tangly.

Emotional State of Three-Year Old? Happy.

Future Hair Plans? Hazy.

I’ve written often about Echo’s tangly hair. Early on I realized her bed head was a perfect opportunity to employ some empathy. Later, when she wanted dreadlocks I was forced to face my feelings on that subject. And because her interest in purposely tangled hair vacillated, each morning I found myself peppering her with loaded questions. Do you want dreadlocks? Do you want to cut it? Then we should brush it, right? Badgering her daily, thinking that these were our only options and we damn well better pick one. Asap.

But children are smarter than parents. She knows very well that hair is not a life or death matter. That she can not dread, not cut, and not brush quite easily without condemning herself. Her choice is to allow her hair to tangle itself into a gnarly sixties boufant for five days on end and then wash it and brush it.

So that’s where we are. Day five isn’t easy on me, you’ll see me folding that boufant into a convenient, tangle-concealing bun, and day six, when we wash and brush isn’t easy on her, you’ll see her running naked from the brush. But we are surviving.

October 6, 2010 at 8:24 am 1 comment

Keeping It To Myself

Kids can be gross.

They wipe their hands up their noses when snot drips and then continue up their face, leaving a snail trail across their forehead and through their hair. They dip everything in ketchup. They drop a bean from their burrito and then drop to the taqueria floor to pick it up, only they don’t grab the right one, instead slipping a smashed and gritty stranger bean into their mouths. They drink bath water. They eat boogers. Later when they can change their own underwear, they don’t, leaving the same pair on until a grossed-out parent notices. They suck on strands of their hair until it’s stiff. They show their butts. They get ice cream up their noses and it dries to a grey varnish.

This morning when Echo sneezed into the crook of her arm, as she has been taught, but then snaked that still moist arm under my neck for a good snuggle, I began to compile a list of all the gross things kids do. It was long and my face crinkled up in disgust. Our girls do several nasty things a day but I try, try, try to keep a blank, neutral expression. When Xi runs her snotty hand down the length of her brown hair, I casually sidle up and display her slimy lock, explaining what her nose wiping method results in. At night when I am scrubbing seven layers of rainbow-colored crust from Echo’s mouth, cheeks, nose, forehead, and she asks me why, I refrain from saying: Because you’re dirty. Even when it is so astoundingly thick and widespread I do not say: What a filthy girl you are! Not even in a sing-song voice and with a loving twinkle in my eye. Instead I explain that during the night the food and dirt on her face will slough off, creating dirt crumbles in bed that will be uncomfortable to sleep on.

I refrain from saying things about her body and her appearance, not because I don’t care (I do), and not because I am trying to avoid confrontation (I’m not), but for the same reason that I don’t shout: Good job! even when the job she is doing is good, or even fantastic. I am trying to let Echo (and Xi and Bella) maintain her intrinsic appreciation of her own value. I do not want her to look to me for an understanding of whether or not she is good, or whether or not how her jumping (skipping, singing, writing, counting) is good. I want her to feel for herself the pleasure of these activities, and in that way she will continue to want to do these things, continue to enjoy them.

The same can be said for appearance. I certainly do not want my daughter to see herself through my eyes, or through anyone else’s for that matter. I want her to feel herself, not see herself. I can imagine what her little body must feel like – supple, full of energy, perfect in every way – and I want her perception to stay that way. But it’s hard! Not the dirt so much, but sometimes she’s so darn cute and I want to grab her, squeeze her to tiny bits and shout: You are so cute! The other night for the downtown gallery walk, Echo donned a striped blue dress with a petticoat underneath. The shape of the dress was so screamingly pleasing, her eyes so blue because of it, her chubby brown legs just darling jutting out beneath. She twirled and said: What do you think? and I wanted to swoon, I wanted to scream: You’re so beautiful I could eat you up! but instead I calmly said: I like it, do you?

I have heard it would be even better if young children did not have access to a mirror for the first several years. And that makes sense. I know how distracting it can be to wonder if I look alright, how hard it is, when the image in the mirror is less than pleasing, to simply go through my day. How sunken I can feel. After Echo slid her snotty arm under my sleepy neck and then coughed, accidentally into my face, she sighed with content, rolled over to her Papa and said: Papa, I love you. I will never hate you. Never never hate you.

And that’s the point of parenting, isn’t it? At least one of them. Not to prevent them from hating us, although that would be sugar on top, but to prevent them from hating themselves. If concealing my ews helps that to happen, I’ll do it. No matter how much snot is involved.

October 4, 2010 at 9:00 am 3 comments

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