Posts tagged ‘children’

Out of Commission


It’s been a rough couple of days. Not the rain, not the early school mornings, not the sibling fist-fights, that stuff is just normal rough. No, the giant lumpy tonsil in the back of my throat, with the pustules, is the culprit. The put-it-off-until-the-last-possible-second-because-it-hurts-too-bad kind of sick. The lay on the couch, the bed, the floor, from morning until night, walk to the mailbox and need to recuperate kind of sick.

It’s been almost two decades since I felt like this. Senior year in high school. Stretchy, tight, white eyelet t-shirt, loose boy Levis, a field trip with Spanish class, and painful tonsils. That time around I limped through the day, speaking as little as possible, until I could make it to my mom. Like only a mother can she had me on antibiotics and tucked under her covers before nightfall. I knew if I could just arrive at her door and deliver the bare minimum description of my state, and I could be done, finished, no longer in charge.

But this time around things are different. The alarm went off at seven, and because it’s what I normally do, I was at the kitchen counter assembling bread slices before I realized just how bad things really were. The peanut butter was a new jar, needing to be mixed, the oil congealed on top in that unappetizing way. I gave it a weak stir, a bit of juiciness sluicing onto my wrist, and I had no other choice but to give up. My head reeled, my stomach turned, and I had to retreat to the couch for a spell. I lay there, eyeing the jar and giving myself a pep talk. Its only peanut butter. I can do this. Men and women all over the land stir peanut butter. The oil will mix with the nutty paste, it is sure to do just that. I’ve done it before, I’m sure I can do it again. There is only the sandwich left, after that I am scott free. I stumbled once more onto the battlefield, I stirred and stirred, I spread, I jellied, I cut the beast into bite-size pieces for the girl who’s just lost both front teeth. Victory music was playing in the background now, slow-mo. I clicked tupperwares, I taped the special note, I zipped. Wha-bam.

A quick pee, a hand washing to spare myself the nauseating nutty smell, a goodbye to the schoolgirl and I was out. I tagged Nathan, you’re it, and I was done. For the whole day.

I would have to be sick, really sick, to do nothing. To wind my scarf over my eyes and sleep against the light of the afternoon. To watch the children scratch each other’s eyeballs out and just weakly stroke their tangled locks. To feel the boring eyes of a particular yellow dog, a dog that hasn’t missed more than a handful of walks his entire eight years, and still pull the covers up, if not to sleep then to lie there, simply lie there.

And I didn’t have my mom, although I reminded myself of that fact in order to juice up a little more self-pity, but I did have phone calls from intuitive caring friends, pushing past my stoicism, letting me know how ready they were to help. Witches brew from my village-mate, delivered in a steaming, giant, mug, and offers of dinner. And I had Nathan. A house-husband at heart, given the chance to shine. After I passed the baton he was off and running, school drop-offs and pickups, a toddler field trip to the children’s museum, an evening dog walk,  dinner, conflict mediation, tooth brushing, story reading, dishes, and occasional tonsil inspections.

A flurry of action contrasting my inaction.

And now I am able to swallow, to stand without swooning, to speak above a murmur, and filled with gratitude for this body, this family, this man, this community.

Once again reassured that I can fall and be caught.


September 17, 2010 at 7:33 am 2 comments


This is what my friend and her partner do after they’ve gotten the baby to sleep. I couldn’t get this image out of my head – the two of them, heads bent close, an ipod earpiece each, grasping for any bit of entertainment that won’t wake the child – and just had to sketch it out. I think I love it because it is both an example  of the almost ludicrous things we find ourselves doing as parents, and a testament to devotion, the lengths we will go to on behalf of our children.

September 10, 2010 at 7:00 pm Leave a comment

Not Laser-Vision, Toddler-Vision

The perspective captured by this photo is why it takes a family longer than half an hour to leave the house.

This view of the world is why children do not march in a direct line straight to the family vehicle, climb in without haste, and buckle themselves up immediately. An adult, or as one might say to themselves in a fit of impatience, a normal person might glance at the clock, grab their keys, check the mirror for stray food particles on the face, and leave, taking five minutes tops before they are out the door. A grown-up might even walk out the door, straight across the yard and into the car where they strap the seat belt, adjust the mirrors and regulate the volume of the radio without a single pause or extra thought.

Adults might do this but children never will.

Adults and children do not see the world in the same way.

As the photo above clearly indicates, the world of children is made of details. There are discoveries to be made with each step, treasures that we, in our hurry to get somewhere other than where we already are, miss entirely. I found this photo while uploading our camera onto the laptop today. It seems that unbeknownst to me Echo has been helping herself to the camera equipment and taking a few illustrative shots from her world. As iPhoto scrolled past a close-up of her foot, an artsy side-angled view of the rug, and a spacey orange glow (a lightbulb?), Echo showed no surprise. Why would she? They make sense to her.

My earliest memories are of a golden shag rug, three colored ovals in a row, and footlights lining a path. For the longest time these were just images that played in my head. Only later could I imagine where I might have seen those things, and what they would have meant in the adult world. I was in my teens, paging through an old family album when I first saw the shag carpet in the background of a faded seventies-era photograph. I’m sure my mother, visiting her mother, set me down on that glorious floor covering for tummy time as an infant. The three ovals, I later discovered, formed the old logo of a television company and was something I’d probably stuck my face against as a furniture-gripping almost-walker. The fuzzy footlights still exist along the path leading to my grandmother’s front door. My early understanding of them must have been abstract and hazy due to my smashed-cheek perch on the shoulder of my father as he carried my sleepy body to a waiting car.

It’s helpful to remember that my experience is not unique. Children everywhere are seeing dazzling, odd sights, right beneath our noses. What we see is the day spread out before us; that we will need to leave the house in the next half-hour if we are to stop by the gas station, run to the grocery store, fill the cart with groceries, and return in time to make three-cheese enchiladas for the Morgenstern’s potluck. What our children see is the deflated balloon within their fingers, the light coming through the potted fern, and the magnet that rolled behind the book-case.

Children do not move slowly on purpose. In fact, if we took the time to consider how many wonders there are between the living room floor and the car seat, we might see their movement as almost lightning quick. But sadly I don’t often take the time. I wish I would. I do not harass my children to get them to hurry. I try to give them ample time to fasten their shoes, or even change their mind several times about which shoes they actually want to wear. I ooh and aah over the dandelions they find on our way to the curb. I come up with games and make-believes that make getting into the car and then into the car seat fun. I laugh while at the grocery store, even say yes to several of their ideas when my initial response might have been no. I try not to say: If you don’t hurry up and get in the car we probably won’t make it to the potluck that you were so excited about!, even though it feels like that is exactly what might happen.

But I do these things, at least in part, to make my life easier. Stopping to ooh and aah over dandelions ends up being an efficient way of getting them to move past them and into the vehicle. The make-believes I come up with, more often than not, are not for our mutual pleasure, they are to expedite the buckling-up procedure. What I mean to say is that I do not actually see the dandelion.

I think most of us do not see the dandelion.

We do not see even half of  the mundane attractions that capture the attention of our offspring. We see someone moving slowly and we take it personally. This is why parents yell at their children, why they yank arms and threaten time-outs, why they say incredibly stupid things, and get grey hairs. If we actually saw the ant on the sidewalk for the amazing phenomenon that our boys do we wouldn’t care about the Morgenstern’s potluck. If we saw the inside workings of the toilet with the same jaw-dropping astonishment that our daughters do we wouldn’t hurry for anything.

The reality is that we probably will never see these things the same way our children do, but we can try. We can make the attempt, actually stop our moving feet, and put down our bags. We can at least give ourselves the opportunity, maybe even leave seemingly random photos in the iPhoto library as a reminder. Maybe even going so far as to make the dirty underside of the kitchen stove our desktop image so that we never rush these sweet, fuzzy-eyed, little people ever again.

August 29, 2010 at 8:47 pm 6 comments

Powers of Desperation

In the deepest dark of night:

Echo: Mom I don’t want you to turn into a grandma.

Me: Oh?

Echo: ‘Cuz I still want to nurse.

Me: Oh. Well the grandma part happens a long time from now. When you are a grown up and have a baby. And by that time, when you’re nursing your own baby you won’t want to nurse on me.

Echo: Why not?

Me: Because you’ll be an adult and you probably won’t even think of nursing on me.

Echo: But I’ll still want to nurse! Even when I am a grown-up!

Me: Oh? Well if I am a grandma and you are a grown-up and you feel like you still want to nurse we can talk about it then.

Echo: I don’t want to be a grown-up.

Me: Oh?

Echo: Yeah! (sobbing)

Me: Well it’s still a long way away. You just turned three so you’ve really just started. Do you look forward to being a teenager?

Echo: No. I don’t want to get any older than a pre-teen.

And then she stayed awake. From that conversation around three forty-five, until morning. Tossing and turning, falling asleep just long enough for me to relax and fade out, and then she’d wake right back up again. She wanted to nurse again, she wanted to get up, she was afraid of the reflections of the alley light sneaking past the edge of the shades. She wanted something, anything that wasn’t happening already. As the light started to creep into the room my desperation came to a peak and I flung myself to a seated position and bawled my eyes out. Of course, I was soon followed by a sobbing toddler who hung herself on my back crying out her own confused, vicarious grief.

I explained my angst in detail to a sad and sleepy Nathan, and then Echo and I both crumpled back into bed. Further exhausted by our shared outburst she finally fell into a true sleep. It was the kind of sleep that could only be maintained if I did not move a muscle, if I didn’t even breathe. My ear was folded beneath me like a taco and I still did not move, preferring this half-sleep to conversation or rising.

And then it happened again, the next night. Three forty-five until morn. The fear of her mother becoming a grandma and thereby removing the option of nursing was shelved, but fear of the light remained, which upon closer inspection meant fear of the dark. I have very few coping skills in the middle of the night, my patience runs out as sleep knocks at the edges of my consciousness. I feel trapped, even punished by a daughter that won’t let me sleep. In the light of day there is less drama but in the dark of night it feels like the end of the world.

Determined to sleep through until morning Echo and I took a long good look at her fears before closing our eyes the following night. We talked a lot about what light symbolizes, and where shadows originate. We talked about the walls of the room and that they held only she and I in one bed, and her Papa and sister in another. We talked about how safe she is, how well Papa and I look after her, but she was still afraid. At one point she wanted the covers up over her head, and I snuggled her in a warm mummy-like cocoon, but that only resulted in a still fearful but now sweaty child.

That’s when I though of the magic bubble. Our nine-year old calls it the white light, but since dark and light were part and parcel of Echo’s fears I instinctively chose Magic Bubble instead. I used my parental powers to cast a strong, invisible, hovering bubble over my girl that would last her the entire night and protect her from harm. She wanted to know a lot about this new fandangled structure. Could she touch it? Did it fall onto her skin or perch above like an umbrella?She also wanted to know how I came by such powers and I told her I acquired them simply because I believe.

And I did. So desperately. I could see it hovering over us, rainbow swirls catching in the dim light. The air beneath it’s tent sweetened and clear. Perhaps our shared  hope is what made it real. All I know is that it worked.

A solid night’s sleep.

August 26, 2010 at 8:36 am 1 comment

Out Like A Light, ha ha

Hush little baby don’t say a word,

Mama’s gonna show you a hummingbird.

If that hummingbird should fly,

Mama’s gonna show you the evening sky.

When the nighttime shadows fall,

Mama’s gonna hear the crickets call.

When their song drifts from afar,

Mama’s gonna search for a shooting star.

When that star has dropped from view,

Mama’s gonna read a book with you.

When that story has been read,

Mama’s gonna bring your warm bedspread.

If that quilt begins to wear,

Mama’s gonna bring you your teddy bear.

If that teddy bear won’t hug,

Mama’s gonna show you a lightning bug.

If that lightning bug won’t glow,

Mama’s gonna play on her old banjo.

If that banjo’s out of tune,

Mama’s gonna show you the harvest moon.

This is the song that Echo requests, after we’ve nursed until my nipples hurt and we are snuggled side-by-side. I am to sing it, again and again, until she slumbers. At first I clung to this song because, unlike the original, it doesn’t mention buying anything, but now I sing it because it happens to be one of the few songs to which I know the lyrics. If I feel her twitching in pre-sleep, I’ll veer off the program and sing Swing Low Sweet Chariot, or bits of Angel of Montgomery, belting bravely because I know a sleeping critic is not likely to object. But by and large, Hush Little Baby is the tune I sing the most. I’ve sung it so many times by now that my mind can actually wander, I need not pay close attention in order to get the sequence right.

But tonight I paid attention to the words. It’s about a mother, of course, but one like me, that pays attention, slows down, and does her very best to usher her child to sleep with patience, love, and care. But my god the hoops to jump through! A hummingbird, crickets, teddy bear, a lightning bug, even a banjo? The mother in the song shows, brings, and shares ten different items before the song ends. But if I think about it, that feels a little like my life, and probably yours as well.

Dinner involves what feels like thirty-five different versions of a simple dish, negotiations about finishing the meal, just the right fork, and a spoon just in case, but the right spoon, not just any spoon.

Toothbrushing involves the orange toothbrush, no the red toothbrush, no the orange one after all. And no wetting of the bristles. And negotiations about thoroughness. And the stool isn’t quite right where it is, it needs to be scooted closer. And no, mom can’t scoot it.

The before-bed-pee involves more stool scooting, also not by mom – even though she’s stronger, more coordinated, and exceedingly more efficient. And negotiations concerning whether or not help is needed to pull down the underwear. And, no not the skirt and underwear at once, each separately. Flushing the previous pee before any fresh pee can emerge, and a discussion about the proper amount of toilet paper.

Bed involves, pajamas? No. Covers? Yes. Actually, no. And water too. And negotiations about sippy cups of milk. A discussion about the number of books as well as the type of books, and the order in which these books are read. Kisses from Papa, and shoving the older sister as she puckers up.

Sleep involves a mention of hunger, nursing, and breast-milk running out. Crying. And bigspot-little spot, the scratchy-tickly nighttime rhyme. And mom’s arm in the wrong place. And  singing, no, no singing. Okay singing, but also more protestations and more denials of sleep.

Then, after three hundred and ninety-five rounds of Hush Little Baby, the child sleeps.

Piece of cake, right?

August 22, 2010 at 8:44 pm 2 comments

The Frontline of Parenting: Gum and Outfits

Here are a couple of the sticky issues popping up with our three-year old these days.


Echo: No! I wanna wear the polka-dot dress I wore yesterday!

Me (inner dialog): Crap. I don’t want her to wear that dress again. I’m kind of sick of that dress. And it’s out in the hall, stuffed in that bag. I don’t want to go out in the hall, I’d rather pick from all these clean clothes stacked right in front of me. (Outer dialog): You want to wear that dress you wore yesterday? I think it’s dirty. But there are lots of other dresses right here. How about this rainbow polka-dot dress?

Echo: NOOOOOOOOOO! The other one! The other one! The other one!

Me (inner dialog): Holy shit. I am going to go crazy with the screaming. I don’t like this. This isn’t worth it to me. Why do I care if she wears the same dress again. What’s the big deal? Why am I swimming upstream like this? (Outer dialog): Well let’s check out the dress and see how dirty it is.

Echo: OK

Me: I know you’re upset but while we are walking toward the dress will you stop making the loud noises you’re making? It’s just really hard for me when you are so close to my ear.

Echo: OK

Me: (inner dialog): Well it’s really only a little dirty. I can let this battle go. (Outer dialog): Here it is. A little dirt on it.

Echo: Waaaaaahhhh! But I want to wear it!

Me: Yeah. I just said it was a little dirty, I didn’t say you couldn’t wear it. Do you want it?

Echo: (sniffling) Yeah.

As a side note, there are plenty of times that Echo is really upset, screaming, crying, and I do not give her what she wants. I complied in this instance because in the end it made very little difference to me, it wasn’t important enough to me to fight against her feelings. In other cases, especially where safety is concerned or other health issues are involved I might react to her crying with empathy, but not offer to give her what she is asking for. If, for example, she were asking to be able to continue to hit her sister, or cross the street without looking, I would hold her and empathize, enduring her screams until they finished on their own. I do not believe that strong feelings indicate manipulation on the part of the child. If they themselves are not subjected to manipulation by their parents, then strong feelings are just that, intense emotional reactions to the current issue.


Echo: Mom can you move a chair over here so that I can climb on the counter?

Me: Why?

Echo: Because then I can reach the gum.

Me: (frustrated) I don’t want you to have gum right now, I’m putting food into a bowl for you right now.

Echo: Please move the chair Mom? I just want to HOLD the gum.

Me: (exasperated) You’ll wait until after dinner to eat it? You’ll just hold the pack?

Echo: Yeah. Thanks Mom. I choose bubble gum. Will you not look Mom?

Me: (suspicious) Echo… Even if I’m not looking I want you to wait until after dinner to chew the gum.

Echo: I will! Just don’t look. I’ll just go in the bedroom.

Me: (following behind, getting angry) Echo, I’m serious. I’m feeling mad, and if you eat that gum I will feel REALLY mad.

Echo: I’m just going to hold it and jump on the bed.

Too frustrated to stay engaged, I close the door.

Later Echo emerges, and moves to my side where, in delight? fear? triumph?, she opens her mouth to show me the unchewed pink rectangle sitting on her tongue. Without thinking my hand zips out and yanks that gum right out.

Echo: Waaaaaah! I’m going to get ANOTHER piece!

Me: (infuriated, chasing behind, and scooping her up, thinking: Holy shit. I am so pissed. But crap this is really going in a bad direction. Now she is afraid of this gum-yanking, chasing mother, and thinking that if only she hadn’t shown me, stayed hidden, she wouldn’t be in “trouble”.) Echo love. Let me hold you. Let’s talk about this. Was it scary when I chased you and picked you up?

Echo: Yeah and I really want that piece of gum!

Me: Why did you hide and eat the gum after you told me that you would hold it until after dinner?

Echo: Because I really wanted it and I thought you’d be mad.

Me: I’m mostly mad because you told me one thing and did another, not so much about the gum.

Echo: Oh.

Me: (snuggling)When we make a deal I like it when you do the deal, not something different. That way I know for sure that you are telling the truth. If you wanted the gum I would rather you had said: “Mama, I can’t wait until after dinner. I want the gum too badly.” Then we could have worked something out… You really wanted that gum.

Echo: Yeah.

Me: Well here’s that piece you had in your mouth. Let’s put it right next to your bowl so that’s it’s ready for you, right away, after you eat.

Echo: And I can suck on it between bites.

Me: (inner dialog): I’m feeling reluctant and pretty grossed out by that idea but it feels worth it to negotiate. (Outer dialog): OK

These have been trying moments. Wearing the dress one more time was no big deal once I got my feet moving out of my stubborn attachment to a clean, fresh outfit, and toward what would work for Echo. In the end a repeat outfit is small potatoes. But gum has become a struggle. As a Mom my desire for gum to come after dinner, or after breakfast, is intense. I tell myself that chewing gum will ruin her appetite, that food particles will mix with the gum and then …and then…? There isn’t really any sound logic. The gum is good for her teeth. She chews, maybe, one piece per day. What it really comes down to is that I have a preference. Gum is not life or death.

I guess I unconsciously think that if she has gum when I don’t want her to then it’s a downhill slide to other, more undesirable actions. Drawing on the walls today, beer bongs and frat parties tomorrow. It’s silly really because intellectually I know that freedom to make safe choices as a child leads to safe, well thought-out choices later in life. Putting her on lock-down only leads to more resistance, more lying, and more hiding. I think I’d rather Echo suck on a pice of sugarless gum in between bites of soup.

My relationship with her is more important than the proper sequence of dinner and gum, and I almost blew that by attempting to bully her into compliance. By chasing her through the living room, reaching for the pack, desperate to keep her from defying me, from selecting another rectangle of sweet rubber. The pack itself cost $1.09, which means that each piece is worth six cents. Even if she managed to cram thirteen pieces into her mouth before we had a chance to talk it through, that’s a fair price to pay for parenting my daughter with empathy and respect.

I’ll remember that for next time. And if the polka-dot dress is the selection for tomorrow… well, if you see us around town, just give us an understanding smile.

August 21, 2010 at 9:35 am 8 comments

Can You Pretend to Be My Mom?

Bella has been at her other house this week. Usually, as the older sister she runs a wild ship of complex fairy games, elaborate story-lines, and dramatic torture/escape scenarios that involve magic and romance. Xi is basically stuck to Bella’s side watching for plot twists, waiting for her cue to add her character’s bit of dialog. Echo swings around the periphery, landing a job as the cousin, the sister, the neighbor, never a leading role, which makes sense as her devotion to the game waxes and wanes. She wants in the game because that is the hot spot of energy but she also wants to swirl outwards, or incorporate an out of proportion baby doll, or jump on the couch. Often if the older girls are too absorbed, too turned inward, not noticing her awkward advances into the plot she will simply steal the most crucial piece of the drama – the scepter, the throne, the magic something or other – and run away with it, squooshing it beneath her toddler thighs and  smiling maniacally.

But when Bella is elsewhere Xi and Echo become playmates once again and for some reason they like to play the same game, all day long. I am the mother and they are my children. That is the game. Sometimes I wonder if Xi is interested in this scenario because in “real life” I am “only” her stepmother, a fact that gets blurry as our relationship is so close and we spend so much time together, but is never, ever forgotten. But that doesn’t explain Echo’s interest, it’s fun for her to imagine that I am her mother.

I shake my head in wonder every time but I never resist, why would I? The role is a piece of cake. I basically get to move around as I normally would and still give them the satisfaction of playing. No costume changes, no sitting on the floor with figurines in hand, no spotting during unsafe physical challenges, no extra attention or involvement required on my part at all.

But the game is apparently extremely satisfying to these little ones. Sometimes we are a farm family, in which I become a farm wife, and they become farm children with various chores and struggles. This version is funny because as we go about our suburban existence they must find substitutes for the rural elements. The kitchen chair becomes a cow, gak becomes milk, and the stainless steel mixing bowl becomes the pail. Other times we are poor, like Disney-style poor, and the girls imagine our clothes as rags, our smoothie as thin gruel.

The set-up is minimal but involved. Both girls decide on a name, Lily, Rose, Maria, Chelsea, Alex, and their age. Xi, with the opportunity to (finally!) be the older child ends up explaining integers to Echo and gently nudging her toward choosing an age, any age that is younger than the one she has chosen. Xi often selects sixteen as it seems teenagers are a thing of myth and magic to her, and after she has chosen I am directed to imagine her looking like the teen we saw standing outside the local high school on our way home from the river. But without the braid, and with jeans instead of running shorts.

I can almost tune-out completely because although the discussion is lengthy it basically follows the same formula every time.

Xi: Ok Coco, how ’bout you’re twelve and I am sixteen. ‘Kay? And my name is Chelsea, no Alex. No ‘how bout my name is Chelsea but you guys call me Chels for short.

Echo: Yeah! And I am a teenager.

Xi: No Echo, you are twelve. Remember? And that means you are a PRE-teen.

Echo: Yeah! And my name is Luetta. No Maria. How ’bout my name is Lily bit you guys call me Lil for short.

Sometimes I am pressed into picking my name in the game and I throw one out there that I hope they think is pretty, Petra, Cecilia, Alena, but I don’t even have to remember my selection as they only call me mom, and if I call them Xi or Echo instead of Lily or Chelsea, they just imagine instead that I said it the right way.

The way these games work at our house is the girls start everything with Pretend that… and then fill in the blank with their current motion and the game continues.

Xi: Pretend that I was going to be in the next skating competition so I had to practice a lot. And then she begins to skate around the kitchen table.

Echo: Pretend that I had a little doggie… so I was always taking care of my dog because I had a dog. And then she flops down next to Henry-dog to stroke his face or rearrange his collar.

I love this formula because if I want to leave the room or change my focus I only say Pretend that… and my movement is fully sanctioned.

Pretend that I was always having to work hard to make money for our family…. so I was always typing.

See why I love this game?

Everyone gets to do what they already were doing, or what they want to do, yet we are all happily bound together within the game. Like an amoeba. I hope they never outgrow it and I hope, as they get older and face part-time jobs, boyfriends, and lengthy lecture courses, that they will remember the practice and always be able to imagine those circumstances, as well, into their perfect personal scenario.

August 16, 2010 at 10:22 am 2 comments

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