Nausea before gratitude

There are many things in my life for which to be thankful. And I have to focus hard to find them right now, through a cloud of nausea. Because this seemed like a reasonably good day, but it went downhill fast.

And then again, this is not a particularly good day in hindsight. I befuddled priorities, didn’t listen well when colleagues spoke, got only minimal exercise, and didn’t play with my kids as much as I would have liked. I’m grateful I recognize those failings so I can do better next time, and I’m grateful I have that chance.

I may not be a great parent, but my youngest begs for lettuce and balsamic vinegar every time we're in a store with a salad bar. I'm grateful for his patience with spring mix.

I may not be a great parent, but my youngest begs for lettuce and balsamic vinegar every time we’re in a store with a salad bar. I’m grateful for his patience with spring mix.

This is not a particularly good evening in my parenting, and though the boys were quite pleasant together today, they weren’t at all nice on a phone call to grandparents, then they were nasty to each other at bedtime. I’m grateful that I told them, each time they were playing well, that I noticed their kindness; I’m grateful that their dad was over for dinner so he could help me separate them when the little one turned South for the evening. I’m grateful for the opportunity to try again tomorrow, for I naively believe that if I focus on the positive and give them tools to minimize the negative, they might some day make honorable citizens. I’m grateful for that hope, even if it’s naive.

Last night was not a particularly good opportunity for sleeping. Though I was overjoyed to have the older child ask for company at night, he is a raging inferno, and I spent most of the night awake and hotter than hell. And we were joined in the middle of the night by his little brother, a walking furnace himself, who sleeps like he’s auditioning for a slasher movie. All night the two cats, who normally ignore us all and prefer each other’s company, decided that anything moving in the roastingly hot bed full of thrashing children was a plaything that needed a solid biting. And my injured shoulder still wakes me up at night, more than a month later. I’m grateful that my bed was hopping with 8,000 degree cat toys to distract me from my shoulder. What a blessing to be in the presence of my darling children as I get a free preview to menopause’s hot flashes while having my toes pierced by sharp teeth. So very grateful.

The little guy's favorite position is entwined. Here he's on my lap, tightly hooking his leg around mine. He does the same at night. Wraps legs around legs or arms around arms or fingers in hair. He needs to be inseparable. I'm grateful he needs to physically hold me hostage.

The little guy’s favorite position is entwined. Here he’s on my lap, tightly hooking his leg around mine. He does the same at night. Wraps legs around legs or arms around arms or fingers in hair. He needs to be inseparable. I’m grateful he needs to physically hold me hostage.

This is not a particularly good evening in my marital discord, and I have that adrenaline hangover that lasts long after a small disagreement when the stakes are so high. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with my parenting partner toward an ideal separation that honors our kids, and I’m hopeful that better setting expectations will help. I’m grateful I notice what a petty, impatient creature I can be, because it offers an opportunity to improve.

This is not a particularly good evening in culinary achievement. The roasted root vegetables for tomorrow are a bit underdone, and reheating in the communal oven tomorrow likely won’t bring them to the right texture; and the roasted three-color cauliflower is perfect, which means it won’t reheat well. I’m grateful for the large, joyful family who will criticize my food tomorrow, and grateful that they all think I’m a tough enough old bird that they can mock most of my decisions. I’m grateful I will have roasted leftovers to eat, all alone, in my sleeping-kids hours of self evaluation in the cold light of failure. I’m grateful that tomorrow night’s second reheating with either cure the root veg, or will help me stoke the pout flames.

but it tasted sooooo good tonight and I thought I could get away with it.

but it tasted sooooo good tonight and I thought I could get away with it.

This has not been a particularly good week in personal choices. A malaise has flummoxed food, exercise, errands, chores, and parenting choices. Not sure what’s ailing me, but I’m grateful my basic needs are covered such that I have the luxury of malaise. And misanthropy. And melancholy…I’m grateful for my melancholy. And who doesn’t love a good spell of misanthropy? I’m thankful for the opportunity to remember why I despise humanity. In fact, I’m grateful that I’ve run out of my favorite hot chocolate right before stores close for a day and then are replete with the worst of humanity for another day. I’m glad my chosen form of self-medication is unavailable for at least two days. Such scarcity will make me a better person, for which I’m grateful.

There’s no room in my privileged, blessed life to go to bed pouting about all the things I screwed up today, nor the things other people screwed up that I feel compelled to fix. I didn’t yell at my kids or my estranged husband. I didn’t buy anything stupid in an online Black Friday spree of “well, if it’s Wednesday and on sale, it must be a good deal so I need it” nonsense. I thought about it, but didn’t click the pay button. I showed up to the work day (the one in which I didn’t feel I listened hard enough) which puts me ahead of all the other colleagues who could have done the same but didn’t. And I not only changed the sheets on three beds by myself while ignoring my shoulder, I flipped and rotated the mattress on the top bunk. By myself, somewhat one-armed. I’m grateful, in that light, that I’m a superhero.

The Missing Post

This is not today’s post. This is yesterday’s post.

Why the semantics/replacement/transmogrification?

I planned to post last night. Right after the kids went to bed. Butter fell asleep quickly, with me curled up next to him reading the last chapter of The Prisoner Of Azkaban by the laser-beam of our impossibly bright book light. Peanut listened from his upper bunk and when I put the book away, wiping away tears borne of Harry’s joy, Peanut asked if he could sleep in my bed.

“Of course.”

He rarely does, unless he’s really scared. He prefers solitude, and I don’t blame him. But finishing a book is monumental to him, and he wanted company.

“Are you working tonight, or going to bed soon?”

I thought of NaBloPoWriMo’s mandate to post daily. I thought of dirty dishes. I thought of a mess in the living room and a desire to meander through various retailers’ online deals.

“I’m not working. Just let me brush my teeth.”

So I went to bed at 8:30 to be present for a child who wanted me with him.

And I will post later. For today.

But for now I’m well rested and happy and have taken one of those rare opportunities to replace “I can’t; I have work to do” with “Anything you need, my love. Anything you need.”

Please don’t ever

Please don’t ever stop mispronouncing the words that you have made your own in that sweet little preschool voice. I really hope that you keep “no known shield protects from my light saver!” and “ready, sgabetti!” and “n-o no; y-o yes!” forever.

Please don’t ever get in a car without a seatbelt or if the driver has been drinking.

Please don’t ever feel embarrassed about the need to sneak into my bed at night to rest your head on my pillow and mumble groggily that you were lonely.

Please don’t ever drink so much that you lose control, or put any substance in your body that will fundamentally alter the part of you that makes you so amazing: your brain.

Please don’t ever stop trying to bribe me by saying I’m the best mommy EVER when you want something sugary.

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Please don’t ever ignore someone hurting another person or an animal. Stand up. Be you.

Please don’t ever feel it’s okay to add croutons to a panzanella salad. That’s double bread, son. I won’t stand for it.

Please don’t ever doubt that I love you, regardless of what you do. Please know that I love you even more if you realize you have been a jerk, and come back to apologize. Heaven knows I do that often enough.

Please don’t ever stop telling me long stories about your day. I love that you still talk to me and trust me. I will endeavor to continue earning your trust.

Please don’t ever take the last piece of chocolate, unless you live alone. Not even if it is to cure you after a run-in with the dementors. Someone else always needs the last piece of chocolate more.

Please don’t ever do anything that makes you feel that you are being untrue to yourself. Trust your gut. If it feels wrong, do not do it.

Please don’t ever take life too seriously. Except that part about the croutons. I’m serious about that, boys.

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Roller coaster Saturday

Most mornings begin abruptly: my eldest wakes and sneaks downstairs, pausing to hug me good morning only if I catch him at the top of the stairs and get his attention. The little one wakes soon after and goes off in search of his brother.

The bickering starts ten seconds later. I suggest kindness, they fight. I suggest they find solution, they fight. I get up and stagger into whatever room they’re electrifying with their nastiness, and they keep bickering.

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It’s a rough way to wake up. This morning was no different. But instead of helping them navigate their fight about whose pillows were past the halfway point on the couch, I just sat between them. With my book.

And they moved on. And got their own books and joined me, each nestled in a pillow fort on either side of me.

It was glorious. After five minutes one said he was hungry. Best five minutes of my life, I smiled to myself. And I didn’t hold my breath that the peace would linger.

But it did.

And I made them pancakes and they laughed and played and thanked me.

And then started bickering again.

It was very, very nice to read between them. And it was exceedingly nice to have peace until almost 9am.

I won’t hold my breath on it happening again. But I wouldn’t say no to it, either, in case the boys call you and ask if if like this morning repeated, say…tomorrow.

Sounds about right

I flew through an entire audiobook today, and am settling well into the idea that this particular medium is ideal for histories and biographies.

As the book finished, I was changing sheets on the bunk bed, the little guy was in the bathtub, and the big guy was sorting laundry. It’s getting harder to tell his clothes from mine, and we now take longer to check tags to make sure he doesn’t wear my shirts to school.

I flopped onto the lower bunk to choose my next audiobook. Unfortunately, I told Peanut as he threw his brother’s laundry across the room, other library patrons are currently listening to all the good books. Darn the choice to live in a town where other readers have the same tastes.

As the guard changed and the little guy clambered out of the bath to let his brother in, I found a guided meditation book and clicked to hear the sample. Bells gently chimed, subtle music rumbled from my phone.

“I like that book,” said Butterbean.

“Oh, yeah? It’s about meditation.”

“Well, I like it,” he said.

“Why is there a booger in the tub?!” Peanut hollered from the other room.

“Remember when I told your brother to quit blowing his nose in the tub?” I hollered back and shot a look at the little guy, who giggled.

“Come get it! Please?” he bellowed. The meditation chimes kept bleating at me. I brought the tub-bound, lanky young man a tissue. Without complaining that he has to recycle tub water, he wiped. I tossed and washed.

“That’s gross,” he said. “Really, that’s gross!” he hollered.

“Mom!” hollered the little guy, still in the bedroom with the meditation sample, “he’s teasing me!”

“Am not!”

“Teasing, teasing, teasing! Stop it I don’t like it!”

I walked back into the bedroom. The meditation chimes had stopped and I knelt beside the bed to cancel the sample. Peanut called for me to fetch more fraternal flotsam.

At just that moment, an earthquake rumbled and I held the bunk bed, checking the intensity and assessing the position of both kids. I could move the preschooler into the doorway and…wait, it’s not an earthquake. It’s just the cats fighting on the top bunk.

I turned off my phone and told the little guy to choose his bedtime books.

There’s no way guided meditation on my phone is the sound I need in my evening, even if Butter likes it. I need teasing and whining and giggles and silly, growing children, and cat earthquakes.

chaos, an interpretive dance

chaos, an interpretive dance

I also need another good nonfiction listen tomorrow. Hook me up, Berkeley library patrons. Return your audiobooks. I could use a copy of Salt, NPH’s memoir, or Dataclysm.

Nightmares made funny

Butterbean, at the ripe old age of Four, has dozens of nightmares a week. And like his mother, he talks in his sleep, so I hear the dialogue for a lot of his worst dreams.

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It would seem, from circumstantial evidence around midnight, that his older brother and his preschool friends torment him, a lot, in his dreams. It would seem, from what he bellows at the imaginary aggressors in his dreams, that nobody gives him a turn.

And that he had it first.

And that people should just…NO!…just stop and…NO!…people should..NOOOOOOO!…just knock it off. Times infinity.

He had a lot of nightmares the other night. I stopped working to walk upstairs and comfort him at least a dozen times. I smoothed his hair. I adjusted his covers. I woke him to use the bathroom.

And he kept yelling at all the people wronging him and taking his toys and making him wait too long. Including me.

“Mommy! Mooooommmm? Stop it!” Out like a light and yelling at me for maligning him.

So I turned off the computer and put him in my bed. I brushed my teeth in the dark and climbed in. And the first few times he kicked and bellowed, I smoothed his hair and Shhhhhh’d him.

And within 20 minutes, he was laughing out loud in his sleep.

He giggled and curled in a ball and snuggled next to me.

And laughed some more.

I didn’t sleep much that night.

But I did for just one night what I won’t be able to do during the days: I stopped whatever he perceived as injustice. And I got him comfortable enough to laugh.

Would that it were that easy, through his life, to stop all the injustice, to get him everything he wants, and make him comfortable enough to laugh. I wouldn’t it I could, of course, but I really want to. That’s not my job. Life will be unfair, he will be left wanting, and many days he won’t have the space to giggle. But if I fix everything he’ll never be a fully functioning adult.

For now, though, I get some space, in the dark of the small numbers, to make everything better.

That is my superpower.

Second child

Parents grossly exaggerate how little attention the second child gets.

This weekend my eldest wanted to play chess. No problem. My preschooler is < sarcasm > totally self sufficient and willing to play by himself while I give his older brother fifteen minutes of attention. < /sarcasm > Not because I ignore him, but because he knows what he wants in life and isn’t afraid to just go out and get it.

Image credit: Ken Teegardin via Creative Commons share alike

Image credit: Ken Teegardin via Creative Commons share alike

Peanut and I set up the pieces. And four-year-old Butterbean grabbed his stickers and started an art project.

On my shirt.

I, of course, supported his artistic drive. Mostly because it allowed about five minutes of play.

But at one point he pushed a stick hard on my back, and it hurt.

“Ow,” I said. “Please stop.”

“Why?”

“Because that hurt.”

“What part?”

“The part where you just pushed on my back.”

“Let me see.”

He lifted the back of my shirt and went looking, until he found what he said was a “red hurt spot.”

I made interested sounds. Not because I was ignoring. Because I couldn’t finagle my bishop into position.

Butter went to his room for his doctor kit, which he wielded expertly on my medical emergency. The red spot got fake injected, fake temperature checked, fake examined, and fake reflex checked.

And it got redder, he noted.

Science.

Ad Peanut and I got into the middle of the game, Butter went upstairs to get his geology tools: hammer, pick, tweezers, brush. All plastic, thankfully.

And declared he was a paleontologist. And started to dig into my back.

“Ow. Please stop it. That hurts.”

“Mommy, it’s okay. I’m a paleontologist.”

“Paleontologists look for fossils. In dirt. Not blood in their Moms.”

“Mom, it’s okay.”

“Yeah, well, still hurts.”

“Mom. Really. Okay. It’s O. Kay.”

He ditched the rockhound tools and picked up the queen my knight had just taken.

He used the queen to back methodically on the red spot on my back.

“Still red.”

Again with science.

“Yes. That’s the blood trying to help the skin get better from a hurt.”

“What hurts?”

“Banging queens on my back.”

“Mommy, I’m not banging queens on your back. I’m using one queen to find clues. Remember? I’m a paleontologist.”

I chased down Peanut’s King and ended the game just before the little one drew blood.

You see? Having two is totally easy. You should have several. Not much harder than having one. Or none. Or a puppy. Or a sandwich.

The broader point is that second children aren’t ignored. They don’t suffer from lack of attention. They have a better sense of what they want from life and seek without hanging back, without waiting for permission.

We could all learn from my youngest. If you want something, don’t let anything stand in your way. Not reality, or physics, or the medical needs of your mother.

Parent-Teacher Abandonment Week

The week of parent-teacher conferences strikes fear in the heart of every…well, teacher and parent.

Teachers spend weeks preparing, evaluating, observing, and writing. Parents realize a few days before that the whole freaking week includes early release day.

And the precarious balance of pickup and dropoff and playdate and aftercare and work and meals and life are thrown off.

Wait, that’s just me? Um…of course I’m just kidding. Having to change my life to pick up my child 70 minutes early for five days straight is a joy that knows no bounds.

Blerg.

I hate parent-teacher conference week. Of course I appreciate all the effort our teachers pour into making the secret world of common core bare unto my family. It makes me a little weepy each time a teacher writes me a long editorial about how wonderful my son is to have in class, how kind he is to other children, and adorable and welcome are his personality quirks. Lovely. Makes me want to live at school so I can see more of that version, and less of the home-study (read: version.

But I digress. My boys’ schools overlap for exactly two hours, and when the eldest is out early, I have exactly one hour in which to do my eleventy billion tasks. This week is the first time I’ve emailed a client to say I’m going to miss a deadline.

But even better? I forgot to tell the carpool family today that it was an early release day. My friend called me at the preschool (where I was cheerfully pretending to be cheerful with preschoolers) at regular pick up time and asked where my son was.

Quick note: having a responsible adult tasked with my child’s well-being call and ask where my child is instantly liquified all my vital organs.

It took a beat or two to remember about early release days. I told her to check the office.

She called right back. He’s fine. He was in the office. Because of my intense failings as a human.
I asked her to put him on the phone.

Tiny little voice, that sounds more five than eight, greets me. “Hi, Mom.”

“Oh, bub, I’m so sorry. I completely forgot about the early day and I didn’t tell Shelly.”

“It’s okay.”

“Did you have something to do? A book to read?”

“No.” He sounds almost chipper. Regular voice, regular cadence, regular Peanut.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.”

He’s fine. He was fine and he is fine. I hung up and went outside to “get a broom to clean up,” by which I mean, “text Shelly my sorrow and cry painful, guilty tears.” I made it to three stores and placed two orders to arrange his soccer team’s end of the year party. I just didn’t bother with the whole “maintaining my child’s safety and sense of security” thing. Details.

Tonight during dinner, when we each talked about our favorite moment, and biggest challenge and solution, Peanut had a favorite and a challenge. Neither involved being abandoned for an hour.

Because I can let exactly nothing go until I’ve talked it to death, I asked him while we emptied the dishwasher whether he was worried in that hour in the office.

Nope. He said he knew early pickup was unusual, he knew it was Shelly’s day, and he knew she always remembers. And he knows that someone will always come.

He seems disappointingly unaffected by my massive parenting failure.

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I don’t know where to go from here. Do I just, you know, carry on with life as normal? (I mean, obviously with extra efforts spent informing all childcare providers of my child’s actual schedule.) Isn’t there some sort of penance for having forgotten my child, leaving him unexpectedly and horribly in the care of trusted professionals while he waits, seemingly endlessly, for a whole hour?

Hair shirt? Self flagellation? Strained relationship that lasts until he graduates from college?

Something

Craftsman

My eight-year-old son walked through the garage the other day, and stopped in front of the silver toolbox.

“Craftsman?” he asked. “Shouldn’t it be Craftsperson?”

I’m working to raise feminists. And that means, to me, getting them to see injustice and call it out. See labels that limit and call them out. Change them.

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So in some ways I smirked and thought, “Well, I’m done. I won at parenting.”

But feminism doesn’t end with noticing. The question isn’t much without some attempts at an answer.

So I asked him, “Why do you think?”

“Maybe it’s really old and it’s from when people thought women didn’t do things as well as men.”

“Some things,” I suggested.

“Some things,” he said.

“Maybe. Why else?”

He thought for a while and couldn’t come up with anything.

“The interesting thing,” I said, “is that it’s pretty new. It’s from right before you were born, so long after Americans decided that women hace the right to vote, read, have jobs outside the home, have jobs inside the home, and be the bosses of companies. That box is from after people all noticed that women are just as human as men.”

“Oh. [beat] So do they sell a Craftswoman box?”

“Nope. They sell Craftsman. And after all these years, their company name hasn’t changed. Either they don’t notice how women might feel about being excluded, or they don’t care.”

He didn’t say anything.

And I didn’t say anything.

The Craftsman name was registered in 1927. For a long time they had incentive to change the name, since Craftsman was associated with quality. But that reputation is in freefall. Craftsman is facing extinction, but also faces massive brand equity losses if they change the name.

So Craftsperson becomes a strategic talk I don’t need to have with an eight-year-old. (Didn’t keep me from having that discussion, though, later. Over dinner. Because I’m fun mom and brand-naming mom, all rolled into one.)

I’m glad my son can call out gender conservatism. I hope he will be able to call out cis- and hetero-normativity, too. And rail against them. And I’m glad we talked about it. But sometimes, it feels as though nothing is going to change. Not with just noticing and talking.

The boy who ruined Santa

Today at the playground, I overheard my son bickering with his friends. All I caught was the tail end, which threw me into damage control mode.

“He is, too. MOM! Is it true that Santa is still alive and lives in the North Pole?”

Oh, dear Venus, no. Please don’t be having this conversation. And not just because it’s four days after Halloween and at least one of you should be ashamed for joining the likes of the big box stores that are cramming holiday pressure as early as October.

actual holiday catalogs that arrived today and cats fighting over them.

actual holiday catalogs that arrived today and cats fighting over them.

A defiant Butterbean stood, hands on his hips, in the middle of the sand, holding court with his adorable, blindsided, angry friends. I rushed over, trying to make it seem like no big deal, and the other four-year-olds tried to listen as I talked. To my son I whispered, “Everyone gets to believe what they want, and we don’t tell them they’re wrong. The story of Santa is about giving and kindness and magic, and some people remember how kind Santa was and they want to give to those who need. But some families feel that magic more and say that Santa is still alive and lives in the North Pole. That’s okay for them to say. And our story is okay for us to say. Everyone gets to believe what they want. We are right for us and they are right for them.”

“No,” he said.

Succinct. Bold. I’ll give him that. Intrinsic sense of justice, firm grasp of the concept of black and white. He has a strong future ahead.

But, and I’m not just saying this because the preschool parents are going to absolutely murderize me for parenting the kid who doesn’t believe Santa is actively watching and list-making, Butter needs to learn the nuance of belief, and of respect of belief. He needs to be okay with people thinking something different from what he thinks.

Peanut, his older brother, took very well to the idea of shrugging, and telling friends, “okay.” He is, by nature, a watcher. He observes and takes it all in, but doesn’t always engage. When people tell him about Santa or God or the tooth fairy, he just says, “okay.” He certainly doesn’t correct people when they’re wrong. (He tells me long stories about how other people, who do correct others, are boorish. But I don’t think he uses the word boor. Yet. Give me time.) Peanut never told any of the kids at school that he thinks Santa is just a story. I’ll ask him this year what the third-grade conversations are like. I don’t feel too protective of nine-year-olds. They can read and a shocking number of them have their own iPads. They’ll know about Santa soon enough.

I don’t want my children to squash other kids’ hopes and dreams. Some families tell the Santa story to cultivate the magic of the season, and I want them to feel good about that. I also want to feel good about what I teach my kids, because I have every right to believe something, even if it doesn’t conform to dominant culture.

I do think it’s upsetting that generations of parents have tried to coerce certain behaviors from their children by threatening them with Santa. Blackmail isn’t a kind way to parent. And I do recall quite clearly, after learning Santa isn’t real, thinking that nothing in the world is stable if I couldn’t trust the stories my parents told. I know they wanted to share the magic of the myth, and they meant well. My mom still gives me a gift from Santa. It frustrates me for a moment, until I remember it’s her right to find magic wherever she wants to.

And that’s the point of what we teach our kids. Because Santa is tradition. And family traditions are important whether December is about Jesus or Santa or Macabes or Solstice. We have to respect each others’ right to believe. Believe in magic or God or triumph over the night. Or belief that your parents will tell the truth.

Belief is good.

And the magic of the Santa story is powerful, so I don’t want to take it away from anyone. The idea of someone who gives selflessly to everyone is lovely. The idea of someone who reifies quantum physics theory and is everywhere at once is even more lovely.

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In our family, we teach our kids that the idea of Santa is an old legend about a man who gave to those in need. Not everyone. He gave coats to those who were cold, coats. He gave food to the hungry. And in celebration of Santa’s giving, we bring food and toys to the animal shelter, and socks and toiletries to the homeless shelter. We give backpacks of goodies to the homeless around town.

I don’t, however, tell the kids to expect that a flying sled will bring us presents from an uninhabitable part of the globe. Because I believe in magic and theater and natural wonder, but I don’t believe in lying. If Santa wants to buy or make and wrap and deliver, he’s welcome to bring gifts on over. And he’ll get all the applause. Otherwise, I work for the money, I choose the gifts, I force the boys’ dad to wrap them, and I’m taking the credit.

I felt awful at the playground today. And I apologized to the other mothers. (Note: I’m not being assumptively gendered. The only parents there today were moms. No grandparents, no dads, no aunts or uncles or nannies. Praised be rejection of normativities. But they were actually moms.) I told them we’re working on respecting others’ beliefs and traditions.

And they told me some kid last already told the four-year-olds that Santa isn’t real. So my son isn’t so much ruining the story as planting additional seeds of doubt that will blossom in a few years when they really lose faith in what their parents tell them.

Knowing that someone beat my kid to the decimation of Santa feels a bit better. Not just because we didn’t kill Santa for friends’ kids. But because they respect our beliefs, too. And they teach their kids the same thing we do: “every family believes what they need to, and what we believe is just right for us.”

Language Lessons

My preschooler loves his Spanish teacher. He sings the songs she teaches him and he tells the stories she shares.

Sometimes it's hard to be so super

Sometimes it’s hard to be so super

And he tells me the words he learns.

“Mom, did you know what mutara means? It’s Spanish for burrito.”

Um, no, it’s not.

“Honey, I’m pretty sure burrito is a Spanish word. It means little burro, or little donkey, and where I grew up, a burro was a HUGE burrito in a homemade tortilla.”

“Hugenormous?”

“Yes.”

“Well, did you know what fremata means? It’s Spanish for taco.”

I laughed. Because, again, nuh-uh.

in his world, every day is Halloween

in his world, every day is Halloween

Tonight he told me has some words to teach me. I waited, eagerly.

“I have a new word for sausage. Ready? That word is lentils.”

I started laughing, and he kept going.

“The word for lentils is strawberries. The word for strawberries is grapes. The word for banana is beer. The word for wine is stove. The word for counter is step stool. And that’s all. Mom, laugh about the counter word.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Once the wine became a stove I grew contemplative.”

“Know what my word for that is, Mom? It’s minkie.”

Sounds about right, buddy.

Did I do something right?

If I were to categorize my blog posts, I’m guessing 10% are literature and bookishness, 70% are teeth-clenched comedy about how I barely made it through the day with my adorable and irrepressible children, 10% are raw and unfiltered posts in which I admit to being completely overwhelmed by life, death, and the days when those two coincide, and 10% are crowdsourcing pleas in which I seek solutions for managing to stay alive during one of my indomitable children’s…um…phases.

I don’t know yet that I’ve posted enough “I do believe I might have done something right” posts to actually register on any NaptimeWriting highlights reel. This Halloween might be different.

Berkeley upcycles its trash into art. Hard to feel like I'm #winning next to that.

Berkeley upcycles its trash into art. Hard to feel like I’m #winning next to that.

I woke this morning totally panicked about our Halloween policy. The first few years, with just Peanut, we adhered to a “have two pieces a day until it’s gone,” policy, and despite relieving the bag substantially in the evenings, Halloween wore on WAY too long into November. Once we had two children old enough to carry a treat bag, we offered the idea of trading candy for books or toys, but Peanut, the oldest, would have none of it. We settled on a friend’s approach: two days of unfettered access, then all the candy goes away.

This year the kids loved the plan. They knew unfettered access still meant they had to eat three meals a day, all veggies and protein. They knew this was non-negotiable.

But they were like crazed maniacs on Halloween night, sprinting from house to house to maximize their haul. The four-year-old dashed up stairs, knocked on doors, beamed his brightest “HappyHalloweenthankyouandhaveagoodnight” as he grabbed all he could hold. And at 7:00 November 1, both kids were leaping on my bed, hollering, “go make eggs so we can have protein and then eat all our candy!”

I freaked out a bit.

I texted my most awesomely conscientious mom friends to ask their policy. One allows a single piece a day, and sneaks out the egregiously colored stuff. Another negotiated a trade of all but four pieces in exchange for a book.

Mmmmmm. Homemade caramel.

Mmmmmm. Homemade caramel.

I mentioned those candy-management options to my kids, who laughed and, I’ll be honest, openly judged those parents aloud for being “too unfair.” (I talked to them about fairness and candy and starving children. My grandmother would be proud.) After wolfing down their eggs, my sugar-fiend cherubs agreed to take the most toxic of their stash and trade it for the brands I trust. I stocked up on candy made with natural ingredients, colored with fruit, sweetened with organic sugar, and made sustainably so I could give their dad the stuff that will color your liver for months. (What? It’s not rude to give your ex toxic candy, right? Not the stuff with razor blades; just partially hydrogenated oils.) So some of what the boys devoured at 7:35am was candy that they’d already selected from my Alternative Treat stash.

But the haul was still grotesque. Gorgeous to the candy-loving child/teen/adult in me. Disgusting to the parent I have been posing as for almost nine years.

While they ate we talked about red dye #3 and red #40, blue #2, yellows #5 and 6. Coal tar, guys. Those colors, in more than 30% of your candy, are made from coal tar. Some are banned in other countries and some are banned in the U.S. in cosmetics, but not in food.

“Don’t care,” they shrugged. “it’s two days of the year. We never buy this kind of candy, we always eat well, and we worked hard to get it.” My eight year old genuinely said these things.

They wore me down. Not because they’re right, but because I am easily pushed off the perch from which I fear going too far toward the self-righteous Berkeley I both celebrate and disdain. I’m also freaking exhausted from all the negotiations and battles and teachable moments about brushing teeth and not calling names and being kind and embracing difference and standing up for anyone who’s being pushed around and treasuring people over things and …I’m seriously just exhausted. I was willing to look the other way while my kids are coal tar artificial colors, child-slave-labor chocolate, and highly processed high fructose corn syrup.

So they got as much candy as they wanted between meals today.

For the record, they were miserable cretins all day: whining, annoying each other, throwing fits, and flitting around like hummingbirds. I kept telling them that their behavior told me next year should be the Halloween of Two Pieces Total.

And then tonight, the big one called me downstairs when I finished the four-year-old’s bath. He showed me more than 60% of his remaining candy in a pile. Candy he likes as well as candy he likely wouldn’t have eaten. all the duplicates and several brands he knows his dad likes. All lumped in a big pile to trade. “What would this get me?” he asked. It was such a significant gesture from a candy hoarder (he keeps a stash of candy that remains uneaten from random holidays stored in a clandestine backpack; and he asks once every few months if he can eat one of his bits of treasure), such an unbelievable change of heart, that I told him he could pick a book and a toy for his efforts.

The little one, apparently done freaking out about how his socks never quite line up across his toes correctly, stomped down the stairs and surveyed Candy Central. He saw what his brother was trading away, and he shoved his pile at me. “I’m done with this. I don’t even want to trade. I’m just done.” He kept one bag of organic, vegan gummy bears.

"Don't worry, mom. We don't need candy, we have kale. And we don't need toys, we have cardboard."

“Don’t worry, mom. We don’t need candy, we have kale. And we don’t need toys, we have cardboard.”

Both my kids had way too much candy today. They each likely had 30 pieces of candy.

But they’re done. Done. They don’t care any more. The novelty has worn off. They want LEGOs and books, instead.

I don’t want to say this too loudly, or anything, but I might have inadvertently done something right this Halloween.

One chicken comes home to roost then snowballs and mixes all my metaphors

Well. I knew it would happen. I knew the anti-honeymoon would eventually happen.

I’ve been blogging a bit about how our family is settling into two households and how that has been better for everyone. I’ve made sure to caveat how sad and caveat how hard we’re working. And caveat anything tangential because caveats are my wont.

Not always, of course, but when necessary.

See? They’re like candy. So delicious and so hard to stop.

Anyway. The kids have handled the separation well and have been kinder to each other. Notice how I used the past tense. Because holy guacamole is the older one being mean lately.

He's moving closer and closer to prison, it seems.

He’s moving closer and closer to prison, it seems.

I could blame the separation. I could blame the new school year. I could blame anything, really, but it’s coming down to either he’s headed straight to prison or I’m doing everything wrong.

Those two options pretty much cover it, I think. No other choices.

He’s a wonderful child, full of imagination and scientific logic, generally kind and very funny. His greatest pleasure is making me laugh. So whatever bodysnatcher has a hold of his shell is having a great time, because this child is clearly possessed by an alien, ghoul, monster, or bank CEO.

At least once a day this week he’s yelled in my face that whatever we’re talking about is none of my business, or telling me to shut up. He’s grabbed my arm, hard, to make me understand that he wants me out of his personal space.

And all of this rage has gotten an, “Oh, NO. You can’t talk to me that way. I’ll listen to what you have to say if you take a breath and talk kindly.” He knows he has more power with his hands and his voice down, but he doesn’t care. He knows that he can take a breath or take some time apart from situations that make him mad, but he doesn’t care. He seems to want to make everyone miserable. He has been grabbing his four-year-old brother by the shoulders and squeezing hard, for even slight infractions of what he perceives, at eight years old, as the right way to do things. He’s enforcing the rules with an iron fist, and I don’t like it.

And I tell him “you’re important to this family and your opinion matters, but you may not police other people. Your body is your job, and you are not responsible for anyone else but you. If he makes you mad, walk away. Take a break.”

This usually gets an epithet barked at me. And then a privilege taken away.

Yesterday he bickered with a playdate as though they were siblings, calling each other names (I stopped that kindly) and criticizing each other’s homework habits (I stopped that kindly) and challenging each other on how to play games properly (I told them they could go to separate rooms if they wanted to fight, but that I welcomed them finding solutions together.) It was annoying. At soccer practice, Peanut criticized the same boy for something he did near the goal, and the boy lost it. He pushed Peanut, who pushed back. The coach talked to them and had them talk about what they needed and wanted. Peanut very impressively said, “I don’t like it when you push me, but that doesn’t give me the right to push you.” And then he went home and pushed his brother.

And this morning started the whole cycle again.

You're eight. Life is outrageously easy. Stop it with the assholery.

You’re eight. Life is outrageously easy. Stop it with the assholery.

He’s also having outsized tantrums in which he digs in his heels and simply won’t give up. He sat on the edge of the tub for 45 minutes the other night refusing to brush his teeth because I got too angry with his refusal to floss and gave myself a timeout. He refused to brush until I sat with him. I explained that my kindness had run dry and he was welcome to come in for a long hug when he was done brushing, but that I wasn’t going to sit with him. He finally brushed when I set a timer and told him he had five minutes to get in bed, else be excused from soccer the next day for lack of adequate rest.

I’m weary of this rage from a small boy. I asked him what he needs. I asked if he’s tired or needs a break from soccer or needs extra hugs. He told me needs a family without a brother. I said I hear his frustrations and helped him think of ideas for getting more time away from the little tyrant. He’s been saying for 3 years that he wants a family without a brother, ever since Butter learned to walk. I listen sympathetically, but, quite reasonably, don’t offer to find him a family without a brother. They don’t have a great relationship. Peanut is a rule follower and rule enforcer, and his brother writes his own rules. Peanut hates that little kids can’t do everything as well as he can and don’t heed his every request. He also has the insecure human’s need to make others feel small when he doesn’t feel strong enough. After an hour or so of puzzling out something impressive, he’s magnanimous and kind to his brother. Proud of himself from science class or engineering projects or video game design, he wants to teach and listen and generally beam with pride. But that feeling of pride is too rare to sustain their relationship.

Something is making my son retreat inward and create nothing but Dark Art magic with his considerable brain and usually kind heart.

The possible list of causes are:
All my fault
Mostly my fault
Personality glitch
Entirely due to the separation
Lack of downtime in busy weeks
Mostly due to the separation
Totally my fault.

On the walk to school today, we caught up with a neighbor mom and her kindergartener. Her older son is in Peanut’s class, and I assumed he was home sick. On the walk, though, she told me that he has been impossible lately, refusing to get ready, yelling at her, and expecting way more nannying than a third grader should. She said she was fed up, and when he talked nasty to her this morning, she left him home. His father agreed to stay home long enough for our friend to get the little one to school and back. Peanut’s friend had already missed soccer practice this week due to ragingly bad attitude.

I was so happy I could barely speak. Because her kid’s asshattery can’t be All My Fault. I barely know him. And odds that their mutual ridiculous behavior are collectively All Our Fault are slim. So the list of potential causes shifts to:
Full moon
Lunar eclipse
Early-onset puberty
Toxic chemicals in drinking water that only affects eight-year-olds
Totally my fault, so much so that my ill will affects several blocks in each direction.

Anyone else with a particularly rude eight year old lately? Wanna blame it on me? Or take some of the blame for my kid this week? We could swap responsibility until they’re 30 or so. Or we can all blame it on my failed marriage. That would do wonders for my need to poke that open wound a bit. Hey, we could blame your kid’s nastiness on my kid’s nastiness and vice versa! Come on! It’ll be fun!

Reasonable Question

“Mommy, you know how you don’t love Daddy anymore…I mean, not that you don’t love him or not that you don’t like him, but you know how he makes you sad when he yells at you? Well, do we have to have two camp sites when we go camping?”

blink blink blink

blink.

“Well, honey, some day we probably will have two camp sites. And that might be fun because Daddy will cook on his campfire and I will cook on my campfire, and you can choose which campfire dinner to eat. And you can even choose to eat both!”

“Yeah!”

“For now, we still share a campsite. And we’re a family, even if we live in two houses or have two campsites.”

“And even if we have two marshmallow fires, right?”

“Yeah, Butterbean. Even then. It sounds pretty good to me to have two marshmallow fires.”

“Me, too.”

IMG_2137

But it doesn’t sound good to me. It sounds like what we have to do, to be civil and keep the best of what we have to offer the kids, but I’m lying to my son when I say it sounds good to have two marshmallow fires. It sounds like a waste of wood and excessive pollution and too much work. Two campfires sounds to me like the acrid smell that won’t wash out of my hair for two days isn’t even my smell; it belongs, in part, to someone else and it follows me around for the better part of the week, surprising me with an acid taste in my mouth each time I move my head quickly.

Everyone all together was my hope for their childhoods and for my marriage. I don’t want to offer them two homes instead of one, and I don’t want to pay two rents  instead of one. But that’s our reality. Together, Spouse and I fight. Apart we are much kinder. And I’m not going to rehash here the time honored “but they’re happier now and you’re happier now and sometimes marriages just don’t work but you’re doing a great job of making them feel loved even though clearly you made bad choices and probably shouldn’t even be allowed to have children because you’re so bad at decision making” cycle of self loathing some divorced parents go through. Okay, that I go through.

I will say that it’s uncomfortably hard to tell my kids they can’t have the comfort of having everyone who loves them sleep in one house. Or that we can’t split the team and play man-to-man at book-reading time. Instead, there are really only groups of three, and they have to learn to get a lot less solo attention. They’re the center of a Venn diagram, and one of the adults is generally shut out.

What killed me about the campsite question is that he knows there aren’t easy words to put to the situation: it’s not a lack of love or a lack of like…it’s a dynamic between two people who bring out each other’s worst. And they saw it. We were two people treating each other like adversaries instead of partners. And my children felt it. They treat each other like adversaries, too. I feel the guilt of that hourly.

But now they see that two adults can choose to stop being a bad pair and become better people alone. That people can choose to examine their problems and find a solution. A kind solution. A gentle solution. An unwanted but necessary solution.

Later this month I’m giving a talk on finding your blog voice. And staying true to my own writing voice has meant being honest. I don’t blog so I can put on a mask and pretend. For that I have theater. But a blog voice also means permanence and not writing something I’ll regret and want to delete years later. A blog voice means addressing the pain but knowing that just beyond the empathetic friends and sympathetic readers is a future employer who might read this as part of a decision-making process. So being honest and being forever is challenging in transitions like a divorce. I have to talk about solutions but not really explain the problem. I’m not here to air my marriage and its failings. I’m not going to degrade my co-parent in a public forum. And I can’t be here in full therapy mode. That’s not me hiding the truth. But it’s not me being completely frank, either. I’m not comfortable here, right in between a rock and a brick wall.

This blog is where I tell my stories, and aching for my kids that their family seems incomplete, no matter how we configure it, is my story right now. I want to tell that story. Carefully.

Thankfully, my sons’ version of this story is a delightful revisionist world in which they get double marshmallows.

Maybe they’ll share with you.

 

photo credit: John Morgan via creative commons

photo credit: John Morgan via creative commons

 

Group storytelling

As our family dissolves its current form and grows again to a new structure, we’re developing dozens of lovely traditions.

And my absolute favorite is the family story.

We talk each day about our favorite parts of the day, and our biggest challenges; we talk about gratitude and feelings.

And now, when the kids seem bored, when we share time together, when we travel in the car, and especially when dim lighting and clean teeth spell the end of the day, we invent a story. Together. Sometimes as three people, and sometimes as four. Each person tells one sentence of a new story. Each subsequent person builds upon it. Until it’s done. And then we do it again.

Tonight:

There once was a tree with several leaves.
And nearby there was a tree with lots of leaves.
And those two trees began growing toward each other.
One day they touched together.
And they began dripping honey.
And they grew together some more.
And they spilled all the honey on the ground.
This made them fight.
A bear stopped by to say, “Don’t worry, there’s enough honey for everyone.”
So every animal in the forest came and took what they needed.
And the trees were happy.
And the animals were happy.
And full of honey.
The End.