Type this post

I feel more than slightly ridiculous dictating this blog post on a walk between two client meetings. But I feel kind of awesome that I can do it. It’s not every day I have ten minutes for a post. It’s not every day I get a glorious walk in perfect weather from one part of San Francisco to another.

It’s not every month that I have so many clients that I schedule back-to-back meetings and walk briskly between them with purpose and determination. I’m incredibly lucky. And because I recognize how lucky I am, ridiculous seems okay right now, and dictate I shall.

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I feel like an entitled jackass for having groceries delivered tonight. It’s my third time this year having groceries delivered, and I will admit with almost no shame that I love it. I don’t have anyone but me clean the house, until this month I didn’t have regular childcare, we don’t go out to eat very often, and we almost never have food delivered. Certainly I never used to pay to have groceries brought to my door. But the little guy and I skipped our weekly grocery date so that we could see his big brother in the school production of the Midas Touch. As much as I would like to resist the multitasking of dictating a blog post, and of having groceries delivered, it’s pretty awesome and I can use my time like this. To see my amazing son in a play instead of going to the grocery store. To get some work done and some exercise and a blog post all the same time.

I like this new purposeful walk and the spare $5 to have groceries delivered. I like it very much.

I have found myself in the thrilling, unnerving, awkward position of a very exciting, almost entirely joyful, complete reorganization of my life. I have no idea how I feel about it, for my tendency is to predict during good time what might go wrong and when, but I’m doing my best to be present and notice and make the best choices I can.

In the course of about two months, I have gone from a stay at home parent who freelanced about 20 hours a week, to a part-time parent and 50-hour-a-week contractor. For years, I had pushed work to the back burner, cramming my consultancy apologetically into the few hours when my kids were asleep and at school (afternoon preschool and elementary school meant daytime work hours were two hours a day, three days a week; and I usually preferred a run and a shower to work, so I had a dysfunctional relationship with my computer late nights and early mornings). And then suddenly, just as preschool is ending and I’ll have the kids together in one school, with a more balanced daytime rhythm, more brain space, and more sleep, I am getting more work than I can handle. I’m turning down clients, which kills me but is necessary. I’m now hiring someone to pick up my boys from their schools two days a week.

And that feels even better than delivering groceries and dictating blog posts.

Because having a babysitter do the four hours of driving that it takes to collect my precious monkeys twice a week, I’m balancing my priorities better. I love my kids and I want to be with them. But I am really good at my chosen profession, and I genuinely appreciate both the paycheck and the accolades that come from doing a good job. I like having colleagues who call me repeatedly when they have challenging work for me, I like free unhealthy snacks at my tech and agency clients’ offices, and I really like leaving a list of what dinner should be, and having someone else chop and spice and cook and serve. And clean up. Good heavens, the one time my nine-hours-a-week sitter did the dishes, I cried.

Cried. Because someone washed a few dishes for me. So that I could get an extra 10 minutes of sleep.

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I will likely kiss the grocery delivery person on the face when they show up at 7pm with all the stuff I didn’t have time for but that my family needs to be healthy.

And I will likely hit “post” on this ridiculous babbling, because it’s what I have to offer right now. Change is in the air…things are different. Life looks different and feels different, and I’m more than a little excited.

That’s all. Had to tell you that before I go into this next meeting.

Super Fly

As Peanut developed his birthday present wish list this year, he got engaged in a writing project in class. They’re working on nonfiction writing, and are researching to become experts, then writing a book with catchy chapter titles. It’s incredible to watch.

Peanut chose to cultivate expertise in carnivorous plants. We worked together on how to group the information. Should Venus flytraps be their own chapter? Should all pitcher plants be their own chapter? Should the plant types come up only incidentally as he writes about the ways in which carnivorous plants lure, catch, and digest their prey?

One morning, on a hike, a lovely friend asked Peanut what he was working on in school. And as he explained it, another friend turned to me and asked if we knew about the local carnivorous plant nursery. What in the holy awesome?!…No, we didn’t.

Then that night, a brainy science-y toy catalog came in the mail. Peanut leafed through and found a carnivorous plant terrarium. What in the amazing coincidence?!….Cool!

I didn’t know you can just go to Sonoma County and buy a Venus flytrap and a sundew. I didn’t know you could have them in and around your home. Neither, it turns out, did my expert. He thought they were magical tropical rarities, not local realities.

So I offered to take him and to buy some plants for his birthday. He lit up like a dancer allowed backstage at the Nutcracker.

The guy who toured us around the nursery got his first bug-devouring plant when he was 11. And he still has it.

Peanut is 9. And now is the proud owner of a pitcher plant, sundew, and Venus flytrap. Not the WKRP kind. The real kind.

He even talked me into getting his brother a carnivorous plant. Because he’s awesome that way.

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pitcher plant half full of insect devouring acid. Now living on my desk in case of trolls.

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Small people mining the yard for flytrap prey. Together. Without fighting. Nothing brings brothers together like sacrificing insects to plants.

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The three Musketeers, saving us from wayward aphids one drop of acid at a time.

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Venus Flytrap. Note the shriveled, black head at about 4:00 on this plant. The heads can only close 2-3 times, and if they don’t catch something tasty, they go black. All heads go black, the plant dies. Somewhat like the dreams of academics.

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Sundew. All those droplets are acid. D. capillaris, for those who care. Pink sundew.

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Sundew for the brother. Cape sundew. D. capensis. Proud devourer of six aphids this afternoon. Score!

Kindness vs. coddling

I don’t know if I did today right. I tried, I debated, and I followed my gut. Let me tell you the story, and you judge.

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(Cool or gross? Also something for you to judge. Because I like empowering readers. And distracting them with science.)

Mornings are relatively time-sensitive I our household. We have a chronic problem with “ten minutes until you need to get ready; five minutes until you need to get ready; time to get ready; please get ready now; I’m really serious that you have to get ready; why aren’t you getting ready; we need to leave NOW,” with my frustration and stress increasing with each of these announcements (the latter of which are about three minutes apart).

The boys have different temperaments, and different needs. But both can put on their clothes and eat breakfast. The older one can put his lunch, homework, and library books into his bag. They can both become self-shod in a matter of seconds.

The problem is that they don’t do these things when asked, and I bristle. Over the past three years we’ve tried charts and rewards and different announcements and fewer reminders and more direction and yelling.

Nothing works consistently.

And after listening to Jennifer Senior’s book All Joy but No Fun, I’ve decided to reclaim what I want in this relationship. Fun. Senior notes that most mothers’ child care is time-sensitive and therefore more stressful. We’re the family nags because we have to get people places, get assignments done, prepare and serve food, administer baths and bedtimes…and it all has to be done relative to a clock.

Fathers, Senior writes, engage in interactions. They play. They teach. They chase. So one parent is generally the bad cop and the other gets to be the good cop.

I want to be the good cop.

So this morning, when the boys came in to cuddle me (more and more I’m embracing the “work late, wake grouchy, allow sweet boy cuddles to wake me and make me happy” paradigm we’ve settled into), I told them I wanted less time pressure and more play.

“I want to say ‘it’s time to get ready’ once, and I want you to heed me. And I’m going to try for a whole week not to say ‘we’re going to be late.'” They laughed. My middle name is “I don’t any to be late.” Because I don’t. Late is poison to my soul. Late is disrespectful and tells me that I’m a royal fuck up.

Sorry if you, gentle reader, are chronically late, but that’s what late says. It says you don’t care and can’t be bothered. I strive for one tardy a year. So far we’ve been tardy twice each year. I’ll take that failure rate.

But I exact this timeliness by harassing my kids. And they teach the family to operate this way by “just a minute-ing” until I’m mad.

So I can’t let them “just a minute” me any more. The anxiety isn’t worth my energy. I don’t want to be the bad cop. I want to be a fun mom. I want to play, then get ready without stress.

Today I said “it’s time to get ready.” After only one “just a second,” they did. Peanut had finished his homework, and I had checked it. He corrected a few minor errors and, as he packed his lunch and library books, grabbed his homework and put it in his bag.

Later that morning I found one sheet of homework he’d overlooked. He had corrected it and put it next to the others, and then forgot it during the great pre-school gathering process.

And I debated bringing it to him.

I had ten extra minutes.

He had tried and done his job, but made a little mistake.

I have a lot of work lately, and time is precious.

Homework is his job, not mine.

It’s not a big deal to help a little guy making his way in a grouchy world.

Spending recess redoing one sheet of math might remind him next time to be more careful.

Spending recess redoing one sheet of math he already found dreadfully easy was more consequence than an active eight-year-old boy needs.

If I left now id make it before recess.

Showing him that I care about what happens to him is core to my biggest job.

Showing him that there are consequences for actions is also core to my role.

Showing him that I can stop my day to help him could be detrimental to his long-term conception of what people should do for him.

Stopping my day to help him teaches an important lesson about how important I think he is.

And that’s where I stopped. It was a mistake. I love him. I may not have the time any other day, but I had the time today.

I made nice small talk with the office staff, whom I like. I showed my youngest that we help family in trouble. I showed myself that even though I often think about what a staff job rather than consulting could have done for my career, my retirement account, and my housing situation, I am glad I stopped working to invest in my children.

So I invested ten minutes in my firstborn child. I gifted a tiny little drive to teach my son that we’re in this together.

I won’t drive his homework to him again. And I likely won’t have to, because an hour spent thinking he would lose recess time was already burned into his rule-following little mind.

I treated him the way I would want to be treated.

That might mean I’m selfish. Or coddling. Or pathetic. But it feels as though it means I’m a good mom.

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(How could I not help a ninja in need?)

Let’s fight at the beach!

Historically, the cure to sibling bickering and older kid nastiness on our family has been wide open spaces. Not the song…the real thing. Hiking or beach time soothes them into a partnership.

Usually.

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Today, however, older screamed at younger at home, then at the beach. Older screamed at me at home, then at the beach. After leaving the beach, older sobbed that I had ruined everything by convincing him to share the driftwood they both found together and both built with together and both wanted to use on a new project. I ruined his life because I encouraged him to let his brother build a solo project when he, the older, wouldn’t let the little guy join in.

Building together is fine, but then he when he wants space the rest of us must all cease life functions until he’s ready to tolerate us again.

I think that’s the message. I might be wrong. If I am, I’ll get yelled at, I’m sure.

What in the holy hell?

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I guess let’s just all be full of testosterone and anger and disrespect for the world perpetually thwarting us, shall we?

Goodness. I’m not equipped for this 8-year-old teenager.

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.”

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.