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Seven years

WordPress just sent me a delightful canned anniversary notice. Congratulations! I’ve been blogging for seven years!

Dang.

That’s a lot of writing. 1,097 posts.

I started this blog to heal wounds. I had low writer-esteem. I was desperately lonely raising a baby in a strange land. And I had so much to say, but only a few poor souls to talk to.

And they needed a break from the details.

I wrote, and a few people read. And a small percentage said they liked what they read.

At that I was heartened. I felt connected and I felt heard. In fact, once or twice, someone told me that my writing really helped them.

Good gravy, isn’t that all anyone on this planet wants?

I talked to the Internet’s kindest people about homesickness and how hard it was to choose a miraculous and ridiculously confusing creature over the PhD I could have handled much more easily. I talked about deaths that rocked me over and over, friends who abandoned me, the relationship I completely failed at, and wonderful days of joy and light.

I wrote about books I loved and problems I couldn’t solve.

And I have so much more to write. I have a list in my phone that is, currently, nine posts desperate to be written. Those of you who’ve been to this little corner of the Internet before know most of my posts are 2,000 words or so, and that 18,000 words ready, in my head, must create quite a bit of intracranial pressure.

But as I struggled a few months ago with four part-time jobs, two bickering children, one divorce, and a blinding case of I Must Do Better on All These Fronts Even If I Never Sleep because I’m Nothing If I Don’t Excel, a wise friend told me that my to-do list is too long. That there’s enough time. That the stuff with real deadlines should come first, and then I should feed my soul. Do things to feel good, and put off the unreasonable 40+ “to do this week” things I genuinely rewrote on my list every week.

Because there’s enough time. The posts will still want to be written in a few weeks. And the words will come.

Later. Because as much as I love this community, and as much as I need to be on this space, I’ve been here for seven years. And there’s enough time to write a great post later.

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.”

You must be joking

I swear to Neptune I feel like I’m living in a cartoon today. Brace yourself for a long panel.

This morning was a pediatric appt. for both boys. (Aside: One and Five? Holy guacamole, how did that happen?) Predictably, the young one with strong opinions protested the ear check (oh, shocking…ear infection number eight in nine months) and getting his diaper back on.

Also predictably, the older one with strong opinions (and intensity and persistence and resistance to change and sensitivity) refused to get weighed or measured or checked until it was on his terms. I convinced him to see if he was taller than Dad, to see if he weighed more or less without his clothes, and to let the doc probe him by explaining what a liver, hernia, and scoliosis were.

And then, while I was cuddling the baby post-iron-check, the nurse got tired of waiting for Peanut to agree and told Spouse to hold him down for shots. He screamed, used his words, and tried to hit them, but they gave him four shots completely against his will.

That became the topic of the day.

“Mom, I’m going to kick that nurse if I ever see her.”
“P, it sounds like you’re really angry. We don’t kick when we’re angry. Can you think of a way to say how angry you are?”
“Dear nurse, you’re a fucking nurse.”

He went to school and hung out with the wrong crowd, and I watched him making horrible choices in the yard while I sat in the car with the sleeping toddler.

We went to ice cream with a friend and got several seconds of happy silence.

Went home and he went to wash his hands while I fed Butter. I heard something unusual. Three times. And as I hollered, “What are you doing?” he came crying, terrified, up the stairs.

“I turned on that fire thing.”

I figured he meant the wall heater, which he is forbidden to touch, and which I feared would cause a fire if used. I went into the downstairs bathroom and saw smoke everywhere but no flame or source. I freaked out. And as I whirled to go get the phone to call the fire department, saw the fire extinguisher. Pin removed, covered in white powder. The same stuff floating in the air.

Cue parenting moment…

Charged up the stairs and he ran, face registering that he sensed a beating coming. (NB: we don’t believe in beatings. Or spankings. Or hitting of any kind. But that kid is no fool.) I yelled.

M: Get back here!
P: [terror, tears, compliance]
M: [hugging him gently] I’m not going to hurt you. Don’t ever ever ever ever EVER do that again.
P: [nodding, sobbing]
M: That is dangerous. The chemicals in that can hurt you. That is for grownups in emergencies. Not for playing. Don’t ever ever ever EVER do that again.
P: [nodding, sobbing]
M: Don’t touch things that you don’t know about. There are reasons for rules, reasons for high shelves in cabinets, reasons for locks on doors.
P: [nodding, sobbing]
M: What you did was very dangerous. You could have been hurt. You are not hurt. You are okay. The bathroom is okay. I am okay. Butter is okay. Don’t ever ever ever ever EVER do that again.
P: [nodding and sobbing]
M: I can clean up the chemicals. The very dangerous chemicals. Very hurtful chemicals that are bad for breathing, bad for seeing, bad for bodies.
P: [nodding]
M: Ask before you do new things.
P: [nodding] That fire thing hurt me! [sobbing resumes]
M: Hurt you?
P: Yeah, it hurt my feelings that I did that.
M: Good. It should. That means you know good decisions from bad decisions. And you made a bad choice. Choose differently next time.
P: [nodding]

And then there was soccer. And dinner. And bath. And bedtime. And the poor kid was nice to his brother and calm and fun to be with every moment from 3pm on.

Apparently he needs the sh*t scared out of him, twice, to be an easy little creature.

Worth it?
No.
Cleaning monoammonium phosphate SUCKS. That stuff goes everywhere; burns eyes, nose, and throat; and lingers after sweeping, sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming.

And writing letters to fucking nurses tries my patience.

If Dennis the Menace and Bill Waterson’s Calvin and Eeyore and Yosemite Sam had a love child, s/he might give my kid a run for his money. Barring that…

Overheard

Peanut, on witnessing his baby brother’s first bath:
“My penis is bigger.”

Grandma, on the phone while trying to parent a Wild Peanut:
“P, grapes are not for soccer.”

Me, to Spouse, after peering into the fish tank before bathtime:
“Would it be wrong to “notice” the dead fish tomorrow morning so we can get P to bed on time tonight?”

Spouse, each time I burst into tears:
“What time was your last pain pill?”

Stranger, before I smothered them to death with milk-soaked breast pads and soggy bra:
“How is he sleeping?”

Peanut, as he kisses his sleeping brother on the head:
“When you get bigger, you can play with me if you want to. Only if you want to.”

I swear to you…

…this is true. I can’t make this stuff up.

After Peanut’s bath, Spouse helps him into his jammies. Except that P has been dying to wear his Hanukkah leotard and when they come out of the bedroom, they both beam because Spouse has helped my son into his pink leotard…backward. Effectively his first thong.

Peanut says, “I’m not sure if I want to wear my new leotard to bed. I want to add a bell to it so if I need Mommy and Daddy in the nighttime, I can ring the bell. It’s gonna be a really loud bell.”

Hmmm. Possibly worst idea ever. Maybe. If you include the tiny wedgie that will have him ringing the bell all night long.

Neither here nor there

Some updates, rather than the interpretive dance I had planned. What can I say? Cold day, no leg warmers. Somehow I successfully purged all Flashdance clothing from my wardrobe. Sigh.

Hazelnut update: nausea has abated and I haven’t yakked in 5 days. I can now, maybe, enjoy Week 18 in digestive peace, wailed upon only from without for a change.

Novel update: another agent sent a “no thanks.” Must send out the next round, but it might be a while with my other deadlines. Rough count: two dozen submissions, maybe half a dozen read the first few pages, four requested more pages, none is going to reap the outrageous profits from the book’s eventual sale. The next agent wants an exclusive, so it’ll just be her and the manuscript for the next two months.

Geography update: we’re gonna be here for a while. But if houses still keep getting 8 and 9 bids, going for 8% over asking for much longer, we’re gonna reconsider the greatest place on earth and think about moving to number 4 or 5.

Peanut update: hardcore into flashlights. We often have to go “into the deep dark woods” in the garage to look for spiders and tigers. Thanks so much, Kipper.
Also popular: filling baskets and bags with household and toy detritus and carrying them around until just the perfect resting place is found.
Word of the day, uttered at least once per sentence: dammit!

Lit update: trying Delillo. Trying hard, but it shouldn’t be this much work to like books. Gonna keep at it for a day or two and if he doesn’t hook me, I’m off to something new.

Conference update: my paper is in critical care, with a thready pulse, threatening to code. But we’re giving it our best and we’ll see if it pulls through. We’re only scholars here; not wizards.

This week in Peanut 9/29

Peanut told me yesterday that his rules are:

No holding hands in the street
Yell every time Daddy talks
Only give people money when you want to
People can only skateboard everywhere
Pinch the cats every day
Everybody wears only fancy pants
Only eat yucky things
No pants; only nude
You have to eat grass if you say no to things
No eating cereal, ever
and
Get under the blankets even if you’re too hot

I asked when he thought he got to make the rules.
When he’s 46, he says.

*****
P: Thank you for making me lunch, Mommy.
M: Wow. Thank you. That is really nice to say. That makes me feel good.
P: I know. That’s why I said it.

After the cat got sick all over his bed: “If he does that ever again, I will just poop in his bed.”

Parading through the house, banging pots: “Here I go on a outing without Mommies or boys and it’s fun and you can’t come!”

In the tub tonight: “My penis has wings!”

[Update: Spouse, who was manning the bath, has informed me that Peanut was playing ring toss with inflatable rings and was marveling at the RINGS not WINGS. Not sure which is funnier.]

Thank dog for small favors

Dear Universe,

Thank you, thank you for making fruit that does not need to be peeled or cut.  Washed, sure, mostly. Thank you for berries and grapes; they make my life so much easier I might actually cry. (All you chocking-hazard types can just get bent because I’m having a freaking moment here, and I sit with him when he eats, and I haven’t cut grapes since he was a year, and I’m bending over backwards here not letting him cry and respecting him so if I want to endanger his life a little it’s my business since I’m the one whose given up almost everything I know as happy and good in the world to give him things that are happy and good so just back the hell up and choose another blog to safetyvangelize.)

Thank you, Universe, for screwcap wine being okay now instead of all box winey.

Thank you Universe for my son’s perspective. On our hike I saw a deer and three wild turkey (not the former because of the latter, though that might be a good story, too) and he showed me a hawk, about 20 feet across a gorge, in a tree. I see stuff that’s moving and blow past things that are still. He sees everything. I’ve never before seen a hawk sitting still, watching.

Thank you, capitalism, for making pipe cleaners so cheap. Seriously. That’s like an hour of free thinking time while we quietly make fake flowers together for the house’s many vases. (Cat bastards make sure no real plant goes unmolested. For those keeping score, cats are more trouble than a fetus; newborns and infants and toddlers are more trouble than cats. Now cats are back on top, causing way more headaches than a three-year-old, even one without child care or preschool or any time away from me god help me don’t know how to make it through tomorrow or the next day.)

Thank you, Universe, for hummus. I would thank you more for avocado if my kid would eat it, because it’s an even more complete meal than hummus. But, we play the hand we’re dealt, and I appreciate hummus.

Thank you, youtube. Just for being you. Except all the creepy parts. I don’t appreciate having to prescreen searches to make sure some Plushy doesn’t pop up when I search for aardwark vids. But, still.

Thank you, England, for losing. We totally dig our fireworks. And the kazoo parade at the Russian River. I’m a total Yankee Doodle Dandy, macaroni and all. Seriously, how would we make it from Memorial Day to Labor Day without an excuse for outdoor cooking and excessive desserts? Thanks, British Empire. Most of the other colonies got totally scrod, but we did okay.

And thank you, Spouse, for the help yesterday. Your willingness to move the dust mop AND the whole pile of dirt about four feet out of the way when shrieks from our child interrupted my progress really helped. I was able to pick up my mopping again the next day, almost as if nothing had happened. You’re a peach.

And thank you Universe, for continuing to throw a freaking bone to the family you keep tossing about like a plaything. Thank goodness the illnesses (times thrity-two, by now, I think) and the car accident and the spitballs of bullshit you keep hurling at them just miss. There, CB. I’m grateful for you.

Does any part of my life belong to me?

Peanut and I were playing near each other, he tatooing himself and me pretending that burning mix-CDs is like making mix tapes. It might not be as difficult to accomplish, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

So he comes over and tell me he wants to color on me. I’m usually game for that, and we have a rule in the house that you can color on paper or skin, but that’s it. And that if you want to color someone else, you have to ask. So he asked, and I said no.

And he grabbed my arm, gently, and said, “I want to,” and started an elaborate Celtic blob on my forearm. And I almost cried.

Don’t I get to have a say even about my own body? He’s always crying and telling Spouse, “It’s my body, you can’t grab my body or push my body, Daddy!”

Well don’t I get the same respect?

On big things, yes. On art, I guess not. And that’s okay 99% of the time, but today it felt like a violation. I give you everything kid. Can’t you freaking leave me out of your blue and purple fest today?

“Round here, we talk just like lions, but we sacrifice like lambs.”

Well, now, that explains a lot.

Existential crises call for desperate measures. So do two major moves in two months. At naptime today, therefore, I pulled out the Feng Shui book (yay for reclaiming my books and yay for Ohmega Salvage’s awesome collection of recycled craftsman built-in bookcases and yay for sixteen boxes of books unpacked and out of my freaking way) to see if it could fix my life.

Now, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to Feng Shui. Can’t even pronounce it, though I try hard. And I don’t know if it works. But I know it feels, in a desperate “clinging to guns and religion” way, like I have control of the uncontrollable if I have tall rectangles in the east and round metal accents in the west. It’s one of those “can’t hurt, might help, just don’t tell anyone you know or they’ll laugh at you then have you taken off their ‘call when in need of rational and logical help with personal dilemmas’ list” kind of things.

So today’s discoveries put into perspective a few, um, issues in my life. First, we keep finding houses where our money and romance are figuratively in the toilet. This is the third residence in which our bathroom sits squarely in the west, the tiny corner of our universe in which our income and lovin’ ought flow. Instead, there’s a steady stream of waste, dirt, crayons, and nonsense flowing down the drain. Explains mucho about the continued ease with which we lose what little money we have.  [Thanks financial sector a–holes. Like being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t detrimental enough to my future retirement. In 2054 I’m finally gonna have to break our Wal-Mart boycott so I can get a job as a greeter and support myself in the squalor to which I’ve become accustomed.

So my money and my marriage are in the crapper. (Sorry, Spouse. But you saw it coming in the wedding ring fungus, didn’t you? It was nice while it lasted. But the feng shui book says our love’s being flushed down the drain, dude. And you know that if I read it in a book, it’s the law. So plan on having dwindling affection and interest soon…oh, the ring around my finger under the ring around my finger already did that? You’re creeped out by a little rash on my third finger? Well, It’s you’re fault it’s there. Yes it is. Yes, it is. Yes. It is. Are you hearing me? Yes it is. Don’t pull out your logic with me, Mister. Fine, it’s your fault our money and marriage sector is in the bathroom. No I didn’t. No, I didn’t. No. I didn’t. True, but that’s because…I’m done with this. No, the garage isn’t in our marriage sector. Oh, ha ha. Yeah, maybe if you’re in there things WILL get better. Bah.)

Just after that eight direction, nine ki number pronouncement that we’re poor and nasty to each other because of the sewer placement, I found this lovely tidbit:

“Maybe, for example, you find that you are edgy, irritable, and tense quite a lot of the time….It would be wise to avoid spending a great deal of time in [the north-east and south] of your home. If possible, position your bedroom in the west where chi energy is more settled and contented.”

Hmmm. So I should stay out of the living room, dining room, and bedroom, and sleep in the shower? Makes perfect sense. My irritability doesn’t stem from 32 months of interrupted sleep and full daylight hours focus on a wild, strange, and often irrational creature. I’m not cranky because I’m having trouble adjusting to a reality where my life is not my own, my time is not my own, and six of my greatest hopes and dreams are on hold for the honor of raising a loving and caring human being. Nope. It’s ‘cuz I live in a house where the dining room makes me “feel on edge”  and “impatient,” the entryway makes me “tired from lack of rest,” and the bedroom leads to “slow progress in career.”  So I need a house without a north-east, east, south-east, south-west, and west. I’ll bet I can get a good rate on renting a piece of paper, because it’s the only two-dimensional structure I know that will eliminate those issues.

The bigger problem? The placement of my son’s room apparently makes me “overly controlling of others.” Oh, yeah, that‘s the problem. ‘Cuz I’ve existed on that plane since, well, since…oh, yeah. 1972. I don’t think there’s a crystal or mirror remedy for that one, feng shui friends. It would seem that I exist in a vortex where there is only northwest. Mmm. Maybe it’s good we didn’t pick Portland. I might have exploded from the vortex created between my need to control and my relative powerlessness. Or I would have had 17 cats. ‘Cuz they listen, right?

Tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna embrace my inner incomplete task, my perpetual on edge, my tiredness from lack of rest (I’m sorry, how is that not a cause and effect clause all unto itself? Do you really need a room in the wrong quadrant of the compass to be tired from lack of rest? Is there anyone who is revived from lack of rest? If so, will they take over nights at our house, with nightmare-y kid and attachment parenting central, and cats who yowl for people to come to them instead of seeking heat and food themselves? And, while you’re at it and up at 3am anyway, for all the other perfectly normal children in the world who don’t sleep well until they are three or four? ‘Cuz there are a bunch of them, and that one bastard who’s thriving on lack of rest really owes the rest of us.)

So call me, rested person. We need to put you in my bedroom while I sleep off my marital fungus and controlling irritability in the bathroom.

In the midst of flipping through the book to find cheap solutions to increase tree energy and decrease me energy throughout the house, I found a lovely little gem: the chart of prevailing influences for the year and position of my nine ki number. And with a little math I realized that this year’s existential crisis is not due to an inbalance in my needs, nor an extended, yet normal transition mothers experience in which they new and different priorities smash violently into old happiness and self-actualization. No, no. I’m having a tumultuous year because it’s part of a universal cycle. Like the Fourth Turning, only on a personal level. So this is like another Strauss and Howe Crisis season and ancient Chinese centre year. Yeah. See, for people born Feb 5ish through the following Feb 4ish of 1918, 1927, 1936, 1945, 1954, 1963, 1972, 1981, 1990, and 1999, this is a uncomfortablly flux-y year. Like your chi has gas. One of those “put off decisions ‘cuz you’re in for a whirlwind of changes and nothing will be the same next year” kind of years. Oooooh. Yes. I see.

Next year is a year to plan and organize. No point in that now. 2010 is for romance (fungus gone, maybe?). 2011 is for ambition. 2012 is for passion. 2013 is for studying. 2014 is for progress. 2015 is for starting something new. 2016 is for more progress. See? in eight years I’ll be making some progress. Gee. That’s all I needed. To be reassured that it’ll only take a decade. Ah. All better.

Except that I’ll have a teenager in my house. Not sure that bodes well for progress, but we’ll see.

Thanks feng shui. For the new sleeping place and the new outlook. I’ll have several books published, a PhD, a new job, and some sex by 2016. All I needed was a plan mass-produced with absolutely no knowledge of my life other than my birthday. How wonderful to know that, like, 10% of us are having a crappy-ass year but have nine years to go before it happens again. Yay. Feng shui, you’re the best. Remind me to get a crystal to hang over my calendar. ‘Cuz we have another couple of months of Indecision 2008.

File under: first really embarrassing public moment

Nope, it wasn’t nudity, but good guess. That happened several times in early potty learning, and I didn’t care when he stripped in public. Not my parts, don’t care who sees ’em. And lordy, did that boy drop trou inappropriately. Nope, not tonight. Nor was tonight’s “Holy crap, who said that? Couldn’t be my kid. Maybe this kid is a replacement, sent by aliens who are studying how to make their humanoids more thoughtful and polite like my kid” moment wasn’t pointing out some socially unsavory characteristic about a stranger. He doesn’t even know the really damning words (I leave that to relatives, who, this week alone, have added four words we’ve intentionally NEVER uttered in front of him, to his vocabulary. Sure, we’ve spelled them. Because some people really ARE s-t-u-p-i-d. But he didn’t know them until someone used them in conversation with him. And twit. And bad. Whatever. I give up.) No, this mortification falls under the “Kids Say the Most Inappropriate, If True, but Not Really True, Let Me Explain” category for Bill Cosby. Only he wouldn’t touch this one with a ten foot pole.

Peanut and I are riding on BART, facing the wheelchair-accessible seats. So we have lots of graphics to talk about, mostly evacuation procedures. I’m watching people, discussing with him east and west as concepts. And he is silent for almost a minute, looking at the emergency exit stuff.

He then announces, in full Broadway Belt voice, on a rush hour BART train headed from SF into Oakland:

“White people go on white train; black people go on black train!”

Squelching the impulse to shout, “No! Who taught you that?!” I look where he’s looking. He’s right. Holy, crap, BART people, your evacuation procedures pictures have white people leaving a white train and black people leaving a black train. So his segregationist proclamation is correct, but that’s not the intention of the visual image. I hope. Oh, double crap, how to handle this one?! Where was Mr. Rogers when you needed him? Where is Nebraska’s child abandonment program when you need it? (Okay, not funny. But kinda funny. ‘Cuz some of these here states have some really s-t-u-p-i-d legislatures, no?)

Peanut was very proud of himself for noticing a pattern on a drawing and pointing it out. We say “yay” when he finds patterns in books. Find opposites, find similarities, find something out of place–all of those get a yay. Notice a graphic design nightmare on San Francisco’s trains and you get your mommy into some serious social hot water, little person.

He noticed that, on the aerial structures evacuation procedure, the background is black and the train and people were white. It’s a simple graphic. But right next to it, in the subterranean, transbay tube, and subway graphic, the background is black, the tunnel was white, and, to provide graphic difference, the people and train were all black. Geezus, people, can’t we atleast be consistent with the colors? Can’t all the backgrounds be black or white, and all the trains and people be the same? No, not in the Blueberry-Eating-Smurfiest of all Blue States. No, we need to give equal time to black stick figures and white stick figures. Do they always have to board a train of the same freaking color? Thanks a lot, freaking BART people. Freaking graphic designer from the land of high contrast, low sensitivities. Whatever. I can’t control you a–holes, I can only control my reactions to you a–holes. But let the record show you’re making me look bad here, and making my kid very confused. Or, my reaction will make him confused in three, two, one…

So I tried to acknowledge his discovery AND maintain the huge civil rights gains of the past 150 years.

“Well, honey, that’s just the way they drew the picture. In real trains, ALL people go, and they are lots of different colors. And BART trains aren’t black or white. They’re silver. See? The tracks that are up are in the nighttime, so it’s black in the sky. We couldn’t see the people in the drawing unless they were white. So the picture shows the people white even though people come in lots of colors. And, see, the tracks in the tunnel, show that the tunnel is bright, and we wouldn’t see the people unless they were drawn black. So the picture shows the people black even though people come in lots of colors. See? It’s just a drawing. BART is silver, and we’re pink, not white or black.” [Pathetic. Liberal p.c. oversensitive bullshit pathetic bad parenting yuck. And yet, yay for not overreacting or denying the reality of the freaking white people getting on the white train and the black people getting on the black train. Have I cursed you BART graphics a–holes enough yet? No.]

“Mommy, we no pink. We plain. With little red, right there.” He points to a lovely zit on my chin and moves on to ask for pretzels.

He’s done. I’m not. I’m surrounded by a variety of people, none of whom care (and why not? he’s cute and he’s finally intelligible, so you could at least listen and smirk a little at his huge social gaffe) but to whom I’d like to give a moving speech about how we don’t teach him that people are different, that we teach him all people deserve respect, that people come in all colors, that public places are for everybody (the last one just because he demands that other people leave any place he really likes, especially when there are fire-juggling unicyclists, but that’s another BART story for tomorrow).

I just want everyone around me to know that this boy who seemed to pronounce belief in a new era of separate but equal is really just noticing what some total loser jerk graphic designer with no foresight neglected to read the “socially significant” part of her creative brief. And who approved those black and white graphics? Is it so much more expensive to have purple people and green people? They’re web-safe and could serve as the emergency procedures online, too. Please. Throw me a freaking parenting bone here, people! I just want to tell all the people in the seats around us, most of whom are asleep, and none of whom listens to strange toddler/preschoolers anyway, that this was not a commentary on race relations. My son likes Barack Obama whether he’s photographically brownish or cartoon redish and bluish, as in the yard signs still dominating our neighborhood. In fact, he really likes the red and blue Obama. I do, too. But I don’t draw pictures in which he only gets on a blue and red train, while all the grey people get on a grey train, for feck’s sake.

New Facebook Phobia

So I’ve always been leery of Facebook, what with the full-disclosure, “work life cross referenced with personal life,” “naked pictures of your kid online for all the pedophiles to find” kind of stuff.

Now I have a new reason to be afraid. (Not very, very afraid. Let’s be real, here. It’s just a Web 2.0 social networking deal-io. It’s not actually Orwellian. But I love me some melodrama. And I try hard to keep myself awake at night worrying about something, so it may as well be this.)

Tonight after Peanut finally crashed, I created my little Facebook world, happy to see friendly faces. Then I made the mistake of searching for old friends, classmates, colleagues. Ugh, what a terrible blow to the old (very, very old) self-esteem staying at home to raise world citizens can be.

The friends I used to admire, but with whom I held my own have impressive resumes and lists of degrees. But they have kids and PhDs. Or kids and careers. Or careers the likes of which I might have achieved if I had stuck with anything. But I’m a gypsy geographically, emotionally, artistically, and academically. I don’t stick with much, and the resulting resume looks impressive but feels thin. You know? And all the other hardcore, drive, self-defined brainiacs have their shit together. Even those who have kids.

So I could blame my lack of personal, professional, and intellectual development on the break I’m taking to raise a fully realized human. Or I can admit that I’m a lazy git who can’t stick with anything long enough to get impressive at it.

Me no likey Facebook. It puts the “what do you do?” shame of parties with full-time adults into my living room, where I strive to keep self-doubt at bay.

Didn’t I, just this week, blog twice about vowing to get productive, to unpack and finish two novels and get more freelance work and get back into shape and publish academic articles and get to work on applications for more grad school? Didn’t I?

Well, I organized my browser bookmark file. Does that count? Hmmmm? Does it, valedictorians and MDs and JDs and well-groomed, perfect people with whom I can’t bear to be Facebook friends because you intimidate me now, even though I only barely admired you considered myself a peer way back when?

So I’ve mentioned before what a weirdo I’m raising. Not to be dismissive or judgemental or anything. But he’s a weirdo of untoward proportions. This coming from a HUGE weirdo.

I’m taking a shower in the new house, and he comes running in. “Mommy. I need you, I call you.” Um, there’s a few words missing in there, and I need clarification. “If you need me, you’ll call me?”
“Yes.” And he turns, runs out, and slams the bathroom door.

Two minutes later, he comes back, peels back the edge of the shower curtain and says, “Mommy. Peanut just checking to see if you okay. You okay, okay, mommy?” I can’t help but smile, in that, “man, if someone has to love you, it’s sure a fine opportunity to have someone love you for their complete dependence on you” way. “Yes, baby, I’m okay.” He nods and runs out.

Two minutes later, he comes back, pushes the curtain aside, and says, “Mommy almost all done,” and leaves before I can answer.

Two minutes later, he comes back, peers around the curtain and says, “Mommy, Peanut getting angry Mommy in shower. Mommy all done shower. Peanut no want Mommy shower.” I explain that he can control his body, but he can’t control my body. “Peanut body want play outside. Peanut body no outside no Mommy. Peanut WANT control Mommy body.” And runs out.

Hours later, while he was in the tub, he kept insisting on having a cold bath. Cold bath, need a cold bath. Nope, sorry. It’s 65 degrees in the house (don’t worry–we’re not ogres. There is heat, and it’s on. It’s just set to go off at 57 degrees.) So Spouse announces it’s time to get out of bath (yes, of course he annouces five minutes then three minutes then one minute. What do you think we are, rookies?) Peanut drain the tub himself, then refuses to get out. He plays, no joke, for 10 minutes in a dry tub, naked, and covered with little water drops that he refuses to let us wipe off with (gasp) a towel. Window’s open. It’s November. (Granted, it’s November in the East Bay, but it’s still November.) He takes the tub toys and builds a pretend birthday cake. At least one hundred times. Each time he sings, “Yay, mommy birthday cake! Yay!” My birthday is later this week. We haven’t mentioned it in days. But he’s preparing his pretend celebration already.

So as he’s making the pretend cake, he pulls a cold, wet washcloth on his knee, and proclaims, “Ooooh. That cold. That no good idea, put that on Peanut leg. No good idea. Try something different.” And he builds another cake, with a washcloth fondant.

Um, there’s a thin, thin line between special education and gifted education, I’m guessing. And we’re living life on that line every day.

It’s not one of those days

You know how some days you see a cold, dirty, sad homeless guy and you want to run to the ATM and withdraw what little you have left to hand over with a kiss?

You know how some days you look at the guy in the hospital cafeteria who is getting his toast out of the toaster and you think, “I hope you electrocute yourself.” And then wish, for his sake, that he weren’t in a hospital, because it’d be too easy to make it after the electrocution?

You know how you pour all your energy into an event, trying in every way to do your best and make everything come out just right, and after the event it turns out it didn’t really matter, and that some of the stuff you did was genius, and some of the stuff you did was a waste of time, and in the balance nobody really cares but you, anyway?

You know how some days you’re all uptight and anal about parenting exactly the best possible way, making your own life a living hell to give your kids a slight edge on being happier and healthier later in life?

You know how some days you just don’t care how you parent, handing over treat after treat, offering new toys from the rainy day closet, and smacking ’em on the arm (though you said you’d never, ever, ever) when they repeatedly get down from the table to grind pinto beans into the only rug in the house?

You know how some days you want to find all your old friends, the ones with whom you haven’t spoken in years, just to tell them that you’re a better person now, and certainly more interesting, and that maybe they should be your friend again because you have a lot to offer? Really?

You know how some days you want to delete most of your friends out of your phone and PDA and contact file and old, paper Rolodex because the bastards don’t ever seem to call or write anymore, and if they’re always going to wait for you to make the effort, then they can f*ck off?

You know how some days you just need a nap?

You know how some days you want to do yoga, then go running, then start a business, then volunteer, then write a novel, then go to the gym?

Yeah, well it’s not one of those days.