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!

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Boston, one year later

We’re leaving for Boston soon (nice try, creepy burglar people, but we have a housesitter and trained attack kittens) and I’m so excited. Friends I haven’t seen in years, research for my novel, the always heart-filling fun of watching Spouse run a marathon.

But I’m worried. We haven’t told the kids about last year’s tragedies. We don’t plan to. I really, really really, really don’t want to. Really. Last year was devastating. Disgusting. Terrifying. Enraging. Like many others I spent every single ounce of saline in my body weeping for the families affected by those monstrous acts. I spent all night watching Twitter as the police went from my old work neighborhood to my improv neighborhood to my friends’ neighborhood tracking the alleged bombers. Brothers.

Photo: David L. Ryan/Boston Globe

Photo: David L. Ryan/Boston Globe

I’m looking forward to seeing how Boston is healing itself. I love that town and I keenly miss being a part of its crispy, crunchy shell and gooey center. (Boston is the caramel M&M that the Mars company has never successfully created.) I want to celebrate Boston and its efforts, I want to feel the community that has overcome the most horrible act during a celebratory act on a holiday of revolutionary acts. I am thrilled we’re going to cheer for Boston.

But I don’t want my boys to hear anything about the bombings. I don’t want them to see or know or think or in any way learn about the families, the sidewalks, the streets that will never be the same.

How terrible is that, though? Is it disrespectful of those families and runners and spectators and first responders to keep this painful reality hidden from young children?The mother in me says no, but it feels wrong to hide the truth.

We’re going back to Boston because I could never fathom being away from that city this week. I started training to qualify for Boston the day after the bombings. (I didn’t get far. I’m easily injured and I have limited time for training. So it’s not going to happen this year.) So did Spouse. We contorted family plans and finances to get the family out to Mass. as soon as he qualified. We’ve been practicing the proper pronunciation of the Chaaahlie Caaaahds we’ll need next week.

But I don’t want them to know.

Is that wrong? Is it disrespectful? If it even possible, given all the love Boston is pouring into Back Bay this week?

I want to honor those who died, those who were injured, those who helped, those who ran, those who sought, and those who stopped…I want so much to do whatever I can to help the healing.

But I don’t want to tell my kids.

Does that make me weak? Parental? Cowardly? Ridiculous? Mature?

Lack of Grace

Facing death is challenging regardless of how it comes. Humans, as the only creatures aware of their mortality, deal not at all well with death. Impending death, malingering death, looming death, recent death, distant death. I’m sure that there are anthropological examples to upend my theory, but in general we don’t tend to speak honestly and openly about death. And I wonder if that’s because each death, like each life, deserves something different from us.

Humans don’t seem to appreciate knowing we’re going to die, don’t appear to relish not knowing when, and seem rather frustrated at having a very, VERY clear sense that there is no rhyme or reason to who dies or when. The last fact—good people sometimes die horribly and too early while awful people sometimes die peacefully after inflicting the world with their nastiness for far too long—galls me.

Someone I love has Stage IV cancer. Someone I think I hate has Stage IV cancer. I’m not at all proud at how differently I’m handling their concurrent cancers, and yet we are all different in life, so I feel rather abashedly willing to scale my sorrow for the end of lives that actually add to the Universe’s limited quantity of love, rather than hoarding affection and refusing to share. I celebrate the lives of fair and decent and good people, and I petulantly sneer at the death of grotesque and mean and small people.

Is that something that I can even admit? Is that something that I should feel shame for?

A very close friend was abandoned by his father and grandparents when he was young. Starting in middle school, my friend never got a phone call from his father. Never received a birthday card. His dad was too busy with the second family he’d set up across town to bother with his old life. And my friend lived his entire adult life sure his father didn’t care.

Now, facing the news of his father’s impending death, my friend is wondering if he should call. Or visit. Or somehow try to repair the damage done. Somehow, I think, he hoped all these years that his dad would show up on his doorstep, with a giant teddy bear and a bouquet of flowers, begging forgiveness. “Please. I’m so sorry. I was so wrong. I miss you and I love you and you didn’t deserve to be abandoned.” Because he didn’t deserve to be abandoned. And friends and family tell my friend that he is loved and he is lovable.

But because his father never showed that, I suspect my wonderful friend doesn’t really accept that he’s loved.

Hearing about Stage IV cancer changes the dreams of apologies and reconciliation. That day of spontaneous forgiveness, of weeping together and embracing and swearing that you’ll make up for lost time? Doesn’t happen according to plan. And once my darling friend heard his dad was in hospice and unresponsive? TheĀ  healing moment became impossible. Asking, “why did you choose another family over me? Do you know what that did to me? Did you ever love me? Why not?” Not in the cards anymore.

And that’s a whole different kind of grieving. That’s desperately missing someone whom you have already missed for decades. That’s anger and fear and sadness rolled into the pit of your stomach where you think you’re not allowed to swallow. That’s heavy-drinking and rage grief.

And I’m so sorry. For my friend. Not for his jerk of a father.

I feel, at moments, dreadful for not caring that the callous, heartless jerk is dying. Isn’t that terrible to say? In our culture we’re not allowed to speak ill of the dead or dying, are we…we’re not allowed to cast aspersions on those who selfishly hurt our friends and family because somehow Stage IV means unassailable. Saying you hate someone who’s dying is somehow judged as mean or heartless.

That’s not fair. Because some people don’t deserve to be mourned as soulfully as others do. Which is more heartless: abandoning your kids so they forever think they’re unlovable? Or despising someone who abandoned their child? I think in our culture some people think that the rules change when someone has cancer.

I have another friend living with Stage IV cancer. A good and true and kind friend who goes out of his way for others. He makes people feel at home even when they’re relatively unknown to him. This friend who loves deeply and selflessly, who speaks ill only of those who malign him horribly yet quickly forgives if they offer even the slightest apology—his is the cancer I care about. His cancer I hate. His cancer I want to fight. This is where I put my effort, my grief, my love. I refuse to share that effort, grief, or love with the absentee father.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m supporting the friend with the dying, never-there dad. I’m listening and hugging and nodding empathetically. But I’m thinking terrible things, like how the rat doesn’t deserve a son who still actually cares, after decades of neglect and heartbreak. How he already abandoned children, so it doesn’t much matter whether he’s dead or not.

I’m also supporting the wonderful friend who puts his kids first. Who tells them every day that they’re loved; who has fought cancer for three-and-a-half years facing the scary and the toxic and the uplifting and the devastating with his children and his wife clearly in his adoring focus. Who deserves, if we ever had the folly of pretending that humans get what they deserve, a life as long as he would want.

One man, who might have loved his children but never told them or showed them or even called them, left his family years ago. And cancer will end his life.

Another man, who desperately loves his children and makes them know it constantly, will some day leave his family because cancer will end his life.

I mourn for the dying dad and I mourn for the wounded children. All of them. But I will not mourn for someone just because they’re dying. Life is much more nuanced than that.

How do you talk to a friend with cancer?

I’ve found in the past few weeks that the fastest way to kill a blog is to post long, depressing content about a challenging houseguest.

So now I’ll revive my blog with everyone’s favorite topic: cancer!

I’ve pointed readers over the past year to my friend Jay’s blog to read about his amazing perspective and approach to life. And to parenting with cancer.

He posted his answer to a question: How do you talk to a friend with cancer?

Please read it. It might help with people in your life who is struggling. I hope none of them have stage IV cancer, but if they do, maybe discussing this will give you another reason to connect.

And if someone is struggling with another type of crisis, maybe his post will help you connect with them, too.

Because heaven knows we all , genuinely, need reasons to be human with each other.

Go read his post.

How bipolar is bipolar?

Just how Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde do I have to get before I can self diagnose as bipolar and self medicate with alternating doses of chocolate and cabernet?

I’m asking because spending a lot of time with a three-year-old (again) and carefully observing our seven-year-old, and adjusting to a foreign exchange student are all making me…um…how do I say this…volatile?

In one moment, our family is a unified ball of bliss, talking about what makes us grateful, in the backyard while slurping down locally made ice cream. In another, I’m silently plotting a scenario in which I lock them outside and call the old-school cartoon truant officer to take them to the pound. (Or is that the dog catcher? I don’t care, really, since this is 2013 in Berkeley and everything I’ve said in this paragraph is so patently offensive to the current culture that I’m going to be taken away in a paddy wagon, anyway. Ooops. There I go again. I don’t care. I’m holding on too tight, Goose. Except that it should be tightly. And I doubt I’ll ever hold on so tightly that I say that I’m holding on too tight. So I’m clearly totally fine, right?)

Our lovely houseguest is trying so hard. She’s curious and attentive. Sometimes. When she interrupts a conversation to ask about Anne Frank I’m too engaged in the answer to notice she totally just interrupted. When she timidly asks if the T-shirt she just bought, emblazoned with an ad for a performance of The Vagina Monologues, means what she thinks it means, I’m too intent on explaining performance as a way of bringing violence out of the dark to remember that she’s just spent more of her money on crap she doesn’t need.

And she’s direct. In my best moments, I’m proud of how adventurous she is, quite aware of her challenging status as a stranger in a foreign house, doing her best to engage but not get in the way.

But when I’m not vigilant, a nasty little creature takes over my brain and wonders why on Earth our sweet temporary family member is so impossible. It’s too cold here every minute of every day, until a heat wave. And then woe is her, it’s so hot. Our food is terrible and awful and we are just crazy to eat the way we do. And then she supposes this homemade cookie is okay. “It’s okay, I guess.” Well then you can hand it over, Missy, because if my cookies aren’t good enough for you to smile and make yummy sounds, why then I’ll eat that one, too. She’s so intrigued by everything and can we please take her everywhere we go, but oh dear that’s too boring and can she take a nap in the middle of a potluck? She’s dying to go running and can I please take her running and when are we going running? But then when I get up at 5:30 a.m. to take her for a jog, after one block she’s dying and did she not mention she’s never been running before?

Sheesh. Teenagers.

Which brings me to the three-year-old. A delightful blogger tweeted a few weeks ago that she’d rather parent a two-year-old for seven years than a fourteen-year-old for one year. I begged her to please tell me she was kidding.

You already know about Three. I don’t need to tell you about Three. All I’m saying is, I feel a bit bipolar courtesy of the insanity that is Three.

Cute. Hitting. Adorable. Screaming. Deliberate. Random. Focused. Crazy. Kind. Mean.

And Seven is his own ball of contrary and erratic. Sweetly offering to set the table, then yelling”NO!” when I ask him to choose the book I’ll read him. Kindly teaching his brother how to find bugs in the backyard one minute then swinging handcuffs at the “stupid jerk who doesn’t play right!” the next.

So if the chicken comes before the egg, I’m bipolar and the kids inherited it from me. Including the exchange student. If the egg comes before the chicken, the three insane people in my house are driving me to the edge.

I’m wondering, I suppose, if roller coaster days are contagious. Or if we’re allergic to summer. Or life. Or something.

Which came first: the hot side that stayed hot or the cool side that stayed cool? And since when am I a McMetaphor?

Keep Your Hands Inside the Ride at All Times

This morning, Butterbean came padding into our room and climbed wordlessly into bed between us. I moved the covers so he could snuggle down, and I promptly ignored him.

I’ve trained him to expect to be ignored in the early morning. If he wakes up and it’s light out, I tell him, he’s welcome to come to cuddle. But if Spouse and I are sleeping, he needs to settle down with us and try to sleep, too.

The “trying to sleep” is always in vain, of course. The kid, like his brother, just began sleeping through the night at age 3.25 years. And when he wakes up at 6 a.m., he’s completely done sleeping. Done. Revved, raring, rambunctious. Usually he wakes his brother with knock-knock jokes or wakes me screaming about covers he can’t adjust. Or sings to himself for a few minutes.

So a quiet ten minutes or so is the best I can get from him, and I gleefully take every second.

This morning he waited only two minutes before he whispered to me.

“Mommy?”
“Mmmm.”
“When the sun goes down at night, do the clouds go away, too?”
[wide grin inside that exhausted exterior failed to show]
“Nope. The clouds float above us in the air and they stay in the night and in the day. If there are no clouds, the sky stays clear. And if there are clouds, they drift along with the wind just as they do in the day. Because the sky is still there at night. We just don’t see as much because we’ve turned away from the sun.”
“Oh.”

And before I fell back to sleep for another two minutes, I died of the cuteness.

This morning was like the moment you’re next in line at the roller coaster. The boring part of the waiting is done, you’re the special one who gets in next, these delicious moments are all about “any second now”. Just before your turn the whole ride seems exciting and new and full of promise. Not jerky and nauseating and whiplash-y and quick and emotionally draining.

Three is a challenging age. Three is screaming and fits and rage and no impulse control and crazy and “can I listen to that song for the 1,095th time?” Three is an exhausting roller coaster that lasts two years or so, pausing infrequently to allow gulps of air before continuing on, terrifyingly quickly and without seat belts.

But at least once a day, Three is so intensely cute it makes my brain think we’re on vacation on a tropical island with nothing but clear warm water and bright blue skies. Every few hours, amidst the crazy and the angry and the are you kidding me, we have a moment of recalling how freaking edible children can be when they are little balls of wonder and exploration and joy.

Mmmmmm. Waking up to silently padding feet and a cuddle and a science question?

That is the pure bliss that Three occasionally brings. And oh me, oh my it’s tasty.

Delicious little pat of Butter.

You’re not terrible.

Tonight during our interminable bedtime ritual, the rollercoaster of “I love you…when will this nonsense end…I love you…I can’t take this one more stinking minute…I love you…good god what is it now,” Spouse did something silly. And Three found it horrible. And I told the little guy, to stave off the raging insanity that is a three-year-old Butter freakfest, that Daddy was only trying to be silly, and that it didn’t turn out the way he’d hoped.

And somehow in there, I said, in my best silly voice, “because Daddy is Terrible.”

Immediately, Seven said in just the right voice, “He’s not terrible.” And my sweet Peanut wrapped his arms around my neck and sat in my lap and whispered, “He’s not terrible and you’re not terrible. Everyone makes mistakes. You make mistakes. He makes mistakes. Everyone alive makes at least one mistake in their life. Probably more.”

And I kissed his head and told him he was right and brilliant.

And I waited until later to cry.

Because what I’ve waited for, in my pathetic, childish, needy way, has been for my children to show me the kindness I never show myself. To hear a thank you, to be told to ease up a bit. To be told I’m not as terrible as I think I am.

And my almost-second-grader whispered kindly in my ear that I should cut myself and my husband some slack.

I’m not an expert at anything. But I’m pretty sure that’s as close to perfection as life gets.

Quality of Life

You know what, six-and-three-quarters-year-old? If you tell the toddler he’s wrong every time he does or says something, he’s going to be mad. And he’s relatively inarticulate. His defense mechanisms are few. So when he feels bad because you’ve told him he’s not Bob the Builder or he’s not actually a big guy or his truck can’t build a new road, he’s going to hit you. It’s not fair, it’s not nice, and I’m working on stopping it. But may I just state for the record that you totally have it coming.

You know what, two-and-three-quarters-year-old? If you walk up and slug your brother because you don’t like what he’s said or where he is or what his plans are for the day, he’s going to get mad. You’re lucky that he now just screams like his head’s been severed and stomps away and says he won’t play with you. For at least two years he’s gotten used to shoving you or hitting you back. That he now withdraws his friendship is well within the bounds of reasonable. And it’s what I taught him to do. (Minus the screaming. Jaysus with the screaming.) Howsabout you do what I’ve taught you, and tell him, “Stop it!” rather than hitting.

You know what, both of you small boys? You’re beating me down. I don’t need much, but I need you to be kind to each other. I’ve done some research. Seven-to-eight sibling fights an hour is normal. You fight less than that. But even one fight a day where one of you hurts the other or one of you says something mean is too much. Knock. It. Off.

Because you’re breaking my spirit. I’m about to be the mom who won’t get out of bed in the morning because whether I do or don’t, you’re screaming and hitting within 5 minutes of waking. Yes, the first four minutes are adorable. You’re quite lovely to each other when you stick to the script. After that, all bets are off. And I talk kindly and explain why you should, too. But I kind of don’t see the point anymore.

Why do you play nicely until I dart down the stairs to go to the bathroom? Or ask you to put on shoes? Or try to cook? Why you gotta be like that? The second my back is turned you’re hurting one another’s souls, guys. Why with the calling names? Our mantra here is “It’s never okay to do something to make someone feel bad.” (Mad props to the friend who taught me that one.) That goes for retaliation hitting and scratching and biting. That goes for namecalling. That goes for demeaning someone or their imaginary world. That goes for excluding. That goes for talking nasty when a gentle explanation will do.

At least once an hour one of you is genuinely kind to your brother. And I tell you how nice that feels or sounds. I tell you to be proud of how you used your words and your kindness to make him happy.

And at least once an hour on or more of you is terrible. Horrid. Criminally nasty. And I tell you that your behavior is unacceptable. That you are a good person practicing being mean, which might make you grow up mean.

Why does this not work? Why are you not fixed? Why can’t you be mostly nice and withdraw when you need time alone? Why can’t you go without hitting or yelling or psychologically punishing each other for just one day?

Don’t give me that “because we’re small children and need your constant guidance, without which we falter and can’t possibly be kind to each other.” Mama has to pee, guys. And read a book, some day.

This steady rhythm of sometimes-nice-but-often-shitty-to-each-other is wearing me down.

And summer is coming. Lots of together time. Lots.

Please. Help a mama out. Stop being nasty to each other.

[To all those out there whose children get along famously, please go give them an extra kiss tonight, because their contributions to family harmony are deeply important. To those who’ve successfully guided asshole children to kinder and gentler ways, please comment below. Ayudame. Por favor.]

 

Glory be.

Oh, gentle readers, winds of change are blowing through Chez Naptime. The chaos and the panic and the frustrations are lately vacillating toward harmony.

Not quite sure when it started. This summer was an intense sibling phase of aggression, retaliation, and nastiness. Neither child seemed to have simultaneous good moods, and without fail the grouchy one would turn the other into a screaming jackass within a few minutes of waking. I cannot articulate the stress caused when one child intentionally hurts his brother just to stop morning cheerfulness that he did not share. My days began at least six days a week with children screaming and crying by 6:30. Screaming the rage of being injured for being happy. Sobbing with the broken heart of being thwarted. And the other guy crying because his brother dared enter his Lair of Grump. Beginning before 6:30 and continuing for 13 hours.

I often wondered if it would ever change. If I was doing something wrong. If my readers lied to me that the boys would eventually play together. Heaven knows they mostly fester and erupt together. Blech.

A few days of early Fall showed promise. Their good moods coincided and they treated each other with care and gentleness. They talked, they negotiated. They acted as though they were on the same team.

But those days were still rare. Once a week, perhaps, mornings started well and the boys sided with rather than against each other. For a few hours in some cases.

And lately it happens more often than not. Good moods all around. Or, even better, a cheerful brother persuades a grump to his side of happiness and play.

Yesterday, walking home from school, the little one wanted to roll his softball down the sidewalk. I balked, saying that rolling into the street was going to be too frequent.

But Peanut, my increasingly personable six-year-old, offered a solution: he would run ahead and block the ball from going into the street. A lovely offer. I figured, based on two years of experience with their dynamics, that he was going to use the opportunity to take the ball for himself. But he didn’t. He didn’t take the ball or play keep away or tease or race the little guy. He played shepherd. He played backup, helper, and understudy instead of domineering and impatient first string.

So for a mile, the two-year-old rolled the ball down the sidewalk and his brother helped him. When the little guy screamed in desperation because his brother had picked the ball up, Peanut explained when he was doing and offered to hand the ball over or to roll it to Butter. The older guy was cheerful. He was patient. Butter quickly caught on that he was getting to play with the best side of Peanut, the side that only six- and seven-year-olds get to see.

It was an absolute joy to be with them. To watch them play, to help navigate only rarely. To see how kind they were and how much fun they could have together. To watch the beaming faces of passersby who caught the boys’ infectious laughs.

I want to cry at how lovely it is when they get along, and I know the tears stem from released tension at not having my shoulders up around my ears for 13 hours a day. What a relief to see them both at their happiest. To observe them bringing each other to higher levels instead of trying (often in vain) to gently interrupt their knocking each other down.

Sleeplessness seems less painful. Messes seem less important. Frustrations seem less debilitating. Anger seems a distant memory.

Because they’re being kind. My children are being kind. To each other. Consistently. For the first time in two years.

Thank you, Universe, for this interlude. I know it will shift and change. I know there will be setbacks. I know Age Three will nigh on kill us all.

And now I know how good things can be.

I had no idea. Parents who aren’t stabby by breakfast every single day, I now see that you’re not crazy.

I’m even rebranding our annual Holiday Apathy Gathering as an annual Low Expectations Holiday Party. (Crud, I have to get on planning that and inviting people…) Because I have no meh left. My inner Eeyore is on vacation and my heretofore secret Tigger is on the prowl.

So watch out. I might just pounce holiday joy and effervescence on ya. I have to. I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.

Where?

First day of First Grade

Oh, bloggity blogosphere. Hold me, for I am wrecked.

I wanted everything to go right today. Yesterday Peanut was terrible to his brother, and confessed when I asked why he seemed to bent on emotional destruction that “I’m worried about school tomorrow.”

Of course you are, I said. New people, new classroom, new things to learn. But you know, I reminded him, some of the people will be familiar. We checked the class list together right before dinner and he very much likes three of his returning classmates. We’ve seen the classroom before. And they won’t expect you to be in high school yet. They know what you learned in kindergarten, and they’ll start there for first grade.

It’ll all be okay. Uncomfortable in the beginning, but just fine once you get rolling. Hang in there. Newness fades fast.

And then I set out to make the day a success.I packed his favorite lunch. I gave him his backpack early enough that he could accessorize it with all his hoarder packrat-y bits of fluff and string and old raffle tickets. (Seriously, the kid’s middle name should have been Templeton.) I calculated and recalculated how long it would take us all to get ready, get the bikes out, and ride to school. I checked air pressure and helmet status and bike locks.

I woke early (I swear to Aphrodite, Butterbean, if you keep waking up so early and shrieking at me to get you vitamins, I’m selling you to the gypsies before you have a chance to unleash the Threes on me) and brewed some chamomile for the adorable little cautious and easily unsettled first-grader. I made a lovely breakfast. I kept Butter out of his face.

We made it ten minutes early and met the LOVELY teacher who fawned all over Peanut. Then I walked off with Butter for our first solo date in over a month.

And a few blocks later I sobbed. Walking down the street, toddler in my arms, I was more than a little surprised that I bawled to the tune of “I left my precious baby with someone else. Someone new who didn’t even know yet which of his resistances were based in fear, which stemmed from shyness, and which from assholishness.” Tears streamed down my face as I ordered coffee and a cheese roll for my littlest Little.

I got Butter to nap a bit late, but figured I’d wake him early to get his brother. First graders are important, and we must be on time. Don’t forget: first grade gets out later than kindergarten. Don’t forget.

The phone rang half an hour before I was to wake the little guy. (Why do phones only ring REALLY loudly when a small person is napping?)

“Did you know that today was an early release?”

My heart just fell to the floor, bounced twice, turned to crystal, and shattered down the stairs.

“Today is WHAT?!”

Every child in the first grade was taken into the safe, warm, loving arms of a caregiver, except mine.

The new teacher, who knows nothing of my commitment to family, learning, and being ten minutes early to everything, reassured me that Peanut was fine. In the office with our delightful secretary.

I grabbed the sleeping toddler, my keys, and the backpack I needed for our bike ride home. I walked as fast as a human has EVER walked the almost-mile back to my little boy.

Twenty-five minutes late the first day of school. His first experience of being a really big kid. And I screwed it up. Beyond screwed it up.

While I stew in that, I’ll add this tidbit for your information so you can help me pick out the right hair shirt for the next twenty years of self flagellation: Closing up his lunch this morning I wanted to add something extra, in case he was first-day-of-school hungry. Something easy, somewhat healthy, and adored…

A lovely, locally grown, organic apple.

For the kid with *three* loose teeth.

Effing parent of the century, don’t you think?

How Parenting is Like Camping

All the parents who hate the dirt, bugs, and lack of showers implicit in camping already know from the title why having children is like camping. Dirt. Bugs. Lack of showers.

But I feel the need to expand a bit more for those who have not experienced the wilderness joys of small children.

1. If it’s not locked up, wild things will eat it.
My toddler climbing the fridge to eat what’s in the freezer = your teen eating a week’s worth of groceries in one sitting = bears. They all need it, they all want it, and they all *will* get it unless it’s properly stored.

2. You’ll be surprised at the end of a day how much dirt can get on one person.

3. Rain is the least of your worries.

4. You will learn to handle bugs. Don’t care if you like ’em or hate ’em. Children and camping are both inextricably linked with bugs.

4. People tend to plan for the first day (year) and forget to brace for the third. If this blog teaches you nothing else, let it be that Year (day) Three is the hardest.

5. Someone won’t like the food.

6. You’ll get less sleep than you think.
Nope. Even less than that.

7. The fun is exhausting. So are the frustrations. So is the worrying.

8. You can never have too many washcloths.

9. When you forget sunscreen or bug spray, bad things happen.

10. No matter how prepared you are, you’ll forget at least one thing.

11. No matter how many times you’ve done this, at least one really obvious thing will surprise you.

12. Good luck using the phone, shower, or bed.

13. It will be your most ____________ experience ever.
(You fill in the blank. Rewarding? Amazing? Annoying? Memorable? Frustrating? Give me a status update on your camping or parenting below.)

Sad-sack-itis

Today, my two-year-old asked for help with his wooden train tracks. His trains were upstairs, his train tracks were downstairs, and he preferred relocating the relatively large, intricately linked and somewhat difficult to move rails to transporting the things on wheels.

Cool. It’s a day, man, and we gotta live it however we gotta live it. Happy to be of service if you’re gonna play and not scream.

So I went downstairs and brought the train tracks up.

When I arrived at the new train station, he said, “You good helper, Mommy. Good helper.”

And I got a little weepy.

Because nobody in six and a half years has told me that I’m a good helper. Or if they did, they used a regular, grown-up voice and verbs in their sentence so I didn’t completely internalize what they were saying. Either way, it felt really, *really* good to be noticed.

So, either I need a job with regular performance reviews again, or I need to hear these wonderful children when they thank me. We all know the appreciation in this job is at best implied and at worst deferred until they have kids of their own and call, weeping with the exhaustion and overwhelming terror of having a newborn, toddler, preschooler, or teenager to apologize for what shits they were as kids and to express their awe at what great parents we were to tolerate them.

So I’ll take my “good helper” kudos and chalk up my points for teaching him to ask for help, appreciate it, and articulate his feelings. Plus bonus stickers for actually *being* a good helper.

Now, where do I turn in these tickets for prizes?

Your baby or your life: wilderness edition

The family and I went camping and as we checked in heard the same dire warnings that we’d heard before: our local bear problems mean lock up every single thing that smells like food. Not in your car, because they’ll claw it apart. Not in your tent because that’s like gift wrap to a bear. If your kids spill, change their clothes and store them in the bear locker. If you have a chance, vacuum out the carseats before you enter the park.

On and on. Lip balm will draw them. A closed can of soda in a car will draw them. Referring to your unsightly waistline as a muffin top will draw them…okay, not that last one. But close.

So we always heed the warnings. Spouse and I watch the kids carefully and pick up every crumb they drop. We put dirty clothes and washcloths in the bear box. We store the bug spray and sunscreen and lip balm in the bear box. We even lock up the backpacks that might have at one time had a cracker in them.

And on night three it occurred to me: I’m still lactating.

I think Butter has weaned. He went from nursing before bed every night to several nights a week to a couple of times a week to forgetting for two weeks to forgetting again for…I think it’s been a month now. I’m a child-led weaning sort, and I don’t offer, don’t refuse. And he’s a toddler, so he’s busy and he forgets and…

What if a bear can smell that you make milk for months after weaning? I’m not kidding. Tiny babies can smell if mama is in the room. Bears are about seven billion times better at smelling.

When my first child was born we visited a wonderful friend. My four-months’ pregnant friend held my four-month-old baby, who took about two minutes before he opened wide and went right for her fully clothed breast. Made a hilarious (or mortifying, depending on whom you ask) wet circle on her shirt.

Because he could smell that her milk had just come in (at about 20 weeks).

If my four-month-old can smell milk through several layers of clothes and unused milk-delivery system, I’m guessing that a bear can smell me through the single-layer-mesh tent windows better than that closed soda in that closed car.

And riddle me this, readers: What week of the month do you think we happened to be camping? I was surprised to find (on day three of the trip) that it was the time during which an old myth holds that women are attacked by bears and mountain lions much more frequently. Blah blah blah pheromones…blah blah blah bleeding…blah blah blah unsubstantiated claims that mostly apply to polar bears.*

Whatever. These wee hour machinations did not inspire relaxed appreciation for the scenery: firmament, heavens, flora, nor fauna.

So now, wide awake at 3am, surrounded by the most beautiful bear country, after three glorious days with my boys and husband, who do you think felt more small and threatened than any woman should?

I lay there, reeking of honeydew ice cream on one end and of sloughed nutrients on the other, desperately hoping I’d live to plan the next camping trip a little better.

It’s rather unfair, I raged, after I spent an hour *terrified* and flinching at every sound. The two things that give me superpowers, the two things that make me the most vital I will ever be in my biological life…those things should not be a life-threatening liability.

I wouldn’t, even if I could, stuff my breasts and uterus into a bear box. I don’t care if the mountain lions and the bears and the wolverines all planned a hunting party with my photo on their usenet.

I can make a human and feed a human. And that means bears will come from miles around to feed on my superhero flesh?

Oh, hell no.

Except there was no “hell no.”

There was a small creature lying next to me who cried, in his sleep, “No! No! Carry!” And he reached his arms toward the sky lit with more enormous stars than I have ever seen in my life. I silently rolled him closer to me and curled around him. Knowing I couldn’t protect him. Knowing that, if anything, my very existence threatened his.

But he twined his fingers in my hair and settled into the warm, sweet baby sleep of a mammal with its mama.

I wanted to sink into our nest.

But his damned breath was so loud I couldn’t listen for bears. I had to choose whether to take this time to be his mama, in all its painful and scary challenges, or to roll away in the name of vigilance and preparedness.

I woke up exhausted and stiff with his fingers still in my hair, hoping the bear would at least wait until I had my patented campfire coffee and cocoa blend.

Sometimes weakness makes you strong. Sometimes strength makes you weak. And sometimes you gotta hope there’s a bumper crop of blueberries, honey, and salmon several miles away.

*Public service note: the myth about bear attacks on menstruating women is patently false. See this article and this study, to which I did not have access in the wilderness, because apparently a wilderness without cell access seems more attractive to nature snobs like me. Must rethink that position next time I’m awake at 3am.

Okay

My heart is broken and the sheen has gone off this glorious season of sun and school-less freedom.

Why? Today Butter said, “okay.”

No big deal to you, I know.

But for six months he has said, “Haykoe.” It was an adorable, dyslexic, mirror image of okay that I found so delicious I asked him several times each day if he was okay just to hear that yes, in fact, he was haykoe.

But now he’s just okay.

[sob]

Well, poop. It’s the beginning of the end.

Is it a technique thing?

Okay, I seriously don’t understand how to do dinner prep with small children. Many of you have similar creatures, and many of you seem to be functioning at more than a basic level. So please: share your secrets.

Mine are young enough that without near-constant parenting, they make really poor (often dangerous) choices. There is always screaming if I’m out of the room for more than one minute. So I need to parent. I need to offer eyerollingly frequent reminders that “use your words so he understands” and “hands are not for hitting” and “you may do what you want with your own penis but you may not do that to his” and “no bumper scooters” and “tell him he can have it when you’re done” and “we don’t call names” and “get your penis off the toys” and “stop it or I’ll gouge out my eyes.”

My spawn are also young enough that they need a regular infusion of calories. Without food, decisions get worse, and the frequency and pitch of their screaming increases. So do my threats to gouge out my eyes.

So I need to make meals. Until there is a viable living room version of the Easy Bake Oven, I have to leave the room to make meals. Often I cook the night before and just reheat. I resent this, for after bedtime is my time and I’d like to read, write, exercise, or stare at a freaking wall without admitting that this job is a 24-hour-a-day kind of thing.

But even stepping away to scoop and reheat leaves small people screaming and hitting and grabbing and knifing (okay, not the last one, but it seems as though). If, heaven forbid, I try to wash a bit of produce, cut it, throw something in a pot or pan, and plate it when it’s all ready, my children are bloody, bedraggled, and writhing in a pile of all the belongings I used to hold dear. I don’t make nine-veggie quiche or anything. I’m not segmenting oranges and candying the peel. I crock-pot a chili or soup or I bake a casserole or I cook carb/protein/fiber in separate pots and just throw it all on a plate.

And yet within five minutes someone squirts someone else with a hose and someone screams and exacts revenge, and someone climbs on my desk and throws off all the tax papers and the carefully stacked scholarly articles (yes, I print them…sue me), and someone asks to make lemonade and rips two million lemons from the tree and gets juice on the floor and demands agave and then spills the whole lot, and someone pees on the floor, and someone rams a scooter into my ankle, and someone begs for popcorn, and someone tracks mud through the house, and someone torments the cat, and someone starts throwing LEGOs, and someone goes outside to get the mail but leaves the door open for another someone to wander out…

In five minutes.

I’m not kidding. That all happened tonight while I tried to make stir-fry and rice.

Someone once told me (demand credit in the comments if this was you) they’d like to see an episode of Top Chef where the quickfire challenge was to create a delicious meal from what was in the fridge in ten minutes WHILE having to stop every 30 seconds to break up a fight, being away from the stove for an unpredictable number of minutes, and stopping at the midway point to wipe someone’s ass. And the wall they poop-painted trying to “help”.

How do you make a meal when your children are young? I have no earthly idea how people do this. Do other people have a partner or a helper or a prison guard in the half hour before dinner? Do you serve crackers and cheese every night? Do you tie the children to various doorknobs through the house and tell them the last one to free herself get a pony?

Do I need to bribe? Threaten? Order takeout?

HOW do you do it?