Monday, October 29, 2007

Driving me crazy

There is a word for what I do each day on my 25 minute drive home from Owen's school: Endure. I endure it. It is my least favorite part of the day, and it is a wonder I have not left my children somewhere on the side of the road. Yet.

Come, reader, take the ride with me:

2:40 pm: Join the carpool line. Mitch whines that he wants to get out of his car seat and sit up front while we wait.

2:43 pm: Give in and allow Mitch up front. Paige cries at the injustice of being left in her seat.

2:46 pm: Mitch changes the CD for the 4th time, rolls the window up and down, flips on the windshield wipers, turns the heat on full blast, and blares the radio using the stereo remote control's volume button.

2:49 pm: Approach the front of the line and ask Mitch to get buckled into his times. Finally hiss, "Get in your seat!"

3:01 pm: Mitch climbs in his seat at the very moment the carpool worker lets Owen into the van. Owen and Mitch get tangled up as Owen tries to push past and get to his own seat. Shoving ensues.

3:03 pm: Reach the main road. Ask Owen how his day was. A mile into the drive, notice that Mitch is in his seat but not buckled.

3:05 pm: Owen asks to stop at McDonald's for a drink. I say no. Owen whines that he's thiiiiiirrrrrsssty! I say no. Owen whines and whine and whines. I turn the radio up a notch.

3:06 pm: Owen says he's car sick.

3:07 pm: Owen says he's "really serious" and needs to get out of his seat to lie in the floor. I say, "Get the bucket."

3:08 pm: Owen argues that he can't throw up in the bucket because we might need it for the beach next summer. He begs to lie on the floor. I tell him, "Get the bucket."

3:09 pm: A groaning, simpering Owen threatens to barf on the seat if he isn't allowed to lie down. I say, "GET. THE. BUCKET."

3:10 pm: Owen says he has to pee sooooo bad. I tell him he has to wait.

3:11 pm: Mitch says he has to pee.

3:12 pm: Paige starts to cry.

3:15 pm: Owen takes his shoes off, props his feet on the back of Mitch's seat and shrieks, "Smell my stiiiiinky feet!" Hilarity ensues.

3:16: Hilarity escalates.

3:17: "Smell my stinky feet" degenerates into "smell my poop." I remain calm. I ask nicely for the boys to tone down the noise.

3:19 pm: Mitch screams at the top of his voice when Owen rubs his stinky feet on Mitch's head. I lay out the first threat: bedroom lock down for half an hour after we get home.

3:21 pm: Mitch screams again to see if I mean it. Punishment imposed. Loud, whiny protests ensue.

3:22 pm: Owen screams when Mitch kicks a shoe backwards into Owen's seat. I turn, glare, and say, "Are you trying to get a time out, too?" The answer, "No," is spoken through a suppressed smile. Seething ensues.

3:24 pm: Mitch screams when Owen throws the shoe back. I lay down second threat: no TV all afternoon.

3:25 pm: Mitch emits a squeal that is just quieter than a scream to annoy me while evading further punishment.

3:27 pm: Ask Owen if he has homework. He answers, "I have one poopy-doopy homework."Mitch cackles. Hilarity reaches epic proportions. Noise level in the car becomes unbearable to anyone over the age of 8.

3:28 pm: At a stoplight, shoot the death-glare over my shoulder and growl, "Guys. I have asked you over and over to calm down. Now DO IT."

3:29 pm: Muffled hilarity ensues.

3:30 pm: Arrive home and ask Owen to carry his book bag inside. Owen whines that his book bag is tooooo heaaaaavy.

3:31 pm: Stand outside the car holding the 25-pound baby while coaxing Mitch out of the driver's seat of the van, where he is flicking the headlights and yanking the seat belts.

3:32 pm: Pee a little when Mitch leans on the horn, scaring the bejeesus out of me.

3:33 pm: Drag Mitch from the car. Notice Owen walking into the house sans book bag.

This is the scenario every single day. In fact, this is a run down of a relatively good day.

So when you happen to look up in the afternoon and notice that it is 2:45 pm (Eastern time), pity me, good readers. Pity me and pray for the lives of my children.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

She's a one year old!

And PROUD of it:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Anxious moms and alpha boys

I have long believed that nerdy, egg-headed kids make the coolest, most interesting grown-ups. I have long believed that the traditional school curriculum undervalues creative and athletic talent. I have long believed that one method of teaching and one teacher cannot possibly speak to the intellects and the abilities of all the children in the class. I have considered these issues carefully. I can make (and have made) fairly solid arguments in defense of these beliefs.

Yet I find myself anxiously hoping that Owen is popular in school. I worry that he doesn't come home gushing about how much fun he had playing with so and so at recess. I find myself feeling smugly satisfied at his good grades, at his ability to excel at the kindergarten curriculum. And I find myself anxious to train, to improve him when I find areas in that curriculum where Owen's performance is mediocre.

I don't think it's unusual for parents to feel worried or proud for these reasons. Not at all. Of course I want him to have friends and do well. But I do wonder how I can believe so strongly that geeky kids are diamonds in the rough and that traditional school is not best for every kid yet hope so vehemently that my own child fits neatly into the mainstream.

Today I joined Owen on his first kindergarten field trip to a farm and pumpkin patch. He was thrilled that I was coming along and even told me on the drive out there, "Mrs. F says we can hold hands with our moms on the field trip." While I was touched by his wish to stay close to me, his comment caused my worry to bubble up again: is he lonely at school? is he unhappy among these new kids? do they accept him? why does he want me there?

My observation of Owen among his classmates today told me that he's not lonely. He does have friends. One boy even seems smitten with him, showing up out of nowhere at odd intervals to call, "Owen!" then smiling and waving. He trailed us at times without striking up any conversation, content just to be near Owen.

Yes, Owen had some friends, most a little less creepy than Lurking Kid; one adorable little boy even asked his mom if Owen could come over for a playdate. At the same time, Owen definitely wasn't one of the rowdy alpha boys, jostling and shoving and poking each other and giggling during the butter making demonstration--the same antics Owen and Mitch engage in every single day at home. I was surprised that my son wasn't drawn to that melee since silliness reigns in our household. Instead, he listened attentively to the farm guides; he followed field trip rules to the letter; he sat quietly, observantly on the hay ride. I even had one of the "lunch moms" tell me, after I'd complained about the noise level at home, that she had always considered Owen one of the quiet kids.

I found myself weighing all of this on the way home and finally asking myself why I was so obsessed with defining Owen's social status at school. I have never worried about this sort of thing before, but I suppose that his hitting school-age and starting out at a school where he'll attend kindergarten through high school makes the stakes seem high. Whatever name he makes for himself now, in his first year, could follow him (at least to some degree) through 12th grade. I don't want any stigma to descend on him, any shyness this first year to mark him as a wallflower.

All the same, I wish I could relax about it.

In grade school, I was pretty middle-of-the-road. I was certainly not one of the most popular kids, but I had my foot in most social circles, even if I was committed only to my very best friend. She and I tended to isolate ourselves somewhat, fancying ourselves too different, too mature, (too good?) to join up with any group in particular (though in reality, any time an invitation was extended to us from one the more popular groups, we jumped at it).

I don't know if I'm sensitive to Owen's social world because I felt inadequate or if my worry comes from the recognition that Owen is a bit of an oddball. In my heart, it's the oddball in him that I adore the most, that endears him to me. But in that part of my me that yearns for the acceptance that we all, to some degree, yearn for, I find myself hoping that my little oddball can fake it enough to survive in the mainstream, to never feel left out or left behind.

I hope the better part of me (and him) will let go of my shallow hope and remember to value what is truly valuable about Owen. I hope the better part of me will let go of my shallow hope before I teach him to subdue those impulses that make him the ingenious, charismatic, funny kid I adore...and I hope it happens before he stops adoring himself.

(Picture of Owen studying a large outdoor sculpture at the Art Museum, 3 years old)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Oh, you thought the WHOLE meme was done?

No, no, no. That was just the first question. I'm going to answer the rest, but I'll do it all in one post. Promise.

Here are Bon's other questions, poor neglected questions:

2. If you had to go back and re-do one thing in your entire life history, what thing would it be? Why?

This is a hard question to answer in public. But here goes.

The thing I've chosen does not seem to have had a disastrous effect on anyone's life, but it is the one thing that I continue to feel ashamed about and wish I'd had the maturity to do differently. If I knew then what I know now, I would not have moved in with John when I did. I think it was the wrong decision for Bailey's sake. In hindsight, and as a mother myself now, I can see that living together as boyfriend and girlfriend--not as a married couple or even an engaged couple--did not ensure a solid, secure home for Bailey. As I said, I don't think there were disastrous effects, especially since our relationship lasted and ended in marriage, and Bailey wasn't hurt by a break up between us. But I know now that a young child's emotional life is too delicate to risk and that living together didn't create the best situation for her.

3. There is a big, splashy Hollywood movie being made of your life. Who will play you?

Do I choose based on looks? Personality? Admiration? I'm not sure, so I'll do all three.

Looks kinda like me (or so I've been told): Juliette Lewis (I know...I know...)

Acts kinda like me: Jennifer Aniston. She's pretty goofy, seems fairly real and true to herself, and she has a streak of funny, too.

Admired by me: Meryl Streep is the greatest, but she's a bit seasoned to play me. I'll go with Toni Collette. Love her. And I can see her in the role of Ashley.

4. There is a gritty, indie-style mockumentary being made of your life. Who will play you?

Kate Winslet. She does indie films sometimes, yes? She's got some meat on her bones. She's got a dry wit and an honesty in her performances and her personality. I really admire her, on film and in interviews I've seen. In fact, maybe I'll send her a letter giving her first dibs on playing me in the sure-to-be-written-one-day-probably-a-big-hit indie film about my life as writing instructor and Good stuff.

5. I haven't been a reader long enough to know much about the teaching part of your life. Why did you choose teaching as a career, and what primary challenges and changes do you see in education today?

I chose teaching because I love school. I didn't want to leave college, and when I finished my graduate degree, I didn't want to leave grad school. If I could make a career out of being a life-long student, that's what I'd do. But since students spend rather than make money, I decided to be a teacher on the college level, to stay in the academic environment, to be around the books I love, to work in the realm of ideas. The schedule is good for the soul, too. There's enough change to feel periodically refreshed; I have enough control that I feel empowered and inspired; the work hours are not traditional and somewhat flexible. I love having December off to relish the holidays. I love having the summers off to relish my children.

And it has turned out to be the best decision I could have made to prepare myself to be a working mom. The college where I work is small, and my department is close-knit. The current department head (and all the others I've worked under) does everything in her power to make my schedule amenable to mommydom. I teach two classes a semester, two days a week, and they are alway within a couple of hours of each other, so I can be with my children most of the week, but still have a career that I love, one that fits neatly into my life and leaves me completely happy and challenged and inspired.

I could write another post (don't leave! I won't!) about the challenges facing education, but I'll focus only on the one I've been thinking about lately. I'm not sure what elementary and high school teachers see, but I find my students woefully lacking in resourcefulness. When they hit a road block, if the first search statement in their research doesn't pan out, if a printer runs out of ink when a paper is due, they throw their hands up in defeat.

I've never had a student who had computer problems come to me with a hand-written paper; I get only sob stories. In my day...well, really, if I'd lost a paper in college or couldn't get it off of my word processor (yes, those machines that were only word processors, where you'd type on a tiny screen and then the machine would type it up for you), I would have found a way to re-do it, to get it in. I never would have had the nerve to turn up empty handed.

I wonder if the inability to work around difficulties comes from the way we (have to?) shelter our kids now. There is no more running around the neighborhood till all hours, fending for yourself. Adults are all up in kids' business all the time. I think that's changing the way children grow up, possibly weakening their character. At the very least, it's sad. I hate that my kids will miss out on the adventure of childhood. There is very little adventure left for them.

Okay. Done. I know no one will ever send me a meme again, and I can accept that. But thanks, Bon, for the blog fodder. I really was inspired by that first question, and I love that I had the chance to stop and reflect on all four of my beasts.

I've posted a picture of myself, too, since I don't think I've shown my face yet. That's Mitch and Paige in the photo with me.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The last installment

We call Paige "Boomba," short for "Fatty Boombalatty." She really is a pudge, but in the most adorable way possible, of course. I am particularly fond of her leg rolls.

I don't yet have the perspective on how she's changed my life that I have with the others, since she's only been here a year. And that year felt like days, I swear. Paige's first birthday is next week. Next week, people! I know all parents say it, but it goes so. damn. fast.

Paige was not a planned pregnancy. In fact, John and I had been in negotiations over the big "V." He wasn't thrilled with the idea, but as we all know, a vasectomy is less invasive than a tubal, AND it feels like an eensy bit of compensation for the months we mothers put in as vessels of life and the hours we spend in labor. (Of course we also realize that a tiny snippity snip of the vas deferens doesn't even come close to what we go through to bear children. Our men are, in reality, eternally beholden.)

We'd decided that Bailey and the boys had taken us to the edge of our resources, financial and psychological. Raising two boys who are 2 and a half years apart is, er, taxing. To put it nicely. And our house is small, our savings account even smaller. I was satisfied with this decision, but I have to say, at times I heard a wee little voice warning that we weren't finished yet. It first piped up while I was packing up newborn clothes to donate to the women's shelter. The voice said, "Pssst. Don't do that. Wait a bit. Just in case." So I did. Unfortunately, the voice must have been on a coffee break when I sold all of our big baby equipment and gave all my maternity clothes to a friend.

I think it was giving away the maternity clothes that did it. The universe saw it happen, pointed a bony finger at me, and cackled, "Look at the silly woman! Giving away maternity clothes before the vasectomy. What gall! Pregnancy for you, woman!" It was a little embarrassing to call my friend, after much hoopla was made over my generosity and her life-long gratitude was expressed, to say, "Hey, can you give me my stuff back?" But I made the call because it was a whole wardrobe for heaven's sake. I couldn't start over from scratch. And of course my friend was thrilled for us (at least outwardly) and handed it all back happily.

So the little voice (lazy as it turned out to be) was right. It was also right about Paige's gender, something I'd intuited from the start but was thrilled to have confirmed at my 20 week ultrasound. I've long imagined all the ways I could force my own childhood loves on a girl: model horses, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, dollhouses. I've already imposed my fondness for old school Sesame Street on her. Happy birthday, Paige! Mommy got you a gift I know I'll love!

I have to admit, I do love having a girl, and yes, it's different.'s different. It could be a difference in personalities, but Paige is much more observant, much more willing to sit in my lap and watch what's happening around her, much less likely to jump into the fray and assume that all gatherings of people happen to honor her. (When Owen was a baby, any time he heard applause, he'd grin and beam and puff his chest out, believing the cheering was for him.) Paige is a snuggler; she seeks body heat and will curl up beside me in bed, hold my hand, stroke my arm. She pats my back when we hug. She pats her baby dolls' backs when she hugs them. She plays quietly on her own and can sit in one spot for more than 15 seconds.

All of this to say, I am thrilled to have a daughter. As the daughter in a very close, exceptionally healthy mother/daughter relationship, I was a bit sad when I thought I wouldn't have that with my own little girl. And who knows, maybe I won't. But at least I have the chance now.

And I have an excuse to buy paperdolls.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An aside

I'm taking a break from writing the longest response ever to a meme to share this Dave Walker cartoon I saw at How about orange today. I laughed my lazy ass off.

If you're reading this, it applies to you, too

Part Three: The Snitch

I call him the blond sheep of the family. Apart from his tow head, he has many other ways of distinguishing himself from the brunettes in our family. He's the sassiest by far, the most self-assured, the least ingratiating. He doesn't need the attention and validation that Owen yearns for. He mastered self-care abilities (getting dressed, pouring drinks, bathing himself, putting on socks and shoes) at a startlingly young age. Mitch faces the world with bravado, and I have no doubt that he will plant his flag wherever he pleases.

His was my only planned pregnancy (yeah, we're just careless like that), but he wasn't conceived at exactly the ideal time. We'd hoped for a summer birth to avoid the messiness of turning my courses over to a substitute, but gosh damn we're fertile, and Mitch was made on our first try. So he was a March baby. Two months shy of the goal. Troublemaker from the start.

His birth was enormously different from Owen's, whose arrival was somewhat violent and traumatic. My c-section with Mitch was planned, but I went into labor 2 days before the scheduled date (troublemaker--see?). Still, his birth was very calm and controlled. I went to the hospital; they slowed my contractions; the doctor came; they prepped me for surgery; out came Mitch. I felt in charge from start to finish. I knew what to expect. All went smoothly. I even got to hold him in recovery. When I remember Mitch's birth, the salient feeling is peacefulness.

Going from one child to two didn't phase me much. I expected to feel overwhelmed and manic, bleary and helpless, but Mitch (rather misleadingly) was a very agreeable newborn. He fell asleep easily, took long naps, ate well. I joyfully witnessed the brotherhood unfolding between him and Owen, who accepted the role of big brother with aplomb and never fretted much about the sudden appearance of his fuzzy-headed rival.

I experienced the second-child honeymoon, a confidence and calm that I hadn't felt with Owen, an ability to trust myself and my baby, the wisdom to see that the best thing to do is simply the thing that will work best in that moment. The greatest advantage to being a second-time mom is knowing that all the difficult phases will pass. With Owen, I felt mired in every wrong turn. If he went through a spell of waking more frequently or refusing to nurse, I was sure I'd messed him up forever. With Mitch, I knew that there would be bad weeks and good weeks. (Well...good days. I'm not sure I've ever actually experience a whole week of goodness.)

Like many second-time moms, though I wasn't consumed with him, wasn't spilling over with the love and devotion of a new mother, I enjoyed Mitch's infancy more. It ebbed and flowed, a gentle tide instead of a tsunami.

In some ways, being a mother of two felt like my true initiation into parenthood. I don't mean that mothers of one are lesser parents, but as someone from a family of six, raising children meant juggling, mediating, stretching myself and my resources. When I took on the challenge of nurturing more than one and succeeded, I felt like I'd arrived. I loved having two. I relished their interactions; I was moved to the core by their brotherly bond. Our family felt whole and balanced. I proclaimed myself finished with childbearing.

Then, one afternoon in February of 2006, with Mitch one month from 2 years old and weaned for more than a year, I felt the sensation of let down when a book I was carrying brushed against my breast. And I spoke aloud to an empty room. And I said, "Oh shit."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bon's first question, part two

Owen's birth changed me to the core. Being his source of life, the woman who carried him for 9 months, nurtured him with her own milk, and met his endless, ever-changing needs flipped a switch in me. Suddenly, I knew mother love, a brand new, intoxicating emotion.

When I think back to those early days with Owen, I really do remember them as drunken. I was high on baby, consumed with his every movement, gesture, sigh, burp, yawn. When he was asleep, I journaled about him and organized his pictures. I shot hours of videotape, meticulously recorded his milestones, read parenting book after parenting book. I was utterly, hopelessly smitten.

Though I consider Bailey a daughter to me, I am not her mother in the same way I am Owen's mother. Bailey has a mother--a wonderful one--who lives only a few miles from me and John. Bailey sees or talks to her mother every day. When she is sad or excited or upset, she will settle for me if she has to, but her mother is the first place she turns, even when she's with us.

I am Owen's first place to turn, and being that kind of mother changed my life. Everything shifted. All that I'd considered important--career, ambition, travel--was instantly downgraded. Being Owen's mother fulfilled me in a way I'd never imagined. A brand new feeling unfolded in me, and I saw right away there was no going back. Once you experience mother love, you are ever more a mother, and you will always see the world through those eyes.

In November of 2001, when I gazed down at that squirmy, squinting newborn, I knew I was face to face with the meaning of life.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The one where Mean Mommy answers Bon's questions

I'm participating in my first blog meme (I didn't know the word either, mom) -- a list of five questions about you presented by another blogger. One of my very favorites, Bon at cribchronicles, whose blog is (and should be) kinda famous, did me the honor of providing my questions (because I asked her to). Apologies in advance because I think I might be long winded about some of them; they're provocative questions.

The first question: There are four offspring in your family. How has each child changed you or impacted you as s/he came into your life?

I'm going in birth order, so I'll start with Bailey. Bailey Boo, Booper, Bailes, Bailey Wailey.

The first time I met Bailey, she was barking. The summer I met John, he and I both worked at this upscale Italian restaurant, and he had a major crush on me, so he came by the restaurant on his day off on some false pretense (really to see me), and he brought Bailey with him. She was 3 years old, with huge brown eyes, long, dark eyelashes, and these adorable blunt cut bangs. She was pretending to be a dog. Loudly.

I tried chatting with her, but she would only yip. I admired John's manner with her, and I thought she was a darling, funny girl. I didn't see really meet her one on one, as someone in her dad's life, until months later.

After John and I had dated for awhile, including a few months of my living in Mexico, he invited me to come along with him and Bailey to the State Fair. She largely ignored me until it was time to leave, and she was unhappy about going home. I found a little stuffed animal of hers in the front seat and, while she sniffled and pouted in the back seat, I made him peek around the head rest and then dart away when she spotted him. We played peek a boo with the little stuffie until she was wracked with giggles. From then on, she was my buddy.

Bailey did change my life, but more slowly than my others did. Our relationship developed by degrees; I tried hard to be sensitive to her position and to the fear, anger, and resentment she might feel towards me as I got closer to John, and I didn't force myself on her. By the time John and I got engaged, Bailey was as much a part of my life as he was. By then, I not only wanted to spend my life with John, but I couldn't bear the thought of Bailey growing up without me.

Bailey taught me many of the lessons first time parents learn: that even the best laid plans are subject to upheaval; that the magic of childhood is revived in the lives of your children, allowing you to experience it all over again in a much more exciting, fulfilling way; that "sacrificing" for your family is not sacrifice at all since there's nothing you'd rather have; and that her dad was someone I wanted to have more children with.

One rainy Saturday when Bailey was 7 years old, we were home watching a movie, Air Bud, I think. As I lay on the couch, this overwhelming feeling of exhaustion washed over me, a heavy tiredness, weighing down my bones. I slept through the movie. That night, John was planning to make spaghetti for dinner, but when he took out the Italian sausage he planned to put in the sauce, the sight of it made me ill. Later, I drove to the drug store and bought a pregnancy test. It was positive. It was Owen.

Next installment (still on the first question): How Owen changed my life...

Monday, October 8, 2007

A mommy first

The first time a child of mine will go under anesthesia: tomorrow morning 7:15. Paige is having the tear duct in her left eye surgically opened. It's a very, very simple procedure but...well, you all know what comes after the but...

The hardest part will be the fury we will face tonight at 1 AM when she wakes up and wants to nurse, and I turn her away. She is going to be livid. I'm actually a little afraid of how angry she'll be. When that child wants her mama milk, she will scratch and claw and pinch and lunge for the mammary until she gets her way. Nursing: such a warm and bonding experience. Until they're old enough to draw blood.

The upside is that my own mama is spending the night tonight so she'll be there to take care of the boys tomorrow morning (we leave for the hospital at the crack of dawn). Because my parents live only 15 minutes away, they never stay with us. Our visits are always a couple of hours long, and then we all go back home. I think that's why my mom and I still adore each other's company so much--we never spend enough time together to grow irritated and resentful. Still, it'll be a treat to have her over to watch Heroes with.

This rambling post exposes my nerves, I fear. I'm sure I'll have a post in a day or two detailing the heart wrenchingness of watching your one year old being wheeled away into surgery alone, without you by the bed to give the doctor steely eyed "I dare you to screw up" looks.

She'll be fine. I know. But...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

If I were truly mean...

My two little potty mouths, lately hell bent on slipping the words "pee" "poop" "puke" and "penis" into every conversation, would wake up on Christmas morning to find these, and only these, under the tree, with a note attached:

"I noticed how much you boys love pee and poop. Thought this would be the perfect present. Merry Christmas! Love, Santa"