Raphael learned to climb out of his crib months ago. If I were a good mother, I would have switched him to a big-boy bed by now. But I figure, hey, I’d just have to find a suitably sturdy set of guardrails to keep him from falling out of his bed, and his crib already has these bars all around…sort of like a full set of guard rails! Nice, huh? It has nothing to do with the fact that once he’s out of his crib he’s no longer a baby and my life is utterly, completely devoid of babies. Oh noooo. It’s a practical decision.
Anyhow, my solution has been to keep the side rail of his crib down, so he doesn’t have too far to climb. This works well. He’s safe from falls and clambers in and out with ease.
The problem arises at naptime. He really doesn’t have a concept of time, or sleeping, or any of those abstract details. Most of the time when I put him down for a nap he’s exhausted, and falls asleep within minutes. Then when he wakes up an hour or two later, he climbs out of bed and staggers to the top of the stairs. He doesn't remember sleeping, so he's never sure if his nap is over or not. He tentatively calls out, “Mama? Ah just waked up?” I come and stand at the bottom of the stairs and smile encouragingly up at him, “You sure did, baby! Why don’t you come down here with us?” Mightily relieved, he scampers down the stairs and back into life.
But sometimes when I put him down to nap he doesn’t fall asleep right away. Sometimes he lies there and chatters to himself for a few minutes, then grows bored and climbs out. Today he’d been in bed no more than three minutes when I heard the thump and trot of an escaping small boy. I was already on my way up the stairs when he rounded the corner. His happy expression melted at the sight of me marching his way. He skidded to a stop then worked up his best innocent face. “Mama? Ah waked up?”
“No, son. You didn’t wake up because you didn’t go to sleep.”
“But ah don’ wanna go sweep.”
“I know, but it’s time for your nap. If you don’t sleep you’ll be grumpy and sad.” I leaned over to scoop him up and we headed back to his room. He was clearly not convinced that his nap was not, in fact, over.
“But ah talked and talked an’ den ah waked up!”
“No, you haven’t slept yet. You need to stay in your crib and sleep a little. Sweet dreams, honey.” I deposited him in his crib and pulled his blankets over him. He eyed me suspiciously.
“Mama? Maybe yoo bein’ mean.”
“No, Raphi, I’m not being mean.”
He kicked the covers off and sighed. I turned to go.
“Can yoo cover to me?”
“Ok, I’ll put your covers on you, but this is the last time. You need to sleep.”
“Yoo not bein’ mean?”
“No, I’m not. Sweet dreams, and I’ll see you soon.”
As I turned to go, I heard him mutter to his stuffed giraffe, “She bein’ mean.”
I am unjustly accused.
¶ 3/31/2004 10:17:00 PM
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
The good thing about being cooped up in the car with your kids for long periods is that it gives you a special opportunity to spend time with them. In the quiet and monotony of the car they open up and talk like they rarely will in normal life. That, plus the fact that they sometimes fall asleep. Always a good thing.
Today was such a day. With one thing and another the boys and I spent about three hours in the car. Or, as a rabbit might say, many many hours. There was mass sleeping (everyone but me – again, always a good thing), and there were moments to be cherished. Or at least remembered.
At one point Tre piped up from his seat, “You want to know what Craig James and Zach and I did at the park today?” I had let him ride his bike to the park with the neighbor boys whilst I stayed home and nervously congratulated myself on letting him spread his wings.
“Sure, honey. What did you guys do?”
“We threw rocks at each other.”
Long pause. I was turning this over in my mind, trying to imagine what he could have said that sounded like “we threw rocks at each other,” but actually made sense.
“You threw what?”
“Rocks. Well, those little gravel pieces. We had a gravel fight.”
“We had a gravel fight.” He said it slowly, to compensate for my clear lack of mental ability. “It was fun.”
Another long pause.
“Well, were you guys careful not to throw rocks at faces?”
“Um…” he could tell there was a right answer, and he didn’t think he was about to give it. “Sort of. Not really.”
“Ah. You should do that. Or maybe consider finding something less…rocky to throw at each other.”
I don’t know which of us was more mystified.
At one point we had stopped for some food at Sonic. (I use the term “food” in the most forgiving sense here.) While we were waiting for our order, Mom called my cell phone. This necessitated much passing around of said phone so everyone could talk to her. While Max was talking Raphael started wriggling free of his car seat. I crawled back to disabuse him of the notion that car seats are optional, causing him great mental anguish. He wailed, actual tears streaking his cheeks. I was able to calm him enough to hand him the phone for his turn. He sighed a shuddery sigh and moaned into the phone, “Ah’m just so sad!” When Max heard that he shook his head at me.
“That just hits my heart,” he declared. He smacked an open hand against his chest, right in the middle of where the seat belt crosses it, “It hits my heart right here.”
I nodded in agreement, doubly smitten at the heart.
Toni asked in the comments a few entries ago if I would write about gardening in Colorado. I avoided it for a while, because the weather was so lovely and warm that I just couldn’t bear facing the truth of being a gardener here, in the cruel Rocky Mountains. But today it snowed and tonight a freeze will probably kill all the fuzzy new buds on my peach tree, thereby robbing us of peaches. So now I’m in the right frame of mind. Here, for your “pleasure” (for lack of a better word) is a step-by-step tale of a garden in Colorado.
March/April (depending on when the weather first turns warm and how ambitious you are) – our intrepid horticulturist heads out to the plot of land that will soon harbor her beloved plants. Visions of heirloom tomatoes, charming in their lumpy uniqueness, dance in her head. A small smile plays across her lips as she toys with the idea of placing a few flowers among the pepper plants, simply because they’ll be pretty there. She jabs the tip of the shovel into the soil and here she encounters her first problem. Either the ground is too wet or too dry. If it’s too wet, she can manage to pierce the soil, no problem. But she knows, given the amount of clay in the Colorado soil, that if you work wet dirt you end up with rock-like chunks of dirt. All summer long these sullen clods will resist hoe and spade and choke the roots of baby plants with their heavy intractability. On the other hand, if that clay-ey dirt has dried too much, it is basically a slab of adobe. Chip at it all you like, you aren’t turning it into a garden any time soon.
Well, fine. She lightly waters it or waits for a sunny day to dry it sufficiently. Finally, FINALLY, one bright day the dirt is perfect for digging. She digs. And digs and digs. Mixing in huge quantities of compost and pitching aside rocks, she sweats and toils and knows it will all be worth it. Before the day is over she has tidy furrows in the dirt, each layered with that soft, dark, damp compost and lined with a row of seeds. She looks at them in satisfaction.
Days pass and one morning our gardener discovers one –no wait, two! Tiny plants breaking through the soil. There’s another, and another! This is so exciting! Over the next few days she comes out to the garden often, thrilled to see that each row is positively bristling with new plants.
Then one morning as she’s walking into the kitchen she glances sleepily out the window to note that it’s snowed.
She runs to look at her garden, but now it’s a winter scene. She curses snow and cold and meteorologist who never seem to know what’s going to happen, damn their overpaid hides.
But it does no good. Her tender, pale green shoots have crumpled under the snow. They lie on the ground, black and limp. Dead.
So she re-plants. If she’s wise she waits until after Mother’s day, the only date real Coloradoans trust for putting out cold-tender plants. She goes to the garden center to buy tomato and pepper plants. She commiserates with other gardeners, and then bravely plants out her garden. And sure enough, the snow is gone (95% of the time), and the weather is warm.
A few days later she goes out to see her new plants slumping against their stakes. They are pale and dusty looking.
It is, after all, 90 degrees outside.
She mulches. She sprinkles. She swears.
Many of her plants survive, much to her joy. They are blessed by rain in June and by the beginning of July the tomato plants are studded with little green marbles, the jalapeños sport wee nubbins of fruit.
Every day she watches them grow. They swell and warm. One afternoon as she stands there, holding a satiny tomato in her hand, feeling its heft on the vine and guessing by its color that it will be ripe in a few days, she notices clouds rolling in. Thunder rumbles and she ducks in the house.
She’s puttering around when she hears the first thud. Thump, thump, ratatatatatat. She freezes, then runs to a window.
The leaves of trees shimmer as they are pelted with bullets of ice. She can’t bear to look at the garden until the storm has passed. She crunches her way out there over the detested hailstones to survey the damage.
Her garden looks like a sea of salsa. Tomatoes are pulp on the ground, littered with the shreds of leaves. Jalapeños lie shattered. Bell peppers are smacked off their plants. Basil plants are a tangle of broken stems and torn leaves.
Those plants that survive are choked by the heat in August. And, unless this seven year drought breaks at last, the air is so dry that even if she can water them enough (she can’t) their leaves curl up and brown.
By September she sullenly collects her pitiful harvest, swearing she’s done with this gardening folly for good. It’s a fool’s game, she mutters. Go to the farmer’s market and spare yourself the pain.
Until a particularly warm day in March. She wanders out to the garden area and nonchalantly feels the soil (too wet). She closes her eyes and enjoys the sunshine, and wonders if it’s too early to plant lettuce.
Just a little.
¶ 3/28/2004 10:05:00 PM
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
When Raphael wakes up in the morning he likes to climb in bed with me and snuggle for a moment. This morning I heard the thump of his escape from his crib, followed by his bare feet trotting through the hall to my room. His face appeared at the side of the bed, shining with delight. “It’s ME,” he announced with great glee. I held out my hand to help him up on the bed. He wriggled his way down next to me and sighed contentedly. He reached up to pat my cheek and cooed, “Ah nuv you too, Mama.”
That, by the way, means “I love you too, Mama.” It was an answer to exactly what I’d been thinking.
This morning I was trying to get the boys in the van. It’s like funneling a windstorm into a coke bottle, I swear. I looked down to see Max still standing by the back bumper, exactly where he’d been the last time I’d told him to get in his car seat. I marched over to him to give him a bit more incentive. He turned to me, holding his hand aloft. In it crawled a tiny black ant, sugar ants we call them. Max loves them, and spends good portions of the summer carrying a few around in his brown little hands. “It was right behind your wheel, Mama. I knew you wouldn’t want to drive over it.”
And he’s right. Had I not had Max the ant lover for a son I wouldn’t have minded running over an ant, but now…
This afternoon Tre noticed that his pocket knife was missing. He came charging over to me, yelling that he couldn’t find it, and what had happened to it, and what if Raphi found it…Tre can be a touch high-strung at times. I told him it was ok. “I just…put it away for a while.” He looked startled.
“Well…I just think it’s a good idea for you to not carry it until the splint’s off your hand…just a few days.”
He looked at me for a moment, then shrugged.
“Ok, I guess that’s fine. Maybe by then you’ll feel better.”
Um…I hadn’t said anything about ME. I was just thinking about HIM. I was…
How did he know?
Mom says your kids know you better than anyone. I always wondered about that. I can see it with adult kids, but these little ones? They just don’t seem that attuned to the big people.
Maybe I’m wrong.
I took Tre into the doctor’s office today. He’s not sick again, but his allergies are acting up. Tre has allergies. That sentence calls to my mind the image of a band of evil little rodents that follow him around, nipping at him, causing him varying amounts of discomfort. Oh yes, we hoped they would fall away as he aged, but they’ve held on. He has allergies.
Most of the time he’s not all that bothered by them. This is the source of some contention between his doctor and me. Dr. S feels that Tre should be on a varied cocktail of pharmaceuticals year round. I, on the other hand, can’t bring myself to dose him up during the winter, when all the worst allergens are frozen, or the middle of the summer, when he lives in the pool and the air is fairly clear. During these times he’s fine. He gets a touch stuffy at times, but for the most part he’s normal. His band of tormenters falls behind, appearing small and squeaky and insignificant.
But then spring or fall arrives and with it the allergies. They swarm on him with surprising ferociousness, and I relent on the drugs. This spring was the worst ever. Tre started sneezing and snorting. His clear brown eyes, normally luminous as two dark marbles, turned dull and puffy. Worst of all, this time around he coughed and wheezed. He’s never wheezed before and although I didn’t want to think about it I knew it sounded like asthma.
So I took him in, thinking Dr. S would prescribe the magic nasal spray. It really is magic, one squirt per nostril a day and allergies flee for their dark hiding places. No side effects. Except it’s a steroid and part of me trembles a bit every time I spray it in my wee boy’s head. I mean, a steroid. Up his nose.
Ah well. I may not like it, but Tre hasn’t been sleeping well, or learning well, or behaving all that great. The whole of him is overwhelmed by this attack, and it had to stop.
Dr. S prescribed a bit more than the nasal spray. Tre now has two inhalers, an oral steroid, an ointment for his tormentingly itchy legs, and the magic nose stuff.
When he gave me the stack of prescriptions I stared at them, then asked him, “Is all this necessary? Really?”
He gave me a little lecture on allergies. How one reaction triggers another and another.
“This cascading response in the body is what we have to deal with. Once we stop that we can asses where he is, in terms of asthma and ongoing medication.”
Once again I pictured this swarm of creatures, pouring over my son, pulling him down.
So I filled the prescriptions, even though most of them seem a bit like poison to me. I suppose this is war.
This afternoon as I was getting supper ready Tre was playing in the back yard. I was glad to have him home, rather than at a friend’s house, because he’d just taken one of his new medications and I wanted to keep an eye on him for a reaction. He was using his pocket knife to cut some tape off a stick. When I heard him scream I just knew he’d cut himself. He came running in, holding out his hand. Blood ran between his fingers and dripped on his grubby bare feet.
I applied pressure and comfort where necessary. He’d taken a chunk out of the skin over the knuckle of his left index finger. It stopped bleeding pretty soon, so we washed and bandaged it and applied a finger brace to help it heal without breaking open every time he used his hand. (It is, by the way, a fine thing to have a nurse in the family. If Mom hadn’t come home to calmly look at it I would have taken him to the emergency room for sure.)
Now he’s in bed, sleeping peacefully. His finger will be fine, and I’m sure his medications won’t kill him. Somehow I’m feeling guilt for the fact that he wasn’t on allergy drugs all along and that he’s on them now. That I allowed him to have a pocket knife and that I’ve quietly tucked it away on a high shelf.
I just wish tonight, sitting here with the limp feeling that follows adrenaline, that the risks in life were fewer or that my sons were not so very mortal.
Ok, so help me figure this out. The boys have this play room. It’s a sun room (although I call it the son room and nobody knows). Anyhow, they have shelves with bins full of toys, bookshelves loaded with books, and two wee recliners for sitting in to play GameBoy.
But recently I decided that I was sick of the toy clutter. Sheesh, the mess! Little broken bits of McDonald’s toys, stray Legos, plastic horse-and-knights that go with the castle upstairs in Max’s room, twelve bazillionty hundred million Hot Wheels cars and accessories, a scary steering wheel toy that chirps “LET’S GO!” at random times. TOO MANY TOYS.
I decided they have too much to keep track of, too much to enjoy. So I took all the toys and locked them away. I soothed their worried looks and told them that every night when they had put away their two remaining toys (Seriously. Two), they would earn the privilege of picking out a toy from toy jail.
It was brilliant. They would slowly learn to keep track of their things. It was non-threatening, I wasn’t throwing anything away. In the end they would be able to cull the herd a bit and enjoy what they kept more. And I would step on less small sharp plastic things.
So it’s been a week, and why haven’t they asked for anything back?
Well, this weekend Spring arrived. It even seemed like spring, warm and breezy. I actually put out some seeds in the garden – madness this early in the season. But I was buoyed by the warmth and the buds poking out on trees everywhere, so I threw caution to the wind and about $4.67 worth of seeds in the ground. Call me a madcap fool. Check back here for snow-related bitterness next month.
Saturday was not only the first day of spring, it was my birthday. All you of the luv thang who are 32 had best get busy respecting me now. At 33 I am now your elder. And fortunately for you youngsters, I’m here to share the wisdom of my years.
Once upon a time in my looooooong life I heralded the arrival of my birthday loudly and insistently. Something like a car alarm outside your bedroom window. You know, the one that goes off for no reason and somehow wakes everyone EXCEPT the actual owner of the car who sleeps blissfully on, ignoring the honkhonkhonkhonk that is driving you absolutely mad?
Well, I was somewhat like that about my birthday. I would announce with glee March 1 that for joy for joy, my birth month had arrived. I would helpfully tally the shopping days. Not that I wanted anything, for if asked what I wanted for my birthday I would respond with a smile, “A fuss. I want a fuss for my birthday.”
But not this year. This year I held my tongue. Those who remembered and remarked on my birthday were answered with a curt, “I’m not doing my birthday this year.”
It’s not the aging thing. I don’t mind one bit being 33. I believe women in their 30’s are awfully cool. I would not be any other age. 33. The morning of my birthday I stood in my shower, practicing saying it. “I’m 33. What? Oh, I’m 33. No, I know I look too young to be the mother of all these kids, but no – I’m 33.” I liked it. It’s a good, solid age to be. I’ve never come upon my birthday and not found my new number appealing. It’s just as true now as it was when I was finally trading 7-and-a-half for 8.
So I don’t mind getting older, but there’s this shadow. See, Friday was my ex’s birthday. He’s 35. I assume. I mean, I suppose someone would tell me if he were dead, right?
If I loved being fussed over on my birthday, he loved fussing over me. In our years together he gave me three surprise birthday parties. And a surprise wedding shower and a baby shower. He loves parties.
I was spoiled I suppose. It’s hard now to really enjoy “my day.” It’s preceded by his day, and that makes me sad. I don’t know very much about his life, but I don’t think it’s very happy. I liked making him happy on his birthday. And no matter what I did, he tried to out do me the next day. He usually succeeded.
I’ve tried to celebrate March 20 like I used to since he’s been gone, but it never felt the same. I think I’d enjoy it more if I knew he was ok. But mostly I worry about him and feel sorry for myself, so this year I said forget it. I’m not doing it.
A few days ago an old friend called me to wish me a happy birthday. “I’m not doing my birthday anymore,” I replied.
“Tired of celebrating your 29th for the fourth time?” she joked.
“No.” I was irritated. Did she not know how cool 33 is? “It’s just not fun anymore. It just reminds me of him. So I’m done. I’ll get older, but I’m not having any more birthdays.”
There was an awkward silence, and then we chatted for a while. But the conversation bothered me for a long time.
How ungrateful of me. How rude. She’d called to be kind and I’d used it as an opportunity to complain.
So I’m sorry to everyone I’ve whined at. Thank you to everyone who kindly overlooked my complaining and wished me a happy birthday anyhow. Despite my self-centeredness it was a happy birthday. I had a picnic with my family yesterday, complete with roasted marshmallows. Today my friends let me share a birthday barbeque with Tracie (whose birthday was Wednesday), despite my bad attitude. I was even given gifts and cupcakes.
When will I learn, after all this time? There are the moments, the patches of pain that will come up. But life moves forward and I am so unbelievably, undeservedly blessed.
¶ 3/21/2004 10:00:00 PM
Thursday, March 18, 2004
I was doing something of great importance (probably cleaning the kitchen) when Tre came tearing into the house.
“Mama, come here! I want to show you something!” He grabbed my hand and I could tell by the smile on his face that he was pretty sure I’d love it.
“Honey, couldn’t you tell me about it? I’m in the middle of something.”
“No, come here!” He tugged at my hand and I relented. I followed him out into the back yard where the boys were playing in the 70 degree golden afternoon. Why is it that spring air feels warmer – better – softer - than the same temperature any other time of the year? Tre hopped up into the raised bed of the garden. My garden, a desolate landscape of hills and valleys from a winter punctuated by digging expotitions by boys. He trotted over to the far corner where one furrow had escaped the boys’ explorations.
“Look!” He waved a triumphant hand at it. I didn’t see anything. “Garlic! Your garlic is growing!” I knelt down and peered at the dirt. Sure enough, spears of green and brown had pierced the soil. I brushed my fingers over them. They were soft and cool. So very alive.
You really should plant garlic in the fall. I seem incapable of planting anything in the fall, so for the past few years I’ve stuck a few cloves in the dirt in the early spring. But never early enough in the spring, because I always dig up wan little knuckles of garlic in the fall. They taste wonderful, but it gets a little old, peeling 19 tiny cloves of garlic to make enough for one sauce. Well, this year I managed to get the garlic in the ground in the fall. Ok, actually the early winter. Nonetheless, Tre and Max and Raphael and I all went out into the garden and dug a trench. I placed the cloves at the right distance and Tre and Max carefully took turns poking them under the soil. Raphael tasted one of the cloves, and then decided gardening was NOT for him. We patted the dirt over them and the boys took turns dribbling water on them from their watering can. I told them rapturously about how all winter long, every time the weather warmed up enough, those little cloves would send out slender little hair-like roots. Just a few, here and there. By the time spring rolled around they would be ready to take off and grow madly.
And now here they are, taking off. “Just like you said they would,” Tre said.
He’s amazed that I seemed to have known what I was talking about. It did seem unlikely, on that chilly winter day, that these little knobs of garlic were going to do anything but rot in the ground as it froze and thawed and froze over the winter. Together we counted the tender shoots and called Max over to see what had happened. Raphael trucked up for his first lecture of the spring about not stepping on the baby plants.
Every year when the winter starts to relax its grip and the plants come back to life, I’m surprised. I may act like I know it will come, but I’m always taken aback. It’s happening, yet again.
¶ 3/18/2004 09:50:00 PM
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
On Wednesdays some of my best friends come over for lunch. The kids run wild (between the four of us we have nine kids – plus two in utero), we chat and food is eaten. Today in the middle of the chaos of children and mothers arriving the doorbell rang.
“Oh, that’ll be the Chinese food,” I said.
No, that would be the neighbor, holding Raphael. She gave me a stern look.
“I didn’t think you wanted him running around outside. Alone.”
I grabbed him and thanked her profusely. He had skated out the front door at some time during the noise and bustle of people coming in. I closed the door and gave Raphael a stern lecture on not going out the front door without a grown up. This had the effect of ping-pong balls flung at the hull of a battleship. He shrugged and ran off.
A few hours later I was cleaning the kitchen as the boys played in the back yard. The doorbell rang and this time I had the sense to worry. Sure enough, there stood Raphael. He grinned and patted his belly. “Ah DID it! Ah do dat ding-dong!”
“Yes you did, didn’t you? Um… honey…how did you get out of the back yard?”
“Come ‘ere! Ah show you!”
He took my hand and trotted me around the corner to show me the box that he had climbed onto to climb onto the fence to brace himself on the rake handle to just reach by the tippy tips of his fingers the string to the latch of the gate.
I dismantled his climbing structure and flung the latch string over the fence. Another lecture on not going outside without a grown up. He gazed over my left shoulder as I spoke, and then interrupted to ask for a juice box.
I really think he got it that time. Except that he escaped out the door twice more today. But now, NOW, I’m sure he understands.
When I told my mother the sad story of how my child is hell-bent on escaping and how it’s making me old and anxiety-ridden, she laughed. LAUGHED. Can you believe the heartlessness?
“It’s like he’s got this drive to run away,” I explained to her.
“Eighteen months,” she said. “You were eighteen months the first time you ran away. We lived in Chicago – DOWNTOWN CHICAGO, on a busy street. You got out the door and it was a HALF AN HOUR before we found you, having tea with the neighbor. I swore I was going to kill you when we got you home.”
I guess it’s a good thing she didn’t kill me. If she had she’d be missing out on all the hilarity of watching me try to keep Raphael alive.
Mom came around the corner this evening to discover Raphael, standing in the middle of her antique octagon table. One hand was on his hip and the other was held aloft as he gazed into the distance, prepared to fly away at any moment. Mom picked him up, saying, “Oh no, I don’t think so.”
“But! Ah just trying to stand on da table!”
This is his favorite refrain currently. When Tori was packing her car to leave last Thursday, Raphael snuck out the door behind her. She looked up to see him trucking off down the street. She grabbed him and hauled him back into the house, with him protesting the entire way, “But! Ah just trying to go outside!”
Over the past week I’ve heard: Ah just trying to use da keys (in the ignition of my van, thankyouverymuch)! Ah just trying to throw the glass! Ah just trying to hit da dog! Ah just trying to get up (4.5 seconds after being put in bed for the night)!
These declarations are accompanied by a look of wounded innocence. And I feel for him, I really do. The thing about Raphi is he’s not all that intentionally difficult. Ok, about half the time he’s intentionally difficult. But a good portion of the time he’s just exploring some new idea. And it’s gotta be discouraging to discover yet again, for the zillionth time in one day, that your mom does not think your new idea is a good one. Even if you really want the hammer.
Plus I feel just like him sometimes. I get an idea that I think is wonderful, and the world interferes. At times I feel like scowling and shrieking, “But! Ah just trying to read a book! Ah just trying to get everything done on my list! Ah just trying to finish this essay! Ah just trying to get a good night’s sleep!”
Oh well. It doesn’t work for Raphael, and it doesn’t work for me either.
Update on Heidi: She’s doing very nicely. She can’t handle large crowds of kids, and tends to bark somewhat manically when people come to the door, but other than that she’s a pretty good dog. And I have to admit, she’s growing on me. She likes to sit at my feet and gaze at me with undisguised devotion, and it’s hard not to warm to that. She also seems to like all the activity of our household. One of her favorite things to do with Raphael is to go out in the back yard and run along beside him. Raphael pushes his popping lawn mower toy and belly laughs while Heidi runs and barks. It’s going to be hard to send her back to my grandparents. Not for Claire (our beautiful stupid cat), who has been sulking under my bed or in the basement pretty much since Heidi arrived, but for the rest of us. She’s sleeping under my chair as I type this, and she’s awfully cute.
Max had a leprechaun come to his preschool class today. When they were out on the playground a leprechaun snuck in and knocked over some chairs, pulled books off shelves, and scattered gold foil covered chocolates. Max was thrilled, and has decided he very much wants to catch a leprechaun. Tre was even impressed, and Tre is rarely impressed with anything Max could be doing in preschool.
When we got home Max wanted to change into a white button down shirt. He loves them, and frequently asks, “Can I wear one of those white shirts with the buttons down the front? You know the buttons right down here?” He gestures in a line down his chest and belly. Anxious eyes. “The white kind?”
“You mean a white button down shirt?”
He heaves a sigh of relief. “Yes, that kind.”
So anyhow, Max had changed out of his grubby and marker smudged pale blue t-shirt and put on a white button down. Wearing the shirt is important to him, buttoning it up is not. He was walking around with it flapping at his sides when he discovered the leprechaun chocolates in his pocket. He pulled them out and started unwrapping them, not pausing while he asked if he could eat them now.
“Sure, you can have them,” I said, “but put your gum in the trash first.”
“Huh?” He turned toward me and I saw his gum, firmly stuck to the center of his belly. I burst out laughing, which set him off. Together we leaned against the kitchen counter, pointing at the gum and laughing.
“Honey,” I managed finally, “don’t put your gum on your stomach. Throw it away! Here, give it to me so I can put it in the trash.”
He trotted off, still laughing, “Wait, I want to show Tre first.”
The rest of the afternoon he would occasionally chuckle to himself, “I had my gum on my tummy!”
Help me remember how much kids like to be noticed and appreciated. I forget, and it’s not that hard to do.
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve come to love a show on TLC called “What Not to Wear.” It was horrifying when it first came out, but it’s mellowed (and they got rid of that snotty mean guy with the long hair), and now I actually tape it if I can’t be there when it’s on.
But I understand not everyone has the same problems I do, so allow me to explain how it works. Someone is secretly nominated by their friends and family for a fashion makeover. This poor sap is then secretly videotaped for a few weeks and the footage is watched and mocked by the fashion experts, Stacy and Clinton. Then they ambush the nominee in some public place to inform them that EVERYONE hates the way they dress, but that’s ok, because they get $5,000 and a bunch of vicious commentary to help them dress better. After a whirlwind trip to New York where their clothes are thrown away over their protests, Stacy and Clinton give these poor victims a list of their new fashion rules. They go shopping, get hair and makeup makeovers, and end up very happy about the whole thing.
For the most part these interventions are good and right. People out there are dressing all wrong for their body types and a little nudge in the right direction is a helpful thing. It’s fun (if you like that sort of thing) to watch them interpret “the rules” according to their own personalities. Plus I loooooove looking at the pretty shoes.
But this weekend there was an episode that bothered me. The nominee was Crissa, a 30 year old mother of a 4 month old baby girl. The secret footage of Crissa showed a mom in sweats and baseball caps. Actually, the sweats were pretty nice ones, matching and clean and all. Can you tell how low my standards are? Anyhow, she looked great to me. No, not glamorous, but she looked like a mom. She has a great body (sheesh, FOUR months post-partum), and she’s very pretty. But what struck me most about her was the fact that she’s clearly besotted with her baby. One scene showed her folding laundry all alone in her room (or so she thinks…secret footage, remember?). She lifted her daughter’s tiny pink sweatshirt off the mound of clothes on the bed and before she folded it she pulled it to her face and kissed it.
So no, she didn’t look all that snazzy, but she looked like what she was, a healthy happy mom, deep in the revelation of what unconditional love is. I remember that era. You only ever get that once, with your first child. I fell just as much in love with the others, but the shock of becoming a mom, that only comes once. When they handed me that baby and I realized he was mine, really my own son to love, it changed me forever. And for months I went around dazzled by that fact. I used to wonder, actually muse aloud, about how it could be possible that people walking down the street didn’t burst into tears when they saw my beautiful son.
So here’s this mom who can’t walk by her daughter without stopping to kiss her downy head. She’s wearing sweats because she can’t be bothered looking at herself all that much. She has this baby, this little girl who has changed who she is and why she’s living. And in the middle of this love affair, her family decides what she needs is a makeover. Apparently Crissa used to be quite the style maven, and they miss that. Her mom pleads, “Crissa, we need our fashion guide back!”
When they showed her the secret footage, Crissa cried. Can’t have been easy, to hear that in the midst of this life-altering event of motherhood, you’ve been letting everyone down by wearing such shabby clothes. She admitted she hadn’t been thinking about herself enough, and committed to the makeover process.
Now, I’ll grant you that Crissa looked great by the end of the show. Very flattering clothes and makeup and hair. She’s a beautiful woman, and she looked it at the end. And she did figure out some things about her life that are good. She realized she’d been not paying all that much attention to her husband, and she missed him. That’s a tough one for any new mom. And she realized that Stella (her baby) will be ok even if she’s left in her dad’s care. That’s a good thing too. I suppose.
But it made me sad. Everyone was glad to see her looking like she used to. “She looks like herself again,” her mom said. “She looks like the old Crissa,” said her husband. But she’s not the old Crissa. She’s a mom, and they marched in between her and her daughter and refocused her elsewhere. Life gets complicated soon enough. Work interferes; babies become toddlers who snarl “no.” That era, where all you need is your baby and the sensation of your heart expanding with her every breath, it goes all too quickly. I regret for her that that grace was shattered over such matters as clothes. I know as mothers we’re supposed to care for ourselves rigorously. But sometimes what benefits us the most is holding our own cares loosely and pouring ourselves into another. Balance your life later, the beginning of this journey is indescribably sweet.
At the end of the show a glowing Crissa said into the camera, “I have such an amazing family that cares this much about me that they went out on a limb to help me get back to the way I used to be.”
She will never get back to the way she used to be. She’s a mom.
¶ 3/14/2004 09:16:00 PM
Thursday, March 11, 2004
Hi, all! Didja miss me? I missed posting a few nights because of the aforementioned houseguests. Tori and her three kids were here for a few days, and it’s been a party.
Now, let me set the scene for you. First of all, we have my grandparent’s miniature schnauzer staying with us for a few weeks while they move. Heidi (or as Raphael likes to call her, “Hiiiiiiiiideeeeeeee”) is a very sweet dog. I personally tend to prefer dogs that weigh more than my left shoe, but that’s just me. She’s adjusting well to life in our little maelstrom, but she does tend to bark. But only when there are kids around. Or they’re gone. Or it’s noisy. Or quiet. Or during the day. Or at night.
Other than that, she’s very calm.
Ok, I exaggerate. Still.
So Tori and her brood, Tudor (nearly 15), Kieran, (practically 12), and Shannon (almost 5), arrived Tuesday. Max and Shannon took one look at each other and were off to conquer the world. Shannon, for being a year younger than Max, had definite ideas about what they should play. She was also frustrated in her attempts to mother Raphael, who will have no truck with that sort of thing. At one point she marched up to me after unsuccessfully trying to get him to do something and announced (hand on hip), “You know, he’s a stinker!” Perceptive child, that. But it was ok, because she and Max had stuffed-animal zoos to build. Max thinks Shannon is the coolest.
Tre and Kieran fell face-first into their GameBoys via hook up cable. Actually, it was a healthy mix of Yu-Gi-Oh obsession, GameBoy, and hide-and-seek. Tre thinks Kieran is the coolest.
Tudor is, as previously reported in the blog-o-sphere, very sweet. I have to say, anyone who frets over the socialization of homeschooled kids should have seen this kid holding his own in conversation with two 30-something year old mothers. He’s a doll. He reminds my mom of my brother, when he was a teen. Mom thinks Tudor is the coolest.
Heidi barked. We like her, we really do. But no one thinks she’s the coolest.
In the midst of all of this, Tori and I talked and talked and talked. We surfed the chaos and it was lots of fun. I think Tori’s the coolest.
They left this afternoon and all evening Tre and Max have been remarking, “We should go see them at their house. I miss them. Can I play GameBoy? (That’s mostly Tre)” Raphael occasionally looks around and chirps, “Wheh dose kids?”
Wheh indeed. Come back soon, kids.
Ok, now I’m on antibiotics too and the whining has abated. My apologies for sounding so dismal. It gets to a girl after a while, the sick stuff. Today I was cleaning the living room and picked up a Buzz Lightyear toy. As I was taking it to the play room I realized I was “flying” it, complete with sound effects. No children were in the room. So now I’m wondering; lighthearted approach to life, or woman who hasn’t had a real conversation in way too long?
Toni over at Strong Coffee wrote about finding out that her third and last child, due to be born this summer, is a boy. He will be joining his two older brothers, making it “my three sons.” She wrote about her feelings of melancholy, of gentle regret. She won’t have a daughter, and this is her last time to experience pregnancy. Not that she doesn’t love her sons, but it is a touch bittersweet.
That naturally got me musing on my three sons and feelings about never having a daughter. My feelings about never having another child are not complicated at all. I’m stamp-my-foot-angry about that. I wanted four. It’s irrational, I know.
But when I think about never having a daughter…that’s a touch more complicated.
I don’t like to admit to wishing I had a daughter for two reasons. The first is my former mother in law. She had four boys and often said that the only reason she didn’t abort the fourth is she was hoping it was her girl. The first time she said that in front of that fourth son of hers my knees went weak at the cruelty of it. How could you do that to your son? He grew up with the message that the only reason he lives is because she was hoping he was someone else.
So early on I was determined not to ever say to a child of mine, gee I wished…
The second reason is because of when I was pregnant with Max. I remember driving to the ultrasound with my husband when the pregnancy was 20 weeks along. We were discussing names and admitting our guesses as to the gender. We were both pretty sure this was a girl. I had felt so different from the very start of the pregnancy. So much sicker, for one thing. Besides, we had our boy and were ready for a girl. As we spun our fantasies about who she would look like and what we would call her, I remember looking out the window and saying dreamily out of the blue, “If it’s a boy we’ll call him Max. Maxwell Martin, after my grandfather and father.” My ex wasn’t wild about the name, but agreed to it. He was sure it was a girl anyhow.
We got to the ultrasound and found out two things; it was a boy, and he was in trouble. I had complications, and the doctor was worried. From that day on she kept telling me, “If things go wrong, both of you could die.” I know she just wanted me to be careful and follow her instructions, but geez. And in a moment I went from wishing for some gauzy image of a baby girl to a panicked desire for my son to live. “Hold on, Max,” I told my tummy again and again, “you hang in there. Mama loves you. Hold on, Max.”
The complications resolved themselves nicely and Max was fine (obviously). But after that I felt ashamed to wish for a daughter. I was, and am, awed by the gift of my sons.
So those two things leave me loath to admit to a longing for a girl baby. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say the thought doesn’t cause me a pang now and then. My mom and I have such a good friendship now that I regret that I won’t have an adult daughter to share that with. Looking back, I’m happy to miss out on an adolescent daughter though.
I guess I’d say I’m mildly regretful not to have a little girl. But that in no way competes with my gratitude for my sons.
So the health situation around here has gone from bad to worse. Friday morning Tre woke up miserable. He was pink-cheeked and sweaty and prone to bursting into tears. His head hurt and his tummy was upset. It was enough to convince me to haul him into the doctor’s office for a strep test. Sure enough, after we’d waited a while and Tre had thrown up in a bucket, the results came back positive. I took Mom’s sage advice, “Just make home a sick kid ICU and baby him.” We got a couple of movies at the same time we picked up his antibiotics. I bought him some treats to eat, but after throwing up he was leery of food for a good 24 hours. Cautious boy, my eldest.
The next day he was better. No longer contagious, he roamed the neighborhood with glee. We had finally turned the corner on the long sick week.
Or so I thought.
I took the boys to church today because they seemed fine. Really. Halfway through the service I glanced at Max and thought, he looks a little peaked. By the end of the service he was most certainly pale and leaning against my side. By the time we got home he had a fever of 100. I left Tre and Raphael home with my parents (just another of the examples of how I couldn’t manage without them…I mean, I suppose I could, but it would be so much harder), and took Max to the emergency room for a strep test. By the time we got there his fever was 102. Oh yeah, it was strep.
More antibiotics, this time the pink goopy stuff. He gets his three times a day; Tre gets his capsules two times a day…I despair of ever keeping up with it all.
Now I’m looking at Raphael like he’s a sturdy little time-bomb in overalls. I know, I just know he’s coming down with it next. But when? To make matters worse, I have houseguests arriving on Tuesday, which means anyone starting antibiotics needs to start them by noon tomorrow, so we’re not contagious when they arrive.
So now I’m scurrying around the house, disinfecting toothbrushes and wiping down surfaces. I just want to be done with sickness.
Yesterday Max and I made pomegranate jelly, and tonight all he wanted for dinner was toast with our jelly. As I was spreading the butter on his toast he walked up next to me and stuck his finger in the open container of jelly. For a taste.
I pulled his hand away and sent him off to wash his hands. Just what we need, Typhoid Max’s fingers in the jelly jar. I scooped out a chunk of the jelly that his finger had pierced and dropped it down the garbage disposal. It glistened, a dome of that deep pomegranate purple-red, and then disappeared into the depths of the sink. For a moment I considered throwing away the whole container of jelly, but I managed not to. I think I’m losing my mind. I’m going to end up one of those people who swabs her world with antibacterial wipes.
Wish me luck and sanity and health.
¶ 3/07/2004 10:07:00 PM
Thursday, March 04, 2004
You know, I may have mentioned this, but the boys have been sick. And when the boys are sick they don’t sleep well. When they don’t sleep well, I don’t sleep well. I may have mentioned this, but I’ve been sick too. Suffice to say it’s been a long week with really long nights.
Last nigh was the worst. I was sure we were all on the mend and the worst of the nighttime restlessness was behind us. I was running on fumes after all the midnight duty. Max had a bad night. He was restless and up several times. He finally woke up for good around 3:30. A.M.
I spent the rest of the early morning trying to convince him that he needed to go back to sleep. I was unsuccessful. When 6:20 finally rolled around and Raphael was awakened by something that made him wail broken heartedly, causing a groggy Tre to wake up too early, I’d had it. I was exhausted and if the truth be told I was resentful.
I wanted to sleep. I wanted someone else to get up in the night, just once, while I rolled over and slept. I didn’t want to get up and deal with the day with three cranky boys who needed more sleep. I literally pulled the covers over my head and felt sorry for myself. Ok, I cried.
But a weeping and self-pitying mother does not stop the need for breakfast. Eventually I got over myself enough to haul my…self out of bed. Into the day we went.
This afternoon I was on my way out of the grocery store. As I ushered my crew toward the van (herding cats? Ppffft, easy stuff, comparatively), I saw a woman walking toward us. She was watching us and as soon as we were in earshot she called out, “I don’t think it’s going to snow at all.” I looked at the sky. It was about half filled with dark clouds, and the wind had picked up. I honestly hadn’t thought about the likely hood of snow, but now that she mentioned it…Before I had a chance to reply though, she had walked over to stand in front of my cart. “They said it was going to snow, this morning on the radio. It’s supposed to snow today and tomorrow and then be nice after that.”
“Oh, really?” It was the best I could come up with. I was wondering why this woman was barricading my path to talk about the weather.
“Yes. Snow today and tomorrow. But look at that sky. The sun’s still shining over there.” We peered at the sky for a moment, and then I shrugged and started navigating around her.
“Well, you know Colorado weather can change on a dime,” I said. She fell into step next to me and walked with me to the van.
“Oh, I know. My husband, he died of cancer. We lived in Minnesota. And my daughter moved me out here after he died. I’m from Minnesota. I know bad weather.” She gave another disparaging glance at the clouds, “This isn’t bad weather. Another thing, people don’t know how to drive in snow here. In Minnesota we know how to drive in snow.”*
“Ah…um…my mom’s from Minnesota,” I replied weakly.
“And do you know why people here can’t drive in snow? Because they’re from California!” She nodded at me triumphantly. By this time I was buckling Raphael in his car seat. “You know,” she added, “you parked a little close to that line, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” I said, flinging in groceries as fast as I could, “you’re absolutely right. I’d better move.” I hopped in, made a quick check for fastened seat belts, and drove off as fast as I could.
As I drove away I mentally reviewed all the wrongs she’d suffered, real or otherwise. The loss of her husband, being moved to Colorado, the bad drivers here (myself included), and of course, the promised snow that wasn’t happening. The poor woman was overwhelmed with all the things she had to resent.
It was something of a wakeup call. Yeah, it’s tough sometimes, being on call 24/7. Some days I feel like I could drown in the need. But I wouldn’t trade my boys for a thousand uninterrupted nights of sleep. For anything.
So I can tally my losses or I can remember the joys.
I’m going to go kiss their sleeping cheeks and fall into bed. Looking outside, I notice it’s snowing.
*I know this is exactly what she said, I wrote it down on a grocery sack at a red light. I didn’t want to forget it, it was so weird.
¶ 3/04/2004 09:34:00 PM
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
Actual things I have said this week:
Sorry honey, but you can’t wash toast.
I don’t care if it is new; nobody wants to look at your poop.
What did I say about putting shoes on the cat?
Stop tormenting your brother with the string cheese.
No, Mama’s watch did NOT want to take a bath in the toilet.
Yes, I understand that the snot made an airbag when you sneezed, but I don’t want to see it.
If you stop licking him, he will stop screaming.
If you stop screaming, he will stop licking you.
Please get down. (This one isn’t remarkable in and of itself, but it was repeated more times than my heart actually beat.)
Raphael, I know it’s a really good idea, but you still can’t have the hammer.
And possibly the best one:
I’m sorry, but you can’t hit him even if he did smile.
I’m dying. Yes, I know that’s terribly sad. I’ll miss you, my dear readers. Mind if I call you readers? Skimmers or people who don’t seem to have anything better to do just doesn’t have the same ring. Readers, that works. I like to talk to my friends about you. “You know,” I’ll say, “the other day I posted a blog entry so riveting that not a single one of my dear readers could muster a comment. Isn’t that amazing?” And my friends will convey their amazement by rolling their eyes, as they tend to do.
Anyhow, dear readers, I’m going to die from this cold. Now I remember why I don’t usually get sick. I’m unbearable. I sniffle and whine and sigh melodramatically. I press my hand to my fevered brow and waver just a bit. The kids, though, don’t care. They breeze right past me on their way to the tissue box and pester me with unreasonable demands like, “Mama, can I have a drink of juice?”
Tre and Max are actually ok. They’re both on the mend, and in pretty good spirits considering the imminent death of their mom. Come to think of it, they’re very cheerful. Great, I’m dying and my sons hate me.
It’s Raphael that’s going to be the death of me. He had the worst time with this cold, and besides the coughing and geyser of a runny nose, it seems to have brought out the evil despot in him. Any event in any part universe that he disagrees with causes him to shriek and stomp his feet and fling things. I would be bending over backwards to avoid upsetting him, but there is simply NO WAY to know what will upset him. Tonight at dinner he got sent to the stairs for some infraction or another. He wailed the whole way there. Then he spent his whole time out calling to me, “Can ah get up NOW?” When I said no, he would slump to the floor in despair, sobbing. When I finally sang out, “Raphael, you can get up now!” he yelled back, “Nooooooo!” and flung himself to the floor again.
He’s so moody and irrational. And with me dying too.
This morning I was in the midst of Monday madness. Tre and Max go to a homeschool enrichment program on Mondays, and I swear every Monday morning that this is a very bad idea. I simply do not know how moms get their kids out of the house for school five days a week. I would be insane.
Anyhow, amidst the chaos of finish your breakfast, no I don’t want to know what Max said, where are your shoes, you can’t wear that to school, I said finish your breakfast, because it’s a swimsuit and you can’t wear a swimsuit to school – especially during the winter, have you brushed your teeth, I said FINISH YOUR BREAKFAST, I laid Raphael down on the floor next to the fireplace to change his diaper. Mid diaper change I heard a sound echoing down the chimney. For all the world it sounded like a jackhammer on the roof. Raphael and I both froze, staring at the fireplace in wordless wonder, as though it would explain itself. Rattatatatatatatat. Silence for about twelve seconds. Ratatatatatatatatat.
After a few renditions of this I realized what it was. A flicker. I’d seen one in the back yard, poking at the lawn a few times over the past couple of months. And now it was banging on the metal cap on the chimney. Flickers are birds that like to pound on things, sort of like woodpeckers. But flickers don’t do it to extract bugs; they make noise solely to make noise. It’s a mating thing, and the louder they can pound the better.
Raphael did not care for the racket, irony if I’ve ever heard it. He started yelling at the fireplace, “STOP DAT!” He glared at me, “What is dat?”
“It’s a flicker,” I replied, “a bird.”
“Stop dat, BIRT!”
“Birds don’t listen to us, honey.”
He smiled sweetly and patted his formidable tummy, “But dey will yisten to ME!” He turned back to the fireplace, “Stop dat, BIRT!”
I finished dressing him and hopped up to run outside. As I rounded the corner there it was, a flicker on the chimney. I startled him and he flew away. I watched him glide over the fence into the neighbor’s yard and had to smile.
A flicker pounding means mating season is starting. Which means spring is almost here. Winter can’t hold on much longer. And sure enough, it was a beautiful day, warm and sunny.
I should know better that to get excited about spring in Denver. It’s a terribly cruel season here. Weeks of gentle, balmy days are followed by a sudden slam of cold. Tulips bloom one day and are frozen and filled with snow the next. Yet every time the temperatures turn the slightest bit balmy I can’t help but hope. I’m like a person in an abusive relationship, Oh, this time is different. This time it will last.
But it doesn’t. March just started, and it’s the snowiest month of the year. I should be buttoning up, mentally.
Instead I spent the day with seed catalogues and hope. Spring is coming, and it sounds like a jackhammer on the roof.