The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Friday, July 29, 2005

Drive time

It's not often that I drive at night these days.

In the winter, I'm often behind the wheel after dark, of course. We frequently return from late afternoon playdates or trips to the grocery store after the sun has set and the town is bathed in darkness. On some of the shortest days of the year, I might even have to turn on my headlights when we leave the house for an afternoon outing and on those days, it's pitch black when we come home. It's just dark out then, not really nighttime, though. And in summer, when the days stretch endlessly and my children are often asleep long before dusk even falls, it's pretty rare for me to ever even use my headlights. Even on the nights when we get a sitter and go out, we automatically fall into our traditional gender roles, which means that Paul almost always drives. Being a passenger at night is not at all the same as being behind the wheel.

Once a month or so, I try to get out for a girls' night out of some sort, and it is only on those evenings that I get the rare and now unfamiliar sensation of sliding behind the wheel at night. There's something both freeing and illicit feeling about driving after dark for me now, probably because I do it so seldom, and I can feel my pulse quicken a bit as I glide through the familiar streets that look so different under the shadow of nightfall. I feel silly getting excited about something so small, something so routine to most people, but it happens to me every time nonetheless. All around me, there are signs that the rest of the world does not necessarily end the day on a 3 year old's schedule, and I suddenly remember that I was a night owl before the early rising habits of my children forced my body out of its natural rhythm. As I drive, I feel unencumbered and free, like a little bit of the self that has been shoved aside to make room for Mommy Me has temporarily re-inhabited my body. I suddenly realize how incredibly insular and small my world of parenting young children is, and I start to remember who I was before I entered this stage of my life and to think about who I will be when it is over.

Downtown, I watch people carrying bottles into the town's mostly BYOB restaurants and standing outside ice cream parlors licking cones. Teenagers gather in clusters on the sidewalk in front of the movie theater as my friends and I used to gather and as Julia and Evan will no doubt gather someday, too. People are still coming off the commuter trains and I suddenly remember the world of late evening meetings and drinks after work in the city with coworkers. I'm always surprised by the number of people out and about on a weeknight, taking for granted the extra hours of evening I scarcely even consider part of my day any more.

On side streets, things are quiet and there's far less activity. Many houses are shut down already, as mine generally is by this hour. It's easy to tell where the master bedrooms are upstairs by the flicker of TV lights behind the curtains. There's a sense of community in this town even when the community itself has gone inside and shut their doors, and I'm often surprised by how content and secure and at home I feel driving alone on these streets. I love the little peeks into other people's domestic life that I get through unshuttered windows, the opportunities for unabashed voyeurism that solo nighttime driving afford. It's not uncommon for me to take a few extra turns on the way home, to see a little more and linger a little longer in the world at large before I pull into my own darkened driveway.

The company is always good when I meet friends for a night out, the food and drinks and conversation generally all well worth the trip individually. But it is the trip itself that I cherish the most. In those few precious minutes behind the wheel, I am alone and responsible only for myself, both an observer of and a participant in a world that I sometimes need to be reminded still exists.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Three's a crowd

The game is clearly devised by 3 year olds and the rules are completely incomprehensible to the adults in the room, though the girls seem to understand them clearly. Over and over again, Julia approaches the other two girls, dragging a pretend dog behind her. "Can we come in?" she asks. "No! No room," the other girls yell. Julia joins them anyway. They all giggle hysterically. And then the other two girls run off to a different point in the room. Julia and the dog follow. And the cycle begins again.

"Is this a game or a problem?" one of the other moms asks at one point. "It's a game," another mother reassures her. "They're all having fun." I am less sure. As the game goes on, I can see something shift behind Julia's determined smile, a glint of a tear in the corner of each eye. She's continuing to play along, continuing to giggle and squeal with the other girls, but I can see how much the effort is starting to cost her. I'm watching closely now, torn between not wanting to interfere and hating to watch her suffer. Finally, I look at my watch and realize with relief that it is nearly dinner time. "This is your 2 minute warning, Julia," I announce. I could swear I see a similar relief in her face as she shouts "OK, Mom" and continues to play the game.

The minute I buckle her into the car seat, the truth comes out. "Anna and Mikalya weren't being very nice to me," she tells me. "I think they were mean today." I feel my breath catch as I try to respond neutrally. "I couldn't tell if you were having fun or not," I reply. "I wasn't," she answers flatly.

My heart aches as I start the car and head toward home and I feel as close to tears as Julia sounds. I try to remind myself that Julia will face thousands of similar situations in her life, sometimes as the victim and sometimes as the aggressor. I try to separate my own childhood memories of being the odd man out from my daughter's experience. I try to keep in mind that this is probably bothering me much more than it's bothering her; that without the filter of 33 years of life experience, this was probably just a strangely unenjoyable playdate for Julia. I'm not doing a very good job of convincing myself of any of these things. "I'm proud of the way you handled yourself," I finally tell her. "You found a way to have fun and not let the fact that they were being mean upset you." I'm not sure that either of us really believe this is true. I'm also not sure I'm giving her the right message about how to handle bullying with this praise; I may be inadvertently telling her not to assert herself when she feels slighted. But I'm too upset to try again without playing my hand too clearly. I sense that the best thing I can do is let it lie. "What do you want for dinner?" I ask her.

The next day, I am still bothered by the memory of the playdate, by the look I saw in my daughters eye and by the way it made me feel. We are driving in the car again and I'm trying not to dwell on it as Julia babbles endlessly away in the backseat. She is talking about her friends, I realize, and I stop to listen closer for a minute. She is listing off the kids she likes the most. Anna, I am surprised to discover, is near the top of the list, even after yesterday's slight. "You've sure got a lot of friends, Julia," I absently comment as she rattles off names. "Yeah," she sighs contentedly. "At least 100 or so. I sure am lucky." I smile and silently resolve to stop projecting my own shit on my 3 year old daughter.

Yet another verbal virtuoso

"I did it," Evan announces multiple times a day as he completes simple tasks. "All done," he'll scream loudly as he tosses the remainder of his dinner off his plate. "I am," he'll shout when I ask which of my children is going to be the first to do something. "I Dada," he'll announce happily as Paul walks through the door at the end of the day. "Mama, I deedah," he'll beg as I pull a pizza from the oven.

His pronunciation can still be a little tough to understand sometimes, and he word substitutions still throw everyone but close family and friends. His grammar has quite a ways to go. But at just under 18 months old, Evan is all about the English language. He's starting to string together words into rudimentary sentences. His vocabulary is growing in leaps and bounds. He's got a huge repertoire of songs he tries to sing (with limited success -- "Row, Row, Row Your Boat", for example, still consists of endless "row, row, row, row" crooning and lots of giggles), he's been trying to "read" books aloud and he frequently adds his input to conversations he has not been invited to join. From dawn to dusk, he keeps up a running commentary about Cookie Monster and Daddy and Old MacDonald's Farm, and if I (God forbid) try to tune out the chatter for a few minutes, he talks louder and louder until I'm forced to acknowledge and respond to him. "When did he really start talking," a friend asked me yesterday after watching us converse. "The day he was born," I replied, only half kidding. "You have the most verbal kids," she sighed.

So much for the "boys talk later than girls" theory. So much for the "second kids walk earlier and talk later" thing (complete b.s., that one). And so much for all of my bell curve speculations and worries. The only truth my newest motormouth proves is the most universal truth of motherhood; if you think you know something about your child with any degree of certainty, you are almost certainly about to be proven wrong.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

(Almost) always look on the bright side of life

A decent night's sleep and a little perspective leave me duty bound to include the following addendum to yesterday's entry:

I did get a really wonderful weekend away with Paul.

I don't have to cook dinner all week while he's gone. Give me a bowl of cereal and I'm good.

My new kitchen is beautiful, even when wet.

My current lack of a cell phone and the resulting silence is a little bit freeing, really.

Yes, plenty to look up about. I've got nothing on the bathroom odor, though. There's a life lesson to be learned here, I guess. Some things? Some things just stink.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Want to feel better about your day? Read this entry...

My children are in recovery mode after a weekend of grandparent spoiling to the nth degree. I am in recovery mode after a weekend of adult freedom and time spent alone with my husband. The reprogramming process is not going well for any of us.

Paul just left for London, leaving me a single parent for the week. I'm not even bothering to contemplate the terrorist issues that surround his destination at the moment. I'd still rather be there than here right now.

My kitchen is 95% done, which means there have been no men in our house and we're able to use the room again. Unfortunately, it also means they're in no particular rush to get back out here to finish things up. The 5% of things not done include a leaky dishwasher (one which did not leak before this project began, I might add) and a small lake forming underneath my sink from an apparently unrelated sink leak. If no one arrives to fix these problems tomorrow, I refuse to be held accountable for the words I use in the process of ripping my contractor a new one.

It smells like something died or something in our powder room. The odor, a sort of moldy, sharp and intensely unpleasant aroma, is wafting through the main floor of my house. I have scrubbed the bathroom with bleach but cannot find the root of the problem. Sure can smell it, though...

I dropped my cell phone (you're going to love this) into a toilet in the bathroom of Babies R Us today. Had to fish it out with my hand. I cannot stop sanitizing. And the phone? Not pretty.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Do as I say, not as I do

It has been a long week. A hot week. Another kitchenless week, but I digress. The point is, we are all hot and cranky and ornery around here.

Yesterday, Julia literally would not stop snapping at me. What little energy I had left was quickly drained as she yelled and ordered me around and generally acted like a princess addressing her servant. Finally, I turned to her and asked "What makes you think you can talk to me that way? Does anyone talk to you like that?"

"You do," she replied quickly.

What? "When do I order you around rather than asking for your cooperation," I asked her in surprise. "When I'm naughty," she replied. "Well. That's different," I quickly defended myself. "When you're being naughty, it makes me very angry. You're not supposed to be naughty."

"Yes, but Mommy, right now I'm angry at you. I think you're being naughty. So it's OK to talk to you this way."

My options at this point? The old "I'm the mother so I can do these things but you can't" defense or allowing my child to treat me like her personal whipping post. Is there an Option C somewhere I'm unaware of? Because as I see it now, either way, I lose. And I'm not thrilled about the prospect of being outwitted by a 3 year old. Not even a very bright one.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Wishing my life away

I always tell people that I live in this part of the country because I require 4 seasons. I still think that's true. But I realized this week that it is not the beauty of winter's first snowfall or the splendor of fall's glorious palate that I crave. It is not the feeling that settles on you as the sun sets on a summer barbecue and the kids set to work chasing fireflies that keeps me in this part of the country, nor is it the promise that the first warm day of spring brings. No, the real reason that I need to live in a place with 4 distinct seasons is that when you have 4 seasons, each one lasts only 1/4 of the year.

I am done with this heat and humidity. Done with sunscreen and sweat. Tired of our summer wardrobes and sick to death of washing pool towels. Summer has been in full swing for all of 5 weeks and already I want it over. Bring on the leaves to rake and the early twilight and break out the cozy sweaters. I'm ready. I know that Evan screams like a banshee when presented with a coat and that neither child does well when forced to remain indoors for days at a time. I recognize that the winter months are pure agony. And at the moment, I don't care. Anything sounds better than this, even with the full knowledge that as soon as that anything arrives, I'll be wishing like hell for that to be over, too.

I am a nature lover, really I am, and I do think all 4 seasons are beautiful. But more than that, I am an incredibly impatient person. I am always waiting for the next best thing. And that, my friends, is why I will never leave the East Coast. The leaves are pretty. So is the snow. The budding leaves are fabulous and so is the full bloom of summer. But the fact that they're all gone almost as soon as they arrive? Beautiful...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Christmas in July

Guess who's on the cutting edge of a few new pearly whites? Looks like Evan's Fang days are numbered. I guess I owe the kitchen guys a little bit of an apology for blaming all of that crying exclusively on them...

I'd love to write a revisionist history version of last week that paints me as a brilliant mother who perfectly timed Evan's teething to our household interruption so as to minimize the number of total days of sleeplessness. Unfortunately, the truth is here in black and white already. Oh, well. At least I've got new cabinets and Evan's got new choppers to show for our hell week. Maybe some day, we'll even have a working kitchen, too.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

A love story in 50 words or less

"Mama? Mama!" Evan's voice is urgent as he struggles out of my arms during our nightly pre-bedtime snuggle. "Hush, Evan. I know," I whisper. "I love you, too." Evan smiles blindingly and immediately collapses back against me. His "sucking fingers" snake slowly toward his mouth. "Yeah," he whispers softly. "Yeah."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Take than, Mr. Waits To Run The Loud Tools Until My Son Is Just About To Drift Off

I truly don't know that I've ever lived through a more trying day with my children. For over two hours straight, someone -- more often than not, two someones -- offered up hysterical screams punctuated only by incoherent babble. The noise was deafening, the stress hellacious. The lack of sleep, the change of routine and the intense noise level of our kitchen remodeling project had finally caught up with everyone and there was simply no making anyone happy. I finally stopped even trying and just sat there tuning out the cacophony and waiting for it all to be over. It was one of those times when the bedlam around you is so great that you can't even scream back and instead end up retreating inside of yourself to find your inner zen. Seriously bad stuff. And to witness it all? Our cabinet workman.

Normally, the thought of a stranger witnessing my children at their worst would be enough to set me into complete hysteria. Hell, I don't even let Julia out of the house without fixing her hair; never let Evan go anywhere with a dirty shirt and here they both were as completely ugly as I've ever seen them in front of a man none of us had ever seen before this week. But today I was frankly too tired and spent to even care. We've listened to his noise all goddamned week. Now he got to listen to some of ours. Maybe he'll be so horrified by what he's seen here that he'll work faster so he can get the hell out of our house.

I am not embarking on any more remodeling projects until my children are in elementary school. Possibly ever, but definitely at least not until elementary school. If I even suggest such a thing, someone please put a nail gun to my head immediately. I know just where you can find one. And let me tell you, it's really fucking loud.

My kids clearly got the whining gene from me

By all rights, yesterday should have been a lousy birthday. My children, already exhausted and cranky from a day of loud construction work, reached the breaking point by mid-afternoon and very nearly took me down with them. As I drove aimlessly around town trying to give them a quiet place to sleep while my bladder screamed a silent protest against this plan, I felt pretty darn cranky myself. "Not really the way I wanted to celebrate a birthday," I kept muttering under my breath as I mentally composed long, self-pitying blog entries that I knew I'd never have time to write.

A few hours later, I was in the car again, this time on my way out for the evening. And as I drove, I realized how ridiculously whiny and self-pitying I'd been earlier in the day. No, it wasn't my dream day, not as I might have envisioned it, anyway. But my phone rang off the hook all day as old friends and new called to wish me a happy day. My children surprised me with beautiful handmade cards, my husband with gorgeous flowers, a Coach wallet and a Coldstone Creamery cake. I spent the late afternoon in the company of wonderful friends and I met another 10 friends out for Mexican food, margaritas and many, many laughs that night. It was a long day. But all day long, there were reminders of how many terrific people I have in my life. I had a whole lot of company to go with my misery. And I know in my heart that I'm damn lucky to have that.

So there was a little sawdust in my house. So the noise was deafening and my kids were cranky. So damn what? I had a great birthday. I should be so lucky as to have many more just like it. I hope I'll always be able to recognize them when they come along.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Kitchen Remodel: Day 1 (in which I wonder what the hell I was thinking)

Q: Which is greater:

- The amount which our contractor underestimated the noise involved in renovating our kitchen

- The amount which I overestimated my son's ability to sleep through anything

A: This is a trick question. There is nothing great about this situation. Nothing.

Friday, July 08, 2005

I was born in the year of the Pack Rat

Next week, work is scheduled to begin on our kitchen, which is getting a well deserved, long overdue facelift. As much as I'm looking forward to the end result of said project, I've been dreading its impending arrival. It goes without saying that I'm not looking forward to the inconvenience of being without a kitchen for several weeks, of course, but what I've really been dreading is the terrible hassle of emptying out my current kitchen so that the work can begin.

I've been taking the task a bit at a time (OK, this is bullshit -- I've saved it all for the last minute -- but it sounded so much better that way). Today, I finally started to tackle my kitchen junk drawer, which I had not cleaned out in a while. It had frankly not occurred to me that one should regularly clean out a junk drawer; I mean, why bother to clean out a drawer whose express purpose is to stash junk? I can now answer that question. Today, underneath the scotch tape and emergency kids' birthday cards, I unearthed, among other things:

- Approximately 27 pens (none of which I have ever been able to find when I needed a writing instrument)

- The equivalent of seven boxes of bandaids, all floating freely in the drawer (ditto above)

- Every choking hazard I have ever yanked from a party favor bag before my children could notice

- The cigars someone gave my nonsmoking husband when Julia was born

- Christmas cards from people I do not even remember, plus several I never finished addressing to send out myself

- A to do list from my wedding 6 years ago (including a note that I must check out hyacinth -- never did, obviously because that note was lost in the drawer)

- My 5th grade class picture (yes, mine. 22 years ago. I am at a loss to explain.)

- Several dollars worth of change

- 5 unflattering pair of sunglasses

- Nearly a dozen batteries, apparently dead

- Cat nip (a LOT of cat nip, which, for the record, really smells when you leave it in a drawer for a few years)

- 35mm film (what's that?)

- A watch which I last used to time contractions during my first labor

- Assorted buttons that I fully intend to sew back on their original garments as soon as I can figure out where they came from

- Quite a few foil packed free samples

At the bottom of it all was a thin layer of green powder. I dare not speculate as to its original origin.

I'm sure that my new cherry cabinets will be beautiful, the new granite countertops divine. But what I'm really looking forward to the most is having clean, organized drawers and cabinets. The irony that I could have had these things for free does not escape me. But they'll look so much nicer accented by cherry and granite, don't you think?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

An unwanted memory

Julia woke up fairly early this morning and Paul and I were both trying to catch a few more minutes of sleep when she came into our room. She asked if she could turn the television on and Paul wordlessly handed her the remote control before rolling over and burying his head in the pillow. A minute later, he was sitting straight up and squinting at the television as news of the London transportation bombings came into focus.

We don't have family in London, but Paul, who travels there for work at least a half dozen times a year, has many friends there. One of the areas hit in today's attack is very close to his company's London office, and he's in that station often, even plans to be there again several weeks from now, in fact. He watched the news closely for a bit, then hopped online to IM some British friends and make sure everyone was OK. As I helped Julia to switch the channel to children's programming, I was reminded of the day nearly 4 years ago that we were the ones whom everyone was checking in on.

I was a little late to work on the morning of September 11, due to a delayed commuter train which ironically probably ended up saving the lives of some of the passengers who muttered irritably alongside me as we finally entered New York's Penn Station just after 9am. I caught a train across town and then stopped to pick up some breakfast at a cafe in the basement of my building as I came up from the subway stop directly underneath my office. As I waited for my bagel, I heard people talking about a plane, still believed to be a small aircraft, that had apparently hit the World Trade Center. People were gathered at a large projection television, scrambling for a look at early news reports, but I didn't stop to look. I had my own television set in my own office just upstairs, and since my office was just down the hall from the news division's PR staff, I knew I had a better chance of getting the full scoop up there. I grabbed my bagel, paid the cashier and hurried upstairs.

That glimpse I had gotten of the TV screen downstairs turned out to be the most coverage I would see for many hours. When I reached the lobby, chaos surrounded me. The second plane had just hit and it was suddenly clear that this was no accident. There was fear that 30 Rockefeller Center, one of the tallest buildings in midtown, would be the next building under attack. Dick Ebersol, the President of NBC Sports at the time, was standing at my elevator bank instructing all but essential personnel to evacuate the building. I took one look at my pregnant belly and decided that I was far from essential.

Outside the building, I wondered what to do next. I clearly wasn't turning around and heading back to New Jersey, nor was I able to take refuge in my office. All around me, people were trying to reach friends and family on their cell phones with no success; the cell lines in the city were essentially useless. I grabbed a friend I found wandering equally aimlessly, and together we walked over to Paul's building, which was only a few blocks away. He wasn't answering his phone, but I managed to convince the security guards to let us upstairs (a foolish decision on their parts given what was going on that day, but one that I was nonetheless grateful for). We sat in his office and waited for him for the next hour, completely cut off from the news we so craved. The phone lines were jammed, the Internet was equally jammed and there were no televisions or radios in the office. There was nothing to do but sit and wonder, wait and worry.

Paul finally came back to his office, relieved to find me there but full of work he still needed to do as his team scrambled to protect financial data essential to the bank's operations. I was terrified to leave him and frankly had nowhere to go. And so I sat for nearly six hours, watching him work and gently rubbing my belly as the baby inside of me twisted and kicked, no doubt agitated by my own distress. Bits and pieces of news trickled in -- we knew when the towers fell, casualty reports would occasionally be updated -- just enough to hint at the enormity of what had happened that morning. What kind of a world was I bringing a child into, I wondered as I sat there. And would anything ever be the same again?

We slept at our friends' home in the city that night, unwilling to navigate an 8+ hour commute home if we didn't' have to. All night, I dreamt of collapsing buildings and the eerie silence of a city that is always filled with noise. The next day, taking the train back to New Jersey, I cried as we past station after station filled with cars that had never been claimed the previous day. Over the next week, I spent countless hours logging our network's coverage of the 9/11 aftermath; not at all the kind of thing that was in my usual job description, but it was what needed to be done and thus was what I did. I commuted to and from work past thousands and thousands of handmade "missing" signs and the faces of those we soon knew to be permanently lost fascinated me even as they haunted me. A month later, my terror was renewed as anthrax was found a few floors away from where I worked. "They're coming for me next," I thought as I waited in line with thousands of other NBC employees to be swabbed for exposure to the deadly disease. Throughout it all, Julia swam inside of me as I wondered again and again what it would be like for her to grow up as an American in the aftermath of what our country had just experienced.

Life does eventually return to normal, even when your reality is irrevocably altered by events like those of September 11. While the world is certainly a scarier place that we realized before that day, the intensity of my fear has naturally lessened in the ensuing years. I rarely think of my children's safety in the global sense that I worried about it in late September of 2001; I'm far more likely to fear losing them in a terrible accident or abduction than in a terrorist attack. But when things like today's bombing happen, those emotions come flooding back along with the memories. Julia was curiously silent as we watched the news this morning. "Do you understand what they're talking about?" I asked her after a few minutes. She refused to answer me and I decided not to push the issue any further. Whatever she absorbed of today's news is reality and there's no way I'll be able to shield her from it forever. But whatever went over her head, I'm grateful for. She'll have time enough to know that the world is a scary place. And once she fully grasps that fact, she'll never be able to completely forget it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Things that make you go "huh?"

Has anyone else noticed that Blogger's spell checker does not recognize the word blogger?

Maybe I should rename this blog "Harvey"

My first car was a baby blue 1983 Chevrolet Citation named Harvey. My brother and I, who were very into naming vehicles for a while, picked the name Harvey because it was about the lamest name we could think of. It summed up the car perfectly.

Like all of my family's cars, we drove Harvey into the ground. I say "we" because Harvey wasn't even exclusively mine; I shared the car with my parents. My folks drive cars for what seems like forever, and Harvey had been around for quite a while before I got my driver's license. By the time I was old enough to slide behind the wheel and lurch that bench seat all the way forward so that my feet could reach the gas (and my breasts could rest on the steering wheel), Harvey was in pretty sad shape. The car shook violently at 45 mph and the gas gauge showed the car to be perpetually full despite the fact that it rarely was. But my father takes some sort of perverse pride in getting his money's worth out of a car, and Harvey was still running, so he was still driving it.

It was pretty rare for a car to hit the 100,000 mile mark in those days, but Harvey (and my father) just didn't know when to quit. One day, about 6 months after I got my driver's license, I had the dubious pleasure of watching the car odometer roll back over to 00000. When I got home and casually mentioned this to my father, he hit the roof. Turns out he'd been waiting for years for the opportunity to see an odometer roll over like that. Who knew? I wasn't sure whether to gloat that the honor had been mine or ridicule my father that he'd even entertained such a silly goal. If I recall, I ended up doing both. My father still curses me for robbing him of that moment and I still laugh at him for wanting it to begin with.

I've been reminded of Harvey's odometer this week as I've watched my my blog stat counter creep toward the 10,000 mark. 10,000 hits is a pretty measly goal; in fact, some A list bloggers probably hit that mark every week. But I'm no A list blogger, and while I suppose 10,000 is as arbitrary a number as any (particularly since I can't even remember how many months ago I started the counter), it's a nice round one and like my father, I was enjoying the anticipation. Yesterday, I "rolled over" the 10,000 mark. And you know what? It was every bit as anticlimactic as watching the odometer do its thing.

Talk about a mini ministone.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Growth spurt

Dear Mr. Shoe Salesman,

Enclosed, please find an invoice for $26.29 to cover the cost of new sandals for my son.

Please understand that I made every effort to keep this bill as low as possible. As one might expect on the fifth day of July, I could have had my pick of snow boots in my son's size when we visited your store today, but your sandal inventory was so depleted that your saleswoman was conveniently unable to show me a little boy's sandal for less than $52. That seemed a lot to ask of you, so I visited two other shoe stores in search of a better deal and then turned to the Internet. My good friend Froogle found me a hell of a deal on a larger pair of the same sandals that you sold me a month ago for $36 -- only $20.26 + $6 in shipping. I trust you'll appreciate my thriftiness.

I thank you again for guaranteeing me that the sandals you sold us in June would fit until the fall. You never did specify as you rung up that sale whether you'd be backing up that guarantee with a check or store credit, but I'll leave that up to your discretion. You guaranteed the fit so emphatically that I'm sure you have a system worked out for such situations. I'm frankly just grateful that you were able to guarantee those sandals with such confidence. It sure would have been annoying to have to pay for new shoes a month later.

Sincerely yours,

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The magic bracelet

Last summer, Julia had a tough adjustment to camp. In hindsight, she was probably too young for the program. But at the time, Evan was getting too big for me to simply tote him in a bucket while I accompanied Julia to classes and playdates. His morning nap fell right in the middle of prime playground and storyhour times. Even grocery shopping and other mundane errands were challenging with 2 young kids. I was staying home a lot more than we ever had before. And Julia, accustomed as she was to being out of the house every day, was bored. A 2 1/2 hour summer program offered twice a week at the same location where she'd taken classes before and would start preschool in the fall seemed the perfect solution. Julia could play with her peers. Evan could nap in peace. And I could maybe get an hour or two to myself. Nirvana.

The first week went great and I congratulated myself on a brilliant plan. And then Julia lost it, big time. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, she didn't want to go to camp any more. She started crying the second she woke up on a camp day, and the tears continued through much of the morning. As bad as that day was, the next was even worse. Pretty soon, Julia would start crying if we so much as drove by the building where she attended camp. It was heartbreaking to see her so unhappy, particularly because the thing that was making her so miserable was something that was supposed to be fun, and I didn't know what to do.

I polled everyone I knew -- her teacher, the school director, friends, family, even strangers on the Internet -- should I pull her from the program or would she adjust? The school encouraged me to let her teacher help her work through it and I agreed to give it a week or two, primarily because I was afraid she'd be petrified to walk into preschool in the fall if she left the building on a low note that summer. I followed her teacher's directions dutifully; be enthusiastic, but firm, get her into the classroom as cheerfully as possible and then simply leave. It wasn't easy, but I tried to have faith. I drove home from dropping her off, put Evan down for a nap and spent the next hour and a half surfing the Internet, searching for ideas to help make this adjustment go smoother. And the Internet, as always, did not fail me.

That weekend, I followed the advice I'd found online. I took Julia to a kids' accessories store and encouraged her to pick out any bracelet she wanted. "Pick carefully," I told her, "Because this is going to be a special bracelet. When you put it on, you're going to be able to find the strength inside of yourself not to cry. This is going to be your No Cry Bracelet. And you're going to wear it to camp."

Julia's hand hovered about an inch away from the bracelet she'd been reaching for as she considered this. "That sounds hard. Maybe I don't want a bracelet after all," she told me. "It's up to you," I replied. "But I think the idea of a magic bracelet is pretty cool. I'd give it a try if I were you." She wavered a bit, but eventually, the lure of bright rainbow colored beads won out over her fear of the challenge. "This is it," she told me. I bought 2, just in case.

When we arrived at camp the following Tuesday, Julia was in tears. She didn't want to put her bracelet on because she didn't think she could stop crying. So I handed the bracelet to her teacher and explained its purpose. Her teacher slipped it onto her own wrist. "When you're ready, I'll give it to you," she promised Julia. And I kissed my crying child goodbye and left the room, wondering for the thousandth time whether I was making the right decision.

Julia stopped crying that day and was proudly wearing her bracelet when I picked her up. She wore it to camp every day all summer and I never saw her cry about camp again. I'd love to say that she went on to have a terrific camp experience, that she loved every second of the program, but that didn't happen. She got through the summer stoically, sometimes content, but often just going through the motions. She didn't smile much at camp and she often sat on the sidelines watching the rest of the class without participating. But she made some beautiful art projects that she was extremely proud of and she had a terrific time teaching her dolls all about camp when she got home each day. She talked happily about the camp experience, even if she didn't seem all that happy when she was there. She went to camp willingly every day. Evan got a nap. I got a few peaceful showers. It was enough. And when fall came, she happily walked into her new classroom without her bracelet on her wrist. Some of the other kids were crying, but she knew the routine by then, and she no longer needed a bracelet to remind her not to cry. She had a great year in school.

I thought of the No Cry Bracelet this week after Julia expressed a desire to talk more in camp. It seemed like a long shot, but the idea had given her confidence once before and I wondered if it could work again. I casually suggested a talking bracelet and Julia jumped on it, running to pick a bracelet out of her jewelry box. On Friday morning, I fastened it around her wrist and drove her to camp. "Remember, wearing the bracelet doesn't mean you will -- or should -- talk all the time," I cautioned her as we pulled into the parking lot. "But if there's something you really WANT to say, the bracelet will give you the strength to speak up."

When I picked Julia up that day, her teacher met me at the door with a huge grin on her face. "Julia told me all about her bracelet during our conversation this morning," she told me. "What a great idea." I was please to hear that Julia had spoken up and I said as much. "But that's not the best part," her teacher replied. "Julia came to me about an hour later to tell me all about a fun game that she had been playing with Gabrielle -- something about a fire breathing dragon. In the year I've been Julia's teacher, that's the first time she's ever initiated a conversation with me about anything." It was possible that Julia's teacher was even more excited than I was about this new development.

"Don't you dare lose that bracelet," she cautioned as we said goodbye. I smiled and agreed, but in truth, I'm not too worried about it. I know that the magic is not in the bracelet, but in Julia herself. And from the way she smiled when she told her father the story that night, I suspect that my daughter knows it too.

Friday, July 01, 2005

I was so partial to the lovely striped ones

I'm not really a fan of prehistoric creatures. I'm not a total grinch where dinosaurs are concerned -- I'll happily check out a good museum exhibit, I enjoyed Jurassic Park and I adore dancing with my kids to Laurie Berkner's We Are The Dinosaurs -- but I don't know a thisasaurus from a thatasaurus and I don't really care to. I'm particularly turned off by the proliferation of dinosaur decals on little boys' clothing and pajamas, and I've always steered clear of such designs for Evan. In fact, I went so far as to swear I would never purchase an article of clothing with a dinosaur on it. I'm sure you can see where this is headed.

There we were in Carter's this week, killing time while Julia was in camp by looking for new summer pajamas for Evan. And before I knew it, Evan started to jabber with delight. "Di dah! Di dah! ROOOAAARRR!" He was marching around in circles, pointing at a display rack of dinosaur pj's and roaring at full volume, giggling hysterically the whole time. And in that moment, I knew that I was done for, that this child is going to own whole drawerfulls of dinosaur apparel before I'm done buying for him.

Evan got the dinosaur pajamas. And I got the pleasure of seeing my little boy's delight again at bedtime that night. His happiness is so much more important than my principles, don't you think?