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Archive for March, 2012

How was I supposed to know you don’t prune an azalea in March? It’s not like it comes with instructions. I did the best I could. I’m only human. I nurtured it when it was small, fed it, watered it, took care of it year after year. There comes a time when a bush has to start taking responsibility for its own growth.

Trees apparently need buds to bloom.

It probably wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t snipped off all of its buds. I didn’t mean to. It was more of a slow evolution. I was cutting all of the branches back to the nearest bud, as I was once instructed to do, but after that initial trimming, it seemed like I had pruned too delicately, as I’m wont to do, so I began to cut deeper and deeper into the bush, hoping to coax all of the energy to the surface so that it would have large, luscious magenta blooms. One needs conviction and a stomach for cruelty to effectively prune a tree because it requires you to forgo the joy you have now for the promise of something better later. Vowing to be strong, I hacked it. When I stepped back to see what I’d done, the bush was half its original size.

Pleased with my handiwork – and my conviction — I took Eddie for a walk to the post office. On my way home, I happened upon Charlotte, one of our town’s most talented gardeners (her garden his larger than her house), and she told me that thanks to my untimely hacking, my azalea was not likely to bloom at all this year. Without buds, there was nothing to bloom, she said. You’re supposed to prune an azalea after it flowers, not before, usually about halfway through the summer.

“And a hydrangea? When does one prune that?” I asked reluctantly, knowing the damage was already done.

“Oh, you can do that in the winter, after the flowers have died. You just rub them between your fingers and pull them off,” Charlotte said, rubbing her fingers together like a child might do with a firefly.

Charlotte's garden, in spring.

“Okay. I did that,” I said, relieved. Going for extra credit, I said, “I cleaned it up a bit, too. I cut off all the wood twigs that didn’t have any green buds on them. You know. The dead ones.”

“Nooo. Why’d you do that? A lot of those might have gotten buds that just haven’t sprouted yet,” she said. “It’s only March. That would be like keeping the baby clothes Eddie has now and throwing out all his toddler clothes, because you don’t think he’ll grow anymore.”

As I turned to wheel Eddie home, she said, “There’s always next year!”

From dead twigs sprout beautiful blooms.

When I woke up this morning, Eddie was in a particularly fussy mood, whining incessantly. He followed me around the kitchen wanting to be picked up as I tried to make his breakfast, a habit of his that always puts me in a quandary because I know he’ll stop whining if I pick him up, but if I pick him up, I can’t make his food, which is really the better long-term solution. Sometimes you have to forgo the joy you could have now for the prospect of something better later. I let Eddie whine while I prepared his meal.

I put his leftover mushroom and cheese omelet in the oven to warm up, and I sliced a banana. I placed him in his high-chair and by the time I was done buckling him in, putting on his bib, sliding the tray piece onto his chair and filling his sippie cup with water, his eggs were ready. I gave him his plate, and for the duration of his meal, he was quiet. But as soon as he finished, he started to whine again. As I stood at the sink washing dishes, saying under my breath, “For the love of god, will you just shut up,” I heard a crash behind me. He had tossed his plate onto the floor, along with the metal bottom of my wok that had been sitting on the counter next to his high chair.

“Eddie!” I yelled. “Just stop!”

He looked at me, and his face got red, and his mouth made that upside-down fruit slice shaped pout, and he started to cry. Frustrated and feeling at the end of my tether – at just 9.30 a.m. – I began to cry, too. I usually comfort him when I see him cry, but this time I didn’t feel like it. This time, I was upset, too, because I felt like I couldn’t win. His whining had gotten to me, and it made me lash out, and once I did that, I felt bad, and I resented that I had no way out. I have to put up with the whining, and then I have to feel bad about reacting to it. I sat on the floor at the base of his high-chair and picked up bits of omelet and mushrooms, and I whimpered. After about a minute, I stood up expecting to see him red-faced and pouting, but he looked at me and gave me a big smile. I laughed. Apparently, one can snap and err, but children, like azaleas, recover nicely if you give them a little time.

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Ben Franklin said there are only two things in this world of which one can be certain: death and taxes. I’d add a third: if I have put Mardi Gras beads on my son, Eddie, he will no longer be wearing them once my husband gets home.

A baby with beads

“He can choke,” my husband, Bruce, will say.

“They’re not even real beads. It’s all one piece,” I’ll say.

“He can hang himself,” he’ll say, intimating the child might walk by some random hook or knob and be left hanging in mid-air by the hair-thin strand of beads. I suppose that’s true on some planet where spaghetti can lift meatballs or thread can carry clothing, but there are hundreds more likely dangerous scenarios in which our son will find himself in our home, such as pulling a lamp off of a table or eating one of the various coins my husband leaves all over the house.

Okay, so putting beads on my son is not going to earn me mother of the year, but I certainly wouldn’t be the first. If you search on Amazon under baby and necklace, you get 13,000 hits. Babies wear necklaces, and people don’t call child services when they see one. But none of this matters because the real reason my husband doesn’t want Eddie wearing beads is not about safety. It’s about gender.

“No son of mine is going to wear a necklace,” he’ll say. “People will think he’s a girl.”

“That’s stupid,” I’ll say.

It isn’t the first time Bruce has contested Eddie’s attire. A friend gave us two beautifully knit yellow sweaters. One fits like a little jacket and has buttons down the front. The other flairs out a bit like an angel’s wings, but instead of having buttons, it has two little strings on top to tie it closed, like a cape. Bruce didn’t like either, because of their color – yellow is for girls — but he found the sweater with the strings particularly offensive (I would put it on Eddie when Bruce was at work).

One night, we went out to a local restaurant and wheeled Eddie over in his stroller wearing the yellow sweater with the buttons. As we waited for a table, Bruce went to the bathroom. Just then, our old neighbor, Theresa, who is a waitress there, saw me and came running over and peeked into the carriage.

“What’s her name again?” she said.

Etude in yellow

“Shshsh,” I said. “It’s a ‘He.’ “

“Oh, sorry,” she said, whispering.

When Bruce returned from the bathroom, another waitress came over to say our table was ready. As she walked us to our table, she looked down at the carriage and said, “She’s so cute! Look at that sweater!”

Bruce looked over at me.

People break gender rules all the time. Our babysitter said she bought her grandson a kitchen set, and he loves it.

“You bought a kitchen set for your grandson, the one whose father is a cop?”

“Sure. Why not?” she said.

“And the father didn’t say anything?”

“Why should he say anything?” she asked. “He has to learn how to cook, especially if he winds up with a wife like me.”

It’s not that Bruce is homophobic. As the saying goes, some of our best friends are gay. It’s that Eddie’s a boy, and Bruce wants to make sure the child – and everyone else — is aware of that. And boys wear blue and girls wear pink and never the twain shall meet.

Since Eddie was born, we’ve been playing him the album, “Free to be You and Me,” – Marlo Thomas’ 1970s anthem to individuality – and I cry every time I hear the song, “William’s Doll.” It’s about a young boy who wants a doll more than anything, a desire for which he’s mocked and ridiculed by everyone around him. His father tries to gently guide him away from his desire by buying him a basketball, a badminton set, marbles and a baseball glove. William is good at all of those activities and actually enjoys them but when he’s finished playing, he turns to his father and says, “Can I please have a doll now?”

His father doesn’t buy him one, but his grandmother does, when she comes to visit and sees just how much he wants one. When the father frowns, the grandmother explains:

“William wants a doll,

so when he has a baby someday,

He’ll know how to dress it,

put diapers on double

And gently caress it

to bring up a bubble

And care for his baby

as every good father

should learn to do.

William has a doll

William has a doll

‘Cause someday, he is going to be a fa-ther, too.”

I don’t know what it is about the song that makes me weep — whether it’s the notion that my son may one day be ridiculed for being different, or it’s that I was. And mine were such small infractions: wearing Wrangler jeans instead of Faded Glories, or wearing navy blue stockings with white shoes. I think the larger infraction was in my head, a feeling that no matter what I did, it was wrong, simply because I was the one doing it.

William wants a pink grocery cart

In some ways, Bruce is more sensitive to Eddie’s needs. When we used to use wet washcloths instead of wipes to clean him during diaper changes, Bruce would dry off Eddie’s bottom or let it air dry before putting on the new diaper because he thought the baby would be uncomfortable if he were damp. Bruce still warms up Eddie’s milk bottles, even though we no longer have to. When he draws Eddie’s bath, he keeps it shallow – while I make it deep – because he’s seen the child feels steadier when there’s less water.

But if Eddie ever wants a tutu or an easy-bake-oven or a grocery cart that’s pinker than pink, he need only say one word: Mom?

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The summer after sixth grade, my best friend, Eileen, threw me a surprise party because our family was moving away. The party was in her backyard, and she invited our whole class, including our teacher and Steven Mitchell, a boy with blonde curls and big front teeth, like a beaver, on whom I had a crush. When Eileen and I entered her yard, my classmates shouted, “Surprise,” and I fell backwards onto my ass as if the wind had blown me down. I then got up and ran out of the backyard, and Eileen had to chase me down and bring me back to the party. My entrance has become part of my family folklore because it was captured in a home movie that’s been played so many times, it’s like a recurring pattern on wallpaper. I enter the yard, I fall down, I run out of the camera shot, and moments later, I’m escorted back by Eileen. I enter the yard, I fall down, I run out of the camera shot, and moments later, I’m escorted back by Eileen.

Thankfully, my son, Eddie, has a bit more social grace. We just threw him a party for his first birthday, and while none of the attendees were his close friends – he doesn’t yet have any — he moved through the party with the ease and warmth of a seasoned politician.

I have arrived!

He was actually taking his nap for the first hour of the party, but the second he woke up, he uttered a small, audible cry, which could be heard over the baby monitor in the middle of the party. Three women ran up the stairs to his nursery (I was not one of them), and moments later, he was ferried down the stairs by my brother’s new girlfriend, followed by a small procession of my mother and some other woman, whose name I can’t recall.

Eddie was wearing his new red onesie, which has a decal of gold buttons and tassels across the chest, making him look like a member of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As he emerged into a room full of people staring at him and calling out his name, my son flashed a huge smile and I’m not sure from where he picked this up, but he raised both arms high in the air as if to say, “I have arrived.” (I later realized he does this, in part, because every time he achieved something, I would lift his arms up in the air and sing the chorus to, “We Are the Champions.” He now lifts his arms up for successes as large as walking and as small as finishing his breakfast).

For the next two hours, everyone wanted a piece of him. Our friend, Hank, said he was holding Eddie for about five minutes when he could feel the pressure of the crowd bearing down on him, waiting for him to pass the baby along.

“I felt guilty,” he said. “I knew there were five other people wanting to hold him, and they’re just looking at me thinking, ‘Who’s this clown?’ “

A hand works like a shovel.

Eddie took it all in stride, smiling, throwing his head back in exaggerated enthusiasm, making everyone feel special.

It amazes me how much he’s grown in the last year. He walks, he talks – though its gibberish – and he can turn on the television with the remote. When I dress him now, he puts his arms through the sleeves, himself. I used to have to put my hand up the sleeve and fish around for his, pulling it through and out the cuff, like threading a needle.

He’s also begun to express his opinions. I’ll put a hat on his head, and he’ll take it off. I’ll put it back on, and he’ll take it off again. If he doesn’t want to go somewhere, he’ll do that loose-arm thing I’ve seen children in Wal-Mart do, where they make their arms limp like water, making it impossible to lift them. My husband, Bruce, and I refer to it as, “He’s on strike.”

The cousins helped him open presents.

When it was time for birthday cake, everyone piled into the kitchen. I pulled out a box of candles and started to stick several of them into the cake when I realized I needed only one. I lit the candle and held Eddie up in front of the cake and waited for him to blow the candle out. He just looked at it. I blew out the candle and took his finger and stuck it into the frosting to smear his name, which was written across the top of the cake in blue icing. My friend, Patti, said she wondered whether I would serve that piece or cut around it. I served it.

We gave Eddie a small slice of birthday cake, which was a chocolate double-layer cake with butter cream icing. I also gave him a small pink cupcake with a little football on it that was a gift from the woman who works in the local bakery. I handed Eddie a spoon, and he used it a little more than usual, a feat I attributed to the sugar content. The spoon enabled him to shovel in more food, faster, though after a while, he found his hands gave him a more ample serving. We’d already detected he had a taste for sugar around Christmas, when we threw a party and someone brought a box of Krispy Kreme donuts. We left the box by the front door to remind us to take it out for recycling, and Eddie apparently knocked over the box, dislodging the remaining glaze that had been stuck to it. When we found him, he was lying face down licking the bits of glaze off the floor.

After about 10 minutes, the pace with which he was eating the cake began to slow down, and his eyes, which peered out above a beard of chocolate frosting were beginning to glaze over. With cake now in his nose, his hair, and all over his hands, his belly protruding like a Buddha, he had reached his limit.

Starting to fade.

I pulled him out of the high chair and sent him off into the living room to open his presents. He sat on the floor surrounded by his newfound cousins, who he’d only just met at the party, and they helped him open his gifts, sometimes before he could even get to them. After about six gifts, I thought it was probably getting tedious for the other guests. I told everyone we would open the rest of the presents after the party. I received a long, persuasive, well-thought-out argument from Eddie’s four-year-old cousin, Connor, about the virtues of opening the rest of the gifts now and not later and how Eddie would really prefer it that way and that it really is the best way to go regarding these matters. I let Eddie open one more gift.

The last of the guests left around 6 p.m., and Eddie was so wired from the excitement, he never had an afternoon nap. We usually put him to bed for the night at around 9 p.m., and it’s sometimes a struggle. Tonight, he fell asleep easily around 8 p.m. without a pacifier, the chocolate frosting still lodged under his fingernails.

A whirlwind of a day.

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I wheeled Eddie’s stroller into the bakery and went to get a coffee.

I thought I broke him

“He looks tired,” said Mae, the woman behind the counter.

“I think I broke him,” I said.

“Why?”

“I yelled at him,” I said. “He was so happy this morning, and then he started whining, incessantly, when I was getting his breakfast ready. I was already preparing it. I couldn’t go any faster. And he just sits there and whines, and whines, and whines. I couldn’t take it any more so I yelled at him. ‘Stop it!’ And he did. Instantly. And then I felt really bad. “

“You snapped,” Mae said.

“I snapped.”

“It happens,” she said.

“I know, but I didn’t want to yell. Someone told me about this article about how French mothers don’t yell, and…”

“I read that article,” she said.

“Oh, I didn’t,” I said.

I’m lucky if I have time to read my mail. But it didn’t stop me from repeating the concept to anyone who would listen – which is mostly myself. Ever since I heard about the article, I’ve been trying to parent more quietly. I now speak to Eddie in smooth, even tones, almost with a French accent. “Eddie, your pancakes are coming.” “Eddie, don’t throw your sippy cup on the floor.” “Eddie, we don’t hit mommy in the face.”

For the most part, it hasn’t worked — particularly with our newest trend: taking food he doesn’t want and throwing it onto the floor. It started about a month ago with the sippy cup, which was routinely tossed off the edge of the hi-chair tray after every sip. I’d pick it up and hand it back to him, he’d take a sip and then toss it on to the floor again leaving me no choice but to pick it up and hand it back to him lest I allowed him to become dehydrated in order to prove a point.

These bits? They're going on the floor

Yesterday, I was surprised to see how much he liked turkey bacon. I’d taken two slices and cut them up into bite size pieces and served them to him with his pancakes. But I soon saw the bacon was all around the base of his hi-chair. He’d thrown it on to the floor piece by piece as I was washing the dishes.

This morning, I lost my cool before I’d even given him his food. He started whining when we were still upstairs getting dressed. And it continued as I brought him downstairs and was making him breakfast. I waited until I pulled the pancakes out of the oven before placing him in his hi-chair because I’ve already seen that the anticipation of the food, as he sits in the chair, is almost too much for him to bear. I buckled him in, put on his bib and then went back to the table to cut the pancake up into little pieces. I cut up some banana and pear and sprinkled them on top, and then drizzled some maple syrup over it. But with every slice I made, every step I took, I could hear his incessant whining in the background, and it was getting on my nerves. By the time I was done, I was about to hand him the plate of food, and I thought, “I don’t want to reward this behavior.” He’s been carrying on for 10 minutes, and my response to it is to feed him. The French wouldn’t do that, I thought. I held the plate behind me and said in a soft voice, “Eddie. This is unacceptable. You need to stop whining.” The whining continued, unabated.

“Eddie? You need to stop.” The whining got louder.

“Eddie!” I snapped.

He stopped crying instantly and looked up at me with wide eyes. I thought I saw the blood drain out of his face. This is a scarring moment, I thought. I’m creating something right now that he’s going to remember later in life, when he’s on a job interview or wanting to ask a girl out on a date, whenever he’s doing something that requires utmost confidence, he’s going to pull back just a bit, and he’s not going to know why, and it’s going to be because when he was young and innocent, I whacked him over the head with a frying pan – so to speak – and dented his little spirit just a bit. Still, he was indeed quiet for the moment, and I felt like I needed to seize the opportunity, to reward him for quiet rather than rewarding him for crying, so I took the plate of food out from behind my back and presented it to him.

Go on, dare me. Make my day.

“Atta boy,” I said. “See? You were going to get the food anyway. You didn’t have to cry for it.”

I placed the plate down on his tray, and he seized upon it and began to devour the pancakes and fruit, not looking up at me once like he usually does. It was all about the food. Now he’s going to have an eating disorder, I thought. I achieved my goal but at what cost?

The worst part about it was he’d been so jovial this morning, even more so than usual. I’d plucked him out of bed as I was going up to the attic to do my exercises. I have a little mat up there on which I do sit-ups. I usually sneak by Eddie’s crib and do them quickly before he begins to fuss and wants to come out, but this morning, he saw me as I walked by so I took him with me. He’s rarely in the attic so he was happy to be among the boxes of stuff, the wrapping paper and bows, the Christmas ornaments and fabrics, the brightly colored towels and fancy blue plastic margarita cups for the beach. The first thing he saw was a little Santa doll I bought him around Christmas. I had put it back in the attic about a month ago. He spotted it in a box immediately and took it out and held it close to his chest as he walked around the boxes looking for other treasures.

“He’s so happy in the morning,” Bruce said.

Eddie continued to eat his breakfast quietly. He was all business. There were a few bits of food on the floor this morning but not many, mostly because I think he liked the meal so much. He didn’t want to part with anything. But at the end of his meal, he took the syrup-covered plate, lifted it up in the air, and dropped it onto the floor.

“Eddie,” I said, in a quiet, monotone voice. “Please don’t throw things on the floor.”

He looked at me, lifted up his sippy cup and dropped it onto the floor.

“Eddie!” I snapped.

I never could speak French.

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