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Archive for July, 2012

I sat on my friend Mindy’s porch the other night having a glass of wine as our sons played on the sidewalk below. Her porch faces a beautiful, shady park that has 50-foot oak trees and a gentle breeze that makes the leaves shake like palms. Just then, my son, Eddie, dragged a plastic lawn mower toward the edge of the curb and began to push it into the street.

“Eddie,” I said, but he took no notice. He kept walking into the street until he was about a third of the way into the road. “Eddie!” I yelled, rising up from my chair. “Not in the street!”

Eddie’s friend shares his chair.

I could hear the sound of my own voice, and I didn’t like it. I sounded shrill but powerless, like one of those angry mothers you see yelling at her son in public while she’s grabbing his arm too hard because that’s the only way she can get his attention. I so desperately don’t want to be the woman in Target whose child is having a temper tantrum and as she tries to grab his hand to escort him out of the store, he does the jelly-body thing and falls to the floor, making the indignity last all the longer.

“The street is for cars. The sidewalk is for people,” said Mindy’s son, Gavin.

Eddie heard what Gavin said and walked back up the curb onto the sidewalk.

“He doesn’t listen to me, but he’ll listen to Gavin,” I said to Mindy. I sounded pathetic.

“They’ll listen to each other,” Mindy said. “And once they learn something, they like to teach everyone else.”

Just like Mindy was doing with me.

Mindy exudes confidence, and you can hear it in her voice when she speaks to her son. She says things to Gavin in a calm, deep voice that sounds a little animated, like Mr. Rogers, but manlier. “Now, Gavin, you know you can’t have cheese.” (He’s lactose intolerant). “Gavin, why don’t you share your truck with Eddie.” “Gavin, why don’t you let Eddie sit on the chair with you.” And the child complies. Sometimes, all she has to say is, “Gav….” And he listens. Eddie, on the other hand, listens to me the way his father listens to me: that is to say, not at all.

“How do you get him to respond to you?” I asked.

Which toy should I throw across the room today?

“We use time-outs,” she said. “I’ll put Gavin in the naughty chair for a minute and explain to him why he’s there.”

“You have a naughty chair?”

“We do,” she said. “They say you should put the kid in the chair and give him a time out that lasts as long as his age. So if he’s three, you leave him in there for three minutes. Gavin’s two, so they say he should stay there for two minutes, but I don’t do that. I think he gets it after about a minute.”

“I don’t know about a naughty chair,” I said. “But we do need something. Eddie doesn’t listen to me at all.”

As the evening wore on, Gavin would fail to let Eddie use his scooter, even though he had two, he would try to take Eddie’s fire truck, and he would ask for one of Eddie’s cookies – they were verboten because of his lactose intolerance – and in each instance, Mindy would simply say, “Gav—“ in that calm, deep voice, and her child would do as he was told. They had a dialogue. A connection. Eddie and I have a connection, too, but it goes something like this: Eddie throws something, I yell, and Eddie throws it again. In fact his newest thing is to throw things over a barrier, whether it’s the side of his crib, the child gate we have at the top of the stairs, or the railing of our front porch. It’s as if there’s the world in which we all live, and then there’s the world just on the other side of these barriers. The abyss. And it’s into this abyss that Eddie is constantly throwing everything he can get his hands on. Forks, sippy cups, Lego’s, teletubbies, his plastic farm animals. They all get tossed over the railing or the child gate. Sitting on the front porch has become a game of “Let’s see how many times I can throw my blocks over the railing and get mommy and daddy to retrieve them from the thorny bushes below.” I’ve told him nicely to stop. I’ve yelled at him to stop. And I once smacked his hand lightly, for emphasis, but all that accomplished is that he still throws things over the railing, but now he’ll sometimes smack his own hand afterward and say, “No!”

A friend suggested we stop retrieving the items. That’ll teach him to not throw them. I’ve tried that. He’s a toddler. He has the mind of a gnat. Once the item is out of sight, he quickly learns to live without it.

This morning I was giving Eddie a bath when he picked up one of his waterlogged plastic bath toys and flung it across the room.

“Eddie, don’t do that,” I said.

He fished around in the bath for another toy and threw it onto the floor.

“Eddie. Stop.”

He looked at me and then looked down at his toys, paused, and then picked up a plastic purple fish that was plump with water and winged it across the room.

“That’s it!” I said and grabbed him under the arms and lifted him out of the bathtub so abruptly and awkwardly, his wet body nearly slipped out of my hands. “We’re going in the naughty chair.”

I threw him in a towel, picked him back up and stormed into his room and quickly scanned the area. Naughty chair, naughty chair. Where’s our naughty chair? We didn’t have one. The only chair we have in his room is an old baby recliner that vibrates and plays music. We used it when he was an infant. We’ve now placed it in front of a video machine on which he watches movies. He sat in that chair and watched Toy Story. He sits there and watches the Teletubbies. I didn’t want to turn that chair into a chamber of horrors.

I firmly placed Eddie on the floor. He just lay there in his towel, quiet, surprised by the abruptness with which he’d been removed from the tub and carried off. I left him there on the floor and walked into the guest room and lay down on the bed and gave myself a time out, long enough to calm down and reflect on what I’d just done.

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I used to like going grocery shopping, wandering up and down the aisles and looking at all the different types of sauces and cereals, the varieties of cheeses, the different cuts of meat and fish, the fresh-baked breads – that is, until I had my son, Eddie. I put him in the seat of the grocery cart and he initially seems content, but it’s not long before he begins to fuss, so I keep plucking food off the grocery shelves and feeding it to him just to keep him occupied. I’ll grab bags of yoghurt puffs or dried apple peels off the shelves, break into boxes of grapes and strawberries. One time I handed him a cucumber, just to play with, and the next time I looked down, he’d eaten halfway through it, like an insect, peel and all.

On our grocery excursion yesterday, he reminded me of his book about a hungry caterpillar. In the first aisle, he ate one apple. In the second aisle, he had two pears. In the third aisle, he had three grapes, four pickles, five slices of watermelon, and a box of pretzels. After that aisle, he had a stomach ache. And he began to fuss. While I’m usually a bargain shopper, comparing items so that I get the best value for my money, I began just throwing things into the shopping cart – things I might not even have wanted had I thought about it — just to get us out of the store faster. When I finally looked down at my cart and saw it was nearly two-thirds full, I wondered how I was going to get everything into my house in the near 100-degree weather.

As I pulled up in front of my house and began to unload the bags, I was approached by two young girls. They were part of a Christian organization called World-Changers, which had dispatched about 25 volunteers to paint my neighbor Lee’s house. Lee has a beautiful pink and purple Victorian home that had fallen into neglect. The vines and shrubs were so overgrown, parts of the house were completely obscured and the sidewalk in some spots was impassable.

The Housepainters

“Can we help you with your groceries,” asked one of the two young girls coming toward me. She was wearing a red t-shirt with white lettering that resembled the old “Coca Cola” t-shirts except that where it would have said “Coca Cola,” it said, “Jesus Christ.”

“Sure,” I said, wiping sweat off my upper lip. “But shshsh. He’s sleeping,” I said, pointing to Eddie, who had fallen asleep in the car. I left it running with the air conditioning on. I didn’t want to move him for fear that he would wake up, and then I wouldn’t be able to unload the groceries and put them away.

One girl picked up five bags while the other picked up three, one of which had a small watermelon. She took a few steps and the watermelon fell on the sidewalk with a thump.

“Sorry,” she said. She picked it up and brushed it off with her hand.

“Ach. I’m sure it’s fine,” I said.

They helped carry groceries

We each made a couple of trips and in no time, the groceries were all lined up on my kitchen floor. When I went back outside, the two girls were still standing on the sidewalk near my car.

“Would you mind standing here for a couple of minutes while I put everything away? Once I wake him, I won’t get anything done, and I don’t want to leave him out here alone with the car running,” I said.

“Sure,” said the taller girl, who had a Southern accent and wore her hair in braids. She was the spitting image of Pocahontas.

I went inside and quickly tried to put everything away, running from the bathrooms upstairs to the pantry off the kitchen and down to the refrigerator in the basement, so that the girls didn’t have to stand outside in the heat for too long. They were nice, but it didn’t mean they should have to suffer for it.

After about 10 minutes, I went outside and they were still standing there on the sidewalk, happily chatting away. The three of us talked a bit after I thanked them, and I wondered whether I was supposed to give them a tip.

“Oh, noooo,” said Pocohontas. “We paid to come up here.”

My eyes welled up with tears at the idea that people could be so kind. “How much do you pay?” I asked.

“$249,” said the one with the Jesus Christ t-shirt.

And that didn’t include travel costs, which everyone picked up themselves. Many drove, from Michigan, Florida, and other parts of the US where serving God is apparently on one’s vacation “to-do” list. There was no shortage of such people. In fact on this project, there seemed to be too many. Only about six of the 25 volunteers could be on the ladders or the roof of the house at any one time, so the remaining 19 would stand around on the sidewalk, either on ladder duty — where they stood at the base of the ladder to make sure it didn’t move — or walking around the neighborhood trying to do good deeds. They must have spread their good will a few blocks wide because as the days went on, I saw a group of them holding one of their daily prayer sessions on the lawn of my neighbor who lived across the street from Lee and another prayer session on the porch of another neighbor two blocks down. And on the last day, the man who lives across the street from Lee made the group a BBQ lunch.

The group traveled around the country doing construction projects. Aside from painting my neighbor’s home, they were installing a ramp on one of the municipal buildings. The township, in turn, provided them with cots at the local high school. The group was pretty organized. The day before they arrived, a port-a-potty was deposited on the side of Lee’s house.

It wasn’t clear why they had chosen to paint Lee’s house. Whenever anyone asked him, he would say, “That’s my secret.” If anyone could find a way to get their house painted for free, it was Lee. He’s old, on a fixed income and likes to drink, but he’s highly enterprising, often going to flea markets to sell items from his attic. Last weekend, he set up a sign outside his car advertising golf balls, which his friend had collected at a local golf course.

As I stood in front of my car with the two girls, the taller one looked at Eddie through the window and said, “He’s really cute.”

I began to tell them about my blog and how I wanted to write a post about them and how they helped me with the groceries. I explained to them that the blog was called The Dancing Egg because I used a donor egg to have Eddie and that the donor was a ballerina. They listened intently and seemed fascinated. Pocahontas looked up at me and said, “Can I ask you a strange question?”

Here we go, I thought. It must seem very un-Christian to them for me to have forced nature in this way. I imagined they must have thought, if you’re meant to have a baby, God will give you a baby. Otherwise, it wasn’t meant to be. No, I concluded, she must know someone who had a baby with a donor egg, and with me there, she finally had an opportunity to ask the questions she wanted answered but until now felt too uncomfortable to ask.

“Is it normal for squirrels around here to just lie on their backs like they’re dead?”

“Huh,” I said, surprised by the question. “No, it’s not normal. Maybe it’s the heat.”

“Well, we saw this squirrel that was just lying flat on its back, and we thought it was dead. But when we went over to it, it got up and ran away,” Pocahontas said.

“It was just lying there,” said the girl with the Jesus t-shirt.

My neighbor, Joe, who’d been standing on his porch and overheard the conversation, said “It probably fell out of a tree. They’re not like cats. They don’t land on their legs.”

Satisfied with the answer, the girls turned around and walked back to Lee’s house to join the rest of their group.

About an hour later, I walked by Lee’s house on my way to a café and saw the group had cut back so many branches and vines, there was a pile of debris on the corner about five-feet high. Next to the pile, a bright pink stream of water flowed all the way down the block.

The following day, the girls were back, this time, with two boys and a new girl, who seemed older than the others because she spoke with such conviction. They wanted to say hello to Eddie. I was sitting on my porch with my friend, Doris, who loves meeting new people and asking questions. After about 15 minutes, we learned their names, ages, where they were from, where they were headed.

“I once went to Thailand to help build houses,” said the new girl. “Thailand doesn’t allow missionaries into the country, so someone had to go in before us and teach English so that we had someone in the schools who could invite us in.”

She said they taught the students English by having them read the bible.

“The bible?” Doris said and laughed. “That’s not even in English.”

“Oh, but it is, if you have the right version,” the new girl said. “We use the NLT or New Living Translation bible. The language is much simpler. It’s written how we speak.“

They invited us to one of their daily prayer sessions. We declined. Unfortunately, at the appointed time, around 3 o’clock, I had to run an errand that forced me to walk past the house at which they were holding their prayer session on the front lawn. I walked in the middle of the street as I walked passed the house for fear that if they saw me, one of them would ask me to join in.

That night, my husband, Bruce, and I were getting ready for our weekly “date night.” I prepared our son’s meal for the babysitter to feed him. I started to cut him up some fruit for dessert and asked Bruce to pass me the watermelon. As he started to lift it, he said, “This watermelon is rotten.”

All of a sudden, it exploded open like Mt. Vesuvius and a stream of red watermelon came pouring out the top like lava, spilling out all over the rug.

“Holy shit,” I said. “That must be where the girl dropped it.”

This morning, as I was rushing to get into my car because of the rain, the three girls came running down the sidewalk toward me.

“Wait! We have something to give you,” yelled the new girl.

The girl who looked like Pocahontas pulled a bible out from under her shirt. She was holding it there to keep it from getting wet.

“It’s the NLT version. Show it to your friend. Let her see how easy it is to understand,” the new girl said.

“Where’s Eddie?” Pocahontas asked.

“He’s inside with the babysitter, taking his nap,” I said.

“Oh, we wanted to see him before we left,” Pocahontas said.

“You guys are done already?”

“No, but we need to leave. And we can’t paint anymore today because of the rain,” said the new girl.

“Everything we just painted is getting wet and running down the house,” Pocahontas said and made a face that said, “Oopsy.”

“Another crew will be here at some point to finish the job,” the new girl said.

And with that, the three turned on their heels and headed back to their group as they packed up their paintbrushes and bibles before heading off to the next town.

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My husband, Bruce, and I took a trip to Rockport, Massachusetts a few years ago and rented a kayak. We paddled around a little cove not far from our cabin, and every time Bruce would row toward the opening where the cove emptied out into a harbor, I’d yell, “Don’t go out into the open seas!”

“We’re not going out into the open seas!” he’d say, mocking me.

“You’re getting too far from the coast!”

He’d roll his eyes and steer us closer to the shore, lest we get caught in an unexpected Nor’easter and drown at sea.

I’ve always been a scaredy-cat, though I don’t necessarily give that appearance. I’m like a tether ball on a stick. I’ll go here, there, everywhere, provided I’m always within five feet of my comfort zone. And that five-foot range seems to be getting shorter and shorter as I get older. I live by the ocean but I’m afraid of the waves. Public speaking makes my heart race. Heights make me dizzy. I’m afraid of amusement park rides because I fear I’ll fly out of my seat or get sick all over myself. And I don’t like cocktail receptions because I’m afraid to walk over to a group of people already engaged in conversation – for fear that inside, they’re rolling their eyes and can’t wait for me to leave.

My son Eddie, on the other hand, is fearless. He’ll walk up to anyone and start talking, even though right now, it’s just gibberish. I once took him out of his stroller in Barnes and Noble, and within seconds, he’d walked up to a family of four sitting in the corner of the store and just stood there in the middle of them. He’ll yell in public without caring what people will think. He’ll walk off the edge of anything without caring how far it is from the floor. And the ocean? He’s constantly running toward it rather than away from it.

So I found it profoundly sad the other day when I pulled him out of his stroller, he took off down the street, and when he reached the porch of our neighbor Jim, the family’s big fat bulldog, Patty, lunged at Eddie from behind the railing and began barking, sending my son running back home in terror.

When I saw what happened, I was determined to nip it in the bud. I didn’t want him to be afraid of everything, like his mother is, particularly things on our street, so I took him by the hand and walked him back toward Jim’s porch. As we got close, Eddie tried to break free and run back to our house. I picked him up in my arms and slowly walked back to Jim’s porch. The dog stood there for a moment without making a sound. I began to speak softly to her, in friendly, loving tones. She looked at me, seemed to take it all in, and then opened her mouth wide and began roaring like a wild animal. I ran.

After a few steps, I stopped and turned around and again headed for Jim’s porch. I could feel Eddie’s grip tighten on my arm. Just then, Jim’s wife, Lois, came out of her house and told the dog to stop barking. Like a bully who pushes everyone around and then cowers in the presence of his mother, the dog got quiet. I stood on the sidewalk talking to Lois for a couple of minutes so Eddie could get used to Patty, and Patty to Eddie. By the time we left, I felt like we’d conquered a demon.

Until lunchtime. Eddie and I were in his room, and I put in a tape of Jurassic Park. He has two toy dinosaurs that he now plays with, and I thought he might recognize them in the movie. The two of us sat on the floor watching the video, and he seemed to enjoy it until a scene in which a dinosaur is chasing a jeep that has two children in the back, and the kids are screaming. Eddie started to yell. It was a yell I’d heard only once before, when Bruce was attacking him with a giant stuffed monkey. I shut off the movie.

RoooaAAAAr

For the rest of the day, Eddie laughed, played, ate, whined, and slept. With the exception of riding his toy rocking horse for the first time, it was a typical day. In the evening after dinner, he grabbed a plastic water bottle and a glass wine bottle from the recycling bucket and ran around the living room, and I chased him trying to get the bottles away, because I knew that was what he wanted. He loves to be chased.

At bedtime, I carried him upstairs to his room and placed him on the changing table. As he lay there, I heard a large fly buzz around the overhead light. I ran over to the window and opened it. I then grabbed Eddie’s jeans and began chasing the fly around the room swatting at it. It kept circling the light, and as I tried to hit it, I kept swatting the light fixture, making it sway back and forth like a punching bag. The bug then flew into the corner of the room, and I waited for it to land on the wall. When it did, I again began swatting at it, but again I kept missing. Eddie began to yell that panicked yell again.

“It’s all right, pal. It’s all right. Just don’t move,” I said. I was standing about three feet away from the diaper table, and I feared that in his panic, he would roll off.

Just then I heard the fly buzz by me and toward the open window. I chased after it, swinging the jeans to help move it along, but every time it appeared ready to fly out the window, it would turn around and come back in the room.

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I gave up and walked back to the changing table. I put a clean diaper on Eddie, put him into his pajamas, shut off the light and then picked him up and held him as I stood in front of his crib. I began to rock him in my arms, his head on my shoulder, as I do most nights before placing him in bed. As we stood there in the dark, I could hear the fly buzzing around us, zooming from one end of the room to the other. I started to laugh. Eddie lifted his head slightly and started to laugh a bit, too. He then dropped his head back down on my shoulder. Soon, I could feel the tension in his body relax and his breathing deepen as he left the demons of this world and drifted into the land of sleep.

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