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Archive for September, 2012

We’ve had the list of items that my son, Eddie, would need for daycare for about two-and-a-half months, and yet it wasn’t until 25 minutes before his first day that I decided to see whether we had everything we needed. Of course, we did not. I jumped into my car and raced over to our local drug store to buy two rolls of paper towels, two boxes of tissues, two boxes of baby wipes, a box of diapers and two green gummy pacifiers (appropriately called “soothies”). I also bought a package of sticky labels because I was told everything we bring in to the classroom must have his name on it.

While I shopped, my husband, Bruce, made Eddie oatmeal and put in brown sugar, raisins, bananas and honey, leaving a sticky mess all over the kitchen table. As soon as I got home, I dumped everything I’d bought out onto the table. I spent the next three minutes wiping all of the items down with a warm sponge, to remove the honey. Ten minutes left until we had to leave.

He wanted to wear the vest.

With a Sharpie pen in hand, I quickly labeled everything, from Eddie’s sandwich to his slacks. I considered labeling the banana but thought it would appear like I was mocking. Bruce then wiped Eddie’s face, threw a sweatshirt on him – he insisted on wearing the orange down vest that was hanging next to it – and we ran out the door with five minutes to spare.

I put Eddie into his stroller, which Bruce had placed at the bottom of our porch steps, and saw a plastic yellow bag filled with some kind of fruit or vegetable in the compartment underneath.

“What’s this?” I asked Bruce.

No response. Bruce walked back into the house. I took the bag out of the stroller and left it on the porch steps.

“Okay. Don’t answer,” I said. Bruce frequently fails to answer my questions. Sometimes, it’s because he forgets to, or the words float off into space right by his ears but fail to go inside them. And then sometimes it’s because he simply didn’t hear me. At this point, the reason no longer matters. It just bugs me.

When Bruce came back out of the house, he saw the yellow plastic bag on the steps.

“What’s this?”

“I just asked you that,” I said.

“I didn’t hear you!” he snapped.

A man on a mission.

We headed over to St. Paul’s, where Eddie’s daycare is located, and as we arrived, the church bells were clanging as all the parents and children converged on the building. I felt like I was in Whoville. They arrived in their carts and their carriages to the square, they arrived in a hurry, to get to day care.

We took Eddie out of his stroller and opened the door to the building. Eddie walked in first and descended the stairs, backwards on all fours like he’s climbing down a ladder, just as we’d taught him to do. I could feel the tears welling up inside me. Get a grip, I thought. Be strong. I feared for him. He’s not going to want to see us leave. I also felt sad for me. He was already growing up so quickly. But I needed to be strong. I feared if I began to cry, Eddie would cry, and I wanted him to be able to handle this new situation. He was probably on the edge as it was. I didn’t want to add to it.

As soon as Eddie hit the floor at the bottom of the steps, he was off. He walked down the hallway a few lengths ahead of us, took a right, then a left, and stood outside the classroom door waiting for us to open the gate that was obstructing him from entering. He had remembered where the room was from orientation day. I showed him how to open the gate by pressing down on the metal pole with your finger. I was wrong on two counts: Don’t show your child how to open the gate to the classroom. That’s like showing the animals at the zoo where the keys to their cages are located. And that wasn’t even how one opens the gate.

He wanted in.

“Hit that pedal at the bottom of the gate,” Bruce said.

I did. The gate opened, and Eddie marched right in, his arms swaying like W.C. Fields. He surveyed the room, doing some quick mental calculus about which toys he liked best and whether there was anything there he hadn’t yet seen. Most importantly, he was trying to figure out which toy he wanted to play with first.

I went over to one of the teachers and said, “Here are our bags. I labeled everything, like you wanted.” I think I expected a pat on the head.

“Where should I put these?” I asked. “And when I give him fruit, do you want me to cut it up or can I put something like a kiwi in his lunch bag, and you would cut it? Oh, and I wasn’t sure if you had a refrigerator. Can I give him a yoghurt? Today, it’s in this little cooler with an ice pack, but should I always bring it like this or do you have a refrigerator? And I lost my sheet with your phone number. Can I have another one?”

As I rattled off questions, Eddie had walked over to a table with a train set and sat down with a few other kids and one of the other teachers and began playing with the trains. You’d think he knew these people.

Bruce and I slid out the door and disappeared around the wall so Eddie couldn’t see us. We feared he would get upset if he saw us leave. We’d already seen another child crying in the hallway as we walked in and feared the kid’s tears would be contagious. Keeping our bodies behind the wall, Bruce and I peaked our heads in the doorway to see how Eddie was faring. He was happily playing with the trains with the boy next to him. Just then, he looked up and seemed to spot us. We quickly hid our heads behind the wall. We then ran down the hallway to get to a doorway on the other side of the nursery so we could take one last peak. Eddie and the other boy were now trying to fit two trains together.

Empty nesters.

As we left, I said, “I like that boy Eddie’s talking to. He seems nice. I hope they become friends.”

“Don’t worry about Eddie. He’s a great kid. He’s the best kid in there,” Bruce said. “Best in Show.”

I laughed. We then walked home arm and arm to our empty house.

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About a year ago, I went to a park in New York City and watched as a father tried to persuade his young son to hand over the apple he was holding so the boy would have both hands free to climb the monkey bars.

“Jake, the apple will be here when you get back,” the father reasoned.

“Nooooo,” Jake whined, as he inched toward the monkey bars, apple in hand.

Mine, mine, all mine!

“Jake, I’m not going to let you go on there until you give me the apple,” his father said.

As the father moved toward the boy, the child tightened his grip on the fruit.

“Noooooooo,” Jake said. “Leave me alone.” He took a step closer to the monkey bars.

I marveled at how at such a young age, the boy was already so possessive about an object that he was willing to forsake a pleasure in life in order to hold onto it.

In general, I’ve been surprised at how selfish children are. I guess I imagined with all the talk of how “We’re all born good,” with a clean slate, I thought children might be kind and giving because they hadn’t yet learned to be greedy and Machiavellian. No chance. They’re as cut-throat as diamond dealers and guard their belongings like a mother bird guards a nest. If you touch their stuff, they would stab you, if Playskool made sharper knives.

I may not look like I’m playing with these, but I am.

All summer long as we walked along the beach, all my son, Eddie, had to do was just look at another child’s shovel, even if it was just stuck in the sand and not being used, and the owner would come swooping in like a seagull grabbing a piece of bread out of the mouth of another bird. Eddie spent much of the summer looking bewildered, as children grabbed plastic pails and rakes out of his hands, not understanding what he had done to evoke such hostility.

Negotiating a truce

Just yesterday, we went to a festival with Eddie’s friend, Gavin, and Eddie kept wanting to pull Gavin’s wagon. Gavin was having none of it. Finally, Gavin’s mother stepped in and forced her son to allow Eddie to pull the wagon for a bit. But like all acts of kindness that are mandated rather than elicited naturally, the second Gavin’s mother turned around, the boy pushed Eddie out of the way. Eddie cried and Gavin’s mother made the two boys hug and make up. Something similar had happened during the winter, only that time the object in question belonged to Eddie. Gavin wanted to push Eddie’s stroller, and he pushed Eddie out of the way in order to achieve that goal.

On the way home from the festival, I told Bruce I didn’t know if I wanted Eddie playing with Gavin anymore. I don’t want someone pushing my child. Ever. Why? Aside from never wanting to see him hurt or upset, I don’t want my child learning bad habits. Right now, he’s giving and kind and generous, and I didn’t want anyone tampering with that. At least I thought he was giving and kind and generous — until we took him to orientation day for daycare on Friday. He begins daycare this week and the school had all the parents and children come in for an hour to show us the classroom, meet the teachers, see their classmates and acquaint us with the routine. For the first 30 minutes, the parents sat on little stools and asked the teachers questions while the children quietly played with the toys within their reach.

“What kind of snacks do they get?” “How long is nap time?” “Do you tell us if someone has bitten our child?”

But as the public question period wrapped up and parents began to get into private discussions with one of the four teachers, the children began to stray farther and farther away from their parents and head toward the toys they’d been eyeing since they got there. Before long, Eddie had an orange ball in one hand and a green ball in the other, and he was walking around with them as if they were his until another child tried to take one of the balls away. Eddie moved his body in between the child and the ball and held on to it tightly. The other child was persistent and kept grabbing at it until he finally knocked it out of Eddie’s hand, and Eddie began to cry. One of the teachers came over with another ball and handed it to Eddie so that he once again had two balls.

Hoarding

A few minutes later, something similar happened with a bowl and spoon, where Eddie had two and another child wanted one of them, and Eddie wouldn’t budge.

“There are plenty of bowls for everyone,” the teacher said, and handed a bowl and spoon to the little girl who had been grabbing at one of Eddie’s.

Soon, Eddie grew bored with the bowl and dropped it to the floor. He then picked up a little red barn with a blue roof and handed it to my husband, Bruce, who was seated at a children’s table. Eddie then went and got a xylophone and brought it over to Bruce and left it with him on the table. He walked away and came back with an Elmo doll and a book. He was stockpiling.

He stockpiled toys

I remembered last spring when I took Eddie to get the box of organic produce I pick up from a woman’s house every two weeks. She has a bunny in a cage in her yard, and I sometimes take Eddie out of the car to see the rabbit. I usually take a few carrots out of the box I’ve just picked up and hand them to Eddie. One is for him. The other is for the rabbit. Eddie will start to eat his own carrot and then stick the bunny’s carrot through the holes in the cage. But after a couple of seconds, he’ll move his own carrot to his other hand and start eating the rabbit’s carrot.

He eats the carrot intended for the bunny.

As we left the daycare center, the teachers gave us a memo that spelled out what the class was about and what each child would need: a lunch box, two drinks a change of clothes, some diapers and wipes and a family photo for the “my family” board. The first lines of the memo said, “Welcome to the toddler class. Our main focus at this age is to help your child with the development of social skills, such as sharing and cooperating.”

I hope my child isn’t left behind.

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Earlier this summer, my husband and I were walking to a concert in our local town when the skies opened up and it began to thunder and lightning. We popped open our umbrellas and ran toward the concert hall, but as I moved through the streets with no canopy of trees to cover us, I saw the flashes coming closer and closer, and I began to fear lightening would strike the tip of my umbrella. We’d just seen a movie, “Moonrise Kingdom,” an enchanting story about young love, and there’s a scene in which the lead character is running through an open field, and he’s struck by lightning. I was torn between closing my umbrella so as not to attract the lightening, and knowing that if I did, I would be soaking wet as I watched the concert. And there was a good chance I wasn’t going to be struck by lightning at all, and that I would be uncomfortably wet on account of silly paranoia.

My father once told me a story about a woman who was such a fatalist that she left her house one evening without her sweater and didn’t want to turn around to get it for fear it would place her somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be, in the threshold of some doorway, or stepping off a curb into the street, and that she might meet her end because of it. So she continued on into the evening without her sweater, and the result was, she caught a cold.

When we arrived at the concert hall, we were greeted by our neighbor, Sheila, who is the entertainment director there. She sometimes gives us free tickets, as was the case that night, though they’re usually in a section on the side of the stage. It’s a mixed bag: the seats are close — about tenth row from the stage — so you feel almost like you’ve met the entertainers, except that you’re seeing them from the side. It would be like going to breakfast with someone, but the whole meal, you’re talking to their profile.

Sheila left but returned a couple of minutes later to say that if we preferred, she had another pair of seats available in the center of the concert hall, where we would have a frontal view of the stage. But they were about 20 rows back. She said we could go with her to see if we liked them better. As soon as we got there, I saw that not only were they better seats but several of our other neighbors were already sitting there.

“I didn’t offer you these seats initially because I figured you’d have the baby, and I thought you might want to be close to the door in case you had to make a quick getaway,” Sheila said.

That was considerate of Sheila, but given that she is better friends with the neighbors already seated there, I couldn’t help but feel Sheila had given them preferential treatment and was now making an excuse for why she hadn’t put us there initially. I understood the concept of the better the friend, the better the seat, but there were about eight empty seats in that center section, and I imagined Sheila had been saving them for people she liked more than us, but because it had rained and they hadn’t shown up, she was now offering their seats to us. Basically, we were getting sloppy seconds.

“Wasn’t that nice of Sheila to think of Eddie? She’s so considerate,” my husband, Bruce, said.

“Yeah, sure,” I said. I always think the worst of people, mostly because I think so poorly of myself. It’s that old, “I wouldn’t want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member.”

Lately, when it comes to relationship matters, I’ve been wrong on every count. I thought a woman was refusing to answer my texts and a voicemail and it turns out her mother had just died and she’d gone incommunicado. I silently cursed a man who didn’t answer my email, and then a day later, he replied. When I failed to get an email telling me where the next meeting of my book club would be held, it occurred to me that maybe they didn’t want me in the group anymore, and they were meeting in secret to figure out how to tell me that. Turns out there was no meeting because everyone dropped the ball and failed to schedule one.

The problem with paranoid thinking, though – whether it involves relationships or matters of life and death — is you can be wrong a thousand times and right just once, and that’s enough to perpetuate those nagging thoughts. The day after the music concert, I read in the newspaper that a woman walking back from the beach a few towns north of us was struck by lightning and killed. She was with her family, and when the thunderstorm rolled in, they all packed up their things and left. The woman was a few paces behind everyone else, scurrying across an elevated walkway holding a beach chair and other beach items, when she was struck. Her two children saw it happen, as did a local police officer, who said the lightening went right through the woman’s head and out her stomach, making a hole as it exited. Another witness, who was standing in her doorway across the street, said she saw the bolt strike the woman’s head and flow down her body to her feet and then back up again, making the items in her hands glow.

A few days later, a 17-year old girl riding a chairlift that runs along the beach saw a thunderstorm moving in and fearing she, too, would be struck jumped 35 feet to the ground. She survived the fall by landing on her side. The ride had stopped, and as she dangled in mid-air, she said she could see the lightning off in the distance, and she just freaked out.

I was recently at a party thrown by my friend, Dawn, who has a house in the woods that has a view of the Delaware River. We were surrounded by evergreens that were about 100 feet high, and there was a canopy of younger, shorter ones surrounding my friend’s yard. I sat on the edge of a swimming pool with my friend, Tom, dangling our feet in the water, as my son, Eddie stood in front of me on the first step of the pool. As Tom and I talked, I could see lightening flickering off in the distance, and I kept thinking, “Should I get Eddie out of the pool? What if it strikes the water and fries me and my son? What if it just kills my son?” And so I did what any mother would do when questioning whether their child was in danger: I asked the person next to me.

“Do you think we should get out?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I imagine we’re fine,” Tom said.

I kept my legs in the pool and we continued to talk — until I saw another flicker of lightening, a little closer than the last.

“I’d hate to be wrong on this,” I said. “I wonder if we should get out of the water.”

“I think you have a better chance of being eaten by sharks than being struck by lightning,” Tom said.

Tom speaks like a Southerner, orbiting a point like a fly trying to get at a piece of watermelon.

When I saw another flash, brighter and closer than the last, I looked over and saw Tom’s legs were out of the water. I yanked Eddie out of the pool and then pulled out my own legs. Sometimes, the only way to know whether your fears are justified or whether you’re just having a bout of silly paranoia is for your worst fears to be realized. But of course vindication means never getting to say, “I told you so.” So I chalked it up to one of those clichés worth heeding, like don’t buy cheap tape, don’t put anything sharp in your ear, and better safe than sorry.

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I put on a pair of beige Capri pants, a white headband, and a crisp white shirt with a collar that stood up like bat’s wings. I was trying to channel Laura Petrie. While Laura was bone thin and had spindly arms like Audrey Hepburn, and I have curves like a bell and breasts like a Latvian, today is my 49th birthday. It’s time to start doing what I want and being who I want, even if some think I look silly. I still remember being in 11th grade, an age when you begin to exercise your individuality, and walking out of my bedroom wearing army green parachute pants and high top sneakers with rainbow laces, and in front of my friend my mother said, “You’re not really going out like that, are you?” I think she was sometimes embarrassed about the way I dressed, or the way I swore, or how I didn’t send thank you notes when someone gave me a gift, because she felt it reflected poorly on her.

Channeling Laura Petrie

I’d already decided that in honor of my birthday, I was going out to breakfast with my 19-month old son, Eddie. It was a brave move given that Eddie’s now at the stage where he throws things constantly and sometimes yells so loudly and in such a high pitch, I expect glass to shatter and car alarms to go off. I decided to pack a lot of toys and get a table outside.

The bag of toys contained five plastic farm animals, four spongy rhinos, multi-colored nesting balls, a car with the button that plays rap music from South Central L.A., a couple of matchbox cars, and a little chipmunk that when you press down on his head says, “I’m Theodore. Ha ha ha.” As soon as we sat down, I lined up all the toys along the edge of the table. I then set out some peanut butter cereal puffs, placing one puff in each little groove of the table’s wrought iron design.

Most mothers ask for a piece of paper and a crayon

A young waitress walked by and looked at the display of toys. “You’re such a good mother,” she said. “Most mothers come in here with nothing and say, ‘Do you have a crayon and a piece of paper?’ ”

I smiled and thought, she doesn’t know the half of it. Just an hour earlier, as I was changing Eddie on the diaper table, I handed him a little plush lamb to play with, and he winged it at my face. So I threw it back at him. I didn’t throw it hard, and it was a fluffy little animal not likely to hurt anyone. But I threw an object at my child. I could hear my pediatrician’s voice saying, “He may start hitting you. Resist the urge to hit him back.” I did not resist. I rationalized that I wanted him to learn it’s not nice to throw things in people’s faces. The truth is, I was pissed he keeps hitting me in the face and throwing things at me. He looked up at me, his mouth made the little “O” shape that always precedes a cry, and he began to bawl. Heartbroken, I grabbed him and hugged him and began to cry, myself, and said, “Stupid mommy. That was really stupid. Stupid Mommy.” I then slapped myself lightly on the hand. “I should not have thrown that at you.” Great, I thought. Now he’s going to think I’m stupid. Or that he should slap himself on the hand when he does something wrong. Or that I’m cruel. Or that I’m erratic, throwing things one minute, and then crying and feeling badly about it the next. When you’re born feeling wrong, there’s nowhere to turn that feels right.

In the restaurant, Eddie played with the little animals I’d lined up, but after a couple of minutes, he tossed one of the rhinos on to the floor. And then another. As I bent down to pick it up, the waitress came with our food. I started to cut up Eddie’s blueberry pancakes into bite-size pieces, squeezed a thin stream of syrup on top in a circular motion, paused, then thinking I was being chintzy, squirt on a little more. I slid the plate over to Eddie, and he picked up a piece and put it in his mouth. He began to chew it and then started to spit it back out in a spray, as if to say, “I reject this.”

A display of peanut butter puffs

“Oh, c’mon. You like pancakes,” I said. I picked up a piece and put it in his mouth. He ate it and then he reached down for another and pushed it into his mouth. I watched him as he chewed, waiting for him to spit the food back out, but he swallowed it. I felt relief. I watched him eat another piece and swallow it, and then another. Phew, I thought. I can now relax and eat. I looked down at my plate and began to cut up my eggs when I felt a piece of pancake hit my arm.

“Eddie!” I said.

He picked up another piece and flung it at my shorts.

“Stop it!” I said.

He picked up another piece and threw it at my pressed white shirt. It left a purple blueberry stain just below my breast. There’s a commercial out now for a bank in which a baby is sitting in a highchair, and the narrator says, “But it’s more money!” The baby responds by throwing a fistful of cereal in the narrator’s face. The ad made me laugh. Not anymore. Eddie continued to throw pieces of sticky blueberry pancake at me like a monkey winging feces at passersby, until I grabbed his little fist.

“Enough!” I said.

I stood up and took his plate and placed it on the seat next to him, out of his reach. I sat back down and began to eat my breakfast. But I felt funny eating in front of him when he didn’t have any food. I tried to give him some of my egg, then a piece of corned beef hash, but as the fork got near his mouth, he’d push it away with his hand and say, “No!” I took out the bag of peanut butter cereal and put some out onto the table. He began eating the little puffs, once piece at a time.

A family of four sat down at the table next to us. A man with a little white dog sat down at the table on the other side of me. I suddenly felt uncomfortable, fearing if Eddie misbehaved now, my parenting skills – such as they are — would be on display. I reassured myself that people go out to breakfast to talk amongst themselves. They won’t even notice me. And if they did, people are never as judgmental as I think they are.

Just then, a man road by on a bicycle that had a wagon attached to it, and sitting inside the wagon was his son. They were riding in the road, and as they passed our line of tables, the traffic light turned red and they had to wait. The man straddled his bicycle while his son sat quietly in the wagon sucking his thumb.

“Now that’s riding in style,” said the mother at the table next to me.

“Uh huh,” said her husband.

The traffic light changed, and the father and son took off, and before they’d even gone a block, the mother next to me said, “You know that boy should be wearing a helmet. It’s dangerous for him to be riding in the back like that without a helmet.”

“You’re right,” said her husband.

Soon, an older couple arrived and walked over to the table with the young man and his dog. The older woman was pushing a double-baby carriage with twin boys. Her husband sat down, and the woman tried to push the carriage up to the table, but the front wheel kept jamming. Her husband stood up and rocked the carriage back and forth until the wheel straightened out.

The woman, who appeared to be the children’s grandmother, took two juice boxes out of her handbag, unwrapped them and handed one to each child. Eddie and I watched them like it was a spectator sport.

“How old are they?” I asked.

“Two,” the woman said. “The terrible two’s.”

I looked over at the two boys, who were sitting there quietly drinking juice. The woman then took a roll of Ritz crackers out of her bag and opened it and handed a cracker to each child.

“Do they throw things?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah. They throw things all the time,” said the woman’s husband. “They like to throw things over a barrier, like the porch railing.”

“Oh, yeah. He does that all the time,” I said, pointing to Eddie. “But no, I mean do they throw things at you.”

“Oh, at me? Never! That’s no good. You gotta nip that in the bud. Give him a little rap on the hand,” he said, rapping himself on the hand to illustrate. “Not hard. But a little rap. You have to be firm.”

“Oh, yeah?” I said. I looked over at his grandchildren, who were silently eating their crackers like little soldiers. I then turned to Eddie, who was jabbering nonsensically as he brushed the remains of his peanut butter cereal puffs onto the floor. I so didn’t want to be the parent who is embarrassed of her child’s behavior, who measures her child against other children and finds they sometimes come up short, and yet here I was, being, well, my mother.

I chatted with the grandparents for a little while longer, and after a couple of minutes, I gathered up all of Eddie’s toys and dumped our barely-eaten breakfast plates into Styrofoam containers. I then grabbed Eddie, and we were off. When I got into my car, I looked down at the blueberry stain on my pressed white shirt and thought, so much for Laura Petrie.

the summer band

That night, my husband and I took Eddie down to the boardwalk to hear some music. Our small town has a summer orchestra that plays Wednesday nights, and I wanted Eddie to hear it. My son loves music. From the time he was four months old, I would hold him up on top of my desk or our kitchen table and he would sway to the beat of Santana. For his first birthday, someone gave him a drum, some cymbals and a tambourine. I’ll sometimes put on the Beatles, and he marches around the kitchen playing all three instruments in succession. He plays the giant leaves of our neighbor’s hosta plant as if they were a bongo drum. He plays my guitar like a dulcimer, holding it flat on his lap and plucking the strings and tapping the frets to make harmonics. He once found a rectangular piece of yellow plastic in our local park that had obviously broken off a child’s toy, and he began to strum it like a harp.

When we first took him to see this summer band a few weeks ago, I tried to introduce him to all of the instruments. I stood in front of the band with him in my arms, and when the flutes played, I ran over to the flute section and showed him what was making the sound. When the trumpets played, I ran over to the brass section and pointed out the trumpets. He saw a full drum set, and a standing xylophone, a tuba and clarinets. And he was enthralled. He would watch in silence, and at the end of each piece, he would applaud.

A whirling dervish

When we arrived at the boardwalk on my birthday, the music had already begun. The moment my son heard it, he began to stomp his feet and move his right arm up and down as if he were snapping his fingers. While there were several other children there, Eddie was the only one dancing. He stood in the middle of the boardwalk stomping and swaying to the music. He then began to spin. And he spun, and he spun, and he spun, like a whirling dervish. And as I watched him, I thought, my child is absolutely perfect the way he is.

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