Monday, December 29, 2008

The Grimace Only A Grandmother Can Deny

Here's the necessary caveat: I love my mother dearly.

But she is delusional.

She contradicts me when I say Number Two is surly.

"He is not," says she.

"Is too," says I.

"He's always smiling when he's around me." She's positively preening.

"So I'm a bad mother, then. Because he's surly to me."

She shrugs. "I guess so." The easy acquiescence must be her attempt at levity.

I fall for the bait, choking back a snort that emerges snort-ish anyway. "I've been around both of you all day, and he was not smiling the whole time. I've got the pictures to prove it."

"No, you don't."

Oh, don't I?

Still, nobody's denying he has his moments.

You've got a cute grandkid, mom. I'll give you that.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

First Look at the Second Child

I went back in my blog archives to February/March 2006, the period during which The Boss was the age that Number Two is now. At eight months old, they both weighed about 14 pounds. They both woke easily to the screech of the witching hour. They developed their motor skills at a slow idle, content as they both were to lay there, focused on fusing cells and neurons in a flurry that went unseen from the outside.

Of course there were differences, too. The Boss had two teeth by eight months, while Number Two's surly demeanor just makes it seem like he's teething. His virgin, non-swollen gums lead me to believe he feels fine and is simply not prone to exuberance. The Boss, on the other hand, was happy as a clam even as the calcium was rising in jagged peaks through her flesh. She didn't demand to be held as much as Number Two does; she was soothed by classical music in a way he is not.

The biggest difference, though, is in my perception. I took The Boss at face value because I had nothing else to go by. Her life unfolded before me in what I looked at as a natural progression. I didn't research developmental milestones in books or measure her against other children. Looking back on it, I am shocked and heartened by the true extent of my laissez-faire approach. I could have been worried about the fact that she didn't crawl until she reached eleven months, but I wasn't. And that's good, because there was no cause for concern. You'd think the validation would help me rest assured the second time around, but it hasn't worked that way. Where second children often meet loosened up mothers, I've grown more rigid. I'm worried that he's too small, too slow, too vacant in his big-eyed stare.

None of it is rational. Number Two is on virtually the same self-propelled trajectory as the one The Boss traveled two and a half years ago. My firstborn is happy, healthy and smart. But in the comfort of comparison is the source of the problem: I've lost the sense of wonder that can only come from slowing down and experiencing something for the first time.

He is my second child, but he's the first of him. I need to look at him in his own light, devoid of comparisons or superstition, to help me reclaim what I got right the first time around.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Contents Under Pressure

The Partner and I do not do well under pressure. We fought for the entire week before our wedding, came to an armistice in time for the rehearsal ceremony, and were back at each other's throats by dinner. The day of our wedding dawned peacefully, but the honeymoon was over three days in.

We have stood back-to-back, with arms folded, for three out of five anniversaries. Valentine's Day hasn't fared much better. Birthdays are hit or miss. Only Independence Day has emerged unscathed. There's no pressure there, just beer and a barbecue and friends who kindly insist that we shovel up the bullshit, stick in a firecracker, and watch it burn a hole in the ozone.

The main issue is organization versus chaos. It's common sense versus distraction in the face of shiny objects. It's The Partner's desire for a well oiled machine and my belief that I can get by just fine without lube.

This Christmas was no exception. I failed to order the cards in a timely manner. Then I realized I didn't order enough. I ran out of tape while wrapping presents on Christmas Eve. The layers of laundry in front of the washing machine collided--continental Dreft?--and formed a mountain.

None of this amuses The Partner. In fact, if we have, by some chance, smoothed things over by the time he reads these words, the reminder alone will piss him off all over again.

The other day, a friend asked me if The Partner and I like fighting. She was perfectly serious and so was I when I answered, "I guess so." I mean, my husband and I both knew what we were getting into when we started making each other miserable eleven years ago. There are few surprises in a relationship based on the premise that one party is perfect while the other is tragically flawed.

The excitement is in seeing who can yell louder, act deafer, and hold a grudge longer while stomping all over a foundation that defies human engineering in its solidity.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shopping the Deep, Dark Recesses

I entered Abercrombie & Fitch only to be accosted by darkness, cologne, a blaring beat, and the realization that I am thirty years old.

In the haze of fragrance lit by no bulb brighter than 15 watts, I squinted at the form of a salesgirl who seemed to be speaking to me. I shook my head with a rueful smile. It was a universal gesture that I hope conveyed both the fact that it was ridiculous for her to think I could hear what she was saying or see her well enough to read her lips and that, no, I don't need any help anyway. She went back to folding skintight wool sweaters.

The merchandise in the women's (and I use the terms loosely) section consisted basically of one single outfit, the pieces of which are meant to be layered on top of each other until the waif wearing them is sufficiently buffered from the December chill. First a cami and jeans, then a long sleeved tee-shirt. Then a tight sweater and a looser buttoned one. Then a hoodie. Then a scarf and a cap.

I sucked back the deluge from sinuses compromised by fragrance allergens as I unfolded a sweater. I was pretty sure my sixteen year old sister would like it. She wouldn't care that it was scratchy as long as it was like everybody else's. I wondered if I was like that when I was her age, and I quickly discounted the idea. I've always hated wool.

I didn't hear a single word the cashier said during the whole purchase process. The sound from the speaker overhead was the kind of mainstream music that is non-memorable except for its frenetic bass, which went in through my ears and promptly got stuck in the sludge of my nasal cavity. I watched him slide the sweater into a sturdy paper bag with a cloth handle. They probably could've skimped on it and maybe charged a little less for the stuff inside. But whatever. We both reached out, the bag falling from seller to buyer. I wrapped my fingers around the fabric grip and let my arm drop to my side. The bag bumped my leg as I made my way out of the cavern into the light. The fluorescence was startling.

In that shock, an inconsistency occured to my thirty year old self. I thought it strange that the dark place is the one devoted to youthful perfection, while the undiluted brightness of the rest of the mall is a shining light on every wrinkle and fat deposit hurrying through. But whatever. I threw myself into long strides so that my image blurred as I looked sideways into the reflective storefronts. I sped toward the exit and the cold, New England winter, where gray illuminates everyone just the same.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Perfect Package

Today I gave Number Two a red ribbon to play with and it was like, well, Christmas.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Number Two is surly. He is loath to smile unless someone physically exerts herself to pull a grin from those two straight lips. But not today. Not after the introduction of the red bow. The kid was beaming from ear to ear.

Until that moment, The Boss had co-opted all my excitement about the upcoming holiday. It's the first Christmas for which she is truly cognizant of the wonder. I'm as abuzz with anticipation as she is. I can already hear her stuttering incredulity on Christmas morning as she bounces with the language of a three year old who has more experience than words.

We weren't planning to bring many gifts for Number Two when we spend Christmas Eve and then that morning with The Partner's parents. We figured he doesn't need them; don't think he wants them; and are sure there won't be much room next to his car seat when we come home from his grandparent's house with their sled-ful of gifts. But now that I've seen the way a smile lit his face all the while that ribbon laced his fingers, I want to wrap up everything I see.

It's so easy when they love the simple things. There's something pure about the gratification that I feel as a mother when my son exhibits a sense of joy just for being. It's a Christmas message that's been wrapped too tightly for me to take the time to open this season. But now I've got it.

I'm handing him the shiny ribbon. I'm watching him play.

Friday, December 19, 2008

6 Shopping Days Till Christmas

The shoppers are out in droves, not only to beat the cranked-up Christmas clock, but to outrun the storm. Dr. Mel is predicting almost a foot of snow by the time the clouds move out at midnight. It's noon now. The white stuff is just starting to fall. I think of angels shaking dandruff from blue-gray tresses.

I left The Boss at a friend's house for my run out to Target. I am looking mainly for some clay to round out her array of Christmas gifts. It's one of her favorite things to play with at school--the rolling, the stretching, the marking with a "B." Plus, Crayola's clay offerings are made in the USA, which is so rare in the world of children's toys that I'm considering it a Christmas miracle.

Target doesn't have it, of course. So much for magic. Instead I buy the Mamma Mia DVD for my own mamma and some paper towels for the friend who's watching The Boss (as a courtesy, not a gift). Everywhere, people are taking long strides, their thighs rubbing in rhythm as they cut like scissors through the crowd. Number Two is in his carrier atop the front seat of the cart. He is tired and ornery but he is too transfixed by the frenzy to complain.

When we are finally released into the parking lot, what was clear and hot and red behind us is now a cold white light. There's already a film of snow on the ground. A woman chuckles as she strides past me. Her black hair holds itself in a perfect flip. She is dark and round and almost joyous. "Look at all of us. They told us to stay home, but here we are. Shopping."

I turn to watch her and, since she seems to be talking to me, I smile and nod. She has such throaty confidence. Her chortle remains even after the automatic doors swallow her up. It dissipates slowly in the cold as I throw a blanket over Number Two. Then I push the cart into a fast slide toward our truck. Toward home.

Do you consider shopping a form of retail therapy or is it the very act of gift-buying that is threatening to push you over the edge this holiday season? This is just one of the questions on the mind of The Parent Bloggers Network as they pair up with Family Aware to find out how bloggers across this sphere of ours are adapting their holiday preparations to keep from becoming completely overwhelmed. Check out what these writers have to say.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Visit to Shady Pines

I don't know what to call it. It's a home, but of what variety: Retirement? Convalescent? Old People's? We've been there twice, but I haven't yet been able to tell The Boss exactly where it was we were going. I think I mumbled something about grandmothers and Christmas carols as we pulled up this afternoon. When we got out of our car, a middle-aged woman next to us was sobbing beside her Ford pick-up. I hurried The Boss along. Already, I didn't want to be there.

There were about five mothers and ten kids from the chapter of the MOMS Club to which I belong. One parent pulled a wagon filled with crafts of which she had overseen the completion earlier in the week as children, like snot-nosed and supremely adorable elves, poured colored sand into water bottles and planted a fake flower in each. We were at the...facility for the aged? deliver those homemade vases to residents amidst choruses of Rudolph and We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

There was a stench that could have been coming from either soiled sheets or the domed dinner plates that rolled by at several points during our visit. The Boss clung to my leg like she always does for the first four or five seconds in any new place. Then she warmed up.

"Happy Christmas!" She leaned into one wheelchair and handed over a flower along with her cheery greeting. Its occupant, so small in her seat that she seemed only white hair and wrinkles, was palsied in her effort to put a kiss on The Boss's face. The Boss reached up; the woman bobbed down. There were old lips on a new nose and The Boss's laugh was awkward but boisterous. "Happy Christmas," she said again.

Later, there was another woman in another wheelchair at the end of a long hallway. "She's 107," said the nurse who was directing our wiggling parade. "We shouldn't send more than a few kids over to her at once."

I squinted in the direction of the centenarian. I was wearing my glasses instead of contacts, and the prescription in my tortoise shell frames never seems strong enough. I pondered the fact that there were probably many in the 80+ set here today with better eyesight than mine. I strained to make out the oldest one of all. She wasn't that far away, but all I could see was a shapeless shift of white. Her head melted into her torso, which sagged into two stick legs. I marveled at the body and mind that refused to give up against all odds.

As we walked away, I thought of what it might mean to reach 55 years old having wiled away only half of one's life span. Maybe I wouldn't want to reach 107. Maybe the fact that I couldn't see her clearly left me more optimistic than I should've been. But there's something about that kind of longevity that inspires awe.

And maybe just a little bit of hope.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Loose Ends

The Boss is falling apart. This morning we couldn't find the sharing stick (the harbinger of the Montessori version of "Show 'n' Tell"--it comes home with each child the night before s/he is supposed to bring a story or item to share with the class) and then, on the way to school, she told her carpool partner that there is no Santa Claus.

The sharing stick is still missing and I am clueless as to how The Boss came up with the idea that there is no right jolly old elf. I have to admit that she is not the only one falling apart. A three year old cannot come undone without help. We are one thread unraveling together.

We are always at our most frayed on Mondays. It pains me to fall back into patterns of organization after the weekend's formless family time. For me, disorder is the norm. We thrived during The Boss's infancy and toddlerhood, when nothing forced us into a schedule and there were no demands other than the ones we put on ourselves. She napped when she felt like it. I strapped her into her carseat and went out when the spirit moved me. We rarely had to be anywhere at a certain time.

Now The Boss is in pre-school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. every weekday. We need consistent mealtimes and bedtimes. We need to wake up with enough of a buffer on the clock to eat breakfast and make lunch. We usually make it, but we are always hanging by that thread. I am not doing well. She is not doing well. She is Scroogey in the car, doing things like telling poor, unsuspecting four year olds that there is no santa. How does she even know that?

I guess adjustment just takes time--which is, ironically, the thing I am missing. It's the single most important lesson parenthood has taught me: there's just not enough time, and the moments we do have go by too fast.

In a way, that's its own consolation. We'll find the sharing stick eventually, and we'll figure out this Kris Kringle confusion. We'll have ourselves some holiday. In the quiet of one evening, I'll lean back against the kitchen counter and I'll heft a sigh.

We'll be on to the next set of problems before you can say Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

My ambivalence toward my cell phone borders on disregard. Once I dropped it in the snow for The Partner to drive over in his truck. It survived. On another occasion, same phone, it fell from the pocket of my hiked-up jean skirt into the toilet just as I depressed the flusher. It did not survive.

After a couple years of going cell-phone-less, I have one again. I am still reckless. I misplaced it earlier today and realized I didn't much care. I went about my daily business relying instead on email. I thought that maybe the phone was gone for good. Then I sat down to relax in front of the television and heard a muffled ring emanating from somewhere. I started up toward the sound, but each step took me further away. I walked backwards, but that didn't intensify the ring. I turned in confused circles.

I had to call my cell phone with the land line four times, traversing the house and climbing up and down two flights of stairs, before I realized that the muffling agents were a door and a pocket. The electronic song got louder as each barrier was removed; first, I opened the hall closet, then I reached into the folds of the outdated purple and black LL Bean coat I'd worn yesterday. I was greeted by the low-battery and 8-missed-calls message on the screen of my shiny red phone. I scrunched my nose and glared at it.

I don't love my phone. Never really have. Sometimes when I think about my relationship with Ma Bell, I ponder the fact that dropping my cell into the compromised waters of a public toilet might've been more of a statement than an accident.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Thirst for the Good Life

The Boss got thirsty while I was ogling the prices on no-nitrates-added hot dogs at Trader Joe's. After she proclaimed that fact for the fifth time, I agreed to find her a drink she could imbibe now and pay for once we got to the register. We settled on a strawberry yogurt smoothie.

"This is good!" she said.

"Is it yummy?" asked a woman who was passing by.

"No. It's strawberry."

I chuckled at the seriousness of The Boss's glee. It was such a small thing, but she was talking it up to every shopper she passed. "I'm drinking strawberry milk!" she told one guy. "My mommy bought me this!" she informed another.

I sure did. And I was happy to.

It reminded me of the conversation I'd had with a friend the day before. She told me how she never thought she'd be the mother who got her son everything he wanted for Christmas. It's not necessary. It doesn't teach the right lessons. She knows this all rationally, but the gleam in his eye when he sees what he wants grabs her with emotion. Here she is now, hurrying the grandparents to tell her what they plan to buy for the kid so she can purchase the rest, ensuring that every wish on the list is taken care of.

To see The Boss's pink yogurt moustache atop lips curling around Thank you, mommy! is to understand why it can be so easy to be sucked into pleasing. But I'm of a more conservative approach when it comes to holiday giving. Even if we could give it all to our daughter, we wouldn't. She's three. She doesn't need that much. Maybe none of us do.

The satisfaction she derives from a 8 ounces of drinkable Yoplait tells me I'm not wrong about this.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

What Do Oil Prices and Our Thermostat Have In Common?

Only my rapid-fire typing is keeping my fingers from losing all sensation. Number Two is sleeping, tucked away in his carrier beneath a Bundle Me-type carseat cover. The Partner is in New York City. He left us yesterday for a business trip and the last of our home heating fuel followed. He will be returning tonight to employ stopgap measures. Oil delivery time: T-24 hours and counting.

I'd post more, but there are probably activities better suited to encouraging the proper flow of blood than typing. Like getting out of the house to a place where heat is.

You stay warm, and I'll try to do the same.

Heating oil price per gallon: $2.11
Current temperature inside: 48 degrees

Saturday, December 06, 2008

His Sweetness

Number Two has been coming into his own lately. I suppose he was always cute, in the way that any baby is, but now he's done and gone Gerber Baby on me. His face is round but not jowly; his hair is a fluff of fine white gold over enormous eyes. He is ruddy and smooth. He doesn't give away smiles, but when his lips curl in a flirt, it's worth the price of admission.

Today at breakfast a stranger with black ringlets around her face kissed his fingers. Another gentleman told me my son should be on television. That same man's mother was dining with him, and she looked from her baby--who was 60 years old if he was a day--to mine.

"He was young like that, once," she told me.

I said "I know," but I doubt she believed me. How could I know? But I do. It's why you might catch me looking sad sometimes; why I am quiet on occasion. I fade into these moments more often with each passing day--when I age 50 years in the time it takes Number Two's hand to skitter across my cheek, his fingers falling into my open mouth. The corners of his mouth lift, pulling his eyes even wider, as I nip at him. I'll eat you up.

It's a taste I'll savor long after my teeth are gone and my grin is as gummy as his is now.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Supermarket Weeps

The grocery store is one place where the difficulties of being a parent to young children become readily apparent. When I wield two kids and a shopping cart, pity from all over drips onto my shoulders like tears from shoppers' eyes.

Number Two does not like to browse. He will not sit in his carrier while watching the perishable and the non-perishable go by. I must hold him with one arm while pushing the cart with the other and using my voice to keep The Boss from detouring down the candy aisle. You would think I would wise up and bring a sling so that I'd at least have my hands free, but somehow I always forget it. I am not good with accessories. None of them. I purchased reusable bags to cut down on my use of plastic, but I every time I sidle up to the register with the baby on my hip, I find that I left them at home or in the car.

The other day I was so distracted by my wayward children--Number Two was arching backward in my arm and shrieking while The Boss grabbed various candy bars and shoved them in front of my face as if each one was a miraculous find--that I stepped into a line and unloaded all my 35 items onto the belt before I realized it had been designated 12 or Less. I apologized extra loud to the woman behind me so that anyone who could have possibly witnessed the incident would realize it was not intentional. She seemed okay with it. In fact, she seemed downright sorry for me. I elicit that reaction a lot when I'm out with my children.

In many ways I am extremely laid back. I do everything possible not to cause myself stress. I don't worry about the kids' sleeping or eating or TV watching habits. I don't compare myself or my children to others--not that much, anyway. I do what feels right to me, and I've found that it most often translates to what's right for The Boss and Number Two.

However, my laid back approach doesn't always work. It goes out the window while driving into the supermarket parking lot and flies away as I drag the kids through the automatic sliders. It's as if I'm so accustomed to the bare minimum of control that to deplete levels any further is to completely lose it.

In those moments, stripped of my nonchalance, I become crazed. I'm a shrieking harpy with one child hanging by his torso from my elbow while I chase after his sister. Women everywhere give me knowing smiles. It's the sort of commiseration where half of each mother's face is lifted and wistful, while the other sags with relief that she isn't me. The communal exhale is almost audible.

At the 12 or Under register, the lady behind me began to bag my groceries as I struggled to remove my wallet from the diaper bag.

"Oh, thank you so much," I said. I looked in front and to the sides and behind me as I searched for things like my daughter, my credit card and my sanity. I spoke over Number Two's wails. "Thank you, thank you." I said it each time she put another item into a bag (a plastic bag, because of course I'd forgotten the reusable ones).

"Do you care if your meat goes in with the cereal bars?" she inquired, politely.

"No, no, that's fine." I didn't want to cause her any more inconvenience than I already had. At that moment, cross contamination was the least of my worries. "Thank you."

I felt grateful. I felt guilty. I felt like the mom of a 7 month old and a three year old. I took my baggage any way I could get it.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Through Her Eyes

I met up with Lauren yesterday. She's a blogger-turned-real-life-friend. She's a story teller who works with both words and pictures. A moment is more vivid when she shows it to us through her eyes. Nothing is mundane, nobody is normal, and even the cheese graters hold fascination. She shocks me with the realization that her world is the same place I've been living in all this time. I never even knew it.

And she has me pegged. "I can see her being the one at the party with her skirt accidentally tucked into her pantyhose," she wrote about me in her post about our visit. God, she is so right. If I ever pen a memoir, some variation of that statement will have to serve as the title.

But, since a picture says a thousand words and, I promise, you'd rather hear it from her than me, here are a few shots of Number Two to prove my point (in case you haven't followed the previous links to her blog already).

Photos by Lauren

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


On how many separate occasions am I am going to drive right past my driveway, turning in a sad circle at the nearest cross street, before I start to pay attention? How many school events will I miss because I failed to attune to the weekly newsletter sent home with The Boss? How many friends' birthdays forgotten? How many vitamins missed?

Today a friend asked if I was planning to attend tomorrow's Parent/Child Night at The Boss's pre-school.

"What?" I asked.

"Parent/Child Night," she repeated.

"What?" I said.

"Don't you read the newsletter?"

"Apparently not."

"Didn't you see the sign on the door?"


In my written life, I'm more focused. I can edit myself...which I do, a lot. The results are not perfect, but they are usually not scattered the way my real life inspiration is. I remember things on the page. I am collected on the screen. I am careful. It's almost as if I'm a different person.

In the home and on the road and at various stops in between, I am all over the place. And it's usually not where I set out to be.

Monday, December 01, 2008

One Billy Goat

I usually drive by the ramshackle farm house to find the billy goat coatless on the porch, but today he was in the middle of the road, forcing me to stop. He was woolen for the winter.

I didn't quite know what to do. He was messing with my habit of agricultural rubbernecking. I drive by every so often on meandering jaunts through scenic byroads, seeing if he's still there in his enormous gruffness and checking on the status of the freakish red stripes--like the kind my daughter would draw with a marker--that cover his skin. It's those stripes that keep me coming back. I look for clues as to the identity of the artist who paints goats red.

At first I stopped. The beast was unmoving. I wanted to let the owners know he was on the loose, but I didn't want to frighten him with my GMC's deep beep. I slowly pulled around and then beyond, waiting till he was a car-length behind me. I honked once and watched the property, which sprouted garbage in fruitful yields, for signs of life. There was nothing. I honked again, and then again. On the house, clapboards hung haphazard and scraps of wood covered several of the street facing windows. Nothing.

I could have gotten out of the car and corralled the enormous billy goat back to his perch on the porch. I could have, but I am either too fearful or too smart. I could've pulled to the side of the road with my hazards on and waited till someone with claim to the goat took responsibility. I could've called animal control. I could've done a lot of things.

Instead, I beeped once more for good measure and again set my wheels to turning. An oil truck came up the road in front of me. I gestured for the driver to go slow as I pointed behind me. I turned left and was afforded a view of the backside of the house, beyond which I could see that the truck had come to a stop.

I wondered what he would choose to do as I drove away.