Monday, November 30, 2009

I Finished NaBloPoMo '09

I saw this badge on the National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) site. It best represented my successful completion of the challenge, so I took it. It reminds me of my favorite sarcastic retro slogan:


This was the easiest go I've had at NaBloPoMo since I started participating in the thirty-day blog posting challenge three years ago. I think the secret was in the fact that, for the first time in my writing life, I gave up all regard for the opinions of others. I didn't censor myself or hold out for brilliance that I was completely delusional to think would ever come. I just wrote. Many of my posts this month were longer than those I usually commit to this blog. I'm pretty sure they were more boring. They were the essence of what Anne Lamott terms the "shitty first draft" in her archetypal book on the writing process, Bird By Bird.

I'm not sure if her words were working at my subconscious when I embarked on NaBloPoMo this month or if I somehow came to the conclusion on my own, but, either way, her message exemplifies my guiding force in posting daily throughout November. "Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people," Lamott wrote. "It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft."

In letting go of that dictatorial inner voice, I was able to write a lot. The fact that most of it was shitty doesn't mean there weren't pieces of goodness in there: images that just might show up in the novel I am starting on; memories that can help shape my characters; and experiments in style and grammar that have, at the very least, potential to enhance my craft. While my posts this month are likely to remain "shitty first drafts," it's reasonable to think that they might spawn other shitty first drafts that will actually go on to become something more.

Now that I understand the cramping effects of perfectionism, the next most important step is making sure I don't lose the discipline of the past thirty days. Discipline has always been my biggest deficit. It's a whole other chapter in Lamott's book; one that I will, like everything else, have to learn for myself, and in my own sweet time.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Handyman

The Partner can now add "Exterminator" to his resume of life.

I thought it would take a professional to eradicate the pests that were leaving their excretions from stove-top utensil rest to the seat of Number Two's high chair. The Partner disagreed. Armed with information from the Internet and an arsenal from Home Depot, he set to plugging up every crevice in the kitchen with steel wool and foam sealant. It seems to have worked.

Every time I think of him knee-deep in poop where he pulled out the dishwasher to lay waste to the mouse colony, I am amazed at the lengths to which he will go in order to avoid paying an outside party. He's not phased by pellet-sized proof of diseased products of digestion. He is not deterred by mishaps involving foam sealant on his forearm that must be removed with paint thinner. He just does what he has to do. I will never cease to be impressed at how competently he manages the thankless tasks that keep our house in running order.

As The Boss likes to say, he really does come in handy sometimes.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Keeping the Kiss

This is how Number Two kisses, with his bottom lip pushed out and his chin jutting in the direction of the recipient. I've seen cute things in my day, but not like this. I never want him to stop. More than that, I don't want to forget it.

I can't remember anything. By the time Number Two got here, it was as if I was taking care of a newborn--then an infant, then a toddler--for the first time. The Boss's babyhood was not even a memory. I know from mining my mother and mother-in-law for their own reminiscences that this is not unusual. They don't remember a thing, either, though they deny it to varying degrees. I won't deny it. I think the forgetting is one of the most woeful parts of being a parent.

But this time I have a picture and I have these words. I will make this memory stick.

I'm keeping the kiss.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Learning to Count

This morning was a rare opportunity to lay in bed with nothing pressing on us but The Boss as she bounced all over our duvet-covered limbs. The Partner was on edge, ready to double over in protection of the family jewels if one of The Boss's feet landed in the wrong place. I vacillated between trying to fall back asleep and making the most of this just-the-three-of-us time. Rain beat against the roof.

"I'd hate to be any shopper waiting in line for Door Buster sales at 4 this morning," he said.

"Amen." I nodded in happy acknowledgement of our dry and uncrowded environs. Relatively speaking, anyway. The Boss did a flying squirrel and landed between us.

"Hey, The Boss's friend B. counted to 200 the other day in the car when I picked her up for a playdate," I mentioned to The Partner, apropos of nothing but the nagging need I have to compare my kids to every other child within a five year age radius.

"Let's hear how high you can count," The Partner prompted. Numbers are not The Boss's strong suit. She's like me in that regard.

The Boss obliged her father. She stumbled here and there, requiring a bit of help each time she hit a new group of tens.

"18, 19, 11, 20," she said.

"No, not 11. It's 19, 20," The Partner got her back on the right track. She chugged along until 29.

"Thirty," he prodded. Then, as something of an aside: "It should really be threety, shouldn't it?"

We giggled, me moreso than The Boss. I was embarrasingly amused. "Yeah, and twenty should be twoty! " I squealed. "Twoty-one, twoty-two..." I couldn't go on. I rolled over, incoherent, on twoty-two.

The Boss pulled energy from my laughter and threw herself in a gleeful heap near where The Partner's hip rested alongside mine. "Ah, the fun of the times," she sighed as she settled into the feathery nest of down. "The laughter of the family."

The Partner and I looked at each other over The Boss's head, shaking our heads and laughing out loud. We do this a lot. She is always saying things that bring out our mutual amazement in this thing we've created. Ah, the fun of the times, I repeated, just to hear it again. The laughter of the family. The Boss snuggled into our giggling mass.

Sometimes I think our daughter is four going on twoty-nine.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

The Boss has a well defined and passionately protected sense of self. She doesn't take well to being told that a belief she holds true is false. It's like the time (yesterday, in fact; if it was any less recent I would've already forgotten it) that The Partner dismissed something she told him with an "in your dreams." That's what he said. In your dreams. I thought it was a bit rude when I heard it, but I didn't comment. Turns out, I didn't have to. The Boss defended herself.

"Dreams can come true, you know," she informed him. She was matter of fact and emphatic. She may have been just a teensy bit haughty, too.

Yes! I thought. Thatta girl.

The Partner shrugged his shoulders and cocked his head to the side in concession. I could tell from his smile that The Boss had hit him in that oft-wounded spot somewhere between the heart and the funny bone (where would that be, exactly--the armpit?). She is one of the only people in the world who can change his perception of things. She is the one in the best position to make him realize that, yes, dreams can come true. I was proud of her creativity and conviction. I was grateful that she knew the perfect way to deliver a message that her father wouldn't have given a second thought to if it had come from anyone but her.

This holiday, I'm thankful for fathers and daughters.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Place To Be This Thanksgiving

This period of my life--with two young children, a dog, a rodent infestation, and a husband (in no particular order)--seems to be exemplified by shit. It's everywhere I look. It's everything I smell, sometimes to the point that I can almost--I can't really, can I?--taste it.

We have mice again. As a result, my constant scrubbing and spraying and vacuuming and mopping has made the kitchen the cleanest it's ever been. Yet it's never been filthier. I've seen brown rice nuggets in places no human being should ever see them. I've heard mouse friends frolicking in the walls behind me while I watch television. They fall from wooden supports and then scamper back up again while I raise the volume on Glee to drown out their chorus.

Number Two earns his nickname roughly five times a day with big, black blueberry poops. The kid loves fruit, what can I say? Everywhere I turn there is more of it.

I made the mistake of making chili the other night and then serving it as leftovers the next. The Partner has never let loose the likes of the olfactory assault he's been waging ever since. I can't be near him. I just CANNOT be near him.

I'd like to leave the mice home for Thanksgiving; find a grandparent to change each and every one of Number Two's diapers; and situate myself in a corner far removed from General McFarter. But, wouldn't you know: we're hosting the holiday at our place this year. We will have to work together, all day, as a family.

I'd better light a lot of candles.

Don't you wish you could join us?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Radio We Can Agree On

I purchased my Sirius Satellite Radio unit because of Howard Stern back in 2005. His two stations, Howard 100 and Howard 101, have been bringing me untold hours of joy ever since. Before he slipped the surly bonds of terrestrial radio, I listened to his show in syndication on WCCC, the local indie station with the claim to fame of having employed Stern as a morning DJ thirty years ago. While Stern’s detractors are legion here and anywhere, his Connecticut fan base rivals that of any other stronghold he fought to win over the past three decades.

There is an obvious discrepancy between parenthood and my subscription to the Howard Stern channels. Though I held out as long as I could—until my 2 year old daughter switched up Bob the Builder with the name of the Stern Show producer and started singing “Bababooey, yes you can!” at the supermarket—I was forced to curtail my listening habits while she was in the car. It was at that point I discovered a benefit I hadn’t anticipated when I signed on with Sirius more than six months before my daughter was born. That happy surprise was Kids Place Live. The KPL programming fell on the exact opposite end of the listener spectrum from the Howard Stern Show and would become our third most listened-to station.


Monday, November 23, 2009


I have recently come into my own in the gift giving department. I just cannot get enough of it. I spend hours and hours brainstorming and creating personalized items to give to my nearest and dearest. I also jump on any opportunity to participate in holiday gift exchanges of the Secret Santa variety. Trying to think of the perfect idea for someone I would not ordinarily be gifting with my presents leaves me happily exhausted.

This year I am creating these offerings with the aid of Photoshop, a printer, bulk stationary, and a lot of thought as to what colors and images best represent the recipient. The process is as much for me as it is for them. In reflecting on the people I'm making these gifts for, I get to relive why it is that they're special to me. I hope that when they receive them, they'll be reminded in this small way why I'm special to them.

I'm no Martha Stewart. I'm not crafty or scrappy. I just like to mess around with design software and order a lot of envelopes. I used to roll my eyes whenever my mother would ask for something homemade for the holidays. That would always be at the top of her list, right after the completely pie-in-the-sky request for "good children." Why would she want something I made? Didn't she think she deserved something she could actually use?

Maybe I'm getting old, but homemade makes a lot of sense to me now. It's more personal. It can be economical. It can, despite the misgivings of my youthful self, actually be useful. It can fulfill something in both the gifter and giftee.

I'm surprised just how much I am looking forward to this homemade Christmas.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New England Mamas

New England Mamas is back. The blog, devoted to all that is maternal in our steepled corner of the country, has returned from its hiatus with a new organizational structure and several additional voices. I'm excited to be a contributing writer to New England Mamas once again. My first post, which will appear sometime this week, will supply the missing link between Howard Stern and contemporary children's radio programming. Check in daily over at New England Mamas until the connection is revealed.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Number Two gives kisses with his bottom lip protruding. It would look like a pout if it weren't for the raised eyebrow, indicative of his sly wait for the object of his affection to offer a cheek.

Number Two can focus with angry intensity. His eyes narrow only enough to pull his nose and upper lip into a sneer. The expanse of hazel seems suddenly darker. I am looking at my husband, minus 30 years.

Number Two's eyes can be bright as light shining over his laugh. A tickle can do it, or a toss in the air, but mainly it's The Boss who elicits the most guttural glee from this tiny, stoic man. He giggles in bursts, each one louder than the last. For a short while it seems like he never wants to stop.

At nineteen months, has very few words. Number Two gets his point across with two sharp eyes and mouth that is in turn kissable and vindictive. He leaves no room for questioning. His silence is crystal clear.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Better Get Used to It

Making friends has been something of a challenge since I became a mother. It's not that I lack acquaintances; I know plenty of people of the playgroup persuasion. The problem is that I haven't been able to get past the kids we have in common to find out if, maybe, we have other mutual interests as well.

Some of my closest friends are mothers. These friendships, however, were not formed under the influence of children. I've known some of these women since early childhood, others since middle school, and some since college. A few surfed in more recently through bulletin boards and blogs. I got to know them all before they spawned those little pieces of themselves that rendered them incapable of fully focusing on anything else. Now I love their children, too.

But the women I meet for the first time through my children are harder to get to know. They're moms first; what they are beyond that is beyond me. I could probably coax the information out of them if I was more socially inclined. But I guess I'm not interested in working that hard. That's as good an explanation as any. There's got to be some reason why I've been hauling my children off to group activities and playdates with the same women for two years now without one serious friendship to show for it.

Today The Boss came home from school with the latest report on a begrudging friend whom I'll call A. This child is not afraid to proclaim her need to "get used" to someone before committing to friendship. A. stands in stark contrast to The Boss, who throws her love around like the kind of sparkling confetti that gets into everything and keeps showing up even when you think you've vacuumed up the last of it. A. didn't play with me today, The Boss would intone sadly. She's still not used to me. Though I'd noticed them together more and more on the playground, it was still anyone's guess whether A. felt she had become properly accustomed to my daughter. Until today.

The Boss brought the message home from school. She bounced with the delivery of it, her cheeks little splotches of red beneath round eyes.

"Mommy, mommy! A. says she'll be used to me as long as I don't pick my nose!"

I laughed. I patted The Boss on the head. Then I nodded thoughtfully.

Friends take some getting used to.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Tie That Binds

My mother hasn't spoken to me for two months. I don't know why. There was no inciting event of which I am aware, but that doesn't mean something didn't happen that she perceives as such. What I do know is she is not a happy person right now. The reasons behind this really have very little to do with me--as far as I know--but the fallout of her misery has reach.

I'm new to this mothering thing. She is a veteran. I have babies and hope. She has grown children that remind her of her failures. It's sad to watch, and scarier to contemplate.

Today Number Two fell asleep on my chest during a nursing session. His head rested in the crook of my arm while his midsection lay heavy on mine. He was a soft, sleepy weight. I tried to relax in this moment with my loving and dependent baby, but all I could think about was the fact that I am giving up our newness with each passing minute. Soon my two children will be out of this stage where they know they need me. Reality has already begun to take over where there had heretofore only been hope. They are no longer newborns, infants or wobbling toddlers. They're the realization of my dreams. Here's why that's scary: hope is all good; reality is good and bad.

Once my mother was like me. She loved her little baby. That baby was her chief interest. Then the baby grew up and suddenly it was hard to see how closely bonded they had been.

There's always something between a mother and her child. When a child is born, the connection is not figurative. There's the cord, then the breast, then arms that hold tight and easy in the absence of resistance. But babies grow and go. Still, there's that connection--this time it is figurative--which finds its strength in shapelessness. Sometimes it's so hard to see and feel that you'd swear it was no longer there. It is, though. And it's working harder than ever to do its job.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Blogging, I Have Forsaken You

It's been 18 straight days of posting, people. I need a drink.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

There's Someone For Everybody

It's no secret. The Partner and I don't always get along. There are times when we contemplate, longingly, life apart. But then I get back to the day-to-day realities of the outside world and I realize that I don't always get along with much of anybody, at which point it's him I drag my lonely ass home to for comfort. That must be, I have to think, why we belong together. It doesn't seem readily apparent when we're screaming at each other about the laundry or other things left undone, but this is the truth that continues to guide us:

We can tolerate nobody else the way we tolerate each other; we tolerate each other the way nobody else can.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Effect of Hairy Armpits

Roughly ten years have elapsed since the heyday that was The Partner's college years. Nowhere is this more evident than in the condition of his fraternity tee-shirts. All across his collection there are holes in the necklines, holes along the bottoms and, as will be shown here today, big gapers in the underarms. But until a breach gets so big that it causes the shirt to fall off his body of its own volition, The Partner will continue to wear the soft, cottony vehicle of the Pi Kappa Phi logo with pride.

Today I walked into our home office with one of the worst offenders and held it up for the Partner's scrutiny. "What am I supposed to do with this?" I demanded. I could've stuck my entire head through the fissure in the seam of the right sleeve.

Sensing a commotion, The Boss ran into the room behind me.

"What's going on?" she asked.

"I'm trying to figure out what your father expects me to do with this shirt."

She looked at the shirt. Then she raised her eyebrows and looked at The Partner.

"There's nothing wrong with that shirt," he said. "Do you think there's anything wrong with the shirt?"

She looked like she wasn't sure if this was a joke or not. "Well, you might show your hair. Of your armpit."

I stifled the kind of guffaw that builds up when a parent thinks her child is the funniest thing on the planet.

"But won't it act like a vent and keep my arm cool?" The Partner spoke as if in jest, yet he was completely serious.

The Boss did a headshake/eyeroll that conveyed not only her distrust of, but disappointment with, the world around her. She looked from one crazy parent to the other. She looked once more at the aerated shirt. "Ugh," she said. "This is a gross talk." Then she ran out of the room.

I'm a little surprised that this conversation, out of all the doozies The Boss has been privy to, is the one to bring out the first glimpse of the kind of childhood angst that can only be caused by hopelessly embarrassing parents. One thing I know for certain, though, is that there's a lot more arm hair where this came from. And while I mean it more literally in The Partner's case and more figuratively in my own, the fact remains that neither one of us is afraid to let it blow in the breeze.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

An Early Christmas Present

It was like Christmas this morning as I raced downstairs at the news, delivered by The Partner, that our friend Lauren had made us a video. As a photographer/storyteller, Lauren has a gift for seeing past the bullshit that can cloud our vision and conveying the clear and important aspects of life. I watched the video with my two children--whose adorableness has been so lovingly chronicled by Lauren these past three years--and was reminded just how good I have it.

For Binky from Lauren Malone on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The One With a Lot of Vitriol

A lot of Stay-At-Home Mothers like to say that their husbands don't appreciate how much work they do every day. They say these men don't understand how difficult it is to keep one, two, three-plus children working as a functioning unit on a day-to-day basis. I was one of those mothers. I successfully played that card for four years. Today I was forced to show my hand.

I left the children with The Partner in the morning and headed out for a conference held by the mom's group to which I belong. I was gone for roughly seven hours. There was much professed joy among the conference-goers about having a few hours away from the children. We ate chicken Caesar salad and chocolate cake. We discussed organizational structure and playgroup etiquette. There was much discussion of the Swine Flu. We went home.

I came back to The Partner's declaration that he'd discovered my ruse.

"What ruse?" I asked.

"The one where you tell me it's impossible to clean the house with two kids running around."

"Oh," I said.

"Yeah. I cleaned the kitchen, loaded the dishwasher, hand washed the plastic, vacuumed the entire first floor, and am now working on the basement. And The Boss didn't watch any TV while I did it."

"Oh." I repeated. What else was I supposed to say? The jig is up. I'm a bad parent. I live in a cesspool of my own creation and my children watch too much TV.

It's unfortunate that not only am I worthless as a mother, but I have no quantifiable value as a professional, either. If I did, I could go out and bring home the bacon while The Partner stayed home and did his sterling job raising the kids.

"Oh, yeah, and it's a good thing I didn't have any plans to leave the house today," The Partner added. "I couldn't find any socks for Number Two. If I'm going to have to dress the kids, it would be nice if I could find their clothes in the middle of all the different piles of laundry laying around here."

I looked at him with huge, cornered, round saucer eyes. Gulp. "Yeah, well, actually he's out of clean socks. I forgot about that."

The Partner's eyes, on other hand, were slits. He shook his head disgustedly.

I shook mine too. I'm so sick of always being wrong. But I'm even sicker of him always being right.

Friday, November 13, 2009

In Jersey Number Two

I wish you could see Number Two catch a football. I never had an iota of interest in pigskin (or, in this case, Nerfskin) till I first witnessed my 18 month-old's arms come up in casual receipt of that ball. I threw it over and over--not from afar, yet further every time--toward his baby chest. He was so cool. His catch and clutch seemed natural in a way that made me believe the energy of the recipient could have more effect on an object's trajectory than that of the sender. The ball just fell into his arms. One second his hands would be at his sides, pudgy little puckers over each knuckle. He'd appear not even to be watching me. Then I'd lift the ball into the air and, after a short flight, it would land in an easy embrace I hadn't even known my son was open to.

In these moments, it's not that he's a boy to me. It isn't about the gleeful recognition of stereotypes proven true. It's about a baby gaining control of his spastic hands and his hard-heeled feet. It's about his stoic face going smiley with pride. It's about a simple game that is already making him joyful, and all the possibilities it holds for a long life of playing time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

And I Know How to Use It

Since three out of four of my readers (you can choose to read that as 75 percent, but the truth is I only have four total readers) would like to know more about the car referenced in yesterday's post, I am here today to deliver.

Without further ado...
(captions provided by The Partner)

Check out that ass!

2001 BMW M5

Nice headlights baby. Wanna take me home?

I must say I am perplexed by The Partner's captions. I mean, he cannot actually think of my car as feminine, can he? I'm sorry to burst The Partner's xenon headlights, but my car is manly. He is 4,000 lbs of testosterone-laced steel and plastic. He's aggressive. He sports black leather and a vast array of gizmos. And if that doesn't convince you, here's one simple fact to drive my point home:

My car has a stick.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When Good Things Happen to Bad Drivers

I have never been ogled like this before. Men stop in their tracks as I pass by. Mouths drop open and saliva pools in the corners. Fantasies that have been laying as dormant as the old sports car they traded in for a mini-van are fueled once again.

You see, I drive a car I have no business even getting behind the wheel of. I'd give you the make and model but, frankly, it's too embarrassing. I'm not worthy of this machine. Besides, it's mostly women that read this blog, and the name won't mean anything to most of you. It certainly didn't mean anything to me before The Partner brought it to my attention. My old car had succumbed to an incurable radiator problem at 200,000+ miles; I was in need of wheels. It meant so much to The Partner to have this car in his garage that he was willing to take the extreme measure of letting me drive it.

Perhaps these thoughts are running through your head: "He lets you drive it? What do you mean, he lets you drive it? This is the 21st century! This is the USA! You have every bit as much of a right to drive any car as he does!" Well, you're wrong. Or at least you don't know the whole story.

The story is that I kill cars. Well, body panels, anyway. I've left plastic pieces and rim residue all over the northeast since I first started driving 13 years ago. I never met a curb I wouldn't kiss; there's no median I won't sidle up against. I'm fine on the open road, but I don't do well with barriers.

I've already done things to this car that would make men weep. There are two holes in the front bumper. The back passenger side rim has road rash. I've already gone through several tires, though I don't think all of that was my fault. It could use a wash. What I really should be driving is a 1989 Honda Civic.

I met my car in Queens one spring afternoon. I drove it home, adjusting myself to the 6-speed transmission and the growl of its engine. The Partner followed behind in my old car as it made its last hurrah. We stopped at a diner in Stamford for a bite to eat. Our waiter took our order. He brought us drinks. I didn't think much of it when I saw him walk outside and stand against the railing of the concrete steps that lead to the parking lot, or when I saw him come back in.

He looked at The Partner as he delivered our meals a while later. "Is that your car?" he asked. He had that moony look I've become accustomed to. It must be the kind of gaze beautiful women receive on a daily basis, just by virtue of being alive, by deigning to grace with their gorgeousness any given venue.

I have to give my husband credit. He didn't so much as blanch, or stutter to get the words out. "It's my wife's," he informed the waiter.

I nodded sheepishly. "It's wasted on me." He needed to know I was aware of that fact.

To this day I feel like a fraud whenever compliments come the way of my car. I know I should assume a macho air, thumping the hood in a way that conveys my pride without leaving so much as a trace of sweat on the paint.

4.9 liters, baby. 394 horsepower. Those are the vital stats I imagine myself offering when prompted. But it never happens that way. I get too flustered. I don't even know what those numbers mean. Usually I just shrug. "But, hey, look at this! It fits three carseats!" I gesture to the back, where my two children and another friend from pre-school enjoy their ride in the fiercest vehicle in the carpool.

Then I shrug again. "Totally wasted on me, I know."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day is Done

I daydreamed of bed and a book as I drove around on several afternoon errands. All I wanted was to be under the covers at home with a new bestseller in one hand and a cup of decaf hazelnut coffee (topped with whipped cream) in the other.

When I picked up The Boss from pre-school, the air in the car began to hang even heavier with our collective fatigue. "I'm miserable," The Boss said.


"Because you woke me up too early this morning."

I sighed. Back to the daydream: I pull the yellow flannel sheets up to my chin, forming a cocoon of aloneness from which I can't be blamed for everyone else's problems. We drove home in silence.

It's 7:20 now, and with just a few more checkboxes left to mark off on the To Do list that is every day with children, I am committed to making today's daydream an early evening reality. Goodnight, all. Here's to waking well on Wednesday.

Monday, November 09, 2009


This afternoon Number Two refused to eat his bread, letting the pieces fall to the floor all around him in gracious offering to our dog.
"No more of that," I said. "No more feeding your bread to the dog."

He froze in mid-throw. That's what he does whenever I reprimand him. All his processes came to a halt, his stare blank yet guilty. A piece of bread was suspended in his hand as he waited me out.

"What did I say, mister?"

He slowly moved the bread back to the tray of his high chair. Then The Boss's gleeful voice piped up from the living room. "Mister is his name when he's in trouble!"

Sunday, November 08, 2009

No Mom is an Island

I am a hypochondriac on a good day. On a bad day, I'd sooner put the house on lockdown than venture into a world filled with bacteria, pesticides, pestilence, mold, #3 plastics, and the types of people who change their children's diapers on dining tables at Burger King.

I worry that my son has autism. I worry that my husband will die of cancer. I worry about Alzheimer's for my parents, but I can push such fears aside with the knowledge that heart disease will probably get them first.

I worry about vaccines and I worry about not getting vaccines. That, my friends, is the stuff of an internal dialogue so vertiginous that I could puke just thinking about it. Sometimes I talk to my husband about my fears and he calls me crazy. That usually makes me feel better. Sometimes he agrees with me. That's when we're screwed.

The Boss, as always, is the voice of reason. She recently picked up on my paranoia of outside places when I was hemming and hawing about going to the store because, I rationalized, The Boss had a cough. Nevermind that the cough had been her only symptom for over a week. She'd gone to school every day on schedule and had a grand old time. She was fine. We all knew it. I just wanted an excuse to stay home.

"Don't worry, mommy," she said. She brought the bend of her elbow to her mouth, her round baby blues looking out at me pointedly over her arm. She made a small hacking sound in demonstration. "I cough always in the crook, and I wash my hands a lot."

Saturday, November 07, 2009

I Can't Stop Laughing At This

Here I am circa 1987. If this doesn't exemplify my childhood, I don't know what does.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Our Photo Album

I came upon this snapshot during my futile search for photographic proof of the Cookie Monster sweatshirt. It was in an album of my early years. The same book is littered with photos of my mother, who was roughly the same age I am now. She was beautiful. She was unlined. She was unfettered by even one extra pound. She seemed happy enough.

I find it so hard to see the mother I know now in that Kodaked woman with the black, black hair. I find it even harder not to fear the future. What would she have thought if she could've looked into the time-weary eyes of some fortune teller and seen herself as I do? She could only have been incredulous. No way. No fucking way.

They were my formative years, but I think they shaped her, too. Being a wife and mother can teach you more than you ever imagined you'd learn about yourself. It can be the most rewarding role of your life. But it can also guide you--with a hand so gentle you'd never think it was holding you back--into so much rationalization and cover up that you fail to see how things could be any way other than they are. You can play the martyr so well that you become one.

I don't know what happened. I was sheltered from most of the details of my parents' lives by virtue of being their daughter. I know little bits here and there, but they only serve to emphasize that I know nothing. I grew up happy, along with my siblings, and maybe my mother thinks that's the only thing that matters. In fact, I know she does.

I look at the photo album and I have to disagree. My baby book isn't just about me, the baby. It's about my parents, too. It's about the early choices that made the rest of their lives.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Cookie Monster

Today's Cookie Monster theme on Google (it's the 30th anniversary of Sesame Street), along with reminding me that I'm getting older, brings to mind a childhood sweatshirt. It was white and worn. Memory makes it brighter than it probably was, donned so often by the grimy frame of me as a four year old. It had a blue band around the neckline and the wrists. It had Cookie Monster on the front.

That was my summer sweatshirt. I'd wear it at bedtime when there was no bed in sight. Staying up late enough to necessitate layers in mid-July was always a treat. The amusement park; the cottage on Lake George; the back yard, watching puppies being born. Darkness would fall and the sun-fade would herald the first phase of night, the one that plucked goosebumps from my unprotected skin as wind blew my parents' cares into gentle eddies that I couldn't see, even if I knew where to look.

Mom pulled the sweatshirt over my head. The cotton was pilled on the inside. The fabric was strange to touch, and even stranger to taste, grating against my teeth when I pulled the collar over my mouth. But the outside was smooth, and that's the part I enjoy remembering. Bright and white and blue.

One evening daddy came home and said "Let's go to the amusement park." I wore the sweatshirt then. One ride at the park featured several brightly colored motorcycles that thunk-thunked where each wooden plank connected to the next on a circular track. There were buzzers on all the bikes that blended into a cacophony of childish zealotry. There were lights in long lines--some blinking, some glaring--wrapping around canopies and climbing poles. I felt light. Riding on a stationary motorcycle at children's speed, I carried away those cares of my parents just like the wind. I hugged myself and rubbed two tiny forearms, content in Cookie Monster, ensconced in a lit summer night.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Looks Like the Mug Shot After a Baby Bender

Is this the face of H1N1? It would be alarmist of me to presume so. All I know for sure is that it's the face of a 104 temperature, body-shakin' chills, blue hands and feet, and one surly disposition. I'd write more, but my baby beckons...and that's one face only a mother can care for.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I Must Be Doing Something Right

Motherhood can be thankless, but my four year old daughter is not. Her manners are impeccable; her perspective, astute. One day we were riding in the car when she dropped her juice box. This is a story that illustrates my premise.

I leaned back from my seat on the front passenger side and reached blindly for the carton. My arm did a lot of flailing as the center console dug into my chest, which was protected only by the merest hint of cleavage-enhancing foam. I made an "umph" sound to ensure that my effort would be noted. A few more lunges awarded me the prize, and I waved it victoriously in The Boss's direction. She reached out from her five-point perch and grabbed the juice.

As I settled back into my seat, I heard the Boss's sweet "thanks, mom." This time I only had to crane my neck slightly to smile at her. She brought the juice box to her mouth, then paused before taking a sip. "You come in handy sometimes," she said.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Line of Sight

I see Number Two through the corner of my eye. It seems, too often now, that other things hold the bulk of my attention. I was looking at the computer printer when my second born took his first steps. Suddenly he was at my side, having taken not one, not two, but a stumbling number of strides I hadn't even noticed.

I talk with other mothers at the park, or climb a ladder at The Boss's directive, while my son stands mired in wood chips next to a swing. He's not verbal like his big sister was (and is). He does not demand attention with a smile and a laugh the way she always has. The Boss insists upon sharp focus; Number Two is peripheral.

He is short and strangely solid. He's never weighed much, but you wouldn't know it from looking at him sideways. His hair is white and his eyes are freaking huge. Sometimes when I don't expect him to be looking at me, I jump back from the shock of his scrutiny.

You don't have to look close to see his beauty. I embrace that now, though I used to pride myself on a lack of maternal delusion when it came to my children's physical attributes. I think most parents believe their children to be among the most beautiful specimens on the planet. With The Boss, I made it clear that I understood my daughter's rightful place in the order of things. Yes, she is above average; no, her face is not destined to launch a thousand ships. But whose is?

Now I realize that trying so hard to be impartial is tiring. When my gaze finally settles on Number Two at the end of the day, or maybe at odd intervals somewhere in the middle, I see the most handsome boy I have ever known. He looks a lot like his father, a bit like my brother.

In his wide eyes there's even something of me.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

No Promises

It is that time again, wherein I post every day for a month to make up for posting only once during each 29-31 day cycle the rest of the year. I've participated in National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) several times now. Two separate Novembers ended in the fulfillment of my daily-posting obligation; only one November met with failure sometime around Thanksgiving. I'm confident that this year will be another success story.

Sometimes, though, confidence is misplaced and a little honesty would serve me better. I realize this in theory. The other day I witnessed a more practical approach.

My friend was frazzled at the library as she chased her four year old son and his wild friend who, she was startled to realize, had never before visited any hallowed institution of reading. The two boys--led by the unconsecrated one--tore through the aisles as they screamed and shrieked and demanded cartoon DVDs. My friend looked at The Boss, standing demurely in the children's book section, and weakly suggested a trade. I laughed a little too hard. Sometimes I lack empathy.

Finally, we all exited the library together. My friend's hair was actually standing up, the curls frizzing above brows gone berserk. I would've felt bad for her, but I knew the playdate would be over in a half hour.

"Boys, next time we come back to the library, you are going to have to be better behaved," she said.

I did a double take. Come back? Some people never learn.

Her son nodded his shaggy blond head as he climbed into his car seat. Then the other boy leapt over the center console into the driver's spot, where he grabbed the steering wheel and began to rev his verbal motor in the absence of the car key. Spit flew.

She prodded him. "Next time you'll have to be a bit quieter, and you'll have to walk more slowly."

He shrugged and, with a sure self-awareness that belied his four years, laid it on the line there in the parking lot. "No promises," he said. No promises.