Saturday, December 13, 2014

Big, beautiful, blue-eyed, board-breaking Birthday Boy

It's possible that he's getting to an age where I need to be really careful about what I write here. He's starting to recognize words and soon he will be reading and I wonder what he'll think of what I say about him; I wonder how much he'll want people to know. Not much, I'm guessing. He's a private little guy, full of secret reasons for why he does this and doesn't do that. Sometimes he lets me into his sweet little head and all I want to do is keep swimming around in there, examining the pieces that make up his nature, but eventually, he shakes me out, and we move on.

Noah turns six this week. Not that he's all that excited about it. He likes being five quite a bit. I think he knows that six feels old and, like Grace, he's not crazy about being that much older than he is. He has this great shirt that says, "I AM FIVE" and he's just not giving it up when he turns six, he tells me.

He's in Kindergarten now and he loves it. He loves recess the most, but also art and gym and circle time and library. I don't even think he minds doing worksheets during class time. He has been ready for this constant stream of new information sinking into his curious little head. He tells me so many things I didn't already know.

"Oil pastels are the easiest art tool to use... they don't even make your hand hurt."

"St. Nicholas Day is a holiday in Holland where you put carrots and hay in a wooden shoe the night before and you get toys in the shoe the next day."

"A cylinder is actually not a shape at all." Huh?? Is this true?

"Toilet tag is a tag game where you have to hold your arm out to get flushed and then you are back in."

Oh, the things I never knew before!

My Noah still loves Legos more than anything. His room overflows with vehicles and buildings and hideouts and good guys and bad guys and lairs and so forth. You have no idea the organization involved until you try and move something and "WOAH, that is the villains' jail for good guys you just almost destroyed, mommy!" Stop and listen to him for a moment and you will see that you are standing over the villains' airport, which overlooks the good guys' clubhouse. And there's a hidden meeting going on near the closet, where those ten Lego guys are sitting in a circle. The Coast Guard is gearing up to protect another circle of guys in the other corner of the room. It all makes sense to him, and, once you stop and see the place as not just a mess of Legos but a world created by this little boy, it will make sense to you too.

I will say that I am one of the privileged few that gets to step into his room and touch his stuff. These are his things and he takes that very seriously. I think it's probably okay that this is how it is right now, though I struggle to accept it. Sharing is our biggest challenge with Noah. He knows it, we know it. It is not a natural thing to be okay with someone playing with your stuff, I get it, and it takes a long time to get there... and we're working on it, he is working on it.

We had a really upsetting day last Friday, centering around this very thing, and we both reacted heatedly. We talked and talked about it, probably too much, but the conversation had to happen. The next day we were having 25 people over, 10 of whom were under five and would be most certainly playing with ALL of his stuff. At one point on that difficult Friday, long after the incident and conversation, he came to me and said, "I'm sorry about earlier, Mommy. I know it wasn't right. I was embarrassed too." And my heart both broke and grew at the same exact moment.

And the next day, with 10 little friends digging through his beloved things, he couldn't have been kinder.

We talked later that night, as we so often do. It's the later hours of the day when the private thoughts come out - for some of us, in our journal, or a talk with our partner in bed, or in a late-night email. Noah opens up to me at night and I lie there and we talk. We talked about how great he did with sharing and this is what he said.

"Oh my gosh, it was so hard, Mommy. You know... you just see someone holding your toy and you suddenly just NEED to play with that toy. You need it. It was so hard not taking it. The hardest thing was when X put my Batman costume on. Just seeing him have it on, I wanted it so much! But I didn't try to get it back." The next day, we talked about it a little more.

"I was thinking all day I had to make a choice between sharing and not sharing... and finally, I decided to share."

"Why, Noah, why did you decide that?"

"I knew it was the right choice."

I don't know - I'm sure there are mixed reactions from my readers to all of this (did I talk it to death? should I have let it go sooner?) - but my only response at this point is that I'm just really proud of this little guy, for examining the situation, articulating it, and working his little butt off to make it right even when everything inside of him wanted something else.

Oh, and by the way, he can break boards too. (And now I'm just bragging and it's totally obnoxious, but that's what a birthday blog is for.)

He is sweet beyond words, passionate, inquisitive, and quick-witted. He is the most loyal friend you could ask for. He seeks out joy and finds it in unlikely places. Little kids adore him and when they wrestle with him, he takes incredible, gentle care of them. He lost his two top teeth this year and he's never been cuter.

He's started to care about his hair, which was unexpected, and gets nervous when he gets out of the bath that it's not going to go back to how it was. Kid loves his hair. He surprises me many mornings by popping out of his room already dressed. He loves to see my shocked look.

He looks up to his Daddy in endless ways. Every morning he gets up with John, sees him out the door, runs to the upstairs window and watches him pull out and disappear down the street. When John gets home, Noah will ask him how the stocks were today. On the weekends, in the car, he will drill John about football - rules and players and scores. He will get pumped for the Bills game and cheer when he thinks something good has happened. He scorns the Patriots because that's what Daddy does.

He is my little boy. He wants to live with us always. He tells me he can't sleep at night at all unless I'm there. That's not true in any way, but I love that he says that to try and get me to stay longer. He has a whole private world in his mind and I respect that it's there, but love it when he hints at it to me. Besides his Daddy, he is the love of my life. He is my little boy, my giant spirit, my perfect fit.

Merry Christmas, from our little reindeer

Monday, November 17, 2014

I've a reason to believe (we all will be received in Graceland)

For the longest time, she's been telling people that she's five. "How old are you, Gracie?" "Ummmm... I'm... five." Some people laugh, some people knowingly ask if that's how old her brother is, and some people look at her serious face and respond with their own straight-faces. "Oh yeah? Wow, five is big."

For instance, here is a very unconvincing claim that she is five (and if you watch no other videos on this post, please watch this one. I promise it's worth it).

But very recently, in the past few weeks, she has started to own her age, as something distinct from her brother, something to be proud of. "Gracie, how old are you going to be next week?" "Three," she says confidently. And she also consistently agrees that her current age is two.

Many near three year olds show an interest in getting bigger, older. They are down with potty training, and wearing undies... getting rid of the diapers. They welcome the idea of the binkie fairy. Grace expresses her three-ness in unconventional ways. She is cruising along on her own path and instead of telling me she's ready to go on the potty, she informs me when I need to change her diaper. She has Frozen and Minnie undies that she loves... to play catch with. She has no interest in moving onto a big girl bed or ever letting her binkies out of her sight. She is our baby and she owns that too. She embraces that inner baby and gets away with nonsense because, well, come on...

And while she is our little baby who loves to be a baby and be babied by her babying parents, she uses that only as needed. Other times, she is an energetic, but old sweet soul. She also has an uncanny ability to sense even the slightest anxiety and wrap us up in her tiny little arms because, of course, it's her job to take care of us.

Wouldn't the dentist be so much more enjoyable with a bitty little girl running to your side, and hugging your arm, rubbing your hand, as the hook goes scrape, scrape?

And wouldn't the first day of school be a little bit easier if we all had a tiny person sitting right next to us feeling the exact same fears in our churning stomach as we are at that very moment?

I don't cry that much, but just last week I cried a lot for some reason that I'll talk about someday, and while I could tell she was nervous because Mommy was crying, she gave me one of those hugs that will not end until the huggee lets go. She got angry at John a few weeks back because he took away a binkie or told her she couldn't have a cookie or something along those lines... "I don't like you (pause)........ when you do that to me!" She spat out. It seems to me she understands the line between firmly making a point and hurting a person you love.

She is the first to offer you some of her candy or her stickers or her cheese. Three of her biggest loves.
First day of school... before I left

She hates to say goodbye, almost as much as Noah hates to say goodbye. But she tries to hold in her tears and she stands there in her class after I leave, maybe for a minute or so, quietly, seemingly trying to gain her composure. You can almost see her taking a giant breath, a pep talk of "I can do this". She takes her hands to her eyes, rubs the moisture away, and looks up when she's ready. That one minute is usually the most heartbreaking part of my day. When I see her two hours later, the reunion lifts us so much, elation on both ends. I am magnetized to her. I inhale her, as I always do.

She still has just a little hair, but she wants all the perks of having lots of hair. She begged to go to the hairdresser, so about a month ago I took her, along with Noah, who really needed a haircut. His freshly cut hair covered his neck and shirt, the floor at our feet. When Grace climbed into the seat, the hairdresser wet her hair down and looked at me, puzzled. "What did you want me to do again?" I looked. "Oh... yeah... I see what you mean... I guess... jeez... yeah, don't cut anything. Just, you know...pretend"(I mouthed). It turned out to be the best fake haircut a little girl could ever dream of.

She loves bows and sparkles and painted nails and Elsa and other princess things and Minnie Mouse. Her favorite color is purple and her favorite food is chocolate (this she told me just today). She's sort of into dance, but only likes (and participates in) the second position plie and the tutu portion of it so far.

This is a picture of Grace not participating in dance class

And so, yes, she's a girl as girls are often defined. But she's a girl who loves ants like Lenny loved mice. She's a girl who loves spiders and worms and beetles. She sleeps with bunches of plastic bugs in her bed. She finds her way down to the basement when Noah's friends are over and plays what I can only describe as smack ball with the boys and she loves it. She loves Batman and poop jokes and these days she loves any puzzle she can get her hands on.

She wanted to be a princess for Halloween, but she wanted to be the princess Merida from Brave, with the crazy red hair (though she only agreed to wear that for 3 seconds, shown below) and the wild-child reputation and the bow-and-arrow talent and the enduring love for her mother (even though she turned her into a bear).

Have you ever seen two cuter heroes?
Or two scarier ones?

It's true that she's mine and I'm going to be biased, but damn, I also think she's really really funny. 

Some two year old highlights:

John to Grace: "What would you do if a bear ate your book?" (there is context here, but it's beside the point).
Grace: "Yell, scream, cry."

Grace in public, to Daddy, Grandpa, or whoever wants to hold her hand when she doesn't want it: "Don't touch my body."

Grace to John: "Daddy, I farted."
John: "Oh."
Grace: "Like you, Daddy."
John: "And what does that sound like?" 
Grace: "My bum."

Fair enough.

And there's this. This is funny stuff, right? Or am I totally blinded by her? (entirely possible)...

When she tells a joke and you don't laugh, she will command it. "Laugh, Daddy! You laugh now!" (Don't we all feel that way when our jokes aren't appreciated?).

If she says a thing that turns out to be wrong, she covers it up with, "I tricked you!" It's a social coping mechanism that will likely get her through many awkward moments in her life.

One of her favorite phrases is, "Is that a good deal?" As in, "I eat dessert now and not my dinner... that a good deal, Daddy?" The kid never eats her dinner.

Oh, she is my girl. My little dream. She has days when she is so tired that she wildly hurls herself onto me or throws random objects in my direction. Or she'll sit herself down right on her knees in the middle of a walk in silent protest. She'll raid the cabinets, find the popcorn, dump it on the ground, and run away. But it is so damn rare that I ever stop smiling over her.

Happy Birthday, Pizza! How I love you so.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Obsession confession

I had great designs to write about something relevant to most people and, you know, child-related with maybe even a feel-good message at the end. I started it and sort of liked what I was saying, but I couldn't continue; I kept stopping in the middle of writing. And not to check on the kids or, say, answer a text or a call. It's my recent, obsessive research that has been holding me back. Research on a thing that has and will never have (I hope) anything whatsoever to do with me. And yes, it is consuming me. And I want it to consume you too. Sit up, my (tiny group of) readers. Tonight (and it can't be helped), I'm going to focus on murder.

If you've talked to me lately, I might have mentioned this new podcast on NPR... after that you probably just heard blah blah blah blahhh because as soon as I said "podcast," you tuned out entirely while politely nodding your head. You're just not into podcasts. I'm not that into podcasts either... I mostly just listen to This American Life... but then, TAL did this spin-off called Serial about a fifteen year old murder case that the Serial producer is reinvestigating and it is groundbreaking and I can't stop thinking about the case. I'm sort of paralyzed in time. I've lost interest in television. I use words like 'corroborate' and 'circumstantial' in normal conversation, far more often than one has ever needs to use these words. I'm not a lawyer, detective, FBI agent, police lady, investigative journalist (maybe someday?!); I'm really a nothing in all of this. And yet I spend so many perfectly valuable moments poring over the details and the questions and the psychology of it all. But I'm also not alone. This is how people are responding, many of whom are mentally stable people.

I genuinely believe that I am a good-hearted, people-loving person. I hate watching the news and abhor any type of violence. But I'm also the person who, as a 9 year old, couldn't get enough of that creepy show Unsolved Mysteries and on several occasions called in theories to their Tip Line. I studied pictures of Loch Ness up until the day it was revealed to be a hoax. I've gotten recent satisfaction, after 20 some-odd years, about a break in the Amelia Earhart case. I'll always choose a suspense thriller over a comedy, even though I really do love to laugh. Dateline is my bag... real cases, occasionally solved. It's so dark, but I can't get enough of mysteries, usually murder mysteries. It's twisted and I'm not proud and sort of wish I was the person who had to look away every time, because hello, these are people's lives.

Maybe that's where I should start. This Serial thing, it's about a high school girl who was killed 15 years ago and her ex-boyfriend was convicted of the murder. She was a real person and she has a real family and real friends and her real ex-boyfriend is really in prison now, reading through the transcripts of these podcasts after we hear them. And that's the hard part of this, that here is real-life tragedy operating as entertainment. But it's also the most intriguing part, that it's being looked at in real time and we, the listeners, are trying to keep up and maybe get ahead of what we hear. The "characters" surrounding the story... they're 15 years older, but just a facebook search away, in many cases. They're living their lives and by all accounts seem to have moved on... and WHAM. It's back. And it seems to me, unavoidable for them. Of course they're listening.

I spend so much time thinking about what they're thinking... what do they know? What do they remember? Do they play that day over and over in their heads? Do they assess and reassess the days before the murder in their minds? And as this podcast moves along, is somebody going to break and spill it all? Because (and I'm not spoiling anything by saying this), the one thing we do know is that we never got the whole story. And that's what we're all hoping for. And even if Sarah Koenig, the brilliant producer of this show, does not get the story by the end of this season of Serial, to me there is this very real chance that it could still come out by a person who's been following along and just can't handle knowing what he/she knows any longer.

In fact, to feed our desire between weekly episodes, there is this site called Reddit, where people discuss in scrupulous detail everything from the tone of a witness's voice to a specific timeline of events. You know, sort of like we used to do on the Lost message boards... dissect every moment of the show, grab onto new ideas and build on them (tell me you didn't read Lostpedia). But again, this is real. Real people. And, just when you think you are going to lose your mind from reading random theories from other nobodies equally obsessed with the case... a family member of the convicted starts contributing to the conversation, setting the record straight. The best friend, still closely in touch with his imprisoned friend, has opened a subreddit where he will answer questions from the nobodies. A family friend of the convicted claims he would not be surprised if the verdict was correct. He tells us why, while other friends jump to the convicted's defense.

I cannot look away.

This is a new genre of media. It feels interactive, for lack of a better word, and it's dynamic. It's not a novel or a trial we are watching on Court TV. It's just a really smart woman, a journalist, and her small team, trying to figure out who is lying and what they are lying about and what the hell she is missing here. And gosh, she really convinces her loyal and enormous audience that we are all in this thing together. So many of us pride ourselves on our ability to "read" a person. But this podcast leaves us utterly baffled. But not so baffled that we want to give up on it; just the opposite. We have to piece this together. Then we can sleep. We can start exercising again. We can turn the tv back on or read our books or write a sensible blog post or do something, anything productive with our lives. I am being eaten up by this, but I think I love it. I am writing this blog partially to make myself so sick of thinking about it that I let it go until next week's episode. But I know that's not going to work.

I know I am not unique. Maybe I am, but only in that I recognize this as an actual condition I am enduring, the only remedy being the end of the show...  But my husband John is unique. He thinks the podcast is fine. He fell asleep tonight while listening (because I made him listen). John is a good good good good man. I think I'm good, but I know John is good.

Maybe that's what all this is about... why I have this morbidity, why so many of us do. I mean, we're all a little dark (except maybe John) and connected in that way... but how is it some people's darkness sinks so deep that they are able to take somebody's life... and then live with it, never confessing a single thing? Crappy crappy things happen in people's lives that preface the crappy things they end up doing to others. Shame quite distinctly contributes to criminal behavior. I get that. But crappy stuff happens to a lot of us. When and how is it that some people lose their conscience to this degree? Not just doing the thing, but then keeping that thing to themselves, just living with that thing. This is what I cannot understand.

And then there's the John phenomenon, which is possibly the most perplexing question of all of this. I mean, maybe that's where my research efforts should be directed. Are there more Johns out there? Are there others out there who have more interest in reading the comics and watching the Daily Show and going to bed at a reasonable hour? Are you one of those people? Give it a shot, just one episode. And then decide if you're joining the cult or continuing on with your perfectly good life.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A good old-fashioned Kindergarten cry

Lately, my son Noah, 5 1/2, has been clinging to me the two mornings a week I head to work, large tears dripping down his face, eyes squinting, mouth in that horizontal, slightly turned-down, wide oval shape that always precedes more tears. I drive away and he reaches his hand out in desperation, shouting, "No, NO, DON'T GO! MOMMMMY!" I'm told he is fine the second my car disappears from his site, but this knowledge doesn't make the goodbye process all that much easier. It happens when I go to a meeting or a ladies' night... and lately, as we near the end of the summer, even an afternoon run will have him begging for me to bring him along. But I get it.

Because if I could give you one good long glance into my amygdala, you would find it raging with the very uncomplicated, raw emotion of nostalgic sorrow. I find myself watching new moms with their baby boys, really no matter where I am, at the mall, on the street, wherever a mom-baby son combination comes into site. I have to pull back my own arm as it goes for a tummy tickle (which... perhaps strangers wouldn't appreciate).

I can almost smell the warmth of my tiny little baby boy love tucked up in the crook of my neck, and all I can do in my frail little mind is shoot verbal daggers at these perfectly good people: "You just wait; this is going to happen to you too. You won't even know what hit you. Your little nugget will be five and a half someday and then... YOU JUST WAIT."

My baby boy is going to Kindergarten.

A friend of mine, another mother of a near-Kindergartener (it's still three days away), recently described her emotional state as "devastated". I couldn't agree with this sentiment more. And yet the truth, which I think he and I both know and do not acknowledge is that... he's ready for this. He's hit that developmental stage where weekdays full of learning new skills and peer play and a boost in independence is just what he needs.

And yes, of course, I am grateful this is the case and yes, I get that these steps are healthy and good (I wouldn't be sending him to school if I didn't believe that), but what's a real blog without at least a few honestly selfish moments? He's entering a great place, I think, but it's the start of a new stage, one that seems vague, abstract, and a little bit too unchartered, and I'm sad about it and a little bit terrified.

Another friend of mine just welcomed her first baby, a little boy, into the world. I keep reliving that time in my own mind. It is an exhausting period, those first few months; the old you of pre-baby days begins to understand there will be a new-you, recognizable, of course, but different. You long to have your nights back and to hear your baby's thoughts in a form other than tears. Noah started to give back about a month after he was born: a night of wails and feedings and short, restless sleeps was met in the morning with a smile that lit up my heart. You really can't believe this drinking and pooping machine can produce such a powerfully human answer to you. You really can't believe you can love this deeply. Eyes lock, one smile meets another, and it's all over. You just want more more more. More little boy!

It's not even that I want to go back in time to that place; I loved it all as it happened, but now... I think I just want to stay right here. I get the sense Noah agrees, that he understands how time is moving forward faster than we're ready for. "I don't want to be six, just my age now!" He'll say. "I want to live with you forever, mommy; Gracie might move out, but I'm going to stay." Sometimes, he fantasizes about being age three again. He'll sit with me as we look through the albums I put together that cover about half his life so far (TBD when ages 4+ get added). "That was the best, when I was three." There is a nice buffer of years between three and school age. Maybe that's it... or maybe it's something else. Grace is almost three and still gets the "strangers on the street" (as described above, see section on me with baby boys) attention that Noah got at that age. He's not crazy about that. "But I'm cute too, right?" he says. Oh little boy, you have no idea how cute you are. And when I think about a Kindergarten class, there could be no cuter image. So there's that.

Sometimes, when I'm thinking about this real-school stage without interruption, it occurs to me that maybe what I'm concerned about is that I'm going to lose some part of this little boy that I have now, that his opinions, which I've always been able to watch form, and his interests, which I've probably guided without entirely realizing it, will develop and change and turn in every which way. Sometimes, many times, it will seem much more spontaneous to me than it actually is. He will have relationships with friends and teachers and books and subjects about which I won't get a day-to-day update. I'll hear snippets, but I'm not going to know it all. That whole business of Noah being more independent, living a life outside of my peripheral vision begins now.

In some ways, I think of him, right now, at this moment, as my most pure Noah, untainted by peer influence and by exposure to a world that has preconceived notions of what is right or successful or acceptable. I mean, he's currently entirely tainted by me, but, amusingly, I'm okay with that.

This is a period of change for Noah and for me and for all of us, if in fact we're all open to the world he's now heading towards, Justice League backpack prepared and all. I haven't been involved in an academic system since I was in one myself. I have had years to reflect on school, from the point of view of a young adult just out of school, and a person in the working world, and a boss of young graduates, and a friend of all different kinds of mothers, and a mother myself. And I wonder if the ideas I have now about school, that I think are fairly well-informed at this point, will end up changing again. Probably. But if I were to have my only little fantasy school where I could make sure certain things happened for all the kids, it would go like this:

  • When teams are being chosen, there is no need (ever) to have captains do the choosing. Teachers pick teams, by counting off, or by preparing a list beforehand. There is no reason for anyone to be the last one. I was not the last one in school, but I always felt terrible about the entire situation.
  • In the same vein, it seems to me that choosing partners should be a rare event. What a great opportunity to branch out and meet new people, after your teacher has hand picked a partner for you.
  • I want my children to care about learning awesome things. Grades are secondary. I really believe this. Ideally, of course, these two facets coincide.
  • Sports should be fun. If the fun stops happening, kids should reconsider playing. If coaches notice a general anhedonia among their players, they should reconsider their coaching style or purpose of being there.
  • Computers are awesome, but so are books, even after you know how to use a computer.
  • Having friends outside of your school setting is a great idea.
  • You can learn as much playing a game or running intensely around a playground as you do sitting at a desk.
  • There are so many ways to be smart (and successful). Math and language, yes! But also, the ability to understand others as well as oneself, the beauty of the creative process, music and art (whether playing it or listening to it, producing it or looking at it). These are other, equally valuable intelligences that will enhance life and in many cases, get you through it.

I think about the days before I had my first baby, the notions that I had about parenting and the massive ways in which they changed and continue to change through the years. I feel like, in some way, I'm at a very similar place now. I'm no longer toying with bottle vs breast and cosleeping vs crib, but I feel winded as I think about the unpredictable changes we are going to be dealing with as we go. This time, I can't just adapt my style a little, change up the bedtime routine, and so on. This time, I put a little more faith in my big boy to lead the way.