Category Archives: el kid

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Today, you informed me blithely, is the first full day you are 9 all day.  Because yesterday you weren’t 9 until o’dark thirty.  But today is all 9, all the time.  You told me this as you lolled about in a slightly too big but already beloved t-shirt, courtesy of one of the most brilliant people I know at work, and boxers, making your already long legs seem impossibly longer.  Your hair’s a mess, and your glasses are slightly askew, and you’re still plugging along methodically assembling some of the legos you got yesterday.

Today, I ponder, is the first full day I’m halfway to not being utterly and totally responsible for you.  9 years from now, if you do something stupid, you’re an adult.  If you want to sign legal paperwork, get a tattoo, sign up for the military, you can.  9 years from now you have to sign up for the draft. 9 years from now is 3 weeks, give or take, before you graduate from (oh please god) the Upper School, where you’ll wear a tux and the girls will be wearing white dresses, and your name will show up on the sign at the entrance announcing where you’re heading for college in the fall, where you’re fledging off to.  9 years from now is when  we let you go, hovering in the background like a twitchy spotter but no longer holding on.

But this morning, as you clamber into my lap and give me a ‘3 day snuggle’ before I head out of town, you are 9.  Wonderfully, cubically, comically, strangely 9.

 

I love you, little man.

If I do nothing else

If I do nothing else

Today is Sean’s last day of Spring Break. Coincidentally, it’s also his belt test day, so the plan was to keep things light and fun.  He got a haircut, and then we pranced off to the bookstore with no worries about how long we spent there.  We went to TJ’s, to spend the $25 gift card I won on new things (aaaand since he got to choose, I know you’re all shocked that it was largely cheese, salmon iterations, and chocolate cookies).  We snagged lunch at Whole Foods, and piled into the bed to play the new angry birds side by side on our iPads.

And then, during a break from blowing up evil space pigs, I saw this:

My hand flew to my mouth, and belatedly I kicked myself.  Because, of course, the gesture caught his attention, and then there were questions.  How do you tell your 8 year old that a 17 year old boy was killed because of the color of his skin?

Straight up, as it turns out.  Straight up.  I told him what happened.  Where young mister Martin had been.  The actions of his killer.  The fact that there was now evidence that flew in the face of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ statute.  That I, as the mother of a white boy, don’t worry when I let him sit at a table in Whole Foods, or wander Barnes and Noble.  No one’s going to look at him in- yes- his hoodie, and baggy jeans and rumpled t-shirt and think he’s going to try to shoplift or steal a purse.  I taught him the word privilege and that he has it- oh, how he has it- because of the color of his skin (and, I added as an aside, his economic station and his maleness).  I mentioned classmates- how if L was a boy, and dressed like him, she could well be suspected just because of the color of her skin.  That’s not fair, he protested.  Darn skippy, I told him.

Hate stops with you and your friends, pal. If I do nothing else as a parent but teach you to be good to your fellow humans and not judge them based on the color of their skin, what god they believe in, or who they love, I will have done a good job. Be whatever you want- garbage man or president of the United States, brain surgeon or robot inventor or writer or whatever. Just be good to others.

He looked at the photo.  “So who are they?”  The concept that athletes so good they earn millions of dollars and are household names likely had to put up with racist bullshit like this as children blew his mind.  “It says a lot that they did that, doesn’t it?” he asked.  The conversation ebbed away, the thought of someone’s child being killed overwhelming him, the knowledge (It could be S! It could be B! he blurted, naming friends who are not lily white. I reassured him, even as I knew crap like this can happen anywhere) that there are people in this world who would judge- and kill- others based on prejudice making him burrow against me and hold Rhino tight.  I stroked his hair, reminded him that he’s safe, and let him retreat to the benign world of blowing up evil space pigs.

If I do nothing else in this career as a mom.  Let it be that he never forgets me weeping over a dead 17 year old in Florida.

The hard stuff

The hard stuff

Just because the world keeps spinning, the GOP shovels out an amazing amount of anti-woman rhetoric and actions, work piles up, and laundry needs to be done doesn’t mean the hard work of parenting eases up. Sadly.

A few weeks ago, I had one of the hardest conversations I have ever had with the kiddo. Because of a fundraiser coming up, it was long overdue. And so, he now knows that his beloved ‘Little John’ didn’t just die, he committed suicide. Sean is a processor. He asks a bunch of questions and then stews. And things pop out from time to time as he keeps chewing things over in his head. And so after a bunch of questions, some tears, and lots of sadness, I waited. Waited for the glimmers to start.

Sean has not wanted to cook with me very much since that horrible day in the fall. John had promised to bring him into the kitchen and teach him. John was his Brookside market buddy. So I had my suspicions. I’ve not pushed it, but have given him opportunities to help and join in, and let him scamper back to whatever he was doing when he hits the ‘done now’ point. This morning we made cheese crackers, and it was the longest he’s stuck with a recipe since the fall.

“This is fun!” he said, sounding mildly surprised. “Yeah, it is” I assured him, nudging him and grinning. After the crackers were all cut and ready to go, he slunk off, calling back ‘please bring me crackers when they’re done!’, but he was back downstairs before I could bring them up. As he popped one in his mouth he nodded appreciatively, then sighed.

I gathered him close and buried my face in his ridiculous hair. “We,” I whispered, “Can still have a wonderful time in the kitchen together. It’s not being mean to his memory. He would want you to love to cook.” Sean went wide eyed, as if to ask how did I know what he was worried about, then squeezed me so hard I gasped.

This is the stuff the books don’t warn you about. Sleep on the one side and don’t eat deli meat and no advil and don’t start regular milk too soon and and and. There’s no map for this. And so the Lad and I stumble along, armed with our verbal machetes, trying to clear a path for the little man.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

It has been quite the year. We’ve had dizzying highs- Sean truly hitting his stride with his posse of friends, the exhibit I worked on for four years finally opening and winning some pretty awesome awards, some research the Lad had worked on getting submitted in a sweet paper, mom’s surgery being a rollicking success and her supposedly fatal disease handled, a trip of a lifetime to Alaska. But we’ve also had some nasty lows. Rough patches at both of our jobs. The Lad’s grandmother died suddenly this summer, my grandfather died 2 weeks ago after being in the hospital since mid-October. It can be all too easy to be mired in the day to day and forget the big picture.

The other day, driving the kid to school, he and I were chatting. We started talking about our holiday donations- his allowance is split between mad money, savings, and charity, and at the end of each year he picks what charity to support. This year he wants to do Child’s Play and Save the Rhinos. The longest part of that conversation was narrowing down the options and explaining that we actually contribute to charity all year long, as he was concerned that charities needed money all year but we were only giving at the holidays. With that debate handled, what, I asked, was he looking forward to most about the winter holidays? His answer stunned me. I expect an 8 year old to be voracious, capitalist, and all about the presents and in second place, the sugar. “Lighting the menorah and eating latkes at Chanukah.” he said. I practically drove off of the road. “Uh, really? Not Christmas morning?” He allowed as how he liked Christmas just fine, but Christmas morning can be a little crazy, and could he please spread out opening his presents a little more so it doesn’t feel so intense, and, he added, “Besides. What I like most is being together and doing stuff together.”

I am thankful I have somehow managed to, so far, not raise a total self-absorbed jerk. The world has plenty of those.

I am thankful that I went to a grad school that ultimately was a horrible fit for me, and didn’t go to Yale which would have suited me much better.

I am thankful I persevered when that guy in grad school told me no way was he dating while in grad school, and if he did he sure as hell wouldn’t date within his department.

I am thankful that I walked away from my first career love.

I am thankful when that tiny company said ‘we want to fly you out here to consult with us for a day. We’ll pay for your travel, and eventually maybe we can contract you, but right now you’d be consulting for free’ I didn’t say ‘no freaking way’ and instead said ‘ok’, against everything everyone in consulting had ever told me.

I am thankful that I didn’t listen to the parenting books that told me not to have the hard conversations just yet.

“What I like most is being together and doing stuff together.”

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone. May you not forget the good stuff.

They have to get it from somewhere

They have to get it from somewhere

Tonight, for reasons that don’t merit explanation, we found ourselves explaining the concept of life insurance to the kid. And while he’s totally cool with car insurance, life insurance- and thus, the possibility of, you know, SOMEONE DYING- wigged him out. To the extent that he stuck his fingers in his ears and began to sing when we used ourselves as examples. “Truffle!” he yelped, throwing his pet chocolate oranda goldfish under the proverbial bus. “Do it with Truffle!” The Lad and I eyeballed one another and I began gamely.

“So Mister Truffle, who works as, uh, a seaweed harvester, and his wife Ms. Truffle and their son, er, Chip.” I was quickly corrected that it’s ‘Small Truffle’ and ‘Baby Truffle’ and there was a very pointed, “Because THEY have 2 kids…” He realized the error of his ways when Truffle died, leaving both the workplace obtained life insurance and the private life insurance to his wife and kids. This allowed Ms Truffle to either pay off or set aside part of the money and pay for the mortgage on their fabulous, multi-bedroom fishtank because she might want to continue to get the mortgage related tax break, a fact which I forged on ahead with despite 1. my child really does not need to understand fucking tax law at the age of 7 and 2. the fact that he was wailing, “Truuuuuffflllllle!” as he realized we were now talking about his pet being dead and this was mighty distressing even in the face of $750,000 of mythical life insurance money. We explained that Ms Truffle could put money aside for college, and invest the rest, using the earnings or interest to help supplement her income since Truffle would no longer be bringing home a paycheck from Seaweed Harvesters Ltd. (cue more sniffling). This sort of stuff, we said, while hard to talk about, was a really important part of being a parent- planning for the possibility of unpleasant things in an effort to take care of your loved ones, and we take it very seriously so that the kid never need worry.

Dinner conversation rolled onto other things. Like Warcraft. And belt tests. Like you do. The kid seemed to be suffering no ill effects from our ‘my god, we might as well be CPAs this is so soul sucking’ dinner time conversation.

Until he informed me at bedtime that “wow mom, I had no idea being a parent sucked like that.”

Vignettes from Shortyville

Vignettes from Shortyville

In the car
“Mom? Do people still get put to death for adultery? Wait, are people still put to death at all? Why? And why are Africa, Europe, and Asia so close together as continents that doesn’t seem fair that North America and South America are so far away? And how long does it take to get to Australia from here? Is it shorter to get to Australia from Japan?”
A pause.
“Mom, why are we pulling into Starbucks?”

At the library
“Sigh. They just don’t value Vikings enough. Who cares about Egyptians, why do they get 3 shelves and Vikings get like half of one?”

At the store in the checkout line
“I can’t believe you made me pick just one cheese. That’s like making me pick just one sleepy toy.”

At the farmer’s market
“Mom did you get me popcorn?” (answer negatory, sack of sugar snap peas handed over) “YAY! I can eat peas until I EXPLODE!”

Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac

Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac

The house has taken on its summer odor of Sticky. Of berries and peaches, of bug spray and sunscreen, of swimming stuff drying. Sean has maniacally mastered the Bakugan for the Wii game and will casually attempt to challenge his father to a match, much like his father manically mastered games while his stepdad was at work (we’re not falling for it). He has watched mythbusters in epic amounts. He has learned how to set up every water toy we have for the backyard, read enough books to earn a free book from Barnes and Noble, gotten halfway through the minimum book lists for both the public library and KU programs, done all his math prep worksheets and 5-a-days perfectly, and started a research notebook about Vikings.

All of this because we decided to, in essence, give him a couple of weeks off. This year, unlike years past, we made the conscious decision to not schedule Sean for something every week. I sensed, long before we got the end of year packet- full of perfects on tests and assessments; dire, wretched notes on whizzed-through worksheets and condemnations of his energy level; and worst of all, a weekly writing journal where on a prompt about what’s been hard for him at school a self-written screed about his ‘focus’ full of the jargon his teacher used, the self-abnegation pouring off the pencil-smudged page in rivulets- that the boy needed a break.

That first Monday morning he blinked at me.
What do you mean we don’t have to go anywhere?
There’s no school and you don’t have camp, sweetie.
I don’t have camp.
Nope.
For how long?
Two weeks. And then you have more weeks off here and there through the summer.
He blinked at me some more. What am I supposed to do, then?
I’ll give you a list every morning of anything you need to do beyond your regular chores. Other than that, whatever you want. You can read, you can play legos, you can play bakugan, you can watch dvds, you can watch things on the Tivo, you can play on the computer or the wii, you can go in the backyard and play, whatever.
Whatever? I can do what I want?
Yup.

He could not believe his good fortune.

As I watch him bound around the house and play, listen to his polite words come out in full force and the sullen sadness that had started to settle over him slip away, witness him rivet on books and devour them like cheese or a pile of popcorn, I cannot believe my good fortune, either.

My answer, direct from the big G

My answer, direct from the big G

As a child, High Holidays were at first wonderful, and then horrible. Wonderful when we lived out west, and there was a JCC and I had friends at school who shared my faith. Horrible when we moved east, to an area where, let’s say, the KKK had a not tentative foothold and I was, for a long while, the only Jew in 3 grades worth of school. I got barbie dolls hung in effigy in my locker after high holidays. The less tolerant children would take note of which of us were in the attendance office the morning after RH and YK, and dole out the beatings later.

So this year, the issue of do we send Sean to school on YK arose. Needless to say, I was not gung ho on keeping him out of school. At first, I was planning to take the day off and spend it in some contemplative manner. But if I kept Sean out, maybe we could use it in together time and focusing on some morals lessons. Then I had a 3 hour meeting thrown on my calendar, then a 2 hour, and another 1 hour, and. So my thoughts of holding Sean out of school today to spend time in doing good works for others and also getting our own mental houses in order went out the window.

At one pm- still unshowered, 4 meetings into the day, stressed out beyond all possible belief- my call waiting beeped. I bailed out of meeting #5 to take the call from a number which wasn’t immediately familiar but hey I know that prefix oh shit it’s school.

Come get him. He’s running a fever. And so I put aside everything else- meetings that ‘couldn’t wait, and memos that ‘had’ to go out, and whitepapers that were ‘vital’- and went and picked up a sad little boy. Act #1 was snuggling. Act #2 was kissing, act #3 was stroking his hair back from his fevered brow and whispering that we’d get him home and into pjs and feeling better soon.

Thanks, Big G. I know what next year’s game plan is. Hopefully it will not take 102F to remind me of what’s important.

You do know about the 19th amendment, right?

You do know about the 19th amendment, right?

Once the dust settles over bottle vs. breast, cloth vs disposable, co-sleep vs crib, you sail into a whole other realm of parenting one-upsmanship, battles, guilt, and judging. Videogames or no? How much tv? Toy guns, yes no? But around here, there’s one battle which seems to simply not be fought, and yet it is the one- the single one- that I have the biggest internal struggle and monologue about.

There was a fascinating article in the New York Times yesterday, which boiled down several female writers and scholars, from varying points of view and background, answering the question of how the hell could Ruth, Silda, and Jennifer not have known? Betsey Stevenson, of UPenn, wrote:
Our partnership is best described by what we have called “hedonic” or “consumption” marriages in our research: couples who are matched on shared desires on how to live their daily lives. In these marriages, spouses typically share the daily jobs of running a household, with both employed in paying jobs and both contributing equally to home production.

This in contrast to the production marriage mold of old, where dad worked outside of the home and mom ran it and raised the kids- and leaving aside the troubling line of Professor Stevenson’s article (“This specialization makes these marriages more efficient and thus everyone is better off in the marriage. “) she goes on to make the point it’s a hell of a lot easier to not have shared values and hide shit in the old style rather than the new. None of the authors in the article tackle any sort of societal gender norm issue, which is (of course) what I’m hashing through in my brain on a near daily basis. To be utterly fair and blunt, there are moments when I am violently aware that I have been placed completely in the woman running the domestic sphere mold and the expectation is that as mom I am the one expected to have the pediatrician’s phone number memorized, the school vacation schedule at my fingertips, know where the Tylenol is, etc etc. I chalk this up not to any great Evil Patriarchal Scheme by, say, the lad, and more to a combination of things: society expects it much as I chafe and fight against it and so there is outside expectation (eg: the teachers at school knowing I was out of town based on how Sean was dressed), I have always been the hyper-organized mom type (see: trash bags sunscreen balanced meal blankets bug spray flashlights organized bags at the 3rd of July fireworks picnics in Chicago), and the Lad was BORN to be the absent-minded professor and so his utter inability at the old school to remember what time they closed had nothing to do with my expecting him to do pickup once in a while to be a great imposition upon his concept of manly work/parent sphere boundaries and everything to do with his giant mekon brain being too goddamn full to remember such trivialities in a timely fashion but boy howdy once that thought was lodged in there nothing will get it out no honey last ditch pickup at the ‘new’ school is DIFFERENT.

There’s very little I can do to unstuff the Lad’s brain, other than patiently keep hammering home schedule changes and the like, nor am I at this point likely to wholly dislodge my core competencies (portals, strudels, it’s what I do). Which leaves me fighting the Gender Wars in how we raise our child and engage with the world. We’re not like that couple in Europe who have given their child a gender neutral name and do not tell anyone if it’s a boy or a girl, and in fact cycle through boy/girl haircuts and the like in an effort to raise them as ‘unpressured’ by gender expectations as possible. And I admit readily that I thank God every stinking time we encounter a herd of little girls that Sean is a boy because fighting the good fight against princess culture would likely drive me to drinking more than I do and also probably lobbying Gloria Steinem to license a kids’ version of Ms ala the young kid version of National Geographic. And I say this as a woman privileged to know some of the most kick ass little girls out there, as the friend of several women with little girls (smart, independent, well educated, take no shit from no body women, I might add), and yet each and every one of these little girls has awoken one fine morning and suddenly turned from the rough-and-tumble path and turned into a glitter and sequin obsessed princess worshipper and goddamn did Disney launch a freakin mind control satellite or something? Because it is seriously, seriously insane, and this whole ‘learned helplessness’ thing, this expectation that a prince will save you if you are pretty and nice and sweet and good enough, it drives me fucking batshit. No, no I don’t think it’s innocent, harmless, or unimportant: I think it’s happening at a point in life when kids should be learning they can do anything they put their minds to, and it’s harmful to boys to view girls in this manner and be able to dismiss them as being ‘only into princesses’ as it is to girls to be immersed in this with no room for creativity, growth, anything. The princess culture is different now than when I was a girl- hell yeah I was into dress up and pretty and glitter, but it wasn’t prepack, it wasn’t predetermined, the story and the role was not made for me, and it is so bloody pervasive now it infests everything- even game day at school this year found itself divided along princess lines: the girls brought in princess versions of everything the boys brought in (disney princess ‘let’s go fishing’? Really? Hook a hottie? Who thought this was a good idea?)

So I am perhaps a little oversensitive on the topic. I am perhaps a little hyperaware of the examples we set for Sean. Dad does clean. Mom cooks- but we emphasize it’s because I love it. Mom does not wear pink. We both game. We share chores. There’s no chore described as a ‘boy thing’ or a ‘girl thing’, but rather in terms of ‘dad’s better at it than mom’ or vice versa. We are, as we are with racism and religious intolerance, honest. That some people believe. That it used to not be legal. That it used to be okay to be mean, pay less, fire. And that it’s important we all work hard to be equal and fair. But goddamn, goddamn it is hard, so very hard, to maintain that calm, rational attitude in the face of “So what did you guys do at camp today?”

“The boys played football. The girls got their hair done.”

The Lad and I will be taking turns mopping the floors, in a fair and balanced share of the workload, as both of our brains have exploded.

Stillness

Stillness

The crows have been getting louder, a cacophany jangling the nerves and jarring one to wakefulness. It was strange, and sudden, to abruptly have a murder of crows making like a pissed off Greek chorus in our backyard of a Sunday morning.

The house was still as twilight crept over the grass and trees on Saturday, the child playing quietly in his room as I lazed downstairs. Suddenly there was a sound, resonant and deep and unbelievably loud, startling me off the couch. I stood in the family room, blinking, not sure I’d really heard it and it wasn’t something from Sean’s game. And then, again, and I looked out the window. I crept to the stairs, hissed for Sean to come down, quiet as he could. We padded to the sliding glass door and looked out into the massive pine tree in our backyard, an upper bough bent and and burdened by the largest owl I’ve ever seen: a Great Horned, easily the size of our neighbor’s corpulent cat. Its head swiveled unerringly towards us as soon as we appeared at the door, eyes unblinking as it stared uncannily, silhouetted against the darkening sky, and it hooted again. And again and again, if we made the smallest, tiniest shift in our bodies.

It grew tired of us, and with the most effortless of movements took off, sailing over the neighbor’s yard on wings that spanned a good four feet. The crows commenced to shriek and complain, high and hysterical, and I realized our interrupted weekend snoozefests were the result of the crows complaining about the new avian neighbor. Sean looked up at me and whispered, “If we are very quiet, will he come back?”

And now when the house is very still, we will hear a sound and smile at one another sly and secret.