Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Strange Case of Hyde and the Four Green Beans

We’ve had a few rough afternoons lately. Sassy mouths. Crying fits under the kitchen table. Rude remarks.

I’d blame it on the full moon, but that’s already passed. Is it the promise of an insane amount of candy in a few days? A sugar high from the vapors escaping from bags of it hiding in the pantry? Whatever it is, it sits, pent up all day to the point of boiling, until 3 o’clock when the kids release this energy like a mad teapot.

Yesterday, I felt pretty proud of myself when, after a day of back-to-back-to-back meltdowns, I actually didn’t lose my cool, managed to handle my kids without yelling, and sent them to their rooms for a very long time to calm down.

I relayed the events of the afternoon to my husband only when asked, and it was the short story, not the long version.

He then told me that when he pulled up to the house after work, our daughter was standing at the front door crying. I wondered what she could have been crying about. Oh, green beans.

“I didn’t know whether to just keep on driving,” he said.

He didn’t. He asked her why she was crying and she pointed to the green beans on her plate. All four of them.

I was upstairs telling my son, Mr. Hyde, why we don’t talk to adults that way as I bit my tongue hard not to mouth at him in return. It was difficult, but I was good. I deserved an award, a trophy for Mother Who Kept Her Mean Thoughts to Herself. They have those, don’t they?

Just when it seemed everyone had kissed and made up, those damn green beans ruined everything. Withering away on my daughter’s plate. I had told her to try them. She was going to make it difficult. While she screamed at my husband in a way I have rarely seen her do (no doubt picked up from her brother a few hours before), I hung over my plate laughing and fighting back tears in the same sad breath because after the day I’d had, I really didn’t know what was about to come out of me.

Bedtime can never arrive fast enough on days like these. But no matter what has happened or how infuriated or exhausted I am, I take a breath, march into their rooms, read to them, and tell them I love them. Then I skip out of there as fast as I can and hope tomorrow is a better day. And that Jekyll is back. And that I don’t forget that I will not be serving green beans for a while.

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Lots of Miles on This Baby

This week our van passed 100,000 miles. Not a big deal, really. But it kind of is. I was four months pregnant when we bought that van. That kid is now almost 9. I used to feed him in the backseat, change his diaper in the trunk, wrestle him into his car seat, and listen to him exercise his lungs at top volume on eight-hour road trips.

Early on we discovered long car trips were unbearable with young children. Not only did we have to pack the whole house, all teetering in the rear, but that van has heard more curse words than the Eagles’ stadium. The steering wheel has taken a beating, all thanks to I-95 traffic and a screaming toddler.

No diapers back here. Just smelly game-day stuff and lots of dirt.

The side door cup holders still hold the rocks from our many trips to the park when my son was a toddler. The carpet is stained with milk shakes, ground-in Goldfish, and matted raisins.

It took me five months to learn to park that van. Let’s be honest, I still have trouble.

I’m not sentimental toward it; I’ll be glad to see it go when the time comes. But when I look back, I’m amazed at the ground it’s covered, not to mention what it’s been covered with, and what it’s seen us through. Man, my kids aren’t babies anymore.

Car seats have given way to booster seats that the kids can strap themselves into, their heads hanging like limp rag dolls when they fall asleep.

The screaming has given way to giggles and after-school discussions, sometimes in whispers from the back too far away for me to hear. Or sometimes both kids yell at once, “Hey Mom, you’ll never guess what happened at school today.”

The trunk now holds chairs, soccer balls, and dirty cleats, while the sweaty kids with the crumbly snacks relay the good plays of the game.

The van has only seen one speeding ticket. Unfortunately, the kids saw that too. The son who “really had to go” suddenly had to go no longer. The cop, not sympathetic.

The van has left me stranded only once and that was in our driveway. Like people, it has become stubborn with age. The side door latch gets stuck and takes repetitive slamming and a few choice words to whack it into place. Sometimes the key won’t turn in the ignition…unless you open the driver-side door and say a few more choice words.

Our van is like a pair of broken-in jeans: It’s the perfect fit for us. But I know the time is near when we’ll have to start all over, worrying about spills and muddy shoes. Though I love the idea of driving around in a sportier model, wind in my graying hair, I can’t get over the comforts of a van. I look forward to the adventures the next new van will hold: seats filled with tweens gossiping about the latest and greatest, dating, learning to drive.

But for now, candy wrappers stick to the console, favorite toys go on every trip, and the DVD player still features Disney favorites. Soon the kids will be taller and surely smellier. And thankfully, they can sit in the way back.

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Confessions of a Germophobe

When you have kids, it happens. Or at least, it happened to me. All that guck spilled forth on you each day. The shriveled-up, days-old food they’d slowly bring to their toddler mouths on gooey fingers. Rubbing their hands over every public surface before wiping their eyes, nose, mouth, and tongue with furious pleasure. It didn’t take long for me to become a germophobe. I’m trying to break free. But I still have many moments. And now that sick season is upon us, my soap sits at the ready.

I know what my kids touch every day. I know it’s good for their immune systems. Still, they don’t need to touch every germ, do they? They don’t need full exposure. Last year my daughter brought home everything from kindergarten. And I mean everything.

Now those are clean hands.

We wash our hands when we come inside from anywhere. I think that’s a sound rule. I hear and see what goes on. Toilets flush and sinks spray on for two seconds. Boogies go in places. In places. Raggedy dolls need to be washed. Hands rub over the bottoms of shoes that step in who knows what. It’s a nasty world out there.

And school? That warm bubble of sweaty kids, crammed into classrooms, sneezing and talking in each other’s faces? I’ve been there in classes where kids have coughed in my face. They go outside and never wash their grubby hands before lunch. I deal. I cringe, but I deal.

But I heard those four little words from my son on the way home from school this week, those words I dread every year.

“So-and-so threw up today.”

Great. Just great.

“And she didn’t even go home.”

Stop. The. Car.

“What?! Why didn’t she go home? She sat in your class all day?”

“Yup.” I think he knew that bothered me a great deal, and I think he liked it.

The interrogation began. As always, I wanted to know if he was anywhere near this vomiter at any point of that day or the days leading up to it. Did she breathe on him? Does she sit at his table? Did anything splash in his direction? (That has happened before…and it involved his lunch tray. Ew.)

Her being a girl means that there is likely no way he had any contact with her whatsoever.

Throw-up scares me. We had held out for seven years. Seven years, people! Until my daughter started kindergarten and brought that nasty bug home to us last year. She suffered for a fraction of our misery. My husband, son, and I were laid out for a weekend while she did nothing but beg us to play with her. I lay motionless and let my husband do almost all of the cleanup. He is great about that. I make an effort, all the while gagging and convulsing like a dog in the yard retching up dinner.

Kids, this is the reason we only put food in our mouths. Not thumbs or boogies. We don’t touch our nasty shoes while we’re eating dinner. We wash our hands for more than two seconds. We don’t pick up strange things off the ground and say, “What’s this?” It’s your ticket to the doctor, that’s what it is. Put that nasty thing down.

I just can’t get over my phobia yet. Sorry. Sick season is here, my soap is ready, and my nagging resumes today.

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A Toy Story

If you know my daughter, you have most likely met the ragged counterpart that dangles by her side. It wasn’t that long ago that she carried her doll everywhere. Now it’s just almost everywhere. Still we cannot get over the hump of letting go. Did I say ragged? Mmm. You look at this doll and think you understand where rag doll got its name.

The thinnest, most threadbare piece of cloth holds my daughter’s favorite doll together. Once velvety soft, Ballerina’s see-through skin now shows the dark blue threads beneath. My daughter doesn’t like these threads that intersect under her doll’s happy face, so I tell her these are her veins, just like ours.

Her head, once crowned by yellow yarn pulled into a thick ponytail, now shows only the yellow fabric underneath that is fading away from delicate rubbing when my daughter falls asleep.

This doll is loved.

The tulle tutu, long gone, disintegrated in many washes. Her satin slippers have busted and been sewn so many times by my loving husband, I don’t know what keeps them together anymore.

And Ballerina’s skin, which runs like a pair of cheap stockings, gets stitched up by Dr. Dad just as often to keep her stuffing in.

Every piece of yarn hair that fell out, every tutu scrap that fell off, my daughter agonized over. “Will Ballerina be all right?”

My daughter has slept with and carried that doll around since she was about nine months old. Every night my daughter looks at peace, Ballerina in her arms or spread across her face, just as when my daughter was a baby. If my daughter awakens in the middle of the night to find Ballerina has jumped ship, it is our job to stumble down the hall, tear apart the bed, crawl underneath it, or stretch our arms behind it in search of her.

Ballerina has wiped away tears and snot, given countless hugs, and snuggled numerous hours of the day. She goes on every trip. She watches every movie. She gets invited to tea and birthdays. She is raced to after school each day. And she is sometimes unbearably hard to part with in the mornings. She has earned every battle scar, every loving stitch, and her worn-down, onion paper skin simply by being held and being there—just pure love.

One look at that doll, and anyone else would throw her in the trash. My daughter sees love and comfort, and cries whenever I tell her I’m not sure how much longer Ballerina will make it. So we sew and mend and do a little dance and hope that Ballerina will last just as long as our daughter’s love for her does. And every time I put her in the washing machine, I pray she will come out in one piece.

In many ways, it will be a relief when my daughter is not so attached to Ballerina. I often tell her to leave Ballerina in her room, put her down, or leave her home, mainly for fear the doll will bust at the seams beyond repair one day, but also because my daughter is getting too old for all that. But I know it will mean a lot of things when Ballerina is forgotten. When that time comes, I will tuck the doll safely away, whatever her state, because somehow I have become attached to all the memories stitched inside.

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Another Goal, A Different Story

As I sat watching the mass of 28 feet desperately battering the ball, I realized I couldn’t even see the goal. My husband was out of town and if my daughter scored her first goal, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to give him the play-by-play. But surely that won’t happen, I thought.

The couple next to me looked away during their conversation and missed their son’s first goal. That’s really a shame, I thought, reliving the glory of my son’s first goal a few days earlier. “Did we miss it?” they asked me. “Did our son just score and we missed it?” I was almost certain he did, but we sat on the opposite end of the field and the five- and six-year-olds huddle around the ball like vultures around a dying cow. It was hard to see exactly what happened.

My daughter played awesome defense. She fought for position against the boys to get a crack at kicking the ball. And then something happened. She kicked it toward the goal. And it was no accident. I craned my neck and sprang to the edge of my seat for a clear view. She was there, she kicked it with force, and it looked like it went in, but then a teammate came and kicked it in farther. Who made the goal?

She looked over at me, smirking. Bewildered, I clapped and smiled and gave her a big thumbs-up. The couple next to me asked, “Did she get it in?” I was thinking the same thing. Great. Now I had possibly missed out on the big rush of my daughter’s first goal because I hadn’t a clue as to whether she made one or not. It all happened so fast.

I figured I’d play it safe, see what she said after the game. She was no help. “Mommy, I almost made a goal,” she told me. “It went behind the goalie and then David kicked it in more.”

“Was the goalie in the goal?” I asked, now revealing my doubts.

“Yes.”

“Well then you made it.”

Another parent congratulated her. I figured he had some clue, maybe better than the parents next to me who had already missed their son’s goal. We asked her coach to be sure. He said it was on the line and rolled in, but I couldn’t help feeling a little suspicious.

So we had to tell my husband that we thought she made a goal, reenacting it at home, trying to put together evidence. The verdict? Either way, she was right there and she did great and she knows it.

I hate that her big moment sort of fizzled out by so much uncertainty. I wish her coach had congratulated whoever made it in the moment. But my daughter saw an opportunity and she took it. And I have a feeling this won’t be the last time she pushes her way through a pack of kids and scores big.

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GOAL!

It may have been the build-up. The longest set-up in the history of eight-year-old soccer. He stood there, trying to get the best angle, turning this way and that for what seemed like ages while some invisible force kept the other players far enough away for him to get everything lined up just right. Fists clenched, I held my breath and played it cool on the outside, but in my head I screamed, “JUST KICK IT! KICK IT! KICK IIIIIITT!” Finally, he did. And he scored what turned out to be the winning goal. My son’s first goal.

That goal wasn’t my success, but it sure felt like I had won. Teetering on the edge of my seat, it’s all I can do sometimes to even remain in it. There’s a lot of stress involved when you’re the parent watching the game. I never knew that before sitting through seasons of sports and games sometimes too painful to watch. It’s hard to see your kid being just like you.

My hope is always that he’ll overcome his fears because I never overcame mine. Isn’t that what we all want, for our kids to do better than we did? To not endure the same embarrassment? Courage. He needs courage. And it took awhile, but he’s finding it.

Lately my son had been improving little by little, making contact with the ball. Some days that’s all we could wish for. Then he had one good game. It was promising.

So last week, when my son’s team played a bunch of his classmates, I wondered how things would turn out. Would he step up and have fun with these boys he rough and tumbles with on the playground or clam up? When the ball came his way and his classmate was the one pushing it toward the goal, my son did nothing but step aside and let him score. I wanted to laugh and cry and yell at him to kick the stinking ball.

He said his heart was about to pound out of his chest. Nerves. Ah, just like me. I never did well at sports. I prayed the ball wouldn’t come near me. What my poor parents had to sit through. But seeing my son push himself and go farther in one season than I ever did my whole childhood, it makes a mom proud.

When my son scored last night on his third attempt, my nerves were shot. In an instant, a lump caught in my throat like a supersize wad of bubblegum. My eyes glazed over with a sheet of tears so fast, I feared I’d lose them there on the field, but not before I saw a smile spread across my son’s face and a humble celebration. And my husband, a quiet man who doesn’t give his emotions away easily, jumped from his chair with his arms raised in victory and cheered like he’d been living for that moment his whole life. The shock of that was enough to bring me back to reality.

I’m not sure who slept with a bigger smile on their face last night: my husband or my son. But the relief of knowing my son found his courage and maybe isn’t so much like me will make me smile for many nights to come.

Go, son. You did it. The success is yours.

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Sick Days

I’m into day two of sick days with my daughter. After she finished crying this morning when I told her she had to stay home another day, she began listing the crafts we were going to make. This after more than two hours of crafting with her yesterday.

Sick days are not what they used to be. When I was a kid, a sick day meant I never left my bedroom. I slept the entire day. I always felt like I’d been run over. My kids? Never. Well, except for the nasty stomach bug we all had last year when none of us could lift a pinky. My kids play the day away like it’s a mini vacation. If they sleep for 30 minutes, they’re up past my bedtime.

I must have missed the lesson on sick days: Don’t play with your kids. Don’t make it fun. Give them castor oil and keep them weighted in their beds with layer upon layer of leaden blankets.

Instead, I get stuck with, “Mommy, do you have any crafts for me to do?” Or, “Let’s play ponies.” Sure, it’s nice to have a day alone with them, just the two of us. But when they’re at school, I do things. When they’re home, I don’t get to do my things. And around day two, I get antsy. And I’m out of craft ideas. And then I start to get a tickle in my throat or a cough or whatever germs they’re spreading.

The whole decision to even keep one of my kids home is often a struggle to begin with. Fevers and puking are easy to figure out. But my daughter gets these annoying coughs. What to do? How long to keep her home for that when she otherwise feels pretty good? Many times I’ve kept a well kid home or sent a sick kid in. It’s rarely a winning situation for me.

When my husband came home at lunch today, my daughter raced around the house, laughing and yelling.

As my husband was leaving to go back to work, he said, “I’m glad you kept her home today since she was really sick, Dear.” Yep. That’s exactly what I was thinking.

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