Thursday, May 31, 2007

On Boys: From Annie

She hasn't really met R yet, so I forgive her for the semi-sexist ending, but nonetheless, I found this reassuring -- my son, just three, has already broken two windows in my house -- and I feel for our poor neighbors almost every day:

"I have a lovely new neighbor across the street. His name is S.; he's around 50, single, n/d (no dogs) n/k (no kids).

We are a family w/d and w/k. S. very pleasantly informed me this morning that something was dangling from my third floor window, wrapped around a telephone wire and hanging over the street. "Just a parasoralophas (editors note: a dinosaur with a horn from the back of the head that made a trumpet type sound)" I said. "Batman's hanging out the back window and in fact, he doesn't fly. Just in the movies."

I make these matter-of-fact statements like I'm simply breathing. I've become oblivious to the faces of persons with n/d and n/k.

My middle son has intense curiosity for all around him. Why don't chickens bury their eggs like turtles do? What is different and what is the same? Beats me. All I know is that when I went to make breakfast there were no eggs in the fridge. Not ONE. They were indeed, buried in the garden and being watered everyday. I don't know what his hypothesis is, but I do know my yard is going to smell like hell at some point, probably soon (sorry S.).

There was the day I thought my son had head lice. I took him to a hairdresser/lice specialist, disinfected my home, laundered every single piece of bed linen, had all the dogs groomed and slathered all heads in pesticides. It was an unhappy day. Next morning, a girlfriend on the playground (in "the yard" as we call it) says, " was it washing all that grape soda out of your sons hair? He was tossing it up like peanuts at the baseball field and trying to catch it in his mouth...sooo funny."

(Crystallized sugar looks like lice. Boy was under husband's care).

Boys LOVE my house. It is full of critters and the backyard is full of things you can just pick and eat in the summer. Beans and peaches and raspberries. Blueberries and tomatoes. There's a working well here and a hen house we haven't quite crafted for foul but it is great to lock other kids inside.

Other moms say, "They like HER house because she has no rules", but I do have rules starting with the Golden Rule. But I don't have rules about micro waving a marshmallow until it becomes the size of a loaf of bread. I don't have rules about rolling every inch of tin foil in a 200 square foot package to see how big it is, how much it weighs, how it dents when it is airborne. The experiments are endless. The curiosity is endless. Labrador retrievers, notorious for their appetites, will even eat a sandwich after you've urinated on it (hypothesis proved; please do not try at home).

My boys hate girls because they have to. They hate everything about them: Barbies, pink, ballet, dress-up, painted nails (all the things I am wistful for), but they secretly adored the girls who moved from Scott's house. My boys did not want them to move. I apologized in advance before he and the Home Inspector were hailed with mud-balls, and after, when coins (lots) were adhered to his driveway with bubble-gum.

S. picked up the coins, goo-be-goned them off and so, I guess, the jokes on them. Boys will be boys."

Names, Friends, Guests

It was not such a great drama naming my babies. Despite all the agita beforehand -- the baby names books, the family trees, in the end they just named themselves: it seemed obvious in the moment.

I have been thinking about the names of the people I love. Many have names that though common, regular names (Andrea, or Jessica, for instance) mean for me only that one person, nothing else. Forever and ever, should I meet someone with that name, it will only, always be hers.

But Annie? This is a name that has chased me through my life (Amy is another) and forced me to redefine my definitions of the name, my connection to the name, over and over. The elementary school Annie, the highschool Annie, the Annie(s) of my suburbia.

The first Annie loved playing imagination games and we were good at it. The second Annie became a friend of my heart, a confidant of my secrets, a co-conspirator in grown-up games of make believe, a reminder to me to just be me. One of the latest Annies, in a collection of great ones, assures me that life still has secrets and gifts in strange places.

We met in a likely situation for girls like us -- a PTO meeting -- but our friendship leapt out of that almost immediately, through notes passed via email, even before we ever met face to face. Maybe it was the comfort of her name -- just to say it brings me back to sweet times -- and truth be told, to know this new Annie makes me feel mildly metaphysical: maybe there is something bigger than us all afterall.

She is a writer. She wrote this:

"I called a friend today who has more younglings than me. She has a son between my two youngest, a nice relationship b/c they all play well. She has three more is six, one is three and one isn't one.

I called her because she wants to lose the "baby-fat" and is always ready for a chat and a walk. I am always ready for the time I know that slipped by me all too fast: the appreciation for tying a shoe, the wet kisses that babies give, the joy that an under-dog on the swing can deliver to a dare-devil.

The morning was beautiful and seamless. The air was good, the sky that perfect color of blue that never looks real in a painting. I pushed a double stroller for the first time in two years: my kids loved the carriage and only physically grew out of it. Some Mom's survive their kids’ childhood, and some of us are re-born by it. Everyone I passed commented on how beautiful my babies were... and all I could summon was "thank you" as my girlfriend smiled kindly and knowingly.

Life is a flurry, and in the thick of raising babies the notes are sometimes lost. I heard them today.

Childhood is really measured in notes after all: the sounds and pitch of nursery rhymes, the little voices with so much to say, the notes to Santa, "the teacher", the tooth fairy. I helped with one tonight:

"Dear toothe fairee...I lost my toothe. Pleasse do not forget about me, love, R".

My youngest just turned seven and I know that his innocence is in jeopardy. I know that too soon the magic will be replaced with reality, that discussions of what comes for Christmas will be replaced with "what I WANT". I know that as uncomfortable as I am about the kids aging, it's about me aging too. I'm not ready to be "that" Mom.

My ten-year-old son asked me to find him some shorts today. I told him to wear yesterday's if they were clean. He said, "Mom, that makes me feel poor". I won't divulge the potty humor I used to gauge if they were clean, but "put them on anyway", I said, and my younger sons fell off the bed in gales of laughter and the ten year old stomped off. I summoned him back to my bed, my nest, my favorite place, and asked him if I was embarrassing. He said, "No, you are mortifying."

I try in these moments to summon the strength I had when I was changing three kids in diapers at the same time, breastfeeding an infant at all hours of the night, care taking a parent who's been robbed of her mind, and renovating a house all at once. It’s like when wounds heal and leave a scar -- a time... a place; when I became strongest at my weakest.

I try, I try to summon the strength for this. It is a different strength than I had before, and it is harder to find. I know it is in me because I am a Mom and it has to be. God wouldn't have left out the most important part."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Memorial Day

There are only 16 more days of school.

I said it slowly to myself after my daughter told me today, drawing out each word to shore myself up to the fact of this inevitable future: six. teen. more. days.

And then what?

Then we can stay in our jammies longer I guess. Then I won’t get in trouble for forgetting a permission slip. Then I’ll have a calendar devoid of meetings, of recitals, practices, of karate. Then, um…. Then what?

My sister said to me years ago, I think it was Memorial Day weekend in fact: I can’t wait for summer frankly, she said, I am sick of this crap. At the time, with a four year old at school three mornings a week, a three year old at school two mornings, and a six month old still glued to me, I almost fell off my chair. Wha? I said. No school? How will we survive?

Now, I know. (It takes one to teach one.) This May, I am ready for summer and over the busy-ness business of the end of the school year. I am done with forgetting things (like those permission slips or truth be told, lunch), with scolding children for not doing homework, with shifting between laundry and deep thoughts and real thinking to hustle the kids from the fun of the outside to bed because it’s a SCHOOL NIGHT.

I am ready for summer.

But I fear it, too. Summer in the suburbs means a lot of things. Around here, it kind of separates the girls from the women -- the clubs we don’t belong to, the friendships that wane because of that, the camps, the vacations, the boats that pull everyone in so many different directions. It can be a long, lonely, sweaty couple of months sometimes. I know two weeks into July I will be missing the hustle of the school morning, missing the silence of the house for those 15 minutes after everyone leaves, and missing the chats on the playground at pick-up time, which are often the only decent ones I get all day.

My neighbors and I have made a vow to power through the long days together. Our kids roam from house to house, and we’ve promised to do the same. Come by for an iced tea, we’ll weed together, a cocktail at 5 maybe? We’ll turn on the sprinklers and say yes to the ice-cream truck; we’ll be “nice” moms, or at least try; we'll learn to love sand everywhere.

So, to summer, well, bring it on.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Writing to the Ether

My mother makes paintings. She wants people to see them.

I explain it as such (especially when I want one of her paintings that she is hesitant to hand over): the painting exists halfway unless anyone sees it.. hears it… feels it… reads it.

I once asked this of Anna Quindlen:

Dear Ms. Quindlen,

My huge fan-ness will go by the wayside with this email. I figure you have heard it enough. Suffice it to say, you are an inspiration.

I am a mother of three under six, Ivy educated, former business owner (music business -- publicity, massive girly I know), and now, recently twice published columnist for the Boston Globe, Globe North that is.

Question is: is one a "real" writer when they are hurt that their own friends haven't bothered to read their stuff? Does a writer only exist in the magic of the writing? Should that be enough?

I recognize and respect your busy-ness, but if you have a moment this writer-mom would so very much appreciate your insight as I begin what I hope is a new career for me, the one I always wanted.

She responded in kind:

Dear Darcy,
I hear Philip Roth doesn't really care who reads him or what others think about him. That's it, as far as I can tell. Writers are just like other people, only a little crazier and with a better facility for typing and thinking at the same time. It drives almost all of us crazy when the immediate world hasn't read our stuff, much less our family, friends, or former hometown honeys. I'm not sure where the notion that we should have elevated sensibilities comes from. Not from anyone who has actually watched us work, that's for sure.

Here's all you need to know about the "words-are-all" school, at least as far as I'm concerned. At a very young age I taught my kids to go into bookstores and move my books to eye level, cover, not spine, facing the shoppers. Writing is a conversation. Everyone wants someone to be at the other end.

Good luck with it.

First: Oh.My.God.

Second: It is a conversation.

Is there any one at the other end? Hello? Hello?

Oldie but Goodie -- Steel Yourself

Don’t get me wrong: I love my kids’ teachers. They do a job that is invaluable, incredible and underpaid. I know this, because after 45 minutes stepping in for one, you couldn’t pay me enough money to stay for the rest of the day.

But at this time of year, when all parents everywhere stop to celebrate and honor the end of the school year and the beloved teachers who guided their kids through it, their kids who are moving up and crossing over, I have to say: I am so over it.

Maybe I sound bitter and not so motherly-sweet either, but I know I am not the only one for whom the end of the school year scramble begins to get a little too much. Even the most devoted -- the volunteer-for-everything parents -- start to emulate children, and, well, whine. Truth be told, I do it too.

It is hard to find the love and joy in between the field trips and the field days, the luncheons, the celebrations, the Transitional Kindergarten graduations, the tournaments, picnics, recitals, and all the demands, though ever so polite, for cash, for service, for cupcakes. I have literally felt at times like I might bake my fingers to the bone.

I start thinking for the first time all year, maybe for the first time ever: for crying out loud, it’s just 1st grade, it’s just pre-school. All of the things that meant so much to me all school year long – do your homework, read more books, be diligent, a good citizen, and practice will make perfect – are thrown out the window. These are babies, I tell myself now, just little kids who will never remember any of this. Let it slide, I think; does it really matter? I am too busy honestly to care: I have a crate of cupcakes to make.

Of course I am proud of my daughters who have together grown 9 inches in a year, mastered fractions and friend making and story telling, but come on now, there will be better accomplishments in life then leaving these things behind. And I am tired and broke from all these donations and ready to move on.

My friend, our room parent, she calls to confirm the juice boxes I signed up for. She is exasperated, exhausted, and not ashamed to say it. Her mother has reported from New York that there has been a recent rise in traffic accidents. They’re all minor, her mother says, thank God, and they’re all moms behind the wheel.

We agree, it could happen: everyone is rushing around, screeching between guilty responsibility and annual obligations and so – stop sign? What stop sign?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we parents, and child care givers, and teachers realized all of this hoopla is way, way too much? Our children are valuable and their accomplishments are real but not every one need be rewarded with a party. Good parents teach and tell their kids this truth when they can; good teachers do it every day.

I’d rather take all the hard work and whatever money is spent in year end parties and gifts and roll it up into a state-wide trust fund for teachers, a never-ending party of universal support for the women and men who do everyday what most parents can’t. We love our teachers, but do they honestly need to monitor another party or plant somewhere another hydrangea?

Here’s what I remember from 1st grade: my teacher’s name -- I adored her and so did my mother. I remember a couple books I learned to really read and thus love and still do. I remember my playground friends, and then, when first grade ended, I remember the bright light of summer welcoming me to my back yard and the beach nearby. If there were cupcakes and parties and celebrations my mom slaved over, they are gone to me now.

I loved summer then, but I really love it now. Though it will mean for me a few months of three kids against one weary mom, I say bring it on! When the last glorious bell of the school day rings, it will mean for me that all the parties and the picnics and the extreme and somewhat unrealistic importance we put on these last days will at last, at last come to an end.

Maybe after the break, my mood will change. But more likely, I will forget all this end-of-the-year craziness and be ready and willing to repeat it all again next year.

Can't We All Just Get Along?

A recent Boston Globe article sparked a furious debate about breast-feeding and parenting when it printed a story about women who nurse their children well beyond the recommended one-year mark -- and instead on and on for years.

In the aftermath, the radio airwaves burned with opinions of parents on every end of the spectrum. They seethed with sure-ness: it’s natural -- it’s vile -- it’s to each her own -- it’s abusive.

As for me, I don’t bother to take sides on this matter, maybe because my own attempts at nursing three kids were complicated at best, and maybe because honestly, how can I be riled by one family’s choice and expect them not to be riled by mine (aka: Cheezits for breakfast sometimes.)

But I will say this -- and any honest parent should be able to relate: parents are sometimes other parent’s worst enemies.

Recent dramas in this town, many of them splayed out in the pages of our local paper, have pitted parent against parent. Who’s right about the Charter School? Who was right about the lights at the Seaside Park? The nasty letters to the editor make one think we are a community of feuding rivals.

And maybe we are, but c’mon now. The difference between a debate and a fight is huge. Maybe we all need to attend (or at least support) more efforts like Marblehead’s Team Up lectures, because as parents in this community, our conflict resolution could use some work.

Opinions matter of course and vary to great degrees, but in the end, we all have the same goal (I hope): happy kids, a nice school for them to learn, a nice place for them to live, a decent place for them to play. No matter how divergent our opinions on other matters may be, this remains one that is unchangeable.

I will never suggest that “we all just get along” – the best part of living in a small town lies in the freedom that people have to complain about it -- but I remain inspired by the fact (a wish?) that we have a common ground: our kids, this town.

Say what you will about breastfeeding a child until six, about how your school should be run, or about how the parks should be lit, but remember this:

Your children are watching.

My SIster Hates the Name

My sister hates the name Post Picket Fence.

She is disappointed that since she can’t “get it” neither will any women in Iowa. (I unfortunately said, “I don’t think I know any women in Iowa so I guess I don’t care.” It was, um, state-ist, I think, and completely beside the point.)

She wants so badly to support me.

When I explained (and felt badly having to do so) the myriad of meanings that “post” have been applied to – post-feminism, post-modernism, post-menopausal, post-partum – she came around to my Post. My life after the Picket Fence.

She said, So, what now?

What now, said I.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Home Sweet Home

I can’t figure out how to tell this story from the start so I am opting for the middle, or some part of the middle, somewhere in between where my head fell off and where it exploded.

After eight hours in various cramped planes and stale-air airports, K, barely 3, shouted to the acid space, “Okay, my back hurts! I want to get off this place, okay? My back hurrrrrtttttssss and now I am ready to go!” For emphasis and to make it clear that “off” was what he wanted, he added the magic word: “Please. Please? Please!”

It was mournful. I could not grant his wish. We were countless of thousands of feet in the sky and as much as I wanted to, I could not ditch him there. Instead, I said loudly enough so maybe the other weary passengers might hear, and then absolve him, and me: “I want to get off this place too. Please.”

(I am not ever sure who I feel worse for when my kids are at their end: me or everyone who has to listen to them.)

There is no better birth control then traveling with kids. We wrangled them through the parking lot, and then through a mass of bodies to security (shoes off, shoes on) and when we passed through (and they’d taken all our lighters), we had entered the 7th ring of air travel: delays leading to missed connections and no one giving a crap. If they had taped us dealing with the person telling us we were basically stranded and that they MIGHT be able to put us all on a bus for two hours -- to take us to another airport that may or may not get us to Denver -- when we need to go to Boston, it would have shown like a PSA for abstinence.

It would have made a killer commercial, and the notes would have read like this:

“Mother of three, wife to one, stuck in the middle of some timeless, spaceless place must make three children live on mini pretzels and little else. At the same time, she must negotiate the fury of the husband, who is taking his anxiety out on the shrimpy, polyestered employee. She figures his hulking size is a minus here as he appears minutes away from spending the night in the joint. She must do this while lugging ridiculous carry-ons filled with old candy and coloring books and half-eaten crayons. She must also carry three straw-topped cups of blue juice that might be the only post-x-ray fluids her kids can get. She grabs their hands. She wrings her own neck. She swears she will never have sex again.”

Cut. Done. It’s a wrap.

But I digress.

Truth be told: it was a wonderful vacation. My father and his wife spoiled us. Their home is a movie-set of perfection, with idyllic sidewalks and lawns and pools empty but for us. I cooked once in ten days. I did our laundry, collected our debris but for those ten days, I gave up my life and it was delicious.

That furious husband of mine – the one, who by the way, strolls even after getting almost booted from the airport, who strolls even when we have THREE MINUTES to make the next plane (the one that will finally get us home) – that man -- he entered a new realm of “relaxed” while we were away. He was with us for real and it was good.

I used to have such anxiety about flying. There was a time when I worried I would never get on a plane again. I even feared ones I wasn’t on. Every plane flying over our house was a weapon. It was a missile aimed for me that would strike and ruin everything I loved. I leapt to the window with each jet engine sound, flinging back the covers of my sleep in some perverse and terror stricken version of “Twas the Night Before…”

I am happy to report that this plane anxiety is lost to me now.

I doubt my itty-bitty enormous is at the top of any body’s hit-list. And even if it were (and maybe it is), I couldn’t do anything about it. Can I stop the plane with my flabby arms from my window? Can I save the world (and us too) just by paying attention?

Control and security live in two different houses, in two different countries really. I know now that one does not beget the other. I get on planes, with my posse in tow, I gather up the supplies we need, and I don’t grab the armrest at a turbulent lurch anymore. I know I can’t save them when the thing goes down, just as I can’t stop that kid from whining or wiggling because frankly I wanted to do the same. This is how it is being barely three on a plane, being me on plane with him, and the rest, my sweet girls so concerned and worried and my giant husband, laying his head on my shoulder when the twelfth hour of this nightmare was winding down, just laying it there, on me.

I started in the middle but I’ll finish at the end. We got home safely.
I thought my oldest daughter, always observant and honest, might view our un-gated, non-manicured, paint-peeling ‘hood with some kind of disdain. But she didn’t.

She said, “It’s exciting to be home. I missed it here.” And then she fell asleep for the whole night, and I did too.