Put Away Your Scalpels

Tonight I went walking with my daughter.  It was great to be outside; strolling in the sun and the breeze.  It’s been some time since I’ve felt myself really move, felt alive, watched her laugh and live beside me.  I would have missed out on today as well, if not for a little white lie.

This morning I had an appointment with my dermatologist.  Just a regular checkup, though it seems like my checkups are never really “regular”.  I am blessed on my father’s side with a large Irish bloodline.  This also means I am somewhat un-blessed with very fair Irish skin; pale, burns easily, lots of moles.  I very frequently have irregular moles removed.  Almost always, they end up benign, and we’re good to go.  This past April, however, was my 3-year cancerversary.  Having a melanoma removed from your thigh at 37 is an experience, let me tell you.  So I take my checkups seriously, and when my doc sees something he thinks should go, I listen.  But today was different.

The reason?  I have just come out of the other side of one hell of a migraine cycle.  It was basically an entire month of pain, grouchy wife/momma, weekends trying to rest, meds, early evenings, rinse, repeat.  It happens; you take it a day at a time and get through it until it fades.  But while you’re in it, it’s crap.  There’s no way to sugarcoat it; it just plain sucks.  Not only for me, but also for my family.  It’s draining on all of us.  My husband carries the extra weight, my daughter (age 7) has to give up her Momma to this mystery ailment she can’t see or fight against, and I just try to endure while my body depletes until I feel like there’s nothing left for anyone let alone me.

Since I’ve rebounded, the last several days have felt like a cloud has finally lifted.  My energy has started to return, I’ve been able to exercise again, I’ve been enjoying time with my girl and my family, I’ve just been able to breathe.  So today when my doc said he wanted to remove another mole (from the top of my foot, no less, inhibiting my mobility for a couple of weeks to heal), I was surprised how my logic voice of ‘probably a good idea’ was so loudly drowned out by my inner spirit screaming out “NO CUTTING!!”  All I could think was ‘not today; not now; I need more time to feel good, more time to breathe, more time in between hurting and being the Mom who can’t play on Saturday because she’s trying to heal, more time to be human and whole and just….ME‘.

Thing is, I didn’t think I could explain that to my doc without sounding like a raving loon.  And at that point, he was already readying the scalpel and lidocaine; I didn’t have a lot of time.  So I blurted out the only other thing that came to mind.  “Uh, I have a wedding to attend this Saturday, and I think there will be dancing.  Is your concern level pretty high on this one?”  Not very smooth; but it worked.  He said it was only a minor concern, and that as long as I had it taken care of within 4-8 weeks, we’d be fine.  He then said it was probably better to enjoy the dancing and nice shoes without the foot incision, and to have fun.  That smarted a little more than the cut probably would have, but don’t fool yourself thinking I spent a lot of time dwelling…I hightailed it out of there as fast as my mole-covered legs would take me.  (After responsibly scheduling my return appointment for 4 weeks out; I’m not completely throwing caution to the wind here, people.)

I will say I fully enjoyed my walk this evening.  Guilt free, headache free, even if it wasn’t mole-free.  I’ll hold on to this one for a little while longer.

We All Need To Be Rocked Sometime

lion-hugWhen I picked my daughter up this evening, she looked tired.  It was warm here today; her face was flushed, as if she was overheated.  She seemed a bit standoffish, not greeting me right away.  Then when she spoke, she was speaking in baby-talk.  Regressed syllables, clipped sentences.  It took me a bit of time to get her moving towards the car.  She wanted to be silly; not follow directions, play games, dawdle, etc.  I had a feeling I was in for a long evening.

My daughter is seven.  She is bright, beautiful, curious, empathic, and extremely loving.  She’s been facing more than her fair share of challenges lately, which leave her more often than not wounded and wondering.  Not much different from the rest of us, really, though we have the luxury of life and learning and how to bounce back better than a seven-year-old now, don’t we?  The regressive speak is a product of feeling vulnerable, and a yearning for being nurtured.  I also gather it’s related to spending time recently at her grandparent’s with her 18-month-old cousin; watching him being coddled and cared-for in a way reminiscent of what she feels she’s needing, when she is expected to be the “big girl” in the room must be especially frustrating for her at the moment.

The toddler-talk continued for the entirety of the car ride home.  I did my best to calmly tolerate it, while also reminding her to use better words.  When I could tell her frustration level was rising, I tried instead to shift topics or distract with music rather than continue to correct.  There’s a time and a place, and an over-tired child won’t soak in the message anyway, so why hammer it in?

When we got home I focused on minimizing her stimulation level (no television), and maximizing her comfort level (giving her my full attention).  I put on some music and we played a game together while Daddy cooked dinner.  As she continued with the tiny words, I tried a different approach.  I told her that I knew it might feel safe to pretend to be little sometimes, but think of all the things she would miss if she didn’t grow up?  Measuring how tall she was against my chest, riding the bigger slides at the water park, getting to go on overnights with her Girl Scout troop.  Those were pretty cool things that only big girls got to do, and she surely wouldn’t want to miss out on those, right?  She answered back in her normal seven-year-old cadence and added a few of her own achievements – getting tall enough to no longer use a car seat, riding the cooler roller coasters, and tackling me when she hugged me, which she then proceeded to do.  After the tackle, she got quiet, looked up at me, and said, “But what about rocking, what if I get too big for rocking?”

I pulled her onto my lap and held her close.  I told her, “You will never be too big for rocking, baby.  We all need to be rocked sometime, even big people like Mama.  I’ll always rock you, no matter how big you get.  Promise.”  Then she clung to me tightly for what seemed like a moment in between worlds – where baby and big girl and Mama all blended together in one swirly thought – and we just rocked there, together.

I don’t even remember who won the game…

Into the Wind

Piglet-goes-against-the-wind

As I left my office building today, the wind was blowing.  Not just a slight breeze, but a real guster.  My hair kept covering my eyes, forcing me to readjust my load to clear them so I could see my way.  As luck would have it, I had parked quite a bit farther from the entrance than normal this morning, which only extended my path.  As I made my way to my car, I found not only was my view compromised, I was actually fighting against the wind just to walk, as I was headed directly into it.  It just so happened that also, at that moment, I was anxiously hurrying to pick up my daughter due to an issue at her day care.  I tried to walk rapidly, but every step I took into that damn wind seemed more and more arduous, like I was fighting against everything just to reach my goal.  My goal of getting to my car, getting out of that parking lot, getting to my daughter.

Honestly, most of this week has felt like that; like walking into the wind.  For the most part, my husband and I often count our blessings when it comes to our daughter.  We have markedly few complaints; she is healthy, brilliant, and thriving.  But we have had a particular set of challenges this year we’ve been working on improving with her that occasionally rear their head.  And when they do, they leave me feeling – as a mother – short-handed, confused, deficient and heart-broken.  Like that wind is relentlessly battering against all of us as we fruitlessly try to walk directly in its path, once again.

I know, overall, we are making progress.  I can see it in her, in us.  I know the wind does not blow all the time.  And I will try to remind myself that during those times it is gusting, and we are staggering against it, those are the moments we are becoming stronger; we are learning to weather it, together.  And we will, eventually, reach our destination; as blustery a path as it may be.  We just have to keep moving forward, even if it is into the wind.

Blood, Sweat and George Washington

The ups and downs of parenting; unpredictable, sometimes unmanageable, and yet often immensely enjoyable.  Case in point – my daughter; she alone is a 7-year-old ball of volatility.  Combine that with parental efforts at lab work, random rites of passage and motherly attempts at hairstyling, and you’re on your way to a snapshot of the last 24 hours in my parenting journey.

Initially it started off with my daughter’s desire for lovely bouncy curls.  She wanted ones resembling those she received at the hair stylist the other day after a quick trim (and truly, they were quite fetching).  The problem?  Momma is not adept at styling hair.  Mostly, we leave that to our Auntie – she owns her own salon, and can do mighty amounts of hair magic.  But currently she lives 2,500 miles away, which leaves Momma quite on her own, and very in the lurch for delivering on the hair front.  Since it was late on a school night when the request (more like ‘demand’) was made, and we currently don’t have any curlers, I had the bold idea of trying to rag-roll her hair as an experiment.  She seemed up for it, so we washed, half-dried, and rag-rolled our way to a happy little knot-tied head in no time.

Next we had a not-so-pleasant task to attend to.  We needed to take a small blood sample from my daughter’s finger for a food sensitivity test we are running on her.  As they kindly sent us two lancets, we had already used one on Daddy’s finger a few days earlier as an example (which didn’t seem to be as useful as we had hoped).  Now we needed to do the actual deed on her finger, and she was not having it.  We tried preparing her for it, reasoning, cajoling – nothing.  We then tried the ‘forceful hold’, which led to immediate hysterics and a physical clamp-down.  Not pretty.  We took a break so we all could breathe, which resulted in her locking herself first in the bathroom, then in her bedroom.  Then we all sat down for another conversation; she gave us a rather convincing argument of why she didn’t need the test at all, and we tried to use the kindest possible way to knock her argument down and explain that we were doing it anyway.  She somehow let slip that she had poked herself with a sewing needle earlier that day; oddly enough, that was our in.  We were able to convince her that the lancet wouldn’t hurt any more than the needle; that (along with a bribe that eventually was upped to $20) finally got her to reconsider.  Her last request was that she be able to push the lancet herself, to which we agreed.  Only given that we were now 45 minutes into the ordeal and the parental units were tiring quickly, we didn’t realize that we had actually fallen for a carefully calculated ploy.  No sooner had I set the lancet in my sheepishly grinning daughter’s hand did she launch it behind the dresser; the heavy, immovable, unable-to-reach-underneath-flat-against-the-wall dresser.  We’d been had; and my patience was about gone.  We retrieved the lancet and again resorted to the ‘forceful hold’; we finally got a finger free, and got the lancet in place.  Again the hysterics ensued, at least until the blood started to flow; then she was fascinated.  “Wow, Mom, look at it drip!”  All at once, she was fine.  We filled all five circles in no time flat.  My husband and I just looked at each other in wonderment.  The whole ordeal had taken over an hour; we were exhausted, sweating and spent.  I wasn’t sure which turnip we had really just gotten the blood from; her, or us.

A mere half hour later, my daughter popped out of bed and into the living room full of excitement.  It seemed the lower front tooth she had been wiggling for the last two days had finally worked its way loose.  As she animatedly waved her tooth in the air, she yelled she had lost it and then gave us a huge happy grin.  Only she looked less like a seven-year-old and more like a boxer in round seven of a prize fight; teeth and gums smeared with red, and more blood oozing from the gap in the front.  Honestly, it kind of freaked me out.  I was ready for the gap in her teeth; I was not so ready for all the blood.  She was so thrilled, standing there smiling from ear to ear, and I was trying ignore my gut instincts towards my daughter and her bloody mug.  I pasted a fake smile on my face and steered her towards the bathroom where we rinsed her mouth out, secured the tooth in her fairy pillow, and finally got her snuggled into bed.  I was hard pressed not to immediately follow her; it had been one heck of a night, and I’d had enough blood and sweat to last me quite some time.

Lest we forget about the rag-rolled hair…  Fast forward to next morning; she was super excited to take the rags out to see what the result was.  I reminded her that it was an experiment, and whatever the outcome, we could always make sure it looked okay for school.  I unrolled the first couple of strips, and we could already tell the experiment was a dud; her hair has natural curl already, and I think the strips were just too thin and her hair really took it in.  It was really more of a funny kinky curl instead of the lovely large rolls she was hoping for.  As I took more of the strips out, her expression got worse; I reminded her of the ‘experiment’ discussion, and that I could simply re-wet it and dry it straighter for her.  Once they were all out, she took a final look in the mirror and exclaimed, “Mom, I can NOT go to school like this.  I look like Mayor Washington!”  It took me a minute to grasp her train of thought, but once I did I asked her, “Do you mean George Washington?”  Her response, “Yeah, Mom, my head looks just like George Washington!”  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I also corrected her, and explained that George Washington was actually a president, not a mayor.  She then corrected herself, “Okay fine, but I STILL can’t go to school looking like PRESIDENT Washington!!”  I’m happy to report that after employing a little water and hot air, her hair was presentable for the day; no George Washington in sight.

It was such an absolute shift from the night before; no stress, no pressure, no guilt over bloodletting my own child.  Instead it was a complete release of laughter and joy and sincere delight over the amusement of seven-year-old logic.  It almost felt like compensation for the trials of the previous evening.  I suppose, in a way, that’s exactly what the ups and downs of parenting are. You face countless struggles; many unpredictable, even unmanageable.  But the rewards are often more enjoyable than you would ever imagine; they make all the blood and sweat worth it.

Boiling Point

I stood in the kitchen and watched the water boil.  I stared at the droplets as they spun and bubbled and rocketed towards the surface, bursting as they finally reached the top.  Only I wasn’t thinking about the water, nor was I thinking about the pot or the stove.  I was actually thinking about my daughter, and how closely that roiling liquid matched her emotions a mere three hours earlier.

My seven-year-old beauty…  She is an only child, for all intents and purposes.  Her three older brothers outnumber her by so many years (at 22, 24, and 26 years of age) they are more like awe-inspiring heroes than arm-slugging, room-sharing siblings.  She often laments this fact, pointing out that having a little sister around would make playing so much easier at home.  Truth be told, she struggles to find the right balance with relationships that are not family-oriented, and it’s likely much to do with this exact reason.  Not that we aren’t aware of it – we are; acutely so.  We’ve made extra efforts to find outside social avenues for her for several years now for the sole purpose of giving her more social interaction.  And though she is markedly confident in so many areas of her personality – academics, athletics, trying just about anything new – socializing, especially in the untested waters of all things “girl”, is still a struggle.

Don’t get me wrong; my daughter is far from shy.  She charges forth with unbridled enthusiasm towards any friend that gives her a second glance.  The introduction, itself, is not the problem.  Well, maybe it is, in the fact that she is SO forward she sometimes knocks the recipient off guard.  See, she is convinced that everyone she meets wants to be best friends immediately, just the way she does.  And she’s completely baffled when, for some reason she never understands, they may not.  This is where the issues come in; navigating the waters of 2nd-grade friendships when you haven’t a boat or an oar, let alone a team to row with.  It’s a tricky business, paddling alone.  And she’s constantly desperate to find anyone who will join her.  Fortunately she has garnered a couple of good friends in our neighborhood, but they are a bit older and more mature than she is, and there are still times when misunderstandings occur.  Unfortunately, they seem to weather these situations much more easily than my daughter does, and she often comes off as the immature odd-girl-out.

Hurt feelings – we’ve all had them, and they suck.  I’m 40, and they still sting; at seven, they’re practically world-ending.   Take this evening’s crisis:  four friends, happily playing, wind up at our house for a brief “breeze-through”.  During the stop one of them mentions going to another’s for some always exciting trampolining.  Problem: the girl with the trampoline can only have one friend over, per her mother’s instructions.  Cut to crickets and silent stares from the rest of the crew, as each of them wonder just who the ‘lucky one’ will be.  No need to wait long, as trampoline girl announces she’s already offered the spot to one of the other girls (the girl who happens to be my daughter’s best bud).  Drama ensues.  My daughter immediately bursts into tears because 1) she was playing with her best bud way before trampoline girl showed up tonight and 2) she never gets to go anywhere and 3) she was supposed to be able to jump with all of them and 4) she is never going to play with any of them again and (the list continues as she melts into a weeping puddle on the chair while the other three simply stare at her).  At this point I intervene by calmly stating that it’s close to bedtime anyway, and we have some things to do, and I’m just going to go ahead and keep her home for the night and we’ll just see everyone tomorrow.  This successfully redirects her ire away from them and over to me long enough to get the other girls out the door.

But remember the boiling water I was talking about earlier?  Well, here it comes; clearly I have forgotten to take the kettle off the stove and it is now screaming at me with a fever pitch.  All those hurt feelings of being left out and pushed aside by her friends have now been compounded by being embarrassed in front of them by her mother and forced to stay home like a baby.  The kettle quickly morphs into the form of a 50 pound seven-year-old banshee with wailing fists and kicking feet.  My daughter is rapidly spiraling out of control, and I am forced to decide what to do with her.

I, myself, am not the bastion of emotional control.  I grew up learning that when you’re mad, you scream.  When you’re angry, you explode.  I’ve spent my whole adult life trying to unlearn this exact pattern.  Part of the little kettle has come from the big one, in my house, and that fact is not lost on me.  So in moments like this, I have done an immense amount of work to train myself to remember that I have the ability to decide how to act.  Learned or not, we all have a choice.

Tonight’s meltdown took every ounce of patience and breathing and courage and momma magic I possessed, but I made the decision to offer a safe space for my daughter.  And I will tell you, it was excruciating.  I stared at my lovely girl and watched her boil.  I watched her heart break for a full half hour; watched her rail at me because she did not understand the hurt and frustration she was feeling.  And I had become the target; she clawed at me with her words, hit at me with her fists and kicked me with her feet.  Each time I calmly yet strongly prevented the blows and told her, softly, “I will not let you hurt me, and I will not let you hurt yourself.  I know you are angry and upset, and that is okay, but it is not okay to hurt people.”  I offered her two choices; to get into a warm bath, or to go to her room until she was done with her feelings.  I simply kept repeating the same things over and over, like a mantra.  I did not fight back; I did not scream at her; I kept her safe, I kept myself safe, I told her I loved her, but I also told her what was and was not acceptable.

She finally stomped off to her room.  She did it while screaming that she hated me, but she had finally made one of the two choices.  As soon as I knew she was clear, I let down my guard.  I didn’t realize how much adrenaline had kicked in until then; I had to breathe through it for about 20 minutes for it just to clear.  The tears continued for another 10.  I felt like I had just been hit by a truck, both physically and emotionally.  But I took a minute to remind myself that I was successful in my decision to hold a safe space for her as long as she needed it.  I was spent, but I was proud.

About a half hour later she came and found me; or rather, a flying note did as she hid around the corner.  It said she was frustrated that I said those things in front of her friends and made her feel bad.  But it also said she was sorry for fighting, and that she loved me very much.  She peeked around the corner as I read it, then came to snuggle on my lap.  We ended up having a really good talk about what happened, her actions, and what would be a better way to handle big feelings the next time she has them.  She’s learning; maybe not right in the moment, but she’s getting there.  My girl may have really big emotions, but she has an even bigger capacity for love, as I was so clearly reminded tonight.

You should know this kind of scene is not a hugely common occurrence; these ones only come out with the really big emotions for her.  But when they do come out, the water boils over and spills onto anyone nearby.  It’s a familiar pattern in my family, and I have long since wondered how much is genetic, and how much is learned.  I will probably never quite know the answer.  But I do know that I have the ability to change the pattern, both for me and for my daughter.  They say a watched pot never boils.  I’m not so sure about the “never” part; but I’m fully convinced that if the big kettle gives the little kettle a better example to observe, all that roiling and bubbling can be replaced by much calmer waters.

The Tooth Fairy Lives On

“We have a problem,” I stressfully whispered out of the side of my mouth in a sub-audible tone as I sped by my husband the other night, coming out of the bedroom.

“What?”  He replied, looking at me quizzically (he has a hard time with sub-audible, for some reason I have yet to understand.)

“We have a problem…she doesn’t believe in the tooth fairy.”

My daughter (currently seven) had been working on her left-front-tooth for what seemed like weeks, and had finally won the battle.  As expected, we had now moved on to the moment of pillow-placing and fairy discussion.  The problem?  She was convinced I was the tooth fairy.

You see, in addition to the tooth fixation, she had also recently developed an accessory obsession.  This led her to looking (i.e. sneaking) through my jewelry box one weekend, where she unfortunately stumbled upon her other two baby teeth (I keep them at the very bottom, in the macabre tradition of all mothers who wind up with hidden boxes full of teeny tiny teeth).  At the time she called me on it, but I thought I had squeaked out of the accusation by weaving an on-the-spot explanation about how all parents have a “contract” with the tooth fairy wherein she generously gives back the first couple of baby teeth so the parents can keep them as a memento.  She seemed to buy it at the time – or so I thought.

Fast forward to the front-tooth occasion, and we were at it again…

“Mom, you are sooo the tooth fairy.”

“Honey, really, I am not the tooth fairy.  Why would you think that?”

“Because I found those teeth, and I think you give me the money, because you always have money in your wallet.”

“Sweetie, I have a million other things to do besides going around being the tooth fairy, don’t you think?”

“Nuh-uh, I’m sure it’s you.”

“Seriously now, and what, I guess I’m Santa too, right?”

“OOOOOOOH no.  Santa’s TOTALLY real, Mom.  That’s a WHOLE other situation.”

(I secretly almost fall over with relief at this one while trying not to laugh in the process, but quickly refocus on the issue at hand.)

“Well it’s almost time for bed, so get under the covers and I’ll be right back.”

At this point I went out searching for reinforcements, because I was clearly losing ground.  After my quick-whispered panicky plea, my husband came in to say goodnight, and she started in on him too.

“Dad, Mom’s the tooth fairy.”

“Really?  How do you know?”

“I just know.  It’s her.  I’m sure of it.”

“Well, everyone in the world knows the tooth fairy, right?”

“Well, DUH, Dad.”

“But, not everyone in the world knows Mom…”

At this he kissed her on the forehead, grinned at her, and left the room, leaving her looking a little baffled.  Score one for the Dad!  I decided it was my moment to try again, so I chose distraction as my strategy and got busy getting the tooth and the pillow ready.  She seemed irritated at this point.  I wasn’t sure if it was at us or at the situation in general.  Finally, she spoke up again.

“Well, if you’re not the tooth fairy, then I have some questions.”

“Okay,” I said, and sat down on the bed, ready to spin some answers.

“No, Mom, WRITE THEM DOWN!”

Grief.  Up I stood to find pencil and paper, and then quickly readied myself to scribe.  Here were the pressing queries she insisted be answered, and placed alongside her pearly tooth in the pillow for the night:

  • What color is your dress?
  • Where do you live?
  • How old are you?
  • Can you bring me a $5 bill?

Children are open books, when they’re young.  The imaginations of youthful minds are eager to trust in the hearty laugh and rosy cheeks of a jolly old man from a far off frozen land; they revel in the possibility of a puffy white tail bounding down their doorsteps on an early spring morning; they show no fear when a mysterious tiny winged creature sneaks under their pillows in the darkness to replace their teeth with gleaming coins.  But as they grow, logic and common sense (and, let’s face it, in-your-face-truth-telling from the slightly older crowd) start to seep in and the familiar characters of our youthful world slowly fade away.

As parents, we have a responsibility to guard our children’s safety; teach them right from wrong.  And yet, we go to great lengths to extend this childhood gullibility as long as we can.  Bites out of the cookies at Christmas time; flour tracks on the floor at Easter.  As if the longer we can get them to believe, the longer we can extend their childhood.  And really, it may even be more for us than for them.

Clearly, I was not about to let this challenge go unheeded.  As soon as I was sure she was asleep, I sprang into action.  I found my “fancy” stationery (the kind that looks like parchment paper with the feathered edge), a pretty pink pen, put on my best fairy persona and began my official Tooth Fairy response (in fancy cursive writing, of course, with a British tone…I figured giving her an accent would help with the authenticity):

“Dear Katie,

Thank you for having your mum write me a note.  I like questions!  Here are your answers:

1) My dress is a lovely lilac color but my wings are a slightly darker purple with silver sparkles.

2) I live in a little cottage in a far away village which is about three bright moonbeams away.

3) I am 243 years old.  Pretty young for fairy years!

4) I may be able to grant you a $5 bill if perhaps you lose a large molar tooth.

Congratulations on losing your first front tooth!

Love,

Tooth Fairy” 

I crafted it so it was long and thin like a scroll, then rolled it up with three one-dollar bills, tied it with a ribbon and put it in her fairy pillow in place of her tooth.  The next morning I knew she had found it when I heard the high pitched squeal of “Momma, Momma the tooth fairy came and left me a note!  She left me a real note!  And it’s in cursive!  I can’t read cursive!!”  She waved the note in the air as she bounded out of bed, running to me and insisting I read the note for her, which I did.  Her ensuing grin and giggly-ness were exactly what I had hoped for – childhood extended just a little bit longer.  For her, and for me, and the Tooth Fairy, who lives to fly another year…

We Are Safe

She’s not bleeding; she’s not starving; she has not broken a bone, fallen down the stairs, or gotten caught under something heavy.  She is not in pain, nor is she suffering uncontrollably.  There is no risk of immediate terror or peril; she is safe.’  This is the mantra going through my head as I listen to my daughter repeatedly scream out my name at the top of her lungs from my bedroom downstairs, as I basically hide out in the office upstairs.  After about five minutes, I close the door so the sound is more muffled and I can’t hear her as well.  Then I close my eyes, put my head in my hands and try to breathe…

It’s been a particularly difficult day.  Well, this is a bit of an understatement.  It’s been one hell of a freakin’ day; how about that.  Today is one of those days where you run into your mothering wall.  You have used every bit of patience and sensibility and bargaining and “don’t you dare”s that you can remember coming out of your mouth, and you’re truly just spent.

I’m sure we’ve all been there.  We love our children; and for the most part, they are lovely and wonderful and brilliant and amazing.  But they can also be the Achilles heel of our parenting prowess.  My daughter is closely approaching her seventh birthday; she is in transition.  As a result, we are all in transition.  Every parent laments about the “terrible two’s”, but no one warns you about the other ages.  They make it sound as if once you get past two, it’s almost a breeze; what they fail to mention is that the transitions continue at almost every age, and many of them are just as difficult.

My daughter is certainly not entirely to blame.  She is a small little being trying to figure out how to exist in a world of larger ones; trying to find her way to herself, even though she really doesn’t even know who that is yet.  I have some memory of how challenging that can be, at seven years old; the immense pressures of trying to shift from that “little girl” world where everything was safe and protected and many things done for you, into the “big girl” world where it’s expected (and really, self-desired) to be more independent, more self-reliant, more mature, a more separate being.  But what do you do with all those feelings of still wanting to be safe and secure and babied and coddled?  How do you shed those all of a sudden, just because you’re supposed to?  Even when you want to, you don’t want to…it’s hard to give up that secure little bubble and branch out of it, as curious as you may be.  That ever-present internal dichotomy makes for a perfect little emotional storm that is really a beast to navigate.  Can you blame her for having bad days?

I certainly don’t.  I’m forty and I have bad days; I have a much better handle on how to deal with them and I still struggle.  So I can’t possibly hold it against my lovely girl for simply being human and fallible.  But as difficult as it is for her to navigate her seven-year-old self, it’s equally as tough for the momma to discern how to help her steer a course through these rough waters.  Today’s challenges included everything from clothing crises to attention issues; from inabilities to listen to frustration over toys; from unhappiness over food choices to a power struggle over bedtime.  The current meltdown I was hiding out from, I would later find out, was a result over the fact that she was finally comfy and warm and had finished the apple she insisted on for a bedtime snack, and didn’t want to get out of the bed to throw it away, so she hollered for me to do it for her, and when I didn’t immediately answer (after the fourth or fifth try), she became distressed because she then didn’t know where I had gone.  I had initially not answered because I was on another floor; then when I heard her, I sent my husband in because I was busy, which apparently sent her into more hysterics because “you’re not momma!” and it really just snowballed from there.  The aforementioned hiding only seemed justifiable because I had personally recently put her to bed, knowing she was safe and sound, and also sent the husband in to check, assuring me that if there was a safety crisis he was with her.  Hence the mantra.  I know myself well enough to know when my daughter is better served by not having me there (such as when I simply have run out of everything I have to give, and all that may be left is frustration and impatience).

We did finally get to the end of this day.  I somehow got my 1200th wind, calmed her down, got her to sleep, and then proceeded to lay exhausted on the couch for a few good hours.  (Venting to the nameless blogosphere helped a little, as well, I must admit.)  Not all days are like this; I know the good ones outnumber the bad.  That’s why we do it, right?  It’s because the love is so huge and consuming.  That’s what carries us through.  At the end of days like these it’s the love for that amazingly beautiful creature that softly covers me like the warm embrace I so longed for when I was a little girl; it wraps me up in that safe little bubble and makes it all better again.  That love transcends it all.  And in one funny little moment, I am somehow the parent and child simultaneously, the keeper and the kept.  Only now, I am wise and strong enough to make myself safe, along with my little one; and that is a brilliant realization to behold. WE are safe.

Coffee Shop Compassion

One random morning a stranger asked me for a matchbook.  That, in itself, is not significant.  The events that took place before and after, however, certainly were.

You see, our family is like many in America; middle-class, fairly fortunate, insulated from poverty and hardship.  We have a nice house, food in our pantry, a car to drive, and jobs to support us.  We are aware, however, that there are lots of people in this country that do not have what we do.  I try to educate my daughter about helping others that have less than us, and we make efforts to give when we can.

On this occasion, my daughter and I were on an early morning trip to Starbucks in Portland, OR.  We’d flown out from Ohio, so we were still on East Coast time and I was trying to get my rambunctious 6-year-old out of the house for a bit so she wouldn’t wake the rest of the family at 5:30 am.

As we were sitting at our table enjoying our goodies, I noticed a man crossing the street towards the shop.  He was wearing only a black t-shirt and sweatpants (despite it being fairly cool and rainy), he was slightly balding and bent over walking, and he was missing his right arm from the elbow down.  After watching briefly I turned back to my daughter and our conversation which she abruptly stopped, because she had a serious question.

“Mom, why did that man pick a used cigarette off of the ground?”  I turned to look as the man I had noticed before now entered the shop.  I told her I would explain a little later since we were now, with him, the only patrons in the shop and I didn’t want to embarrass him in case he overheard us discussing it.  I heard him ask the baristas for a book of matches, to which they answered they had none.  He then turned and looked at me, rather sheepishly, and asked the same.

Without really thinking about it I stood up and told him I had no matches, but would he like a cup of coffee instead?  He stared at me for a moment, as if he was confused by the shift in topic, and then answered, “Yes, that would be nice.”  I led him over to the counter and said that they had breakfast sandwiches, and would he also like something to eat?  He pointed at the example in the case and said the sausage one looked good.  We got him squared away and he came and sat next to us.  He introduced himself then, “Charlie Chester”, and shook my hand.  I did the same, introducing myself and my daughter.  We made small talk while we ate; I told him where we were from, he told me where he got his shirt with the ten bats.  He seemed a bit disconnected, but happy to have some company.  It occurred to me that perhaps it was not often that anyone took the time to speak with him.  He had kind eyes.  I noticed he was a bit shy but tried to connect with me and my daughter, though she was oddly irritated and wouldn’t respond to him.  I tried to keep myself the focus of the conversation until we were done, then wished him a good day as we packed up to go.  He thanked me wholeheartedly, and told my daughter “You sure have a nice Momma.” to which she scowled and said a snipped “Thank you.”

As we got into the car, I asked her why she was so irritated and rude to the man.  I was sure it had something to do with the fact that he was a stranger, or dressed shabbily (and, to be honest, probably could have used a shower), etc.  I was surprised by her answer: “You didn’t even know him, and you gave him our money, Mom.”  I did not expect that she was possessive of our giving to him in that way.  Especially since the week before she had voluntarily chosen to give her own gumball quarters to the Children’s Hospital fundraiser at her school, and we often pack up her extra unused stuffed animals and take them to the fire station for children in need.  It then occurred to me that she didn’t see what I so clearly did, that this man was so very much in need.  I suppose she just thought he was some random man and I had just handed over something I could have given her instead.

I then proceeded to try and explain, in my best 6-year-old-speak, about Charlie Chester and his world.  I shared that his funny bat shirt and shabby tennis shoes were probably the only clothes he owned.  The coffee and sandwich that Momma bought him with “our” money this morning would probably be the only thing he ate today, maybe even tomorrow, unless he found something else in a garbage can to scrounge (“People DO that, Momma??” “Yes, they do honey, when they have nothing they do lots of things you’ve never thought of…”).  Charlie Chester probably has no place to sleep at night, except wherever he can find outside to stay out of the rain and wind, if he’s lucky; no bed, no pillow, no blanket, no roof.  And certainly no “friends” (what she calls her stuffed animals) to keep him company.  Wherever he goes he has to rely on his two feet, because he also has no car or bicycle or scooter.

At this point, her eyes were fairly wide, and I had her full attention.  I reminded her how she made the choice the week before to give her quarters to the Children’s Hospital (“Yeah, so I can help the little babies who need it!”), and to give her old “friends” to the fire station (“For kids who don’t have ANY friends at all, Momma.”).  I told her just like her acts of kindness, I was choosing to help Charlie Chester with my money, at which point I think it finally connected for her.

It was really an interesting morning of learning, for both of us.  I was surprised that I had just assumed that my daughter would automatically have known poverty and sadness when it walked in front of her.  I felt that I already talked a lot to her about helping people, but clearly I’ve not done a good job about showing her who those people are, or what the need for help really looks like.  I was reminded that though compassion is innate, generosity is sometimes learned by example.  We’re getting there…

The Pusher

Many areas of the U.S. weathered quite a heat wave this weekend.  This past Saturday in Ohio, temps climbed to a mind-numbing 105 degrees.  Like many parents of young children, this somewhat limits our options for weekend activity; park visits or sprinkler fun look a little less inviting when you layer in the heat-stroke possibility.  However, being cooped up in the house with a six-year-old who’s full of energy and climbing the walls isn’t particularly appealing, either.  Solution?  Play place at the mall, of course!

The play area at the mall closest to us is set up to resemble the solar system.  There’s a mock space ship to sit inside, planets to climb on and around, as well as plenty of room to run.  When we arrived I was relieved to find that it wasn’t quite as crowded as I had expected, especially given the weather outside.  There are only so many seats around the perimeter, and they’re prime property and go fast.  I wound up sitting next to a father who appeared to be fairly near my own age, and settled in while my daughter happily sprinted off.  The father next to me was busy laughing with his son, who looked to be maybe eight or nine years old.  I had my head turned away from them when I heard a really loud *thwump* sound, and turned to see what it was.  The son was lying on the ground with a grin on his face.  Initially I thought the boy had fallen (frequent occurrence in the play area) and, since he appeared unharmed, I didn’t think much of it.

I turned my attention back to locating my daughter (which is basically my full-time occupation on these occasions – there she is!  Wait; lost her.  There she is!  Oh, lost her again…there she is! – and on it goes…), until I heard it again, *thwump*.  Same boy, same fall, same location; right in front of me and his dad.  It seemed odd, so this time I kept looking.  The boy was laughing while he got up, and then he said, “Again!”

At this point, his father proceeded to basically push him to the ground.  (Okay, maybe push is an understatement; shove may be more accurate.)  *thwump*  The boy, lying flat on the ground, erupted in hilarity, then got up again and asked for more.  This continued for a good twenty minutes, to my amazement, and I tried not to stare.  I have to say, it’s quite distracting trying to locate your child when another youngster is being throttled to the floor right next to you.

*thwump*

“Again, Dad, do it medium this time!”

*thwump*

(Wait, there are different speeds?  Can he breathe down there?)

*thwump*

“Hahahahahaha!  Do it again!!”

*thwump*

(Shoot; where did she go this time??  “Hey, no hair pulling, girls!”)

*thwump*

(Seriously, is this really safe?  Minor organ damage, perhaps?)

*thwump*

“Awesome!  Good one, Dad!  Hahaha!”

*thwump*

(Good grief!  What is this, linebacker training?)

*thwump*

And on, and on it went.  I kept looking around to see if anyone else was as uncomfortable as I was by this roughhouse recreation.  I mean clearly, the boy thought it was fantastically fun and the father was happy to play along.  But I couldn’t shake my unease at the forcefulness of the interplay, nor my relief when they finally packed it in for the day and proceeded on their merry pusher/pushee way to greener, air-conditioned pastures.

Talking later to my husband about it, he explained it was really just a sort of father/son male-bonding.  Sort of when guys take turns slugging each other in the arm or stomach to see who can take it better, or jump up and slam their chests together to see if they can make each other pass out.  (Quick note: these rituals sound just as ridiculous as the shoving game, so the logic was a bit lost on me, but I digress…)  He shared that it’s just the way guys sometimes relate, and that it probably made me more uncomfortable than anyone else (well, save for maybe some other mothers in the area).

Interesting observations for an afternoon fleeing the heat.  I think I’ll keep my ‘pushing’ limited to the swings at the park, thank you just the same.

Storms, and Bookstores, and Accordions…Oh My

There are days where you start out with a plan.  Maybe you have a goal in mind, errands to do, an outing, etc.  You decide on a course, confident you will follow it and accomplish what you set out to do; and then fate steps in.

My Sunday started out like this; the goal was to acquire activity books for my daughter to be used during our plane flight on our upcoming vacation.  There is a Half Price Books store fairly near our house, and they often have new ones for cheap, so this was the intended location of the morning.  (A little background…  The weather here – Ohio state – has been volatile lately.  Very hot, humid, and stormy.  Two nights ago we had a particularly nasty storm; 80 mph straight-line winds, power outages, downpours, lots of damage.  Many areas of town were still recovering through the weekend.)  My daughter and I had already wandered over to Half Price Books on Saturday, only to discover they were closed as a result of no power.  However, I was again in the area later that day, and the traffic lights and a couple of businesses looked operable.  I assumed the grid was back up, so we decided to try again the next day.

With our mission in mind we again headed out Sunday morning for our destination.  Unfortunately, they were still closed with no power.  A little frustrated but undeterred, we decided to head a bit farther out to another HPB location so we could acquire our intended loot.  After 20 more minutes in the car and some overly dramatic radio sing-a-longs, we arrived.  There were markedly few cars in the area, and upon inspection we learned that this location was also out of power.  Ugh.  The plan for the day was unraveling quickly…

Given that our trip was looming, and I didn’t have the luxury of more HPB locations nor lots of time to wait for power fixes (some areas at this point were estimating 5-7 days before repair), we broke down and decided to head for the full-price shelves of Barnes & Noble which was very nearby.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of B&N and browse there often.  But for activity books that my girl will use and abuse on a plane and then dispose of quickly, I would really much prefer the budget route.  However, with a little selective browsing and a trip through the sales rack, we wound up getting out of B&N without breaking the bank.

After a nice girls lunch full of laughs and funny faces (not to mention odd looks from other patrons), we decided to meander over to Whole Foods before heading home.  Shortly after we walked in, I noticed the familiar strains of accordion music drifting through the air.  Leaning over to my daughter, I whispered in her ear, “Remember the accordion man I showed you the picture of not too long ago?  He’s here.”  “NO WAY!!  WHERE?!?”,  was the loudly excited reply.  It took a few tries, but I finally convinced her that where he was located was outside of the checkout area, and we needed to quickly gather our purchases and pay for them before we could go see him.  The plus side of this was it helped to get her to be uncharacteristically helpful while we shopped for the few things we needed, and kept her from being as handsy as she normally is.

We checked out quickly and made our way over to the same spot I found him in before; a chair in the corner of the eating area.  I wasted no time walking up to him today, and saying a hearty hello.  The big grin I remembered from the first time I saw him (you can read about it here) was just as sparkly, and he was obviously happy to have company.  I reminded him I was the woman who took his picture a few short weeks ago, and apologized for not having caught his name.  “It’s Burt!” he said excitedly.  I introduced myself and my daughter, who was suddenly very shy.  He pulled a chair up for us and encouraged us to sit down and listen, which we did, my daughter on my lap.  It was so sweet the way he showed her his accordion (“64 years old with lots of duct tape, but it still plays just fine!”), and picked out songs he thought she would know (such as ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’).  My daughter relaxed and opened up once the music began into play.  She loved the tunes immensely, and I loved watching her listen and smile.

What I didn’t expect was to be caught off guard when he started playing ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’.  I found myself tearing up as I was suddenly my daughter’s age, sitting in my childhood living room, watching my father play the accordion as I marveled how he could work such an amazing contraption.  Somewhat of a surreal experience as I held my own daughter on my lap.  As Burt shifted to ‘Tura Lura Lura’ the memory continued, and was compounded by thoughts of my large Irish family and my grandfather’s funeral.  I had no sooner started to dab at my eyes when my daughter turned and asked, “Momma, are you crying?  You’re not supposed to cry, dry it up lady!!” She said it in the funniest way I just had to laugh, then we both laughed, and then Burt laughed because he probably had no idea what happened but thought laughing was a great idea and joined in for the heck of it.

We listened a little while longer and then said our goodbyes.  Burt asked us to please come listen again, and we promised we would.  As we exited the store I mentioned to my daughter that it was probably a good thing the power was out in the Half Price Books that day, or we never would have run in to Burt and his accordion at all, for we would have been nowhere near the Whole Foods store.  Our original plan would have had us in, out, and home in a flash.  As it turns out, the revised events for the day held much more adventure and richness than my original plan could possibly have garnered.  I supposed plans aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, now are they?  Often times it’s the unplanned that yields the biggest rewards.