Foldy Time

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I’m not good with time. Kind of chronically. I’m late a lot. And, for some reason, I think a weekend lasts at least as long as a work week. Sunday evenings are always a disappointed scramble to finish the loads of laundry I thought I had another three days to do.

One thing I notice about time is that it folds over on itself, like the paper fans I used to make when I was little. Second, minute, hour, day, month, year – fold, second minute, hour… When I was a kid, the fold would be on the month, or even the week, or both. I’m probably due for an upgrade any time, and I’ll have my fold on the decade.

When an important event from this year folds on top of a similar important time from the past, a hole is poked into the time between the two events. Then, I can see through it to the event in the past, sort of like brutal, accidental time travel. All that foldy time is jabbed with something sharp and metal, and for some reason, I’m the one bleeding from the puncture.

I suppose it’s not always brutal. Sometimes, it can be a gentle poke and a glimpse into past springs or happy Christmases, or joyous weddings.

But often something has changed, and the difference, good or bad, is painful. Anyone who has suffered loss knows how vicious the jab is between this birthday or holiday and the last happy one with that person. It makes you avoid looking at calendars and keep the shades closed and the lamps lit at all times, so weather changes can’t trick you into stabbing time. None of that matters, because you always know, and it always happens.

My latest time jab was gentler than that, but still brought tears to my eyes. It was just a little day in August when I brought a small boy to kindergarten, poked through to last year in August when he still said “becited and bessert.” And another to the year before in August when he would call, “Wook, Mommy!” And on through diapers and pacifiers. All the way back to when I was a startled, confused and exhausted new mother holding a squirming, befuddling little creature who was so bewitching, I could barely breathe.

It seems like time has folded really quickly since then, and there are a thousand tiny pokes through time to all the little hims he used to be.

But before I get too teary eyed, I remember that these little spots will get folded over again, and before I know it, I’ll get to see all the new little and bigger hims he gets to be. I’m sure curious to meet these hims, but I’m not rushing things. I have a few thousand days left of him in kindergarten, right?

(reposted from last year – but same teary right before school starts)

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Mommy! Mommy! Look at me!

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Watch this! Look what I can do! Did you see that??

I have a kid under ten, so I hear some version of that about a hundred times a day. I look up (patiently, and/or excitedly, I hope) every time to witness the clever, odd, incomprehensible, hilarious or frankly alarming things my child does. Sometimes, with the “Did you see that?”s I say, “Yes! That was awesome!” But I didn’t. I know, I suck, but that’s probably not the worst lie a parent can tell.

It does get a little tiresome, especially when I don’t really understand what I’m seeing: tiny action figure performs tiny stunt mostly hidden by tiny cupped hands. “Wow! How did he do that?” I ask, which is the parenting equivalent of saying someone has a great personality.

Or when I have seen it a thousand times.

Or when I’m sure “it” will result in an injury. “Look!” he says jumping off the chair onto his knees in the carpet. “Be careful!” I call again and again, because in my mind the chair is fifty feet tall and the carpet is made of stones.

I’m not complaining. I know that too soon, he won’t care if I’m looking, and too soon after that, he will very much NOT want me looking. So I look, I see, I watch.

Honestly, I can’t look enough anyway. His cheeks are so chubby and cute, and his eyes are so bright, and his laugh is so infectious. And he’s always changing.

Every time I look, I can feel the minutes slip into days and splash into years, and I’m always trying to re-memorize him.

I marvel at my irrational soul that manages to be as eager for my boy’s independence as it is heartbroken at the prospect of it. I wonder if all parents feel the same. I wonder if mine did.

A few days ago, my mom called to say she didn’t think she and dad were going to be up for the journey to see us this winter. I totally understood and wasn’t really surprised. Dad had back surgery recently, and Mom has joint problems that make traveling hard. We would just plan to go see them instead. No big deal.

But.

Something occurred to me after I hung up that put a little chill in me and made everything a little grayer: What if she didn’t just mean “this winter?” What if she meant “ever again?” It’s not like traveling long distances gets easier with age.

I have recently (fortunately) found myself with more time on my hands. I had vague plans to use some of it beautifying my home. Or at least making it seem more like a home than a gigantic toy box. I thought about rearranging furniture, getting some new accessories, painting (that last one might have been a bit of a stretch).

After talking to my mom, my ideas seemed drab and pointless, and they didn’t really feel worth the effort. I realized that all of those plans, like so much of what I do, had centered around the thought, “What would mom think of this?”

So there it is. Thirty something years later I’m still saying , “Mommy! Mommy! Look at me!”

As a mom, that comforts me. He will never not need me.
As a mom, that terrifies me. He will never not need me.
As a daughter, I am sobbing into my pillow. I will never not need her.

Little Heartbreaks

I have plans for you, eggs

I have plans for you, eggs

Once, when my son was three or so, I overheard him talking to himself while we were getting ready for work/preschool.

“This is gonna be fun!” he said.

So I had to look. He had gathered up some plastic Easter eggs, and was smiling at them.

“What’s gonna be fun?” I asked, overwhelmed, as always, by his beautiful little smile at some delight he found on his own.

“I will play with these with my friends.”

Oh no. His school had a prison-strict policy against bringing toys to school.

“Oh, sweetie, you know you can’t take those to school right?”

“OK,” he said. And he was fine. It was fine. But I wasn’t. I felt like I had killed a small creature, his little hope creature, his little fun creature. I have no idea what he was planning to do with the eggs, but it would have made him happy, and even better, he would have shared with his friends and made them happy. And I couldn’t let him. It crushed me.

I know I can’t give him everything he wants. There are some things he wants that aren’t good for him: lots of sweets, no bedtime, a pet dragon. There are some things he wants that wouldn’t really contribute anything to his life, like another truckload of toys. But these little plans, his own first victories, his fledgling imaginations, these are the things that I want him to have, that I feel like a monster for keeping from him.

Plans

Agent C is incognito

I took him to school, sans eggs, and cried all the way to work.

Yesterday at camp, my boy missed out on popcorn. Popcorn is a treat, so much tastier because it is special, made just for movie time. He came in late, and the popcorn was already doled out, and the rules say he has to stay seated.

He told me about it last night, and already, already at four, he’s learning to hide his small heartaches. He didn’t want to look at me when he told me, and he tried not to let his voice shake or that tear escape. And I hugged him, and he hugged me hard. Thank goodness we still have that. I wanted my hug to tell him that it mattered. I knew it was more than popcorn.

This morning I asked his teacher what was the right thing to do if he comes in late from another activity and the popcorn is already handed out.

This woman, who I would now like to adopt into my family, gasped. She covered her mouth in horror.
“WHAT? OH NO!! HE DIDN’T GET POPCORN?? Oh, punkin, I’m SO sorry!!”

She looked like she would cry. I felt like I would cry. She understands. And my little boy’s heart is safe with her for the summer.

It all sounds trite, plastic eggs and popcorn. And my soul bleeds for the moms and dads who cry because they can’t feed their children, or can’t see their children, or have to work so many hours that they can’t be sure their care providers are safe, much less concerned about whether or not they get a cup of popcorn.

I know how lucky I am to have the luxury of crying over these little things. Maybe I should toughen up. But maybe if I can do a better job with these things, I can raise a compassionate person who wants to help solve the world’s problems. Or at least one who will hug his own child when she or he cries over popcorn and plastic eggs.

Wahhh

I think there are many who would argue that I have no right to feel overwhelmed. I have ONE child, and he is a good one. The best ever, in my experience. He’s also now potty trained and can express himself, so in actuality, I’ve got it made. It’s true, too. I don’t really have a good excuse to feel overwhelmed, but since that is just how I feel sometimes, I’m just going to have to accept that I don’t need a good excuse. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed because I am a mess, and so is my house. I do what I can to make sure my kid isn’t, and my husband is his own man. If he wants to be a mess, that’s up to him.

This weekend, we got sick again, all of us, and it was all on the heels of rearranging our furniture, so the house was in chaos, I had zero energy and we were all coughing and hacking. I had to call in sick, and that makes me feel guilty. Since Chris was sick too, I didn’t get a chance to relax or recover myself. Wah wah wah.

It’s stuff like that that makes me feel overwhelmed. The unplanned and unexpected. I’m a solutions girl and I like to fix problems. There’s no way to fix a cold, you just have to wait. And, with no energy, there’s no way to fix the chaos that is my house. Large, unexpected bills, sudden travel expenses, real or imagined threats to job, day care or home all these things make me feel anxious and overwhelmed. I actually think there are people who enjoy challenges like that. I’m glad I’m not one of them, except that I suspect I’d be rich if I was.

I used to think of myself as mellow, but I don’t actually think I was. I was just kind of resigned or apathetic. The apathy is definitely gone – replaced by real and honest delight by my son. But since I care about so much more stuff now, it is impossible to be mellow. Oh well. It’s a good trade.

When I feel overwhelmed, I just do what comes naturally. I mean, literally, nature designed us to do this: I conserve energy by letting the housework go to hell and Chris run around in his underwear and a cowboy hat, and I eat a lot of cookies.

I should look into prayer or meditation, yoga, exercise, juicing, crystals, chanting… But I’ve got a fluffy blanket and a box of Oreos, so I’m set for now.

Yes/No

I think I’m generally a pretty laid-back in my parenting style, and I also think that my husband wishes I was a little less laid-back when it comes to discipline or giving Chris things. I was sure I was going to be a super stern mom with a laser-like evil eye even badder than the one my mom used. I didn’t account for my kid’s voodoo, though.

He totally has a spell on me. When he wants something, I want him to have it. When he cries, I want him to feel better. It’s a constant war inside myself trying to determine what’s good for him in the long run versus what’s he wants. And sometimes I think where I draw the line is totally arbitrary and based more on my mood and energy level than on anything concrete.

Interestingly, I always thought my mom saying no was arbitrary and unfair. It’s a relief to know I was probably right about that, but not such a huge one since I am exactly the same way.

There are the basic guidelines of course: No to anything dangerous or destructive or to anything that could be repeated and frowned upon at daycare: bad words, drawing on oneself, peeing in the yard, etc. Yes to reading books, invitations to play, offers to help cook or clean, requests to snuggle (always).

Then there’s everything else, all stuck in the middle somewhere.

And I have to face it, sometimes it just feels good to say yes. A popsicle for breakfast? Why not? They are the 100% juice ones, right? (like that matters, it’s just pure sugar but I grasp at anything I can to be OK with my decision.)

Sometimes Chris will ask for something and if I turn him down he says, “Baybe tomorrow??” In a wistful way that breaks my heart. Have I brushed him off so often that he’s living in the future? (With a much nicer, more accommodating Mommy?) Then I hear the hundreds of mom voices in my head, “Cherish this time you have, it goes by so fast.” And, sobbing, I give him anything he wants. I can be the weird, crying hero mom of the moment and let the future me deal with the potentially spoiled little jerk I am creating.

Lyrical Profanity

My dad swears like a sailor. In fact, he used to be a sailor. I actually never attributed his cursing to the Navy. Angry and frustrated, my dad was a master profanitarian; thunderous, lyrical and awe-inspiring. Scared as I was of his tirades (although he was all bark and no bite, then, and is neither bark nor bite now), I was also a little proud of them. I felt sure that nobody could do what he did.

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Despite being around such language as a child, I never had any doubt which words I could use and which were entirely off limits. Maybe that was my mom’s influence, or maybe it was just context. I don’t think I could have imagined feeling angry enough to attempt one of my dad’s interjections. Anyway, he doesn’t use four letter words. My dad swears in compound phrases, with a delicate balance of adverbs and adjectives, and startling combinations of the mundane and profane.

There have been moments as an adult I have needed to copy him to express my feelings, but unlike him, I always stumble or make a ridiculous combination. I often wondered if he practiced and revised his rants.

“Maybe next time I’ll say___in’ ___ hole before son of a ___in’ ___master. I think that would have a greater impact,” he might think, while chopping wood, unaware that soon, he would need to put his plan into action after smashing his thumb.

Anyway, given my upbringing, it’s not surprising that I can be a little foul mouthed, and I actually think profanity gives some statements the emotional boost they need. (But I do have the decency to understand I’m supposed to feel ashamed of that.)

cursing

Of course I try not to swear around my kid, especially now that he is repeating things. I have been mostly successful, but sometimes I slip.

Recently he was trying to do something, and it wasn’t working out so he exclaimed, “Bad Damage!!” I was startled, then pleased to have been misunderstood in such an innocent way. Until I realized that if what I said, sounded like “bad damage” then him saying “bad damage” would sound like what I said. So I had to tell him not to say it.

That was a little challenging, because neither of those words are bad. It’s hard to explain how two non-bad words can sound like bad words to someone else, so I just told him not to say them. Then I feared that I have caused some future problems when he’s say, explaining a homeowners situation to his insurance agent. (Yeah, I’m a trouble-borrower.)

There are other situations that are less questionable. Like when he walked up to me, looked me in the eye and said, “FOCK.” He said it just like that, and there was no doubt in his mind that he was going to get a reaction. Funny as I found it, I didn’t smile, and I mustered the most shocked face I could manage. We talked about why it was a bad word and made it clear that he was never to say it again.

Then Jeff and I took to playing the blame game. Must be one of the older kids at school. He didn’t hear it on TV, we don’t even have HBO.

The next night, I realized I had left something on downstairs after I was all comfy in bed. I sat up and said, “FOCK!” only I didn’t say it just like that. It seemed I owed that “older kid at school” an apology.

Cut me some slack, I told you how I was raised. And even though I wasn’t in the Navy, I was in the Army Reserves. So, now I know I have to be more vigilant with my self-censoring… bad damage.

Work/Life Balance is Bullsh*t

As I write this, it is October, and I have just discovered that this year, my son’s daycare has elected to close for the entire week of Christmas and the entire week of New Years. Of these 10 days (for which I am paying), I have exactly three guaranteed days off of work. This, I’m sure, is the case for most working parents. Possibly, since they sell themselves as a “preschool” instead of a “daycare” the owners feel justified in closing for that long, reasoning that other schools will be closed, why shouldn’t they?

I can’t help but think they misunderstand the purpose behind my son’s attendance at their establishment. I did not select this place because it is an elite learning academy. I chose it because it’s close to my house, is well established (this a requirement after TWO of his previous daycares closed suddenly) and is opened the minimum hours I need so that I can work my 40 hour/week job. Also, of course, the place seems safe.

When I questioned the administrator about the closing, she said if I find myself in need of “back-up” some of the teachers are available to contract for care. That was an interesting choice of words, and accidentally appropriate. When I think of “back-up,” images of TV cops frantically shouting into handsets spring to mind. That is actually about right. These people are robbing me, I should probably call for back-up.

I do wonder if there are people for whom this is not big deal. Folks that just send their kids in because they want them to have some contact with other kids, and maybe to learn something. I’ve seen some (many, actually) who drop their kids off in exercise clothes. I should say the moms are in exercise clothes, the kids are wearing the standard uniform. My friend chooses to believe they are all fitness instructors. I think that’s her generous way of not doing what I do. Which is to hate them with a violent envious passion. It’s my fault, not theirs. I’m sure they are all very nice people. And maybe they each have some work- or health-related issue that forces them to the gym daily.

The reason I hate them is because I can easily imagine they have what I want and can’t figure out how to get, balance, time… delicious freedom. I imagine after their work-outs, they shower leisurely, then meet friends for lattes at Starbucks. Or even more luxurious, they clean their homes. Oh who am I kidding, they don’t need to clean their homes, they have housekeepers.

This is pure speculation, and I will speculate. And then be jealous.

I have nothing personal against these women with the mystical magical lives. Maybe, if I gave them a chance, I could make friends with one of them, although trying to talk to someone with such a different life is like trying to communicate with an alien. Often, we smile politely and nod. I just can’t imagine what it must be like to have time to not need to be someplace. Also, I love being with my kid, and I like to sleep, so I can’t see myself waking up at 7 to take him somewhere he isn’t REQUIRED to be so I can go somewhere I’m not REQUIRED to be.

Even before I had a baby, I had to laugh at the concept of work/life balance. It’s in the handbooks of most of the places I’ve been employed. I know the employers mean it when they say, “We advocate good work/life balance,” but come on. Take 40 work hours, 5 hours of lunch, 5 or more hours of commuting, 3-4 hours of getting ready, then subtract the time spent sleeping, cleaning, buying groceries, cooking and eating, and there’s not much “life” left.

I do most of my life balancing in the evening, marveling at the cuteness of my son and letting the housework go undone. The mess is worth the time, and the potential mortification I would feel if anyone visited means i dont waste any of my limited moments hosting guests (although I spend some fearing guests). That’s as close as I get to balance, and any one little thing can throw everything off. For example, being absolutely furious about suddenly having to find “back-up” childcare to substitute for the care I’m already paying for. Honestly, the anger at the injustice of it is taking away valuable time.

So now I’m daycare shopping. That takes time too. I’ll tell you this though, i am typing this clumsily and slowly, because my son insists on holding my hand until he falls asleep, and that makes everything else seem like no big deal.