The Talk

 

Driving home, we were talking about… I don’t know…. everything… when he said “It seems like adults hide a lot of things from kids.” I felt the sting of accusation.

“It’s not that they want to hide anything good from you. It’s to protect you.”

“Protect us from what?”

“Bad things. Hurtful things. Sad things. We remember the carefree happiness of childhood and want the same for you.” He gave me a funny look. “Or some of us had short childhoods and want our kids to have more than we did.”

“I never used to think adults could feel like kids do. I didn’t think they could be sad.” I glanced at his face, so serious.

“All adults were kids once. Every one of them. Some things you don’t lose. We feel – just like you; just as irrationally (smile) and deeply. Most of us learn to hide it as we get older. This is what I mean. This is what changes. The sadness – it eats away at childhood, at innocence, and we have to protect ourselves. We try to protect you, too.”

“So you cover up your feelings?”

“It’s like putting on armor, I guess.”

“Oh.” He stared out the window and I wondered what was on his mind. Death? Divorce? Sex?

“You can always ask me anything. I’ll tell you the… I’ll tell you what you need to know.”

I stopped the car and he turned to me. “Is Santa real?”

Advertisements

Fat Tuesday

 

Fat Tuesday and we’re feeling fortunate. I’ve made too much pancake batter, throwing in frozen blueberries by handfuls, the Fashionista cracking the eggs and pouring in half the bottle of vanilla. I sprinkle cinnamon until the batter is splotched with brown. We rub the griddle down with butter and the pancakes start to pile onto the platter. The syrup is lumberjack sized and there’s an audible “whump” when it makes contact with the table and a sweet relief when the strain is gone from your arms – that’s how big it is.

Fat Tuesday and we’re talking about how much we have and how little we’re willing to do without. They’re talking. I’m listening. The Boy says he’ll give up pancakes for Lent and I take another bite, wondering what’s wrong with them. But they taste great and I remind myself that this child means what he says. He’s enjoying them so much right now it’s hedonistic. He’s become a gourmand and he knows it’s wrong. He’s a good kid. I don’t know where he came from. The Pixie – who gave up triangles last year – swithers. “Flowers. Actually, not flowers. Cats.” Someone points out the fact that we have three cats and she can’t pet them for forty days. “Forty days!” she cries, and I’m right there with her. Forty days without the bristly feel of Huck’s head or Tom’s soft, furry belly? “Purple,” she says “or maybe pink.”

Pink? I see my beloved pink tartan handbag, the pink scarf I wove for myself, remember the favorite pink pearls. Pink? Maybe. It’s only forty days.

Thursday and I’m sliding into a booth seat in a diner, shedding my coat and scarf. It’s late and we’re giggling. The waiter comes to take our order. I ask for a Coke, no ice. “I thought you quit drinking soda.” I say I did. I know they’re bad for me. “What was that – yesterday??” and we laugh. It’s good to be out late. It’s good to be laughing with a friend. It’s good to be alive and I don’t want to give up anything. Not for a day, not for forty days, not forever.

Last Week

 

After breakfast the table was cleared and supplies laid out: cardstock, colored pencils, glitter, glue… it was valentines day.

I struggle against the store-bought ones. I don’t know why. They’re adorable and so alluringly easy; just fill in the blanks. But I remember too well the red hearts on white paper doilies, carefully cut and lovingly (if sloppily) pasted in place. The red and pink ovals folded and woven together – over, under – into one heart. It just doesn’t get more poetic than that.

I read the first name on the list of the pixie’s classmates. “No” she said. Excuse me? Everyone gets a valentine. Forget all that stuff about love or even his cousin, like. I’m not about to let her hurt anyone’s feelings. Everyone gets a valentine. “NO. I’m going to make mine first.”

(Yours? They’re ALL yours! You’re the one making them! Who else’s could they be?)

Biting my lip hard, I looked up. She was writing her name across an envelope in red. She was making herself a valentine! And she was making it first. What a strange and wonderful creature she is.

This was not, of course, my first thought. I started Catholic school at a very impressionable age. My first inclination was horror. “Vanity!” I heard Sister Mary Something cry. But she is not vain. Precocious, but not conceited. She simply knows enough to love herself.

Politics

 

My five-year-old is a Republican. “Obama is a bad President.” she says. Of course I tell her he is not. It’s a hard job and I wouldn’t want it. “Yes he is,” she insists. “Grandma said.” I laugh a little at this and she gives me a stern look. “He makes bad rolls.”

Rolls? She must mean rules. She clearly thinks I should be taking this more seriously and so I ask why his rolls are bad.

She shrugs. “They’re probably moldy. Are you going to make lunch?”

Yes, but I hope Mr Obama hasn’t made the bread.

School Days, part two

My girls had their first-day back-to-school outfits laid out well in advance. The spanking new jeans, faux tartan top, motorcycle jacket, and FEDORA were enlisted to dazzle the masses like so much sparkling vampire flesh. The Pixie’s choice of Cinderella dress and silver slippers looked downright dull in comparison. But, given the fact that it was still very much summer at the time, my young fashionista went off to school the first day wearing an emo looking vest with cheerful skulls over a t-shirt with shorts and bright blue high top sneakers, to which I said: Whatever. We’ve already established I’m fashion challenged.

She loved her outfit, loved her school, her new teacher, her friends. She left excited. She came home disgusted. The fourth grade teacher read The Little Engine That Could to the class. To be fair she’d been a kindergarten teacher up until that day. She’s since overcome her first-day faux pas by being “the nicest teacher in the whole world” and my daughter continues to go off to school eagerly every morning in adorably bizarre outfits with hair styles culled from teen magazines.

Her brother? I have no idea where he goes each morning or what he does there all day. He’s a closed book. His sister had been the intermediary but now they’re at different schools. I have him mostly to myself at the crack of dawn and have been trying new conversational tactics. Direct questioning rarely works. Instead I shock him into talking with references to health class or by teasingly poking his armpits and asking if he remembered deodorant. Deodorant has become a big issue here. My ever-helpful husband picked some up for the kids. Did he buy some for himself so I could have mine all to myself? No. But the boy and girl got theirs. Adidas – very sporty – for her and Axe for him. Yes, Axe. I had to sneak out to the store for something prettier smelling for the girl and something just plain less smelling for the boy. I glanced over my shoulders, surreptitiously sniffing deodorants like someone deranged. For the record, Teen Spirit is my favorite. Axe? No. Not so much.

The Pixie needs no prompting. She comes off the school bus talking, although it’s usually about someone else.

“I have something really, really, really, really bad to tell you.” Dramatic pause wherein I imagine she’s been expelled already. “Two boys had to go to the office today.”

Whew. “Why?”

“How should I know?”

“You are polite to your teacher, aren’t you?”

“Yesss. But guess what. One girl in class cries like a baby. All day.”

“That’s awful. Do you try to cheer her up?”

“No. She wants her mommy. She’s not the only one either.”

“Do you miss me at school?”

“No. Silly. What’s for dinner?”

The first day of kindergarten I was dutifully snapping pictures while she waited for the bus. There are several shots of her hand blocking the lens. It made me feel old. Unnecessary. The bus came and she got on. No hesitation, no glances back. I remembered my cousin’s daughter on her first day of kindergarten eleven years ago. She climbed on the bus and turned back to wave to her mother. My Pixie walked straight to her seat, sat facing directly forward, and waited. I wondered if I should cry. And then I realized: She was on an adventure.

It occurred to me her teachers are on an adventure too, they just don’t know it yet. When she came back that afternoon she was full of guess-whats and guess-what-elses. But the first thing to come out of her mouth? “Kindergarten has a LOT of rules!” I wasn’t too surprised to find a note from the teacher in her backpack a moment later. Apparently one of the rules is that you must wear shoes. I immediately bought her shoes with laces, hoping to slow down the kicking off of shoes at every opportunity. The next day was spent showing off her shoe tying (and untying) expertise. Everything is an adventure when you’re five.

School Days

 

Tomorrow the Pixie will go to school. She’s ready. All paperwork has been filed, immunizations given, pink butterfly book bag appropriated. Gymboree, Gap, and her sister’s dresser drawers have been picked clean. She knows the alphabet and can read and write a handful of words. Mostly our names – including MOM, proof of which is in black permanent marker on the kitchen counter. Yes, she wrote MOM in big, black letters and then grew wide-eyed when I asked her who did it. She looked from one sister to the other as if in horror they could even contemplate such defacement. What an actress! Luckily, I have a pretty good sense of humor and my husband is a cabinetmaker so, like the cobbler’s barefoot children, our kitchen is a serious candidate for Extreme Home Makeover. My faked signature adds character. Because, you know, we didn’t already have enough.

Tonight she’s sleeping with the pink butterfly book bag and matching lunch box. If she’s sleeping at all. Giddiness came free with the set and she skipped through the house all afternoon singing about the joys of owning a book bag – set to the tune of Polly Put the Kettle On. From the top bunk her sister is probably still trying to convince her not to humiliate her, not to ruin her life, not to wear the Cinderella dress and silver sparkle slippers on the first day of school. She’d like her to wear something grown-up and fashionable. A tunic. Not a shirt, a tunic. With leggings. This discussion’s been ongoing the past few days and has made a few people ask what a tunic is. The idiots. She rolls her eyes. I asked if the item in question weren’t more of a swing shirt rather than a tunic and got a glare so hot my skin peeled. My daughter is a fashionista. Do not mess with her.

The Fashionista is fun to shop with though, assuming you have enough money. She loves clothes. She loves to accessorize. She loves to love the clothes I hate. I’m told this is my fault. I have no fashion sense. Possibly true, since she’s not the first to say so. What’s fun about shopping with her is that she’s enthusiastic. She spots a black motorcycle jacket and gauzy red plaid tunic and has to have them. Has to. I hadn’t even noticed them, but now they look kinda cute together. “See? See? Mom! They’re adorable! I can wear this jacket with everything. I can wear the tunic by itself. I can wear them the first day of school. No, it’s not too hot. It’s never too hot to be stylish. And look! The zipper is asymmetrical! Asymmetrical, Mom! Can you believe it?” Before long I want a black motorcycle jacket with a diagonal, asymmetrically placed, unbelievably cool and hot zipper. What’s not fun is shopping with her with the rest of the clan in tow. And they must be towed. They are not willing participants. The Pixie gambols through shops like a young gazelle, leaping in the air and crashing down, clearing shelves with a delighted shriek. Or she drags herself behind us, sullen, sweeping her arms out idly now and then to clear the shelves. She’s unpredictable. It’s like carrying a lit fuse in your purse. She may seem like a perfect little lady at the moment, but you’d be wise to remember she has dismantled window displays and been caught dancing with mannequins. It’s only a matter of time. The Boy is completely predictable. He is not a shopper. We spent days searching for clothes and he liked one shirt. A wide striped one he wanted to buy in six colors so he wouldn’t have to shop anymore. I had visions of Charlie Brown, wearing the same shirt forever. This would suit my son just fine since variety is not the spice of his life.

The first day of school he wore an old t-shirt anyway. The Fashionista deemed this so cool it was uncool, as if he cared. The first day for them came a week ago and that made the Pixie wail. All summer long she’d been waiting and now she had to wait a little more. The day is almost here though and I’m excited for her. I hope I can sleep.

The Sea

THE SEA! the sea! the open sea!

The blue, the fresh, the ever free!

Without a mark, without a bound,

It runneth the earth’s wide regions round;

It plays with the clouds; it mocks the skies;

Or like a cradled creature lies…

We’re on a tiny strip of land caught between the sound and the sea.  It’s a magical place. Here my running acquaintance husband turns into a surfer and my children change back into the mermaids and mermen they really are. They’re splashing in the pool now, laughing like seals, happy. A magical sound.

County Fair

 

After more than an hour of hunting for two matching shoes in a child’s size 8 (or 9 or 10, just make them match please!), I pushed four kids out the door. I locked it. Deep breaths were taken followed by a ninety second pedicure. I opened the door and blinked. The number of kids had doubled.

We live close enough to the fairgrounds to walk and so we do. We like to say it’s fun. When it’s 88 degrees Fahrenheit and 100 percent humidity and the tarred road is sticking to our shoes with every step we say nothing. Just keep walking. We kept walking. By the time we reached the next door neighbor’s drive the kids had tripled. Another fell in with us at the end of the street. They were like bees swarming toward the entrance, but once we paid they separated and went their own ways. My sister and I took the smallest ones to the kiddie rides. We stood watching while our children spun round and round in giant red apples. I was holding her baby – affectionately known as Mealworm – wondering why apples. It’s an Alice in Wonderland feel putting your child in a giant apple and watching that apple lurch and spin away. It made me dizzy. Sweat ran down my back and my hair clung to my face. Mealworm poked me in the eye. This is the moment my high school boyfriend chose to step forward and say hello. Lovely. The last time I ran into him I was enormously pregnant and wearing flip-flops in February. He asked politely what I’d been up to and I burst out laughing. So much for dignity.

Summer of Our Discontent

 

 It’s true. I may never write here again. I was thinking this morning of what Virginia Woolf said. “A woman must have money (for babysitters, cooks, laundresses, maids…) and a room of her own (far from home, without a phone) if she is to create fiction (or anything else – like a complete thought).”

We have been to the beach. This is a sand-ridden, jellyfish stung, sunburnt self-torture for mothers. There is nothing relaxing in it. We have been to the playground. The one set in a desert of recycled rubber surfacing with no shade trees for miles and the twirling monkey bars where my son broke his arm. We have been to the county fair. Will summer never end?

Tooth Fairy

 

The Tooth Fairy has been to visit. No doubt she’s reconsidering her career choice now. Don’t be surprised if the value of baby teeth drops sharply. The Pixie has lost her first tooth.

That makes it sound as if it happened naturally. As if the tooth simply fell out. Hardly. She had a loose tooth for all of a few days. Then she said to me “I guess I’ll go outside and bash myself in the face with a soccer ball.” Apparently her sister thought this helpful advice. I applied reason, but the Pixie thought a hard smack to the mouth perfectly reasonable. In the end I let her go because, well, for one thing I knew where the soccer ball was, but also because Who would hit themselves in the face on purpose?

She was back a minute later bloody mouthed and bawling, tooth in hand. “That HURT!” Somehow she managed to sound both accusing and triumphant.

I wanted the tiny trophy to go in the pocket of my purse till bedtime – for safekeeping – but I was not to be trusted. I thought of all the things that have gone missing from my purse and been found in hers. I gave her the tooth.

I gave her the tooth, but in a clear, plastic box (so she could see it) roughly two inches tall and three inches wide (so she wouldn’t lose it). For the first time in all her five years she asked to go to bed early. She was excited. I feared for the rest of her teeth. The Tooth Fairy brought a crisp one dollar bill, rather than the customary golden dollar coin. Possibly she was taken by surprise. With almost a full year between teeth at our house her stock of coins may have gotten low. Her mistake was in sliding the folded bill beneath the edge of the pillow before retrieving the tooth. I can imagine her flitting all about the Pixie’s head, slender hands feeling here and there, searching fruitlessly. The tooth was not to be had. My daughter, in her earnestness, had placed the entire box directly under her head and not moved an inch. Her sleeping head pressed the small box into the mattress and neither a tiny fairy nor a full grown adult could make it budge. If she decides to stay in business, the Tooth Fairy has her work cut out for her.

« Older entries