Posts Tagged ‘Childhood’

What goes around

January 6th, 2008    -    11 Comments


I need help today, I say dully, after too many nights of too little sleep and a cough that won’t go away. The rains have descended and the allergies too and I’m feeling low and dim and all alone.

I’ll help you, she says, and she lugs two grocery sacks in from the trunk. She’s chosen the heavy ones with gallons and cans and her arms hurt, but she’s beaming.

I need to rest today, I pine, piling my woes on the kitchen counter.

I’ll make you a schedule, she says, and she bends over a pad then posts it on the refrigerator.

Relax Scedule

Sun 12:00 to 1:00
Mon 11:00 to 12:00
Tues 1:00 to 2:00
Wed 10:00 to 11:00
Thurs 9:00 to 10:00
Fri 10:00 to 11:00


Now I’ll set the timer, she says, and you go lie on your bed.

And if you need to schedule a makeup time, she adds in a stroke of management genius, write in on a piece of paper and give it to me before.

She’s thought of everything, you see, everything I need, and she gives it to me in the same way her needs have been tended and timed all these years into a sane and healthy rhythm. A time for this, a time for that. I take to my room and close the door. She turns the dial on the timer, and I feel it rushing back to me in a flood, all of it coming around again in terms never more certain, never more genuine, and right on schedule.

I am loved.

Don’t tell Daddy

November 9th, 2007    -    9 Comments

Mommy, promise me you won’t tell Daddy.

She had been a little squirmy on the way home from school. Preoccupied.

What is it?

Well, Mandy, she . . . promise me you won’t get mad?

Tell me, honey.

Mandy said not to tell you. She gave me this to keep and bring to school so we can play with it and she told me not to tell you. Promise me you won’t tell Daddy?

She was petrified, tormented as she reached inside her backpack. I had never seen anything like it, not that there aren’t plenty of things like it, a little toy, one piece of a two-way text messaging set that must be the walkie-talkie of these degenerate times. It was harmless, really, but Georgia had heard enough about how cell phones and iPods and mp3 players and every handheld electronic thingy orbiting her world was not a toy and not for her and Mandy had encrypted it all in a secret and Georgia was now trembling, crumbling with the weight of this second-grade conspiracy.

We didn’t tell Daddy. I told Georgia to give the toy back to Mandy the next day. I said I could see that having it made her scared and uncomfortable so she couldn’t keep it. I didn’t tell her how good she was or how bad she was. I didn’t scold her, and thereby add insult to her self-inflicted injury. And I didn’t tell her how happy she made me. Happy not because she trusted me. Not because she couldn’t keep a secret. Not because she couldn’t tell a lie. But because she couldn’t tell a lie to herself.

She’ll be OK, this little one. And Daddy (right, Daddy?) will be OK too.

I’ve about had it with the Truth. We’re off for a long weekend in Seattle to meet the mysteries that turned up one day in the mailbox.

Truth, as told by

November 5th, 2007    -    15 Comments



The following post is based on the truth.

Things my daughter has said when I’ve been attentive enough to hear:

At the amusement park:
Sometimes the noisiest places are the most peaceful.
Looking at the sky:
The moon follows us wherever we go.
After a nightmare:
My brain is mixed up.
Asked to subtract 2 from 32:
I’ll know that in high school.
On setting the alarm:
My eyes have timers in them so I know when to wake up.
On her religious persuasion:
I’m half Jewish, half Buddhist and half Christian.
Hearing that what she wants costs $139.
I’ll ask Santa and it won’t cost anything.

I could take exception to any or all of these statements. I could see these as teachable moments. I could subtly nudge, correct, expand, or explain. I could interject scientific, biological, psychological or theological concepts of my choosing. I might note, for example, that the moon is not following her, per se, but that through Einstein’s Theory of Relativity we know that the interplay between mass and curvature causes the gravitational and centripetal forces that hold the moon in its position relative to Earth. Would that be more true?

Children’s views on the life around them are at once literal, lyrical and magical. They are simultaneously very small and simplistic, and very large and profound. They are always true; we just may not judge them to be right.

When my daughter speaks, I listen for a teachable moment. That is, a moment that teaches me. And I stifle the impulse to limit the possibilities of her universe. Her life will do that for her. She will inevitably acquire knowledge, cultivate reason and encounter her own doubts and dark nights. She will ask me difficult questions and I will respond as best as I can. I save her nothing by shortcutting her journey to what I believe to be right or rational, provable or true. I play along, because these are the days for play.

Right now and for the briefest flicker of time, she stands before a wide open window, inviting me to come see. It is a breathtaking view, and I want it to last far longer than I know it will.

When it ends, I’ll still be standing by her.

The Parent’s Little List of Trust*

October 25th, 2007    -    17 Comments



*Not so little. Not just parents.

Trust accidents and coincidences; trust imperfection and the unforeseen.
Trust the milk to spill.
Trust confusion as the child of clarity; trust doubt as the mother of confidence.
Trust fevers, trust coughs, trust tummy aches.
Trust the body at all times.
Do not trust children’s cold medications.
Trust family. Trust friends. Trust strangers to become friends.
Trust old wives. Trust whatever you find when you find it.
Trust forgiveness. Trust forgetfulness. Trust remembrance to return when it serves you.
Trust the day and the night, like the sun and the moon, to appear right on schedule.
Trust time.
Trust change. And the change after that.
Trust not knowing.
Trust that when you can’t handle it for one more minute, you can handle it for one more minute.
Trust your strength. Trust your flexibility.
Trust in every outcome. To trust only in a certain kind of outcome is not trust, but fear.
Trust that children always say what they mean.
Trust that even when they don’t get what they want, children always get what they need.
Trust your life as it unfolds.
Trust your teacher, and that everything everywhere is your teacher.
Trust your child.
Trust yourself.
Trust.
And trust again.

Bathtub confessional

October 24th, 2007    -    8 Comments


I’d always wondered when the time would come. Then one night while Georgia soaked in the tub and I sat nearby, it came.

Mommy, were you alive in 1982?
Yes, I was.
Were you married?
Not to your Dad.
Were you married to someone else before Daddy?
Yes, I was.

Cool.

Trust accidents and coincidences; trust imperfection and the unforeseen.

spooked

October 16th, 2007    -    10 Comments

Dear Karen,
Lets get some
spookyer
Halloween
decorashons.
To get a
little spookyer.
Love,
Georgia

Last Monday my daughter brought home her regular weekly packet of homework. Half-way into the second month of the second grade, this packet is getting bigger, downright monstrous, and although she has four days to finish, it is enough to haunt my daily after-school agenda.

Have you done your homework?
Time to do your homework.
Sit down and do your homework.
Let’s do your homework.

Just three pages.

Just two pages.

Just one more page.

The homework isn’t massively hard. It’s avoiding homework that is monumental. After an hour or so of this banter, I snapped and shrieked, terrifying us both.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!!!!

She froze, then completed 12 pages, the full week’s assignment, in 19 minutes of shivering silence. Afterwards, she took a sheet of blank paper and wrote a page in secret, folded it and placed it in an envelope snuck from my stationery drawer. She excused herself to go outside where I knew she placed the letter in the mailbox. I expected the mail that day would carry a letter of reproach for a certain mommy, and I apologized repeatedly. We made a banana cake together and shared a treat before supper.

When the mail came, I opened my surprise letter.

Spookyer? That’s what she wants? As if one screaming meemie in this house isn’t enough.

Offered in proof that our children have come to save us, to redeem and reform us, and to forgive us no matter what. May we parents hasten our homework.

Oh, and we put up the decorashons this weekend. Are they ever!

Life interrupted

September 28th, 2007    -    6 Comments


I know I said I was going away. I’ve swept the tea house, I’ve walked the dog, I’ve scooped the poop. Later, I’ll go to Target and you know what that means.

But right now, I need to pipe up and call a spade a spade. This is a lie. A deception. Nickelodeon network is going “dark” for three hours this Saturday and advising kids to go out and play. Not. Get in shape. Sure. And then come back inside before the day is done and watch a kid’s reality show about not watching TV. On TV. Cripes.

And look! The news media gives it a pass. They wave a flag at it!

This is called “getting in front of an issue.” This is called public relations. I give myself permission to sneer because this was once my chosen profession. By the time I left it I was jumping up and down, waving my arms and hollering, “Don’t believe a thing you read in the paper or see on TV!”

I liken this TV-network-on-an-anti-obesity-crusade to my experience doing PR for a beer company. You read that right. The big daddy of brewers. We spent a lot of PR time and dollars trying to convince the media that we cared about people drinking responsibly. We had a catchy slogan for it. We wrote speeches and talking points. Then one morning the regional vice president called me at home, before work, because he was watching the early morning local TV news report of an overnight, fatal car accident in which alcohol was implicated. The news report showed footage of the police officer at the grisly scene lining up a dozen empty cans of our preferred product, all retrieved from the mangled wreckage. The VP, my client, wanted to know why I didn’t have enough clout to keep the local station from showing pictures of our brand in such an unfavorable way.

I resigned from the job that day. Soon, I resigned from everything else. After that, I began to have a life. My own ultimate reality show. The money isn’t as good but the beer is much better.

In real life, there’s a place to put Nickelodeon and this stunt that really is dark. Where the sun don’t shine. Then go out and play and don’t come back in.

Girl on the verge

September 21st, 2007    -    3 Comments

Of a wardrobe malfunction: “Starting now, I’m choosing what I wear every day.”
Of dropping out of 2nd grade: “We don’t even have Share Day!”
Of following in my footsteps: “Do these panties make me look fat?”
Of blowing her mind: “What are tampons for anyway?”
Of losing the battle: “I got all my toys out, so it’s only fair that you put everything away.”
Of stopping me in my tracks: “When am I ever going to get my own agent?”
Of waking me up at 5:30 a.m.: “Can I go on your computer?”
Of saying goodbye: “I’m 59 pounds!” *

*See “California Child Restraint Law,” or just ask Georgia, the resident expert.

Still crying it out

September 20th, 2007    -    10 Comments

“Not knowing is most intimate”
– Zen koan

I’ve been writing more than reading lately, and I’ve just backtracked to a fascinating article in the Sept. 17 issue of The New Yorker. Fascinating because it is sublimely inconclusive and oh, so close to home. I wish I could link to it, but it’s not online: “Crybabies” by Jerome Groopman. “The conundrum of colic” is the subtitle. My life had that exact subtitle too, for a few months back in 1999. The colic, of course, is ancient history, but the subtitle still lingers, and fits every now and then as I enter some new, inscrutable chapter.

If you’re intrigued, you can read abstracts here and here and another mother’s perspective here.

I love to read Groopman for his open-eyed examination of how little is known by medical science. I love to read him because he is a doctor, and he knows what he doesn’t know. He also knows what the medical establishment doesn’t know, the kind of unknowing that few doctors – and patients – can honestly admit or accept.

Colic seems to be related to maternal temperament. Or not. It seems to be tied to immature digestive systems. Or not. It seems to improve with babywearing. Or not. It is sometimes associated with diet. Or not. It seems to be relieved by antacids, herbal tea, rocking, swaddling, cuddling, and motion. Or not. It seems neverending. But it’s not.

Colic arrives just as you begin to think you have a grasp, a handle, a way of living in the new world. It tears that grip away from you. It steals every ounce of optimism, every hopeful conclusion. It shreds every fix and remedy. It leaves you with nothing to try or trust. Nothing but time.

Colic is the last thing you expect to give birth to. No one wishes it on anyone. But in its own ravaging wake, it leaves a gift. That’s the gift of not knowing. Not knowing when or how or if. Of surrendering to futility. Of succumbing to the tears. Of accepting the certainty of nothing but another day, and a different ending.

Everyone always outgrows colic. But I’m not sure anyone ever outgrows colic. Least of all the parent.

Not swallowing it

August 30th, 2007    -    2 Comments


Backseat backtalk to the car radio:

Mom! WHY are they making a HAPPY commercial for that DISGUSTING allergy medicine??

Nearly full

August 27th, 2007    -    5 Comments

Tonight I laid awake for a long time. I went into my daughter’s bedroom and watched her sleep. I saw the deep shadows and the midnight glow. She did not stir.

I went because the nights are numbered, and I do not know the count.

Famous last

August 24th, 2007    -    6 Comments

I can’t get pregnant.
I think it’s a boy.
I’ll breastfeed.
I’ll still be working.
She’s due Sept. 23.
She looks like me.
She’s a genius.
She’s an Einstein.
She’s a Mozart.
She’s sleeping through the night.
She likes it.
She’s a good eater.
It’s just the sniffles.
It’s just a tummy ache.
Fevers can’t go that high.
This won’t hurt.
She’s not afraid of the water.
She’s not afraid of the dark.
Lights out.
She likes vegetables.
She doesn’t know that word.
She doesn’t watch TV.
She didn’t hear us.
She won’t remember.
Wait until your birthday.
No means no.
I’ll never buy another goldfish.

Making childhood last

August 13th, 2007    -    16 Comments

Sunday was Georgia’s 8th birthday. We had a costume party, a pageant of make-believe featuring her in the dual leads as both herself, coyly turning 8, and as Lucy Pevensie, regally self-possessed as the Queen of Narnia. For weeks, Georgia was lost in lustrous imaginings of this wish come true.

She is, at this cusp, the very best of all. Still sweetly a child pretending to be everything she is and could be, yet so nearly a tween. But then, being the best of all is what I’ve always found her to be; it’s what I’ve found each year, after the anguish of anticipation, under the opaque folds of doubt and uncertainty. Every year is the best year yet.

How I wish they would last! How I wish it all wasn’t so soon to pass. How well I know better.

It’s with that yearning, that wistful backward glance, that I offer this modest summary for your consideration.

5 Ways to Make Childhood Last

1. Wake up. Let your children wake you up. Better yet, let them drag you out of bed. How much of your life – how much of their lives – do you spend in this ceaseless struggle to get more sleep? Give up already. I promise you, one day too soon the house will grow empty. Then sleep will once more evade. Seize the day! Seize the night! This divine mission to bring us into full awareness of our lives is the reason your child has come. So crack a lid and get this party started. If you could just once see the exhilarating potential they wake to every day, you’d know why children don’t want to waste a minute to slumber.

2. Break the rules. Brownies for breakfast. Painting your hair. Jumping on the beds. Staying up late and missing school. Adventure! Daring! Build your house on rules, but then have the good sense to barrel right through them from time to time. Breaking rules brings your home to life. It brings you to life!

3. Get on the floor. For one hour a day, get down on the floor and surrender to play. Not play on your terms – where you choose the game, control the action, and make corrections – play on their terms. Set a kitchen timer to keep track. Your children need one hour of undistracted attention from you each day. The trouble is, we spend 16 hours avoiding it.

4. Hold hands. Kisses grow scarce. Cuddles are outgrown. Your scrumptious love bugs will soon be parceling out the affection in piddling doses. How then to keep close? Hold hands at every chance. It’s the last, best way to stay in touch. It’s practical, it’s intimate, it’s precious, and it’s the ageless sign of peaceful coexistence. And when your child finally lets go of your fingertips, you’ll know one thing for sure. All this time you thought you were guiding them forward, they were really leading you here. To the point of letting go.

5. Say it a million times over. I love you. I’m proud of you. You’re funny. Good idea! I like it. That’s perfect. Yes! You make me smile. I missed you. Good choice! I had fun with you today. I believe you. I’m glad to see you. Let’s play. Blow me a kiss. Sit on my lap. Let me tell you a story. Once there was a little girl who turned into a queen. Happy birthday Lucy! You can be anything and anyone you wish.

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