In Praise of the Goofy Kid

“Do you want to be my friend?”  Caroline looked at the little girl kind of funny, a small, slanty glance, shrugging her off in a—Are You Talking to Me? –kind of way.  Caroline’s used to being the shy one in a crowd while some of  her peers bust right into each other’s personal spaces.  Even at school surrounded by familiar, friendly classmates, it takes Caroline a while to warm up at certain events. 

So when the little girl with the round face who’d just arrived at the sledding hill went directly up to Caroline, stood an inch from her and asked, “Do you want to be my friend?” Caroline was thrown.  She looked at me.  I suggested that she ask for her new friend’s name and the new friend interrupted, “Do you like princesses?”  While Caroline was beginning a nod, the new friend said, “Because I like princesses.”  Caroline smiled, eventually made the point that she was going to go down the hill with her sister, and that was pretty much the extent of it.   No numbers exchanged.  No plans to be in each other’s weddings.

Even though I was never that kid, I like that kid–the one who announces it, keeps nothing inside, puts it all out there:  BE MY FRIEND.  DO IT.  IT’S THAT EASY.  That’s got to be a healthy approach to living, right?  That kid will not get ulcers or have panic attacks.  That kid will not wonder, What if I had just….because she WILL HAVE just about anything she wanted to do, on the spot, without worrying or speculating the pros and cons of it. 

I obviously like my kid, too—both of them.  And I don’t expect them to change.  I suspect genetics has something to do with their sometimes guarded approaches.  But I love it when they feel comfortable enough to let their guards down. 

Like at the bus-stop.  Lexi decided to roll out our old umbrella stroller for the trip to the bus-stop last Friday.  For the record, I was against it because what I bring to the bus-stop is sheer exhaustion, and a mug of coffee—that’s it.  But what I inevitably schlep home are all of Lexi’s “good ideas” from the morning: basketballs, stuffed animals, face-painting kits, bowls of cereal. 

Lexi and Caroline took turns pushing each other in the stroller.  They sang some goofy song, went from slow to fast then –“Whoa!”—turned quickly to a stop.  Again and again.  The kindergarten through second grade crowd was putty in their hands.  Bright smiles.  Crazy eyes.  Early morning giggles.  Funniest. Girls. Ever.

I noticed a 6th grader who waits at the same stop for the “big kid” bus walking by at one point–the Stroller Comedy Show didn’t slow her down at all.  She went through the little kids like they were mini-Jacob Marley ghosts.  Not a glance their way.  She walked right by, towards her peers: the lanky pre-teens standing around on the hill, listening to iPods, boys staring through drooping bangs, girls straightening with colored fingernails already straightened skirts.

I noticed, too, that Caroline and Lexi did not give the big girl an inch of attention. 

These days may be numbered.  But for now, praise be the 6-year-old, fast-friending on the sledding hill and stroller-derbying at the bus-stop.

6th grader, I say to you: Walk on by.

 


Caroline and Owen (Happy Birthday, Jordan!)

So Caroline’s engaged. Which is cool.

She seems a little young—she’s five—but, they say when it’s right, you just know.

He’s unemployed. He’s in school part-time. If she takes his name, she’ll be Caroline Blackburn.

He comes from a great family. In fact, I didn’t even hear from Caroline that she was getting married. Her fiancé’s mother, Jordan, sent me an email. Apparently, Owen popped the question while they were in kids’ club at the gym. Caroline said “yes,” that it would be “fun,” but that she doesn’t want to have babies because she doesn’t like getting shots. Read the rest of this entry »


Best of 2010 (our Christmas Card insert)

Ready, Sec, Go!

Mommy, are you old or are you new?

Whoop and Daisy Doo!

Mommy: This oatmeal is very watery for some reason.
Caroline: Maybe you put too much water in it.

I’m a doctor, so I can put her shoes on.

I’m not listening because I love you.

Are gloves the ones with separate rooms for fingers?

Come on, let’s run and jiggle!

I’m trying to secret you.

Lexi, don’t listen to yourself; listen to Mommy.

A 64 box of crayons is a “stadium” and tears are “sad dots.”

Caroline at her 4-year “wellness” visit after having had four shots is screaming. Mommy tries to calm her: “That’s it, that’s it–just 4 shots. You’re 4 years old and you get 4 shots!” Caroline: “What’s going to happen when I’m 100?!”

I just want to say to God, thanks for drawing us.

After our trip to Quebec City: “Now the only castle I know that we have NOT been to is Dis-i-nee World.”

At breakfast, Caroline says, “Lexi, did I tell you the monsters were going to eat us today?” Lexi watches her half-interested, like she’s just looked up from reading the paper: “No.”

I spy something grey—Daddy’s hair.

You say ‘I love you’ and I’ll say ‘I love you, too’ because that’s my favorite line.


Karma

It wasn’t even one of those days. Today was an okay one: we hit the playground in the morning because it was below 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Then to the gym for a swim, and I was feeling good as triathlete-in-training. The girls and I went home for some PB& Js, some watermelon, some cheese crackers. They watched Barbie Fairytopia while I did laundry, but we read books before I popped in the movie, so I was feeling good as parent. I recruited Jordan to come over close to happy hour (it was approaching 5 p.m.) in order to help finish off the bucket of margaritas that’d been taking up space in the freezer—we accomplished that. Dave came home from work, and we chatted with friends in the courtyard. Not bad for a Monday. Then two things happened: The flat bread pizza we had for dinner started to feel a little wobbly in my stomach (or was it the tequila?), and when I went to stretch out a shrunken shirt I’d mistakenly put in the dryer, I pulled a back muscle so severely I felt it twinge and pop like a busted guitar string. I had to abandon family and go lie down on the floor upstairs, leaving Dave with the girls as they played Musketeers with pointy sticks they’d picked up from a tree flattened by a recent storm.

By 8:55 p.m. when a nice sounding, stuttery young guy called from some pseudo-research center under the guise of seeing what I knew of Maryland politics but really to get me to vote for his candidate, I was tuckered out. Lexi was still awake, whining, actually, from her crib; and when she does that, all things cute vanish and what is left is a crushing desire to scream at the top of my lungs, stifled only by the fact that we live in a townhouse and that noise would carry. By 9:10 p.m. when we got another call, this time from #555-000-0000, the jig was up, and even though this guy sounded even more sincere, even though he asked politely for me to answer just a few questions, even though I said, “No, really, it’s awfully late, please take me off the list,” even though he paused and then said, “Please, M’am,” I hung up on him.

Karma. Someone I don’t know is going to be mean to me tomorrow.

Today at the gym, my girls were running to the childcare room. I was preoccupied and didn’t really think about the fact that my girls may not seem as adorable to another mother who is arriving at the door of the childcare room at approximately the same time. I wasn’t thinking about it at all when I followed my girls into the room and left that mother to wait behind us…until I heard her laugh to herself in disbelief, a little grunt of surprise at my behavior. I quickly signed the girls in and apologized to her on the way out: “I wasn’t thinking,” I said, and she didn’t look at me.

Karma. I may get my ass kicked.

Last Saturday morning I left Dave with the girls so I could go to my favorite spin instructor’s class. Though I have few comparatives, this guy’s the best, I can tell. He motivates. Near the end when we’re all just bone tired, he’ll turn off the lights and yell stuff like, “Why are you here? Who are you riding for?” and I’ll want to sob. I’m physically exhausted but elated when I finish—at peace and ready for a shower and then maybe some ice cream. But my favorite spin instructor (we’ll call him “Bob”) wasn’t there last Saturday. There was a substitute. She was a lot of things, but her biggest problem was that she was not Bob. She also wore a visor and what looked to be a fanny pack. And she divided the room into three sections and made us pick team names and asked us excruciatingly detailed trivia questions about the Tour de France—none of which I knew, which didn’t bother me at all, but her voice did, a little, and her peppiness, and the fact that I was not getting any kind of a workout because she paused so often to flip through tiny pieces of paper to check facts or tally team points with a golf pencil. I was in a Seinfeld episode, and more than once, I bent over my bike far enough to bang my head against the bars. I said out loud to no one, “Is this really happening?” but no one heard me because by the end of class, half of Team USA, ¾ of Team Italy, and several riders from Team South Africa had walked out. I stayed because I felt sorry for her. I also stayed because I knew I’d have something to write about.

I stayed a while in the locker room afterwards because I bumped into a friend and we got to talking about spin instructors, about the greatness of Bob, and of course about the sub. My friend had taken her class earlier in the week, so we were chuckling about the intensity level of the class—how afterwards we felt like we’d gotten off a couch and walked slowly to a refrigerator. Then a moment came when I noticed out of the corner of my eye, a visor. My friend was stuck, literally, half-dressed, but I was fully clothed, and what I did was—I ran. I darted into a bathroom stall like there were hot coals beneath me. I stood facing the toilet, grabbed a piece of toilet paper and rubbed it against my nose, as if to convince myself that I had a purpose for being there, and then I forced myself out of the stall and back onto the hot coals, sputtering something to the smiling visor about answering every question with “Lance Armstrong,” as if I’d never left the conversation. Somehow, at some point, I left the locker room. The drive home was awkward: I was the only one in the car, but I gave myself a talking-to. I mean, the poor sub was doing her best. And what if my friend had actually been in danger? My knee-jerk reaction was to flee. Is that how I would handle things in front of my children? What kind of a person was I?

Karma. In my next life I will be a red-lipped batfish.

Except maybe not. The pimply kid working the deli counter at the supermarket sliced the Lebanon bologna paper thin the other day, but I didn’t complain. He was new at the job, nervous and chatty. Also, I was “live-chatting” with Sankrishna at Snapfish a few nights ago, feeling like I’d really found someone I could count on because we’d gone back and forth at least three times in 30 minutes about an issue with my checkout cart. I had only run downstairs to make a cup of tea and check the Phillies’ score, but when I arrived back at the computer to find that he had signed off because he “hadn’t heard from me” in a while, I didn’t collapse in despair. He was gone, but I understood. He’d found someone else; it was time for him to move on.

People are decent, I do believe it—that guy at Safeway who looked into my cart and said, “Holy Vegetable!” That woman at Starbucks who said I looked good in red. I don’t have a lot of adult interaction these days, so why not make eye-contact with the cashier at Target and ask him about that elbow tattoo? Why not talk the little sports I know with the pretzel guy in front of Home Depot? And why not forgive folks for their bad days. Even if it’s not of those days, we all could use a little forgiving.


These Days

These days, when Caroline says, “Mommy, I have to go potty,” what Lexi does is drop whatever she is doing, shout “No! No!” and tear into the direction of our only downstairs bathroom. Mind you, Lexi is not really potty-trained. She will take off her diaper, sit herself down for hours, shed toilet paper into the bowl, flush, wash hands and dry, but she hardly ever goes. Going to the bathroom is all about timing for Lexi, all about when it’s least convenient for those around her—just before naptime, just before leaving to drive her sister to school, long after bed time, and right when Caroline announces that she needs to use the potty.

“Lexi, why do you do this?” My outside voice cried this morning as Lexi hurled herself by her sister, slicing herself between me and the Archie Bunker chair. Caroline had been slowly moving off of the couch, when I saw her sit back to patiently wait her turn. She said, “Maybe God painted her this way?”

Yes. Caroline at age 4 has more poetry and logic than I ever dared to dream of having. Poor thing went to the doctor last month to check vision, hearing, and to get the appropriate vaccines. When two nurses entered wearing gloves, bearing needles, it was all a little too James-Bondy the way they slid into the room in clandestine fashion, and I, in cahoots, felt awful about it. Caroline’s eyes widened and she started to scream. Afterwards I was babbling away trying to calm her, and I said, “That’s it, that’s it–just 4 shots. You’re 4 years old and you get 4 shots!” Without any hesitation she responded: “What’s going to happen when I’m 100?!”

During all of the snow this winter, we missed one then another day of gymnastics. The first week I said we could go to a make-up class. The next week, I said we were going to miss again and Caroline said, “It’s okay; we can go to the lipstick class.”

She sat at her art table flipping a sticker around and around then asked me, “Do you know what this square is doing?” “What?” I answered. “Trying to be a diamond.”

Eating an apple she said, “Mommy, look—I made a footprint with my teeth!”

We’re not homebodies; we’re “little inside butts.” It’s not a graveyard, but a “garden of stone.”

The girls were sitting on the couch and Caroline leaned over to hug her sister: “You’re so expensive, Lexi!” Once she advised, “Lexi, don’t listen to yourself; listen to Mommy.”

Just a few mornings ago, we were all a bit blind and groggy. I was feeling around for my coffee mug as the girls sat at the kitchen table. It’s always quiet when I first get food in front of them. (In fact, at a recent birthday party, I mused about how peaceful our house would be if around-the-clock we fed the girls cake and ice cream.) Lexi’s face was still red from lying on it, hair disheveled. She was crouch-sitting on account of a recently scraped knee. Caroline was at her own seat, back to me, and I had full view of Lexi’s crazy-cute profile. Caroline said calmly, “Hey, Lexi, did I tell you the monsters were going to eat us today?” Lexi looked at her, blank-faced, un-phased, like a dad looking up from the sports page, and all she said was: “No.”

*************

These days turn quickly. My eyes are heavy at 10:45 pm, and each room upstairs holds a laundry basket brimming with dirty clothes. There is a pile of old electronics on my basement floor, waiting for recycling, next to a pile of children’s clothing waiting for consigning. My saintly friend took it upon herself to complete my wedding album—a project now five and ½ years in the making—because I confessed to her that I’d organized the photos but never managed to get them in a book. Idling in cyber-Snapfish-space is a year’s worth of backlogged pictures of the girls. Thanks to book club, I’m reading on occasion. Thanks to friends and 24 Hour Fitness, I’m sane . . . with sore muscles.

I spend half a Sunday planning a menu, writing a shopping list, skipping from store to store, but it seems by Thursday, berries have gone bad and all that’s left is applesauce. Friday is always pizza night.

I keep a journal for each of my girls, and when they were even younger than they are now, I wrote to them often. I’ve been meaning to write to Caroline about her Princess and Pirate birthday party for exactly 76 days.

When I was younger, single, teaching high-schoolers, waiting tables, waiting for things to come, the impermanence of the days was obvious (but also a little impossible). There was always a place to go—a road ahead—a something to do beyond what I was doing at the time. Now, impermanence is an annoyance, a song I can’t get out of my head, the devil on one side, tapping me on the shoulder, snickering in my ear. I know they’re only young for so long. Do you think I can’t see how far Lexi’s legs stretch down from the baby swing? Do you think I can’t hear Caroline one day say “puddle” when she, each day before, had always said “pubble”?

When I get antsy about not getting something done, I step back and think about what I have done: I’ve spent some time with Caroline and Lexi. These days turn so quickly, I thought to myself tonight as I snuck outside in my pajamas to close the car windows. Their room was dark above me, shades drawn, and I couldn’t wait to get back inside, just to share the house with them again.

********************

Caroline once while eating toast and jelly said, “I used to remember that I had this before.”

Caroline once told me: “You love us better than purple.” Yes I do.