Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Maybe we'll rent a movie next time

My son hosted his first mostly-independent-of-my-hovering visit the other day. By all accounts -- his own, his friend's, his friend's parents' -- it was a success. Which is funny, looking at a transcript of the event:

My son
: Let's play Guitar Hero!
His friend: No! Let's play Battleship!
Son: OK, fine. I have Battleship. I'll show you how to play.
Friend: No! Don't show me! I know how!
Son: Fine! Let's find it.
Friend: Nah. Let's go outside.


Friend: Let's swing!
Son: No! Let's slide!
Friend: But I WANT to swing!
Son: OK, fine. But I get the good swing. You can have the guest swing. ("Guest" here means "crooked, ass-pinching, not-as-high-swinging.")
Friend: But I want the good swing!
Son: (Looking at me giving the be-a-good-host glare) OK.

Several minutes of genuine contented swinging follow, interrupted only when a who-can-go-higher contest nearly upends the thing.

Friend: Let's play football! ("Play football" here equals "Throw the Nerf football at each other, occasionally sort of catching it. With our faces. Follow with crying to Mom.")
Son: No! I'm tired of football. Let's play soccer! ("Play soccer" equals "Kick the flattened Spiderman ball at each other, occasionally sort of passing it. To each other's faces. Follow with crying to Mom.")
Friend: Football!
Son: Soccer!
Me: Guys, does it really matter?
Friend: Hey! Look what I can do! (Takes flat Spiderman ball, turns toward neighboring yard, gives Spidey a good hard kick in the webface. Ball disappears over brick wall.)

Back inside

In a display of extreme idiocy, I suggest they find a two-player video game to play. Since these things always end well. My son wants to play Ben 10 (single player); his friend wants Transformers (also single player). I trick them convince them to agree upon Lego Star Wars, because it's a two-player game and come on, who can bicker when they're watching Chewy rip Lego Darth Vader's arms out? They begin the game in this fashion:

Friend: Hey, it's a movie!
Son: You know it's not a movie. It's just those scenes before the level.
Friend (In his best I'm-gonna-be-a-contrary-idiot voice): COOL. A MOVIE. You know it's a MOVIE.
Son (In his best I'm-gonna-be-a-bickering-ninny-even-though-it-totally-doesn't-matter voice): QUIT it. It's NOT a movie.
Friend: COOL.
Son: QUIT it!
Friend: COOL. It's a MOVIE.
Son: It's NOT.
Friend: It is. IT IS! LOOK! See! I was right and you were wrong!
Friend: COOL! It's so COOL!
Son: It IS cool. Cuz it's a SCENE for the GAME.
Friend: It's a MOVIE. That is so COOL.
Son: QUIT...
Me: GUYS?!
Both: We're having fun!

Son: So you go over there when we get into the ship room, and I'll get the Storm Troop... WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU'RE MAKINGMELOSEMYGUYQUITQUITAHHHHH!
Friend: I WANT to go this way! And I don't want to be this stupid character!
Son: That's C-3PO.
Friend: Well, C-3PO sucks!
Me: He's kind of right, David. 3PO does kind of suck.
Son: Well, he can be the other rebel guy...
Friend: I wanna be the Lego guy!
Son: That's the rebel guy! You can be the other one...
Friend: I wanna be the one with the RED shirt.
Son: Fine! You can after I do this part. Be Princess Leia until then. She has a blaster.
(Friend grudgingly agrees.)
Son: Ah ha! You're a GIRL! You're so girly! You have boobies!
Me: David!
Son (very insincerely): Sorry.

A blessedly unblogworthy and relatively quiet half hour of giggling, talk and cooperative play follows. The friend's father arrives to pick him up. I open the door and we hear the boys bellowing from upstairs.

Son: Quit shooting me! You did that before!
Friend: Well, YOU shot ME.
Son: Only because you're not as good at that part and you kept losing all the coins! I was taking them to carry them!
Friend: Well, you don't have to SHOOT me.
Son: Yes I do!
Both: Sorry! We're having a lot of fun!

As I go upstairs they've made up and are entertaining themselves by making R2-D2 fall repeatedly off a precipice, because he does this pathetic dying-away scream each time. I hate to tear the little angels away from their sadistic fun, but it's time for his friend to leave.


5 frickin' a.m. this morning


Poke poke.

I crack open one eye. My son is looming over me, with one of those inflatable sticks people bang together to distract free throw shooters. Only it's raised like a hatchet or something. I propel myself from bed. My husband seems unconcerned.

"Good morning, Mom!"
"David. It's a little early."
"But I want to know when my friend can come over again! We talked in school yesterday about how much fun we had! I always get along with him. I wished he lived here all the time."
"Sweetie, it's really early. Can I just lay down for a little longer?"
"Sure, Mom."

5:12 a.m.

"Good morning, Mom! I love you more than anything in the universe or if there's more universes more than anything in the universes! Ready to get up?"

There's no turning back now.

"Good morning. I love you too."

"So when can he come over again?"

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Word to my mother

I never go to bed early enough. So, usually, when I wake up and see this:

...I'm sometimes pretty unenthusiastic, even though it's my favorite sight in the world 99 percent of the time. However, last night as I tucked him in my son said "Mom? Can you leave out some pretty paper? And also a pencil and safety scissors? Oh, and don't get up early."

(No one ever said he was a master at secrecy.)

So I did as I was told, and when I cracked open one eye this morning, to see much surreptitious tiptoeing and peeking, I stayed "asleep." Then I actually did fall back asleep, and when I awoke I was covered in Mother's Day spoils: He'd come back in to put my card, another card he made and a present (a recipe book he wrote himself, with ants on a log, cowboy cookies, edible nests and at least a dozen others) on top of me.

Later in the morning, I also got this ------------>

There were only a few hundred aphids on it.

I have the best kid.

I rarely, however, feel like the best mom. I spend too much time online. I'm not a good housekeeper. I'm not that great at feigning interest in video games or endless games of tag. He's wearing second-stringer shorts right now because I neglected to throw in a load of laundry.

But I'm hopeful I'll develop into a pretty decent mother. I had, after all, an awesome example.

You know how everyone says it will come?

"You just wait," they say in resigned tones, as the inevitable event has apparently come to pass for all but me. "You'll wake up one day and realize you've totally become your mother."

I'm still waiting. When? When do I get to be my mother? It can't be as inevitable as all that. It seems pretty evitable to me. I'd LOVE to turn into my mother. I'd love to be good with bills. Keep a clean house. Get people to freaking listen to me without feeling like my head will implode. Remember that the littlest things are the biggest things.

My mom not only did everything a mother does, and at least made it look easy, she did it by herself for several years. After my dad passed away, she was mother and father, disciplinarian and buddy, the parent who says "What were you thinking?" and the one who pretends to turn a blind eye. When my own first Mother's Day rolled around, she not only made sure I got a card "from" my son, she got me one on Father's Day too, as I was "both mother and father" to my son at the time. I appreciated it so much, but I never really thought about how she was both for so long. And she didn't have herself helping out and reassuring her.

When I was still flying solo, my son was a baby. He was difficult sometimes, and I was clueless. But he ate. Pooped. Slept. Pooped. Cried. And pooped. That was about it. He didn't even stray from where I put him until he was pretty old, since motor skills (or lack thereof) in our family ensure we're nearing puberty before we can walk.

When my mom was on her own, we were pre-teens and teenagers. We argued. We devised schemes to get around the draconian, horrible world she had created wherein we actually had to do our share. I crashed a school dance and rode home in a wildly careening car driven by a crazed friend. I crashed (in the literal sense) my own car on the third day of owning it. My brother flipped a car going about 90 miles an hour. My sister ... well, my sister was pretty much perfect. But she was annoying sometimes.

My mom was always ... there. Always. Now that I've been around the block of supposed adults a time or two, I'm starting to realize that's incredibly rare.

One of the most peculiar things about becoming a mother is the shift in identity. You become so-and-so's mom. I'm at about half-and-half right now. People still know I love critters. I'm a writer. I'm terrible with directions. I'm a better driver now, but I used to be pretty awful. I hate cilantro. I'm keenly interested in politics. I love sci-fi and know an embarrassing amount about the Dune universe. But more and more, I'm losing these things as definers of me, even if they're still parts of me. I'm David's mom. I'm the one who makes cookies, buys Bakugan toys, prefers SpongeBob to Patrick and can believably voice most of the characters in a Harry Potter reading. I love being these things, probably even more than "just" being me. Being a mom has become the biggest definer of me, and I like it that way. But it makes me think: If that's "me" after just seven years, how many cool things do people probably not know about my mom?

My mom is amazing, quite apart from her ability to put up with me.

  • She's the best improviser that I know. She can make anything from anything. Crooked mailbox post, animals in need of a place to feed/hide, messed up wiring, missing ingredients for dinner -- she doesn't have "training" in home improvement, carpentry, or cooking, but the lady's like MacGyver.
  • She's a fervent environmentalist, a card-carrying member of Greenpeace, and one of the best appreciators of the natural world ever. I like to think it's where I get it.
  • She does not like to be startled.
  • The Navy was interested in her at one point.
  • Her views on faith are among the most nuanced, and at the same time strongest, that I know.
  • She's almost always the one behind the camera. (I plan to work harder at turning the tables.)
  • She's a great editor. She can spot a grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistake from space.
  • She really does not like to be startled.
  • She loves to watch CSI, Without a Trace, Cold Case and the like. However, she has a hard time remembering characters' identities and who's done what, so if they rerun an episode after a span of a month or more, it's a whole new show for her. This is a source of much amusement and teasing from my brother and me.
  • She was way shorter than my dad, and unless she "cheated" he'd pose by clamping his arm down/ around her.
  • She was a badminton champion in high school, as well as a kick-ass archer.
  • She pretty much totally hates being startled.
  • She graduated top of the class when our town held a citizens' police academy. No one was surprised.
  • She was a children's basketball coach for years.
  • She's a pretty big Trekkie. Especially TNG. Patrick Stewart would probably be on her "list," though possibly in character, since when we saw him in a movie, she told me "Hey! Picard's the bad guy in this one!"
  • Speaking of the "list," Tom Selleck would be there too. She used to have a big Magnum, P.I. poster in her closet.
  • She published an excellent article on Circlestone in the Superstition Mountains. (Something that I have yet to do, though I was on the trip too. Who's the writer again?)
  • She absolutely, forever and always, unreservedly and completely for all of her days, eternally and as long as time shall stand, despises being startled.
  • She totally, unabashedly loves John Denver.
  • If you are ever in any kind of emergency situation, she is the very first person you want by your side.
  • She loves chimes and clocks. Our house was a lovely cacophony growing up. (Well, the cacophony provided by the clocks and chimes was lovely, anyway.)
  • She is an excellent bowler. I take bowling just a tad too seriously thanks to her tutelage, but those lessons are also the only reason I routinely make it to triple digits.
  • We startled her regularly growing up. OK, we still do. Sometimes. It's just too easy.

I've left out tons. But hopefully you get a piece of the picture. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.


Friday, May 8, 2009

What about when swine flew?


"You will."

"I won't. Ever. Not even when pigs fly. Not freaking ever."

So went an exchange I had over seven years ago, while pregnant with my son. I'd just heard about a mother who was so afraid of spiders, snakes, allergens, and imagined dangers that she'd kept her baby completely sheltered from the natural world. The girl was so unfamiliar with the outside world ... with outside, period, that when her aunt placed her on soft grass at ten months old, she freaked out.

"It's understandable," my friend had said. "You'll become like that. Just wait."

Of course, I was unequivocal in my insistence that I would never, ever, not once, be like that. So you can see where this is going.

This week, I killed a bunch of spiders in a maternally induced, poison-spraying rampage (some of which I did on the sly, to hide the carnage from my son) and I became paranoid about swine flu.

I'm not this person. I mean really. If you're rolling your eyes at me and thinking how ridiculous it is and it would never be you, it's even more not me.

When my son was growing inside me, I became obsessed with the fragility of small things. I signed up for no less than a dozen "what your baby is doing now" widgets and calculators. The third month: Your baby is three inches long and has his own fingerprints (assuming you cease vomiting long enough to read about the baby). The sixth month: Your baby is growing hair, hiccuping, developing billions of neurons in a head now graced with proto-eyebrows, and weighs a little over a pound.

The smallness of him freaked me out. Anything could happen. What if I bumped into a table or chair or fell on my face or ass, as I so often did? What if some idiot pulled out in front of me in traffic? What if I had exposed him to too much of the chemicals I worked around? I had always mucked around in the chemical vats, fixing and stirring and squeezing my body behind heavy machinery. I'm the opposite of paranoid, when it comes to my own safety. But I began to shuffle around, resisting the urge to shield my abdomen with my arms, giving everything a wide berth, doing paperwork while someone else fixed the machines.

It was real and frightening, but not frightening because it was real. I had dealt with the reality of the situation almost at once -- coping by scarfing down a platter of ribs and confessing to an ex-boyfriend and then my family. Much crying had been involved, and much much barfing, but my near-pathological pragmatism had been a blessing, slipping me swiftly from panic to acceptance to happy anticipation. No, the frightening quality was the size. The fragility. I was totally freaked out that I was going to be in charge of a baby, a whole person, or at least a potential one. An empty vessel; an innocent, undifferentiated being who, somehow, I was supposed to raise to be a full person. Through interaction with the world around him, through how I would present that world, he would learn ... what? Caution? Trust? Love? Fear? Indifference? What if I couldn't even keep him healthy and whole and uninjured?

It reminded me of when I was a kid. I saw a butterfly, some kind of swallowtail though I didn't know it at the time. Bright yellow and bold black. I reached out to it, caught it, very gently. I brushed a wing. I loved it. And injured it. I was scared to touch a butterfly for a while after that.

I'm reminded of this now because I'm still the opposite of paranoid when it comes to myself, or even those close to me. You feel sick? Suck it up. Sore muscles? Deal with it. Spiders outside? Give me a break. Worried about abduction or disease or vehicular injuries? Come on. Do you even realize the vanishingly small numbers of people, in the grand scheme of things, who suffer these things? It's confirmation bias, people. Get over it.

But with my son, it's different. I'm fully aware that season flu kills tens of thousands of Americans each year, and that there are only tens of recorded deaths from swine flu. If it was just me, I'd be acting like a total know-it-all jackass, going around telling anyone who would listen how hyped-up and silly this all was. But my son comes in and coughs, and it's all about potential. What could happen. You know, I tell myself, the real danger of swine flu isn't how many deaths there are so far, it's the lack of immunity from it. In just a few generations, a few months, the number of infections could rise exponentially. That's why it's got pandemic potential. It can infect anyone who is exposed. Anyone. In fact, I think I've developed magnification-powered super vision, and I swear I can see flu viruses crawling all over my son's filthy fingers right now, the same hands that rub his nose and play with other kids who probably don't wash after wiping their butts, and OH MY GOD he just stuck his hand into his mouth. And now I can see, just from where I'm sitting and without even turning my head, all the spoils of my newly acquired paranoia: pocket-size antibacterial wet wipes; anti-flu, anti-cold, virus-and-bacteria-obliterating wipes in a huge cylinder dispenser; a new box of bar soap; hand soap; hand sanitizer; and surface wipes for each time someone uses the computer.

I know I'm being ridiculous. But I can't keep my head from going there. What if? We had a black widow infestation recently around our house and garage, and my initial fascination was followed by an ill-advised online search about how much worse black widow bites can be for children.

But that isn't me. And I don't want it to be him. I'm the one who gets inches away from spiders, who looks up medical information before freaking out, who embraces the world. So is he, so far.

Here is my struggle: How do I raise a son who grows up taking chances, holding the cricket, going nose-to-nose with the python, climbing the tree -- but who also, well, grows up? As in, remains alive? How do I raise a human being to live, and also to live? How do I not go crazy balancing the two? I can't make him care about the world while telling him to run in the opposite direction.

I guess it's all about example. Engagement. He never did go near the widows' webs. But he goes near webs of every other kind, and he's kind of sad we had to get rid of them. We brought them in to study. He skinned his knee today -- apparently, he was horsing around really roughly. Could have gotten hurt badly. Could have ... well, that doesn't matter. He didn't. And now the bandage is hanging dirty and loosely, forgotten except as a token feel-better gesture, and he's running. He doesn't think, he acts.

For now, it's up to me to think for him, to make sure he both survives and cares, but not for long. He didn't run to me this morning when a few kids tried to harm a lizard on the playground. He marched right over to them, let him know he was almost-crying because he cared, and they should care, and it can't hurt them and they're big jerks if they think smooshing a lizard is cool. He's realizing the potential, becoming a real person, with his own thoughts and feelings influenced by me but not the same as mine.

Then he rescued it, found his friend and went inside, almost forgetting to wave goodbye.

We're exiting the potential-person stage and entering real personhood. I think we'll survive this stage. It may be seen from between fingers, but I'll be watching with pride.

As long as his fingers are sanitized. And not in his mouth.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Marital, um, bliss?

You scrub three toilets, scour and spit-shine four sinks, wash a mountain of seemingly self-replicating dishes, wash four loads of laundry, spend half an hour cleaning a mysterious carpet stain you suspect is somebody's/something's vomit, do the morning's work on the computer, slave-drive a seven-year-old through a homework packet, sweep and wash the floors, put away the groceries and begin (albeit half-assedly) to clean the garage. Your spouse vacuums the living room and puts away the dishes. Do you:

A: Say "Thanks, honey. That really makes it look a lot better. I know you usually take care of most of the out-of-home business, so I really appreciate your help around the house. Why doncha, um, follow me upstairs?" (Wink, wink.)


B: Say "Sure! Just finish the stuff I started! I've been working my ASS off all freaking MORNING, and you just come in and do the polish-it-off chore and then act like you've done as much as me! Did you even notice what I did? And what the freaking HELL are the spoons doing in the butter knife slot?! Oh my GOD! Did you ever do those shape-sorting things when you were a baby, or did you miss that year? No sex for a year!"

I seriously hope, for the sake of husbands everywhere, that most women are better wives than I.

And men? Slots shaped like butter knives accomodate butter knives. And anything else your wife tells you? It's true. Just go with it. But like you freaking mean it.

(Sorry, baby.)

I feel better now.

(Wink, wink.)