Thursday, July 31, 2008

Midnight regrets

It's after midnight, and I can't sleep. The day keeps spinning around in my head, as I relive a few crucial moments here and there that my left brain won't let me forget. I don't necessarily consider myself a bad parent, but there are days when I fall into bed and can't help thinking I was a bad parent today.

There was the day I put my foot down with an antsy, grabby toddler in the fancy department store and ended up carrying him out sideways to a chorus of "Mommy, no!" and "More magic stairs!" 

Then there was the day Josh asked to get out of the cart at Costco and ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction the minute his feet hit the floor, instantly disappearing among 100-foot-high aisles of dish soap and toilet paper. I frantically dashed from row to row as incredulous shoppers pointed this way and that when I asked if they had seen a little boy buzz past them. (Incidentally, if you ever need an employee to help you find or reach something at Costco, just let your toddler loose. I had three big guys in red vests corner, grab, and return him to me in less than three minutes. I realized only after they handed him back that he was wearing a T-shirt that said, "I do all my own stunts.")

And there are oh so many days when my head hits the pillow and my mind instantly starts flashing through all the moments I didn't play with Josh, all the times he tried fruitlessly to get my attention, all the times I snapped at him for doing something all three-year-olds do. Like a print queue with a paper jam that has suddenly been fixed, my memory spits out lost moment after lost moment in excruciating vibrancy. And all I can do is watch them go by, rendered helpless by the time-space continuum. I cannot fix them. I cannot go back and relive them. I can only remember them over and over again, exactly as they happened.

I try to trick myself into thinking about something else, something I'm looking forward to doing tomorrow, something cute Josh said or did, or something repetitive and boring such as the Music Together welcome song that I can't get out of my head. But my left hemisphere insists on returning to the prickliest events of the day, the ones my brain must still need to process before it will let me rest.

So alas, I get up, creep down the hall, and sneak into Josh's room. By the soft glow of the nightlight, I can see him sprawled out on his back with one arm over his head and his sheets wrapped around him like a toga. His cheeks are red and puffy, his breathing is even, and his eyelids flutter. 

I sigh as I gaze at this peaceful little soul, and small tears fill my eyes. I cannot change today. But I make myself the same promise I have made on many other late nights and will likely make a million times more: I will do better tomorrow. 

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Oh the places I go...

I am standing in a very loud room watching a giant rat wearing a baseball cap give the birthday boy a high five, and I am wondering how I got here. Not existentially how my being came into existence or what my spirit's predestined mission is, but rather how a well-educated, mostly sane woman in her late thirties ended up at a Chuck E. Cheese on a perfectly good Saturday afternoon. 

When I was first pregnant and imagining life as a mother, I pictured stroller rides through the park on a crisp fall day; train rides into the city to check out a children's museum and gaze at the Golden Gate bridge; hikes up the local ridge with the baby in one backpack and lunch in the other; car trips to the ocean, the aquarium, and even a pleasant amusement park. But I never pictured myself standing in the middle of 87 screaming children with numbered handstamps chasing each other through colored tubes, fighting over tickets dispensed by cranky machines with flashing lights, or jostling for position on miniature helicopters, tractors, and carousels. I have no idea how that happened.

It seems that since becoming a mother, I have been ending up in places I never thought about before Josh came along. Sure I drove past the local Chuck E. Cheese regularly when I was shopping downtown, but I simply regarded it as a place other people went. And by other people, I mean people who are not me.

When Josh was an infant and I was first attempting to take him out to public places like restaurants, I one day found myself sitting on a wobbly chair in the women's restroom trying awkwardly to nurse my always-starving son while other women came in and out to do, uh, other business. And when I wasn't in the ladies' room, I was feeding him in somebody's guest room staring at the wall or in the car, alone, on the hottest day of the year with the engine running and the air conditioner set on high. And even back then, with nothing to do but wait for Josh's tummy to fill, I often wondered the same thing: How exactly did I get here? 

That same thought floated through my head at countless Gymboree classes, as I sat in a circle with moms and babies on either side of me smiling and singing, "There are bubbles way down low, way down low. There are bubbles way down low, way down low. There are bubbles way down low. There are bubbles on your toes. There are bubbles way down low, way down low."

And I wonder the same thing every time I am giving Josh "some privacy" in the bathroom of a Costco or Target or grocery store or park — places I never even knew had public bathrooms before I potty trained my three year old. 

Where am I and how did I get here? 

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't like these places. (OK, maybe I don't like Chuck E. Cheese, but I have nothing against public bathrooms, friends' guest rooms, my car, or Gymboree.) And it's not that I don't realize I am indeed a mother raising a small child in the suburbs. I just can't seem to get used to it. That's all.

No matter how many other mothers are standing next to me at the local bouncy house place or the bowling alley or even the playground, I still sometimes feel like a visitor from another planet. A planet full of quaint shops, trendy restaurants, and boutique wineries. A planet that encourages weekend getaways, dinner parties, and afternoon matinees. A planet where people take leisurely drives in clean cars on sunny afternoons and listen to music that stirs their soul instead of songs about llamas wearing pajamas. A planet where adults have conversations that begin and end in one sitting. The planet I inhabited when I was a little younger, a little smarter, and much more rested.

It's just that sometimes when I find myself waiting in line for the Super Slide at our local fair, watching a ridiculous animated film among hundreds of chatty children, or fighting my way up the rope ladder at an indoor gym, I miss my home planet. And at those times, I whisper a silent plea to the mother ship to come back and pick me up the minute Josh goes off to college.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Unique up on me

Josh is into jokes these days. One evening at dinner as we were talking about our day, he told us about a funny thing he saw during Elmo’s World in that run-on way that preschoolers talk when they tell the whole story all at once and talk faster and faster as they get to the end.

"I was watching Elmo today, and there was a beach ball and a football and the beach ball said, 'How do you like being a football?' and the football said, 'I get my kicks.'" Then he laughed that deep, guttural laugh that we often hear when he cracks himself up.

Eric and I looked at each other, impressed on several levels. First, we were surprised that he got the joke, and not only did he get it, but he thought to tell us about it. And not only did he tell us about it, but he recounted it well. He remembered all the parts, put them in the right order, and actually made the whole joke work. Wow.

Since that first success, he has been trying to come up with more jokes. Subsequent attempts have been less successful. They are almost always preceded with, "Listen to this funny joke. This will be the funniest joke you ever heard." Then there is often a long pause, finally followed by something like, "What if I went fishing all day and all night and all day and all night? Isn't that funny?"

The other day we were riding in the car, and he said he wanted to tell me a joke. "OK," I said, readying my indulgent (and by indulgent, I mean fake) laugh.

"But I don't know any," he replied.

So I immediately tried to think of one. "How do you catch a unique rabbit?" I asked, digging a simple joke out of my childhood.

"I don't know."

"Unique up on him!" I delivered with gusto.

He did not get it, but he did know when to laugh. This time I got his indulgent laugh, complete with exaggerated panting.

"How do you catch a tame rabbit?" I followed up.

"I don't know."

"Tame way! Unique up on him!" Ba-dum-bum.

More laughing and panting erupted from the back seat. The fact that those are difficult jokes for a three-year-old to grasp was completely overshadowed by the fact that they were simply jokes, and whether he understood them or not, they were easy to repeat. Request fulfilled. He now had two new jokes.

As we drove, I started to think about the word unique. First I merely thought about how it sounded just enough like "you sneak" to make the joke work. But as I continued to turn the word around in my mind, I realized that this penchant for joke telling was yet one more unique piece in the Josh mosaic.

When Josh was a newborn, I knew almost nothing about him. I remember staring at him as he slept through most of those first few days and wondering who he was. What were his quirks and charms, strengths and weaknesses, turn-ons and triggers? What things would he love most in this world, and what things would he avoid at all costs? And how many of those preferences would come from Eric or me, and how many would be completely individual?

In those first few months, I often found it difficult to distinguish between normal baby developmental milestones and his individual personality. Did he have a quirky love of his own feet, or was that a typical baby discovery that he would soon lose interest in? Was his urgency to move as much and as fast as he could a sign of physical prowess or a standard baby instinct?

Like the scientist I have become as a mother, I am constantly collecting small bits of data, piecing together hints and clues, testing out various hypotheses. Occasionally I even make breakthrough discoveries about my son — everything from how to get this particular child to fall (and more importantly stay) asleep, stop crying, or eat to what interests him (sports), how he learns (through simple explanation, play, and experimentation), and what motivates him (rewards, especially sweet ones).

And the more I learn about this curious little creature, the more surprised I am about his uniqueness. From his individual peculiarities to his passions and predilections, each one is so completely his own.

I was reminded of his originality again last weekend as we were walking to the park. Josh suddenly stopped his tricycle and pointed to the house across the street. "I see something interesting," he said as he gazed at the porch. I noted the familiar metal sculptures of a cactus and a sleeping gaucho that we pass every day when we drive out of our neighborhood.

"Are you looking at those statues?" I asked.

"Yeah," he replied. "I've never seen those before."

I suppressed a knowing smile. "Actually you have. When you were little and I would take you for stroller walks, you would always point to those sculptures and bounce up and down as we went by. You have always loved those."

He gave me a quizzical look. He loves hearing stories about himself when he was "a little baby," but I could tell he was wondering whether to believe me when his three-year-old mind was telling him those standing pieces of art were completely new to him. 

Yet even in spite of himself, he is remarkably consistent in his unique preferences. He is his own self — his own joke-telling, sports-loving, loud-noise-fearing, Mexican-sculpture-admiring, strong-willed-yet-sweet-natured self. No matter how often I forget that, no matter how many times I consider him simply an extension of me — no more separate than he was in the womb — his uniqueness keeps sneaking up on me. And I am once again awestruck by the amazing individual being he already is and can't help becoming. 

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Here are this week's top three definitions from the Josh-lish to English translation dictionary:

Otherwise known as tropical; his favorite flavor of twisted fruit.

Canadians: What he calls the box of cowboys and Indians (uh, Native Americans) in his grandma's toy closet.

Are you unkidding me?: His take on the popular phrase. Mostly uttered when I say things like, "It's naptime" or "The Sharks traded Matt Carle and Craig Rivet."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My destiny

I have never been the sort of person who believed she had a particular destiny in life. I have never been on a mission to become famous or save lives or fight for freedom. I have always believed I should live a good life, make good decisions, and try to be as happy as possible, no matter what life throws at me.

But I have certainly had moments when I believed that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I may not have envisioned those moments in advance, knowing before they happened that they were meant to be. But in the beauty of a moment, when good decisions and good luck happily collided and my soul was at peace, I have definitely experienced a profound well-being that told me I was in the right place at the right time. I felt that peace the day I met the girl who became my best friend for life when I was ten and just starting a new school. I felt it one warm summer night when I was sixteen and my first crush, unrequited for what seemed like years, told me he had a crush on me, too. And at my high-school graduation, the culmination of so many years of studying and learning celebrated in such spectacular fashion. And yet again that fall afternoon when my then-boyfriend of more than three years took me halfway up a mountain and proposed.

In fact, if I tried to count, I’m sure there would be dozens of moments, collected over the course of 36 years when I felt that ultimate peace — the kind that settles deep into your soul and whispers that everything is right in the world. But none of those moments seemed preordained. They certainly felt earned, once achieved, and even serendipitous, but not necessarily predestined. It wasn’t until I looked into my newborn son’s face that I truly understood my destiny. I was put on this earth to bear and raise this child. It became as clear to me as his crystal blue eyes. He is my destiny, my calling, my predestined life’s work. And the older he gets, the more I believe.

This may not be a novel or even uncommon discovery for new mothers. It likely seems unremarkable, even ordinary. But for me, it was my single biggest discovery. The realization that my life had a destiny all along, and that destiny was embodied in the every breath of a new being who is now under my sole care. I wholeheartedly accept this mission. And I hope one day when it is complete and my son is busy discovering his own destiny that I will be proud of how I fulfilled mine and look back on a life well-lived.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Backward driver

Josh started playing indoor soccer a few weeks ago. One of the drills they do every week is running backward. Every since the first session, Josh has been walking everywhere backward. And therefore, he has been bumping into things often. Whether he's slowly backing up as he's playing in the family room and runs into the corner of the entertainment center or running backward to his bedroom only to be tripped up by a small fire truck, Josh falls almost every time he tries his new trick, yet he is undeterred.

The other night, we were headed from the laundry room to my bedroom. When I realized that Josh was indeed going to go the distance backward, I warned against it. "Please don't. You're going to run into something and get hurt," I pleaded, picturing the sharp corner of the door frame colliding with the back of his unknowing head.

"I won't bump into anything," he responded joyfully. Then he put his fingers behind his ears and pulled them forward. "I have rear-view ears!"

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

We go together

Josh and I have a little game we like to play together. It started innocently enough one day while I was trying to put on his shoes, and for some reason, I said something like, "You're the shoes, and I'm the laces." 

He gave me a puzzled look, glanced around the room, and said, "How about: I'm the hockey stick, and you're the puck!" 

"That's a good one!" I replied.

And so it began. 

"How about: You're the bird, and I'm the nest," I said as we got into the car.

"How about: I'm the flag, and you're the pole," he matched as we made our way downtown.

"OK. You're the car, and I'm the road," I said as I drove.

"Yeah!" he shouted with glee. 

"I'm the tea, and you're the cup!" he said after a couple of minutes, recalling Daddy's morning ritual.

"Nice one! How about: You're the gas, and I'm the station," I said as we pulled in to fill up.

When I got back in the car, he was waiting. "I'm the grill, and you're the meat," he shouted from the quiet of the back seat.

We drove past the post office and merged onto the narrow downtown streets. "I'm the letter, and you're the stamp," I said as I parked the car.

We walked a couple blocks until we could see the plastic tables piled high with fresh vegetables, hand-baked bread, and baskets of berries. A musician plucked his guitar and sang folk songs as we strolled down the street that this morning was filled with people instead of cars. Josh took my hand, looked up at me, and sweetly said, "I'm the macaroni, and you're the cheese."

I squeezed his small hand and beamed, flattered to be so closely associated with his favorite food on the planet.

"You're the chocolate chip, and I'm the cookie," I said quietly, returning the sentiment.

He grinned up at me and did a little hop. 

Then he said, "I'm the yummy part of the orange, and you're the peel."

OK. I think I lost that round.
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