Saturday, August 30, 2008

Something frustrating and a little bit obnoxious

Lately, Josh has developed his own sort of syntax for communicating his most basic needs and desires. Either he's earnestly experimenting with how best to liberally apply adjectives so he can follow in his marketing writer mom's footsteps or he is simply dedicated to thoroughly annoying me every chance he gets. I have a feeling it's the latter.

It began with food. He would announce proudly that he was hungry. I would dutifully ask what kind of snack he wanted, and he would answer in a vague, yet specific kind of way: "I want something that's crunchy and goldfishy," or "I'm thirsty for something appley and juicey," or "I'm hungry for something twisty and a little bit fruity." I would scratch my head and pretend to search through the cupboard before emerging victoriously with Goldfish crackers or apple juice or twisted fruit in his favorite "tropsical" flavor.

But this penchant for description in lieu of directness has expanded beyond food and grown into a considerable chore. He is now applying his new technique to all his meals as well as his activities. And he has begun to demand polar opposites. "I want something crunchy and fruity and a little bit chewy," he said the other day after his nap. "Crunchy and chewy?" I asked. He nodded. "I don't have that." I responded, and I was met with an instant tantrum.

He also uses this strategy to narrow down things he doesn't want. Yesterday morning, he asked if he could take a toy in the car on the way to school. I told him to bring something small. He looked at his toy table and said, "I don't want something that floats or something that drives on roads or something that goes on a track." Then he looked up at me and told me to choose, based on those criteria, of course. If I threw all the boats, trains, and cars out of his toy box, there would be little left. I motioned toward an airplane, and he quickly threw in, "Or something that flies in the air." Damn. And last night after we went swimming, he announced, "I want something messy that I can eat at the table." Way to narrow it down for me.

So how did I end up as the sole contestant on Josh's unique form of Jeopardy? I have no idea. But if I really think about it, I can probably trace it back to that very first time when I thought it was cute — and I indulged him. The mistake of all mistakes as a parent. I think it was that deadly combination of pride over his evolving language skills and my desire to be the fun mom that lured me into participating. Now I'm stuck in guessing-game hell, and I'm no longer impressed nor concerned about my mommy Q score. I'm just aggravated, and I'm suddenly desperate for something that's a little bit rational and really straightforwardey.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The mouse's house

We did it. We were planning to wait until he was at least five, but we broke down and officially introduced Josh to the Disney cult last week. And he is now wearing the hat, singing the song, and drinking the kool-aid. Oh what have we done?

When you grow up in California, your first trip to Disneyland is practically a right of passage. It's right up there with your first bike, your first slumber party, and your first piercing. Parents agonize over the right time: Are they too young? Will it be too scary? Will they remember it? Kids beg and argue. Parents finally acquiesce (and sometimes regret it).

My parenting philosophy has been that Josh has his whole life to enjoy the granddaddy of amusement parks, so why rush the first experience? (Coincidentally, this is also my parenting philosophy on drinking soda and eating candy, and aside from a couple of birthday party lollipops and a hard-earned chocolate bar from his trick-or-treat bag, I'm standing firm on that.)

But a family wedding an hour outside of Anaheim changed my mind (as did the thought of driving six hours down a long, boring, dusty freeway with a three year old in the backseat on a Friday and then turning around and doing that same thing two days later). So we added more time to our trip and decided to immerse ourselves in what is now the Disneyland resort, which not only includes the classic park and hotel, but a fancy lodge (that costs a fortune to stay at), a new-to-me park aimed at teens and adults but with plenty of preschool-friendly attractions thrown in to make it a worthwhile stop, and an enclosed outdoor downtown area complete with the coolest niche shops as well as slick restaurants that beckon you to sit on the patio and drink tall, pastel drinks with hunks of fruit hanging off the side of the glass.

At the crack of dawn on the first morning, we packed a bag, hopped a tram, and headed for the Mouse Mecca. "I can't wait to see the castle," Josh kept saying as he bounced up and down on the bus seat. He has been pointing to the castle at the beginning of his Disney DVDs and books for weeks now saying, "I'm going there!"

After wrangling with the ticket booth over my Internet-purchased tickets and waiting in a long line at the entrance gates, a loud bell rang at exactly 8:00 a.m., an old man made a spirited announcement, and the crowd surged through the turnstiles and randomly dispersed to roller coasters near and far. We sauntered in and tried to casually observe the wonder we expected Josh to exhibit. We pointed out the Mickey Mouse head made of flowers with flashing lights that Tinkerbell seemed to control. We talked up the train station and the fire truck. And when we finally got a straight shot of the castle, we directed Josh's gaze toward the vaunted icon with a drum roll. And he looked at it as if to say, "That's it? That's the big castle?"

Much of the first morning followed that same theme. We took him on Pinocchio and Peter Pan, those classic Disneyland rides that take you in a little cart through doors that open just as you arrive and roll you through scenes from movies Josh has not yet seen. He didn't like the doors or the darkness behind them, so we quickly shifted gears to the Flying Dumbos and the carousel and other rides that make grown-ups dizzy. And all the while, Josh followed us from ride to ride with a distinct lack of wonder. In fact, I started to worry that he was coming down with something, and I kept checking the temperature of his forehead to reassure myself he was not about to confine us to a cheap hotel room for four days while our prepaid Park Hopper tickets wasted away.

But then we spotted Minnie and Pluto in Toon Town. They were shaking hands and giving out hugs, and although he didn't want to meet them, Josh was thrilled to run into some familiar faces. He watched from afar as they greeted child after excited child (and parent after excited, camera-posing parent). And slowly throughout that first day, Josh started to catch the Disney spirit. By the time the pirate band on Tom Sawyer Island started singing, "Yo-ho, Yo-ho, a pirate's life for me," and the waitress brought him a lunch menu printed on a paper pirate hat, Josh was adorning his head, singing along, and looking like a walking advertisement for the Magic Kingdom.

And his enchantment only grew the next day when we arrived at California Adventure and got to explore it for the first time together. From the 3D Muppet glasses and Turtle Talk with Crush from Finding Nemo to the ladybug ride and surprise water play in A Bug's Land, Josh found his utopia. While he loved drinking a milkshake for lunch and he couldn't get enough of the rope bridges in the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, the pièce de résistance was the Pixar parade that marched down the main drag just after naptime because it was led by his all-time favorite movie star: Lightning McQueen. I thought Josh was going to hyperventilate when he saw his red racing hero leading the way through Sunshine Plaza.

Suddenly, all the wonder and amazement I had expected on day one culminated, and Josh was so exuberant that he simply couldn't sit still. He bounced on my shoulders, pointed from character to Pixar character screaming their names, and ooo'd and ahh'd every acrobatic trick. We caught sprays of water from the floats, chased bubbles, and danced to the contagious music as Josh's favorite fuzzy friends paraded by us, smiling and waving. And I stood tall, boosting my little boy up to catch as much of this fantasy as he possibly could. His excitement pulsed through me as I realized that this is exactly what every mom strives to give her child every now and again: an experience of pure joy and delight, the thrill of anticipation, and the gift of discovery and imagination up-close and personal.

When the crowd finally dispersed, I lifted my son off my shoulders. As he took my hand, he looked up at me and said, "I didn't know it would be this fun, Mom!" And I looked down, admiring his glowing, galloping, Mickey-eared self and said, "Me neither."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's all downhill from here

My favorite form of exercise is walking. So any time I can sneak out of the house for an hour (which is not often), I put on my tennies and climb the hills in my neighborhood. Since I live at the foot of the slope, there's nowhere to go but up.

Occasionally along the way, I find a small treasure Josh might like. Once I brought him a nearly perfect robin's egg with just a small hole in the middle where the baby bird must have escaped. Josh was fascinated and now asks me every time I walk to please bring him another egg.

One night last week, Eric was working late. I had been chained to my desk all day coaxing letters and punctuation into grammatically sound structures, and I really needed some fresh air. So I suggested a walk. "Can we go up the hills where you walk?" Josh asked.

I suddenly envisioned myself carrying him over my shoulder most of the way and tried to think up a new plan. But he wouldn't take no for an answer. Finally conceding, I quickly debated whether to take my SUV of a stroller, but pushing 30 pounds of plastic filled with 30 pounds of preschooler did not sound appealing. So I finally suggested he ride his tricycle. With the handle on the back, I could push him if he got tired, but I wouldn't have to travel at the speed of a three-year-old's stride.

So off we went, his sure feet pedaling revolution after revolution a few yards in front of me. He brimmed with confidence, looking back only when he came to a crossroads and was unsure which path to take.

Along the way, he discovered all kinds of treasures I could never (or should never) bring home — a jack rabbit hopping across the road and disappearing into a bush, cattails growing along our footpath that he had to stop and pet, and a wooden bridge that made his trike rumble as he traversed its wooden slats. He found delight around every corner. And I found my own kind of delight watching him explore in such an uninhibited way.

When we finally reached the top of the highest hill — me pushing him the last few feet and him sitting criss-cross applesauce on his wide seat — we saw the mountain our valley was named for stretched out before us, highlighted on one side where the sun set behind it and growing darker on the other.

Then came the best part, going back down. I looked at Josh with some trepidation, afraid to let him go too fast or get too far ahead of me. I pictured him flipping over, running into prickly bushes, or veering into the street without me close by to steer him in the right direction. At first, I tried to jog alongside him, but his erratic steering meant he often veered into my lane, and I was more afraid of breaking my ankle then risking a few cuts and bruises if he fell the whole six inches from his bike seat to the ground.

So I slowed up and simply let him go — my heart tightening as he rode further and further away. He soared toward independence with reckless abandon, taking in the thrill of descent. I couldn’t help but admire his adventurous side as I simultaneously fretted over his judgment and safety. When he ventured far beyond my comfort zone, I shouted for him to stop. But my voice couldn't compete with the rattle of his plastic wheels hitting the asphalt and the song of freedom in his head.

He must have sensed my fear though because after a few moments he suddenly he put on his break (meaning, he put his feet down and dragged them until his bike came to a stop) and looked back, smug and satisfied with his progress. I waved and ran to catch up. But as I approached, he turned back toward the slope and took off. As he cruised downhill, he lifted his feet off the pedals and let out a shriek of glee.

And I knew this time I would never be able to stop him.
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