Monday, February 27, 2012

our tiger rising

For weeks, one virus after another had infiltrated the noses, ears, lungs of my family members. As soon as one child rebounded, another donned the mask of raccoon eyes with nostrils drizzling snot. Although my defenses had warded off their maladies, I was beginning to feel worn down. A pain settled deep within me that was difficult to get a hold of or shake off. Finding words became laborious. I did not want to have conversations or give directions. It was difficult to respond to the simplest email. And I came up blank when I tried to compose for pleasure. The most disconcerting part about it was not the actual disabling of my written expression but my apathy about it. It was as if illness had settled in my thoughtful parts and drained me into dullness. 

It turns out I did have an infection, a ninja bacteria which sneaked in unannounced and burrowed deep inside me. As my body quietly tried to resist its occupation, the infection had sapped me of any vital creative spark. It was nothing a strong course of antibiotics and an encounter with a very large cat could not cure.

On day two of my antibiotic treatment, I finally felt awake, though still in pain. It was unseasonably mild with a rich, citrus-y blanket of sunshine.  The Baby was finally on the mend, too. She became a different child completely- a peaceful child without the torment of ear infections. I announced that we would go to The Zoo. 'See lions? Rrawrrr! See elephants? See g'affes?' She paused to contemplate what might be next on the list, 'And piggies?' The other children were home on February recess. Princess Commando, though in denial, was spiking a fever, and her nose became a faucet of goo. 'Go on without me,' she blessed us between nasal trumpeting. I dragged Henry, who had been a bit gloomy and solitary, out of bed and enticed him to accompany his sister and me with the promise that he could play his video game when we returned home.

It was forty three degrees- practically summer. We wouldn't need our heavy coats or gloves. And, I balked, as I walked out the door, at the umbrella leaning in a corner despite a sudden veil of low hanging darkness. But, as we were standing in the admission line, Henry announced that he felt rain. 'You do not feel rain,' I insisted through clenched teeth. But, I felt it too. And once we were inside, the temperature dropped 15 degrees. 'Do you want to leave?' I asked him, not sure if I wanted him to say yes. He shook his head and we moved through a steady, bitter mist and on to the sea lions who sprayed water at our feet each time they came up for air; to the polar bear pair who played dangerously close to the edge their stone cliff; to the Rain Forest exhibit where a capybara pressed his nose against the glass at The Baby's feet; to the hyena enclosure where muddy  paw prints eerily smeared the glass in front of us as if they had recently been scrambling to get at a delicious kid. The Baby danced in the puddles which collected in the cobblestone paths, oblivious to the fact that the zoo felt so vibrant in the rain. Without the leering gazes of onlookers, the animals were not hiding. The lion filled the air with his voice- a sort of velvet depth that reverberated in my core.

In the adjacent enclosure I saw him. Streaks of flame, ash and sand pacing the length of his well worn real estate. The tiger patrolled his paddock as if he was working out an intensely involved mathematical problem. His repetitive ambulating made me, the one who could walk away at any moment, feel trapped. I would have watched him all day; but I realized that my little zoo party had wandered off toward the gorilla house. As I turned to reach my children, I made my way to the other side of the enclosure to a glass window in the jagged stone work. He happened to be making his rounds along my side. I stopped once more to get a better look at him. As I paused, he circled back around. He broke his measure and regarded me for a moment- this woman in the rain with her hands pressed against the glass. And then he ever so gracefully, so softly stood up on his hind legs, pressing his paws on the glass where my hands pushed back on the other side. He held my gaze and warmth flooded my head, my face, my hands. I whispered to Henry to grab my camera from my back pack but I realized I didn't pack it. 'Don't go,' I called out in my head. 'Go,' he seemed to answer back. 'Don't you see that you are not trapped?' And then he softly turned away and solemnly padded down to the bottom of his enclosure and out of sight.

I felt breathless. I felt a charge. I felt the fire that had been burning a painful flame in my body travel to my chest and fill me with a different heat. The official change of seasons is weeks away but once again I felt the  the zephyrs of awakening, Open the windows. Scrub down the walls. Let go and move forward. Create. Do not be idle in you life. I recalled one of our favorite stories, The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. I thought of the caged tiger in the woods-so close to freedom- released by the empathetic heart of a child only to be destroyed for that same child's protection. A tragic display of love from all parties involved. I recalled too how Henry had written an essay for an entrance exam in which he was asked to choose a piece of literature and write about a critical moment in the story he would like to change and how he would change it. He chose The Tiger Rising. 'I would change the moment when the tiger dies and I  would not let him die.' I looked at my kid who is struggling to feel comfortable in his own world. I realized that while I would have pulled my child out of his path, I would not have let the tiger die either. We need him around here to remind us of all the living we have yet to do.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Trouble with a Capital T

We made it through 15 years of raising kids without ever having to call Poison Control. Then The Baby came along. And, she is trouble with a capital T.

A few weeks ago, The Baby showed me a new trick. When I went to retrieve her from her nap, I found her straddling the top of the crib rail, threatening to throw herself head first onto the floor. When the other three children were a bit older than The Baby, they had each interrupted the quiet of  nap hour with  a startling thud. I would run frantically to their bedrooms to find them with a look of shock and pride on their faces realizing that they had made it to the other side. They soon mastered climbing out of the crib, sneaking off to do things like steal parmesan cheese from the fridge and sprinkling it on the carpeted stairs or unloading the closets of their contents. All were signals that they were ready for a twin sized, big kid bed (and a hook and eye lock on the outside of the door).

But, The Baby was much younger than her siblings were when they made their jail breaks. And, we were not prepared to buy a new mattress set yet. We tried to reconfigure the crib into a day bed, removing the side rail. But, we quickly dismantled the whole contraption after realizing that she was no longer going to sleep in it. She was instead going use the crib mattress as a launching pad to spring herself across the room to her big sister's bed. As that provided more opportunities for injury, we decided  to clear out  her corner of the room leaving her with the pitiful little crib mattress on the floor, nestled in the corner. She proved that she could not handle her new freedom yet by keeping her big sister up all night dancing and singing in the middle of the bedroom. I resorted to the pack and play, an intimately contained space that was much lower to the ground in case she decided to topple over the side. She did not protest; and, in fact, she slept more peacefully in her new accommodations. We soon realized, much to our disappointment, that her easy surrender to sleep was a mere symptom of falling ill with a double ear infection and RSV.

When The Baby had finally perked back up to her rambunctious self, I found her with her leg hanging over the side of the pack and play. I asked her if she could get out, "Yeah!" she exclaimed. She demonstrated by flopping hard on the floor. After discussing it with The Mr., we decided to bring back the crib mattress until we could buy a twin bed. I worried that she would some how jostle the components that kept the pack and play upright and collapse the whole mess on herself. She slept sweetly on the floor her first night. And she appeared as if she would fall into an easy sleep for her nap yesterday afternoon. But, a mere ten minutes after I had tucked her in, she let out a painful cry. I rushed upstairs to find her rubbing her eyes and holding a 1oz. bottled of Jelly Donut scented hand sanitizer which was now only half full. We had previously instructed Princess Commando to remove all things from the room  that were breakable or small enough to get lodged in a toddler's throat; but there was one tiny treasure box of random goods that we had overlooked on the floor near her bed. And, until yesterday, it had gone unnoticed.

The noxious smell of synthetic jelly donut drenched in alcohol gagged us as we tried to tend to our wailing kid. Although she did admit to eating it, it looked like most of it was on her shirt. After 15 years of never having to even consider the Poison Control magnet on the fridge, I went tearing downstairs to get the number only to remember that the magnet had been a casualty months earlier in a terrible magnet in dog water drowning brought on by, none other than, The Baby. The Mr. managed to find the number and called them while I soaked her eye. They assured us that she probably didn't ingest much because hand sanitizer tastes god awful. After a cup of milk and a ten minute flushing of the eyes, she would be all right. She was angry- not because it stung and nearly blinded her but because Jelly Donut scented hand sanitizer does not taste like a jelly donut. (It doesn't smell like it either). She wagged her pointer finger at me and yelled, in a very stern voice, 'Don't ever touch it!'

The Baby has once again proven that all of the comfort level and the methods we have grown accustomed to in our parenting cannot be applied to all young children. Today I will be examining all of the areas where I might have become complacent in my parenting. It is sure to be an eye opening exercise.

Friday, February 17, 2012

There is No Team in Me

The problem with staying home every day with children is that there is often no period at the end of the work week sentence. No Friday. There is nothing in place to let one know that she has reached a time of reprieve from the daily grind- a reminder to reset her clock to allow for a shift in routine, rewarding herself some free and flexible time. When you are the primary care giver of little (or big) children, you often find yourself swimming upstream in weeks that run on, spilling into each other, colliding with the weight of excess baggage from the weeks before.

For me this feeling is most pronounced when there is a sick kid at home throwing illnesses like RSV and a double ear infection into the mix of daily variables. I am fortunate to be able to stay home with The Baby when her health demands attention and her little spirit needs soothing that only her mother can give. But, during those snot dappled days, when  germs  victoriously dance around the loathsome chores piling up around me, and it seems that I will never be released from my station on the couch with the sicky, I entertain the idea of joining a workforce.  Any workforce which is outside of the home.

Illustration based on this image

As I rub circles on a little feverish back, I daydream of belonging to an ethnically and culturally diverse team, an intellectual powerhouse to which I am a tidy, productive, skilled and respected member. My imaginary boss, Bill Williams, a 30 year veteran in the field who has a remarkably thick chestnut colored mustache and a fatherly way about him-stern yet gentle, will praise me daily for completing my tasks in a timely manner with exceedingly fabulous results. I will rise to all of the challenges thrown at me because my day will be devoid of interruptions beseeching my service for “More chocolate milk!” or “More Yo Gabba Gabba!” “More Love! More Love!” Come Friday at 5:00, I will know that I deserved the free pace of the weekend because I worked diligently and accomplished so much during the work week.

My daydream bubble bursts when The Mr. returns home from his corporate job where he holds a position which he takes very seriously, but which he seldom gets the opportunity to tend to in the way he wants to because teamwork gets in the way. With his shoulders slouching from the dejection of the reality of belonging to a team, phrases like ‘micromanagement,’ ‘team building workshops’, ‘daily scrum’ 'Agile workplace' 'mentally unstable boss lady' hover around his folded body. He tells me stories of team spirit with an eerie vacant look in his eyes. There was the 6 hour mandatory sadistic conference disguised as a team building exercise where employees were instructed to skip around the conference room high fiving each other. Then there was another time when his company was  forced to get in touch with the emotional side of corporate culture and write letters of appreciation to one or more members of the team- which they had to share out loud. No one is calling out for 'More chocolate milk!' But in one of his former places of employment, the work day was punctuated randomly with the ding of a cow bell calling all workers to drop what they were doing and join the scrum master in the conference room for a spontaneous calisthenics workout- which resembled the hokey pokey.  In a 9 hour day, The Mr. manages to get two solid hours of work completed because, in an effort to raise productivity, the CEO spent millions of dollars on team spirit leadership initiatives. The Mr. climbed the corporate ladder and all he got was a lousy card table which he had to share with 8 other people. They were seated elbow to elbow- their work issued laptops and a single legal pad and pencil as their only possessions-all in the name of equality and teamwork.

After listening to The Mr.'s stories I realize that there is no team in me. I am too easily humiliated. I would not have made it past the high-fives. I don't really mind working alone and I'd rather chose daily snot over daily scrums. As for Fridays and weekends, I still get them. With four other people around to entertain and distract The Baby, my break comes in the form of being able to use the bathroom without the banging of little fists threatening to tear down the door because she's afraid that in the two minutes I've been out of sight, I've disappeared to the Ozarks. This week the kids are on February recess. So, you can bet I am going to be taking advantage of my bathroom breaks.

Happy Friday, Team!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


With four demanding pups at home, Maude and Rex realized that they were losing touch with each other. They had become two ships passing in the night. They longed for time together alone- without the daily pressures of work, soul searching and family.

There's a place for us
Somewhere a place for us
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us

There's a time for us,
Someday a time for us,
Time together with time to spare
Time to look, time to care
We'll find a new way of living
We'll find a way of forgiving

There's a place for us
A time and a place for us
Hold my hand and we're half way there
Hold my hand and I'll take you there

Here's to staying connected with the ones you love.

*Somewhere from West Side Story
Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Monday, February 6, 2012

happiness is a pile of kittens

The morning of Sunday, February 5, 2012 was filled with excitement and anticipation. A question weighed heavily on the minds of Americans- who would be the champion of the Big Game? I am referring, of course, to Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl VIII- a two hour spectacle of supreme cuteness and tooth aching sweetness.

First Born Son came bounding downstairs hoping to commandeer the television to get his Modern Battlefield Call O’Doody on only to find Princess Commando and his mother snuggled on the couch in front of the television which was arrested with images like this:

But, try as he might, even a steadfastly teenagerish teenager could not resist the beckoning mewls and frisky paws full of confetti during Kitten Half Time.

Happiness is a pile of kittens (unless, of course, you are allergic to kittens, in which case happiness is being doped up on Benadryl).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

accentuate the positive


A few months ago, my middle son had started to come home from school with a list of negative things that had occurred through out the day. Each day the list seemed to grow until I could no longer bear to listen to his Eeyore-ish accounts. My son was becoming a carper of everyone and everything. When the new year began, I instituted a moratorium on the play-by- play of all of the activities and events that he counted as infractions against a good day. I gave him the task of looking for 5 good things each day-only 5- and reporting back to me. I promised I would do the same, as I had found myself succumbing to bouts of sustained complaining. Before bed, we would share our new findings and record them in a notebook. He admitted that it was difficult at first to seek out good points. But, it is amazing how shifting your perspective- looking for the positive, however small (even in a huge dung pile of negatives) can change your mood, your attitude, your outlook on life. You actually feel a little bit lighter, brighter, more aware. Everything cannot always be silver linings and rainbows; but, I am hoping to at least help him develop the recognition that alerts him when he is sliding into Crotchety Orneryville and give him the strength to back right on out of there.

Speaking of rainbows and crotchety kids- writing this reminded me of this picture from a trip to Niagara Falls a few years back. I was about to snap his picture when mist got in his eyes. He bent over and a rainbow magically shot out of his head ;-)