Tuesday, July 24, 2012

my boys

Summertime used to yield the most colorful renderings - the most accurate depictions of the essence of my children. Their little selves caught in various states of summer through the camera's lens. Their creamy skin gloriously offered to the sun- kissed to a roasted peanut glow. Their hair a little bit more wild. Their grins wide enough to count each bumpy tooth, each gap and gum. Unbridled beams of joy glinting from the caverns of their mouths. They still hadn't grown into their ears- little satellites picking up each chirp, croak, sigh, breath, whish, rush, rumble, hush- marvelling at the stories told  by nature, by their neighborhoods, by the sky, the open air, the streetlights, the stars. Their willingness to learn, let go, live- it was all so vibrant, so boundless. Days were a sweet sigh. And then, another sigh- until the ropey tendons released.  Until we set our canoes on lazy rivers- no urgency for direction- just surrender.

And now, they are teenagers whose summer lives are no longer intertwined save for (in their minds) the unfortunate fact they share the same house and the same blood. They are elusive. Aloof. Apathetic. Immune to the gilded beckoning of the sun. Heavy with humidity, they are no longer willing to humor their mother with a smile. Openness to the world's offerings is replaced with an earnestness to while away the hours racking up sleep mileage (and dirty dishes). Their days stretch out along a comatose river- too slow to get anywhere. The stagnancy is almost too much to bear- I want to stir their static waters with a loud paddle. Remember the days when the little moments were strung together to make a beautiful story of us? Marvel, again, dammit!

Instead of summer sighs, I hold my breath-waiting for them to shed the affliction of their ages.

In pictures, palms replace faces. 

I was standing hopeful that I was about to capture my oldest boy- steadily, gently assuming the features of a man. He stood in a pensive pose while helping to shuck corn at his Nana's cottage. A serene softness lighting on his fine cheekbones. Finally a picture for the family album-a picture worth printing.

Then, my eyes scanned lower- over the image in the viewer of my camera-all the while his eyes were watching my expression. Then I recognized his strategic placement of the corn whose husk he had just peeled away- a prosthetic corn penis shooting out from his shorts. I should have known better.

My squinting, pinched eyes scanned upward, s  l  o  w  l  y,  meeting his. His playful boyish gleam- a satisfied smile. I love you, he cloyingly offered. But I will never cooperate for a picture. 

Summertime still yields the most colorful renderings, the most accurate depiction of the essence of my children. And while I pine for the days when the most pressing decision was who to give the last root beer flavored popsicle to, I wouldn't have them any other way than who they need to be today. They are here. But one day, in the not too distant future, if we've truly done right by them, they will get in their canoes and paddle away from here. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

old habits die hard

The middle kids discovered a stash of neon color chenille pipe cleaners that I had been harboring as a rainy day distraction for The Baby. They begged permission to tear into the slender sticks of crafty wonder proclaiming, "There is something we REALLY want to make!" It wasn't raining but the kids were booo-ored. I agreed to let them go crazy with bendable chenille-ity with the stipulation that they clean up every last pipe cleaner when they were done. Princess Commando is known for leaving a trail of evidence of her existence around the house. They vowed to not leave any trace of their amusements and set about making wobbly three dimensional turtles and World War II Tallboys which Henry kept dropping on his sister's head.

After 30 minutes, I heard the rustling of the pipe cleaner bag and the kids pattering off. After a quick inspection of the table, I gave satisfactory marks for clean up.

But an hour later, as I bent down to pick up a sock that had tumbled from the laundry basket, I spotted a yellow pipe cleaner glaring out from beneath the table, then a sorbet orange strip in the middle of the kitchen floor, and a circa 1985 green poker under the piano. I yelled up to the kids to come down and finish cleaning. They arrived before me baffled. "We did clean," they protested. They obediently gathered up the crafty stragglers and went on their way.

Another hour later, as I straightened the toy room, I found two more pieces huddled together under The Baby's activity table. "Did you take these out, Baby?" 

"I not play with cleaners!" she insisted. But she was the only one around and evidence of her cunning work- the glitter aquarium stickers trimming the walls- abounded. I told her that if she was not intending on creating a chenille replica of the Chrysler building with them, then she had better put them back where she found them. Through a piercing scowl, she picked up the pieces and carried them back to their home. 

As we ate dinner that evening, we heard the thumping of our ancient Siamese cat, Mooshie, as she descended the wooden stairs. She announced her arrival with an low, long voweled Siamese Mer-roooow. But it was more muffled than usual- like she was talking with her mouth full. 

She insinuated herself at the table and spit out a electric purple pipe cleaner. Her action educed a memory- of a time before kids- when there was just Mooshie, an abandoned kitten we adopted in spite of the fact we were both terribly allergic.

 "Remember when she used to do this at the apartment?" The Mr. called to mind Mooshie's artfulness of standing on her hind legs behind his desk to push open the top junk drawer, jumping to the top of the desk to snag a pipe cleaner, then pushing the front of the drawer closed as she hopped out of sight. At nearly seventeen years old, frail and unable to jump up on the counter to reach her food bowl on her own, she wasn't quite lit with kitten spunk but she was enlivened with her own memory of spry days. 

The kids were impressed with Mooshie's ability to get them all into trouble that day. 

"But, Mom, what does she want with pipe cleaners?" asked Princess Commando.

The real, raw truth is that our old cat has always had some vices.

Friday, July 13, 2012

friday the 13th abstract expressionism

This morning, I sent The Baby upstairs on a Big Girl task to wake up her teenage brother on the 3rd floor. I told her to make sure that she jumped on his bed- to stir him. She proudly but 'slowly, Mama' marched up the stairs.  I was lost in my work on the 1st floor for 10 minutes before I realized that she had not returned and that it was unnaturally quiet upstairs. I am typically not a superstitious person. I've stepped on cracks, walked under ladders, owned a black cat, used a broken mirror. But after the horror of my discovery today, the devastation, the gruesome stains on the carpet, I honor the spinetingling apprehension of Friday the 13th.

On the 3rd floor, I found my son still sleeping.  

And, The Baby was in plain view.

Eerily entranced.

Painting a self portrait. 




She was covered from head to toe in craft paint- the kind that comes with cheap wooden model kits and whose little snapped lids are impossible to open-though apparently not for a 2 year old. She was streaking her hair when I found her. The carpet around her had the saturated marks of tiny fingers- dots, dabs and streaks embellishing the fibers.

Each of my children as infants and toddlers had that one outfit which became my favorite but which was habitually soiled within minutes of wearing it so it never truly saw the light of day. I would scrub, stain remove, and launder the article. It went back on the kid again only to survive 30 minutes without the blood of cranberry juice or the smear of an unidentified source emblazoned upon it. As of this morning, I know for certain that this season's clothing casualty is The Baby's jaunty yellow t-shirt with a rainbow calico fish appliqued on the front. 

The paint had been tucked away, hidden from view for over 4 years and it took her less than ten minutes to zero in on its location and recreate Jackson Pollack's Shimmering Substance. Luckily it came off of her skin and the carpet without much effort; but the yellow t-shirt was not so lucky. I've learned in the past 15 years of parenting not to get too attached to material goods or to deem preciousness upon things that are not truly sacred. I reserve those designations for my iPhone (which does not have a protection plan) and my secret stash of candy.

Oh, and the kids too.
Of course.

Happy Friday the 13th!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

summer family va-caca-ation

I am like a popsicle stuffed in the glove box of a car on a trip to the beach on a hot summer day without air conditioning. I do not travel well. Yet there we were-the six of us- with the truck stuffed with items to answer almost any ‘what if X happens?’ We were headed to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for First Born Son’s last soccer tournament of the season, the Mid Atlantic Cup. This would be my first experience at an out of town tournament.

It was also the first time we were travelling our two year old. I didn’t have much time to prepare as we had only decided to make the event a family ‘vacation’ the weekend prior. I filled a canvas bag- a bag of diversions for The Baby- with random small toys and crafts I picked up at a discount store.  We borrowed my sister’s DVD player and filled the feedbags. I put The Baby in disposable training pants- even though she had been 90% potty trained- to ease undue anxiety about super soakage. We were good to go. But, I issued a disclaimer that travelling would not be any fun and that I would not enjoy it one bit. ‘I may not survive, so take care of the house and one another as I would take care of you.’

For the first time in our history of being a family we were on schedule. We drove out of New York State where even the hilly farmland seemed flat compared to the lofty panorama that ushered us to Pennsylvania. Corn and grain swayed on undulating hills which unfolded perpendicularly from our road. Houses grew fewer and the numbers of cows nestled in trees grew greater.  The whimsy of a reindeer farm inspired a yearning The Mr. and I shared aloud- to live on land- with grass that is not crabgrass and prickly weed. We carried on through valleys, along lakes- with mountains swelling toward the sky. The clouds grazing the treetops, dappled the broccoli bushel hills resembling primitive patchwork.

As we drove through the Tioga State Forest, the kids were lulled by the arresting scenery- on their iPods. And the only sound from The Baby was a snuffled, rhythmic breathing. She had been asleep for most of the trip. Not once had I resorted to cracking open the DVD player or scrambling through her bag of distractions. For all of the agitation she incites in her normal waking hours, she was mastering the art of travel by dreaming away the miles.  I fell in love with her a little more and my heart soared with gratitude.

I would have to recant my negative statement about the fate of this trip. It was going to be all right. First Born Son, knowing that this was the first trip without my MP3 player created a playlist of palatable tunes for me. He introduced me to Family of the Year and I said, ‘Son, we are Family of the Year.’ 

Oh, but good fortune is a double- crosser. It was 98 degrees outside and Saturday was going to be 102 in open fields. Even though we had the luxury of air conditioning, the kids wanted to swim in the outdoor pool. As I was undressing The Baby, I encouraged her use the bathroom. And without a grimace or a grunt, she exploded. She didn’t complain of a stomachache. There was a chance it was nothing- that maybe the ride had unsettled her. But, there was a chance of having to scramble out of the pool with Baby Ruths trailing behind us. So I opted to stay back in the hotel with her where she merrily ran back and forth between the adjoining rooms. Customarily among our children, incessant merry running is a precursor to being knocked down with the flu. Despite a restful sleep, I suspected what lied in store for me the next day.

The Baby woke with a raging fever, her bottom lacking discipline. Suffice it to say I was grateful for the decision to bring disposable training pants. And extra garbage bags.  Despite having made it to Pennsylvania and finally having the opportunity to watch my son play a game he is so passionate about, I would be spending the day sequestered in the hotel room with a sick two year old.

She was so small-her burning body pressed against mine, her voice quietly croaking for ice water. She was colorful with her slapped cheeks and her fiery hair against the white hotel linens.  She fell in and out of sleep and it was the closest to stillness that she has ever assumed during the daylight hours. While my heart hurt for her discomfort, I reveled in the gift of the moment of enveloping her and being able to gaze upon her face while she slept. I felt trapped between sweetness and suffocation as we spent the whole day in bed. But, as much as I yearned to care for her in the comfort of our home, I knew there was a reason that her sickness coincided with our trip. While the other members of our family, fought keep their wits about them in 102 degree weather, we were caressed by the icy tendrils of an air conditioned room. The perfect climate for snuggling.

The weekend was not all lost. The Baby rallied on Sunday morning in time to catch the final match and witness First Born Son’s team win the Cup. The sky was overcast and a breeze sputtered in my ear, ‘No regrets. No regrets.’

We still haven’t fully recuperated from our va-caca-ation.  It is true what has been said about getting there being half the fun. What they don’t tell you is that getting back is the other half of the fun. Back through the rolling hills, winding around the lakes, through the forest,  along the cornfields, to the roads where the number of cows in trees grows fewer and the number of houses sandwiched together grows greater, past the familiar street signs, up the front steps, over the threshold. Home.  

The other Family of the Year:

Monday, July 9, 2012

target: the tenth ring of hell

I wrote this last week and did not get a chance to post it. Since then we went on a family 'vacation.' More on that later:-)

I had been barely clinging to the end of my rope. I was grappling with an old foil. Anxiety. Panic attacks. Once limited to school and social situations, it had now begun to pervade the mundane elements of my days. My chest filled with a hive of bees at the thought of leaving the house or interacting with people- even my extended family. I suspect it began to awaken as I tussled with the Ground Hog’s Day loop of house routines, dodging the throes of The Baby’s mounting exasperating two year old demeanor while fighting to no avail to nurse influenza of the psyche. I was bone tired from a deep internal aching for something more, something different. I hoped it would hush itself soon.

While I gave each day the old college try- hitting the reset button for a fresh start, the wires often crossed.  I found myself feeling more fragile at each trip up- wanting to fade into the background of my own life. The Mr. recognized this and suggested that we visit the nursery to buy flowers for the garden. I had been longing to fill patchy spaces which left the beds yearning for the closure of a finishing touch.

An afternoon in the sun gave promise for a stronger spirit. I felt more able. More steady. More clear. I accepted The Mr.’s suggestion of taking a family road trip the following weekend. And I agreed to run errands later that afternoon with him and The Baby to gather supplies for the trip. We serviced The Baby- she was fed, rested, pottied.  And, we headed to Target.

I wish I had been standing in wet sand- clement water washing over my feet, a balmy breeze tangling around my ankles. Instead I stood in an aisle where picked-over, discounted, seasonal overstock items await retirement at Target. The Mr. and I stood there trying to console our irascible two year old who had only moments earlier been pleasant enough to deceive us into thinking she could handle a quick errand. She thrashed boorishly in the cart under the grips of possession. She angrily yelled attention grabbing things like, “Go away! Be quiet! I want my mommy!”

As I inched the cart toward a more inconspicuous location, grabbing a hideous glittered fairy off the shelf to distract her, the dam broke. Hot, acrid pee- a Niagara flowing from the child seat- drenched my sandaled feet.  Torrents flowing, flowing, flowing. It splashed backward into the cart. Luckily the only item in the basket was a bucket of sand toys. The Mr. lifted the bucket- confounded by the volume and force of our child's stream. "Well, we have to buy it now," he said, tipping the liquid to the linoleum. I tried to mop up our trail with one measly tissue. 

Anxiety gripping my lungs and still stinging from The Baby's urine bomb, I sped to our SUV- sandals intoning fast wet farts against the tiles- while The Mr. paid for our new piss pot. In the parking lot, a compact vehicle had sidled up to our SUV leaving mere inches to open the door. The passengers were still inside with the windows rolled down. I graced them with a deluge of involuntary, colored locution. So much for remaining unassuming. I lifted the sopping toddler and held her at arms length. Now she was happy. "We're going to the car. We're going to the car," she sang loudly.

 As I tried to maneuver in the impossible space between the vehicles- hovering her waterlogged body over the seat, another splash of magma fell upon my bare toes. I looked down to find my foot dressed with curdled white matter. I looked up at The Baby, thinking that she had puked. She had not. If I had a hacksaw I would have held that wet child in one arm and amputated my foot with the other because at that moment the thought of stepping in someone else's vomit made me want to give up right there in the middle of the Target parking lot. It is a feeling that The Mr. expresses on every trip to Target.

My body assumed the bone structure of a hamster as I squeezed into the sliver of space on the floor behind the driver's seat- hanging my upchuck dripping foot out the door, wrapping the toes of my other foot on the handle to keep it from hitting the other car, holding The Baby by the back of her shirt above the seat with one hand, while searching for wipes and a change of clothes in her emergency bag with the other. I started to sob silently. The Baby, suspended above me, looked down and asked, "Why you sad Mama?' 

"Mama's a mess,” I answered. "And, you peed all over the place."

"You're a mess. And, I peed. Oh, I peed!" she merrily, nakedly chirped back. 

There were not enough wet wipes in the universe to insure that my foot was clean. When The Mr. joined us, he assured me that I had only stepped in milk which exploded from a carton left to fester and curdle on a 90 degree day in the sun. He may have been just trying to appease me as he could clearly feel my duress. We headed home to the solace of a bleach foot bath and relief of the clock ticking down the daylight minutes.

What doesn’t kill you at Target, certainly makes you stronger. While the sunny outlook of my new day turned soggy, for once in a very long time I did not feel defeated by a set back. That’s the thing about days- they eventually end. And there is always another chance to start again- this time with a cache of new skills highlighting your endurance and agility and putting into practice a valuable lesson: Always wear closed- toe shoes.