Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Be the Big Girl

For the past couple of weeks we have been dealing with some pretty unusual fears in my 3 year old. She is a cuddly and lovable companion who is happy to sit quietly while I read, watch TV, or work on the computer. She will jump in with the house chores and insist on helping while I make a meal. She is generally not the adventurous type. Cautious and reserved, she hesitates to engage in anything unfamiliar or out of her routine. This is a habit that will not fair her well in life, so we do what we can to encourage her to branch out a bit. Rewards, cheers of praise, and much doting have served us well in building her courage.

Now she doesn't express the more characteristic fears of her age. There are no issues with monsters, sleeping in the dark, or being alone in a room. For this, we are very grateful. Her fears are, shall we say, unique? Let me explain. The other night I was prepping her for her evening bath. Excitedly she jumps in with no issues eager to begin playing with her bath toys. As I turn my back to tidy the bathroom, I hear her suddenly begin screeching. This was not a standard scream; this was wide mouthed extreme panic. I quickly turned expecting to see some tiny helpless bug floating at the top of the water. She was pressed against one side of the tub, her arms tucked in at each side avoiding a section of the water. I quickly began the standard questions, eager to do what I could to halt the horrid noise coming from such a small person. After a few seconds, she revealed that the culprit of this sudden and horrific fear were none other than fuzzies in the bath. You heard me, fuzzies a.k.a. sock lint. And the funny thing is, she knew that is what they were. She didn't confuse them with bugs or some other foreign creature, she actually knew that it was just sock lint.

We all know that fear is not always rational. That is the the thing about fear. It is fear's unique niche; it doesn't have to make sense. And this one certainly didn't. I was forced to make a decision that all parents deal with. Although I felt for how terrified she was I couldn't let her be arrested by something so minute. The pattern of irrational and sudden fears needed to end at some point, so I decided that she should stick it out in the tub. I worked to remove them for her while explaining that they could do nothing to her. All the while she continued to cry endlessly. I was exhausted and seemed to be making no progress. Unsure of what to do next, I looked her in the eye and told her I would just cry with her until bath time was over. So I did (not real crying, of course). And it yielded the most unexpected result. She stopped crying, looked at me with her head cocked a bit and said, "Mama, you not posed a [translation: supposed to] cry, you be the big girl." And that's when I lost it. I was trying so hard to be serious, but I just burst into laughter. So did she.

Later that evening as I sat and thought about our unique bathtime, perusing my thoughts on how I could have or should have handled the situation differently, I couldn't stop thinking about her comment. Although it was cute and timely, it was a huge eye opener for me and her perspective and feelings about my role as the parent. She was right. In those moments when life is challenging for her, or she is uncertain, or overcoming an unrealistic fear, she needs me to be her pillar. She needs me to reassure her that drinking milk is good for her, naps are essential, and sock fuzzies in the bath won't hurt her. It's funny to me that she sees me this way as I still feel like a kid myself so much of the time. I still don't know how I got here, the parent. But I can be the big girl, for her.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Finding Life in the Garden

I have a rather large garden that surrounds the perimeter of my house. It was not my idea to have one so large. The previous owners were retired and spent their days widdling about the garden from Spring through Fall. They were so proud of it, in fact, that the conversation at our closing was about the perennials and how to manage them year round. Not being gardener, I promptly forgot everything they told us.

Come early Spring I am delighted to see the fruits of this couples' labor. Colorful buds sprout from beneath the somber ground to flourish into a full and lovely mound. By mid Spring, the real work begins. The weeds begin to sprout, the Spring foliage begins to die, and soon it's time to fill the planters, trim the ivy, and begin the monotonous task of garden maintenance. I am the type that wants to plant it once and leave it alone. As all gardeners are well aware, this is not how it works. Inevitably I spend HOURS in the garden each year (too many to count). I love being outside (preferrably in a hammock with a book), but I am always thrilled at the outcome. Every time I start out to work, gloves and gardening tools in hand, I am so overwhelmed by all that needs to be done that I swear that I will have only grass and ivy the following year. I threaten my little children of the dirt that I will dig them up and puts rocks in their place.

Threats are really all they are. The truth is, it is good thinking, reflection, and quiet time. As I dig my hands into the soil, it almost always happens without fail that I find life in my garden. Weeds show me how the little things, that creep and grow in all places, can spoil life. How you need to pull them at the root to rid your life of them completely. The long and winding roots create paths deep into the dirt, entangling different varieties of plants like friends' lives with each other.

Just yesterday there I was again in 40 degree weather in the garden cleaning what was left of the Summer's beauties and bagging leaves. As I dug deep to pull the dead roots to make way for Spring foliage, I came across many clumps of bulbs. As I carefully worked around them, I thought about how they would provide such beauty in the early Spring. How something so small, yet so deeply planted in the soil, would survive the harsh Winter, weather the frozen ground, and even multiply over the years. How true is that of so many things in our lives. The true beliefs of our faith, the teachings of our parents, or lessons of life experiences can be so deeply rooted in us. They can be so safe in our hearts that the harshest storms, or the daily cleansing of our negativities, or the uprooting of our bad thoughts cannot move them. And when the moment is right and the soil of our hearts has thawed these deeply planted bulbs can sprout to create beauty for all to see.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Wacky Waiter

My good friend, who also happens to be my sister-in-law, took me to lunch to a lovely french restaurant for my birthday. It was a quaint place with authentic food, nothing Americanized. The comfortable weather and bright sun beckoned us to sit on the terrace. There weren't many people out there which meant we could look forward to a good conversation in private. Little did we know what this decision would mean for our "quiet" lunch.

Our waiter was polite and achingly charming. I am sure they were instructed to be this way toward the patrons, but in my opinion, there is a subtle charm and then there is a "I am obviously trying so hard to be suave and debonair" charm. I prefer the former. This one was the latter. With every stop to the table he felt it necessary to insert his personal touch with a comment about our order, or what we chose to drink, etc. At one point, my friend asked him about their upcoming salsa night. He couldn't have just answered the question? No! That would not have been debonair. Instead he grabbed her by the hand and gave her an informal lesson right in the middle of lunch. He wasn't even good. My turn to be the object of his affection came when he stroked my cheek after I ordered a dessert and gave me a side glance as if to say, "Of course, my little monkey. Would you like me to spoon feed you?" I glared at him. Strike one.

None of this really impressed me too much, nor my friend although she seemed to rather enjoy her mini salsa dance. After lunch we lingered over coffee and chatted a bit. To our dismay, this only gave Mr.Debonair more opportunities to show off his back alley lessons in Charming 101 (most obviously not a Harvard course). On one of his trips to our table he asked if we wanted more coffee. After we declined, I commented that I would need to be rolled out of the restaurant if I ate or drank anything else. What was I thinking? I opened myself up to this one..."Do you want me to carry you?" he replied as he flexed one arm as if to make a muscle. I glared again, "You couldn't handle it." This was strike two, also where the story really picks up so pay attention.

Mr.Debonair starts into a whopping story about how he was hanging out in a bar...blah blah...words were exchanged between him and some other guy...more talking...they were in an alley...something something...the other guy ends up on the ground. Then he took his elbow and pretended to strike it against my cheek. If that wasn't enough, he had to show my friend the exact same move falsely against her cheek, as well. Now, if you would've seen the look on my face you would have known that my patience was wearing very thin with this guy. Not only have I had to listen to this cockamamie story about his fete of strength against the biggest man in the city of Chicago, but he has come close to touching me, AGAIN! I rolled my eyes and cocked my head and said, "And where were the police?" His reply, which you won't believe, was "Oh, they don't care. Nobody saw but the two of us." Yeah, right. He obviously felt that we had had enough with that visit and he walked off. I turned to my friend and told her that he was full of it and I didn't believe a word.

At his next, and final, trip my friend asked him if he had killed the guy that he left unconscious in the alley. He replied, "I don't know and that's not my problem." And so here he his waiting tables at a nice French restaurant. The End. Ha ha, not so fast. He couldn't leave the conversation there; there's more. "But I saw him 2 weeks later, with 4 big guys that challenged me to another fight." So, apparently he had forgotten that he DIDN'T kill the guy. Are you shocked? Here's the rest of the story, well at least what I was able to remember after trying to tune him out. Four guys in a back alley AGAIN...just him with no back up...punch...blah blah...stomach blow...something...all four guys unconscious. Obviously not reading my signs that I was very much done with him, I asked sarcastically, "And again, where were the police?" He replied confidently, "Oh, they don't care. Nobody else saw it." Now isn't it so true that the biggest fish are always caught when nobody else is around? Strike three.

My friend knows the owner of this restaurant. A very pleasant man, I am sure he would not appreciate his wait staff commiserating with his patrons about bar fights. And I know that his patrons don't come to dine in a nice place to hear about them either. I was determined to talk to him and thought nothing about the repercussions. I felt that if this man was fired that it only served him right. I had to spare others from being victimized by his lies of machoism. But when it came down to it, I just couldn't. For all I know, he had worked hard to land a job in such a prestigious place. How fair would that have been considering I never outright told him that we weren't interested in his tales. After all, not every human is versed in obvious body language and facial signs. If he continued to act that way with others then he would quickly be writing his own ticket. I didn't need to write it for him.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Fresh Box of Crayons

My favorite thing to do with my 3 year old during playtime is color. I mean, come on, who doesn't like to color? You can use your imagination in ways that nature never could. I love to color the grass blue and the trees pink. And let's face it, I can't get on all fours and play horsey the way I used to so coloring becomes a very attractive alternative to the rough housing she so enjoys. She loves to run to the coloring drawer with her little stool, climb to reach the handles, and slide the drawer open to reveal stacks of coloring books, many boxes of crayons and markers, and endless sheets of stickers. It becomes a wonderful creative outlet for her (and me, I must admit).

She has been coloring since she could hold a crayon. I still have some of her original artwork where she matched sticker colors with the crayons; a creative fete at her then young age. She will often quietly work on a certain picture, her lips pursed together in extreme concentration, carefully peeling stickers and tenderly placing them just so only to break the silence with a loud screech, "All done!" and flail her artwork in the air with one hand. The look on her face is priceless as I praise her for a job well done. I always ask her to sign it (in her scribble, of course) and I date it for posterity.

Recently we have found ourselves in a coloring frenzy. We are coloring at every free moment. She has matured to the age where she doesn't need the fat crayons, or the triangle shaped crayons, but can use a good old box of original Crayolas. I find that she prefers to peel the paper off the crayon before using it. For whatever reason, this is how she most enjoys coloring. Being a neat child, she is always careful about putting each crayon back after using it. But lately she has found that challenging. With such overuse of the crayons, and their increased vulnerability without the protective paper, they are breaking in half. When in the box, broken crayons leave what appears to be empty spaces for crayons only to find she can only get them half way in before being stopped by a broken piece. Oddly, this hinders her creative outlet, and mine too. Personally, I also find myself avoiding the crayons that have dulled and lost their sharper point. There is nothing like the smooth glide of a sharply pointed crayon along that special coloring paper. But after a while, abused crayons just don't have the same effect. The popular ones are most abused leaving the less desirable colors shoved along the back of the box.

It's time for a large, fresh box of crayons. Can you just imagine breaking the crisp yellow and green box open to reveal a multitude of colorful soldiers all in a row, the variety of colors many of which are a normal part of our vocabulary, and the smell of the factory fresh wax? Children and adults alike can appreciate the freshly wrapped paper on each one, beckoning for use in an inspired original. I can already sense my creative juices flowing just thinking about it.

In so many ways, our lives are like old and cracked crayons. We are dulled by overuse. We are vulnerable to breakage when left unprotected. Or we are shoved aside by the more popular and attractive. There are many areas in our lives that could use a fresh box of crayons, a new start, new ideas, and sometimes new people. Consider those things in your life where you are no longer creative or feel worn out. Be refreshed and renewed by a fresh start, whatever that may be. Be motivated by the memory of factory fresh crayons. Make it a box of 96 and avoid dulling with a built in sharpener.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Monster Carts

I am not one that usually gives in to the constant solicitations from my 3 year old (also on behalf of my 13 month old) to be chauffeured around the grocery store in the monstrosity they call "the fun cart". You know the one, the large colorful plastic cart that beckons the little ones with it's familiar characters plastered on each side, grimy steering wheel, and blaring Disney cartoons. Can you picture it? I like to call it The Monster. Aside from being heavy and awkward, I shutter to think about the various breeds of germs being harvested in every crevice and corner that a little finger could reach. After all, it has been occupied by every snotty, sneezing, drooling child that has ever gotten his or her own wish for a ride. But on this particular day I felt like rewarding my well behaved children during our quick trip to the grocery store.

I carefully sanitized every area of the cart that they would possibly touch all the while holding them back as they anxiously awaited their ride. This alone exhausted me. I carefully sized each seat belt and buckled them in only to find that the video player didn't work. Being a patient person, I dragged the cart to the customer service desk for a refund to swap the cart for a working one. After repeating the same laborious task of disinfecting and buckling, once again, the video player didn't work. I carefully explained to my little ones that they could enjoy the ride without the company of Disney this time.

After pushing, pulling, hard steering, the occasional direction to the little ones to keep their heads inside, and many an apologetic "excuse me", I filled my cart in only twice the time it would have taken with a normal cart. This alone is a feat worth a rewarding coffee cooler. I somehow managed to squeeze the monster through the checkout, reloaded my bags, and off we go. Now I knew that I would not be able to take the monster out to the car, so I scheduled a cart swap into my schedule. Nearing lunch time, I headed to the opposite end of the store to make the switch. As I tensed my muscles to make the sharp turn, I felt the monster come to a sudden and abrupt halt. I put more force into another push, but to no avail. I could almost smell burning rubber as I forced it across the floor, moving less than an inch. I felt the sweat forming on my brow and my face turning red, from both embarrassment and frustration. You guessed it, the wheels locked. All manner of thoughts roamed through my head. Was there a time limit? Had I steered wrong? Whatever the reason, this meant that I had to unbuckle the kids, abandon my already purchased groceries, and walk to the other end of the store to bring another cart back. But not before airing my grievance; I felt sorry for the first employee that would cross my path.

Now I am definitely not one to put up a stink, not in the least. In fact, I tend to err on the quiet side even when it is well within my right to speak up. Not this time. Someone, somewhere, somehow was going to hear me out! And she was in my line of view. A short, middle aged woman whose sole purpose was to meet and greet at the front doors had the sole misfortune of standing right in front of the cart rack. She was the one! By the time I reached her, with a baby on my hip and a toddler in hand, I could barely formulate my words. Wrought with frustration, I struggled to organize my thoughts and start with a coherent lead in.

I still can't remember exactly what I said. I know that I was trying to keep my tone light and pleasant, typically a normal thing for me, but on this occasion it was a struggle. I somehow managed to relay my extreme frustration with the entire experience. And after I was finished ranting and raving about how inconvenient and ridiculous it was, she had the audacity to defend it. “There is a trigger that disables the cart right after you pass the register.” I felt my face turn bright red, again. I struggled to speak, again. The only thing that I could muster was a loud and confused, “WHAT?!” After standing for what seemed like minutes absolutely speechless, out came the rambling, “How can that be? How do you figure this is in any way convenient for parents? Do you mean to tell me that it is purposely forcing us to abandon our items, drag our kids across the store, get another cart, drag our kids back, unload and reload our groceries, leave that…that….thing in the middle of the aisle, and then walk to our cars? That doesn’t make any sense?” Now she was calmly listening to me the entire time. I can’t tell you what her face looked like or even if she was mouthing potty words at me, but I can tell you what she said next. “Don’t worry. After you unload your items, I’ll go get the cart and bring it back.” The nicest thing I could do was shoot her a look of utter and complete confusion and storm off.

Typically I find a lesson or nugget from every little life experience. And they generally are pretty obvious to me. This one took a while. The only nugget I could get from this was to never treat my kids to The Monster again. Or to warn every unsuspecting parent I knew, or didn’t know, to never go near this cart. But that couldn’t be it; all of these were just too obvious. There had to be something else gained from such a personally frustrating experience. After several days of cogitating on my experience, I was able to move past my own personal frustration and focus on the experience of my little ones. And with all of that, I couldn’t find one negative experience for them. From the very beginning when we had to swap monsters to the very end when we had to swap again, not once were they unhappy. They so anticipated how wonderful the experience would be. Wonderful was all they expected and all that it was. Even when the video player wouldn’t work, they reveled in the independence they had driving at the front. They giggled and squealed with each turn pretending it was because of their own efforts. They played with the clicky turn signal and tooted the horn. And it was just as delightful watching them. But somehow I had gotten so removed from that. As I recounted the tale to others, I would throw in “well, at least the kids had fun” as if it was a pity when in fact it was the sole purpose.

As busy parents, we try to cut corners and remove such frustrations from our lives. And reasonably so. We are too quick to dismiss events and experiences justifying to our kids “it’s too much trouble” or “I don’t have time to deal with it right now”. But in reality, I would love to see them enjoying themselves in that way again. It will take adjusting on my part, and it definitely won’t be that often. But I can manage it now that I know what will happen. Those things that take a little extra effort, and may not be as amusing to us, can be special for our kids.