Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
There's always something, people tell you, that you can't anticipate about having children. For us, it was that we would never get out. I've been babysitting since I was 9 years old. I put myself through school as a nanny. I never, in a million years, could have told you that in the first 5 years of raising children, we would go out as a couple fewer times than we could count on our own two hands.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
My thought is, their kids must have little to no imagination.
All summer long, we'd been dealing with troubles at bedtime. Tizzy, having trouble going to bed – Zip, having trouble staying in bed. By the middle of the night, our house felt like a bus station, transient bodies moving from one location to the next.
I've heard that many people love sleeping with their kids. I do not. After having them climb me, limb for limb, all day long, the last thing I want at night is to be pinned to the mattress by two thirty-five pound boys.
Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I'd had it with their late night finagling. After one too many glasses of water and kisses and—oh, who seems to be lurking in the halls, again—I huffed into the office, grabbed some construction paper and a sharpie, and made a very quick and rudimentary sticker chart. I reached into the junk drawer filled with rubber bands and twist ties, and pulled out a stack of stickers, compliments of numerous junk mail enticements.
"Listen you two," I said. "Nobody's been sleeping around here, and that just makes me cross. You can either stay up all night and risk having me yell at you all day tomorrow, or you can climb into bed right now, and stay there, and earn two stickers of your choice by morning!"
We went over the rules: one sticker for staying in bed at bedtime, one sticker for staying in bed until it's light outside.
Zip bought it hook line and sinker. Tizzy, not so much.
The first night, Zip went right to sleep, and he never got up. Tizzy did his usual routine of sneaking out only to race back to his bed, crash into the headboard and pretend he'd been there all along. He did however stay in bed, once asleep. The next morning he got one sticker, Zip got two. I could see him studying Zip's chart when he didn't think I was looking, and, when I told him he'd have the chance to earn two that night, he just shrugged his shoulders.
"Meh- sticker's, schmicker's."
The second night, around three o'clock in the morning, I heard a plaintiff, "Mama? I have some water, peez?"
I walked into the hall and saw Zip standing on the threshold of their bedroom, unwilling to pass the imaginary line that would disqualify him for a sticker. (This is the boy who, two nights before, would scream bloody murder at the mere suggestion of going back to bed at three in the morning.)
I got him his water and he looked up at me tentatively. "I still get m'sticker?"
"Yes," I said. "You still get your sticker."
Relieved, he let out a sigh and climbed back into bed.
The third night, both of them went to bed and stayed there. The sight of Zip's chart filling up twice as fast as his own seemed to be having an impact on Tiz'.
At about four a.m. I woke up to a sobbing Zip at the foot of my bed.
"My diaper's is a falling off, uh-hoo-hoo, and I gonna not det my sticker, mma-hoo."
"It's o.k. honey! I'm glad you told me about your diaper." (Which was hanging around his knees.) "You'll still get your sticker."
He caught his breath, we changed his diaper, and once again, he went back to bed without so much as a whimper.
Who knew sticker's held so much power? Well, apparently quite a few people, but I never thought these charts actually worked.
Fast forward to this past Thursday night.... Somehow, Tizzy had caught up with Zip on his chart. They each had just two sticker's left to go. I told them if they could use some self discipline that night, they'd get a prize after school the next day. They assured me they could, and they did.
I really didn't know what to do with all that peace and quiet!
Friday morning, we took down their charts and they took them to school for "Sharing."
Friday afternoon, I went to pick them up thinking, "what in the world am I going to do for a prize?"
On the way home, I saw a bright orange sign with "ESTATE SALE" written on it.
"Oh, what the hell!" I thought to myself. "It's worth a try."
We drove around the neighborhood until we found the "ESTATE SALE," and we talked about staying close together and not touching anything unless it was approved. To my amazement, both boys walked in with tender feet and carefully tip toed around the tables filled with Blue Delft tea sets and crystal goblets.
In a back room, Tizzy admired an old fashioned singer sewing machine, and reminded me that I'd promised to teach him how to sew.
Zip found a replica of an antique horse drawn pumper, and decided that it would make a fabulous prize.
Tizzy picked up a funky old wind -up clock that no longer wound. He was moderately interested in a pocket calculator, but not enough to call it his own. There wasn't much of interest for a four-year-old boy, and I was starting to wonder if I'd made the mistake of thinking that we could find a worthy prize at this sale. Then he stepped outside, walked over to a large Meyer Lemon tree, picked up a big, beautiful, yellow lemon and held it out for me to see.
"Mama, I want to buy this lemon for my prize!"
The boys walked up to the women handling the sale. Zip paid for his toy, and then Tizzy held out his lemon.
"Excuse me, may I buy some lemons? I'd like to make some lovely lemonade."
Hearts were melting all around us.
"Of course you may!" Replied the woman at the till. "Here's a bag for you to put them in."
Tizzy picked up the bag, and went back outside to fill it with lemons. When he was finished, he returned to the card table and handed over his two dollars.
"You know," said the woman, "you probably don't have a whole two dollars worth of lemons. Why don't we count them, and see what it comes out to."
He dumped his lemons on the table, and she added them up for him. "That'll be fifty cents," she said.
He put the dollar and change in his pocket, and, with a proud smile, walked out the door.
"These smell very good," he told me. "They're going to make delicious lemonade."
Later today, when his grandmother gets here, they will make lemonade together, and it will be lovely.
Friday, September 19, 2008
As I remember it, the boys I grew up with were far too busy, being busy, than to bother talking. They were constantly moving, climbing, dismantling – EVERYTHING. I don’t recall a lot of conversations taking place. I have memories of lengthy discussions between myself and their mothers, marveling at their ability to cover so much ground in such a short time, and I remember volunteering to do their speaking for them.
My babysitter’s son was six weeks younger than me. Everybody thought that we were twins. At doctors appointments, he would whisper to me, and I would convey his answers to the doctor. I’m told those conversations were just gibberish, but somehow I understood what he was saying. On the first day of pre-school, we were placed in different classrooms. I dove between the legs of my teacher, raced through the halls until I found him, doe eyed and tight lipped, and explained to his teacher that he only spoke through me. I was shuttled back to my classroom and told that it was for precisely this reason that we were being separated.
As it turns out, he had a knack for computers, and was comfortably retired by the time he was thirty.
Look who’s talkin’ now?
Today, I am avoiding filling out a form that will qualify Tizzy for speech analysis. I’ve been avoiding this form for quite some time. It’s not that Tizzy can’t speak. It’s just that he doesn’t – much.
The reason that it’s hard for me to fill out this form is not because I’m afraid that we’ll find a problem. It’s because deep down inside, I don’t really think that this is a problem. He has plenty to say, just not on demand. I ask him how he’s feeling, and he’s a deer caught in the headlights. I’ve asked many a grown man how he’s feeling – the response is frequently the same. He doesn’t reply to arbitrary questions thrown out by strangers. Again, I’m not sure that’s a problem.
And the reason I’m filling it out anyway? Because we live in a time when our children are expected to be geniuses, whatever their failings, analyzed, established, and ironed out by the time they turn five. We send them to kindergarten and demand that they read. They’re filling out standardized tests before they can properly hold a pencil. Whatever the results of these tests, he will still be my same Tizzy. My sweet, and wry, and crooked smiled Tizzy. If he grows up to be a computer programer, I will be fine with that. If he grows up to drive a garbage truck, I will be fine with that too.
What worries me, are not how my aspirations and expectations for his success affect him, but how the expectations and aspirations of the world around him, come into play.
Traditionally little boys have always been more likely to be labeled disruptive, immature, trouble makers. Gone are the days of play dough, dress ups and finger paint. When he starts kindergarten next year, he will be expected to sit still, cut out objects in a straight line, read, and speak when spoken to. With the large student to teacher ratio, I don’t expect his teachers to have the time or the resources to look at the behaviors of each child individually. If he can’t reply in a timely manner when called upon, I don’t want him to be labeled uncooperative. I have already seen his response to pressure to perform. He does his best to comply, but his response to conformity is to act silly or tune out. It will take a very special teacher to see that as anything other than inappropriate.
I had a teacher I hated and who hated me in second grade. I probably wasn’t the worst student she’d encountered in her career, but she was old, most likely tired, and we had clashing personalities. For me, however, that was just the beginning of a ten year resistance towards school. I went, I graduated, but I dragged my feet the whole way.
I don’t expect to protect him from frustration or from developing the skills to appease it. I’m not naive enough to expect him to always be happy. I think there is much to be said for teaching a child to work through the uncomfortable times in life, and much to be gained from doing the things in life that we do not like, simply because they need to be done. I do, however, think that many kids are failed simply because they are misunderstood. Place a label on a child, and they will carry that label with them until it is manifest.
I do wish to offer my child the skills to communicate effectively. It may turn out that, when he’s evaluated, he’ll be right on track. If he’s, in fact, having delays that are limiting his ability to express himself, then I think there is much to be gained by helping him access his vocabulary.
I come from a family of talkers. I admit that, at times, it is nice to have a silent child. For four and a half years we’ve gotten along just fine with our non-verbal communication. I don’t ever expect him to be a chatty person. I fully expect he will attract and exasperate the loves of his life with his aloof and mysterious demeanor.
I do, however, want him to know that, when he has something important to say, he has the the confidence and skills to stand tall, be articulate, and clear.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Leaving New York, on the way to Laguardia airport, I turned around for one last look at the skyline. Twinkling in the early morning light, the towers seemed like they were sitting on the wrong side of the island, but it must have been an optical illusion. I was already disoriented. Had Brad remembered to turn the coffee pot off? I hadn’t checked. Going home to California for two weeks, I was excited, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that all was not right, that something would be lost before my return.
Seven years later, it’s no mystery what was lost by the time I got back. We all know the parable. We all remember where we were when the planes hit. It was horrible for everyone, some irreparably so. I feel cheap writing about it. I don’t blame you if you want to skip this post, but it’s a collective experience that we all shared. We all have our own version of that day, and my sincere condolences go out to those who lost loved ones on that day.
If you’re interested, I will tell you that, while I lived in New York City on 9/11/01, I was actually 3000 miles away when the planes hit. I wasn’t even awake until it was a complete news story, there for the taking, to be played over and over again, until it was indelibly etched in our minds forever.
We’d come back to the Bay Area to celebrate the launch of my mom’s online business. The weather had been beautiful, we’d eaten fabulous food. At the launch party, we’d seen people we hadn’t been in touch with for years. We celebrated wedding anniversaries with two couples we’d seen married the year before, and, through the combined celebrations, we managed to see all of our friends collectively in the two short weeks at home.
On September 10th, we stayed with friends who lived atop Yerba Buena Island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. We went to bed with views of the Golden Gate Bridge shimmering in the distance on the deep blue of the Bay. That night, I couldn’t sleep, anticipating our flight the next day. About six months before, I had developed an irrational fear of flying. I had flown to Paris for a business trip and was convinced that I’d never make it home. The superstitious part of me was sure that this trip had been too perfect. I wondered if a strange series of coincidences had led us to make the trip to say our goodbyes. Well, if that was my fate, I surmised, then I was falling asleep with the man I loved, and had been blessed with the fortune of being surrounded by some of the most important people in my life. I fell asleep enveloped in gratitude.
When we woke up at 9 a.m. the next morning, it was uncharacteristically quiet. Our host stuck her head in the door and announced that four planes had crashed, two into the Twin Towers. In the haze of my half asleep state, my first thought was that, statistically, it would be impossible for our plane to go down that night. What were the chances that a fifth plane would crash that day?
Wait a second! What had she just told us?
We stumbled down the stairs to see the towers crumbling on the TV. We slumped into the weathered couches in front of us, and, with millions of other people, watched the rubble fill the streets, repeatedly, for hours on end. We watched it to make sense of it, but it didn’t make sense.
We got on the phone with Brad’s family in Arizona to tell them that we were OK, that we were still safely tucked away in San Francisco. We were then told that his father was in the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale recovering from unplanned heart surgery. He’d had an emergency quintuple bypass earlier that morning, but the doctors thought they had repaired him nicely. The morning was becoming more and more surreal.
After a flurry of e-mails and phone calls, we drove into the Mission to pick up water and food. As we drove, a man rode parallel to us on his bicycle, fist in the air, shouting, “Down with Imperialism!”
We pulled into the grocery store parking lot next to a young stockbroker. He was having a hard time putting one foot in front of the other, he didn’t seem to know where he was heading.
We returned home to the island and ate lunch with some friends, who were still waiting to hear from their brother and pregnant sister-in-law that lived in New York’s Chinatown.
By three that afternoon, knowing that we wouldn’t be boarding a plane bound for anywhere, we packed up an ancient blue Honda sedan with no air conditioning and hit the road for Phoenix.
We drove through the hot desert night with our windows rolled down listening to the only radio station that we could receive out in the middle of the desert. A man was broadcasting a call-in show on the topic of: “NUKE ‘EM OR NO!?!”
We spent a week in Phoenix preparing low sodium meals for Brad’s dad, and trying to get any information we could about what was happening in NYC, but everyone we spoke with there seemed to be in a daze, and we couldn’t find out much. Every time I tried to imagine going back to our apartment, I imagined the city covered in ash. We still couldn’t contact some of our friends, and the news was being told for the outside world. Where was our New York Minute?
As we were planning our departure, planes were back in the air, and Brad’s sister flew in from Chicago to resume care for their dad. It hadn’t been the most desirable of reunions, but we were so relieved that his father had gotten the care that he’d needed, and we were all appreciative of the unplanned visit with one another.
Brad and I took the coast back up to San Francisco from LA. One year before, we’d planned for our wedding to be held that same day in California. Then, we’d thrown caution to the wind and gotten married in the last month of 2000 at the NYC courthouse instead, with my mom and his dad as witnesses.
How glad were we to not be trying to piece together whatever family was still available to join us on that cold and somber September day? Quite.
We spent the night in Santa Cruz, and said another goodbye to my mom. Then, we drove to the East Bay to visit my dad and his family once more. Finally, we returned to our friends on the bay, and they drove us, in the rattling Honda, to the echoing San Francisco International Airport.
The halls seemed huge and empty but for the giant X-Ray machines reserved for random bomb checks that had been planted in the corners. We checked in, received our tickets and went to board. I handed the man at the gate my ticket, and he accepted that my name was Michael Smith. Aghast, I looked down at the ticket, which had obviously been given to me by mistake, and, while the man at the gate was willing to overlook the mistake, I was not. I returned to the ticket counter and insisted that my bag be reclaimed and have the correct name and boarding sticker attached to it. I did not want trouble retrieving my bag when I got to NY. This got me quite a bit of attention, and while five minutes before I was readily accepted as a “good girl,” I was no longer afforded the same luxuries. Instead, I was sent along with the Pakistani and Indian businessmen to be randomly checked by the X-ray machines. We all checked out OK.
We boarded our plane in silence with the fifteen other passengers, and for six hours, nobody moved from their seat. Between fits of sleep, I caught glimpses of Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, twirling maniacally through Moulin Rouge, and before I knew it, I was flying over New York City just as the sun was peaking over the horizon. This time, as I scanned the New York skyline for the towers, they were nowhere to be found.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Friday, September 5, 2008
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Exiting the bridge yesterday, we watched a patrol car file into traffic, lights spinning round.
“Ooh... someone’s gonna get it,” Brad and I agreed conspiratorially. “But who?”
The cop car pulled ahead casually, and civilians changed lanes to make room, but he didn’t seem to be after any one of them.
Why wasn’t he speeding up? Didn’t he need to speed up? If he’d seen someone driving recklessly, wasn’t he going to lose them if he didn’t go any faster?!
It was puzzling.
And then he swerved. Deeply. First to the left, then to the right. Not once, not twice, but repeatedly, over and over. Cars on all sides of him were being pushed aside as everyone frantically tried to make sense of his erratic behavior. Like a ten-year-old boy, weaving surreptitiously on a dirt bike, he wove back and forth across the highway. Everyone fell back. There was a palpable question mark floating above the arena of cars now corralled behind him.
What the hell was going on?!
Was he drunk? Were we witness to a stolen car?
“We’ve gotta get out of here,” Brad said.
Our off-ramp was less than a mile away, but getting there was starting to look questionable.
Another on-ramp was merging to the left of us.
Swinging wildly across five lanes, he cut off the oncoming traffic and began zigzagging back and forth across the entire spans of overpass.
OK, we were becoming very curious. There had to be something outrageous going on. Was the freeway shut down up ahead? Had there been a major accident? A wild police chase? Why didn’t he have back-up? For as far as the eye could see, there didn’t seem to be a problem. Glancing in the rearview mirror however, there was traffic for miles behind.
“Well, whatever it is,” I said to Brad, “I’m glad to be up here. I’d hate to be trying to get off the bridge right about now.”
We could see our off-ramp, and there were blinking lights illuminating from the shoulder.
“Great!” We exclaimed in unison. “It’s blocking our exit!”
I began mapping out an alternate plan.
As we approached our destination, the police car pulled up onto the shoulder, and then, Horror upon Horrors...!
There was a tow truck. With a tow truck mechanic. Changing a flat tire.