Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Those are our kids

Today I made the worst mistake of my life.  That's dramatic, but those were the exact words going through my head earlier.  If I can be criticized for something, it would be that I believe myself to be Super Mom.  I believe that I can do most anything with my kids in tow.  I take them both to the grocery store, to doctor appointments (theirs and mine), to vote this past November, and both to the car dealership today.  Note to self: Super Mom should not take her kids to the car dealership.  It was a necessary thing - we needed to get the oil changed and the airbag light on the dashboard had been glaring red at me for weeks.  I have the car most days, so it followed that I was the logical person to go.  It was not, however, logical to take the kids.  Make no mistake, we are all still alive, but only barely.

The mechanics had no more 90-minutes-you-wait-we-get-your-car-done appointments.  So I was left with the option of dropping the car off and getting a rental car until our car could be fixed.  Sure - I'm Super Mom - I can do that.  Once checked in at the dealership, we went to the kids' play area while waiting for the rental car.  Honda has a play area - kudos to them!  The kids loved being there.  Then I suggested we wander over to the cafe.  Great idea, right?  Free food, it was close to lunchtime, another location inside the dealership to kill another 5 minutes.  Brilliant.  I grabbed a cup of coffee, and the kids split a cookie.  Then, trying to be a conscientious, health-minded mother, I suggested another snack.

me: Oh, hey, guys: do you want a banana?

Sean and Audrey: Yeah!

Score - not only am I filling them up with free food, but the healthy choice of a banana outweighs the unhealthy choice of the cookie.

Just before sitting both kids down at the cafe table, the front desk calls my name.

Front Desk Woman: Anna Marie?

me: That's me - I'll be right there!

I picked up our three winter coats, my wallet, the cup of coffee and the banana.

me: Come on, guys, let's go over and get our rental car.

Audrey:  Nooooo!

She ran the other direction, away from the cafe, slightly farther away from the front desk, and around the side of a beautiful new Honda sitting in the show room.  Not too far from my eyesight and earshot, I headed to the front desk, thinking I could grab the keys, sign away my life, and still keep an eye out for Sean and Audrey.  Plus, Sean decided he would follow Audrey and help corral her towards me.  It's great that he's now old enough to hone his sheepdog-herding instincts.

Sean: I'll get her, Mama.  Come on, Audrey!

I hurried to the front desk, and greeted the woman. She placed multiple papers in front of me for signatures.  Just then I heard a shriek from behind me.

Audrey: Noooo!  Banana!  Nooooo!  Stop, Sean!  No Bank-Yoo!

me: (smiling at the woman at front desk) Excuse me.

I placed my wallet, coffee, and coats on her counter.  To hell with her helping anyone else on that counter!  I walked quickly over to the brand new Honda and saw Audrey face down throwing a tantrum of giant magnitude, pushing Sean away from her, and screaming for her banana.  I had the banana in my hand.

me: (calmly, quietly) Audrey, will you please -

Audrey: (crying) No Bank-Yoo, Mama!  Banana!

me: I have the banana right here.  Do you want some of it?

Audrey: (more crying) No Bank-Yoo!

I noticed a pool of drool on the floor right in front of the nice new car.  No big deal.  Audrey had also abandoned her cookie during this tantrum.

me: Sean, would you like some banana?

Sean: Yeah.  Mama, Audrey's having a tough time.

me: Don't I know it!  Audrey, would you like some banana with Sean.

Audrey: (crying) Noo -(upon second thought) yes.

me: Please get up off the ground, and I will give you this part of the banana.

Audrey:  (whimpering) Banana.

me: That's right.  I'll give Sean this half, and then you can have the other half, but you have to come over to the counter with me.

At this I gestured towards the counter.  The front desk woman, sweetly, went along with this plan.

Front Desk Woman: Hi there!  If you bring your banana over here, your Mommy can sign a couple papers and then you get to go.  Does that sound good?

Audrey: (tears still in her eyes) yeah.

Sean: Yeah!  We get a new car!  Just for today, right, Mama?

me: That's right, just for today.

I signed multiple documents, and high-tailed it back out to the garage with the kids.  I placed the coffee on the top of the rental car, visions of me possibly driving off with it still sitting there running through my mind.  Then I tossed coats in the front seat.  Knowing I needed to transfer carseats still, I told the kids to climb in the front seats.  Sean jumped right in and made his way to the passenger seat.  Audrey excitedly (no trace of the tantrum 90 seconds earlier) got into the driver seat.  I headed to our car, parked one car ahead of the rental, diagonally, and attempted to free Sean's carseat.  It wouldn't budge.  I began muttering to myself.  Then I looked up to see Sean in the rental banging on the windshield, adjusting (can such a gentle term be used accurately here?) the rearview mirror, and running his arms quickly over the dashboard.  I walked back to the rental.

me: (forcefully) Sean, I want to see you sitting down in that seat.  Do you understand?

Sean: Why?

me: This car belongs to the dealership, not to us.  I don't want to see your feet on the seat.  Ok?  Understand?

Sean: Yes.

Back to our car, I was still trying to free the carseat.  No luck.  The more I tried, the harder my heart raced and I began to sweat.  I looked back at the rental to see Sean swinging the passenger door open.

me: (yelling) Sean!

Sean: (hanging his head out of the passenger side) Yeah, Mama!

me: (loudly) Close the door.

The smile left his face, he quickly ducked back into the rental and slowly shut the door.  I could see Audrey's eyes peering above the steering wheel.  She was smiling.  Those are my kids.

I gave up on Sean's carseat: I needed a break! Still sweating I moved over to Audrey's. Luckily it freed itself without too much hoopla.  I then carried her seat over to the rental, trailing cheerios, raisins and decayed cheese as I went.

Audrey: (laughing) I driving!  Driving, Mama!  I driving!

me: I see that, Audrey.  As soon as I get this seat in, you are coming back here.

Audrey: Nooooo.

I muttered while putting Audrey's seat in.  I considered driving both kids home without either of the seats fully locked into place.  Though it would be irresponsible and illegal, it would get me the hell out of the dealership much quicker.  I locked one side of her carsesat into place, grabbed Audrey and sat her in her seat.

Audrey: Nooo!  Driving!

I slammed the back door to the rental car.

Then I went back for Sean's carsesat.  I pulled my hair into a ponytail - I was sweating profusely! - and dug my hands back into the crevice of the seat trying to free the latch.

Sean: (yelling from the rental)  Mama, don't forget our Christmas Trees!  Don't forget!  Our Christmas Trees! OK?  Ok, Mama?

me: (to no one in particular) Lord have mercy!

I pulled at the latch, I wiggled it, I twisted it; finally one side gave way.  I hiked up my jeans (forgot to put on my belt today - probably had a plumber's crack exposed to the world!), brushed my fallen hair away from my face, and averted all eye contact with the Honda dealership people buzzing all around me.  By this time I'd been working in their service-drop-off area for longer than 10 minutes.  Cars were parked all around the rental and our car.  I wouldn't say we were "holding anyone up" but we were certainly not making their job easier to check in cars.  I reached for the other latch.

Sean: Mama!?  Are you going to get our Christmas trees?

The seat latch gave way, and the carseat was free.  I trucked it to the rental, trailing more decayed snacks through the Honda garage.  I got Sean's seat into place and tightened the straps as best I could, still sweating and cursing under my breath.

Sean: Mama - will you get our Christmas trees?

me: Yes!  Give me a minute please!

Sean's seat in the car and locked, and Audrey's seat locked and secured, I buckled both kids into their carseats.  Then I retrieved the craft they completed at the YMCA: the Christmas trees.  Strange how neither child seemed appropriately excited for or appreciative of their craft in the moment: it sure seemed like life or death when Sean was screaming from the rental!

I finally sat down in the front seat of the rental, both kids buckled in and having remembered my coffee from the roof (small blessings!), and took a deep breath.  This was the worst mistake I'd ever made, I said to myself.

Sean: Isn't this so much fun, Mama?!

These are my kids.

me: (starting the car) Yes, Sean.  This is the most fun I've ever had.

Make no mistake: I'm now glad that the car is in the shop and will be fixed, but I don't think I'll tackle that again on my own.  Super Mom or not, that was too much for me.

It's not often that I think my actions are "the worst mistake" ever.  I do second guess decisions or wish I'd done things differently in retrospect, but I don't usually consider my daily choices to be terrible mistakes.  Certainly, even though my kids can drive me crazy, there is nothing about them that is a mistake.  And in light of the shootings in Newtown, CT last week, I am reminded more and more of the preciousness of each child.  I was brought to tears last Friday upon learning that so many children were dead.  I just kept thinking, "those are our kids."  Not my biological children, but they are close to the age of my children.  Those parents are my age.  Those families resemble our family.  Those are our kids.  Then last night I watched the President's address from the interfaith service on Sunday, and he used those same words: those kids belong to all of us.  What's happened in our society that so many children could be left so vulnerable?  What's gone wrong that death can greet them so quickly and so violently?  Those are our kids!  As President Obama read off the names of the teachers, administrators and then children, I sobbed at my computer.  I could hear people in the background in that auditorium in CT doing the same.  What must their reality look like to them right now? 

This past Sunday morning, the paper came, and I made a conscious choice to not read the articles about Newtown.  I couldn't take the details; I was shook up enough as it was.  But Tom had not read or heard much about the shootings, and he sat down at the breakfast table and read everything in the paper.  My sweet husband was crying at the table while I cleared breakfast dishes and our kids played.  As he tried to recount some of the article's stories, Tom couldn't finish some of his sentences, he was that rocked.  Those are our kids.

As many parents have done over the past couple days, I've found myself hugging my kids tighter and telling them I love them.  In response to my affection, I've received beautiful gifts back.

me: (hugging Sean) I love you, Sean.  Do you know that?  You're a great kid.

Sean: You're a great parent.  Ha!

I choose to not read into the laugh at the end of his statement.


me: I love you, Audrey.  You are my sweetest girl.  Do you know that?

Audrey:  You're the best!  

me: No, you're the best!

Audrey: No, you're the best!

Tom has been teaching our kids yoga.  It's quite amusing.  So while I was folding clothes the other day, Sean the Cito tried getting my attention.

Sean: Mama, watch this.

He brought his hands together in a prayer position, hovering right in front of his chest.

me: Oooh, are you doing yoga?

Sean: No, Mama.  This is sign language.  For yoga.  It goes like this -

He raised his hands up into the air, Audrey watching and then mimicking him, brought them together above his head, and then (in prayer pose) slowly brought his hands back down in front of his heart.

Sean: And then you say, "Mamastay."

me: Ehm, I think it's actually "Namaste."

Sean: No, Mama, Dad taught me, it's (over enunciating for my benefit) "MAMAstay."

me: Ooooohhhh. I got it.

I didn't bother to correct him again. These are my kids.  As I've let this humorous, incorrect, yet so fitting a phrase sink in, it's profundity has hit me harder.  The loose translation of Namaste is something close to "The divine in me bows to the divine in you."  As I imagine Sean's Mamastay, I find myself thinking the translation as "The mother in me bows to the mother in you" or "The parent in me bows to the parent in you."

I can not get Newtown, CT out of my mind these past few days.  Even after a touch-and-go experience at the car dealership, and tantrums by both kids on any day, I come back to thinking about the parents, teachers, and kids at Sandy Hook Elementary.  I want to extend to them the only thing I have to give them right now: Mamastay.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sight Unseen

Her temper flares.  It's not hard to do - her brother gets in her face, and suddenly she's thrown her cereal bowl onto the green-carpeted floor.  The plush, expensive carpeting from the 1960s didn't ever expect to see the kind of love (read: damage) as it's seen from this family of four.  I gave Audrey a bowl for her milk and cereal, wishing to give her some more responsibility and independence than her usual sippy cup with a side of dry cereal on her tray.  She did great for awhile.  That was until Seancito decided he was done eating cereal and wanted to pick on his sister instead.  Then the cereal bowl ended up on the floor.

Sean: (entering the kitchen with an honest look on his face) Mama, Audrey dropped her cereal on the floor.

me: (walking between the kitchen and dining room) Audrey!  No!  You do not throw your food!

Audrey begins whimpering.  It's a half-hearted whimper.

Would this have been prevented had I seen it coming?  What if I had listened to that motherly instinct when I gave her the bowl initially?  The instinct that told me I would be cleaning it up off the floor by myself?  Did I listen to that voice?  No.  Did I clean up the cereal by myself? Yes.  Well sort of.  Audrey, down from her high chair, stood beside me while I cleaned.

Audrey: (sighing) Watch. I watch.

Thank you.  That's exactly what I need.  An observer.  Then the kids went running to play in another room while I muttered to myself and took a rag to the milk and rice crispie soaked floor.

Or his temper flares.  After begging and pleading with him to use the potty before going to the kid's stuff section at the YMCA, (and he refused) when I came to pick him up he informed me that he'd wet his pants.  We're not talking soaked to the bone, but it was definitely wet.  I was fuming.  But I remained calm.  Outwardly.

me: This has been happening a lot recently, Seancito.  Why is that?

Sean: I'm not sure.

me: Well we have got to figure out a better way to do this.

Sean: (fingering his upper lip) yeah...

me: If you don't want to use the potty when I ask you to, and you don't tell someone at kid's stuff, then we might need to think about using pull-ups or diapers during the day.


Had I known that these words would have motivated the firestorm that followed, I would have re-thought using them.  But at the time, it seemed just the jab I was looking for.  I didn't want to yell and scream at him, but I wanted him to know I was serious.  Instead of me yelling and screaming at him, he yelled and screamed at me.  Through the whole lobby of the YMCA, into the family locker room, echoing off the tiled walls, in the bathroom stall, back out at the sink, while washing hands, and then traipsing through the lobby out to the car.  Yelling and screaming.  It didn't stop.  Never let up.

Audrey: Sean.  Cwying!

me:  Yes, I know that, Audrey.

Audrey: Sean.  Cwying!

me: Yes, yes he is.

Audrey's quiet commentary in my ear was heard by me only.  Anyone else in earshot of us could hear only the sound of Sean yelling at me.  When finally in the car, he coupled the screaming with kicking the passenger seat.  When I pulled the passenger seat as far up as it would go, he then kicked the car door.  All the way down the road.  He'd already been threatened with and subsequently lost the privilege of having a snack in the car (Audrey was quietly munching on her cheesestick without him).  He then lost the privilege of having books read to him before taking a nap.  Searching my brain for what other privileges might inspire him to better behavior, I pulled out all the stops.

me: (loudly, to be heard over his screaming) You know what!? Just keep this up!  Just keep doing what you're doing!  If you want to lose your TV privileges, then just keep it up!

Sean: (crying, screaming, etc) NOOOOOOOO!  I DON'T WANT TO LOSE TV!

me: Then you better turn it around, buddy!  You better show me that you can behave in a different way.  Because you will lose everything!  You've already lost your snack, you've lost your books at nap time.  You will lose the TV if you don't find another way to talk to me.  If you keep this up, you will lose EVERYTHING!  If you want to LOSE EVERYTHING, JUST KEEP DOING WHAT YOU'RE DOING!


Moments later, he quieted down.  He stopped flailing in his seat, stopped kicking things, stopped crying.  He sat quietly staring out the window.  He mumbled something about being tired.  We had come through the worst of it.

Hindsight is 20/20.  They say this for a reason, because as I looked back over my day, I realized that perhaps my words had triggered some of his angry behavior.  There was no excusing the massive tantrum or shouting at me, but there was room for my own reflection on why I said and did what I did.  I spoke with a dear friend that afternoon. I relayed to her what happened.  A mother herself, and someone who knows me better than I know myself sometimes, she pushed me to look past Sean's behavior.  She asked me what underlying fears I might be feeling about parenting and being a mom.  She bore into my soul from miles away.

So at dinner, once the tantrum was hours and hours behind us, once I'd had time away to go teach middle schoolers, and Sean had taken a nap and played at a friend's house, once Tom was home to balance out the parent to child ratio, I brought up what had happened at the YMCA.

me: Hey Cito, did you tell dad about what happened at the Y?

Sean: Yeah, I did.

Tom: Sean actually told me right after he woke up from his nap.

me: Do you know why you had such a hard time?

Sean: Yeah.  I didn't want to use the potty or wash my hands.

me: Well, that's true, yes.  But I've been thinking about it, and I realized that when I brought up wearing pull ups or diapers, that I wasn't being nice to you.  That wasn't a very respectful thing to do.

Sean: Yeah.  (pause)  Dad could I have some more corn?

Tom: Sure.  Do you think you can forgive mom?

Sean: Yeah.

The moment passed.   My confession revealed, I felt my shoulders loosen and my jaw unclench.  I don't know if the confession helped Sean or not, but I know it was important for me to move past my guilt.  Pushed by my dear friend to reflect on my own fear, I came to the conclusion that I'd brought up diapers and pull ups as a passive aggressive way to call Sean a baby.  Maybe if I called him a baby (secretly, of course, not really using the word "baby") then it would scare him into acting like a big kid.  It sure did scare him!  He threw a 30 minute fit it scared him so much!  But what my friend astutely observed and then I reflected on further was that my words came out of my own fear.  I am afraid that I'm not doing things right as a parent - why does Sean still wet his pants? Why does he still not want to eat certain foods just because of the way they look?  Why does he freak out when I use a different toothbrush for Audrey than the one he wants me to use?  Why does he seem so entrenched in his way of doing things that sometimes he can't see straight?  Why, why, why?

When my mind spins with these questions, as it began to when I picked Sean up and he told me his pants were wet, I focus more on those questions than on the little person in front of me.  It's like my head goes into a cloud and I can't see my way out until I answer every single question out there.  In my pursuit of the answers (read: my desire to control the situation) I completely overlook Sean and his humanity.

My prayer has been and continues to be that I may see my son.  Not just physically see him, but also intuit and listen and read between the lines.  He's not yet old enough to fully articulate all that he thinks and feels, and I'm not yet experienced enough to have all the answers (nor do I believe that day will ever come - the "I have all the answers" day doesn't really exist).  My prayer and practice - as difficult as that may be - is to fully see my kids for who they are.  With that in mind, here are some less-anguish-filled-stories about 'seeing' them.

The other day I saw Sean standing in the bathroom after having used the potty.  Pants around his ankles, one arm reaching for the handle of the toilet, he had his eyes closed.

me: Sean, what are you doing?

Sean: (eyes still closed) I'm flushing the toilet.


me: Yes, but why are your eyes closed?

Sean: I don't want to see it flush.

Or the other day, I asked Sean to stop harassing Audrey needlessly in the next room.  I was standing in the bathroom washing my hands and I could hear the shrieks and crying coming from their bedroom.  Without going in to see what was happening, I called out to them.

me: Sean and Audrey, what's going on?

I received no response, but only heard Audrey continue to cry.  Then, I turned my head to the right just in time to see Sean cross beside the open door of the bathroom.  He was walking slowly, arms stretched out into space, eyes closed.

me: Hey, buddy, what are you doing?

Sean: (peering out from partially shut eyes) I'm walking to the living room.

me: Okay, and your eyes are closed.

Sean: Yes.

me: And why is Audrey crying?

Sean: I'm not sure.

Squishing his eyes shut, he continued his path down to the living room.  I don't know what transpired between the two of them, but I know that Sean's solution was to walk blindly to the living room as if nothing happened.  Brilliant ruse.

The other night, Audrey couldn't get settled into her crib to go to sleep.  She couldn't decide if she wanted to sit in there and play on her own or if she wanted to snuggle with me while I sang her lullaby.  Decisions, decisions.  Finally, I put her in her crib and told her to lay down.

Audrey: Nooo!

me: It's time to lay down, Audrey.  Lay down, please, and I'll help with your blankets.

Audrey: Noo!  Wait!

She held up one hand, holding me off from helping her with anything.  Then she reached for her dolly.

Audrey: Dowy.

She kissed the dolly, squeezed it between her shoulder and cheek, and laid it down.  Then she grabbed the little stuffed lamb.

Audrey: Wam.

Again the kiss, squeeze and laying down of the lamb.  Once this was done, her 'children' safe within her sights, she snuggled into her crib and allowed me to lay blankets on top of her.  A little visual reassurance, and her day was done.

As I was tickling Sean the other day, he laughed so hard that something besides laughter escaped from him.

Sean: (laughing) Mama, you got me so laughy that I tooted!

Or one day after getting him dressed, he disappeared into the guest bedroom.  When he came back out, I asked him what he'd been doing in there.

Sean: I was looking at myself in the mirror.

me: Oh.  Nice.  How did you look?

Sean: I look handsome!

The other night we called my brother's girlfriend, Rachel, to wish her a happy birthday.  After singing the birthday song on her voicemail, we each left a little extra message.

me: Happy Golden Birthday, Rachel!

Tom: Hope Denis gets you lots of gold!

Sean: Yeah! ...  Hey, Rachel, we saw a deer pooping!

Oooookay.  I quickly hung up.  Rachel's lasting visual image from her Minnesota birthday message involved the sight of a deer pooping.  No doubt she may have preferred that sight to go unseen.