Sunday, April 20, 2014

The sound and the fury

We spent most of this week with family, childless family who lead quiet lives of order and routine. They were happy for us to come. We're the ones who moved away. We're missed.

We burst on each scene. There's no gentle entry when three noteverstill children clamor into your living room. The crayons spill and roll everywhere. The card game becomes 52-pickup. Something sticky needs to be wiped quickly, but turn around and they're dancing, they're cartwheeling, why is your furniture being rearranged?

We're way more dishes and that's the wrong juice and but I want to sit over there at the same time as I want my plate here at the same time as but this doesn't look like meat I like. We're extra laundry because there aren't enough towels and "that's okay, we'll clean it up" and "be careful" "watch out" "no, don't!" because kids aren't used to all these breakables or to skim milk or to so much wonder at their everyday energies.

We're spectacle and circus act and we should pass around ear plugs. We're decibals. We should send a warning label ten feet ahead of us through every door. Don protective earwear. Extreme noise ahead.

But the week came to an end. We packed up all our things, the crayons and the juice boxes and the boisterousness. We tried to push the furniture back and wipe up all the messes. We tried to restore order but a place isn't ever quite the same after we've been through it.

We walked out the door and we watched our relatives' faces and all that quiet just looked lonely.

__________
This post was inspired by our spring break, the annual northbound minivan roadtrip; and by the memoir Dad Is Fat by comedian Jim Gaffigan, who riffs on his adventures co-parenting five kids in a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Join From Left to Write on April 22 we discuss Dad Is Fat. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.








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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Between impressions and who we really are

The kids have seen two sets of people this spring break: other kids who remember them only as vaguely as they remember those kids; and adults who remember them well, even if the adults aren't recognizable to my kids.

The kids with the other kids, happily -- that's easy. I have pictures of this group together as infants and toddlers, even if they have no memories of their earliest introductions. These kids live on in name vaguely like distant cousins. You know them, remember? They're over there. And today the sun was out and we spread the chalk on the porch and punctured the foil on new bottles of bubble potion and they were tiny and now they're eight and seven and six and four and still happy, only now the biggest are planning sleepovers and FaceTime dates.

Adults are harder, I think. They're fixed in the firmament, unchanging. That one is always the one who smells like smoke and that one is always the one who brings presents. The kids remember the adults, some affectionately, some warily, and the degree of absence of apprehension seems measured by how the adults regard the kids. It's hard for adults to see kids and not see them for a year or two and still know them. A kid of a year ago is a totally different person from that kid of today. She eats entirely different food; his favorite color is changed; the things she got excited about last time you talked, even if you should get or hope for credit for remembering, are now so childish as to be embarrassing.

My kids will entertain adults for varying lengths of patience and then usually retreat to each other, and bless their sibling relationship that they see each other as their strongest, safest cohort. They're being kids, after all, and adults are only reciprocally entertaining for just so long. But watching them reframe themselves in these adults' eyes as their current versions overlaid on the adults' past memories of their former selves has made me think about my own relationships with people I rarely see. Spending time around our parents (mine and the lovely husband's) and all of their friends can bring those lens layers into scrutiny. Am I known for who I am? Or the versions told in the stories presented second-hand and the memories I've left behind? And I suppose that's true where ever we go. We know ourselves but anyone else only knows us as much as they can see today and remember from yesterday.

After more than a decade in a career with a very narrow professional specialty, I took a new position in my agency that's more universal and now I specialize in communication. It's what I think about always, now: this is what I'm saying but this is what you'll hear me saying.

The two are never quite the same, are they?



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Monday, April 14, 2014

Except for the bagels

This year's is the easiest Passover prep yet, we've decided. We don't need baby food and we don't need baby spoons and we don't need sippy cups or high chairs or boosters. We don't need strict bedtimes and we don't need diapers and we don't need half the items we've always needed, or for so long, eight years and forever, that it feels like that's how it's always been.

This is one of our biggest holidays we're starting tonight and it's definitely one of the most disruptive. But the littles aren't so little; they don't like matzah that much but they understand it. They know food will taste different all week and they accept it.

Well, they on-the-whole accept it, except for that part about giving up their very favorite, requested-for-every-meal food.


So it will inevitably, despite their good temperaments, be a very long week, and I guarantee there will be crying.

Assuming your mood is less affected by the carbs within your reach, Happy Passover!!!!
 __________ 
This post was inspired by the novel Reasons My Kid Is Crying by Greg Pembroke, who captures frustrating yet hilarious parenting moments through perfectly captioned photos of unhappy kids. Join From Left to Write on April 15 we discuss Reasons My Kid Is Crying. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.












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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Slow (on the uptake)

I ran a 5K downtown this morning. It was attached to a more prestigious 10-mile course and back in November, when
registration opened, the 10-mile had sounded like a great challenge for me. Running the 5K today was a downgrade from my registration but I wasn't ready for the 10-mile I had hoped five months ago to be ready to run.

I'm trying to find my place in running. I'm short and slow. I'm not lithe and I don't even know if I like it, although I always very much like having done it. I like to run by myself and I don't like to listen to music. I don't want conversation or motivation. I want to beat only the voices in my brain, the ones that say "why are you working so hard? This isn't fun. You could just walk a bit. Take a break." In the lore of running, where you make a music mix with a certain number of beats per minute and have a best running partner and look like a runner and keep running because you're in love with running, I'm doing it all wrong. It is far harder for me than it ought to be to remember that what works for most people doesn't have to work for me.

My brain is my best cheerleader and my worst enemy. I'm trying to live in the narrow middle third, but it's like when the lovely husband is out of town but two kids climb in my bed. Sure, I got the middle, but it's so thin I can't touch both hips to mattress. The kids have the margins but the margins are most of the surface.

In my brain, it's

MAKE EXCUSES
accept myself
BE A MARTYR

and that middle third is a tricky, tiny path. It makes me take my already slow steps even more ploddingly. Just after the November registration was when my work life went all kablooey, and I've thrown myself at the change, and it led to promotion and opportunity and I'm charging at it full force, and I'm happy with myself for doing so. But I didn't anticipate any of that in November, and it's taken mental and physical energy from the finite powers I thought I might have been able to apply to endurance training for 10-mile runs. So I downgraded to the 5K, and if I sound apologetic for it it's because I feel a little so, it's just a 5K, that's not impressive, right? But I ran it. But I didn't feel proud today, not proudproud like I wanted to feel today, like
I expected to when I signed up. Because it was just a 5K.

I could have overextended myself (BE A MARTYR). Objectively, I'm satisfied with the reasonable boundaries I set this winter, ones like get some sleep. It's a skinny middle, though, see? I don't regret that I didn't run the 10-mile, but I am wistful that I couldn't do it all, that I couldn't find the wherewithal to push myself to new challenges simultaneously at work and out of it. If I'm not trying the hardest at all the things, am I really trying at all? It's not so easy here.

My legs are tired tonight, in a well-worked-tired way. My just-a-5K was a minute-per-mile faster than last year's spring 5K, it turns out. I am progressing, even if it's not how any other runner's progress-in-a-year would look. I'm not telling you this, I'm telling me.



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Saturday, April 5, 2014

They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now.

{We finished reading Little House in the Big Woods tonight. It has one of the best literary endings of all time.}

The girls each always ask me to sit in the bathroom when they're showering. For the sake of encouraging independence I pretend that they're too old to need me, but I love to stay, because then I can sit and read, and when can I do that? The answer is never, of course, with current added pressure that I agreed to join an in-person book club and our first meeting is tomorrow and, as with everything else in my life, I'm behind. So you can understand that I had no choice, really, but to enjoy my novel while E showered this afternoon. 

I was deep in a middle-aged man's midlife crisis when E interjected: can you open the curtain door for a second? That made me smile because I do love a good kiddie phrasing. So I slid the plastic curtain back along rod and she showed me how she'd arranged a lock of her hair across her finger. She'd spread it wide and let the water cascade along it, forming an impossibly shiny, silky ribbon. 

Isn't it so pretty? she asked. It is, I agreed. It was. And I remembered suddenly that I had done the same as a girl, exactly the same. I hadn't thought about it in maybe 30 years and there she stood, holding the same discovery and same appreciation of beauty spread across her palm.

These things, they cannot be forgotten.


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