Follow By Email

If you would like to follow my blog, please type your email below and follow the directions given.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Anniversaries for Mothers of Small Children


The most amazing things that happened today, in order.

Number 1: Massages from my man, but better.


Number 2: Dust buster from Amazon. I had no idea how many cheez-its had been crushed into the fabric of the recliner. Maybe I didn't want to know. That brings me directly to number three...

 


Number 3: Wine juice box from Target. Enough said.


P.S. Although tempted, I did not drink wine directly from a box with a straw. I used a wine glass (like a grown-up).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Living Lives in the Laundry Room

As I waited for the elevator with my wagon, B2, and a pile of empty blue Ikea bags, I cursed myself for thinking it wouldn't be so bad having to share a laundry room with a hundred other people.

It was 10:25 and I had washed six loads of laundry.

"People all over the world share washers and dryers with others," I'd said. "It will be convenient to have four washers at a time," I'd convinced myself. I was an optimistic idiot. Two kids and two flights of stairs and too little time have robbed me of my best self. I want my own washing machine.

B2 clapped his hands as the elevator dinged, and we rolled in to go downstairs to pick up the last two loads. But as I stepped inside, I inhaled an image of Papaw, my mother's father, standing in a kitchen in Dothan, Alabama. It was an image of menthols and humidity and sweat, and there he was, with a blue hat and a half-empty green packet sticking out of his breast pocket. In that moment, I was six years old again, hoping against hope that I would get to go play in the boat sitting on a trailer in the backyard. The noise of the elevator transformed into the hum of the air-conditioning.

The ding of level G brought me back, back to 2015 and Huntington Beach and the constant oppression of dirty clothes. I woke up and rolled myself into the laundry room.

Inside the room was an older man, around sixty, sorting his enviably tiny pile of men's clothes into two small loads. He had a hearing aid and socks with stripes at the tops. His head nodded gently as he worked.

B2 stared at him as I collected my bags and moped over to the wall of dryers, but my son's interest piqued my own, and I turned again to stare at the gentleman as well. He looked my way, and I smiled.

"Having fun yet?" I asked.
"Oh, yes..." he said with a voice that was familiar, distant, and a little too loud. "How about yourself?"

I was instantly struck by the realization that he must have been the person in the elevator immediately before me, that he was the cause of the vision I'd had.

"Where are you from?" I asked, bluntly ignoring his question.

"What do you mean by that?" he replied slowly.

"What do I mean? I mean where did you grow up? Where are you from?" I spoke fifteen words in less time then he had said six.

"Well," he began, slowly, "I grew up in Fresno. Do you know where that is?"

I stiffed my inner Angeleno and the sarcasm that comes with her.

"Yes, I do. My father-in-law grew up near there." I gave him the name of the town.

The man was amazed, and asked if he still lived there. I said no, that he had moved to the coast, a tremendous improvement from the heat and emptiness of the middle of the state. The man's eyes lit up.

"That is were I moved when I was in high school. I lived there for years before moving down this way."

It ends up he had attended the school where my husband's aunt had eventually taught, and his younger brother had attended the same high school as my husband.

"Why did your brother go to a different high school?" I questioned.

"He was much younger than I am. When I went to school, it was the only high school in town."

The world is small and full of the amazing.

We talked and talked while I unloaded the dryers. I had done more laundry that day than he had done in the preceding three weeks, and he correctly commented that B2 is adorable. As he spoke, his long, country drawl relaxed me. Talking to him felt, not like home, but like something better than home. Like the dream of home. Of grits and long grass and summers, of Papaw on the back porch with my Uncle Bud, smoking and taking about who earned more points in Canasta.

Once he had started his machine, he said goodbye, and moved towards the door. Just before it closed, I blurted out, loudly, "It was nice to meet you, sir. My name is Raychel."

He turned and held the door. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Raychel. My name is Bud."

Of course it was. Of course it was.

Monday, July 27, 2015

From Emails to Fist Bumps

I went to work today for the first time in a few weeks. B1 was hanging out with me until his camp started, and while he colored on the white board, I began by opening my email...

Me: I have over one hundred new emails!
B1: Ohhhh uhhhhh. That is a lot of emails.
Me: I know! What should I do?
B1: You should erase all of them.
Me: I don't think I can do that. Some of them may be important.
B1: So read all of them, then delete them if they are not important.
Me: Thanks, dude. That sounds like a plan.
B1: How about a fist bump?
Me: Only if it gets to explode.

I love that kid.




Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Day in Review

I got home from my lovely vacation Friday afternoon and slept in my own bed that night for the first time in almost a week, only to be woken up on Saturday morning by the fact that July is almost over and I have accomplished less than one percent of the tasks I had planned for the summer. (Insert expletive of your choice here.) What on earth have I been doing for the last two months?  (Spending time with my children, packing, and cleaning my apartment are not legitimate answers.) Time to get with the program.

My frantic attempt to accomplish tasks is pretty much my husband's worst nightmare. While I endeavor to clean, vacuum, reorganize, wash, and de-own, he longs for two uninterrupted days of sleep and playing Xbox. I feel you, my lovely spouse, but this weekend, things will probably go better for everyone if you stay the (reuse expletive from above) out of my way.

I started with beans: almost six cups of Sprout's dehydrated pinto beans. On Friday, I made the mistake of reading my suggested posts on Pinterest, and thus came across a blog,  "100 Days of Real Food,"  written by woman who basically swears that homemade refried beans are approximately ten-thousand times better than any beans from a can. So, in my obviously underutilized time, I spent 20 hours soaking and cooking beans. Yes, they were delicious. Amazing, in fact. However, I think my time would have been better spent if I had shelled out a few extra bucks, called Super Mex, and ordered their delicious pinto beans instead. The dishes alone were more than I wanted to bear.

However, somehow, without causing my own death or serious injury to anyone around me, as I wrestled with my pintos, I also managed to...

- post several children's items to sell online.

- instruct my husband as to how to make me a cup of coffee, only to have him fail, completely, twice. Points were awarded for effort.

- spend 30 minutes attempting to fix the coffee machine (see above)

- receive a message from the site where I was trying to sell my old baby stuff reporting that Bumbo chairs have been recalled and can no longer be sold without a "repair kit."

- Google how to get two of these "repair kits" and find out that Target will take the ridiculous seats back for store credit. (Boo-ya.)

- drag both of the boys to Target and unload them into my new ridiculous wagon.



-  drag said boys and wagon through the parking lot, the customer service line, and the epic battle the service professional had on the phone before refunding me the full purchase price for each of my ridiculous chairs.

- fill my wagon with stuff and watch helplessly as my children ate the food almost as quickly as I could pile it up.

- hold myself together as B1 spent almost 35 minutes selecting the Legos he wanted to buy with his allowance.

- have a lengthy discussion with a woman I meet waiting for the elevator who said I was a genius for carting my people around in my ridiculous wagon.

- contemplate the idea that I should get a percent of the purchase price if she, or anyone else, should buy a wagon at my recommendation.

- pay for and pack away all of our food in the car. 

- successfully transfer the sleeping B2  to my wonder wagon after he fell asleep in the car on the drive home.

- go upstairs, let B1 put together his Legos, eat a bagel sandwich, remind myself that avocados are awesome, and allow B1 to cash in some of his stars to watch a show on the tablet.



- make a successful call to get a discount on the copay of one of the half dozen medications my family uses on a daily basis. 

- make a failed call to Samsung to have my stylus, aka "the S-pen" and broken charger replaced because the person with whom I spoke transferred me to a department which is closed on Saturday. (Feel free to repeat that chosen expletive again here.)

- take the boys to the Hawaiian luau offered by my apartment complex as a resident appreciation event, during which I survived a very loud showing of the movie Lilo and Stitch.

- fight with my husband about my near constant desire to discuss finances at every opportunity. (He would prefer I find other topics of discussion.)

- bring everyone home alive, with their assorted balloons, leis, and plastic beach-related toys.


- eat a stunningly delicious broccoli, goat-cheese, tomato, avocado, and homemade pinto bean burrito. 

- finish emptying the car.

- brush two of the three mouths of teeth I needed to brush.

- fall asleep, exhausted, with my adorable small people. (They are so cute when they are asleep.)

Just reading all that makes me tired. May your days be much, much more peaceful than mine.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Vacation is Where You Go To Die

Apparently vacations are where you go to die. I am tired, very tired, after spending almost a month organizing, packing, and mentally preparing myself for going away from my home for most of a week. Now, at my destination, I am surrounded by well-meaning, yet somewhat unfamiliar, extended relatives, relatives who leave my children confused and feeling uneasy, despite my repeated reminders that we are related to them, that they are good people. But at 18 months, a stranger is still a stranger. I wish my sister-in-law was not seen as a stranger.

Away from home, every door in our living space is at the mercy of B1's game of open and close, open and close, open and, hopefully, not close on anyone's fingers. There have been no reported damages (as of yet). Get back to me tomorrow to see if our lucky streak continues.

There is no escape from the constant barrage of questions, tears, and request that come along with a life spent side by side small children. They are beautiful; they are terrible. So, in the face of this terrible idea, may we survive the first day after departure, may we find something good and substantial in spending time away.

May the befits of the destination outweigh the difficulty of the arrival.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

I'd Almost Rather Stay Home

I am a chronic over-paker. I can easily take a week's worth of clothing on a weekend trip to visit the boys' grandparents, so packing for a four day sojourn on an island is basically like planning to survive for three months in the Amazon. Additionally, if I make the smallest error in my preparations, such as miscalculating the proper diaper per day ratio or forgetting my eye-makeup remover, I will clearly be struck down by the packing gods and publicly humiliated for the rest of my mortal life. Obviously.
I started preparing weeks ago, ordering items that have no place in my everyday life: a microfiber travel towel, a swimshirt, and (gasp) even a pair of shorts. For the boys, I bought matching Superman rashguards, tiny sunglasses, and hats. B1 got a new backpack, and as official concession to my status as an Orange County suburbanite, I even caved and got one of those collapsible wagons, the ones I used to look down my nose at while in line at the farmers' market. At least I don't have to drive a minivan.
So, now, at T minus 18 hours, I have crossed off most of the items on my three-page list and highlighted the items I still need to pack tomorrow. I have washed the vast majority of the dishes and put at lest the boys' room in a condition that will not bring me to tears when we return. B2 is asleep, B1 is in the shower, and perhaps, if every single one of my Ts are crossed and my Is are dotted, then maybe, just maybe, I will get on the boat tomorrow without having a panic attack.
If life really begins at the end of my comfort zone, then maybe I need to rethink the entire plan.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

From the ER to Children's Hospital Orange County

Once the EMTs from CHOC finally arrived around 8:00, things started clicking into place. Three of them arrived with a gurney complete with a car seat strapped within a row of machine after beeping machine. I carried B2 from the room to the gurney, gently clicked him in, then kissed his tiny forehead as he continued to struggle to breathe.

The female EMT smiled and handed me a stuffed bear with an IV wrap which matched my son's. I nestled it between B2 and the side of the carseat, and he snuggled up to it and grabbed it with his non-IVed hand. He looked so fragile juxtaposed with all of the technology intended to monitor his signs of life that I almost cried, but with great effort, I managed to reach out and hold his hand instead, and he seemed to relax, at least a tiny bit.

Soon, we had all of his paperwork and a disk with his chest X-rays as we rolled into the second ambulance of the evening. I rode in front with B2 in the back while my husband took my car to fetch B1 from my friend's house.

(May I here thank the universe for friends who don't ask questions, who gladly house and feed and care for a child when his parents are frantically trying to care for another. Women who are friends with women deserve more praise then I am here able to give.)

Back in the ambulence, it seemed as though B2 screamed breathless screams the entire time I was trying to call grandparents, trying to make logistical choices about carpools and daycare and camp. Every decision which had previously been put into place had to be reviewed, revisited in the light of the ambulance headlights as we drove slowly up the five. His obvious fear and discomfort did not make the process any easier, I can assure you. It is almost impossible for me to think rationally when my offspring are in distress.

As we drove, the female EMT was talking to B2, telling him to stay calm and that his mommy was nearby. Over the beep of the machines and the noise of the traffic, I began to sign a hymn I usually sing to him at night, and I sang as loudly as I could to make sure he could hear me and know I was with him:

Breathe in; breathe out.
Breathe in; breathe out.
When I breathe in, I breathe in peace; when I breathe out, I breathe out love.
When I breathe in, I breathe in peace; when I breathe out, I breathe out love.

I sang the song over and over again, ignoring the EMTs and the cars and the beeping, releasing my stress and pain for my baby, a piece of my very soul, with every repetition. And as I sang, he listened, and his cries subsided; I imagined that he inhailed strength from my song, exhaled more slowly and found at least the smallest bit of confort in the words of his mother, singing a familiar song in an unfamiliar place. At long last, the male EMT in the back said B2 had fallen asleep, and I stared silently at the tail lights of so many cars through the windshield, full of love and utterly devoid of peace.

Friday, July 17, 2015

In the ER, Part Four


When I finally realized my husband had walked in the door, it was like heaven had ripped open and poured rain on the drought-stricken desert. I had been helping hold B2 down again while two nurses with matching reading glasses poked at him with their IV needle. They looked kind of adorable moving their glasses up and down together, chatting about veins as if they were skeins of yarn. In times of crisis, the smallest details seem to carry the greatest significance.

Once they finally found success, I turned away to breathe and found my man standing behind me.

"[Husband], I am so glad you're here! How long have you been waiting? No, wait, please don't move: I'll be right back."

I realized, all at once, that I hadn't been to the bathroom for many, many hours. After weaving through the throngs of humanity that peopled the hallway, I managed to quickly rectify that unfortunate situation. Then, I ran to return to my men.

When I came back to the room, my giant husband was crouched down next to my tiny child curled up on the gurney.

"It's going to be alright, pal. Just hang tight until your mom gets back."

Sometimes I am blown away by how much I can love another person.

"Better?" he asked as he slowly stood before me.

"Much," I replied. "You have no idea."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Boy One "Gets" His Mommy

A passing conversation in the hall at school went something like the dialouge as follows.

School Professional: I was over in the preschool today and I got to spy on [Boy One] a little.

Me: I hope you didn't see anything wrong with him that I don't already know about.

SP: No, no. It was really interesting. He seems to be the only one who really "gets" [a little girl from his class].

Me: Yes, he really likes her. He talks about her all the time. Is there something different about her? Why did you notice that he "gets" her?

SP: No, no, not like that. She is just completely no-nonsense, time to get down to business. [Boy One] seems to really get that.

Me: You have met his mother, right?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

In the ER, Part Three

The ER doctor was rugged, handsome, sharp. He looked tan like the rich get tan, not tan like those who work the land or sell their wares on the sidewalk. He was Greek god tan, I spent last weekend on my yacht tan. I bet he made the softball team swoon. I found it hard to focus when he was talking.

"...going to push fluids and get him on some steroids. That should put him in better shape while we wait for the ambulance."

"The ambulance? We just came in the ambulance."

"No, the CHOC ambulance. They send their own people for transfers. We are just waiting for them to call us back."

"A chalk ambulance?" I felt like an idiot and a moron.

"We don't have a pediatric wing, so we can't keep children overnight. CHOC specializes in children, so you will be in good hands there. I'll have the nurse come in to get that IV started."

I must have been staring as he spoke. Perhaps I didn't even blink.

"Do you need some water?" he asked.

"That would be nice," I said. I sat back down on the bed as he disappeared into the hall.

I turned to Boy Two, who continued to wheeze on top of the scratchy hospital blanket. I ran my fingers through his recently cropped hair, and he smiled. My heart smiled back, and I held him close as we continued to wait. The endless, endless wait.

---

Getting my husband to the hospital was a logistical nightmare. We had been getting along (reasonably well) sharing my Prius for several weeks, but in times of crisis, Orange Country was not constructed with single car families in mind.

I had first called my co-worker with my hands-free as I followed the ambulance on the way to HOAG.

It seemed like the phone rang forever.

"Hello?" he answered. He sounded like he'd been taking a nap. I tried to stifle my anger as I remembered I had chosen to have children. I had chosen to trade lazy Sunday afternoons for the joys of parenthood.

"Good afternoon. How are you doing?" I stumbled for words, well aware that he was getting an unannounced call from him boss in the middle of his nap. I had no idea how to ask for something that I needed so much, for him to bring my husband to me and our tiny ailing human.

I think he said he was fine, but the exact words escape me.

"Um, well, hum. Are you busy? Do you have any plans for this evening?"

Again, I can't remember what he said, but it was clear to me at the time that he was preparing himself for a laundry list of laborious tasks, several hours of lesson planning and possibly reading a test novel for next year in the following 24 hours.

"I need a humongous favor. I'm on my way to the hospital in Irvine. [Boy Two] is in an ambulance and I need [my husband]. Can you please pick him up and bring him here? Could you please go get [my husband] and bring him to the hospital?"

Sounding significantly more awake, he asked for details such as an address and phone number as I tried to park.

"Thank you. A hundred times, thank you. I will text you with the information. Thank you. I have to go. Thank you."

I scrambled from the car and ran to the emergency bay. Boy Two was unloaded, and I followed, petrified, into the ER.

In the ER, Part Two

One of the first orders of business once we were set in our room was placement of the IV in my tiny baby's arm. This entire enterprise was an unqualified disaster. On the first effort, a forty-something bleach-blond nurse with a ponytail and bright red reading glasses on a chain tried three different times, twice on one arm and once again on the other. I held B2 as he screamed. After the third attempt, she lifted her glasses and smacked her mint gum. "He must be dehydrated," she said. "I'm going to get someone to help you hold him down."

"I'll get someone to hold you down," I thought.

My better self responded instead. "Could we get him something to drink first?" I asked.

"Sure, honey," she replied.

She left, and B2 and I together both cried and struggled to breathe.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

What Boy One Ate While I Was At The Hospital

- macaroni and cheese from a box
- snack bars
- hot lunch from camp
- pepperoni pizza and bread sticks from Taco Bell
- more snack bars
- several juice boxes
- hot lunch from camp
- cheese sticks
- a happy meal
- tortilla chips
- ice cream

In the ER

At the hospital, the same giant men rolled my little baby out of the ambulance and into the crowded chaos of Sunday afternoon at the ER. Thankfully, we were wheeled directly into an empty room, a by-product of a call from the beautifully haired nurse practicioner from the urgent care who had called ahead to let them know we were coming. A pleasant seeming woman with a blond ponytail asked us to wait inside, then quietly argued with the EMTs as B2 sat quietly on the bed, struggling for breath. I held him and tried to stay calm.

The rest of the ER was like a crooked slice of humanity sprawled out for view at its least attractive. In the waiting room, half of a softball team was waiting loudly for their teammate who had started throwing up after being hit in the head while at bat. In the entryway, an woman of a certain age in ridiculous shoes sat in a wheelchair with an ice pack on her knee, a likely victim of a fall. In the hall, an ancient man in a hospital gown stared blankly at the wall, waiting  patiently for attendance who could soothe him in his path to whatever comes after this life. Everywhere, people waited.

(To be continued.)

Ambulance Chaser

I never saw myself as an ambulance chaser, one of those poor souls whose livelihood relies on catching an injured individual in the hospital loading dock, but yet, there I was, running a red light behind a shiny emergency vehicle as it barreled down Barannca Parkway, as though my life depended on it. Despite the radio on and the traffic outside, the only thing I could hear was my baby, crying as the EMTs had shut the steel doors in the parking lot at urgent care, B2 on the inside, me on the out. In my mind, he was louder than the sirins. There was no red light in Orange County that was going to stop me from getting back to him.

He had woken at two that morning, coughing as he tried to breathe. I gave him his inhailer, then we'd gone back to sleep, only to repeat the program at six, ten and two again. By then, he just wasn't himself, fussy and quiet instead of rampuncous, refusing to walk even the few steps from our car to the play structre when we arrived at the park. I decided to take him in for some help.

At urgent care, the flawlessly beautiful N.P. on call, with lock after lock of curly black hair, had told me that his vitals were bad, that he needed to go to the hospital, that she was calling 911. Within moments, the tiny room was full of giant men carrying giant bags, all arrived to whisk away my tiny, wheezing baby.

Once he was strapped and masked, short of breath and yet still screaming, the EMTs drove away, and I followed, terrified I would lose sight of the ambulance, assured I would lose myself in the suburban maze that is central Irvine. In slow motion, time passed, as did trees, a lake, and many cars, and somehow, magically, we saftely arrived at the emergency room entrance bay.

(To be continued.)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

May the Struggle be Short and Quickly Overcome

The past few days, the toil of small people has worn me down. I have everything, absolutely everything, one could hope for in this life, yet my mind complicates and obliterates the good in favor of the empty, focuses on the lack in place of the bounty.

I work to bring my mind in line with the light, to see all I have and live in and the beauty that it has to offer, to disallow the view that there is smallness in tending, and to see instead the greatness in it.

May I find my way clearly, swiftly, and cease to suffer from an endless summer. May I impose the structure of work and progress on my struggle and benefit from it. May my anxiety find strength in production and my restless drive to produce find those who need an able ally.

In accomplishment, may I find space to be, and may my children benefit directly.

May the goodness overwhelm us all.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What I Need is Wind

What I have is Focus.
Details. Assignments.
Tiny compartments, neatly filled.
Straight lines,
Black words,
Controlled, contained,
Allotted.

What I need is Wind:
Blowing, dancing,
Bursting from the seams;
Endlessly curving
Vibrant colors
Exploding down the pavement
Unabashed and unafraid...

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Blood on the Carpet, or, Fun With Brothers Begins Again

Today, for the first time, Boy Two drew blood from Boy One. B1 was on the floor looking at one of his coloring books, when, BAM, out of nowhere, he was hit smack in the face with a flying flashlight. B2 was the only other person home, and I can promise you, I am not in the habit of throwing camping gear in the apartment. The guilty party is clear.

At first, B1 didn't breathe, but his face made that square-mouth shape he used to make when he was little, when the injustices of the world were just too much to bear. Then, he took a breath, and then he screamed, a long, anguished scream, as the blood began to seep out of the new red line below his eye.

I looked at B2. He was smiling from behind his pacifier, reaching out his tiny hands to be picked up.

"Look, Mommy! I can throw!" he seemed to say. "Come and congratulate me for successfully passing the light stick to my brother!"

"Baby, you hurt [B1]. He is sad because you hit him in the face."

Confused and feeling abandoned, he began to cry as well. It took everything I had not to join them, to have all three of us sitting on the floor in the hallway, tears streaming every which-way.

B1 had blood dripping onto the carpet.

"Hold on. Stay there. Let me get an ice pack." I scrambled to the freezer and back, then carefully, gently, pressed the ice pack to his face.

"I'm going to get blood on it!" he sobbed.

"Better on this than on the carpet," I replied.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Widgets from a Comparison Machine

I once read that families are comparison machines. In the story, it was argued that the close proximity of one sibling to another drives innumerable comparisons to the surface, often with life-long implications for those compared. For years, during the formidable childhood years, kids are told they are this one or that one: this sister is the smart one; this one the outgoing one. This brother is the funny one; this one is good at math. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter if both sisters are outgoing and smart in comparison to the rest of the human beings on the planet. It only matters that this one seems smarter than that one, that this one seems more outgoing than the other. In this way, brothers and sisters learn to carry these beliefs like widgets, widgets of judgement and self-limitation. Widgets that help define who they are and how they see themselves in the world.

So, of course, I compare my boys. Boy One was an articulate speaker almost  immediately upon arrival. By 18 months, he could string several words together and ask to nurse with most of a sentence. Boy Two, on the other hand, just says "Alk!" and pulls on my shirt, clear communication, unquestionably, but not likely to foreshadow grand success on his SAT. Obviously these things are fully predetermined at birth, the result of my consumption of non-organic spinach and coffee while pregnant. Now, he is destined to a life of mediocrity and decades of hitting his older brother up for cash. (Boy One must be the smart one.)

Untrue and unjust, this is the battle I fight: to allow each to be who he is in the tiny Venn Diagram which is our family. They can both be smart; they can both be kind; they can both be caring, generous, and thoughtful. They can both, God willing, even be good at math. May we overflow with widgets labeled “Good at Math.”

So, universe, please help me find what is good in each of my people and hold it up for praise without pushing anyone else down in the process. Help me to help them work together to be their best selves without endlessly competing against one another. Help me to build a cooperation machine, one that makes widgets of compassion to be handed out on every corner to everyone who passes by. And may those widgets be precisely engineered by my sons who are also good at math.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Haircuts Are More Than Just Shorter Hair

I cut the baby's hair yesterday. It wasn't the first time, but it was the most significant. Previously, I had simply trimmed, shortened his baby curls in a formation that allowed for at least cursory containment. But now, I have done the irreversible. His baby curls are gone, likely to never return, and with this unique action, with the use of a simple machine to trim and cut and shape, he has irrevocably left the baby world for the world of an older sort. He has become, with no reservations, a toddler.





In the conservative Jewish tradition, a boy's hair is not cut until he is three year's old. Once he has arrived at this ripe old age, there is a ceremony called an upshernish, an event in which members of the religious community ceremoniously cut the child's hair, a symbolic cutting away of  infancy as the small human enters into childhood and the beginning of his formal education. It is at this point that the boy begins to wear the traditional symbols of male Judaism, the yamaka, or kippa, and the tzitzis, a highly symbolic and specially knotted ritual fringe. To the uninitiated, these symbols seem strange and foreign at the very least, objects that set a group apart. But, just maybe, these symbols serve a purpose that is missing from the lives of the American gentile masses.


In the Korean tradition, a child's first birthday is celebrated with great pomp and circumstance. As part of the fĂȘte, there are prayers, and later the child is given a choice of several items, each symbolic of a different life-path or occupation. For example, a coin could symbolize wealth, a book a life of scholarship, or a long thread a long life.


In traditional American culture, a child's first birthday seems to be an opportunity for conspicuous consumption, complete with goody-bags painstakingly crafted from Pintrest and several dozen three-dollar cupcakes,
 at least for the first child. Second and third children? Well, they are still alive, right?

But the point, I think, is that these traditions, these rituals, even the ones involving an inflatable castle, give shape and meaning to the existential nightmare of middle-class parenting, where, as a story I heard yesterday put it, children are "economically worthless and emotionally priceless," the capstones of a "successful" adult life. For after the years of school, the toil of work and career, and the struggles of even the best and most loving partnerships, it is our children who will serve as our references in the world once we have passed; the ultimate measures of our own successes and failures. 

So, now, Boy Two, with your new hair cut and handsome look, you have transformed me from the mother of a baby into the mother of boys. My my failures be few and my successes beyond measure. And my you, and that brother of yours, find your places in the world more easily than I found mine.



Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Birthday, America

Standing on the side of Yorba Linda Boulevard, holding Boy Two while Boy One wrapped himself in a blanket, I leaned into my man and watched the fireworks. Next to me, a father held his young son on his shoulders, quietly singing, "Happy Birthday, America."

They have part of a conversation in another language, then switch back to English.

"How old is America?" the father asks.

"239!" the boy replies.

"That's right!" exclaims his father, then they stop, and continue to watch the burning elements explode across the sky.

This, to me, is the beauty of America. Here, on the side of the road, my fourth or more generation, WASPy boys standing side-by-side with the children of imigrants, celebrating the nation's birthday.

May we all continue to stand together.

Happy birthday, America. Happy birthday.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Two Followers? Really?

Dearest Reader,

Today, I bought a fancy new purse and wallet to celebrate my 4,000th page view on this very blog. 4,000 page views? I mean, come on! That means, on average, that more than 60 people read each of my posts. Now, there are (at least) two possible explanations for this documented phenomenon: either sixty random people show up to read each of my posts and never return, only to have 60 more random people show up for my next post and get board out of their minds, or, and I find this second option far more likely, around 50 people are reading my musings on a regular basis, with a small number of transitory visitors who stop by, then move along their merry way. For each and every one of these readers, I am thankful. I like to believe that I bring a small sprig of joy to people as I write myself a path to sanity. Thank you, everyone, who takes the time to read what I have to say.

But now, I beg. According to Google, I have two subscribers. Two. One of those it probably my mom, and the other is an email address I made up for my husband to see how the whole following thing works. So, basically, according to Google, two people have read my blog 2,000 times each. I guess my mom has been really busy.

But you, fair reader, can significantly improve my standing in the Google universe, and, let's be clear, Google controls more than a fair chunk of the universe, simply by allowing the big G to send my blog to your email. Easy, right? Just think, you can add to my subscriber list by 33% by simply adding one more email to your day. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is simple, and this small effort on your part will likely earn you more karma points than your next self will even know what to do with.

So, please, if you enjoy reading my blog, please sign up to be a subscriber by typing your email into the box that says "Email address..." above this post and replying to the test email that is sent to your inbox. It will mean the world to me and help to ensure that I keep writing well into the future. Because for my mom and my husband's fake email? Well, they're fine without my blog. But, hopefully, you find some small piece of beauty in what I write, and, hopefully, that beauty is worth an extra daily email.

With thanks,

RL


Maybe He'll Be Good at Math?

Not A Cat
Boy Two has decided that everything on four legs is a cat.

"Cat! Cat!" he squeals, pointing excitingly at an overweight golden retriever.

"Dog? Do you see the dog? What a nice dog," I reply. (Note proper use of target noun used in context. )

"Cat!"

Fine. Sure. I give up. Your ability to identify a large, four-legged, hairy creature walking around the apartment complex as similar to the small, four-legged, hairy creature that roams our apartment has been proven. Good job, dude. Mozel tov.

Good luck getting into college.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Thank You, Saddness


(Spoiler Alert)
This blog post discusses details of the plot of the movie Inside Out
If you would like, please feel free to come back to it after you have seen the film.


In an attempt to have a constructive discussion with Boy One over lunch, I asked him which emotion he would want to be from the movie, Inside Out.

“What's an emotion?” he asked.

“The different feelings,” I replied. “All together, they are called emotions. Joy, Disgust, Sadness...”

“Anger!” he interjected. “I would be Anger!”

“Anger? Why?”

“Because he's so awesome!”

Puzzled, I asked, “What do you like about him?”

“He's so GRRRRRRRRR!!!!!”

Thanks for that articulate clarification, Dude.

It has taken me awhile to get over myself enough to watch animated movies with my son. I was never one of those girls who loved the princesses or dreamed of a “Whole New World”  or looked forward longingly to trips to Disneyland. But, admittedly, parenthood has messed me up softened me enough that I can now be convinced to pay $30 for me and Boy One to watch a movie in 3D. I'll even spring for the extra cash for bag with a week’s worth of popcorn.

Inside Out is a story about the end of childhood, and it comes with all the emotional baggage one would expect from such a tale. The main character, Riley, is shown from her first beautiful thought as an infant seeing her parents for the first time to a young person at the age of 12, a girl on the brink of puberty, and the film alludes to all the pitfalls that come along with that. But there is something magical about this film, something that goes beyond the expected chick-flick, family movie outcome. Somehow, this hour and forty-two minutes illustrates many of the realities and nuances of life through the actions of purely fictional beings that is both wholly unexpected and tremendously rewarding. I recommend it with as many stars as are available.

Back to the conversation over lunch, I asked B1 about which emotion he would want to be partly because of a conversation I had with a friend of mine about which character he would want to be. His answer, surprisingly, was Bing Bong, which I refuse to admit is an acceptable choice. Personally, I long to be Joy: thin, positive, blue-haired and eternally optimistic. (She literally shines throughout the movie, not unlike a certain pale, un-dead hero who is artfully referenced near the end of the film.) However, I have spent too much of my life as Sadness to fully embrace the part.

Excellent fiction makes room for the viewer to identify with fictional characters, and in this respect, Inside Out is excellent fiction. I could see either myself or my children in almost every scene. The images of young Riley running around with underwear on her head or riding magical wagons into space were clearly modeled on Boy Two. He lives in Joy. Every scene with a toddler rang true for him, especially Riley's instantaneous shifts from happiness to disgust to anger and back again. The youngest of us have, unquestionably, the least adulterated experiences. There is no mixing of the emotions before the age of four as far as I can tell.
No toddler high chair is ever this clean.

Then, when it came to her transition into childhood, I could clearly see Boy One and his struggles as a very young man coming into the world: Riley learns to skate; B1 learns to ride his bike. Riley has a BFF with whom to play; B1 is just starting to develop meaningful friendships. While this in-between time is only cursorily addressed in the film, it is from this childhood stage that she is emerging as her drama plays out, so it is without question that the stage B1 is entering rang unbelievably true to me. She exits, he enters, and I ache. Sounds like a plot line already.

But, surprisingly, the character who changes the most vividly during the course of the action is Joy. She, as does Riley, begins the story as a child and emerges, if not as an adult, at least as something more mature, as a pre-teen, aware of the changes taking place in the world and ready, although hesitantly, for more changes in the future. The first time I cried during the movie was with Joy, as she sat alone in the memory dump, reliving Riley's memories and slowly coming to the realization that the joy of childhood was gone, that she had irrevocably changed, and that the Riley she had known had forever changed as well.  

Surrounded by darkness, Joy looked at a forgotten memory and said, “You remember how she used to stick her tongue out when she was coloring?” Then, she picked up another memory and looked at it as well. “ I could listen to her stories, all day.” Lastly, she picked up a third memory, and then broke down. ”I just wanted Riley to be happy...” she cried.

Here, I cried for myself and my childhood long past, and I cried for Boy One, and his childhood just begun, because I know it too will end, and I ached for his pain yet to come. All we ever want is for our children to be happy.

The second time I cried was near the very end, when Riley broke down and told her parents how she truly felt about their move and the world at large. She recognized that they wanted her to be happy, and that they had placed significant emotional baggage in her happiness, to the point that she was scared they would be mad when they realized how unhappy she actually was. This made me cry not for her sadness, which was tremendous, but for the innumerable expectations we, as parents, place on our children; for the tremendous impact, intended and otherwise, that we have on them and the unbelievable impact that they have on us. I ached and cried with every character on the screen. Now try to tell me that animation isn't really art.

The final straw in this artistic drama came at the very end, when Riley's memories were shown as multi-dimensional, when sadness mixed with joy and anger mixed with disgust in the individualized spherical remembrances of fictional memories from the illustrated protagonist. It was here, at the very end, where maturity was most clearly shown, where mixed emotions, rather than the pure emotions of childhood, were pushed to the forefront, ever to rule the day. Because it is in maturity that we realize that emotions do not exist in isolation. It is in maturity that we find the nuance, the gray, in each and every experience. It is here that we realize it takes sadness for us to remember to connect, and that the joys of happiness, however great, will eventually pass. No one emotion lasts forever, however much one wants Joy to rule the day. It takes all of the emotions, together, to make a life worth living.

So thank you, Sadness. Thank you for your honesty and for keeping others near. Thank you for reminding me that crying is the best method available to help slow ourselves down and obsess over the weight of life's problems. I don’t want you to rule my head, but without you, the world would be far less beautiful.

That’s all from Headquarters. Over and out.



Sources
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2096673/quotes