First in Flight

 

Boy pretending to fly

“Why are we stopping here?”

I look at my son in the rearview mirror.  Mint chocolate chip ice cream is tracking a path down his chin, subtracting a good four years from his age. 

“I need milk and creamer,” I sigh.  It is the end of one of those weekends. The kind that wears on you like a long-sleeved t-shirt on a suddenly, unseasonably warm spring day.  And the weight of activity and obligation has knocked me flat, bothered and exhausted. 

“I’ll be so glad when you’re 10,” I tell him, slipping the car into park under the awning in front of the grocery store.  An eyebrow shoots up over his sweating cone.

“Why?” he asks.

“Because,” I say, “then I’ll be able to dole out some cash and have you go get creamer and milk.  It’ll be fantastic.”

The car (for once) is blissfully silent except for the sound of the ‘Fearless’ Ms. Swift..Hey Stephen, I could give you fifty reasons…And I’m almost finished psyching myself up for the quick in-and-out for my must-have morning crutch, when I hear:

“I think I can do it.”

The solemnity with which this line is delivered almost makes me laugh out loud.  I look back at him with an amused smile.  “You think so, huh?”

“Yeah.  I do.  Seriously.  I know where the milk is,” he says.  “I have to get the organic kind — 1 percent.  And I have to check the expiration date for the farthest one out.  Dad told me.  And the creamer, it’s just right there next to the milk, right?”

“Well yeah,” I say.  All of a sudden I feel like I’ve walked slam into a MOMENT…like the ones that used to come in frequent and ferocious waves when the kids were babies.  When ‘firsts’ crashed on top of each other at such a pace that it was hard to keep the shutter snapping fast enough to capture them all.

“Are you sure?  I mean, do you really think you can do it?” 

“Yeah, Mom. I know I can.”  (I’m ‘Mom’ now.  Just in the last two weeks.  It’s a moniker that makes me feel like I should be trading Rainbows and tank tops for Keds and popped-collar polos.)

“Well, OK.  Here’s some money.  Go straight in, get the stuff and come right back out.  If you’re in there more than 10 minutes, I’m going to come looking for you.”

“Got it,” he says.

As I watch him jog off towards the doors of the grocery store, already working the casual swagger of a much older and cooler boy, I fight back small swells of irrational panic. I mentally take in the parking lot.  The people coming and going.  Cars, trucks and vans that could hold something or someone suspect.  Finally, after a thorough casing of the joint, I reach an uneasy peace.

The child is not entering an enemy POW camp rife with hostile, apron-donning terrorists, I think.  You have a clear view of both entrances.  If anyone tries to hustle, shuffle or outright drag that baby out the door, you can just run them over with the car.  No problem.  You’ve got this.

“I hope Griffin is OK,” says Addison from the perfect and precious safety of her booster seat.  Her voice startles the absolute crap out of me.  My oldest child has been gone for six minutes and in my pscyho-Mommy obssessing, I’ve somehow managed to forget that she is even there.

“I’ve never seen anything like it.  Not in my whole life.  An 8-year-old boy going into the store all by himself.”  She sounds both awed and only slightly unsure that my next move might be to send her around the corner to McDonald’s to pick me up a Big Mac.

“I suppose, if he doesn’t come out in like, 15 hours, we’ll just have to go in and get him,” she says.  And that finally cracks my shell of low-grade anxiety, making me laugh.

“Actually,” I say turning to look at her, “I think we’ll give him two more minutes and then go in and fish him out.”  She seems almost as relieved as I am at the prospect.  Finally, a plan that makes sense. 

It’s been 11 minutes.  I’m just about to park for real, when I see him.  Running through the sliding doors, bag in hand, face flushed, and looking like he just scaled the summit of Everest.  Victory.  Growth.  Creamer. 

I am proud and surprised and inexplicably sad. This moment is small, but oh-so-big in its bittersweetness. And as I pull away from the store, Addison softly twangs a little tune she belted out in white cap and gown at her preschool graduation only 48 hours earlier:

1, 2, 3…like a bird I sing.
You’ve given me,
the most beautiful set of  wings. 
I’m so glad you’re here today,
Cause tomorrow I might have to go and fly away.
Fly away…fly away…

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And the Oscar for Best Actress in a Drama goes to…

I lost Addison at the soccer game on Monday night.  For 20 minutes.  And try as I might to find the funny in that, I’m really just not there yet.

You know what parents always say, “I just looked away for a minute.”  Well, it was definitely a minute.  Or less.  One second she was standing at the fence behind me with a little friend, and the next she was gone.  After calmly scanning the field and checking all the standard hiding places (e.g., the bathroom), there was absolutely no sign of her.  I started trolling the school’s campus, calling for her and wondering where that little girl had gotten to.  But as the minutes ticked by and every new spot turned up empty. I started to get hysterical.  This could not be happening.  Not. On. My. Watch.

Two fabulous fathers posing as baseball coaches saw me near the playground.  I suppose the look of abject terror clued them in.  “You lose somebody? We’re on it.” Cell phones clicked open and pickup trucks moved out to canvas the grounds.  God love a small town where everyone knows everyone.

Ultimately, we did find her.  And I got to have my Lifetime movie moment.  You know the one where I finally see her and drop to my knees sobbing to gather her in my arms?  Truly, I expect a call from the Academy within 72 hours.

It turns out, she had gone to the far side of the soccer field into the trees with her friend.  According to Addison, she was being held under duress by the 6-year-old.  When the other girl’s mother finally located them, she couldn’t see me.  So she (correctly) found her father on the soccer field and copped a post-game bag of Goldfish and a juice box.

I guess I’m still a little embarrassed about calling in the Calvary and letting Crazy Mommy come out to play.  But really, there’s nothing more horrifying than the realization that your baby could be gone.  For good. 

Quote of the night from the big brother:

“Addison, if somebody is trying to make you go away from Mommy or Daddy, you’ve got to fight, yell, kick and scream.  It’s better to be safe than nice every time.”

That child…I swear to God, he takes it all into his 8-year-old brain and turns it into his own personal life vest.  Here’s hoping he’s always just around the corner to keep his risk-taker of a sister from diving off the side of the ship.

I’ve got a grip on Guilt…A nice tight one.

Wicked Witch of the West (aka Guilt)

Guilt is a witch.  Yes, generally I like to keep things light and tidy around here, but honest-to-southern-dust, there is no other word for her.  She is a certifiable, pointy-hat-wearing, broomstick driving, warty-faced stalker.  And I oughta know. 

I first met Guilt when I was 7 years old, at a party thrown by Irish nuns in the basement of Sacred Heart Cathedral.  The theme for this little soiree was ‘Preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.’  There was no wine (which frankly, I found odd), but there were definitely streamers.  And talk of white veils and shiny shoes, so I was totally in. 

At the time, framed by the glow of candlelit tissue paper pom-poms, Guilt seemed grating but relatively harmless. I mean, she called a lot during my teens and 20s, but when the chips were down, I could ignore her. 

Until I became a mother. 

Now Guilt is the naggiest little 3-year-old on the planet, chatting incessantly in my ear and lurking around every corner with a spray can full of industrial-strength ‘you suck.’   I’m not looking for pity.  Or the number for the suicide hotline.  I’m just trying to set the stage for a fun-filled, and oh-by-goddess (hopefully) interactive episode of ‘True Confessions.’   

Haven’t you ever wished you had some nice virtual friend to whom you could spill your parental guts?  Well, here’s your chance.  I’ll go first.  And if at the end, you could just do that little crossy thing with your hand and tell me to go in peace, I’d appreciate it.  I’m parochially-programmed to believe anyone that even remotely acts like they’ve got God on speed dial. 

So here we go…I’d like to start you off easy with something like, “I feel guilty for using the pretty, personalized return address labels from St. Jude’s without sending any money help cure kids with cancer,” but we’ve got eight years worth of ground to cover and not a lot of time to do it before one of us gets distracted. 

Stay with me until the end and I promise to be the Almighty Absolver for you too.  I’m really good at it.  We used to role play in the church basement.

10 Things I Am REALLY Sorry About:

  1. My inability to control a raging case of postpartum Tourette’s Syndrome that may or may not have had me nose-to-nose with a 10-week-old infant, frantically screeching, “What the @*$% do you WANT from me?!”  (Go on, say you never did it.  I won’t believe you.  Actually, I probably would. And it would make me feel worse. Which is just what Guilt wants.  Hag.)
  2. Seriously considering and maybe even writing more than one eBay listing to sell cute, but almost constantly wailing babies to the highest bidder. 
  3. Calling my mother to tell her that “I know why people shake their babies.”  (The first three months are hard, people.)
  4. Many failed attempts at self-editing that have resulted in requests for small people to “put a sock in it.” (See #1 for more info on how this got started.)
  5. Dropping my son off at school 2 minutes late.  For the 26th time this year.  Yes, I have issues with promptness.  Sister Marianne would tell me that not correcting this behavior indicates a lack of genuine remorse, which therefore means I cannot be forgiven.  Nuns are total hard-asses.
  6. Pulling dirty soccer jerseys out of the hamper, conducting cursory spot removal and passing them off as clean.  I’m fairly certain that while this does not constitute a direct breach of the 9th Commandment, it’s still a lot like lying.
  7. Agreeing with ‘someone’ that their cough could…might even definitely be… some awful cold that can only be cured by a half-dose of Benadryl.  Even when I know it’s not true.  Just to get the little person to go to BED, already!!  (Please do not call Child Services, this only happened once.  Three times, tops.  But ‘someone’ survived just fine and probably got the first three good nights of sleep she’s had since birth.  In her own bed.)
  8. ‘Misplacing’ one child or the other for anywhere from 5 seconds to 15 minutes at a stretch at Sears, Target, the water park and the soccer field.  Those little suckers are quick, I tell you.
  9. Agreeing with the youngest child that perhaps a new family is in order.  And offering my services to help her find one.  Tonight.  NOT after a healthy dinner and a good night’s sleep.
  10. Backing over my oldest child with the SUV and maiming him for life on my way to get him at the bus stop.  No, not really.  But I think about it every time I leave the driveway to pick him up.  And for a split-second the guilt, fear and heartbreak are so rawly present that it kind of seems real.  (How’s THAT for taking maternal guilt and paranoia to all new heights?)

There.  I feel much better.  Your turn.  (WAIT!  You did do the crossy thing with your hand, right?  Because I already said like five Hail Marys and one especially sincere Act of Contrition.)

Getting your game on: An NFL primer for new fathers

If at any point in the last 24-48 hours you found yourself narrowly avoiding a collision with a formula can (or breast pump) moving at mach speed past your head, you are a new father.  Congratulations!  Welcome to the miraculous and joy-filled game of Parenthood. 

Please note: The NFL (National Father’s League) does not sponsor, endorse or condone training camp for rookies, so strap on your pads and prepare for orientation on living the dream, dude. 

Understand the environment.  In all probability, conditioning to reach your current state of athletic prowess has involved extensive participation in this or other sports (e.g, dating and/or marriage).  You are no doubt versed in the basic tenets of the game.  But this is prime time, buddy, and let me clue you in:  you aren’t in Cornhusker country anymore.  You are standing on a field in a stadium filled with no fewer than two dozen screaming fans and an enraged quarterback who is, make no mistake, also the head coach.  They will turn on you in a second if you drop the ball.  

Acknowledge your fear, and find a way to make it work for you. For new players, the transition from the relative-predictability of college ball (marriage) to the pros (family life) can evoke a full range of complex and often overlapping emotions.  Yes, feelings.  Get used them, they’re going to be hanging around for awhile.   Chief among these feelings is fear.  Particularly during the first game.  When the ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in, be prepared to man up or suffer the wrath of a particularly terrifying defensive lineman known as ‘The Mother-in-Law.’ 

Pregame analysis.  Before we get to the good stuff — the stuff that will keep you upright and intaking air until the end of the game — allow us to address a few concerns: 

  • The QB’s ‘weight issue’:  Sure, the chick throwing the passes is carrying a little extra weight due to over-excessive, off-season binge eating.  But with proper support and encouragement from you, she can and will snap back into some semblance of her prime form. If she does not, make like Michael Vick and LIE. Convincingly. 
  • The ball (your baby) is crucial to the game, but you can’t play without a team.  Let me reiterate:  Quarterbacks need receivers every bit as much as they need the ball.  However, balls (in this particular instance) are small, helpless and require 24/7 care. Transforming yourself into a like being will not get you the same level of attention or adoration.  It will get you smothered with a stack of rancid jocks.

Getting your game on.  This is the important part, so put down the Blackberry and beer and pay attention.   The handy nuggets below represent the new game plan.  Get on board, and you will be the guy catching the game-winning pass with two seconds left to go in the Super Bowl of Domestic Bliss.  Trust me, the crowd will go wild. 

1.   When the ball is delivered onto the field, act impressed.  Your team leader has labored anywhere from 8 to 24 hours to deliver a bright, shiny, perfect new football in order for you to get your game on.  The least you can do is act impressed.  Shed a tear, for God’s sake.  Or at least look like you’re fighting one back.  Tell her she’s beautiful.  Or that you can’t believe the team was lucky enough to have scouted and effectively drafted an athlete with such grace and cut-throat competitive instincts. (See also: push presents.  Quarterbacks like shiny stuff. Especially on Mother’s Day.) 

Mother's Day is Sunday, May 9. Yes, this Sunday. Dust off your credit card, Daddy.

You can thank us for this public service announcement later.

2.  Know your role.  The economy has hit everyone hard.  Fans are dispersed all over the country and just can’t support the game like they used to.  So we’re gonna need you to pick up a little slack.  This does not mean you get to assume the role of head coach.  When you pass a football through your urethra, you can call the shots, my friend.  Until then, know that in addition to kicking and receiving, you get to be head cheerleader (cute skirt not included), custodian and head concession cook.  That’s right…I said COOK.  This involves gathering ingredients and heating them to a temperature that kills bacteria.  If you are unfamiliar with how to execute this activity, call your mother.  Or take a class.  The days of some cute, tight-t-shirt-wearing desperate housewife waiting for you at the table with a hot meal are over.  At least for now. 

3.  Anticipate the routes.  Your Quarterback does not need ‘help.’  (No matter what her current hormone levels may indicate.)  She needs a TEAM PLAYER.  Cheerful compliance is a good thing.  But to win, you’ve got to anticipate the plays.  Ask questions.  And when you’re on the way to practice, call and see if she needs anything.  Like formula.  Or lunch.  Or Valium.  Execute effectively here and… 

4.  You…could…go…ALL…THE…WAY!  Yes, if you play hard and adhere to the game plan outlined above you will eventually score.  Again.  Someday.  Just remember, the rules of this game are different.  On your mad dash to the end zone, don’t forget to secure the ball.  Preferably into a high chair with a chocolate-frosted brownie or on the couch with an action-packed episode of Spongebob.  The ball’s attention span is short, so keep in mind that you may only have 11-16 minutes to undertake the entire process from the time the Quarterback calls the play until you’re doing your ultra-cool Super Bowl shuffle.  Pay attention.  Act quickly.  And don’t even THINK about uttering the word ‘nightie’ or assessing the pattern of hair growth on the QB’s legs.   That’s not even a little bit funny.

Server error

I am a procrastinor of epic magnitude.  When I am overwhelmed — and as a wife, mother, sister, daughter and marketing professional who works full time from my home, I often am — I am prone to either A) flit about in a flurry of meaningless activity, or B) lapse into a state of full-body paralysis.  It’s not that I don’t get things done.  I do.  I just like to wait until I’ve worked myself up into a healthy froth of total anxiety before commencing with meaningful task execution. 

My therapist (although I suppose I really should call her my ex-therapist since I only met with her biweekly for two months before winter hit the NC mountains like a really pissed off woman scorned, and I used the ice as a reasonable excuse to commence hibernation) told me this is result of a lack of “me time.”  While her explanation is no doubt valid, I prefer to function in a semi-consistent state of self-inflicted delusion.  Not about everything.  Just certain things…like why I procrastinate.  I tell myself that I work best under pressure.  Adrenaline, brought on by the aforementioned frothy anxiety, makes me brilliant.  Some of the best executive speeches I have ever written were composed at 3:30 AM a full 12-48 hours after the proposed deadline. 

But today, I really need to get moving.  My sister, her husband and my 3-week new nephew will be arriving on my doorstep in approximately five hours.  I have nine loads of laundry sorted and strategically placed by category on my family room floor.  The house is a mess.  I have no fewer than four overdue work assigments.  The oldest child has an early release day from school (t-minus 23 minutes until he descends up on me).  And my vacuum was fatally injured in a run-in with my puppy, who could think of nothing more entertaining to do on Tuesday than chew the cord to a fine shred and spread it artfully across my bedroom rug.

Seriously, I have a lot to do.  I’d prefer to be flitting about in meaningless activity, mostly because virtually no activity — from emptying the coffee pot to wandering about folding the toilet paper tails into cute triangles — would be truly meaningless today.  I doubt seriously I could find a way to flit that wouldn’t ultimately contribute to my end OCD goals of having the house immaculately clean, the laundry done and put away, dinner premade and in the fridge, and two conference calls checked off the list before my sister arrives.

Unfortunately, I have choosen paralysis.  The universe is making an attempt to assist.  The server on my work laptop has been down all morning, making it virtually impossible for me to get anything done in terms of the job I am actually paid to do.  A golden opportunity.  And yet, here I sit, listening for the washer to complete its cycle.  Writing.   Knowing that with each passing minute, I will have to compromise something on the list of things I want to get done today.  And coming to the very-not-new conclusion that this procrastination thing has gotten entirely Out Of Hand. 

I absolutely must address this issue.  Catch the plane off Fantasy Island, conduct some productive soul searching, stroll down to the root of the problem and identify a workable solution.  I am.  I will.  Right after I sort my hot roller clips by size and color.  I think I feel a flit coming on….

Alpha Dog Seeks Kinder, Gentler Handlers

There has been a mistake. My daughter is sure of it.  Maybe at the moment of her conception, the Fates were having an off day.  You know, the kind where inexplicable distraction drives you to do horrible things you can’t take back?  Like hitting ‘Reply All’ on an email detailing the many ways in which your boss has lost her mind.  That kind of day.

In at least one of her past lives, I’m quite certain Addison was a serious, ass-kicking monarch.  Like Cleopatra — powerful, idolized and obeyed.  There was no one yanking her chain, incessantly attempting to enforce strange and unreasonable mandates like an 8:00 PM bedtime or three more brussel sprouts.  And there was undoutedly no one who dared raise their voice in defiance or disagreement.  Bottom line, in her last life, Addison was in control. She knew it.  Her subjects knew it.  And all those dudes trying to move in on her stash of coal eyeliner definitely knew it.  Addison was a Hellenistic rock star.  Full stop. Move on, people.

Imagine the injustice of it all.  There you are in the reincarnation line plotting the takeover of your next kingdom, mentally redecorating the pyramid, and wondering why they still haven’t opened a ’20 lives or less’ lane, when BOOM, some idiot pushes the wrong button and you find yourself emerging into the world as the youngest child of two common people who clearly did not get the memo on your past achievements, refined tastes, or highly detailed needs.  ‘Bummer’ does not even begin to cover your disgust. 

Since she was able to form words, our little princess has been amping up to break out and find her real people.  Several months ago, after an exhausting day of trying to make imposter Mommy understand that she couldn’t possibly go to preschool in anything less than a tiara and pink satin, and throwing play phones at ignorant classmates who refused to move promptly to the next activity, she broke it to me:  “You ruin my life.  You’re a ruiner.  And I’m going to find a new family…FIRST THING IN THE MORNING.”

I feel for her.  It must be hard to go from pharaoh to filthy peasant.  And so, because I love her with a fierce and mysterious intensity, I have taken the liberty of enclosing a classified ad I hope will help her find just the right kind of environment to prepare her to fulfill her true destiny.  We will miss her deeply.  Well, her father and I will.  The jury is still out on her big brother…

 

WANTED:  Former dictator in search of real family.  Grave error made in central processing.  Likely candidates include presidents, kings, or really indulgent rich guys.  Must be currently childless and in need of small, beautiful, but strong-willed little girl to lavish with all of life’s luxuries and mentor to wildly successful business or political top dog.  World leaders with net worth of less than US$2.5 billion need not apply.  Must have fleet of impressive cars, access to or willingness to procure pretty pink ponies, and aversion to brussel sprouts.  Interested parties should forward resume, references and notorized financial statement to wrongmommy@theuniversebitthebigoneonthis.com.  Please reply ASAP; fake family is seriously cramping my style.

The perfectly-attired child

Addison at age 3, letting Mommy have her way for family pictures on the beach.

My four year old daughter departed for preschool this morning in an outfit of her own design: a pale pink skort, a short-sleeved grey t-shirt emblazoned in hot pink with the words, “Daddy’s girl,” white ankle socks and beat up brown tennis shoes.  “Not bad,” I thought.  Ah, how times change.

Prior to having children of my own, I assessed many cape-, tutu- and tiara-clad toddlers in malls and movie theaters.  And while I appreciated that their mothers afforded them a semblance of autonomy and the opportunity to creatively express their individuality, I determined that my own children would venture into the world suitably attired in comfortable, yet stylish outfits that provided me with the flexibility to confidently move them from preschool to a dinner out or an extended family function. Ha.  Ha-ha-HA.

The operative phrase here is, “prior to having children of my own.”  This is a critically important series of words that denote early onset of what I like to refer to as Delusions of Grandeur.  We’ve all been that person.  The one quietly wondering what kind of mother lets their kid go out in Spiderman pajamas and duck slippers.  Incredulous that a grown woman can’t get a grip on a two year old throwing a full-on tantrum in the cereal aisle or remember to carry one of those little travel packs of tissue for the five year old with the face full of green snot.  “It’s ridiculous, rude and gross,” we thought.  “A rational adult should be able to handle that situation.  That’s what being a parent is all about.”  We were smug with the certainty that when our time came, we would manage in an all together more efficent and effective manner. 

Yes, before kids, it’s easy to judge.  To see the clear and obvious path to the perfect solution. To concoct cute fantasies in our heads before we are actually face-to-face with a small, but freakishly defiant person determined to be Cuckoo for Coco-Puffs or venture out to meet the world attired in their best, pretty-pretty princess dress and black flowered cowgirl boots. 

My own children, ages 8 and 4, have done much to help banish my delusions as they soldier on in their quest to break me like a wild, but clearly misguided, mother mare.  Under their unfailing tutelage, I am learning to pick my battles.  A case in point from last summer:  It is early morning.  I am standing next to my own bed, where my daughter lounges, waiting for me to help her get ready to face the day.  I am holding one of the aforementioned comfortable, yet stylish outfits up for approval.

“I don’t want that shirt.  No one will like it,” she says.
“But it’s cute,” I insist.  “It matches your pants perfectly.  See?  It’s got pink on it.” 

Pink is very important these days.

“No, no, no.  Go pick another,” intones my little Lindsay Lohan protege.
“OK, well why don’t you go pick another?” I suggest.
“No, you can do it.”

I sigh and pick up the shirt, along with her PJs and night-time pull-up.  Not wanting to instigate a full blown tantrum at 7:30 AM, I shuffle back to her closet and select two shirts, thinking naively that providing options will enable me to gain commitment on two garments I obviously know are not on the list of Top 10 favorites.  But I’m trying to get some mileage out of all these clothes before she outgrows them so I  give it a shot.  This is my first, but not last mistake of the day.  As I hold them both up, I say,

“Here.  Which one would you like?  They are so cute.  One has a poodle on it and the other one has a kitty.”

My son, bless him, tries hard to back me up. 

“Yeah, Addison. They are really cute.  See?  You can pick a cute doggie or a little kitty.  And they both have pink.” 

She turns from the TV and places her hand thoughtfully on her chin.  After three seconds, she screws up her face and with a wave of her hand says, “No.  People will think these look silly.  Take them away.”

Unwilling to believe my four year old has just waived me off like Paris Hilton’s top stylist, I dumbly reply, “What?”

“They won’t work.  I SAID, take them away.” 

As I take her hand to lead her back to the closet to make her own selection, I wonder for the three thousandth time how I ever thought this parenting thing might be easy or even remotely straightforward.  In my head, I apologize to all those mothers I so glibly judged. And as I survey her final look, I consider it a victory that she more or less matches. After all, at what other time in your life can you rock hot pink short-shorts, frilly socks, patent leather dress shoes and a green seahorse tank top and still look pretty cute?  If she likes it, who am I to derail her inner fashion diva? 

Go ahead, work it girl.  I’ll find bigger, more important battles to fight.

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