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.

Kids on life, love, and armpits. Yes, armpits.

So I was helping Addison get ready for bed last night and as I’m pulling her Hello Kitty t-shirt over her head she asks, “Why do they call them armpits?”  Without waiting for an answer, the 4 year old begins to postulate: “Maybe it’s because they are stuck up there under your arms and they are dark and stinky.  They are the pits.”  ‘Her theorizing continues for no less than five minutes until I am convinced the child has been put on this Earth for the sole purpose of overthrowing a $39.5 billion deodorant and anitperspirant industry and turning it something people can respect, for God’s sake.

It is then, that it hits me.  Some people have kids to complete their families.  Or to start a boy band they can sell into indentured servitude on the Disney Channel.  I had them for material.  Seriously?  It’s a little hard to believe Letterman and Leno need a team of writers.  Then again, they are rich and famous and I’m not.  So they probably know something I don’t.  However, if you have kids and you can’t laugh, you’re spending too much time on your iPod, iPad, or iHaveSoMuchToDoICan’tHearAWordYou’reSaying.

For these comic little creatures, life is interesting.  It is also a joke.  In my house, I am often the butt of it.  But I’m cool with that because after the laughter, astonishment, outrage, and/or guilt subsides, everything I really need to know about life, love and reaching a blissful state of Tibetan monk-like, self-actualization, I can learn from my kids:

  • Know your limits.  And if you don’t, surround yourself with people who do.  I wish Daddy was here.  Why?  Because you need HELP.
  • When you screw up, be sorry. If you do a sin and you’re not really sorry, God will turn you into a bug.
  • Do not set dangerous precedents.  Mommy, why do you do all the work and Daddy just does a little?
  • Set goals, and never, ever give up.  Mommy, you’d have to live 100 years to be as smart as me.
  • Be clear about your expectations. Even if it means alienating your grandmother.  I don’t need people here babysitting me if they’re just going to get me in trouble.
  • Figure out what you want most in life, and go after it.  If you’re broke, find a family member who will support your habit on the cheap.  Grammy and Pap have the “Shark Tales” movie. Maybe we should call them up and see if they’ll sell it to us.
  • Bullies suck.  Don’t be afraid to go to extraordinary lengths to take them out.  For my birthday, I want a hula-hoop and a magic wand.  That way, when people annoy me, I can disappear them.
  • Dream big. Especially if it means eradicating anything remotely resembling gastric reflux. I can’t take this anymore. We have to find a cure. And we have to do it now.
  • Know your role, but don’t take crap from anyone. Especially members of the opposite sex.   I’m taking my pink princess cell phone to bed because I have to call my boss first thing in the morning.  My boss is Adeline.  I like it to be her because no boy can be the boss of ME!
  • Own your greatness.  Ball-to-the chain, ball-to-the-chain, ball-to-the-chain. Stop.  Now, you applaud.
  • Be grateful for what you have.  I’m Godding bless all the people in HAT-e.
  • The world is a pretty awesome place.  Except for a few sketchy states out west.  I like North Carolina.  We don’t have bad things here.  All monsters, snakes and witches?  They live in Utah.
  • Despite what you may have heard, parenting is not difficult.  How hard could it be?  You just have to play with some kids and cook a few dinners.

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.

In case you were wondering…

My favorite 8 year old, Griffin

You don’t look good in yellow.  You have peach fuzz on your upper lip.  And “dude,” your husband has a weight problem.  In case you were wondering (and even if you weren’t), your eight year old will tell you.  They will tell you the ugly, unmitigated truth without a trace of malice.  They are not 16 year olds after all.  There is no intent to hurt or instill self-doubt so great you rethink the Friday night party at the house with the kegerator, open bar and notably absent parental figures.  It’s just an observation intended to help you make good choices moving forward. Like eliminating anything vaguely yolk-hued from your closet and finally answering in the affirmative to the biweekly inquiry, “You want me do lip?”

Four year olds will tell you the truth too.  But you can’t trust a four year old.  They have multiple personality disorder.  You never know if you’re getting feedback from your actual child, Marcy-the-My-Brother-Switched-Spongebob-and-Deserves-to-Die or Patty-the-Please-Don’t-Let-Daddy-Put-Me-to-Bed-Because-He-Never-Turns-on-the-Nightlight-and-Always-Forgets-the-Sleepytime-CD.  Bottom line, those little creatures are tricky, so it’s best to let compliments and criticism roll off your back.  The story will change tomorrow anyway.

But if you really want to know whether you’re too white to wear the strappy sundress, too old to go to with the chunky blond highlights, or too wrinkled for this season’s metallic, shimmer eye shadow, don’t ask your husband.  Brace yourself for impact…and ask the eight year old.

 

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