Why you need more than one child

Stunned, I sat in silence behind the closed bedroom door. My youngest girl, a kindergartener, picked up every last Barbie shoe, scarf, perfume bottle, fork (Do you know how small they are? About the size of your pinkie fingernail.) from my office carpet and put them in the designated storage box.

I asked her to do it and she did it. Just like that.

Huh.

It actually works sometimes, doesn’t it?

Had I stopped at one child, I would not have experienced the sweet beauty of this moment.

How did this happen? I’ve not deviated too much from the parenting manual I used for the first child.

It just worked this time.

Or maybe it’s just that each child is wired differently.

Or maybe it’s because I stayed home with her. (And, no, this isn’t a post taking a position on stay-at-home motherhood over working mothers. I’ve been both.)

When I was a working parent, my only child knew how to manipulate me. She knew how and exercised the option often. Inadvertently, I gave her loopholes. I was also much younger, a fist-time parent, and very worried about anything threatening my job.

I had a flashback moment today at the bus stop, as I watched a young mother dressed for an office job frantically wheeling her baby’s stroller along the slippery sidewalk. The tot inside gurgled and kicked his feet, while his big sister grimaced and dragged at least five steps behind. The mom barked some threats at her, coaxed, and finally pleaded with her to step forward and get on line for the bus. Each day this scene plays out in some fashion.

How many times in my young motherhood was I that woman, one eye on my wristwatch and the other on my girl, who either cried and clawed at me to stay or arrived at day care in her nightgown because she refused to dress for the day?

Child No. 1 never did what I asked on the first, second, even third request. Always there were threats and consequences and then the dreaded follow-through. She always pushed it to the edge with me. Then, we had the ‘tween years. I was all out of ideas and so full of frustration I decided to resign my position to attend at least in part to her needs. Now, that firstborn is almost an adult; the game is a bit different.

Having two children or more gives you a chance to get some perspective on human nature and chance. If you have an obedient, people-pleasing first child, you may think that’s how all children are and arrange for more. If you have a difficult, defiant, march-to-the-beat-of- a-different-drummer first child, you might hold out hope that statistically you’ll draw the obedient card the second time around. Maybe you’ll get yourself fixed.

Every parent, if they are going to have more than one child, is bound to get at least one “challenging” child. To have a brood of challenges is unfair. To have an army of Stepford children is also, well, freakishly unnatural and only occurs on TV.

Right? Tell me this is right.

 

 

Wǔ jiǎo xīng

“Mom, we should get a tree topper for our Christmas tree.”

Girl from the East and I were in the car, on our way to Target for household items.

Rather than fire off all the reasons why we didn’t need one, I considered that we actually might need a new tree topper. The old Father Christmas model with the burned-out candle light and yellowed fur trim was purchased when Girl from the West was a baby, when her father and I were newlyweds, trying to assemble a set of decorations and decide on a theme. We never did. (He wanted a monochromatic, modern tree. I wanted traditional pieces.)

Each year, without thought or question, we mounted old Father Christmas on the tree, making passing jokes that he had  a stick up his butt. Aside from a few Baby’s First Christmas ornaments from the early 1990s, everything on our tree reflected my new life with my second husband. Everything but the worn-out, stick-up-the-butt Santa. Yep, it was time to get a new tree topper.

Inside Target, Girl from the East and I made a beeline for the holiday decoration department. Thankfully there were a number of toppers available. I let her choose. She grabbed a box containing a sparkly red five point star — or a wǔ jiǎo xīng as we like to call it around here. It seemed kind of big and unwieldy. We bought it anyway.

At home, we unwrapped the star and placed it atop the tree. You know what? I love it. I love that my five-year-old came up with the idea and made the selection. It’s not something I would have picked. This is a wonderful thing. She is her own person. She is leaving her mark all around our house and in our hearts in so many ways. This is the upside, the amazing benefit of having children.

Children open your eyes and your heart to endless possibilities.

This one, she said.

The amazing topper and transformation

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Color me confused

Anyone up for a game of "Goodfellas?"

THE SCENE:
Somewhere past the pink and purple castle, just around the bend from the horse barn, a stretch limousine stuffed to the doors with Fisher Price Little People rounds a corner on two wheels. All the passengers roll and tumble around on the plastic seats. Except one doll. The brown-faced, afro-haired woman doll in a shocking pink dress stuffed in the trunk of the limousine. She tumbles onto the pink rag rug. The pink party car speeds down the hallway toward the staircase, oblivious of its missing passenger.

THE CONVERSATION:
Girl from the East : (picking up the doll and holding it at eye level): I don’t like this doll, momma.
MZ: Why?
Girl from the East: Because her face is brown and I don’t like brown faces.
MZ: (Stunned into silence for a moment) What? Why?
Girl from the East: I just don’t.
MZ: But you have friends who have brown faces. You like them, don’t you?
Girl from the East: Uh-huh. I just don’t like the doll’s black hair.
MZ: But you have black hair. You like your black hair, right?
Girl from the East: Uh-huh.
MZ: So, if you have friends with brown faces and you have black hair, why don’t you like this doll? She’s wearing a pink dress.You love pink. (At this point I detect a shrill note in my voice, even though I am trying to regulate the volume.)
Girl from the East: I just don’t like the shape of her hair.
MZ: (Naming two girls she plays with) have hair in this shape and you like them, right?
Girl from the East: (Names the two girls) are my friends.
MZ: Yes. They are your friends. That means you like them. They have brown faces. They have that shape of hair.
Girl from the East: (picks up the doll again and stuffs it back into the trunk.) Well, I just don’t like this doll.
MZ: *Sigh*

THE DILEMMA:
Feeling I’ve gone too far, probed too deeply, I end the conversation. But, I don’t let it go. Perhaps Girl from the East is merely telling me she does not like the color brown in general and particularly doesn’t like it when it’s on her dolls. Perhaps she doesn’t like the molded plastic afro design, which resembles a helmet more than a hairstyle. But deep inside me, a cold knot twists as I fear the seeds of racism and prejudice are germinating. What is feeding this? All this time I’ve worried about how others might react to her skin tone or eye shape and here she is making her own judgments.

Orwell visits the play room: All Little People are created equal. But some Little People are more equal than others.

THE BACKGROUND:
I watched this show on  CNN last week about a study on children and racism.  I’m sure this is why her simple comment sounded alarm bells inside my head. The study had kids looking at cartoon drawings of children with faces in every shade, from the darkest of brown to the palest of white.  Children were asked specific questions and asked to point to the cartoon characters to identify which one was the smartest, the dumbest, the good one, the bad one and so on. Can you guess the outcomes? The message seemed to be that parental influence and media feed these beliefs.

MY DENIAL:
We are not that kind of home. We are not that kind of family. We have friends of all colors and stripes. We live in a community that embraces diversity. Heck, we are a diverse family ourselves. Girl from the East does not watch network or cable programmed TV. She watches DVDs of PBS and Nickelodeon shows such as “Dora,” where skin shades are varied from one character to the next. She watches “Yo Gabba Gabba” where faces are green and pink and one-eyed and pimply like cucumbers.

THE CONCLUSION
I have no answers. While my heart hurts that she said this so innocently, I also realize that I may be running her simple judgments about colors and textures through my complicated adult filters. So far, both of my girls have friends of all backgrounds and colors and have never exhibited racist speech or behavior. Sure, they’ve made observations and asked questions. We always teach that if we must judge at all, judge a person on his or her character. Ah, but the world is a complicated, dark and fuzzy place.

Time will tell more about this story.

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Great moments in parenting …

… to overshadow all the lame ones.

 Lame: Putting a portable DVD player in the pack and play with my then-15-month-old girl to keep her occupied while I took a shower.

Logic: While she’s watching Elmo, I can wash my hair.

Reality: Before I can uncap the shower gel, I hear the sound of something big and heavy hitting the tile floor. 

Result: Broken DVD player.

Lesson: You don’t place expensive equipment within reach of a toddler, especially when they are at the throw-it-to-see-what-happens phase of development.

Great moment in parenting: Deciding to reinvent the broken DVD player into the brand-new Preschooler’s Personal Laptop — just like mommy and daddy use.  So far, it’s working. It’s nothing more than a prop, but it fits into the Dora backpack and buys a few minutes of peace. Priceless.

laptop

Lame: Taking your 3 year old along to shop for her new shoes.

Logic: I need to know her shoe size.

Reality: See this post.

Result: Shoelessness, despair, excessive drinking.

Lesson: Leave the child home when shopping, for god’s sake. Well, make sure there’s a responsible adult watching her. Then run for the car and don’t look back.

Great moment in parenting: Getting a few hours to yourself to shop, stopping at shoe store without a goal in mind, finding THE PERFECT PAIR OF CONVERSE ONE STARS. And look: no licensed characters, no flashing lights, no glitter, appliques or neon shades. Tasteful. Simple. Done. And no one got hurt.

converse

Lame: Trying to put an overly tired child to sleep by reading classic books.

Logic: Reading is fundamental.

Reality: Child’s love for treasured tale actually fuels energy in the form of requests for re-reads, use of “funny voices,” searches for the rest of the books in the series, and endless bedtime delays. 

Result: Hyper child jumping on couch like a chimp on speed.

Lesson: Save the good books for nights with time to kill.

Great moment in parenting: Cracking open the laptop, logging on to the personal blog, reading a few of your recent posts to overly stimulated child. Within moments, the eyes droop, the jaw slackens and what’s that? Drool! Success. Transport child to bed. Log out. Pour glass of wine.


'I Can't Quit You Baby'

ledzep

I’m tearing down the highway, heading home after playing long-distance chaperon and chauffeur to my 15-year-old daughter’s  birthday night out. The car is empty except for me. I’m listening to Led Zeppelin’s first album on CD. The volume is at 11.
OK. Time to rewind.

  • First of all, I am freaking out just a tiny bit about the 15-year-old thing. All I have to do is think about what the hell I was doing at 15 and let’s just say most of it was illegal is not publishable. Fifteen was a watershed year for me in many ways. What I did then affected much of the next decade of my life. So I think of all that when I think of my Girl from the West. If she isn’t doing any of the stuff I was doing, then she will be OK.
  • Second, playing long-distance chaperon means picking up and driving six girls (in my three-seats-available car) to and from a nice little restaurant for dinner, going to nearby coffee house to while away time until I get the call to put on my chauffeur hat again. I did this a few times until my duties were done for the evening.

As I drive home, my thoughts drift as I listen to Robert Plant’s voice wail over Jimmy Page’s guitar.  I think: This was part of the soundtrack of my 15th year. I’m flooded with memories. It’s not often I listen to this music anymore. Tonight’s choice is both random and coincidental.

The window onto my older girl’s world grows smaller with each passing birthday. Gone are the hands-on experiences with colorful cakes, bouquets of balloons and parties with themes and goody bags. Even this chauffeur gig has an expiration date. Someday in the future, when she’s  on her way in the world, we’ll met up for lunch, go on a trip, who knows? We’ll reconnect.

Baby, I know you’ve got to leave me, you’ve got to ramble.

But, I can’t quit you.

Third time's the charm

122508

Christmas 2008

This is Girl from the East’s third Christmas. She’s been alive for four observances, but in 2005 she was only a few weeks old and living in a land where Christmas is not celebrated.

Sometimes I try to image what she looked like as a newborn. Sometimes I try to imagine what her first December must have been like, without a family cuddling and adoring her. I hope it wasn’t too cold where she lived. I hope she wasn’t too lonely. 

Thankfully we arrived that following autumn and carried her home in loving arms all the way to her first birthday cake. Soon after we scooped heaping spoonfuls of food into her mouth on her first Thanksgiving, and then set her in Santa’s lap for her first real Christmas.  I think most of what she experienced on her first wave of holidays with us was overwhelming and incomprehensible.

 

Christmas 2006

Christmas 2006

But it also awakened something inside. Slowly afterward she began to unfold like a spring bud responding to the sun’s warmth. By Valentine’s Day she was walking and babbling and becoming the roly-poly baby she was meant to be. Is there any better gift for her or for us?

 I have only one early picture of her, taken at two days old. The thumbnail-sized image is safely locked away and not for public consumption. It’s a grainy shot, taken quickly and from overhead, so that I barely recognize the girl she is today in that first image. 

Much has changed over the course of three Christmases. This year she understood the simplest concepts of Christmas: the celebration of a birth; the giving and receiving of gifts; the decorating of a tree; and the pleasure of sharing the experience of a nuclear and extended family.

This year was the real charm for her. While it was a simple holiday by past standards, her joy at the smallest touches: frosting on a cookie, silly ornaments on the tree, hugging her new Care Bear, made all the worries of the everyday world wash away.

Are you a G.I.R.L.?

Are you Glamorous in Real Life?
Forget the Real Housewives of Orange County, ditch the Desperate Housewives, if you want the real scoop on what goes on behind closed doors while the rest of the world is away at work, check back here on Tuesday, Sept. 16, for the first-ever G.I.R.L. Party hosted by Marcy at The Glamorous Life.

Grab a seat, pour a drink, and prepare to weep uncontrollably. See you Tuesday.

Oh, poop!

Took Girl from the East to the Detroit Zoo today for a play date with two other families. We had a great time strolling the now-deserted walkways and exhibits. The off season is the best for viewing and visiting this popular attraction.

At one point we entered the Australian Outback, in which you stroll a gravel path among the kangaroos and wallabies. There are no fences.

Girl from the East didn’t care about the kangaroos, who were all laying like lifeless lumps on the grass. She didn’t care about the wallabies poking around in the underbrush either. 

She was only interested in the gravel walkway, which she immediately began excavating. As she methodically reached down, scooped up handfuls of the brownish rock-dirt mix and walked a foot or two to redeposit the material, I saw a docent approaching us.

Uh-oh. 

Docent: Did you know that this trail is where the kangaroos leave their excrement? They don’t like it on the grass so they hop up to the path and do their business here. Just thought you’d like to know. Lots of bacteria in that gravel.

Me: Wonderful. Just wonderful.

 

***I’m not sure I believed him. Maybe he just didn’t like kids messing up the gravel path. But it was a tad humiliating to have this announced in front of other moms. As if I let my child play with kitty litter at home.****

Slow lane has its bumps, too

There’s nothing like a few close calls and scares to bring a family closer together.

We’ve had quite a run in the last few months: Girl from the East’s big fall (translate: big hospital bill); the Mammogram-O-Rama (again, hospital bill); the dangerous bed recall; and finally the Smash-Up. We decided to move in the slow lane, where it is safe and quiet.

 I thought I’d take baby girl to the park to play. Within minutes of our arrival, a girl of about 9 attempted to run up one of those huge corkscrew-shaped slides, lost her grip and tumbled to the mulch below. It’s hard to call a fall like that. She landed on a soft surface, but it was from about seven feet. She was bleeding, but not profusely. 

But both her reaction (hysteria) and her caregiver’s (horror and panic) set off a wave of fear and nausea in both baby girl and myself. They refused offers of help, didn’t want me to call 911.

Instead the man whisked away the girl from the play area and into a nearby building to wash off her cuts. In the process, he left behind the other child in his care. After a little coaxing, she followed us inside the building, where I deposited her at the reception desk. As the echoing howls subsided in the adjacent restroom, the man and girl emerged.

He had calmed somewhat but the girl was still hyper ventilating and clutching at her right arm and shoulder.  After a quick thanks, the man ducked out of the building and into a waiting car that sped away. I have the feeling that guy was working on his story as they headed toward one very angry/scared mom.

The images of that wailing girl’s twisted body on the ground and the rising panic in the man’s voice as he scurried around like a trapped squirrel are hard to shake. So, too, are the what-if scenarios we’ve run through following our accident.

We were spared. LIfe is good. But it is fragile at these moments,  when powerful jolts snap us out of our zombie states of routine, boredom or simmering anger over a stew of trivial complaints.