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11/04/2011

In reverse

God, it's been so long since I wrote here that I had to enter my TypePad login and password using cuneiform. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but only a bit. Actually it was hieroglyphs. It took me a while to get in, too.  I kept typing Severed Arm-Severed Arm-Snake-Zigzag-Thing That Might Be a Pelican instead of Severed Arm-Severed Leg-Ditto.  And in fact it was not a pelican, but a carrion bird of prey, and I was almost overcome by the majesty of it but managed to click "Log In" before it went for my eyes.

So here I am, many ages later, and I think I am best served by going in reverse chronological order, see how far I get.  Here we go.

Yesterday Charlie came home with a note from his teacher saying he had written the F-word at school.  No, wait, I'm going to give her credit: She didn't get prissy.  She wrote that he had written "fuck."  (You know you're through the looking glass when someone using unvarnished profanity in a professional communication increases your respect for her, but that, it seems, is parenting in a nutshell.  Through the F-wording looking glass, six ways from Sunday, sideways.  And also the horse you rode in on, wearing its underpants backwards.)

I always laugh a little, if weakly and self-consciously, when he does stuff like that.  It's so normal.  There's enough of his behavior that's...let's just say outlierly...to worry about without getting all freaked out about a swear word.  Even if he did write it on his nametag, like, HELLO MY NAME IS MATTER OF FACT I DO KISS MY MOTHER WITH THIS MOUTH.  I don't know, I guess I think it's a little bit funny, and even almost sort of sweet, this eager lurch toward big-and-badness.  My goddamn baby is growing up.  Sunrise, sunset, bitches: This shit is going too fast.

Halloween was pretty fantastic.  Charlie wanted to be a pirate, and Ben wanted to be Charlie, so I bought — yes, bought — two flimsy pirate costumes and considered it $4,678.00 well spent.  This isn't a good picture of Charlie, but it's the only one I have of the two of them in which he did not appear to be menacing his brother with his gimcrack plastic flintlock:

Scurvy-ho
...I said appear.  Sure, he might have been about to cold-cock Ben with the stock of the thing, but actually he probably wasn't.  At first glance Ben might look a little Adam Ant, but I see a baby Jean Lafitte.  Would you try to steal his candy?

LafitteBringin' doom, sportin' plume

I bought the costumes instead of making them because I had some travel planned and knew I wouldn't have time.  Charlie and I went to Julia's to surprise her for her birthday.  Because apparently I can't travel without the whole trip turning into some unholy mashup of The Amazing Race and The Most Dangerous Game, the six hours of padding I'd built into our schedule shrank, thanks to a Philadelphia snowstorm, to an uncomfortable 20 minutes, and we arrived at the restaurant with just enough time to knock back a glass of wine (me) and three cupcakes (Charlie) before Julia arrived.

I wish I could show you how she looked as she scanned the room to see who was there, and then noticed me.  Watching the ...Wait, what? change into recognition was — well, it was just wonderful, and it made it worth the trouble we'd taken to be there, a thousand times over.

Okay, maybe nine hundred times over, because afterwards, as soon as I started driving — Charlie had gone with the babysitter earlier, and Julia rode with me — she started to look a little peaked.  Later I would tell anyone who would listen, "I knew she wasn't drunk-sick, because she didn't have that much," not realizing quite how creepy that made me sound, as if I'd been counting from across the room.  (I was much too busy making an ass of myself at my end of the table, where I complained loudly about the amount of friśée in the salad — "Frisée is nothing but bitter, curly bullshit" — without knowing that the restaurant was owned by a guest's parents.  The moral is, never complain about anything, ever.  Or, from the other end, have friends with better manners, because, damn, I am still embarrassed.)

Julia tried to make conversation, but we both gave it up rather quickly.  I thought she must be carsick, an impression that was bolstered by her rolling down the window and tilting her head out like a coonhound, and as she barrelled out of the car and sprinted straight for her room, I assumed she'd be fine the next morning.  She wasn't.  All night Saturday and all day Sunday she was ill, and Edward along with her.  She made a few heroic attempts to join the rest of us, but it never lasted long; no sooner would she settle on the couch — draped for vomitproofing with a quilt I made — than she was making a break for the easy-mop bathroom tile, or Edward was.

I talked with Steve and Julia's mother and brother; I admired Caroline; I thought appreciative thoughts about Patrick, who was entertaining Charlie handsomely.  I folded some laundry.  I washed some dishes. And I was grateful.  No, I didn't actually get to see my friend, but I have her.  I have a life that let me drop everything to go spend time with her, or at least her washing machine.  It wasn't the weekend I'd hoped for — especially not at 4 AM Monday, leaving for the airport, searching for the rental car keys in the gravel of her driveway, thinking Shit shit SHIT, did I lock them in the trunk? — but I am glad I went, just for the look on her face.

So that was just Charlie and me; Ben stayed at home, and a very good thing that was.  The week before, see, we'd gone to my mother's.  This is a feat that can be accomplished in no fewer than three flights.  Our closest airport is small, and so is the one on my mother's end, so you leave early, carefully plan your connections, and pray.  (There are no atheists in the Atlanta airport.  Satanists, perhaps.)

The trip down there is mercifully a blur now.  I thought at the time about writing about it, but I knew the resulting screed would be incomprehensible: Noose-Knife-Angry Eye-Rearing Cobra-Chupacabra degenerating into Spittle Fleck-Tic-Tic-Seizure.  I will just say that contrary to the plan, which had us arriving at my mother's at a very civilized 1 PM, our day — our first day— began at 4 AM and reached its nadir, though by no means its end, at midnight with me weeping in the lobby of the Dallas airport Grand Hyatt.  (Its end didn't come until an hour later, after we'd called a taxi, gone to another hotel, checked in, undressed, and gotten into bed, when I yelled at Charlie in the loudest, most furious whisper I could muster, "STOP TALKING AND GO TO SLEEP.  NOT ONE MORE WORD.  NOT ONE.")

But that was just day one.  The next morning began with Ben losing his mind in the hotel corridor at 6 AM because I had thoughtlessly pressed the elevator button instead of asking him to do it.  Screaming. Thrashing.  Throwing himself on the floor.  So I did the sensible thing and gathered him up in my arms, leaving Charlie, six years old, to drag the suitcase and the car seat into the elevator.  That all worked about as well as you'd think, plus I fell.  On the marble floor.  While holding my three-year-old child.

I...am remembering why I didn't think it was a good idea to talk about this.  I'm not coming off so well.

Anyway, we eventually did arrive at my mother's, at a completely different airport than originally planned and with a stack of, no lie, two dozen different boarding passes — delayed missed cancelled rerouted cursed plaguey Noose-Noose-Noose — and had a wonderful time.  Four generations carved pumpkins together, and my kids wore shorts in October.

Charlie-pumpkin

Ben-zoo
The trip back — oh, God, the trip back — took four airplanes and a Xanax.  Ben.  Lovely, lovely Ben.  As Sideways Guy in Tennis Skirt and Snake Hat is my witness, I am never again taking him any farther than the grocery store downtown, and only then if I can't find a sitter. Oh, I don't blame him personally; he was exhausted and anxious and three, and he had every reason to be.  He had every right to be.  But that didn't make it any easier when he decided to lie down keening in the middle of the line for Delta Airways' Special Services. (Translation: Please Stand By for a Full-Price, No-Frills Fucking Oh Wait Did We Accidentally Say Please?) Or when he went boneless during the mad sprint from Terminal A to Terminal Ω via a thundering corridor of taxis that did not stop for pedestrians, no, not even a little, and I am not exaggerating.  Newark, or Laguardia, or JFK — I don't even remember which airport it was. I don't even know what city it was, actually.  Does Mordor have an airport?

Nor did it make it easier during, oh, many of our 38 flights when he decided to kick the seat back in front of him.  I don't mean he idly bumped it with the toe of his shoe; I mean he went totally Riverdance, usually because I'd made him stop slamming around the tray table or muscled him back into his seat belt for landing or asked him to put out his cigarette or something — legitimate airplane business, non-negotiable stuff. He was mad as hell, and some stranger's lower back and kidneys were gonna pay. Or, I was going to hold his legs to prevent it, which is pretty much what I did.

This may be the first trip when I've had to deal with that kind of onboard outburst.  So far as I remember, my trips with Charlie, even during his most challenging phases, were always uneventful in that regard.  I was less embarrassed than I'd have expected; I didn't care for the looks I was given, but my conscience was pretty clear.  Seemed like an easy choice: Either you let the kid hammer the seat for everything he's worth, or you keep him from doing it and treat the entire plane to his enraged screaming.  You consign a single passenger to extreme unpleasantness, teaching the kid nothing in the process, or you subject the entire plane to it, but you also impart a lesson.  (You hope.  Oh, God, you hope.)

To me, there wasn't even a choice.  Still, I'm honestly curious about what you might have done in a similar situation.  I've read enough online articles about travel to know that about 75% of the American childrephobic public would answer, "Jettison both parent and child after setting them on fire," but F-word that.  Excuse me, Ankh-Ankh-Dung Beetle that. I don't care about them.  I want to know what my fellow parents and "When I'm a parent"s think. 

And I want to know how your Halloween was, and what you do about kids swearing, and the things you pick out of a salad, and, oh, you know, just everything.  I've started a new job that's taking a lot of my time, so I'm around even less than before, but I miss you.  And I Heart-Tear-Harmless Garter Snake you, and that's the fucking truth.

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