I wanted to post last night but I just couldn't. We spent all day at the farm. And here I'm going to set a new record, hammering in a digression only two sentences into a post: Several summers ago, I thought it would be fun to take Charlie to a farm, so I signed up for a local field trip. I should have known exactly what we were in for when we were instructed to wear rubber boots, but, no, apparently I am not as intelligent as my dazzling repartee might suggest. (In fact, I have "sparkly disco bitch" written on my hand in Sharpie in case the occasion ever arises to whip it out again.) Anyway, it was a real working dairy farm, by which I mean it was horrible. You stand at the entrance of the barn and look down an endless corridor of packed-in double cow ass. The cows are backed up against the fence that lines both sides of the walkway, for easy access, of course, and they are busily engaged in the business of being cows. Cud goes in, and...everything else comes out. The urine just splashes in torrents. The farmer practically had to shout to be heard over the steaming Niagara of piss.
We shan't discuss the solids.
So then they take you outside and you're positively gasping with relief, taking in great lungfuls of what is, in comparison, fresh sweet air, and they lead you down the hill to where the calves are kept. Oh! you think, delighted. Calves! Velvety babies, pink noses, trusting eyes...plastic...igloos? ...Piteous...bleating?
The calves have been separated from their mothers and they're confused and agitated, crying the baby bovine equivalent of Hey, man, what the fuck? You poke your head inside a tiny fiberglass hut to see a calf and you immediately back out, because those things are, I don't know, like a goddamn tagine full of live sad cow. It's hot in there, and there are pulsing clouds of flies, and your boots are sinking into...byproduct...and the only question is whether you'll whimper it first or your kid: "I think it's time to go home."
Yesterday's farm was better. A very clean cow the children could milk, calves in no visible distress, tame-ish chickens to chase and pick up, goats who had apparently had their innate evil surgically excised — everything well run, pristine, and as utterly unlike a modern farm as it is possible to be. I mean that in the nicest, most relieved, least traumatized way. Charlie did the farm chores, herding poultry and gathering eggs, giving a compliant teat a brief productive squeeze. (Equipped with a digital camera, he diligently documented the experience. We now have no fewer than five dozen pictures of close-range animal anus.)
Ben scampered around happily, occasionally riding hell for leather on a scaled-down pedal tractor as if he hoped to outrun the USDA: Inspect MY pork for trichinosis, will you? He jabbered happily about every animal he saw, tried to apprehend a rooster, weeping when it eluded him, and — oh, yes, filled his diaper. In fact, he overfilled his diaper. In every possible direction. I will not go into details — we shan't discuss the solids — beyond saying that I removed his romper, my top, and his socks, and then set fire to the bathroom. He spent the rest of his day in a spare T-shirt with its hem flapping freely around his naked baby thighs, and I made do with a light sweater I'd thrown on that morning as an afterthought, which showcased my every doughy roll but kept me from scaring the horses. And our day continued unspoiled.
Unspoiled and really wonderful. We met friends there from out of town, a family we met a few years ago at the Tyler Place. Charlie and their four-year-old son got along beautifully, neither poisoning the other's cistern or mutilating each other's livestock. Spending time with J. and M. as we watched the kids work the farm — sexing chicks and castrating lambs and whatnot — felt easy, familiar, and satisfying. There are days I feel we do right by the kids, and days we do right by ourselves; sometimes we manage both. This was just such a gift of a day.
But, God, was I flattened last night. I sat down at my computer to check my mail on my way up to the laundry room. Half an hour later there I still sat, inert, with the bag of soiled clothing from Ben's blowout on my lap. Let me make this clearer: I sat for 30 minutes holding a sack of crap, too tired to walk up the stairs. That's when I knew that posting would be a mistake. "Went to the farm" is all I could have typed before slumping to the floor, my fall cushioned, I hope, by a grocery bag of toddler flop.
And just think of all you'd have missed!
Apparently I will tell you people anything
Parenthood makes you do things — stupid things, unforgivable things — you never imagined you'd do. In the aftermath you're left questioning everything you ever believed about yourself. You look in the mirror, or possibly down at your feet, and whisper in desperation, What have I become?
Yesterday I left the house wearing orange Crocs.
I can explain how this came about. They're the shoes I wear around the house when I need to step out to the garage, or tromp out to empty the compost, or drag a weeping Ben away from his bubble-blowing bucket because it's dinner time and if you don't come now, the three grains of rice you're going to eat will be stone cold and they'll end up on the floor, rejected, but no matter how hungry you get I am not fixing you any of that tasty, tasty air you seem to prefer.
When I buckled Ben into his car seat yesterday, I knew I had them on. As I guided his arms through the straps, I thought, Gotta take off the Crocs. I put his water bottle in his cup holder and reminded myself, Don't forget the Crocs. I put my purse on the floor of the back seat and knew it even then: I'm going to forget the Crocs.
And in the next two minutes of getting the keys, picking up my phone, loading up the Snack Trap, putting on lipstick, and telling Charlie goodbye, I fucking forgot the Crocs.
And it would have been okay if
Wait, I was just going to say it would have been all right to have them on if I'd been going…somewhere…but I honestly can't think of anywhere I'd be happy to be seen with them on. They're giant and rubber and orange, really orange. They look like what a duck would wear if ducks could walk. Oh, now, don't give me the business about ducks. You know what I mean.
But wait. It gets worse. They have buttons in them. You know those molded plastic charms you can ram through the holes on the Crocs? No? What's that you say? You don't know because you don't personally own any giant stupid rubber orange walking duck prosthetics? Well, you can just go fuck yourself, is what.
Sorry. Rudeness is shame turned outward.
Anyway, worse: My Crocs have Muppet buttons, namely Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker.
They were a present. From a friend. Who was mocking me for having Crocs.
I can defend forgetting to swap my footwear, just. It was all because I was distracted by the details of getting ready to leave the house with a kid, pulled in three different directions at once, none of which was labeled with a big bold-lettered sign that said IDIOT CHANGE YOUR SHOES. In short, I blame the children. It is rather convenient that I have some.
That, in fact, is how it came to pass that I had Crocs to begin with. I got them the summer I was pregnant with Ben. My feet were swollen, it was hot, and I — look, I don't have to justify myself to you people. The only other explanation I will lower myself to offer is that I let Charlie choose the color.
He has never really loved me.
So I only have them at all because of the children — one, in utero, making it impossible for me to wear my other shoes, and the other, fully sentient, consulting his pocket Pantone chart to determine which color was more jarring, Mr. Yuk or prison jumpsuit. (He chose the green for himself.)
And I tried this excuse on a stranger. Three times that morning, swear to God, a stranger commented on my shoes — who does that? — and I held out until the third before I blurted out, "I'm only wearing them because of my kid."
And as I led Ben away by the hand, I wondered, a little piqued, why the guy was laughing so hard. And then I remembered, and realized, and looked at Ben's feet to confirm in horror what I already knew: he was wearing them, too.
Help an undisputed master of hospitality and dedicated architect of peace in the Middle East out
I have a thousand things I need to do, and I'm sitting here doing everything but. My first task for the day is to write a bio for RESOLVE to use on its web site. I don't know, I find that kind of thing pretty difficult. I think it's supposed to sound important: somewhat formal, laudatory without being overblown, sensible of the honor, comporting itself properly among company. And yet I keep wanting to type things like, "Mining the rich lode of personal experience, Julie has fashioned her hardscrabble early years into a stunning body of original roots music," when nothing could be further from the truth. I don't even own a moonshine jug. Or maybe I could call myself a noted environmentalist who works tirelessly toward planetary greenening. That, at least, has a kernel of truth: y'all, I compost. Or I was thinking of a catchy slogan: "A Little Pregnant: Adamantly Refusing to Just Relax, You Ill-Informed Jackasses, Since 283 B.C." It's hard! The other Hope Award winners are impressive and purposeful and accomplished, while most days I sit here and do the equivalent of making fart noises with my hand cupped over my armpit. Oh, they're good noises made by a firm, steady hand and a deeply concave armpit; I do it very well, and I love my work. But let's just say this exercise is humbling.
When I typed "I need to" above I remembered Ben at breakfast. The child is a talker, six- and seven-word sentences tumbling out without hesitation. I wouldn't say he's particularly intelligible; we still puzzle over certain words as Ben repeats them, his irritation visibly increasing, like, "You people. I clearly said fnmzxvt. I swear I don't know how pngwczhv such kfwtqsln for bgsfkmmrqz." And Paul and I are there mouthing to each other, Fnmzxvt? while Ben is shaking his head violently: "No, you stupid cpbvwing ljvtsptmqzvholes. Fnmzxvt." But most of the time we pretty much know what he's saying. Anyway, somewhere along the line he learned the phrase, "I need." (Strange, considering that I routinely require that he preface his requests with, "If it's not too much trouble, and if you'd be so very kind, at your convenience might you, please, mother...?") Lately we hear it a lot. "I need my shoes." "I need another book." "I need cat go out my room." And this morning, as he lunged for the table while I was still strapping him into his booster seat, urgently, "I neeeed cheeeeese!" Which totally cracks me up. Risking my very neck, I dive...for Gruyèrrrrrrre!
Which reminds me that we went to a cheese festival last weekend. There were goats.
Almost-two is just lovely.
So as I'm sitting here getting distracted from this bio, I'm also avoiding planning a cookout for Ben's birthday, despite the fact that it's taking place, oh, two days from now. Recently we've been to a few similar parties for kids we know, and each has been low-key and pleasant. Since it's been so easy for us to enjoy them as guests, I suppose I've been assuming that it will be just as easy to mount one as hosts. Which, haaaaa, oh, God, anyway, I'm in trouble, because there's probably more to it than just buying some paper plates, opening a container of hummus and a bag of baby carrots, and making vague gestures. That probably makes it sound like I just don't care, but I do. I just want to stay as relaxed as possible about the whole thing, as what I've liked most about these other parties is how casual they've been, and I've been told by reliable sources that the magic only happens when you just...stop...trying.
Oh, the other thing I'm doing that I shouldn't be wasting time with is sticking some Facebook business here and there on my site. I'm just cutting and pasting as if I actually knew what I was doing, but in truth I'm heedlessly messing with forces I don't understand, and I fully expect to be swallowed up by the vortex of evil any second now. Click "Like" to approve of my supernatural abduction and subsequent ungentle probing!
Anyway, once I recover from becoming the first of my friends to be penetrated by every single one of Cthulu's tentacles simultaneously, I'm thinking burgers, hot dogs, and cupcakes. I'd like to have some finger food for kids and adults, separate offerings if necessary, as I suppose the real fingers I'm planning to serve might be a taste mostly for sophisticated palates. I want some cut-up fruit or maybe berries, because it wouldn't be a party if I didn't try to suck the fun out of it by offering healthy food. I'd like a couple of side dishes, like potato salad but not potato salad. And probably something in a blanched, chilled vegetable, in case the fruit doesn't convince people that I'm serious, that my body is a goddamned temple all up in here, artificially colored buttercream notwithstanding.
Beer and wine for the adults. Maybe some helium balloons if I get my act together on Friday, possibly weighted down with rocks, juuust to see if we can get a little toddler-on-toddler skull-bashing going on. No presents. No games; these children are two. Swingset, sandbox, bubbles, and a water table. Knock your goofy selves out, kids. Oh, and take the rock with you. What? That is the goody bag.
I would love your advice, if you please. Either help me write a bio — the funnier the better — or suggest something totally-halfassed-easy to make and good to eat for a cookout. Thanking you in advance, I remain, a bold pioneer in the field of making fake rude body noises, still in its very infancy but showing outrageous promise for the future of humankind.
Thank you all so much for your suggestions. Special shout-out to Jen; Catherine Newman's gingery Napa slaw was fantastic. Carrie, who pointed out that a chiffonade of mint "just sophisticates the shit out of a fruit salad," was absolutely right. We had canned baked beans à la Christine, with a thin sprinkling of chopped bacon and brown sugar on top because nothing says, "homemade, motherfuckerrrrrrs" like molten aftermarket goo. May suggested pasta with pesto, confirming my initial inclination to serve it; Charlie and Ben love it and it can sit out for hours with no ill effect. I was thiiiis close to making what Jacquie suggested, a salad with cherry tomatoes and edamame, but since I'm the only one here who eats tomatoes the thought of leftovers intimidated me. Instead I made quinoa with sliced peppers, arugula, and hearts of palm, dressed with a Dijon vinaigrette. I steamed and then chilled some asparagus. I made cupcakes — not banana, but, Melissa, I will — capped with three inches of ganache. Ben sheared the frosting off his, leaving the cake itself untouched and insiting he was all finished. Then, of course, he took me by the hand and led me inside, plaintively saying, "Top! Top!" I couldn't figure out what he meant until he stood at the counter and forcefully pointed at the platter of cupcakes. "Top!" he demanded, plunging his finger deep into the ganache. Ohhhhh, I see.
It was a good party. The kids Ben's age played largely in parallel, blowing bubbles, rolling in the sandbox, playing fetch with Frisbees and balls. We pulled them around the yard in a wagon until Ben got the idea to pile it high with toys and child-size furniture, laboriously hauling it over the grass like Steinbeck's littlest Joad. Charlie was mildly freaked out not to be the center of attention, but his few minor outbursts passed quickly when I calmly walked him inside and told him he could be pleasant outdoors or a jackass in-; overall he was wonderful company. In fact, my only regret is that I forgot — aggh, I hate that I forgot — to send a cupcake home for the brother of one of Ben's friends, stuck at home with their mother.
Yesterday Charlie woke up before Ben did, yodeling, "Ben's twoooo!" He clambered up onto our bed, all elbows and knees, like, child, that is my kidney, and it was sleeping, and said he wanted to go wake Ben up "so we can see how he's changed now that he's two." If I'd known he'd be so interested, I might have chosen a donor more carefully. Instead of checking "any" under "ancestry," we could have written in "Autobot."
In due course Ben woke up, not much different from the day before. He talks, sings, makes jokes. He'll pee on the potty if you sit there long enough with him singing endless loops of "Happy Birthday." ("Sing 'Happy Birthday' Dad! Sing 'Happy Birthday' Mickey Mouse! Sing 'Happy Birthday' my toes! Sing 'Happy Birthday' toothpaste! Sing 'Happy Birthday' Mama's towel!" I can do this for days. Patience, empty toilet paper roll, your serenade is next.) He shares when he feels like it, more frequently than not. He loves to dance and claps his hands when the music ends: "Hooraaaaay my music!" Yesterday he almost exploded with joy when I announced a trip to the playground: "Playground playground playground playground go outside, play!" Because, see, it was a celebration, his birthday, not like all those other days we go...to the...playground.
At breakfast Charlie asked me if I had any memories of when he was two. What I remember most clearly is thinking, in puzzlement and pleasure, Huh. Two's kind of awesome, surprised to be so enjoying the bridge between baby and boy. I thought we might be skipping the fabled terrible twos, and indeed we mostly did, though when three came calling, it was swinging a sock full of nickels.
So we move into two knowing this moment of sweet rambunctious hilarity can't last. Which might make it even better.
God, it's just so funny, the way a two-year-old rages. There were three separate tantrums today, the most notable just after dinner. Ben had pronounced himself all finished, shoving his plate away resolutely, fish uneaten and asparagus ignored. The rest of us went on with our meal, more or less tuning out Ben's impatient bleating. We'd freed him from his booster seat, because although we're working on increasing the length of time we expect him to stay at the table, Jesus, who can listen to that for long?
He took his cup and fork into the kitchen, and we kept eating while he buzzed laps around the dining room. Charlie, who's intensely fond of anything you can haul out of a body of water, up to and probably including a still-writhing kraken, asked for more fish. Since Ben's portion was untouched, Paul took it off his plate and passed it over to Charlie. Ben noticed and stopped in his tracks mid-lap. He drew a breath, flung himself to the floor, and, holy shit, it was like Fishamagoddamngeddon.
"My fish!" he hollered, beating his heels and fists against the floor exactly like every caricature of a toddler you've ever seen, only redder and louder and practically levitating, so forceful was his wrath. He hadn't wanted it earlier, and he certainly didn't want it now, but worse than the prospect of eating it was seeing it passed along. "My fish!" he bellowed, doing a furious centipede [video]. (Note: Despite the song's eponymous promise, no one in the video actually does the centipede, and I don't know what the hell the tiger's doing there, because it's all like, "Wait, so this soundstage isn't 'Union of the Snake,' then?" and speaking of snakes, I'm pretty sure that blinky-eyed cobra is just phoning it in...from beyonnnnd the graaaave. But ignore me because I admit it: I know nothing of art.)
Anyway, it eventually occurred to Ben that he wanted his fork back. So he ran over to the kitchen, keening the whole way, and tried very hard to get it from the sink. But the kid's still knee-high to an InSinkErator and of course he couldn't reach it, and it just got worse and worse, funnier and funnier. I'm not sure what he wanted his fork for — to stab his perfidious father? to excise the fish from the gullet of his brother? — but it sure wasn't so he could eat any Arctic char. Paul eventually gave him a fresh utensil, which Ben immediately jammed back into the drawer with a frenzied howl. "No fresh fork! No Dad give my fork! No way!" Luckily he made it off the tile and back onto the rug before once again hurling himself into the canonical position, face down and flailing.
By this time Paul and I were practically weeping with suppressed laughter. I don't know, maybe I'm not supposed to find it funny, this turbulence over not-even-Ben-is-exactly-sure-what. But it strikes me as...can I say cute? I can surely say dear...how passionate he feels, how baffled he is in the moment, how much he needs our help to get him through it.
And of course we did help him, insofar as it was possible. I made one last offer of the fish that remained on his plate. When he set the plate flying with a single perfectly judged kick, Paul scooped him up, still screaming, limp with outrage, and kept him upstairs until bathtime. Despite offers of stories, songs, and for all I know hookers and smack, Ben continued to yell for a good fifteen minutes. He occasionally made a break for it, heading for the top of the stairs, loudly announcing his intent to go downstairs. Why? "My fish," of course, which he had no intention of eating, then or during the meal.
At the moment the tantrums don't faze me. It's so clear to me that he's not in control, that it's not a question of discipline, his or ours. Maybe there's something else we should have done besides largely ignoring it then removing him from the scene — you think? Right now I'm just pleased, and I must say sort of surprised, that I didn't laugh out loud.
Charlie is in love. Today it's his kindergarten teacher, whom he met when we visited the school today. "Doesn't she have a kind face?" he sighed later, out of the blue, holding the school's photocopied picture of her near to his throbbing heart. This weekend it was Oro, whom he met briefly at her workplace. "I didn't know she'd be that nice," he said breathily. "Now she's in my heart. When I'm older I'll probably marry her." This is an improvement, I believe, from his previous plan, which was to marry me. (Our love could never be, I told him. "Why not?" he asked, aggrieved. It's obvious, kid, to anyone with eyes: you're simply too good for me.)
I have posted Charlie's self-portrait everywhere else, so I might as well stick it here, too.
Let's just say the digital camera Paul bought Charlie has been a worthwhile investment.
Charlie was asking about some friends who don't have kids. He said, "What's the point of a family if there aren't any children?" And what could I say to that, except, Whoa, hey, bloggable moment?
Come fly with me
I was standing in a convenience store in front of the racks of single-serving snacks, trying to decide between a cereal bar boasting 30% More Juicy Floor Sweepin's and a granola bar promising High Fructastic Flavorgasms in Every Bite. The clerk noticed my indecision, I guess, because in a surprisingly courtly fashion he asked if he could help me find anything.
"No, thanks," I told him. "I'm picking out snacks to take on an airplane with my kids."
"In that case," he said, "may I recommend horse tranquilizers?"
Tomorrow Charlie, Ben, and I are flying to Louisiana to visit my family. I am terrified. I flew with Charlie when he was this age, but by then he'd flown several times already, enough to be used to it. And I've flown with Ben and Charlie as a solo adult, but Ben was much younger and markedly less...everything...than he is now. Although Charlie's behavior on airplanes never caused a problem — I do not consider inopportune excretion behavior, per se — Ben is a different kid under different circumstances, and I'm well aware that as far as that particular kind of luck goes, my number is up.
It's a crappy trip and I'm dreading everything about it, from the time my alarm goes off at 3:45 AM tomorrow morning to the time we arrive at my grandmother's house. The thing is — and this comes up in every discussion I've ever witnessed about the numerous difficulties of traveling with small children, which usually features angry travelers claiming kids shouldn't be taken onto airplanes until they reach some arbitrarily decided age of reason, like, what? — I know it's worth it. There's nothing either kid could do en route that will make me think it'd be better to stay home than to take my sons to visit my mom and my 91-year-old grandmother. (Don't get any ideas, Charlie. The escape slide thing is played out.)
So I will master my own fears — airport sprints; delayed flights; irritable toddler; airplane bathrooms and the mysterious blue fluid appertaining thereto — and go. If you happen to be traveling through any of four airports tomorrow, or on any of three airplanes, between the hours of 6 AM and Holy Jesus Fuck We've Been on This Plane for Days, and you see me trudging down the concourse pushing a stroller and dragging a kindergartener, smile! Say hi. Wave. And ask me for some of my horse tranqs, because tomorrow I'll be packing.
What's your worst travel story? By the end of the day tomorrow, I may need to be reminded how much worse it could have gotten.
Oh, God, your stories! If you haven't read the comments on my last post yet, do. You will probably never travel again, but you'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll stand in awe at the resilience of the indomitable human spirit. You'll want to kick an airline or two squarely in the nuts. And you will probably never travel again.
Did I say that twice? Well, it bears repeating, with swears.
There was sweetcoalminer's kid running off through security. There was KCC's trip, so bad that "at one point, I think I would have licked someone with ebola to make it end." Jen's stomach-turning crab cakes, reminded me of a trip my aunt took, which included an immediate neighbor unwrapping and then eating a whole fish. I felt such sympathy for Jo and her roaring constipated baby — Ben did that, too, this time, but only in the airport. Bea's story, which was appalling overall, had me laughing, weakly and in horror, at the very phrase, "pink diarrhoea." J's trip to her father's funeral shocked me; my condolences on your loss, J, but also on the inhumanity you endured.
Carrie made me laugh helplessly: "Turns out that in an attempt to free the poor formula-stained, Cheerio-encrusted car seat from the drudgery of a week in Pittsburgh, the kind folks at Jet Blue sent said car seat to Las Vegas." Cathy made me hope that the woman in her story sits next to the gentleman from LMM's story on a future flight. Awesome Dr. Mama did a stranger a solid while a child was, ah, doing a liquid, and contributed a wise perspective: "In a way doing it solo is a little bit better because at least you don't end up hating your partner as well as your children and everyone else on the plane."
I'm impressed by Elizabeth's husband, reeling with fever, changing an RV tire in the heat; I'm made of weaker stuff because installing a car seat in the Louisiana sun nearly killed me. I snorted aloud at Leslie's motherfucking snakes in a motherfucking backpack. I tensed up as I read Suzanne's story, hoping that the unthinkable — her grandfather knocked down by security personnel! — didn't turn into the unendurable. Wren's trip to India wasn't funny in the least, though I confess I laughed when she said, "The whole ordeal was horrific. So we're going to do it again." Aggh, and poor CS — not only was her story hair-raising, she gave us the indelible image of archaeological proctologists one day extracting fossilized sticks from outraged fellow passengers.
I read these stories quickly in bits and snatches while I was away, not because I was using my iPod to do it, although I was, but because with the return trip ahead, I couldn't bear to spend much time imagining myself in anyone else's place. I'm cringing anew at your stories today. I don't know how you made it through — Reese made me laugh when she said, "I was a vodka tonic away from throwing myself out the emergency hatch" — but I'm very glad you did. Thank you for reliving the magic.
I'm almost embarrassed to tell you that our trip...was fine. We had to run through the connecting airports on the way there, but Charlie was like a tiny O.J. Simpson. (Remember the sprinting years, not the stabbing ones.) Newark airport gave me a new appreciation for the power of adrenaline; nothing makes me go all turbo like stepping off the jetway to hear the final boarding call for the next flight, 80 gates away. Improbably, we made it. Finally seated and belted on that plane, I was so pumped I could have lifted the fully packed airplane and hurled it to its destination. In Houston, changing planes involved long stretches on foot, a train, and two buses — by the end I wouldn't have been surprised to see a sign that said, "Proceed to Gate A309 Through Jagged Glass-Littered Crawling Tunnel" — but I was going to make that flight if it killed me. Seemed like I pushed that stroller through the very corridors of Hell, but I gate checked it with no trouble and we got on all flights without incident. Unless you consider my exploding aorta an incident.
When it comes to flying, Charlie is a pro. He buckles up, intently examines the safety information card, and then ferrets out every item in the SkyMall catalog that promises either danger to children or covert surveillance. He reads a book, another book, still another book. He eats every snack I've packed and sips his ginger ale with the rarefied pleasure of a sommelier — airplane rides are the only time he's allowed soda, and he takes full and joyous advantage of the beverage service. He listens to music, and he has recently graduated to watching a cartoon or two on my iPod during the last draining leg of a trip. This time Charlie was nothing short of perfect: he hustled when I needed him to, with no complaining. He entertained himself happily while I was occupied with Ben. He held Ben's hand when I couldn't, often without being asked.
Ben — well, Ben did great. Oh, he needed constant engagement, snack story story drink toy toy toy toy snack stickers toy toy stickers snack snack, but I expected that. (I never understand why parents who travel with small children even bother to pack a book or magazine, much less whip it out in flight; during the rare moments Ben didn't need my full attention to stave off whimpering or seat-kicking, I was too frazzled to do more than loll against the seat back, headrestborne ebola notwithstanding.) There was no excretion of note, except in the one airport where we had a long layover, and no real crying, though I admit I interrupted more than one escalating whine by cramming his fusshole with cookies.
And it was such a good visit, aside from the fact that visiting Louisiana in August is like burying your face in the aromatic crotch of Ignatius J. Reilly: oh, sure, it sounds good, but... But. Although it was too hot and soupy outside to do much more than wander out, gasp, clutch your faltering heart, and stumble back indoors, we had a wonderful time. Both kids were aces. My grandmother's doing well, and loved playing with the boys. My mother, hey, you know how I feel about seeing her. We saw my uncles and most of my cousins. Worth it, of course, as I'd known it would be.
And, damn it, I'm running out of time to write here this morning. It's killing me because there's more I want to talk about with you. There's this story about a judge blocking federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. There's our upcoming home visit — home visit, y'all! — from Charlie's kindergarten teacher, later this afternoon. There's Alexa's book, which you really, really need to read now if you haven't.
But all I have time to add is my thanks. I always love hearing your stories, whether about serious stuff like infertility and loss or about more mundane challenges like how to keep from cockpunching a snotty flight attendant or a nasty fellow passenger. Several of you said you were now afraid to travel after reading everyone's comments, and I agree. We should be.
My best advice, after you finish with the practical tips like snacking your kids into a coma and carrying three full outfits for every traveler, plus a waterproof rain suit and a Shop-Vac, is this: stay scared. Let that fear inform your every action. Maintain a condition of energizing terror. That state of catlike tension will tell you to pack way too much, which might be just enough. It'll propel you through airports as if your Maclaren were an Acme rocket sled. It'll let you make that Elmo finger puppet dance, you whoreson, dance, for the whole interminable flight. Then, if it turns out to be...not that awful..., as my trip did, you will feel lightheaded with relief. And maybe gratitude, too, since you've seen how bad it can be.
There's absolutely nothing creepy about this, right?
It seems the fish were biting, along with everything else
Hey, you know how I always talk about Tyler Place as if everyone there walked around in an unshakeable haze of smiles, relaxation, and goodwill? Well, this summer Ben proved me wrong:
I wasn't there when this photo was taken. I was probably doing something like cooking a meal or scrubbing a toilet or — ha ha ha haaaaaaaaa just kidding; more like kayaking with my spouse or lingering over coffee with new friends or reading a book on a chaise longue in the cool of the morning shade. Whatever I was doing, I certainly wasn't impaling worms, keeping a boat full of preschoolers from hooking each other, or, worst of all, touching fish. But Ben, I am told, had a fantastic time, and indeed he said so later. I can only suppose that in the moment, when the photographer said something friendly like, "Look upon what you have slain and rejoice!" — well, he got a little freaked out. And shrank from his trophy. And clutched at the nearest grown-up.
I'll confess it, because although I feel about Tyler Place like I do about TiVo and the Wacoal 85185, I am committed to a foundation of truth in my blogging: Ben had a tough time of it. Every dropoff with his group was as teary and fraught as if we were leaving him not at a bright, spacious facility packed with amusements, but at, I don't know, a venomous snake proving ground, or, in the evenings, maybe an exclusive poison tasting. ("Complex, mineral, with aromatic overtones of death, remorse, and parental abandonment.") He liked the activities a great deal and talked about them enthusiastically once he was back with us. But as soon as he figured out we were setting out again for the playhouse, the whimpering began: "I want to stay with my fami'y!" As if he thought we were doing something fun instead of cleaning bathrooms. And riding bikes. And taking sailing lessons. And laughing ourselves stupid on the low ropes course.
If we hadn't known from experience and observation that he was in a safe, welcoming place with staff who genuinely cared about kids, we might have been concerned. If the counselors hadn't greeted him each time by name, bringing him skillfully into activities, remembering what he particularly liked to do, we might have had reservations. Because according to Ben, the counselors weren't nice. "They are not nice," he told us solemnly on his second day after pickup.
"Oh?" I asked mildly, examining the backs of my thighs for hammock prints.
"No, they are bad people." Eyes wide with the import of what he was telling me.
"Hm," I murmured, looking forward to that evening's gin and tonics, plural, in the lounge, while aforementioned bad people cared for my second son. "What do they do that's bad?"
Ben paused to think, groping for any credible example of depravity. He finally seized on one, the worst thing he could think of: "They bite."
Nice try, kid, but I'm not buying it. To pry me out of my Adirondack chair overlooking Lake Champlain, you're gonna have to show me some marks.
Out of something like 66 families, that week there were eight sets of twins. Eight. My math isn't great, but I calculate that to be an incidence of roughly 382%, or about 950 twins per 1000. And although I won't speculate on any aspect of that fact, because for some reason everybody hates it when I jump to conclusions about the reproductive capabilities of strangers, as if such a thing were private or something, I will say we were among our people. And that is not an assumption.
When we arrived, Charlie and I went to the inn to check in. As we stood in line, someone behind me said my name. She had recognized Charlie, she said, from reading my blog, and quickly recited her history, which ended, happily, in one of those sets of twins.
It was the first time I've ever been recognized, so I got a little kick out of that, but more importantly, I felt known. I like meeting new people, but I sometimes find it hard to navigate those first few exchanges, when I haven't yet determined just how much myself I can be. Meeting C. instantly relieved that anxiety. It was a real gift, her reaching out to me like that, and I'm so grateful. Even if I'm still jealous that her kids smiled in every photo. (Maybe they had more fun than Ben did. Or maybe the ravenous counselors found them slightly less toothsome.)
Charlie had a blast, of course, and if I could figure out how to rotate my movie of him going down the zip line without asking you to pick up your monitor and cant it 90 degrees counterclockwise, I'd show you. But like with Ben, the photographic evidence of his pleasure is — oh, let us call it limited. The best picture of the week was this one, from pirate night:
...when his homicidal look of deadly murderous lethal killishness was at least thematically appropriate. I know he loved the trampoline, the bounce house, the karate class, the campfire, the pools both outdoor and in-. I just can't prove it. There is no way to show you the gladness I felt with his flashes of giddy joy.
I say this every year, but because there is no horse so dead that I scruple to flog it further — oh, Ben didn't like the pony rides, either, because "they wanted to bite me," which leads me to wonder if there was anything on the property that didn't want a chunk of tasty, tasty boychild. Jeez, kid, bicycles are herbivores — I really treasure the chance to enjoy my kids without the concomitant crap, to feel a whole uninterrupted week's worth of everything I love about being a parent.
It's been painful to come back, as always, and not just because there's no easing in, no halfway house where someone offers you only two entrees at dinner instead of three, and entertains your kids for merely half the day instead of three-quarters. The questions we have about Charlie still loom, and a large part of the rest of the summer will be devoted to devising some sort of plan, both for home and school. Ben, almost three now, has begun experiencing these sudden hopping fits of rage on the flimsiest provocation; that they are developmentally appropriate makes them no less tiresome. And I will just get on with it. Back to life as we know it, rather than life as we wish it could be.
It's been a long time since I posted here. It's so nice to be back on my blog. I have a lot to say but little time to say it, as Charlie is mostly home. But I miss this space, and I'm energized by Melissa's great post about blogging. See you here soon, I hope. Thank you for staying around.
Sunday papers (don't ask no questions)
Charlie loves the Mini Page. Did you have that when you were a kid, the little half-page in the Sunday paper with news stories simplified for kids, a couple of puzzles, and line drawings of this little Raggedy Ann-like girl in, like, a Tutankhamen headdress or a football helmet or a rubber mask of Richard Nixon, depending on what was happening in the world? My local paper didn't carry it, but my grandparents' did, and Grandma would clip it and send it to me. I loved the Mini Page. (I did not love the thank-you notes my mother made me write and send. But I now love that she did.)
I was excited to see that our paper here carries it, along with the dumbest crossword in the world — "1. Da Vinci's Mona ____. 2. Da Vinci's ____ Lisa." — and I've been passing it along to Charlie each week, feeling pleasantly wholesome and nostalgic, along with the color comics. (He sometimes gets the weekday strips, too, but honestly that depends on how hateful Dear Abby is being that day in the inches right next to Garfield.)
Last weekend, though, I happened to glance at the Mini Page before I gave it to Charlie. It was about September 11, and although it was tastefully done...
We know these hijackers were angry at the United States and our way of life. But even adults don’t really understand why they did this horrible act.
...I decided not to pass it along. So far as I knew, he was unaware that something very bad had once happened, and I saw no reason to tell him. I briefly wondered if that qualified as shameful not-"Never Forget"-ting, but decided it must not. I remember it fine, God knows, and although I know his innocence won't last forever, why would I hasten its end?
So I memory holed the Mini Page. Comforted by the note that said, "Next week, The Mini Page is about school lunches," presumably with Raggedy Ann wearing a hair net and dishing out deep-fried Fanta, I thought that would be the end of it.
This week I handed over the Mini Page with confidence. ...Along with the color comics. ...Which were all about September 11.
I didn't notice, of course, until Charlie complained, "These aren't even funny." And while I privately feel they never are, he usually finds even the Family Circus hilarious. (I disagree. Screw you, Not Me.) But yesterday was different. They weren't supposed to be funny. (Though if you can look at some of them without laughing incredulously, you're a better person than I am, because a few are just downright weird.)
Paul brokered that conversation, explaining it all simply, just as the Mini Page had, and discreetly skirting some of the horror of it, eliding the fact that so many people died. (Overhearing this, I supplemented Charlie's burgeoning understanding by hollering down the stairwell, "And a lot of people died, so we're sad." I think I heard Paul whisper, "Just ignore your mother," before resuming his more nuanced approach. Good one, Julie. A+ smiley-face in super-mindful parenting.)
I draw a lot of lessons from this little incident. First, trust the Mini Page, and let mass media guide your child whenver you feel uncertain. Second, leave all difficult conversations to your better-spoken spouse. Third, Dagwood Bumstead has feelings, too, for other things than sandwiches, and despite the fact that we've always known Beetle Bailey as a dependable, tough-as-nails grunt who could carry our country through its darkest days with resoluteness and aplomb, well, even heroes weep. And Mark Trail can speak without opening his mouth, and thank God Cathy is dead so I don't have to see her cry, too.
Charlie has a new hobby. "What's your new hobby?" I asked him, ready to help or rustle up supplies. I'm always eager to support his interests, as long as they don't involve explosives, and sometimes even then:
He was kind enough to make me an apprentice, with my own ID card and everything.
I think I am quite photogenic.
My soul-sucking tally still stands at zero (unless you count Paul's, which was really just beginner's luck). I'm hoping Charlie will soon have time to train me properly, but first he's working with a new kid at school. "I really think," he said optimistically, "this guy is good soul-sucker material."
And that is how you make new friends when you are my son Charlie.
Yesterday we went for a hike in the woods. Long story short, Ben and his friend A. ran out in front of the group. A.'s mother and I were walking fast to catch up with them, lest they fall into quicksand or slip on some mossy rocks or accidentally be exposed to a drum circle or something. I was looking at Ben and not at the ground, and I tripped on a root. I wrenched my ankle badly. It didn't hurt much at the time, but later, halfway through the grocery store, it hurt so much that I practically had to call a tow truck to get that godforsaken firetruck grocery cart back to the front of the store. (The whole time Ben was squawking indignantly from the cab of the truck, "But we need to stop for gas!" Which is absurd. This is Vermont. The grocery cart was a hybrid.)
So my ankle is wrapped and elevated, and I stump around the house on crutches. Charlie made me a cast patched together from neon-pink index cards: "It utilizes CrossWeave Technology," he assured me, securing it with tape and staples. (The ™ was unsaid but understood.) And Ben? Ben gave my ankle a kiss and two careful hugs, then vaulted over me on the sofa whooping, "Leeeeeap!" And when I then yelped in pain, he went to get a monkey Band-Aid, introduced himself as the doctor, and read me five of his books.
Which was all well and good but I can't wait until three-year-olds can legally prescribe morphine.
How was your weekend? Good, I hope, despite that little suckup, Jeffy.