Thursday, April 21, 2011

Daughter Words

Picture your windshield after a rain storm, tiny drops of water dot the surface of the glass, slightly shaken by the wind. One drop slowly scoots across the window until it meets with another and they meld together to form a slightly bigger drop of water. Inevitably the growing drop will continue to move across the window, absorbing more drops of water until it finally gets too heavy and rolls off the car into the breeze.

Sometimes, sitting next to my daughter, she will lean into me and I swear, if she could figure out how, she would inch closer and closer to me until we meld together, one of us absorbed into the other. I’m not sure which one of us would remain. I’m fairly certain that if she could tuck me in her pocket and carry me around everywhere with her this would be a perfectly fine arrangement for her.

I love my daughter more than anything in the world. Sometimes when I look at her rosy, freckled cheeks it makes my heart stop for a second. I cannot believe I lived 34 years of my life without her and actually was okay with that since I had never met anyone like her before. But now she is here and I would do anything for her. Anything but allow her to tuck me into a pocket so she could haul me off to second grade with her, of course.

I know enough about child development to know that healthy attachment between a parent and child means that a child learns to feel safe and confident enough to go out into the world without her parents because she carries an internal picture of them, tucked inside a little pocket in her brain. This connection to the mental image of mom and dad is enough to reassure her in times of minor trouble. While Martha separates from me without incident every day as she boards bus #22 to ride off to school, I’m not certain it’s because she really senses that I am there with her in spirit. She is so literal-minded that the image of me in her head might underscore my absence rather than bring her comfort. Obviously, I can’t see inside her head so I can’t say for sure. I have exhausted more than my fair share of energy obsessing over the question of whether or not she and I share a healthy attachment to each other. I need not spend more time on that. We each have our personalities and they fit together in a unique way.

For a year or two now, Martha has been fixated on the idea of death and dying, trying to figure out exactly what that means. The worst part about it to her seems to be the fact that if either one of us dies, we must say goodbye to each other forever and just the thought of that is unbearable. It’s unbearable to me, too, as it would be for pretty much any parent, but because the thought causes such intense discomfort my brain instantly backs away from the thought. I know not to dwell on it and in fact, am almost incapable of following it through to the end. It is too painful. Martha, on the other hand, seems incapable of not following the thought through to its conclusion. As she imagines it, when we say goodbye, it is so distressing to her she can’t function. How do you reassure a child in this state? How do you tell her to push the thought away and do not, under any circumstance, let your mind think that thought? How do you teach repression?

A few nights ago she was thinking about heaven and what you can and can’t do in heaven. I’m not a particularly faithful person myself so the concept of heaven is my last resort. It is really my only “resort” for providing her comfort on this issue. When I said yes, you can walk and talk and live in our house and read books and see your friends in heaven, I felt a little like I was telling her, don’t worry, honey, you get a whole new life after death and it’s pretty much so great up there in heaven that it’s like you never died. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it, death doesn’t mean anything. I guess I did enough to bring her some solace, as she was able to finish the bath without continued weeping and eventually went to sleep. Later, in the wee hours of the morning, maybe around 3:00am, I heard her voice in the darkness, whispering, “Mama! I have some more questions!” Powerless to respond in any other way, I asked, “what?” It was three more questions about what you can do in heaven, to which I replied whatever seemed like the answer she would most want to hear. Then came one more question. And then my response. And one more question, and finally I had to tell her enough, please go back to sleep.

When I was Martha’s age I remember one day being completely obsessed with the knowledge that my own mother would die someday and I, too, would be broken-hearted knowing that I would never see her again. I tried to erase the thought but it just kept coming back and I did not know how to ask her about it, how to seek reassurance. Finally, that night as she tucked me in, I had a total break-down, sobbing and crying and when she asked what was wrong, all I could do was blurt out, “You’re going to die…” and continue my wailing. It is for this reason that when Martha asked me, “Can we die together?” I simply said yes, okay. I absolutely cannot live with the idea that she is carrying around such sorrow in her head over the possibility that she will someday have to leave me. I know too well what that feels like. So rather than trying to give her rational information about why she doesn’t need to worry about that now, I just accept responsibility for blatantly lying and promising things I’m not sure I can deliver, and I tell her yes, we will always be together, even after we’re dead. Mama will always be with you.

The truth is, it drives me crazy that she is so attached to me that she never wants to let me go. Occasionally she’ll have these moments where she is possessed by the need to touch me, to play with my hair, pat my head, hold my hand, kiss my cheek, my nose, my eyes, my arm. It gets to be too much for me and I have this image in my head of me trying to extract myself from the cloying tentacles of an octopus dragging me under water. As soon as she turns those big blue eyes my way and tells me it’s too sad to imagine saying goodbye forever, though, I would crumble and submit to all the pawing. Such is my chosen road, I guess.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I was going to tell a few cute kid anecdotes and let that be it. But then my clever brain started generating nightmarishly sappy titles for such a post. Rejecting the sap, I consulted the thesaurus in hopes of stumbling upon a truly catchy way to headline the cute kid anecdotes. Things have just deteriorated from there. Actually, the very first idea I had was to call this “Shit My Kid Says,” but it seems totally inappropriate to label my child’s brilliance and goofiness as “excrement.” Tidbits? Morsels from Martha? Child Chestnuts? Chestnut was actually listed as a synonym for anecdote. Really? Chestnut? Why a chestnut? Why not a peanut? How about ‘Peanuts from my peanut?’ Do you see the problem I’m having?

Since I am writing without fear, however, I’m just going to plow ahead, sans witty header…

#1 Last night we invited my sister and her family over for dinner. Martha adores her cousins more than words can say so an evening spent hosting them is a momentous occasion. And a momentous occasion, obviously, requires attire to match the moment. It requires fashion. Or, as Martha went around stating all afternoon, we must be “fah-shionable.” As instructed by the fah-shion director, here is what I wore:

High Fah-shion
#2 Today we did yard work. My daughter tends to be fairly useless in the yard work department. One thing she does like, however, is the weed popper. For anyone who is unfamiliar with this high tech gardening device, the weed popper is a “thingy” with these little claw-like tines that you place on top of your weed (most commonly, the dandelion) and then you step on it and the little claw-like tines go into the ground and clamp down around the weed and then you pull it out of the ground. Ideally, you pull up the dandelion, root and all, and you are left with a hole in the ground that your lush green grass will soon cover over. Personally, I love the weed popper. I am positively elated when I pull out a dandelion with a majority of the root intact. Seriously, I am not exaggerating. Martha got out the weed popper today and we were thrilled to discover that she has become quite adept with this tool. Over and over again, she came running across the yard, exclaiming “Mama! You have GOT to see this weed I pulled out!” And in most instances, she really did get most of the root out and I experienced the same sense of overwhelming joy as if I had pulled that weed out myself. All I could think was,”Oh man, this is why I had a kid. For this very moment when I witness her turning into me… How could I ask for anything more?”

#3 Martha is a big fan of the Beatles. In 2009 I bought Beatles Rock Band for Christmas and last winter she and her dad played it just about every night after dinner. She was the only 7-year old who had the entire Beatles catalog memorized. For just about any song she heard, she could tell you if it was John Lennon or Paul McCartney singing (she can identify the occasional George Harrison song, as well). She was also quite interested in who the Beatles were, including names, birthdates, and whether or not they were still alive. And if they were not alive, she had to know when and how they died. When we got around to discussing John Lennon, I really wanted to avoid telling her that he was shot and killed, right out on the street in New York City. Her grandfather lives in New York; we visit him often and I was worried it could be a major source of anxiety for her to envision someone getting shot right on the sidewalk there. Instead, I told her he died of a heart attack. It seemed harmless. But recently she learned about biographies and got hold of some information about John Lennon. She brought it home and reported to me, with regret, that, in fact, John Lennon did not die of a heart attack but that he was shot. She seemed to assume I was just misinformed and she was helping me out by setting me straight. I confessed that yes, I knew that, but that I made up the alternate story to protect her. Last night, out of the blue, she asked her dad and I why we lied (I cringed). When I told her that I was worried it would scare her or make her sad, she replied, “No, not at all. It doesn’t make me sad; it just makes me feel mad that someone would be that cruel.” Maybe it doesn’t sound that profound in the retelling, but when she said it, she sounded incredibly grown-up and wise to the world. “Yeah,” I said, “it makes me mad, too.”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lunch from hell

When I was about 25 I worked with this guy who lived, really unhappily, with his mother. The money he saved on rent he spent on a car loan for a nice, new Honda Accord. When he’d complain about his mom I would, in my extremely kind and compassionate way, lecture him on why he should own an older, crappier car and then he’d have money to move out. At the time, I was driving an 8-year old Subaru wagon that I had purchased used (and apparently I felt that it was also a pertinent detail that I could change my own oil – you know how those regular oil changes will bankrupt you in no time) and although I didn’t owe any money on my car, it was slowly disintegrating. Oh and lest I forget this tiny detail, I, too, lived with my mom. But I had a plan to move out. As soon as I paid for that new muffler, I was looking for an apartment, for sure. Well, for some reason, many years later, I thought about this and realized that it must have been super annoying how I was so critical and judgmental. His life was really none of my business, right? It was all I could do not to track him down, contact him completely out-of-the-blue and apologize for my behavior.

I vowed then to really try hard to withhold judgment about other people’s decisions because honestly, who am I to judge anyone about anything? It is with this in my mind that I preface this post by saying that I don’t think all consumers of the Oscar Mayer Lunchables™ are evil or bad people in any way. You have your reasons for buying them and that is none of my business. I just think that the Oscar Mayer Lunchables themselves are evil and here’s why:

For months my daughter has been begging me for Lunchables (for her sack lunch, as if that was not abundantly obvious by the clever product name). My answer has always been a resounding no, followed by a rant about excess packaging and how it is bad for the Earth and about processed food and how it is gross and unnatural and if she wants to make tiny ham & American cheese sandwiches on crackers for her lunch, I will simply buy her the ham and the cheese and the crackers and we can make our own lunchable.

Voila, behold the homemade lunchable. Lovely, don’t you think? Do you not admire the way the saran wrap separates the ham from the cheese so they don't take on each others' flavors while they await the lunch hour? Wouldn’t you love to eat this tasty little meal? The day I sent this off with my daughter, it returned home at the end of the day with one bite out of the ham and one or two crackers eaten. And it was lukewarm, and a little oily-looking, so I tossed it all out. While, of course, simultaneously ranting about wasting food and why this, too, is bad and how the ham is expensive and I’m not going to send it to school with her anymore if she’s not going to eat it. Crap… I’ve turned into my mother.

Last week at the grocery store, my poor child pitches one more time for the Lunchables, this time for the Extra Cheesy Pizza variety. In a weakened state, I conceded. Fine, I thought, get the Lunchable, generate excess trash, eat cold pizza sauce and cold grated cheese on a dry, doughy circle of “pizza crust.” Just eat something please (uh, not that my child is exactly suffering from malnourishment; she’s quite hearty in spite of her fussy lunch-eating habits). Well, yesterday, the Extra Cheesy Pizza Lunchable went off to school in her pink lunchbox and what do you suppose she ate? One dry, doughy circle with cold sauce and cheese and the rest was essentially tossed back into her lunchbox except without the convenient cellophane cover so that all the remaining sauce and cheese could jumble around and coat the entire inside of said lunchbox with a slick mix of chunky, cheesy faux marinara. Mmm, delish. In search of something fun to do, I scrubbed it all out. I loved it.

And this Sunday when we schlep back to the grocery store? No Lunchables. None. Not Extra Cheesy Pizza, not Cracker Stackers, not Nachos or Wrapz or any of it. I’m thinking of making my own version of the lunchable. In one section I’ll put potato chips; in another section, corn chips; in another section, cheese puffs; and in the last section, Reese’s peanut butter cups. That way, everything gets eaten, there’s no waste and I don’t have to clean anything up when she comes home. Brilliant! Oh Motherhood… you and I, we are so perfect together.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why I hate being an adult

Please pay for my health care
There are many things I hate about being an adult. For instance, I hate paying bills. I also hate taking care of home repairs and maintenance. I hate going to full-service gas stations. And I hate that I’m supposed to act mature and not laugh when I hear the word “erect” or address someone named “Dick.” For that matter, it probably is not terribly mature of me to refer to our esteemed Speaker of the House of Representatives as John Boner. I’m sure I can think of others, but the one aspect of adulthood that I loathe more than anything else is health insurance. It sounds kind of mundane but if you ask me, health insurance “issues” (and in our country, of course, health insurance does not really exist without “issues”) are the number one pain-in-the-ass things of which one must take care (don’t want to end a sentence in a preposition). Of course, let us also note that NOT having health insurance can also be something of a pain-in-the-ass, so deep down, I feel very fortunate to have this complaint.

I used to be really good about making phone calls and looking into problems of this sort. That’s because I had a job where I was happy to make personal phone calls and I could count on not being interrupted when I was on the phone. Now, however, I have to make these calls from my home, in the middle of the day, when I would much rather be doing something else that feels more important. Therefore, I avoid it all cost until someone confronts me about an unpaid bill, which makes me feel shady and irresponsible.

Today, however, I was feeling pretty spunky and I thought I would attack that heap of paper on my desk, as well as the one on the floor and I guess that one on the counter, too, and maybe even that other one on the other counter. Martha did ask me the other day, “When are you going to clean up these piles of paper?” That’s rich. So, ok, true confession here, there is this woman who I talk to on a fairly regular basis who just happens to be a psychologist. I go to her office and I stay for approximately 50 minutes and I pay her employer from time to time for these sessions. Some people might call her a therapist. But not me. I just call her by her name. She knows me very well, has known me since 1995 and is very good at sorting out the jumbled thoughts in my head, which no one else in my life has been able to do thus far, including me. So… you know, I’m not proud, I don’t have a problem just admitting I’m a nut job. At least I’m trying to do something about it though, right? That’s a lot more than I can say for most people.

Miraculously, my husband’s health insurance through his employer has been covering this service for the last few years, minus my $35 co-payment. For that reason, my husband’s employer decided to switch health insurance providers as of January 1, 2011. No one likes consistency. No one likes predictability. That would be too boring. And of course, you guessed it, the new insurer is not paying for my helpful chat sessions with the psychologist-lady. Damn… Guess I have to make the phone call. The “issue” remains, as of yet, unresolved, but I called the health insurance company and I called the mental health provider and I called the behavioral health department of the health insurance company to ask about the possibility of getting the obscure and ambiguous “prior authorization.” I’m still waiting for a call back about that. And don’t get me wrong, I know my situation could be a lot worse and in reality I’m probably one of the lucky people. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I hate the phone calls, I hate groveling for my sanity, I hate continually explaining what seems very obvious to me, I hate jumping through other people’s hoops, I hate that I have to justify what I already know to be a really sound, intelligent decision on my part.

So there is folks, that’s my input for the day. When my husband comes home tonight and asks what I did today, I think I’ll just answer with a noncommittal “eh, you know, took care of shit.” Because that’s really all I did today. Because I’m a grown-up (yes, yes, fragmented, consider revising…).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

But wait, there's more!

Also, not me
Writing a blog is hard work. Especially if you’re me. And incidentally, I am. The problem I have is that I over-think just about every word I write and in the process, I seem to kill any bit of creativity or spontaneity that may have been possible pre-bout of obsessiveness (oh screw you Microsoft word, it is too a word). Which is pretty funny for someone who deliberately described herself as someone who rarely takes herself too seriously. That’s a good one. What can’t I take too seriously?

Remember in high school when you got various written assignments back and your teacher wrote things like “unclear” or “too wordy.” I do. I would think to myself, “Unclear? Unclear?? Are you kidding me? It’s totally obvious who or what I am talking about in this fine piece of literary effort.” And as for wordiness, well, I happen to like words. I like them a lot. In fact, I like them so much that I often like to find at least two or possibly three ways of phrasing the same thought yet employ subtle differences in meaning, which, as an aggregate, perfectly convey the tiny ray of brilliance that I am trying to express. Better too much than not enough is my philosophy.

Well, I suppose the blog is my chance to eschew all those restrictive little customs that high school English teachers think are so gosh-darn important. Unfortunately however, Mrs. Griggs and that Carol Channing-esque blonde hair-do of hers are firmly lodged in my head so that when I re-read anything I’ve just written I go through it with a fine-toothed comb looking for possible words that are not exactly what I mean to say or sentences that may be awkward or, god forbid, too wordy. I mean, I like efficiency as much as I like words, I can see the virtue in economy.

As a result of all this gut-wrenching preoccupation with the written word (or the written-by-me word, I should say), the blog is a bit lacking these days. I’m considering a brief experiment in which I force myself to post something every day for a week. It could produce some interesting results. No, not actual interesting writing, but maybe I can desensitize myself a bit. You know, like throwing the kid who is terrified of water into the deep end of the pool. Because that always works well as a fear-conquering technique.

On a final note, I would just like to acknowledge my ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Griggs, who passed away a few years ago. I made fun of her and her hair-fluffing and I stubbornly refused to read “A Tale of Two Cities” despite the fact that I knew I was trashing a perfectly good grade and also despite the potentially imagined disappointment I could see in her eyes every day I slunk into class during the teaching of that work. Dear Mrs. Griggs, I would just like you to know that at age 32 I did indeed read the Dickens classic and thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope that you and Chuck are up there sharing some punch and smiling down on me in approval. And thank you.