Precious Cargo

Whenever I see a headline about somebody who drove their car full of kids into a lake or some other body of water, I never wonder what could possibly compel them to do that. Every time I drive with the kids and I do not end up in a large body of water I take it as a small miracle or as a really terrific coincidence. Most of the time, driving around with my two kids reminds me of that scene in Tommy Boy where the dead deer in the backseat wakes up and thrashes around the car, kicking out windows and sticking his horns through the soft top, except the deer yells, “Mom!” and then tattles on his sister.

I have tried telling the kids, “Don’t make me pull over!” because I have seen that on television, but none of us really knows how that will help. I think the point is that I would pull over on the side of the road and beat my kids into submission, but I feel like that is frowned upon and that I would eventually regret it. I have considered pulling over and just getting out and hitching a ride that is less taxing for me, like with an old blind lady in a Cadillac or with a middle aged white guy with a mustache driving a van with blacked out windows and an axe in the passenger seat, but I never make it more than a few feet away from our parked car. I have found myself a couple of times standing alone in an abandoned parking lot while the kids press their little faces to the window and watch me, knowing very well that I have no clue where this is headed. Realizing their mom might really have gone crazy is the one thing that seems to bring them together. They aren’t stupid, so I think they clearly understand my value, which is that I am the only one of us who has a driver’s license.

Raising kids is hard. And like wild animals, it becomes even more difficult when we choose to bring them inside, especially if they have siblings. My kids sometimes get along. They know how to make each other laugh, probably more than anyone else, and when I hear them giggling uncontrollably in the other room, I start to think that maybe I should keep them both. Their animosity comes from the fact that they are fighting for the same resources. Space in our house. My love and affection. Food. My daughter gets frustrated by the sound of her brother’s voice and for once in her life she would like to listen to “All about That Bass” without him talking through the entire song. My son thinks his sister is a great target for Nerf darts. Neither has any interest in sharing their popcorn. Not one single kernel. I tell them that deep down they really love each other and they assure me that is not true and then they lunge at each other the way a cheetah might lunge at a tiger who has just eaten her cubs or at least just turned off the bathroom light while she was obviously still in the bath tub.

Putting them together in a car is not a great idea. For several years I drove a minivan, which was basically just a DVD player on wheels, and something about the padded headphones and the fact that my son, sitting in the back row, was so far away from me that even though I could see his mouth moving in the rearview, I could not hear him. “Sorry buddy,” I would say as I pointed to my ears and shrugged, turning up the radio. After I got divorced, I traded in the van for a crossover SUV, which more accurately represents my current lifestyle by making the statement that I am almost 40, and I buy a lot of groceries. Once I got the new car, the kids had to learn how to be human in a motor vehicle again. “You just look out the window,” I tell them. They also have to sit on the same row with only a leather arm rest with two cup holders between them, taking turns using the IPOD and Kindle.

When I was a kid, my sisters and I sat three across (best case scenario) in a 1984 Honda Accord, and on long road trips we had to ride in the back of a pickup truck with a camper top. Our travel plans never included layovers at roadside motels, instead we traveled like refugees, leaving at odd hours and sleeping in rest area parking lots, eating what seemed like at the time as one meal every few days. We did not have movies to watch—we only had three to five Cabbage Patch Dolls per person and some am/fm walk-mans that we could occasionally tune to a static version of Eddie Murphy’s “Party all the Time.” The truck had one of those tiny windows between us and the cab that locked from the inside. If we wanted to talk our parents, we had to knock on the window. Sometimes they would open it, but more often they just made a series of unproductive gestures and then shrugged as if there was nothing they could do.

close up

Parenting Wins

The single most difficult moment in parenting happens right after your kid draws the gingerbread man card in Candy Land. When my son was little he would sob uncontrollably, and I would have to spend my entire afternoon rocking him to calm him down. My daughter just screams and then sweeps everything off the board like she is Godzilla terrorizing a sleepy fishing village. I have considered removing that card, but then I feel like I would be cheating them of a valuable lesson. Also, it keeps me from dying of boredom while playing.  As my kids near the candy castle, I wince each time they draw a new card, and then let out a sigh of relief when the card is a single orange square. When I draw the gingerbread man, I exaggerate how accepting I am of my fate. I shrug my shoulders and say that it is just part of the game, “Oh well. I can still catch up, or whatever, King Kandy is not really my type.” It is very similar to the way I act when someone dumps me. “I totally understand. Good decision. There are still a few good years left before I just give up, move to Florida, and become a crack whore.”

A similar parenting danger zone is when we play a game and I win. This happens all the time because I am smart and great at games. Also I am 39. When my son was little I took him to a child therapist because he was so competitive and would get crazy mad whenever he lost. She played a game of Uno with him while I watched. She let him win. “Oh,” I said.

When I was growing up my mom never let me win, and we weren’t playing games like Candy Land or Uno. We were playing Spades and Gin. She knew every card that had been played and what was still left in both of our hands. “You know the Ace hasn’t been played yet, right?” She would say. No, I did not know that because I was five. After my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I played a game of Gin Rummy with her and my mom. It was my mom’s idea, and I was not sure it was a great idea because my grandmother had spent most of the afternoon telling me to get the baby out of the bathtub, which was terrifying until I remembered we did not have a baby. My grandmother won, and then she lit a cigarette and fell asleep in her chair.

After you have survived watching your children deal with the pain of being a loser, everything else in parenting is easy, as long as you can get a good night’s sleep, which is never going to happen. Before you have a baby, people warn you about the sleep deprivation. I don’t blame them. It is sort of like if your friend survives climbing Mount Everest, and you mention that you are planning to attempt a similar quest, he doesn’t just say, “Meh. No biggie.” He shares his experience to prepare you for the physical and mental challenges. Maybe the impetus to share is based a little more on bragging than sincere concern for your well-being, and maybe he is a little bit of a condescending asshole, but he survived, and he earned it. However, what people do not tell you is that you may never actually sleep through the night again, the way someone who recently climbed Everest might not mention that there is not actually a bar with tank top wearing models serving ice cold Coors Light at the top.

Yes, sleeping with a newborn is tough, but as kids grow they just continually reach new milestones that interrupt your sleep. There is the crawling out of the crib stage, the bed-wetting stage, the scared of the dark phase, and then there is the stage after your kid learns about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse, and she is too terrified to sleep, or you really slip in the parental control department and your kid watches The Hangover 2 and has nightmares about one crazy night in Bangkok. Then apparently there is the stage where you don’t sleep because your kid is out driving around doing all the things you definitely did while driving around as a teenager, and you question how you could get that lucky twice.

In my house, we are currently in the nightmares and fear of abandonment stage. Earlier this week both my kids were in my bed in the middle of the night, like a couple of 50-pound newborn babies. My son had a bad dream. He said, “You know the conductor from Dinosaur Train?”

“Say no more,” I said.

My daughter whimpered in the background, “I can only sleep if I am with someone.”

“Say no more.”

I led them back to their rooms and spent time passed out in each of their beds. We all switched places multiple times, our three paths crossing up and down the hall like our own little disoriented trail of tears—mainly mine. Finally, as my daughter stood in the hallway holding her blanket, sucking her thumb, I just got up and shut my door. In her face. I found her the next morning in her brother’s room. There will come a time when I am no longer around, and they will have to take care of each other, and maybe that time is 3 a.m.

The next day I was tired, but that is just the parenting new normal. Maybe we will get through this stage soon, but there is just another one gearing up right behind it. I remember when my daughter used to bite people, mainly adorable little babies. She would grab their cheeks and then just go in for the kill. When she was in preschool they moved her up to an older age group class because those kids were better able to defend themselves. I told everyone she was just really advanced. I tried a lot of different methods to get her to stop: I removed her from the situation, I bit her back, and then I even resorted to something I like to call “deliberate ignoring.” This is my favorite style of parenting where I just pretend like nothing is happening. I like to think that it keeps the kids from getting attention from bad behavior, but also I am pretty lazy. Eventually she stopped biting, and we moved into a new difficult phase. I know that eventually my kids will not care about winning Candy Land. They will move onto bigger and better games, and it will be even more exhilarating for me when I win.

close up

Fantasy

This week for a bedtime story my son and I read Rocks and Minerals, and I learned everything I know about rocks and minerals from that book. Why wouldn’t the rock with the black spots be called a Dalmatian? I totally buy it. With my daughter I read a book called Forever After which includes four stories about Disney princesses and answers the question that has been lingering on all our minds since the happy couples kissed at the alter and the screen filled with hearts: how did they plan their weddings?

These weddings didn’t just happen sans adversity. Happily ever after might mean weaving the queen’s pearls into your veil because the weight of them around your neck was too heavy, sort of like chains. It might mean surprising your former dog-beast prince by inviting all the villagers to the reception to show him that he is loved, now that he is not a drooling, maniacal killer and because you are now his emotional support princess. Maybe, if you are the only black princess, it means catering your own wedding by cooking gumbo for all your guests.

I read with skepticism (and occasional eye rolling). I know too much. Usually my voice trails off at the last line of each story, “Cinderella had the wedding of her dreams,” and I close the book, letting out a sigh and putting up my middle finger. I still read her the book, though. I know it is wrong, and I should teach her to be offended, but those tiny-footed princesses make her smile. It is sort of like when a creepy meth addict calls out from behind a garbage can lid, “Nice tits,” and I am outwardly offended, but inwardly quite flattered as I look down and whisper, “Thanks for noticing, man.”  Then the rest of the day I have unrealistically high self-esteem.

Princesses get to be pretty and wear fancy dresses, and they have pure hearts, and they get to use all the animals as their personal servants, and they don’t have to date. They don’t have to check their phone every thirty seconds to see if he called, when they know damn well that he didn’t because he is too busy boning a peasant. The first guy a princess meets is eternally devoted and devoid of personality, unless he is a monster who imprisons her, or a lying thief, or a womanizing frog, but she can change him. She must. She is stuck with him either way. The end!

The Disney dudes are all just versions of Ken with different colored plastic hair. I was not into the princesses as a girl because they were too puritanical for me, but I loved playing with Barbie. Ken was usually just lying on the floor, face down and naked. I liked to do Barbie’s hair, and by “do” I mean that I cut her hair and tried to give her bangs, which never worked, but I kept trying with each new Barbie I received or that was left momentarily unattended by one of my sisters. I also liked to set up Barbie’s house with beds made out of maxi-pads.

For little girls, playing with dolls and watching or reading about princesses is tied up with the fantasy of being an adult. For me, being a big girl was about having killer bangs and a really absorbent bed. I have not yet made either of those fantasies a reality. My daughter is fascinated with weddings and brides. Her favorite princess is Ariel, who gives up her voice to be with the man of her dreams-slash-the first and only human she has ever met. She gets her voice back, but then she has to change species in order to get married. I feel like there are some major issues here that I need to address with my daughter. For starters, I will tell her that she should never give up her voice under any circumstances, and second there are plenty of fish in the actual sea who will love her just the way she is.

I still read my daughter the books. I let her adore the princesses, mainly because I know she is smart enough to enjoy them without being consumed. I am going to tell her that if she ever decides to get married, she should consider eloping. Not because it is easier, but because it will be a good barometer for how she feels about the marriage itself. Does she still think it is worth it without the big white gown and party? Maybe even more controversially, I will tell her that she doesn’t have to get married at all. (Gasp! Tiny princess hands rise to cover tiny rosebud mouths. “Mouse! Get me a paper bag! I need to hyperventilate.”) I will tell her that she doesn’t need to be rescued. I will tell her that she should not have to change herself or the person she loves to find true love. I will also tell her to avoid cursed men who attempt to trap her in a dark, damp castle filled with talking, singing dishes. Then I will tell her that she is a beautiful princess as I brush her hair with a fork.

img014007

Starts

R3 VSU

Writing starts somewhere, but not always at the beginning.

Sometimes as I am going about my day a little spark will ignite—a little ember that seems worth writing about. Usually these are little moments, and it isn’t always something exciting or all that interesting, just a moment that seems right, as if I can already read it. When this happens, I like to type my ideas, even if it is just a few lines so I can go back to them later. When I sit down to write I will usually browse through my files to see if I can create something out of the ashes.

Today I found this little collection of “starts” about my daughter. I am not ready to use them yet. Maybe when she is older these will become reflections in a larger essay, but for now they are just little glimpses.

This afternoon my daughter asked me to be a guest speaker in her pretend class of baby dolls. I asked what she would like me to talk about, but she just directed me to sit down—crisscross applesauce—behind her row of half-dressed but very obedient students. Then she handed me a stuffed elephant and a small pink hair dryer and told me, “Rose petal likes her hair blow-dried.” While I blow-dried the elephant, my daughter went through the contents of her purse, pulling each one out and showing her students, “This is my lip gloss, this is my mirror . . .”

************************************

My daughter shows up in our room in the middle of the night prepared to stay for the long haul. She brings her blanket and a stuffed animal, places her sippie cup of milk on my nightstand, and puts her slippers on the floor beside the bed.  When I wake up in the morning, it feels like I am the one who is just visiting.

************************************

My daughter likes to say, “I love you more” after I say, “I love you,” but then she wants me to say “I love you most” back to her like from the Disney movie, Tangled. Therefore, she plays the part of the adorable and kind-hearted lost princess, and I am the evil old witch that kidnapped her. This doesn’t really work for me.