Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Somewhere You Feel Free!

My dad took me to see Tom Petty in concert when I was 16.  He got the tickets well in advance, and when the night of the event rolled around, I was mildly surprised to learn we were still going.  Oh, yeah.  A night with my dad.  I have to do this- no driving around aimlessly with my friends tonight, no sleepover at Jane's house, no movie at the dollar show.  I have to go see Tom Petty with my dad, go dancing at the zombie zoo.

It's what I'm seeing a lot on social media now, twenty years later, on the occasion of Petty's death.  The link between Tom and people's dads.  The dads of my childhood loved that guy.  And so did we, the good girls and Indiana boys.  I remember first discovering music and it started in my family room with the tapes and some shiny CDs that I would divide up between my mom's collection and my dad's.  My dad's collection was for sure a lot better.  Toni Braxton sucks. Chaka Kahn can only take you so far.  But my dad had the good stuff.  Journey.  The Stones.  Steve Miller Band, of course.  And Tom Petty.  I remember unfolding the lyrics in the cassette box and singing along with "Refugee."  "Breakdown."  "Here Comes My Girl."  And, yeah, man.  That Tom Petty was pretty rad.

We still talk about that Tom Petty concert, some twenty odd years later.  It was one of the most surprising nights of my youth, how much fun I could have with my dad.  We both sang our hearts out, and I remember looking over at him and seeing him in all his loud, sweaty, rocking out glory.  It's like those celebrity magazines, the ones that show famous doing ordinary things like grocery shopping in yoga pants.  "Stars are people, too!"  Except it was the reverse.  "Dads are awesome, too!"

And when Tom Petty belted out his cover of "Gloria" for his encore and the audience was crazy, thrumming, glowing, and feeling more alive than possible, I could officially admit it, out loud.  This was a hell of a lot more fun than a sleepover at Jane's.

Lately, I've been dwelling on some of the sour bits of my childhood.  I think this is mostly a function of looking at Andy and understanding that he's in the golden age of childhood- the years that feel like they physically form you forever.  I remember a lot about being seven, many more things about seven than being five, like Alex.  I'm quite sure I don't remember anything about being two, but I suppose it's all there, buried deep in my cells.  I'm looking at my kids and praying that when they reminisce about being young, at home with mom and dad, they will have wonderful, joyous, and happy things to say.  I am devoting myself to them, both selflessly and selfishly.  I give to them all I wanted as a kid, or at least I try.  And I attempt to hold the crazier parts back, but sometimes they come spilling out anyway.  You don't know how it feels, I sometimes think with an anxious flair.  To be me.

But when Tom Petty died, yesterday, I immediately thought about that concert with my dad.  One of the best nights of my younger life.  Despite the harshness with which I have sometimes judged my parents, there were shining, surprising moments that I need to give more equal weight.  You wreck me baby.  Yeah you break me in two.  But you move me, honey.  Yes you do.

I am nostalgic about the past and preemptively so about the present.  I take pictures of special moments, both spectacular and ordinary, so that my kids can look at them when we're all so old.  Running the bases at Wrigley Field.  Soccer on Saturday mornings.  That seven dollar ice cream cone.  Drawing in chalk on the driveway.  Riding a roller coaster at Six Flags. Buying all the flavors of Pringles at the store.  A stay at the water park.  Look guys!  Mom and Dad were fun!  They loved you so very hard.

I wonder which musician Andy, Alex, and Emily will associate with me?  Which otherwise happy songs will bring tears to their eyes?  I suppose that's not mine for knowing.  The kids will tell.  And me?  I'll just take it on faith, I'll take it to the heart.

Rest in peace, good man.

Monday, September 18, 2017

My Time Traveling Son!

Before Andy was even born, I was relatively certain that he'd invented time travel.  We had picked out his name, and when I googled it just to make sure that there weren't any Andrew J. Berger serial killers or Fox News commentators, an image of my son popped up- or at least a pretty spot on predication of what my son would look like. He had dark brown hair, brown eyes, and seemed to awkwardly rock a kind of a skinny, dorky look.  He wore glasses- clearly myopic just like his mother. He was a professor in another state, and when I looked at the picture, I  had a tumbling feeling in my gut.  My son had invented time travel.  This was him.  And he had come back to the past to fix a wrong or to apply an academic solution to some future problem.  Who knew- his mission could be multi-faceted. Maybe he'd show up in my life just in time to push me out of the path of an oncoming bus.  Or into it, depending on what kind of mother I was about to become.

Over the years, my suspicion has grown.  Last year, Andy become obsessed with inventing A TIME MACHINE.  That's right.  He has worked hard on his blueprints, mapping out the machine in crayon and talking earnestly about it with his school friends.  Now, I'll be honest.  These time machine plans are a bit rudimentary.  There's usually a pretty big, unevenly drawn circle in the middle of the page where one would assume the time traveler would sit.  Then there's some wires wiggling out.  A couple months ago, Andy asked me what the most powerful battery was.  "Lithium ion?"  I guessed, only semi-confident that I wasn't just making those words up.

"Lithium ion," Andy repeated.  "What does it look like?"

"I think they're rectangular," I replied intelligently, and Andy scribbled in a rectangular lithium ion connected to the wires of his latest time machine circle.

"There," Andy said, satisfied.  "Laminate this, ok?"

Of course, time travel is the ultimate form of entertainment.  Andy and Alex have been captured by the time travel plot lines of Captain Underpants, and I myself often look up "Best Time Travel Books" on the Goodreads website looking for my latest fix.  Sometimes I have to look up "Decent Time Travel Books" because I've already read all of the best ones and now I'll just take something mediocre to keep me going.

"I think I would go back to... 1639," Andy said one day at dinner when time travel was once again the topic of conversation.  He was throwing out a completely random date.  "Yes, I would go back all the way to then.  I'd probably have to wear something old in order to blend in.  Maybe I could borrow something from Daddy."

"Yeah, good thinking," I agreed.  I know for a fact that some of Chris' T-shirts go back 20 years, and they're not even cool ones.  If anyone would keep four hundred year old clothes, it would be him.  "Alex, when would you go back to?"

Alex had his answer ready.  "I would definitely time travel to when I was four," he announced.  "I would time travel to when I was 4 and go find Daddy and tell him to buy the right Skylander Trap Force portal."  This, of course, was in reference to last week's video game disappointment.  You know, the one in which the aforementioned Daddy bought the wrong Skylander Trap Force portal. Alex, with his dry, non-ironic delivery is either a stand up comic in the future or everyone's favorite office coworker at some low to medium level job in which his droll comments at the water cooler are basically what keep all of the other associates from hanging themselves each night.   He never fails to unintentionally crack me up.  To wit, we were recently at Great America, sitting inside the Mystery Van Scooby Doo ride.  I called it a bus when describing it to Emily, and Alex, looking disdainfully around at all of the sticky surfaces, was quick to correct me.  "It's not a bus, it's a van.  A mystery van. Because there's lots of mysteries on the floor."

"That's probably a good era to travel back to," I replied to Alex now.  "Like four months ago, in the pre-kindergarten period.  That was truly the golden age."

Andy, never quite amused by Alex, just ignored us and asked, "What exactly is the time-space continuum?"

Oh boy, here we go. I cut into my chicken and began to wax poetic on the very fabric of time, explaining the intricacies of the universe and of course, the most important thing about time travel, which was that you could never accidentally kill your grandmother.  "Just think," I said, "about the paradox created if you did something and your grandmother died and then I wasn't born and then of course YOU weren't born."

Andy's eyes got very wide, and Alex, who I had assumed checked out of the conversation five minutes ago, poked around his plate and piped up, "Yeah.  Maybe we shouldn't do any time traveling. It sounds pretty unsafe."

You know, it does sound pretty unsafe.  Would these wise words convince Andy?  Later that day, I googled his name just to see.  Andrew J. Berger- my grown up son, the professor- still came up first in my search.  He was still here, existing in the present.  My time traveling son who figured out the exact precise way to connect the lithium ion battery to the time travel machine.  You did it, boy.  Now even though we've all been born and it's technically okay to kill your grandmother- it's probably still best if you don't.  But maybe you could go back a few weeks and drop Daddy an anonymous note about that Skylander portal, just to be a nice big brother.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Unfair and Biased!

After I put Alex on the bus to kindergarten yesterday, Emily and I hopped into the minivan and raced over to the school.  We were there to give him an encouraging wave as he entered the building, found his teacher, and sat among his classmates.  He was quiet and still, not chatting or crying, not fiddling around or getting up and switching seats.  He gave us a brave smile now and then, and my heart nearly broke in two when the teachers all led their classes away to their room.  Alex brought up the rear of his group, looking aimless yet tentatively stoic as he disappeared from me.  There it was.  My baby boy was gone to school.

I didn't drive to the school like that when Andy started kindergarten.  I didn't really think that parents were supposed to do that, and so when I put him on the bus that morning, Alex, baby Emily, and I went on with our morning as planned, and Andy started his on his own, sans encouraging wave from a loving face in the crowd.  Later, getting off the bus, he was quick to ask where I was.  "All the other moms were there," he said accusingly.  To which I replied, "Really?  My bad."

I try hard not to treat my children differently from each other, but it's exceedingly difficult not to.  In the grand scheme of things, I'm sure they understand that I love them each (about) the same.  I mean, if there's any differences in the quantity or quality of my love, the fluctuations are mostly minute to minute and tend to even out towards the end of the day, at least if you measure to the closest tenth decimal. But, yes, I did drive to school on Alex's first day of kindergarten when I didn't drive to school on Andy's first.  And, yesterday, when Alex and I were discussing the fact that I was there in those first few minutes, Andy was quick to pick up on it.

Alex, realizing at Kindergarten
meet and greet that shit was getting real.
"How come you didn't come see me today?"  he cried.  It hadn't even occurred to me to check in on Andy.  I mean, it would have been impossible due to the fact that I am only one person who cannot be in two buildings at once.  Also, who cares about a second grader's first day of school?  This is your third time doing this, buddy.  The novelty's worn off for all of us.

"I did come see you, though!" I was quick to lie.  Dishonesty- the answer to most of life's problems.  "But your class was too fast!  I got to your building, and you guys were already gone!  I was so bummed out."  I snapped my fingers in an aw-shucks kind of move in order to get my point across.

"Hmm.  Ok."  Andy was willing to accept this explanation, even though I saw a glimmer of distrust in his dark eyes.  "Can I have an extra cookie for dessert?  However many Alex has, plus one?"

I still carry Alex up the stairs at night, to bed.  He's a skinny little bag of bones, and he weighs next to nothing.  Honestly, Emily with her solid, tree trunk legs and chubby little belly sometimes feels heavier in my arms.  Alex is light, and he likes it when I carry him like a baby, which I do, kissing him on his cheeks on the way up the stairs.  He's still transitioning from babyhood, as far as I'm concerned.  I feel like it goes fast once they turn five.  So I soak moments like that up, perhaps a little too flamboyantly, as Andy has complained about having to walk up the stairs.  Obtuse mother that I am, I thought Andy's complaints were because he just didn't want to WALK to bed, to expend any of the energy.  Lazy bastard.  Then, last week, I tucked Andy in with a hug and a kiss, and he motioned for me to move in closer.  Like a secret, he whispered into my ears.  "Can I tell you something?  I don't like when you carry Alex up the stairs.  It makes me feel a little jealous."  And when I leaned back and looked at him, I saw it written on his face.  Hurt.  Envy.  A feeling of rejection.

"Oh Andy," I replied.  "Thank you for telling me that.  I didn't know.  Alex is younger and still small, so that's why I carry him.  Just like I did when you were five."  But the truth, as I was suddenly remembering, was that I didn't carry Andy like that when he was five.  Because I was carrying Alex that way, since he was only three.  In both of these scenarios, Emily was already fast asleep, having her earlier bedtime.  So during the times when it is just the two boys, it always reverts the same way, to Andy being Big Brother and Alex being Baby.

The next night, at bedtime, I grabbed Andy around the waist and scooped him up into my arms, kissing his face and carrying him up the stairs like a newborn baby.  I literally dislocated four of my vertebrae and almost fell down the stairs killing us both, but the look of surprised joy on Andy's sweet face made the subsequent $600 ER bill totally worth it.

Andy and I have our favorite TV shows that we like to watch together that Alex isn't interested in. I'm mostly thinking "Impractical Jokers" and "This Is Us," both of which I understand are super age-inappropriate.  There's a lot that Andy gets to do that Alex doesn't.  Of course, Alex will get most of those things too with age, and probably earlier too if we're all being honest.  And Emily, now that it's just her and me during the day- something that's new to both of us, since I've never been home in such extended hours with only ONE child- well, there's bound to be a whole lot of specialness there. So what's the answer with bouts of sibling rivalry or feeling unfairly treated?

I don't have an answer.  But I do hope that the occasional extra cookie will go far in smoothing over any residual hurt feelings.  If a little well-intentioned dishonesty solves a few problems, maybe emotional eating and/or an extra treat can solve a few other.


Monday, May 22, 2017

The Keys!

I lost my keys this morning.  Emily and Alex had finally just been buckled in after the usual fifteen minutes of frantic cajoling.  I never truly understood the idiom of herding cats until I became a mother, specifically Alex's mother, and just getting him into the car in the morning is a task in and of itself.  When I tell him to go upstairs and brush his teeth, he without fail wanders off towards his bed and simply climbs back into it, burrowing into the pile of blankets and animals he affectionately, and irritatingly, refers to as Comfy Town.  While I tackle Emily to put on her socks, he forgets what we're doing and heads off to check if his various dragon eggs have hatched yet on his iPad game.  When I tell him to put his shoes on, I hear him clear on the opposite side of the house singing Elton John's "I'm Still Standing," or at least that one line of it, over and over, ad nauseum, until I tell him it's time to go NOW and he blankly asks me, "Oh.  Are we going somewhere?"

In the driver's seat of the car, I could feel myself teetering on the verge of a panic attack.  Have I ever actually had a panic attack?  I think in order to answer that question, I have to refer you to when I gave birth to Emily.  I went in for my scheduled induction, feeling perfectly normal- or at least no less normal than usual- and when they hooked me up to all of the machines, they gave me a puzzled look and said, "You're having contractions less than five minutes apart.  You're in active labor already."  My body is constantly in a state of frenzy that I am fully used to just pushing through my day even if I can't breathe because my keys are lost, we're late to preschool, I have my morning plans, I have to drive two other kids home later, there are two baseball games to get to in the evening, and seriously, who has time to replace ALL of those keys?  Or, you know, I have a seven pound baby peeking out of me. Same difference.  So, no I have never had an official panic attack. My life itself is just one living, breathing, mostly functioning panic attack.

I rifle through the belongings of my purse, smearing a tube of uncapped red lipstick across the upholstery. There's so much useless stuff in my purse, it's ridiculous, and the next time Emily goes in there and pulls out an unwrapped tampon caked in gum bits, that's probably going to be the final straw on the farm of mortification.  I pushed aside bags of food, old coupons, diapers, wipes, loose change, thinking my keys have to be in my purse, they have to be, I'm just not seeing them, they must be there, shit, they are totally, absolutely, NOT.

Oh, but to retrace my steps that morning!  I know I had my keys when I unlocked Chris' car to get the extra car seat out.  Then I hauled two overflowing bags of landscape waste to my neighbor's house because they pay for landscape waste pick up and, you know, we don't.  Then I took our garbage cans out, both of them.  Then I put the extra car seat in my car.  I went back in the house and literally went into every room, making breakfasts and lunch, getting children dressed, wiping asses, turning the TV volume down, chasing a toddler, putting on make-up, putting together Andy's backpack, going out into the backyard to get a bag of dirt, bringing it up front to the garage, then, while I was out there, watering all the dead spots, sod spots, seeded spots, dirt spots.  Then I walked Andy down to the bus stop, stood around a bit fielding questions about large numbers multiplied by other large numbers, then headed home and yelled after Alex for twenty minutes.  So, somewhere on this map of crazy- from the garbage cans to the landscape bags, to the interior of my home, to the exterior of my home, from here four houses down to the corner and back- SOMEWHERE had to be my goddamn keys.

I sucked in my breath, got out of the car, and started looking.

I felt like I looked everything and still couldn't find them.  The clock was ticking ahead, and the morning was going to go on without us if I couldn't get the car started.  Somewhere in all of this searching and overturning and running around, I found my inner monologue running on high.  It was telling me I had to stop.  I had to calm down.  I had to stop trying to do so much, so fast.  I had to give some things up before I had a full on heart attack.  I had to just breathe.

I got out my phone and called Chris, thinking that maybe I'd dropped the keys in his backseat while I was getting out the car seat.  On the highway, en route to his job that supports five people, I had him craning his neck to look behind him.  I imagined his red car swerving wildly across three lanes while he humored me and felt around back there.  "I'll get off the highway to check," he said.  "Did you retrace your steps?"

"Of course, I retraced my steps, you moron!" I replied.  And then, aloud, I retraced my steps again.  The garbage.  The house.  The backyard.  The car seats.  Oh, there had been Andy's baseball snack back there from Saturday, right before we'd received notification that the game was cancelled due to rain.  A big bag of oatmeal cream pies and juice pouches.  What did I do with those when I brought them in?  I stuck them in the pantry. In the pantry. But first I put my keys in there because my hands were full.

"Okay, I'm pulling off the highway now," Chris said, just as I reached into the oatmeal cream pie snack bag, pulled out my keys, and hollered, "I found them!  Thanks.  Gotta go, running late."

*

I am not a perfect mother.  I am not a great wife, I'm an insecure friend.  I'm a terrible daughter, and I don't call my sister nearly enough.  Sometimes I feel like I'm floundering as an adult, like everybody else has it together, and I'm running around like a chicken with her head cut off, poorly doing five things at once, and expecting way more out of a four year old than he is actually capable of.  Also out of a six year old.  Not so much out of my almost two year old.  I expect very little from her except her unwavering cuteness.  I'm failing.  I'm falling apart.  My body is in labor and I don't even know it.

But then I find my keys.  I pull them triumphantly out of the oatmeal cream pie bag, hang up on my husband, and I think, "YES!  AHA!  Eureka!"  And everything is instantly wonderful again.  I got this.  I got ALL this.

I just need to find a minute to stop and appreciate it.  And to remember the oatmeal cream pies.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Better Start Packing?!

Andy's Iceless Hockey team won third place!  They won third out of fourth in their division.  If my team won third out of fourth, I would feel rather ho-hum about the whole thing.  That's because I'm a jaded adult who wouldn't bother to get out of bed for less than second place.  But Andy, who has the heart of a champion, cannot be more proud of himself and his team.  This is partly because he doesn't understand that the third place is within his given four team division only.  And partly because they gave him a trophy!

Andy's thrilled to be a winner and to have a trophy. When we got home after the ceremony, he ran the trophy upstairs to his room and immediately dumped it into this big cardboard box he's started keeping on the foot of his mattress.  There's a bunch of stuff in that box.  His Captain Underpants books.  The basket he built at Home Depot.  His wallet.  His diary.  (Entry one is the poetic masterpiece: "Alex is a poop face.")  I watched him throw the trophy in, and I asked, "Andy, don't you want to put that trophy on display somewhere?"  And he replied, "Nah.  I'm going to pack it in my box so I don't forget to take it with me."

Pause.  Take it with him?

"Wait," I said to Andy as he closed the flaps on the box.  "You're packing?  To move out?"

"Well yeah," He climbed down from the top bunk, and in the shadows I saw, for an instant, the first few buds of facial hair.  "I mean, eventually I'm going to have to move out.  When I'm grown up, that is. And that box is full of all the stuff I don't want to forget."

"Makes sense," I mumbled as he moved past me to get downstairs and perhaps brew himself a strong pot of coffee, clean out the gutters, or do something else equally adult-like.  I very clearly remember, two years ago, having to gently break the news to Andy that one day he would grow up, move out, get married to a woman other than me, and have his own family.  I have since learned from my mistakes, and now when Alex tells me he loves me, wants to marry me, and will stay with me forever, I squeeze him tight and say, "That's right, Alex.  You belong here with me.  Until the end of time."  I try to keep my voice from sounding creepy, my squeeze from being painful.

These kids are growing fast, though.  Of course they are.  It's what kids do, and it's the foundation of every mother's mothering blog.  Andy's aforementioned diary contains other hints of this growing, and yes, of course I read his diary.  The lock is not exactly difficult to pick.  "I love Lori," he wrote recently.  Lori!  Who's this Lori bitch and how dare she try to steal my son!  I have since sought out this Lori in line for gym at the school, which is when I see Andy's class while I drop Alex off for speech, and have basically given her the stink eye.  Two stink eyes, really.  Isn't this all too soon?  This liking girls nonsense?  Of course, when I clearly remember my first crush right around first or second grade, my heart sinks like a stone for my children.  Crushes.  They use that crippling, air compressing word for a reason.

Alas, I'm also in deep denial that Emily is turning two next month.  I thought for a long time that Andy was a brilliant baby/ toddler/ child.  Then I thought Alex was really the smart one, as I watched him, as a three year old, put together 50 piece puzzles with ease.  "Forget Andy," I muttered to myself.  "Now my money's on Alex."  Lately, I'm thinking I had it all wrong, and Emily is the real genius of the family.  Of course, a better mother than me would never make such comparisons on her children's intelligence levels, but I never said I was a better mother.  I'll be honest with you, though.  Emily's blowing these guys out of the water.  She can already count to ten, she knows her ABCs, she sings many different songs, and she has a penchant for doing things correctly. She is independent, laughs at jokes, and tackles the playground like a child twice her age.  Truly, she is turning into everything I wish I was as a woman.  Beautiful, fearless, funny, smart.  Looks good in tight pants. Can polish off an entire ice cream sandwich leaving behind nary a crumb or drip. Is excellent at penciling in information on long, complex forms.  All of this does nothing for my denial that she is also growing older.

Now Emily's diary will be a sight to behold when she gets to be a little older.  And yes, I will read that too.  Which brother will she call a poop face?  Which young boy will she get her first crush on? Hopefully it is someone like I think and hope Andy is.  Someone who their teacher calls an "absolute pleasure."  A really nice boy, the kind of boy who thinks ahead and starts packing for college eleven years in advance.

Or maybe a boy like Alex who giggles nervously when he talks about growing up and says, while snuggling in, "I'm going to stay with you forever, Mommy." Either way, I guess.  Either way.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

JackieReads2017!

Did you know it's National Reading Month?

I started an ill-conceived journey to document how many books I'm reading this year.  It's like when people with other, more adventurous hobbies chronicle how many countries they're visiting, miles they're running, or meals they're prepping.  It's like that movie "Julie and Julia," where the aforementioned Julie decides to work her whole way through Julia Child's cookbook.  Except I can't eat anything when I'm done.  I don't need to know how to make a roux.  And I'm not working my way through an entire anything.  Or am I?

"How many books will I read in 2017?"  I wondered late 2016 as I finished Jodi Picoult's "Small Great Things" with a satisfied slam of cover.  I tried to do the math in my head.  Maybe two books a month?  Three?  Somewhere between 24 and 36?  Who knows!  But what better way to find out than to snap a picture of each book I finish in the year.  And of course place it on social media for posterity.

I'm getting the distinct impression that I'll be closer to 50 books.  Which is much more than I thought. But we shall see.

I did a version of this when I was a kid.  I had a notebook, and I wrote down the titles I finished, and by the time 1989 or whenever was done, I'd read something insane, like 250 books.  Some weekends, I would crank through 3 or 4.  Perhaps I have given you an unasked for, distasteful peek into young Jaclyn's social life.  Perhaps you feel sorry for such a shy bookworm in red plastic glasses.  Or perhaps you envy me.  "If only I'd read 250 books in 1989," you might be thinking, "My life wouldn't have turned into such a goddamn disaster."

Because 36 year old Jackie has it all.  Including free afternoons with a napping toddler and a self-entertaining, Wii-loving four year old in which she can plow through a couple chapters.  Including quiet evenings tucked into her bed with her lamp glowing late into the night so she can find out what the hell's wrong with The Couple Next Door.  Is my reading a product of being a stay at home mom with heavily routined children and a nighttime social life that rivals 1989?  I don't know.  I think if I were working and/or busier, though, I'd probably read close to the same amount.  Possibly a little less.  I carve out time for it.  Nothing is better and more relaxing than a really good book.  With the Super Mario theme song playing softly in the background, punctuated by the sound of Mario falling off the same simple cliff 27 times in a row.

The only problem is that now that I'm documenting it, I'm starting to think, "Oh crap.  I finished another one," every time I snap that picture.  "This is getting embarrassing."

I care about reading, though, and reading to my children.  I'm pushing Andy to read independently more, and I thoughtfully pick out all sorts of levels of books for the three of them to get into.  My book bag's getting heavy.

Novels for me.

Board books about princesses and grandparents for Emily.  (She really loves books about old people.)

Picture books for Alex.

Easy Readers for Andy.

Beginning chapter books for Andy and/or Alex.

Nothing for Chris.

(That last part is pretty light, at least physically.)

Some of the books I read with the kids, I really get into and appreciate.  Yes, I did like Captain Underpants.  I think Robert Munsch is pretty cool.  Old school Curious George is great.  Unfortunately, most of the books Alex in particular picks out- well, they're awful.  We've gone through every superhero book in the superhero book at the basket, and I know none of these tomes are NYT best-sellers, but seriously, these are the worst written books I've ever read.  Terrible writing.  Ridiculous plots.  Asinine pun-based dialogue.  Abrupt scene changes.  Actually, that last part may be due to the fact that all of these books at the library are missing pages (because they're all checked out by rambunctious boys.  The books in the Barbie and My Little Pony box look a lot more pristine,)  It almost insults my own parental intelligence and integrity to read these aloud to Alex.  But I know this is how readers are raised.  If he's drawn to the insufferable, then that's what I will read to him, and that is true love.

The book I was most embarrassed to take a picture with.
So far.  It's only March!
I love to know what everybody else's kids are reading.  Sometimes I'm blown away by other children's choices.  I found out a friend's daughter, also in first grade, is reading "The Boxcar Children" by herself.  The Boxcar Children!  My first thought, upon hearing this, was flashing back to Andy reading his Level 2 book the night before about Tiny the Big Dog, thinking "Why is Andy so damn dumb??"  My second thought was a much more tempered, "Hmm.  Why is my friend's daughter such a damn genius?"  I then surreptitiously asked my friend for a list of nutrients and vitamins she was slipping into her daughter's diet so that I could mimic the formula in an attempt to boost Andy's own brain power.  She said something about hard-boiled eggs.  It takes like twenty minutes to hard boil an egg, peel it, etc.  Forget it.  Tiny the Big Dog it is!

Which brings me to my final point.  Tiny the Big Dog.  Superhero books with atrocious storylines.  I could write this stuff.  Anybody could.  I just need an illustrator, a couple semi-original ideas, and some more free time.  Children's author could totally be my next career!  But not in 2017.  My afternoon time is already taken up with novel reading for Instagram.




Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fun House!

The nice thing about having a preschooler- one of the many nice things, of course- is that you can pick their friends for them.  Sure, your preschooler may express feelings of friendship towards any number of children they encounter at school, but ultimately it is in your hands as parent to set up the playdates with the children of your choosing.  "Yes, that child will do," you might think to yourself in a voice that rings, only slightly, with the tone of evil mastermind as you steeple your fingers together and narrow your eyes at the kind, smiley young specimen.  Then you may find your gaze drifting to a different child, one who is just brimming with a loud and naughty sort of glee.  This particular child is holding a Nerf gun, racing around madly, and demanding lollipops.  He has shoes that leak playground sand for some reason.  "That child will never darken my doorway," you think to yourself, and you don't even bother to smile at his mother, the only woman standing there who would be genuinely grateful for a smile.  You suck.  A little.

Then, your child leaves preschool and is in kindergarten.  Let's just say first grade.  Let's just say your child's name is Andy and has a wild head of hair and a history of poor decision making.  Actually, I take that last part back.  Andy's decision making is mostly sound.  He is now out in the world and he is making his own friends, coming home and discussing other children in that excited tone of voice that adults usually reserve for landscaping or a good deal on a late model used vehicle.  Right away, in first grade, Andy made himself a new friend, a young whippersnapper we shall call Ramone.  "Ramone is always right," Andy said matter-of-factly one evening.  Humorlessly, I laughed in his face.  "No one is always right," I replied.  "ESPECIALLY Ramone."

Nonetheless, having seen sweet cheeks Ramone out and about at school functions, I decided I really liked the always right, never wrong young man, despite his obvious ego situation.  "Yes, you can have a play date with Ramone," I told Andy.  "Let me just find his mom.... Oh, there she is."  We exchanged numbers after an awkward hello.  I've been told by other friends that when I start greetings with "Are you such-and-such's mom?  This is awkward but..." it sounds like I'm about to pronounce that their kid was doing something shitty and NOT that I was interested in setting up a play date with their mostly UNshitty child.  Ironically, my pronouncement of awkwardness once again makes things more awkward.  It's as if my social life is a never-ending loop of eighth grade.

And so, three months later, young Ramone finally came over.  These playdates can take a while to plan.  The boys had a wonderful time after I laid down all of the ground rules.  No being loud after Emily goes to sleep.  No running or fighting or throwing.  No crumby snacks on carpeted areas.  But HAVE FUN, KIDS!  And they did have fun!  Alex too, who announced, "Ramone is my friend, too!"  Ramone came back a week later, and then Ramone's mother invited Andy over.

"I want to go, too!"  Alex yelled excitedly when I told Andy he was going to Ramone's house.  I got down to eye level with Alex, which is one of those parenting tips that really only works if you're delivering good news, not bad news. 

"You cannot go to Ramone's," I told Alex.  "Only Andy was invited.  Ramone is Andy's friend from first grade."

At this point, Alex was sobbing so hard and so loud that the neighbors were dialing the first few digits to DCFS.  The across the street neighbors.

"You will have your own playdates with your own friends," I said, struggling to be heard over the sound of misery.  I racked my brain, the pictures of the boys in his preschool class spinning through my head like images in a slot machine.  Chucky.  Ivan.  Harry.  Jackpot!  "I'll talk to Harry's mom.  Please stop crying.  Please."

He did not stop crying.  His wails continued as we all piled into the car, Andy grinning from ear to ear, and went on until we got out of the car three minutes later at Ramone's house.  I listed all the reasons why Alex could not go to Ramone's too.  I offered to go buy him a Wendy's frosty.  Or take a turn at his Batman Lego game and get him to the next level.  Anything!  We all got out of the vehicle- me, Andy, Emily, her pink puppy, and sobbing Alex.  At the doorway, Ramone's mother swung open the front door and said, "Hello!  Does Alex want to stay and play too?"

"YES!"  Alex screamed, wiping away the last of this tears, kicking off his shoes, and running off joyously into the depths of the house.

"Wow," I said to Ramone's mother.  "That is so nice of you."  Silently, I told her, "Just so you know, you've sealed your fate and made this into a package deal from here on out.  Sucker."

The boys had had a wonderful time at my house the week before.  But they had an AMAZING, MIND BLOWING, JUST GODDAMN INCREDIBLE time at Ramone's.  It was truly the House of Fun.  Kids running everywhere!  Being loud!  Eating candy!  Making crumbs!  Throwing things!  It was a child's paradise!  When I finally picked up the boys two hours later, they both declared Ramone's house THE BEST HOUSE EVER!

"Ramone's house is so much fun!"  Andy exclaimed, sinking down into our sofa.  

"Our house is fun, too," I replied defensively, looking around our own crumb-free family room, which was forever dimly lit as to set a quiet, studious mood.  "Lots of fun!  Stop wiggling so much.  I mean, it's SO much fun here!"

Going to bed that night, I had a small panic attack.  What if my house just wasn't fun enough to keep the kids captive?  What if they loved me less because I didn't want them swinging plastic swords around my neatly painted walls?  What if they ran away one day because I wanted their volume at a respectable five instead of a headache inducing, toddler waking ten?  What if I LOST MY KIDS FOREVER?

This is where I drop my kids off.
The next week, the boys (both of them, of course!) went back to Ramone's.  I felt sick again afterwards when I picked my children up, inspecting their blue tongues (Blue candy, Mom!  And we had pop, too!) when we got home.  The following week, I anxiously suggested we invite Ramone over.  Afraid the boys were going to try to twist their playdate into another fun-filled afternoon at Ramone's House of Rowdy, I suggested all the great things they could do.  Play video games!  Set up the Gotham City toys!  Get out the Crayola animation kit we hadn't opened up yet!  Have a sugary snack!  (No crumbs, though).

Finally, dinner was over and Ramone was at our door, busting through the doorway with the glee of a child truly happy to be in my home.  And the kids had a good time, I reassured myself.  Such a good time, with just enough rambunctiousness that I decided to silently retract my offer of sugary snacks and instead slipped a little Benadryl into each of their juices.  I'm kidding of course!  Ramone's mom, I would never do that to your kid!  Never.

Watching Ramone and his mother drive away later, and watching my kids tuck themselves into the sofa to play a quiet, relaxing game together (Batman Lego video game), I decided that any new friend and house was going to shine with the novelty of being different.  It was okay.  I was not going to lose my six year old and four year old to somebody else's good time party shack.  Probably.

And, yes, it was working out with Andy picking his own friends instead of me directing the selection like I could still do with Alex.  It was working out very well.  Because, as I may have mentioned, I get to drop Andy AND ALEX off at playdates.  Package deal!  Two for one!  BOGO half off!  Free with purchase!  Et cetera.

Young Ramone will stay in our lives for a very long time.