Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Emily's One Thing!

"But I hate story time," Alex declared as we backed out of the driveway.  "Let's just go to Wal-Mart instead and buy three toys.  Three isn't a big number, right, Mommy?"

"We're going to story time," I replied.  "It's Emily's story time.  It's literally the only thing that Emily has just for her.  Andy has school and baseball.  You have preschool and trips to the Dollar Store.  All Emily has is a lousy half hour story time once a week.  That's it!  That's all she has."

A lie, of course, since Emily has everything.  Emily's world, although filled with activities primarily for her brothers, is rich in secondary events that she finds just as thrilling, if not more so.  She loves waiting at the bus stop!  She relishes in banging her feet on the bleachers at baseball games.  She ADORES trying to rip off the preschool art hanging in the common area outside Alex's class.  I often look at Emily and think, "Well, this one's got it pretty good."  I yell at Andy for grumbling through his homework, unfairly barking at him, "These math problems are your JOB.  If Daddy complained this much while doing HIS work, he would be FIRED and we'd be HOMELESS but we all wouldn't fit in the BOX so you'd probably have to sleep on a CURB."  I ignore Alex's babbling sometimes completely, every once in a while murmuring a, "That's right, Alex," whenever I feel like he's waiting for a reply.  But Emily?  She doesn't get yelled at.  She captures all of our complete attention whenever she wants it.  And if I hear her start to whine, I call out, "Just give her what she wants!"

"But she wants my lollipop!"  Alex might complain back.

"It's hers now, Alex!  Hand it over.  Andy, give her that dollar in your pocket.  NOW!"

Emily taking the maraca seriously
at story time.
Alex has to sit with us in story time, too, and he's never too thrilled about it.  Alex simply isn't a fan of story time, much preferring activities that don't involve an authoritative adult but instead a mini-figure of some sort.  So Alex lounges lazily next to me and Emily while we win at story time.  That's right, we win at it. Of course, story time is not a competitive sport, but parenting as a whole can be depending on the type of friends you have.  I kid, of course, but Emily really loves story time.  She dances, she claps her hands, and when she sees them pull out the felt board, she walks confidently up there, puts her finger on it, turns around, looks back at me, and seems to say, "When do I get to stick something on this?"  Last week, they did bubbles at the end, and Emily practically lost her mind.  She squealed in delight and shoved her way right up to the front to get as close to the bubbles as possible. I love her age.  It's hard, and she's trying, but I love watching her enjoy the world as fiercely as she does.

And Emily knows that she's part of our world and that she deserves just as much as the boys seem to get.  She is part of the team, and if I pour a little ranch onto Andy's chicken nugget plate, Emily is quick to yell out, "HEY!" and point where she wants HER ranch.  The other night, I gave Emily a bath while Chris took the boys out to the front yard to play.  While getting dressed in her bedroom, she heard their voices float up into her window.  She ran over to it, looked out, and saw them.  Immediately, her little feet started stamping, her finger pointed, and she looked at me, betrayed.  "HEY!  Outside!  Out-side!  Out-SIDE!"  We dressed as quickly as possible and I set her loose through the garage door, where she ran out into sunshine and fun and brothers yelling,  "YAY!"

Don't tell Alex that I've lied to him, that story time isn't the only thing that Emily has.  It's one of the countless things, but it's fun and free and part of the toddler landscape.  Plus they have a felt board.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Sep 12, 2008

It wasn’t long before they decided to close the mall. We’d been listening to the radio since we’d arrived- the little, plastic radio normally reserved for Sunday football games and FM rock. In the laboratory where we made the glasses, we all hunched around the tinny speakers, and nobody but Margie, the eighty year old part- time optician, had anything to say. We were all in shock, each of us having found out in our own separate flashbulb moments. There was talk that the terrorists might target Chicago next, and the gorgeously ethereal skyscrapers were in the midst of emergency evacuations, their well-dressed occupants running out in the streets with cell phones attached to their face. That the Metra trains had abandoned their schedules and were all running out, not in, at top capacity. “Chicago,” Margie had murmured in her shaky, old lady voice. “That’s not far from here!” And it was funny, hearing her say this about the city that was the nucleus to our suburban atom, and we all laughed a bit too loudly.
The morning that would scorch itself into all of our memories started, for me, with dismissal. I had awoken to an alarm clock that rang with news of a plane having hit a building in New York, and as I climbed into the shower and thought about the things that I would do that day, this news slipped away from me like the water on my skin. Accidents happened all the time, and, after work today, I would maybe see if Gail wanted to go grab a drink at the bar. Classes were starting up again soon at my college; I only had precious few days of freedom left.
After stepping out of the tub and lazily brushing my teeth, I’d turned on the living room television for company. There it was, the hiss and sizzle of a burn. I stood in the living room in a grey towel, holding a comb to my tangled, rapidly drying hair, and I couldn’t walk away or sit down or breathe. I watched as the towers crumbled into ground, a mighty ocean of grey smoke rolling into the sky. The news reporter was at a loss for words, and for what seemed like an eternity, there was only silence. And then he managed to choke out something about not knowing what to say. There go the towers. That’s it, gone.
What a beautiful, sunny morning it was- a solitary vision of perfection if not for the deserted streets and the deathly quiet and the cop cars perched on corners, their lights flashing a helpless red and blue. I drove to the mall in a daze, wondering why I was bothering and what was going to happen next. The country suddenly seemed so small to me as I made the usual turns and stops. New York, DC, Chicago, LA, Seattle- I could be in any of those places in under a minute, if I really tried. I could be there right now if I just swerved right instead of left; I could be standing in New York covered with the remains of buildings and bodies and fire if I just closed my eyes and opened the door.
Our only customer of the day walked in just as we’d received the instructions to shut down and close. Businesses and lives and high finance had all screeched to a halt. Airplanes were grounded, doors were being locked, and anyone who could go home was already on their way. Nobody was thinking about acting normal or going about their business or whether or not they would make their appointments or have a pot roast for dinner in the evening. I will never forget the one customer who walked into our optical at eleven o’clock on that Tuesday in September, the one and only non-employee any of us had seen at the mall during our hour of remaining open. She wore a blue T-shirt, jeans, white sneakers, and gold-rimmed glasses. She had dull red hair cut into a bob, with wispy bangs. She was in her early forties, with rough skin and a thin, pale mouth, and she had a voice that might have been comforting during any other moment, a voice that I might have otherwise liked.
“I’m here for my appointment,” she told me, checking her watch. She was here to see the eye doctor, to sit in the doctor’s chair and choose between lenses one and two for clarity and crispness. To discuss the differences between bifocal and progressive multi-focals, to pick out new frames and have her glasses delivered and fitted within an hour, as promised. She was here to do this perfectly normal, everyday activity right now while the world was ending and while thousands of people lay dead underneath so much rubble and ash. She was going to speak calmly of not being able to read street signs in the same morning that desperate office workers had chosen to jump to their death rather than go down with a fiery building. After four planes full of people had been violently wrecked by terrorists , after everything we thought we knew was turned upside down and emptied out, she might decide to purchase sun glasses, just for fun.
The news reporters were saying that America was under attack, and this lady had driven here for her eleven o’clock appointment, checking her watch to make sure that she wasn’t late.
But that wasn’t what did it for me. I might have been able to forget this woman had she simply turned around and left after I managed to tell her that, due to what had happened today, and due to what might happen, we were being instructed to close up and go home. I might never have involuntarily memorized her face and her body and her clothes and her voice if she had just turned around and left while murmuring that she understood. Instead, she spat a reply into my face, throwing her arms up in the air in a gesture of great frustration. She said to me, “I can’t believe this. Every time I try to get stuff down, something like THIS happens.” Her day was ruined. She was pissed. And not because her husband had been in the World Trade Center or her daughter had been on a plane that crashed into the Pentagon or that no one knew what still lay ahead for the day. But because she’d have to reschedule her eye appointment. And, clearly, that was going to be a gigantic, almost unbearable, pain in the ass for this horrible woman.
After she left, we left, turning the locks behind us and mumbling that we’d probably see each other tomorrow. Our manager gave Margie a ride home; the old optician normally took the bus, but today was no day for sitting on a bench, waiting and craning a neck down the street. Everybody was so nice to each other that month. For the rest of September, and maybe part of October, we were all so kind and giving. We loved and wanted to protect our neighbors. We wrote checks and donated blood and waved American flags and volunteered and sent our fire fighters up east. We called everybody we knew. We hugged and kissed and held hands.
The following weekend, I drove into Chicago with two friends, Rob and Gail. I was thinking about my father as we headed up I-94 into the city that popped up like a cardboard cut-out. My father and I had gone for a walk around our sleepy suburban neighborhood on Tuesday night, and I’d told him how I was afraid for the future, how I couldn’t comprehend why this had happened. I looked up at the sky as we walked, and I had never seen it that way before- cloudless and blue and incomprehensively still. Word for word, I couldn’t remember exactly what my father had said to me as we cut through an empty park, but I found myself wearing the sentiment like a gown. Tragedies and attacks and disasters and secondhand losses and heartaches- these events that truly affected us only in the most peripheral of ways were the events that could change our lives, if we let them. For better, for worse, for simply taking and moving ahead.
Rob drove the car into a city that could be destroyed seemingly on a whim, that night or any other night. Gail and I were still talking about Tuesday. There was a good chance that we'd talk about Tuesday forever, about what we had seen and heard on the news. There was the newly minted widow in her twenties whose husband had sweetly looked at her on Monday night and told her that he loved her, less than twelve hours before he was gone forever. There were the images fed into unsteady, handheld camcorders, the screams in the background, the running, the wreckage, and the hazardous dust that refused to settle. And while Gail and I talked, Rob issued a harrumph, the first casually apathetic noise I’d heard in days. “Stuff like this happens all the time in other countries,” Rob had said, rolling his eyes as he pressed on the pedal. “And people think about it for about a minute and then just finish what they were doing. It’s not a big deal. Shit happens all the time.”
We drank in the city, holding our beers and staring out the windows at the buildings dressed in red, white, and blue. Gail and I were on high alert, ready to jump up and run at the first visible threat. We knew we were likely being absurd, but we’d been shaken all week, and aside from Rob and a few other blissfully unencumbered patrons, the other drinkers seemed apprehensive as well. And so much nicer than usual. There were so many more smiles and handshakes and lingering touches on shoulders and arms, and I wondered when things would get back to normal and people would start being assholes again. It wouldn’t take long, of course. Rob belched when he was ready to go, and instead of fiddling with the radio on the ride home, he slid in a CD and asked if we wanted to stop for hamburgers.
It’s been seven years. I didn’t remember that today was the day until the radio announcer on my ride to work accidentally talked through what was to be a moment of silence, of remembrance. I found myself thinking of how the path of my life didn’t really change after that day seven years ago, how my experiences and memories of the attacks are completely internal and so physically removed from my personal reality that it might very well have been a movie for me. I still did everything I would likely have done anyway- finished college, got a job, married, moved, furnished a house. I didn’t lose anything, and in the events and years that followed, I haven’t been close to anyone who went to Iraq or had an anthrax scare or had known somebody who had died that day. It was all just news and talk and fear and pictures; it was all just other people.
And yet, I couldn’t sleep that Tuesday night, or the nights that followed. I looked up at the sky for no good reason on too many beautiful blue days afterward, and sometimes when I saw a recycled image of the towers on television, I looked down thinking I might be in a towel holding a comb, my skin grown cold and my legs made of stone. I visited Ground Zero a year after the attacks, and it was terrible and actually real and made me feel ashamed because my connection to the spot was so thinly tenuous that it was, in all practicality, nonexistent. A few times in these past seven years, I thought I saw that lady whose eye appointment was frustratingly canceled due to what Rob might have called “some bad shit happening out east.” And every time I thought I saw her- two years later, four years later, six years later- I wanted to slap her across the face and say, “How could you be so awful?”
But then she might reply, “How could you?”
I might tell her that my dad was right, and that it is the events that we aren’t actually a part of that have an unimaginable power to quietly change us. A bridge collapsing in Minneapolis, a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, a mass shooting at a Virginia Tech. They are absorbed by the observers, and we hold them and hide them somewhere inside us for reference and for feeling human and for better or for worse, for taking and moving ahead.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Ball In The Toilet!

"Daddy, I dropped a ball into the toilet and then flushed it, and now the toilet's broken, so we can't use it anymore, okay?"

At least Andy had the sense to tell a grown up what he had done.  You'll notice that the grown up was laid-back Daddy, not HOW MUCH IS THIS GOING TO COST ME Mommy.  The answer to that question was $93.  The ball "fell" into the toilet, Andy decided to flush it (WHY!??), and the water came up and swirled around like it was waiting for Noah's ark.  Since we couldn't plunge the ball out, we figured some guy would have to come over, detach the toilet, flip it upside down, and pluck the ball out like a cherry from a kiddie cocktail.  Turns out, the guy comes over with his super plunger / snaking tool (three hours late) and just shoves it further down into the house pipes.  I fully expect to see that ball float up to my drain during a future shower.  Followed by an explosion for some reason.

Andy "broke" the toilet the week we decided to start giving him an allowance.  He gets up to $3 per week, and he earns his $3 by doing his homework and reading without complaint and helping with the occasional chore, such as table setting, playroom cleaning, or laundry folding.  Although it pains me to watch him fold the laundry.  It's a two hour process involving slow, careful folding of underwear and individual socks, and I have to physically restrain myself from jumping in and just taking the thirty seconds to just finish up.

Alex was pretty ticked off about Andy getting an allowance, especially because he loves money. Specifically, he loves the things that money can buy, and he's extremely annoyed by the first item that Andy has so sweetly chosen to save up for:  a doll for his little sister.  Emily is lacking in girl toys, and my little fifteen month old is reduced to babbling along to Batman figures and creepy looking dinosaurs.  However, if you've seen the disaster that is our playroom, crammed full of crap and always in disarray, you will understand that I am actively seeking to get rid of toys, not gain more toys, gender orientation be damned.  Emily will have to learn to cope with the glut of boy toys and the one girl toy she does have, a pink picnic basket (because men hate picnics).  I fully expect her Barbie (the one that Andy has committed to buying her) to slut it up with a bevy of superhero men.  She may be the luckiest Barbie in town, actually.  She'll be thrilled to date Batman, Superman, and Iron Man.  The only amazing thing Ken ever did was to buy a lifelong supply of flesh colored briefs.

Alex, the consumer of the family and the one voted most likely to file for chapter 13 bankruptcy, constantly rattles off lists of toys he wants to acquire.  As he spends about a quarter of his day glued to toy demonstrations on You-Tube, he's kept current in the latest toy fads.  His speech also reflects this devotion to toy videos.  "Check out the features of my Bat-Cave," he said to me last week.  "Would you like to see how many power discs it has?"  Mumbling to himself one day while setting up the car race track, I heard him say, "Actually, this is a pretty deluxe set."  He will also tell me the recommended target age for various toys.  "I'd like the Bat-Cycle, with two power discs.  Don't worry, it's ages four and up!"

When he's not scouting out new items to purchase, Alex is pretty content to just sit and set up his superhero sets, mumbling little conversations to them.  Emily is good at this, too.  She'll grab a Spiderman and start talking to it in that sing-song way of hers, bobbing her head up and down in agreement.  Emily, at fifteen months, likes toys.  She likes her pink teddy bear.  She loves to sing along to Baa Baa Black Sheep.  She adores Andy, annoys Alex.  She is quick to anger and is the queen of temper tantrums, but she is also a champion snuggler, hooking that little thumb of hers into her mouth and hugging in close.  She loves shoes, hates hats.  And she's probably the most amazing dancer in the family.  She shimmies, she shakes, she nods to the music.  She's so perfectly adorable, it's easy to see why Andy wants to buy her that doll.

This is a standard plunger.  Worthless.
But, of course, Andy broke the toilet, and now that we're giving him his own money, it's only fair that some of that money be withheld to help cover the cost of child-induced household repairs.  I threatened to keep his allowance every week until the plumber was fully paid off, but that would be 31 weeks, and even I don't have the heart to do that.  "I'm keeping your allowance this one week to help pay for the plumber," I finally decided, aloud, after the plumber had left, merrily swinging his super plunger/snaking tool and patting his fat wallet.  "I hope you learned a lesson."

"I did," Andy said morosely.  "I really, really learned a lesson."

And, of course he did.  So, ultimately, payday rolled around two days later, and I approached him with a single dollar bill in my hand.  A little something since we all make mistakes and he was an exceptional kid otherwise.  A little something since his teacher emailed me to tell me how wonderful he is. Since he jumps in to help without being prodded.  A little something since I spent half my childhood avoiding my uncle after accidentally breaking the door to his laundry room. We have to get past our mistakes.  Unless that ball comes to haunt me during a shower, it's over, and I'll let it go.

Alex watched very carefully as Andy tucked his dollar bill into the tupperware container he's using as his money bank.  We all trust Alex not to steal, and in my heart of hearts I don't think he would.  But if you see him rolling around town with a new deluxe Imaginext toy set
featuring power discs, then you might want to ask if Emily ever got her doll.