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.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Love Post for Emily!

I hate to see her go, but I love to watch her run.  Emily runs, and I drown a little every time, the blood pumping double time from my heart and filling me to the brink.  Her booty shakes.  Her head bounces. Her hands and arms bob side to side.  Her legs are steady and assured, pretty Mary Jane clod feet landing each step confidently.  She runs to her brothers.  She runs to the bus stop, to Alex's class at school.  She runs when I announce we're going out, spun into an excited panic to gather up her shoes and coat, which she will attempt to put on herself- a first in this family where some mornings I find myself rolling socks onto the growing, slack foot of a lazy six and a half year old. She runs to the stairs if she hears the words "bath" or "night night."  She runs to find her best friend, her pink Pup Pup.  She runs, and I can't help but beam.

Emily brings this family joy.  Yes, obviously, Andy and Alex bring this family joy, too, in their boyish, loving, poop joke telling ways.  Chris every once in a while comes home from working bringing joy (and a case of wine).  Perhaps some of these people in this house look at me, Mommy, and think that yes, that stressed out, chronically dehydrated, full of reminders, rules, lists- yeah, that lady sometimes brings a little joy.  Perhaps.  But Emily.  Emily brings this family joy.  Constantly.

Perhaps it's because I'm still surprised that I have her at all.  When Alex was born, I thought, This is it.  My complete family of four.  Cut to two years later, when Alex started his first day of two year old preschool and I suddenly found myself without a *baby.*  Oh crap, I distinctly remember thinking. These boys are growing up.  I'm losing my babies.  I'm going to be thirty-five next year.  It's the perfect, fertile storm.  

And now we've got Emily starting two year old preschool in the fall.  No matter how many kids you have, they just keep leaving you for the wide open, lonely expanse of two hour twice a week preschool.  I swear this time, the storm brewing will not be one of aging, last chance baby fertility. For real this time, the family is complete.  And it's because of the most beautiful, giggly, girl I know- future track star, Emily.

Emily has her quirks. She says Andy's name constantly, calling out for him and referring to him when he's not around.  But she has never really said Alex's name.  Is it too hard to pronounce?  Does she think "Andy" is just the word for brother and so it fits Alex too?  Or does she just simply not like Alex as much as she adores Andy?  Andy is kind and thoughtful to her.  Andy is proud of her.  Alex- well, Alex has a different view of Emily than the rest of us.  Alex sees her as a pain.  And if Alex sits on my lap when Emily is around, Emily will SHOVE him off.  Those two have a little something different going on.  It's called "unabashed dismay."

Emily talks a lot.  She says, "I don't know" if she doesn't know.  She says, "Here it is!" when she's found something she's looking for.  She cries out "Eww!" when she's disgusted by something. "Shoes?" if she wants to go out.  And she sings, as toddlers are want to do.  Her favorite song is "Baa Baa Black Sheep."  But her second favorite song is "No" by Meghan Trainor.  Emily sings, melodically, "No no no no no no no no." And, hilariously, her third favorite song is "Don't Wanna Know" by Maroon 5.  Emily also sings along: "Don't wanna know, know, know, know...."

I'd like to just state, for the record, that Emily and I have drastically different favorite songs.

Emily will do anything if her brothers do it first.  If they are nice to somebody she's not familiar with, she's okay with that person, too.  If they are playing a game, she butts her way right in.  If they are looking at the iPad, she runs to me asking for our cheap little tablet:  "Pad!  Pad!"  And then she'll run right back to sit next to the boys with her own device.  She likes to splash in the bath with them, usually standing at some point to dump a large cup of water right onto Alex's head.  Never Andy's.

She runs with the boys.  Literally.

Emily's not always front and center in this family.  Her needs often get shoved to the bottom of the list if Andy and Alex need to go somewhere, get an assignment done, or need help with their own pursuits.  For the most part, everything Emily does is as a tag-a-long for the boys.  This is one reason why I look forward to her starting two year old preschool in the fall.  It will be something just for Emily that doesn't involve walking around Target with Mom.  She deserves to feel special, to make friends, to sing songs that don't have the sounds baa or no and feel proud of things she made without me.  Emily, bearer of joy and happiness, who may sometimes feel like an afterthought growing up, must know that although she's the last, the little one- without her, we'd be lost.