Our conversation over breakfast took a redneck turn towards the end…

Noah: When I grow up I’m going to ask a bird if I can borrow its wings. But that’s a really scary question to ask a bird.

Me: Why is it scary?

Noah: Because the bird would have to go to the doctor’s office and get its wings cut off!

Me: Yikes, that sounds painful. What would you say if someone asked to borrow your arms?

Noah: I would say ‘NO MA’AM.’

Me: I bet a bird would also say ‘no ma’am.’

Noah: Well, a bird only knows how to tweet. Maybe when I get big I will know how to understand more tweets.

Me: True.

Noah: So I’ll just say ‘tweet tweet’ and that will mean, ‘can I borrow your wings?’

Me: And if a bird is all ‘tweet, tweet-tweet’ and that means ‘no ma’am,’ then how will you fly?

Noah: I guess I need some kind of propeller. But how can that work? I can’t put a propeller inside my head!

Me: What about a hat with a propeller on it?

Noah: Then the hat would just fly away!

Me: What if it has a chin strap, like your helmet? Could we attach a propeller to your helmet?

Noah: [stares off into space]

Me: Actually I guess that wouldn’t work. I mean, how would you steer?

Noah: Yeah, I need a seat with controllers all around me so I can steer.

Me: So, maybe you need an airplane. Maybe when you grow up you can be an airplane pilot!

Noah: No, I don’t want to fly so many people. I just want to fly by myself.

Me: Well, they make tiny airplanes if you want to fly solo. Or you could fly a helicopter. Hey, that would be perfect, since you want to be a mountain rescue paramedic!

Noah: I don’t want to FLY to the mountains. I want to CLIMB the mountain.

Me: Maybe you need to fly to the mountain in your helicopter, then you climb down the mountain to where the person is hurt? That would be like both your favorite things combined.

Noah: I have more favorite things than that! I like diving, and…. fighting alligators.

Me: Fighting alligators!?

Noah: Yeah! I would dive down below the alligator and wrestle with him.

Me: Why would you wrestle an alligator?

Noah: Because alligators are dangerous.

Me: Well, they’re not dangerous if you leave them alone…

Noah: …………….. I think I’ll say to the bird ‘tweet tweet tweet’ which means, ‘please??’

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Five things, just because.

Because it’s a windy, rainy Monday (which I love) and I’m sitting here with a homemade espresso while Violet naps and Noah watches Thomas the Stupid Train and it’s so damn peaceful and cozy I don’t even know what to do with it all. Because my kitchen is actually clean. Because I’m putting off other chores like laundry and dinner prep and balancing my budget. Because it’s been a month since I saw you last, Reader. And I miss you.

1. I’ve been a terrible mother lately. Noah still hasn’t learned not to experiment by hitting Violet with some toy or smacking her or yanking on her clothes or tackling her the second I walk out of the room, and I still haven’t learned not to LOSE MY SHIT WITH HIM when he does. Violet, meanwhile, has learned something: scream-crying is the fastest way to get me to lose my shit with her brother, which is apparently like, way fun. The other day her arm was bleeding and when I asked her what had happened she immediately said “Noah did it.” I looked closer and realized it was a mosquito bite that she had scratched, but I asked her to describe what Noah supposedly had done. “Noah HIT me,” she said, her eyes wide. “Really?” I asked. “Show me how he hit you to make you bleed.” She balled up a fist and pounded on her bloody arm. “Wow, so he gave you some knucks and it made you bleed?” She stuck out her lower lip, looked me square in the eyes, and nodded. “Are you sure it’s not a mosquito bite that you were scratching?” She looked at the spot again, then back up at me. “Yeth, it’th a mothquito bite.”

Uh-huh.

She knows how to get my attention, is what I’m saying. And so does Noah. I understand that he wants attention, even negative attention, and giving him that negative attention is exactly what I shouldn’t do. This is the problem. Ignoring him being insane would work in a world where he wasn’t putting my other child at risk, but our reality is that I HAVE to act. And I don’t know how to act without (over)emoting or (over)reacting by assuming he’s going to grow up to be a bully/sociopath/wife beater/serial killer/in the NFL/etc. So that’s why I’ve been a terrible mother lately. Like, terrible.

2. I’m feeling pretty lonely. A lot of Noah’s friends are in school full-time now, so those day time play dates with which I had grown accustomed  are now a thing of the past. Not only that, but many of my friends have gone back to work either part or full time, which means I rarely see any adults during the day. I feel like the desperate, clingy friend who is always trying to organize something, and who usually ends up just doing things alone with the kids regardless. What does a friendship look like when it was built on similar life phases, like having young children and trying to find a way to entertain them all day, and then those phases change or end? Worst of all, all this time alone has made me worry about something else, too…

3. I’m planning on homeschooling, and I’m really excited about many aspects of it, but I’m beginning to see what it will look like, and that it will look differently than the first few years of Noah’s life, and that it will look differently than I’ve been imagining. It will look like a whole lot of the three of us. It’s going to be challenging for me, but I can handle it. The question is, is that going to be fulfilling for my kids? Will they get enough social interaction with afternoon playgroups and morning classes that only happen a few times a week? Is it ok to take it slow and have days at home without seeing anyone else? I don’t want my kids to be lonely, and my own loneliness is causing me to question my decision to seek alternate education. Is it worth being able to take them to the zoo any time they want to go, or take whatever class they want to take, or learn to read or spell or do math at their own pace, if they have to do all of those things alone?

Also, Noah’s stubbornness has taken on a life of its own. It has its own personality: one of a deranged, rabid animal. He’s taking piano lessons, and every time we sit down to practice you would think I was asking him to sit still and pull out his own teeth one by one. Every stroke of a key is an expression of his distaste. “STUPID!” “OLD!” “PIANO!” I am torn between my intense belief that both of my children should learn to play a musical instrument and yes, sometimes they have to be pushed to do so, and my intense belief that kids should be autonomous and have as much control in their own lives as possible. Plus, I fear that pushing him into anything will result in his ultimate hatred of whatever that thing is. As I am trying to decide where I stand I keep pushing him to practice, play the song just once more, but I am starting to hate it as much as he apparently does, because it’s 20 minutes of whining and complaining for three minutes of play. And I see so clearly how this is going to be my life starting next year… sitting down to do math work, doing an art project, learning to read… it makes me numb with dread.

4. I’m lookin’ old, y’all. I just finished a show a few weeks ago, and (per usual) I was in there with a whole lotta 20-somethings. I don’t usually feel old until I’m around 20-year-olds. One kid actually CALLED ME OLD. I mean, I learned not to say shit like that when I was real little, but I guess some people do not know their manners. (I know quite a few books in the children’s section of the library that could help with that. I know these books because I have children who have read them. Because I am old.) Anyway, maybe because I was around very young people, or maybe I have truly aged over the last several months, but lately I look ancient when I catch my reflection in the mirror. Puffy, baggy eyes, wiry gray hairs, frown lines, crow’s feet… and I really just look tired. I don’t FEEL tired, but I look it. I have always been derisive of Botox and face lifts, but I’m starting to understand why people do it. If I could just pin my cheeks back up where they belong, that’s all I really want. They just don’t look right melting off my face. It’s hard to watch my body begin its slow decline into saggy middle-agedness, and I’m a bit depressed about it. I can put on makeup, I can dress nicely, I can do my hair, I can look my absolute best, but I will still look my age, and I’m not used to “looking my age” being a negative thing yet.

5. Noah and I are about to bake the shit out of some pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, and I will feel better about all of this crap for the afternoon. Then Lance will come home, and we will cook dinner and drink wine and laugh and listen to music. And the kids will be pains in the ass and amusingly adorable, alternating with alarming velocity. And we will shout at them to cut it out then gather them up for a cuddle and a tickle, alternating with alarming velocity. And we will read books with full bellies and they will fall asleep and Lance and I will drink more wine and watch TV and then go to bed all tired from a full day and then I’ll wake up again tomorrow and this list will be there waiting for me.

Month 28

Dear Violet,

You are finally almost “two half,” which is how old you’ve been saying you are since before you were even two. Ironically you just started telling me you’re four “yike Noah,” so I guess you’ve skipped three altogether. You are very certain of who you are, and unlike your brother, you are very proud of your name. “I’m not Silly Goose, I’m Violet!” you say, precociously. Only you lisp and you can’t really say your V’s or L’s (depending on where they fall in the word, for some reason), so it sounds like “I’m not Thilly Gooth. I’m Die-yet!” That’s of course so adorable that we all laugh, even Noah, and you LOVE when you can make us laugh. You repeat the last thing you said, grinning around at all of us, to try to rekindle the humorous magic. It’s also very important to you that we all understand you are not tiny, you are not a baby, you are not small. You are big.

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It’s crazy how true this is. You seem so much older than not quite two-and-a-half. You’re already using the potty all the time during the day and Daddy said you woke up from a nap with dry underwear the other day, so you’re almost ready to start wearing underwear at night, too. You of course have always been my big helper in the kitchen. You pull your little stool right over when I start to cook, exclaiming “I wan help you, Mommy!” You’re always ready to stir and pour. You’re also always ready to eat “one chocick chip?” You know my lingo so well by now, and you parrot me eerily perfectly. “How bout just one?” “Maybe later?” “How bout next week?” You ask questions like this all the time, when I say “no” the first time around.

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Listening to your not-yet-perfect language is like death by cute around here, Boo-Boo. Daddy and I routinely spend entire meals poking and squeezing each other under the table just to have some cute release. You can’t say your F’s yet, so we hear a lot of “goldchish” and “I will chush!” (as in, the toilet). You think tiny things are better, so you tell us you want “the tine-tiny fork” or “a tiny pancake!” You want to eat “mee-anas” (bananas) and you don’t want to be “kish”ed (squished) but you love “keezeth” (squeezes).

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Sometimes we can’t understand you, but your brother’s got your back. He is your best interpreter, hands down. We’re all like “What? Wait, WHAT?” and he hollers “she wants you to help her put on her shoes (“chewth”)!” from the other room. When you aren’t trying to kill him, your brother remains your favorite person on the planet. You look for him if he’s not around, you always make sure he gets whatever snack or drink you get, and you are sad and concerned when he is upset. You hug and kiss him constantly, and some of my favorite moments are when I overhear the two of you reading together or talking to each other. He tries to tell you the ways of the world (“You can’t wear the pink shirt ALL THE TIME, Violet. Mom has to wash it sometimes. That’s just the way life works.”) and you seem to listen to him better than you can to us (“Ok, Noah.”). You want to do EVERYTHING he is doing, and neither he nor we nor the apocalypse can stop you. He has a truck? You want that truck. Not ANY truck, THAT truck. We have had to physically remove you from the room several times this month, Buddy, because you are so STUBBORN that you can’t be distracted for one second just to listen.

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Unfortunately you have also learned some bad things from your brother. A few days ago I asked if you wanted to go to the playground and you said “YAY!! PAYGOUND!” Then I said “Ugh, it’s too hot to go to the playground. Let’s go to the pool.” And you said “YAY!! POOL!! I HATE the paygound.” You “hate” a lot of things, from “that book” to “sleeping” to “spinach” to some of your very good friends who you actually love. In other words, you have no idea what the word hate means. But you also say “I YUV you, Mommy. I yuv you too much.” And you probably don’t know what that means either, but it still makes me melt into a puddle.

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It makes it easier to deal with the epic meltdowns you’ve had lately. It’s all because you’re so fiercely independent at the moment, of course, but you are driving us all crazy, just to let you know. You get mad at Noah about something, then you come over to me crying “Noath not being niiiith!” and you want me to hold you. Always. And it’s usually when I’m in the middle of doing something that requires two hands: chopping raw chicken, carrying folded laundry, pooping. (Okay, that last one doesn’t require two hands, which I sadly know because you’ve let yourself in and crawled up onto my lap despite my protests.) If I don’t pick you up right away, and LORD GOD if I walk away, you completely come apart. You’ve used the “open mouth trapped in a silent scream, ending in a wall-of-noise-wail that shatters windows” so often that we can see it coming now, and we all quickly flee to find cover. The worst is that all that crying makes your nose run, and you HHHHHAAATTTEE it when your nose runs. “MY NOTHE WUNNING!!” is a war cry that strikes terror in the hearts of those who hold you dearest, Baby Girl. A runny nose means double (at least) the length of the meltdown in question. It’s been challenging, but I’ve learned the best thing for you is just to get it out of your system. You’re like the baby on the Incredibles, who turns into a scary red monster and then bursts into flames, but then is smiley and happy and giggly again within a literal second of getting all those bad emotions out. Don’t mind the destruction you leave within a mile radius of yourself, Lovey. Just do what you need to do. (Helpful hint: I know you’re not old enough to understand sarcasm yet. That is what it sounds like.)

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Every morning I wake up to your sweet face, because every night you crawl into bed with your Daddy and me sometime around 2am. You’re always cheerful in the morning, pulling books over and quietly reading to yourself while Daddy and I ignore our alarm clocks. When Noah wakes up you say “Hi, Noah!” like you’re surprised to see him, and then you remember that “I’m hung-ee, Mommy. I want chocick milk!” We just stopped nursing in the morning, which was our last nursing session, so you’ve decided chocolate milk is an acceptable substitution. Mommy thought you would have a hard time weaning, but after a few times of “How about some water instead?” you were happy to sit quietly with your books in our big bed until we all got up and went down to breakfast together. It’s been a happy transition for both of us, Boo. It was time. You are such a big girl, and Mommy was ready to let you be that big girl full time.

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Well, that’s almost true, anyway. I’m happy we’re not nursing anymore, but when I see pictures of you as a tiny (“tine-tiny”) bebe, it does make me a little sad. You’re not that bebe anymore. You’ll be starting school for the first time next week, and I’m simultaneously excited, nervous, and heartbroken. How could you be old enough to start school already? We were just walking around the neighborhood nursing in the Ergo, weren’t we? Now you’re speaking to me in complete sentences and wearing your own baby Ergo and asking to hold our friends’ babies.

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Why does your growing up make me so aware of the swift passage of time, Boo? More so than your brother, more so than the changing seasons. Is it because you’re my daughter, or because you’re my baby? Is it because you more than Noah have pushed for independence, yet stuck to me like glue ever since you were in my tummy for way too long? Seeing your personality and expressions emerge as you grow, and communicating with you have been some of the most rewarding things in my life, yet they bring me such heart pangs when I see how quickly the moments come and go. Something about you in particular makes Mommy very sappy, Boo-Boo. I apologize in advance for the embarrassment this will no doubt cause you in middle school and high school, but I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse from here on out.

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I can’t help it. I love you tooooo much.

Love,

Mommy

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Don’t take it personally. He’s an introvert.

He’s not going to hug you, lady, I thought to myself at the bakery the other day. I had tried to distract her with chit-chat to no avail, and I forced my eyes not to roll as the baker came around the counter and commanded him to give her a hug. I know my son, and there was no fucking way he was hugging her. I had already paid and was trying to leave before things got out of hand, but between the baker chasing Noah around my legs and me doing my best to balance Violet, the baked goods, and my purse without tripping over my terrified son, I had missed my window. It was too late.

We’ve been going to this bakery since I was pregnant with Noah, and the bakers know him by name. He used to giggle at them from the foward-facing baby Bjorn, let them hold and tickle and kiss him. He steadily got more and more surly, though, over the last four and a half years. I don’t know what happened. Now, every time we go in they greet him warmly as he furrows his brow and buries himself in the closest parent’s legs.

On this particularly humiliating day, Noah panicked after the baker had tried unsuccessfully to get him to hug her (“How about a high five?” I asked him desperately, still inching my way towards the door), but it was only after she tried to pick him up underneath the arms like a gigantic baby that he lost it and began shooting her with his finger gun. He hadn’t pulled out his finger guns in a long time, and my heart seized when I saw him unholster them. It was like a slo-mo scene from a western movie, complete with tumbleweed stray napkin across frame. NOW LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE! I thought, as she stood up to face me at last, wondering aloud which video game he got that rude behavior from (Noah doesn’t even know what a video game is). As Noah was now bolstered with confidence at the presence of his finger shooters, he had finally let go of my legs and was shooting up the place all around him, customers and cupcakes alike, and I was free to exit the premises without trampling him. My little outlaw came, too.1

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It will be a while2 before I can show my face in there again.

It was a timely trip to the bakery, as I was still processing a sort of revelation I’d had over the previous weekend. See, the good people of East Nashville put on a street festival every August when the weather is hotter than the fires of Mount Doom3. This festival is called the Tomato Art Fest, and when you’re not passing out due to heat exhaustion, you can take care of all your tomato-themed art needs. Really. It’s very useful. Anyway, the whole durn neighborhood goes so we piled into the car and when we got there and had parked further away from the festival than our house even is, we made our way to the kids’ fest, where kids could make a tomato bead necklace, slide down a blow-up water slide, bounce in a bouncy house, or stand in a mile-long line for popsicles.

My epiphany came when Noah utterly abhorred all of these things. He refused to set foot near the bouncy house, insisted one of US stand in line for Sno Cones, and only after Violet wanted to slide down the water slide did he feel obligated to do so as well, despite our assurances that he didn’t HAVE to, and he bawled when he got to the top so that I had to climb into the murky, leaf-filled water and stretch my hands up to help him down where he clutched me with his arms AND his legs, soaking me and sobbing for at least five minutes afterwards. All the while, well-meaning strangers, friendly neighbors, excited friends, and purple popsicle-smiling playmates greeted him, only to be met with scowls, humphs, and frowns as he hid his face repeatedly in my legs.4 I had a little Mommy Tantrum5 when I got fed up with his complaints and whines and clinginess, explaining to him with my hands in the air that THIS IS FUN! LOOK AT EVERYONE LAUGHING AND PLAYING AND HAVING FUN! FOR GOD’S SAKE! WHY ARE YOU SO MISERABLE!?

Because he was miserable. As I sat on the curb, steaming, Lance told me quietly “I used to be just like this.” “Where is MY personality in him, then?” I retorted angrily. “Where’s the part of him that’s like me, that enjoys running into friends and seeing lots of people and going out and doing things?” The truth is, there may not be that part of him. My realization was that this is not a phase. Noah doesn’t hate festivals and crowds and parties and new experiences because he’s four, any more than he hated them because he was three or two. I kept expecting him to grow out of his “shy” phase and emerge a gregarious, easy-going guy. That might not ever happen.

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Like Lance, I’m sure Noah will learn how to put up with what, to him, are uncomfortable social situations. Like Lance, he might even come to enjoy parties (few and far between). He certainly does enjoy his friends and asks for them by name, so it’s not that he is ANTI-social. Here’s what I’ve observed in the week since the Tomato Fest, or remembered or paid attention to for the first time since I’ve been thinking about it.

1. He only wants to play with one friend at a time; he only wants to invite a max of three people to his birthday party whenever I ask about it. He gets stressed when too many people are over, or when we go to someone else’s house and there are too many people. He reacts by a) being whiny and clingy or b) acting like a total shit, picking at his friends, refusing to listen to me. It stresses him out to invite more than one person over, too. Recently we had a play date with a friend of his who is into princesses. He spent the morning planning what he was going to play with her and picking out dress-up clothes and appropriate toys and excitedly running in to tell me those plans. Later on I told him happily that another good friend was going to join us, and to my surprise he dropped to the floor in agony. “But he won’t want to play princesses!” he moaned. I tried to convince him that it was fine and the three could play something together, but he fretted for the rest of the morning. This isn’t to say he didn’t have a great time once the friends were actually here, because he did, but it was quite illuminating.

2. He turns into a turd when he’s overstimulated. He lashes out at me, he lashes out at Lance, he lashes out at other kids. (Tiredness, hunger, and needing to pee also contribute to Turd-Bubbs.) A few weekends ago we went to a birthday party, where I quietly and gently interrupted his play to ask if he had any interest in making a peanut butter bird feeder craft. He told me he hated me and hit me with a jump rope. (I took that as a no.) (Also we left. I’m trying to figure him out, but NO ONE HITS ME WITH A JUMP ROPE, FOO.) When he’s not overstimulated, when we have a few close friends over or we visit a house he knows well, he is generally warm, gentle, and kind. He has even been known to be the safety police, helping children on and off their bikes, reminding them obnoxiously not to do whatever it is they’re doing as it might lead to a fire, and protecting them from heading towards the street. He is extra gentle with babies, thoughtful of others’ feelings, and even adults find him quite sweet and personable. But too many people or too much STUFF (i.e. a street festival) = blood and destruction.

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3. He likes being early. If we arrive earlier than everyone else somewhere: school (especially), a play date, a party, things seem to go smoother than if we show up after a lot of people are already present. Something about walking into a crowd seems to overwhelm him. But if he’s one of the first on the scene he seems able to cope with the bigger groups of people without flipping out. This is difficult as I am almost always running 30 minutes behind. With my newfound understanding of Noah’s mind, though, I’ma try to be better about that. If I arrive at your party awkwardly early, half dressed, and with no makeup on, you’ll know why. Please pretend I look great and you’re happy to see me even though you’re still finishing up the guacamole.

4. He gets physically and emotionally worn out when he’s around people too much. This is the classic Karl Jung definition of an introvert; he loves his friends and wants to hang out with them, but he needs to recharge at home, alone. He likes reading and watching movies, and he genuinely enjoys playing alone, with his fire truck, or with Legos, or dressed up in his fireman gear, his princess dress, his construction costume, his astronaut outfit, etc. (Really, dressing up as whatever he feels like being in that moment is more like a way of life for Noah than “playing,” but that’s a story for another blog post.) At the beginning of the summer, I scheduled outings for us every day, most of them with people. I quickly learned that was not going to fly. While Violet seemed to thrive and I experienced far fewer meltdowns when I had her out on the town, Noah’s behavior started to deteriorate about halfway through the first week, and by the end of the week I wanted to throw him out the window. Luckily I figured out what was wrong quickly when my homebody buddy began wailing NOOOOO as I cheerfully told the kids to get their shoes on and get in the car. I stopped over-scheduling us, and the next few weeks went much smoother. I’m still figuring out the balance, though, as a) Violet LOVES outings and playing with friends as often as possible, b) I love outings and seeing friends as often as possible, and b) both kids start to crawl the walls if we’ve been home for too long. Sometimes just going for a walk is the best thing for both of them, as it appeals to Violet’s adventuresome side and Noah’s introspective, stare at the trees and come up with an entire story inside his little6 head side.

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5. He’s not socially awkward. (Ok, he’s a little socially awkward because sometimes he doesn’t talk, especially to adults. (See #7.)) But mostly, his introversion doesn’t lead to substandard social skills. I’m not even truly convinced that he’s shy. It’s hard for me to understand, too. Many of Noah’s playmates are participating in the city’s gifted child program called Encore, but I know Noah would never get in. His Montessori teacher last year did mention she would recommend him if I wanted, but they have to have an interview and identify letters aloud and stuff and ARE YOU KIDDING? (I am literally laughing out loud right now imagining some poor underpaid teacher trying to get him to say HELLO, then tell her that she is holding up the letter Q. Oh, oh, my sides hurt!) I’ve read that introverted children are often mistaken as unintelligent or inattentive because they clam up in school interviews. (And yes I did just misspell “unintelligent” the first time around.) Noah also happens to be stubborn as a mule in hell, will do opposite of what he knows he SHOULD be doing, is quiet in new situations, and is extremely introspective. He’ll bring up something that happened two months ago at random over dinner and have a fully formed opinion about a two-minute interaction. It’s shocking every time. So he’s not inattentive or unintelligent, to be sure. Quite the opposite, in fact. He’s paying ridiculously close attention to everything that happens all around him, even when it seems like he’s not.7 Which is fucking intimidating. All this is to say that it’s very misleading, to be Noah. Only people who know him very well know he’s a total chatterbox, inventing stories like wildfire (probably stories ABOUT wildfires), he’s extremely articulate, and he says gigantic words sometimes. Also if you know him you know that when he says gigantic words you had sure as hell better not laugh. (See #8.) Seriously. If you ask him about school, he’ll give you bupkis. If you tell him you like his fireman outfit, he’ll give you bupkis. But if you casually mention that the best way to put out a fire is by running around and screaming, and he doesn’t think you’re saying it for his benefit, he’ll BEGIN by interjecting some fire safety wisdom, y’all, and you’ll never get another word in edgewise. This trait is so very like his father I can’t even believe it. Lance doesn’t talk much, to most people. But lord if I haven’t had to stifle a yawn when he gets going. The man will not stop talking. Sometimes I start making out with him after a couple hours, just to give my ears a break.

6. He doesn’t like being touched. This is tricky, because sometimes he does like being hugged, kissed, and wrestled with… did I say sometimes? The sometimes is paramount here. It kinda depends on his mood I guess. And ONLY ever by people for whom he would possibly lay down his life. He never pushes Lance or me away if we give him a hug or snuggle, and he doesn’t really ever stop touching and hugging and cuddling his sister, and he likes wrestling with friends and sometimes even hugging them. And I wouldn’t call him someone who keeps his hands to himself either… he likes to usher younger kids around and pull friends over to whisper secrets and stuff. He HATES it when you muss his hair, though. Or when an adult pokes him. (This happens surprisingly often to kids, I’ve noticed. Hey, grown-ups. Do you like being poked? Didn’t think so. Just because you’re feeling awkward, don’t poke kids. Show some respect.) He’s just not really into being casually touched. And if you are a stranger asking for a hug? Well, just be prepared to have your entire bakery blasted to smithereens.

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7. He’s not going to talk to you. Ever since he was old enough to communicate, I’ve tried to instill the bare minimum of polite interactions in Noah. I taught him how to sign “thank you” and “please,” taught him how to wave hello and goodbye. Now, four years later, he still doesn’t say thank you. He still doesn’t say hello. He might wave goodbye, or, if he knows you REALLY well, mumble “bye.” (I think bye comes easier than hi, since he’s had however long to warm up to whoever we’re with.) I have a hard time with this. As we greet friends and other children happily say hello to me while Noah scowlingly ignores adults, I am inwardly cringing. “You don’t have to chat if you don’t feel like chatting,” I remind him time and time again. (He just loves my lectures.) “But you need to be kind and polite to your friends and their parents. Simply say hello. Say goodbye. Say thank you and please.” So far, it hasn’t taken. I watch over and over as our adult friends say “Hi, Noah!” and he ignores them. He ignores everything. “How are you?” (silence) “How is school going?” (silence) “Would you like a cookie?” (he looks at me and nods) I remind him to say thank you but he just can’t. Or won’t. I don’t know. He stands there with his cookie and looks at the floor. I feel badly, because I love people and I’m trying to teach him how to interact with others. I don’t want him to be a social outcast, and eventually, ignoring people isn’t going to fly. Hopefully he will learn acceptable social behavior before he’s old enough to be ostracized for impoliteness. In the meantime, I will be forcing myself not to answer for him or apologize because he’s not telling you how old he is or whether or not he had fun at preschool today. He’s not trying to be rude. He’s just bored by your inane topics, apparently. Don’t take it personally, Reader. I ask him questions all the time (mostly about his feelings). He answers me about one time out of every ten questions. And that one time, his answer is a huge eye roll and a “You’re ANNOYING me, Mom.”

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8. He’s terrified of being laughed at. He embarrasses very easily, and he doesn’t differentiate between someone thinking he’s adorable and someone thinking he’s dumb. When he talks to us we have learned to take everything he says VERY seriously, and no matter how cute he is being we CAN NOT SMILE. I’ve recently wondered if this explains why he’s never sung aloud, even as a little guy. He’ll smile while I sing, but he’ll never join in. At a friend’s house yesterday, he got caught singing a song he’d made up and he stopped, rolled his eyes and sighed all dramatically, then told her “NO ADULTS ALLOWED.” I told her Noah talking to her at all is a step in the right direction! Bonus points because he didn’t shoot her with his finger gun and/or start crying! It’s not just adults that he’s afraid will laugh at him; he often tells me something he can’t or won’t do (often something he wants to do or SHOULD do) because his friends will laugh at him. He’s way too worried about this to be only four, in my opinion. I am nervous about him in high school.

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but a steadily and alarmingly quickly growing list. I just realized the not being late rule about an hour ago. And, like so many other parts of parenting, it’s me, and my own expectations, that must change. Noah is who he is, and I’m not allowed to have temper tantrums because I don’t get him. I have to dig in, and do my research, and try my best to understand him, if I want to parent him the right way.

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The day after the Tomato Art Festival, Lance and I took the kids to Percy Priest lake. It’s a beautiful lake with a strip of beach (thanks to the Army Corp of Engineers) and waves that crash up on the sand (thanks to the boaters) and a decent roped-off section for swimming. Violet played in the sand and laughed and made us look at her while she splashed her feet in the water and laid down on her belly and let the waves push her to shore. Noah swam out as far as he could (wearing his water wings…he is a cautious guy after all), right up to the rope that separated the swim area from the wide open water. From the shore-line, I shaded my face with my hand and watched him, wanting to call him back but wanting to let him go as far as he dared (autonomy and all that, y’all feel). When he reached the rope he turned, and I could just make out his face. His grin was huge, infectious, and I realized then how happy he was just like that: alone, no people around, nothing around but calm water on all sides.

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1 Not relevant to this post but somehow important to me to say anyway: I told Noah in the car on the way home that he was never under any obligation to hug or touch anyone unless he wanted to. It is very important to me to let my kids make their own decisions about who they hug or kiss. Their bodies are their own, I remind them as often as it comes up. However, I told him, shooting adults is quite rude and he definitely needs to say “no thank you” when someone asks for a hug instead of killing them. That will only lead to a prison sentence, and from my understanding of jail, a polite “no thank you” will likely not be a good way to get fellow prisoners to stop trying to hug you.

2 Read: never

3 Frodo himself confirms this. After leaving Rivendell he was all, I need a vacay, stat. So he came here because of all the sweet honky tonk bars. But he like, could not BELIEVE the heat. “It’s the mugginess that really gets you,” he said. “It’s just so shocking.”

4 This is apparently his favorite place to hide.

5 These do happen on occasion.

6 His head is not little. His head is huge.

7 An example from today: he was scolded during piano class for not singing along to a new song. He was then asked to come sit in the waiting room “with your mom” as he was “not participating.” I was watching from said waiting room, and he had not been disrupting class, squirming, giggling, being silly, or really doing anything. His eyes were on the teacher and he was just quietly observing. He sadly came in the waiting room to sit with me, and I asked him if he had ever heard the song before, as I hadn’t. He said no, and another mother confirmed that it was a new song. Not that that really mattered… I can’t get him to sing the alphabet song when he’s at home with just me. He refused to go back in to class even after the piano teacher invited him to do so. The worst thing about it was that I KNOW he really WAS participating. He was listening, and he was learning. He’s never been one to regurgitate immediately. He sits on information and processes it slowly, asking questions along the way, then understanding it completely and entirely a month later. Probably needless to say, we are looking for a new piano teacher. We aren’t angry or anything like that, I’m just really trying to think how Noah learns best, and a one-size approach to music lessons seems like a bad idea. I want him to love going, and foster a love of music in him, and not have him fear reproach for learning the way he learns.

How to be ordinary

I cut too many bangs. I swore I’d never cut my bangs again, but then I was bored with the image in the mirror and feeling brave after successfully cutting Violet’s hair into a cute little french Audrey Hepburn-esque coiffure, so I took scissors to the front of my hair but then, as was inevitable, I cut too much. Now when I wake up in the morning I look like Garth from Wayne’s World, and when I accidentally pass my reflection in the mirror on the way to the toilet, all I can think is, “You did this to yourself, you dummy. Party on, Garth.”

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Mediocrity. My life feels full of it at the moment, from my stupid bangs to my marriage to motherhood to my lack of a career. My writing has dropped off to… well, nothing. I can’t seem to get seasonings right anymore when I’m cooking. Everything I do, everything I am, it’s all just… okay. I’m feeling not spectacular at anything these days, and for a theatrical person such as I, that’s hard to live with. It’s like going to a thousand auditions and getting cast in the ensemble every time. I’m good… just not good enough.

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Like… I’m pretty, but not gorgeous. I’m starting to look old. Older than I looked yesterday; older than I feel. What is this dark pouchy skin underneath my eyes? Why do my cheeks look like they’re sagging off my face? The gray hairs HAVE to come in all wiry, do they? So they pop out and stand straight up on top of my head? And yet… the acne hasn’t gone away yet. Now THAT is some unfair bullshit right there. And what’s with these boobs, or lack thereof? I knew they would look different after breastfeeding, but why are they all cockeyed? After I put on a shirt I have to arrange my breasts so that my nipples are pointing the same damn direction. And it’s important that they face the same way, as nipple is basically all that’s left of my tits anyway. Since I started running I lost them. Running has done virtually nothing for my stomach flab, so-called “love” handles, or saddle bags, but my rack is totally gone. Really, my (remaining) boobs are just WEIRD now. Stretch-marked, deflated, and a little sad looking, like they just heard a friend died and had a good cry about it. And while I have very little body-image issues, at least compared to some, I still can’t bring myself to wear a two-piece swimsuit. It’s the stomach dough that bothers me. When I sit down my belly folds over onto itself like four times, which is actually kind of good if you consider then at least you can’t see my belly button anymore. I actually don’t understand what the hell is going on with my belly button. It didn’t take popping out to accommodate babies very well, so now it’s like a crossbreed: half-innie, half-outtie. It’s the Quasimodo of belly buttons. I don’t like letting it out of my shirt because I don’t want it to frighten the children at the pool.

And… I’m a decent writer, but I’ll never sell a book. I have little to no time to sit down and write, and when I DO make time, I just sit here and stare at a blank screen. The truth is I’m starting to struggle with doing so many things for free. I love to write, but I want someone to need me to do it, hire me to do it, then pay me for a job well done. Maybe this sounds like a very first-world problem. It feels whiny to talk about, and on some level I disagree with the notion that we must receive something in return for work that we love; what about doing something for the sheer love of doing it? Whether or not this is ethical, the fact is that our society validates good work monetarily. I have passion for theater, for instance, but I don’t have a job in theater right now. Everything I do (and I do a LOT) is on a volunteer basis. 99% of the time, I’m happy to pursue my passion for free. My paycheck is my pride in my craft. But that other 1% of the time, quite frankly, it sucks. I don’t get paid for writing my blog. I don’t get paid for acting or singing. But SOME people do. That’s where my own sense of mediocrity comes in. What about me is NOT good enough? I want to be paid for the work I do, artistic or administrative. And I swear, it’s not greed. It’s not about the money, not really. Of course, it would be nice if I could bring in a little something extra for my family. It would be empowering to know that I can help send my children to college, help save money to travel. But truly… it’s about something more. That validation would feel really damn good every once in a while.

And… I’m an okay mom, but I still yell at my kids. One of the most depressing and frustrating things about parenting right now is that Noah and Violet complain ALL. THE. TIME. No matter what we do, no matter where we go, my kids are unhappy about something. My problem is I haven’t learned from my mistakes. I have such high expectations at the beginning of the day… we’ll go to the zoo! We’ll go out to lunch! We’ll go to a park! We’ll do a craft! Play a game! Watch a movie! Read books! Go to the splash pad! Bake muffins! I’m always trying so hard to give my kids these amazing experiences, but they always end in catastrophes that make me feel like a piece of shit mother. I like put on the Yo-Yo Ma station as background music for some finger paint and decoupage project that I’d envisioned the three of us merrily working through together, and I’m elbow-deep in the stuff when Violet starts crying because she sees the iPad and tries to take it, and I’m like, No, it’s not time to play on the iPad right now and within 45 seconds her mild whining becomes a full-blown meltdown complete with horror-movie screams, kicking, and choking. Noah remembers he hates crafts after about three minutes and starts whining about how tired and hungry he is, then he tears all the cushions off the couch and pushes it into the center of the living room so he can pretend it’s a ship. Then he climbs up onto the ship and screams “You’re a mean guy!” and shoots me with his finger gun. And I’m like, what?! Why am I a mean guy? What did I do to you? And he’s like “You’re being mean to Violet!” And I look down where she’s still writhing and screaming on the floor because I tried to get her to paint instead of vegging out with the fucking iPad. Then instead of just being okay with my big plan falling apart, instead of rolling with the punches of parenting small children, I always take it all personally and wonder why we can’t do ONE PLEASANT THING EVER WITHOUT EVERYONE BEING ASSHOLES. Only I don’t wonder it in my mind like any sane, rational person might when dealing with a four-year-old and a two-year-old. I wonder it out loud. To my kids. And then after I calm down and clean paint and glue off the couch I feel guilty and think, ok, I’ll make it up to them by taking them to…. the farmer’s market! Yeah! It’ll be so fun! Get your shoes on, guys! GUYS! GET ON YOUR DAMN SHOES SO WE CAN DO SOMETHING THAT IS GOING TO BE INCREDIBLY FUN FOR GOD’S SAKE. NOW! MOVE MOVE MOVE!

And… Lance and I love each other, but romance is dead. I’ve heard it’s normal to not have time for one another during children’s formative years, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Sure, I miss long leisurely dates and lazy Saturday mornings and sex, but who doesn’t? At this point I just miss having conversations with my friend. Every time we try to talk to one another the kids instantly begin vying for our attention. We get pulled on, climbed on, yelled at. The result is that the only things we ever have time to talk about are like, bills, doctor appointments, budgets, chores, and weekend birthday party invitations. So we bicker a lot. I feel like he doesn’t get me anymore, and he feels like I’m overreacting, which of course I am. Sometimes I find myself blowing up at him and I KNOW I’m overreacting, often concurrent with the blowup. All day long I have to have so much energy for the kids and by the time I see him my energy is completely nil, so he gets the worst of me. Which is unfair, because he also gets the worst of the kids… the dinner/bath time/bedtime insanity. I find myself wondering if one day he won’t come home at all because who wants to come home to three people at their worst every day? (Plus two hungry pets.) Wondering that makes me want to be better… stop getting annoyed at tiny things, make an effort to kiss him hello before laying into him about all the crap that I’m dealing with or whatever. (Ok, ok. He’s super offended reading this right now, I know. Of course I know he’ll never leave.) But I don’t want to just exist with someone. I don’t want a roommate. I want a husband. I don’t want to just love, I want to be IN love. I don’t want him to come into the bathroom while I’m pooping. I don’t want him to watch me floss my teeth. I want to preserve a little mystery, you know? I want romance, and sex, and flirting, and meaningful conversation. And I want all of it with HIM, the man I married.

But what am I going to do, y’all? It’s all just the phase of life I’m in, and I’d be foolish not to know it’s all going to pass. (Ok, maybe my boobs will never look good again, but everything else is just a phase.) I have to keep going, and keep hoping mediocrity will turn into something spectacular. I’ll keep working out, and maybe my tummy will get toned. I’ll keep auditioning, and eventually maybe I’ll get a paid role and my name will be in the newspaper(!), or maybe I’ll get a part-time writing job. I’ll keep trying to do cool things with my kids, and eventually they won’t complain about every single thing; they’ll learn to enjoy life and I’ll learn to leave them alone and let them destroy the living room if they’re happy doing it. Eventually Lance and I will have lots of time to rekindle our relationship. Right now I’m just waiting, and the waiting is hard, because I’m waiting for something amazing. Which means that right now, things aren’t amazing.

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Like my Garth bangs. I know I did it to myself, but it was a mistake and now I have to wait for my bangs to grow out. But I’m hopeful that once they do, my hair will look fantastic.

White Squirrel Farm

For the past few months, we’ve been doing a CSA. Our dear friends have a farm out in Bethpage, and we bought so much delicious produce from them last year that we decided to get the share this season.

It’s been really good for us; we’ve stretched ourselves by cooking and eating things we’d never even heard of. And last week I made collard greens for the first time, so if I wasn’t before now I’m officially southern. (Yes, I cooked them in bacon grease.) (Yes, they were ah-mazing.)

Yesterday, we went out to visit our friends at White Squirrel Farm. I wish I had taken more pictures! The gardens are so lovely this time of year, and they are near bursting with vegetables. Their whole property is gorgeous and peaceful. We ambled along the driveway that winds through the woods and past horses and up to their house.

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The kids ate so many blackberries off the bushes and helped themselves to cherry tomatoes (which I will be getting in my CSA today!). They were so worn out (Noah from playing hard with his friend, Winston, and Violet from trying to keep up with the older boys) that they both fell asleep on the way home. (Which is good, because I went the wrong way and yep, that’s pretty typical because I am horrible with directions.)

These guys sell beautiful flowers and fresh, delicious produce every Wednesday from 4-7 at Mitchell’s Deli in East Nashville. As someone who doesn’t like raw carrots but can’t stop eating the raw carrots from this farm, I can tell you that it is well worth it and you should go get some goods.

I was reminded yet again yesterday how much I love living here. We have been toying with the idea of moving to New York someday, because that is a dream we’ve always had that hasn’t died and most likely never will. But days like yesterday make me so thankful to be right where we are, at least for the time being.

Thoughts on a Hallmark holiday (Part 1)

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and we all wanted to spend it celebrating Lance. We had a plan to make him breakfast in bed, the children made him Father’s Day cards and Noah chose a gift, a really good gift that is exactly what Lance would want. We had a plan to pack up a night picnic and take him to see some jazz at the park. It didn’t exactly work out the way we’d hoped (a story for another day), but the point is Lance deserves to be celebrated, and the kids and I wanted to give him a special day. He is patient and kind, doesn’t overreact or freak out like I do when Noah laughs maniacally and tells us he’s going to “circle-saw people up today.” He spends time thinking about our children’s wellbeing, cares about their education, brainstorms ways to make himself a better, more consistent parent, believes strongly in gender equality and children’s rights, and basically just kinda rolls with the punches of parenting.IMG_6363

Like, literally. The other day Noah punched him right in the balls. Lance had calmly asked him to wash his hands for lunch, and in response our darling son punched his gentle, loving father right in the nutsack. I was all yelling my head off at Noah about how we don’t hit and especially not a private area and that really hurt Daddy, and if he was going to respond that way he could just skip lunch altogether. But Lance was like, “Dude, you’re being a little harsh.” That pissed me off. After all, they were HIS balls I was taking up for, so I threw up my hands. “You don’t care about your own testicles? Fine! Why should I yell at Noah about YOUR balls when you don’t even seem to care to discipline him about it!?” And Lance was all “I said ‘OW‘.”

Yup. That’s what I love about Lance’s parenting style. It takes a lot to make him angry. And even when he IS angry, he isn’t mad at the kids. He doesn’t think they’re going to turn out to be psycho killers. He doesn’t respond emotionally. He never arbitrarily doles out threats like I do. (No lunch? Yeah right. Noah saw through that immediately. In fact I think I heard him snort at me as he sauntered off to wash his hands, the little turd.) Unlike me, Lance never holds grudges. Sometimes I need a time-out, but Lance always just seems to be able to shake it off. In other words, he’s the exact opposite of me in many ways. And that’s a good thing.

(Not that I don’t think he should have reacted a LITTLE bit more to being punched in the crotch.) (Not that I gave him a chance, since I swooped in with my hand on my hip and my idle threats.)

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I should also mention that while I scrolled through countless hyperbolic facebook posts yesterday about how everyone’s dad AND husband are THE MOST AMAZING DADS EVER IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a little. A lot. It was like scroll, read, roll eyes, repeat. People. I appreciate your sentiment, I truly do. But I don’t believe you. EVERYONE CAN’T BE THE BEST. Everyone has their shitty parenting moments. The honest truth is Lance is not the best father in the entire world. I have looked outside to see him pushing the kids on the swing while staring at his phone. I have overheard him trying to explain concepts of morality that are WAY beyond a two and four-year-old’s brain capacities instead of simply correcting their behavior. Unlike me, who can think of little else, he seems painfully unaware of how quickly our children are growing up; I find him checking out on an electronic device more often than not. (Most of the time he’s posting a picture he just took of our kids to Instagram, ironically.) He doesn’t seem to understand the concept of picking battles; he starts with a single “no” and quickly gets lost in a swirling vortex of “don’t do that”s that end in one mad-ass four-year-old who takes out his aggression on a certain father’s ballsac. And he is laid back to a fault; last weekend I went to a good friend’s baby shower and stayed overnight in Birmingham and when Lance texted me good morning he confessed that Violet woke up at 5am and he’d given her a banana and stuck her in front of Daniel Tiger. When he woke up with Noah at 7:30, Violet was still watching that damn tiger, eyes swirling, mouth slightly ajar, drooling, limply holding a banana peel in her hand, brains slowly oozing out her ears. (Ok, I made up that visual. But I’m positive that’s what she’d look like after TWO AND A HALF HOURS OF TELEVISION. Including the brains.)

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Why must we pretend everything is so perfect? Social media has made us into liars, man. There’s no such thing as the best parent in the entire world. There is no “perfect father,” just as there is not a “perfect mother.” Instagram creates a pretty little half-true picture because I rarely post pictures of myself screaming at my kids while brandishing a wooden spoon. Rarely. I also rarely post (or take, for that matter) photos of my children having epic meltdowns because I told them they couldn’t have another piece of chocolate cake or watch just one more episode of Dinosaur Train. My videos are not of them whining and me losing my patience because I quite nicely asked them to put on their shoes so we could head to the park. To meet friends. And have a picnic that I just packed us. And take pictures that will end up on Instagram. (Idea: “It’s the Circle of Social Media Lies,” sung to the tune of Elton John’s classic from The Lion King) I can say with honesty that I’m trying my best, and I can say with certainty that Lance is trying his best. He’s not THE BEST, THE MOST wonderful, THE MOST amazing. But he is giving it his all.

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And he is wonderful. He is exactly what I want. He is exactly what his children need. We are navigating these choppy parenting waters together with our two guinea pigs, Noah and Violet, who see and hear us argue when we disagree with one another’s choices. Lance (and his balls) is the best dad I could ask for for my kids. (Get it? Cause the kids? You know…? Came from sperm? You get it.) He loves his children with all his heart. He spends ALL of his free time at home, with us. He’s had his fair share of lone bedtime routines as I spend at least three nights a month at the theatre (and that’s when I’m NOT in a show). Yet, unlike myself, he never complains. Never acts tired of being dad to our babies. He is moved to tears almost as often as I when they do something kind; he is as livid as I when they have been hurt emotionally or physically; he is fiercely protective of them. When he comes home our kids squeal with joy, run to him, jump into his arms, squeeze him tight, chatter to him about their days. He never withholds affection from them, and he squeezes them tightly right back when he walks through the front door. He lets our kids be who they are, never expecting them to adhere to social norms, never so much as raising an eyebrow when they’re running around the front yard stark, raving naked. When they grow up I believe wholeheartedly that they will remember a father who sacrificed for their happiness, a father who loved them with all of his being. I can’t imagine raising kids with anyone else. He’s not a superhero; he’s a human. He’s showing our kids what it means to live a real life full of mistakes and flaws and as much joy and love as one can muster.

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So, with all that said… Happy Father’s Day to the best, most wonderful father in the entire world. No, really.