“I want something else”

4 Jan
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Our son practicing taking care of his future baby brother, our big “something else” for 2018

This fall we have taken two road trips with a 2-year-old and a terrier with separation anxiety. The first was to evacuate because Irma was predicted to hit our house as a Category 5 hurricane, and we are not the people who ride it out with a toddler with that forecast. The storm later took a turn west and only knocked out our power and shade trees instead of flooding our house and ripping the roof off. #Lucky

When you live at the bottom of Florida, that trip is daunting without hurricane traffic, much less when you’re driving in the middle of the night as one of a thousand ants crawling at a snail’s pace on I-75. Our normally 9-hour drive to Aaron’s cousin’s house near Atlanta took 15 hours–a treacherous trip plagued with no gas anxiety we hope never to repeat, but it was worth the unexpected time Fox got with his cousins, running around outside and sitting on both real and pretend tractors.

Our next road trip was intentional–Christmas in Virginia. We split the first leg into two days–return trip we did all in one shot. After stops and holiday traffic, we logged a total of 16 hours from start to finish in one day, three pairs of pants and two shirts for the toddler, and a hundred whimpers of worry from our dog every time we stopped.

Will this be the time they leave me? Will this be the time we get separated for good? I better whine nervously for the duration of the stop to make sure they don’t forget me.

I heard plenty of “no!” on this trip but also a new phrase that has made the regular rotation now: “I want something else.” He could never tell us what the “something else” was, only that he wanted it. He even woke up from sleeping in the car shouting the phrase and immediately fell back asleep.

Toddlers have a way of reducing adult existential dilemmas into simple statements they repeat incessantly. They don’t think in why, only what.

After hearing this mantra after each snack, each course of a meal, after a truck video ended, after 17 books read twice, after playing with the same toy or holding the same stuffed animal, I started to understand it.

Each of us wants “something else” we can’t always define, even when we’re pretending we don’t. Not material things, but maybe food. (I am pregnant, excuse me while I get a snack.)

While at home last week, we watched old family videos–many of which involved skits, news broadcasts or commercials I had written as a kid and cast my (sometimes unwilling but always brilliant) sister and neighbors in to try and find my something else. Before that, I created my own “radio station” using one of those giant gray tape recorders with the orange button inside the play button that let you record.

Now that I’m halfway through year 17 of my teaching career, that old “I want something else” feeling creeps in again. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, or rather I love helping students create something, which is why I’m most content advising publications. That doesn’t mean it’s ever going to be “enough” to stave off that intangible yearning my son articulates so clearly.

Having a second child in a few months will temporarily be my something else–maybe that’s why I’m willing to throw myself into those sleepless newborn months one more time. To watch my son interact with his baby brother will fill me with joy just as helping him navigate his growing world already does.

Yesterday, when I was home sick with him all day, the only moment of reprieve from my illness was during the time he wanted to know if the cracker he was eating was a “nutcracker.” This hilarious question was spurred by an episode of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” where Daniel had to dance as the Nutcracker Prince after Prince Wednesday became ill. Solidarity, Wednesday.

Minutes later, we were watching videos of How It’s Made: German nutcracker edition. I was riveted but not the 2-year-old.

“Not that one!”  he protested.

Turns out YouTube is bereft of nutcrackers actually cracking nuts. We first found one of a child demonstrating one, but let’s be real, the kid was an amateur and it left us wanting more. Finally, I found a video with a creepy Santa nutcracker intro that horrified Fox but delivered the laughs moments later.

During Santa nutcracker’s slo mo beard wave in high volume wind with dramatic sound effects: “No! No! No!” *tears* *panic*

During videos of people demonstrating nutcrackers successfully crack nuts: *howls of joyful laughter* *hand claps* “Crack that nut!” “Again, Mommy!”

It’s these moments between fear and understanding and confusion and joy that made me want to be a parent. It is not only moving to observe it up close but it makes me more aware of how I interact with the world.

Christmas Eve was our first night in Virginia at my parents’ house and Fox had trouble sleeping that night, woke up a few times crying. We thought it had to do with him being low on the floor on an air mattress and the bed being extra high next to him (so the under the bed space seemed scary in the dark).

In the morning, I asked him what he was scared of the night before and he said “Santa Claus and alligators.” So much to unpack there in the life of my Florida-born toddler but that nutcracker video is way more unsettling when you already have a fear of Santa.

The only difference between my son’s desire for the undefinable and an adult’s is that he expresses it on the regular. He is trying to find what will fill his quest while I am often too busy to entertain it.

So I guess my new year’s resolution is to explore something else, a side project that has always intrigued me but I’ve never made time to pursue. Too busy editing copy or layouts, packing lunches, doing laundry or gearing up to clean out my room (apparently the latter takes a couple of years) to focus on cracking this existential nut.

 

 

 

 

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