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“I want something else”

4 Jan

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.





More backhoes

11 Jul


Every few feet, I find another piece of loose dog food, each morsel thrown one at a time by my toddler while I was in the bathroom. My hours’ long headache unwavering, I pick up the pieces and also cars, trains and construction equipment left like carnage in my toddler’s room, so I can get him settled for a distraction-free naptime. As soon as it was done, he deemed now the time to resume train-play:

No! No! No! No clean up!

*Takes every transportation vessel out of bin and scatters to floor, carries four trains to other room to “choo-choo!” his way to happiness*

After further stalling to say goodnight to our dog, he finally relented to the nap and I headed into the kitchen to attack a sink full of dishes when all I wanted to do was lie down and sleep off this immune-to-pain-relievers headache.  In this moment, I had never felt more like a full-time mom.

Usually, I can get the dishes done in the morning while my toddler is eating breakfast or playing on the floor. But today was one of those days where he had an eye on trouble and my eyes off of him for a moment meant throwing all his food to our dog or throwing all the dog’s food at the walls. Or eating the dog’s food–I am certain that also happened.  So instead I met him where he was and diverted his mischief into other things, and we played with backhoes! all morning long.

Backhoe is a word I certainly knew but hadn’t heard uttered in possibly years. I now hear that word at least 20 times before breakfast.

Early in the morning: I wan’ play backhoes!

(While playing backhoes): I wan’ watch backhoes!

(While watching You Tube videos explaining parts of backhoe): I want backhoe digging!

(While watching videos of especially skilled backhoe driver dig and fill a trench): I want backhoe!

(While on a walk, one passes us–South Florida is perpetually under construction) Fox: See backhoe? Me: Actually, honey, that’s a front-end loader. Fox: Fron-end yoder! Fron-end yoder!

That is his new daily mantra, and when did I start clarifying the subtleties of tractors?

Before my son became fixated on construction equipment (how many times did I read the book Roadwork? or I’m a Backhoe or Bulldozer’s Big Day?), I was perfectly content to mentally acknowledge random piece of construction equipment without a single care to know which kind it was. Now I have joined in on the fascination–let’s talk stabilizing legs and the difference between an excavator and a backhoe. Do you have a few minutes to discuss the prevalence of front-end loaders in our neighborhood? Or that some concrete boom trucks reach up to 200 ft?

My summer morning routine now includes watching You Tube videos with Fox. A sampling:

Parts of a backhoe / how to operate a backhoe (Informative, but had to overlook the abnormally annoying “just for kids!” host wearing neon suspenders and glasses)

Backhoe vs. excavator: who will win? (Spoiler alert: always bet on the backhoe)

Backhoes rescuing other backhoes in Southeast Asia (Next level stuff)

Backhoe driver steering backhoe onto flat-bed truck using scoop as leverage (I was impressed)

Front-end loaders and dump trucks: best buddies (not actual title)

Garbage trucks with a front-end loader (sounded good, but snoozefest)

Twenty Trucks Channel, aka truck video nirvana. (Videos of yes, 20 different trucks set to original songs that both inform and entertain adults and toddlers. Fox bobs his head in rhythm to lyrics about a bulldozer, and I am still reeling from the stirring emotion of the con-crete pump, con-crete pump, boooooooooooom chorus as the truck dutifully pours the floor of a Seattle Seahawks stadium. Y’all, I am watching these videos on my own because my toddler’s attention span no longer matches my interest. Major pride point when Fox identified a front-end loader without its scoop on a walk today. He didn’t let that grappling attachment fool him).

This brings me to my teacher summer stay-at-home Mom life in general. My first week, I over-planned activities in order to make the most of my time with him! and while I became a master of scheduling and snack prep, I was ready to quit on day #4 (or go to bed at 7 pm). Turns out you don’t have to go to the pool, the library, the children’s museum and take a toddler out to eat all in one day.

My second week I got smarter, took it easy on the outings and took more long walks using the stroller, which meant our dog got to run sometimes and chase more lizards/squirrels and I got to listen to podcasts while talking to Fox about all the world we were seeing while he was eating his snack (I don’t use headphones–I make everyone else in the neighborhood also listen.)

Now I’m fully in it with a good groove and it’s pretty great–I am truly enjoying every moment.  Except the moments at the beginning of this post or when he’s hot and cranky but refuses to come inside because playing with trucks on the sand table is too euphoric to leave and it takes a dangerous mix of sand and sweat to the eyes to bring the tantrum and I have to wrestle his clothes off and hose him off in the front yard to calm him down.

Nothing to see here, neighbors! Level 9 parenting in progress.

Those moments don’t last in my memory–they can feel unbearable in those minutes they transpire–especially if I slam my knee into a car on the floor in the middle of one–but they fade quickly and all I can remember is the hour Fox spent driving cars and backhoes up my arms and legs while naming each one, his unwavering excitement for peanut butter toast or watching him sift through the newest library books, eyes lit with anticipation to read The Magical Life of Mr. Renny. Book-a-read! he shouts after each one, hoping there’s always one more book.


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Eat breakfast on Mother’s Day

17 May

File_000 (12)The day of mothers arrived like any other Sunday. Our terrier woke me shortly after 7, and I got dressed to take him out, not a peep from the toddler yet. I crept past the room of the baby we kept up too late the night before who seemed to be sleeping in.

Returning from a brief walk to silence inside the house, I prepared oatmeal and pears in a tiny bowl + spoon. Then I walked toward the silence and opened the nursery door to find a standing 21-month-old and the contents of his crib spilled onto the middle of the floor. It was mostly babas [his word for stuffed animal], plus whatever he could reach from the table next to the crib. “I throw shoes!” he announced as I entered the room. Yes, yes, Mommy’s so proud! 

Here’s an appropriate time to speak to non-parents. It seems insane that you could literally think every new phrase your child utters is adorable. And yet before going to bed each night, Aaron and I imitate his little voice, recap his best-of-trying-to-talk hits. I never understood this before I lived it every day. I was perplexed when parents repeated their mispronunciations. Really? That’s what happens to you when you have children?

Yes, that is exactly what happens. And it is a f**king miracle. I will never grow tired of the almost-rights or not-even-close’s. Moonana = banana (or Nana, referring to his grandmothers); Godada = gorilla. His current favorite book involves a godada eating a moonana, of course. The fruit, not the person (oh my, did that cute anecdote take a turn.)

After breakfast and books, the boy wants to watch “Elmo!” and I want to drink coffee and it’s Mother’s Day, so yes to Sesame Street, especially when it’s raining outside. It seems like a great idea until the Letter of the Day song enters my psyche via earworm and three days later I am still spontaneously shouting “Clap! Clap!” and bobbing my head while doing the dishes. And I may tell myself, this is not my music. This is not my beautiful music. 

Once the rain stops and we are preparing to go outside, Aaron is now awake and stirring. I realize it sounds bad that Aaron is still asleep on Mother’s Day, but we have an arrangement where we take turns on weekends getting up early and Sundays are my days because Saturdays I am so sleep-deprived from getting up at 5:30 am. We could’ve switched but I never saw the need. This may have led to several other assumptions on my part that proved problematic. When we walked into the bedroom to greet Aaron, nothing unusual happened, just cute toddler giggling and him rolling around between us. We discuss that our previous plan to go to the park for a picnic may be thwarted because rain = puddles everywhere for our puddle-loving son to sit directly in. Not relaxing, too many wardrobe changes. Also, we have no groceries yet (Sunday is go-to-the-store day) and not enough time to do all of that before naptime (which is typically when Aaron goes to the store). It’s fine, I say, let’s go for a walk.

At this point, the leftover toddler oatmeal and coffee start to wear off and I start to feel how hungry I am under full Florida sun. I then start to realize that not only did I not eat an actual breakfast, but my husband never actually said Happy Mother’s Day to me and it’s after 11 a.m.. After a flurry of realizations on both our parts, we attempt to repair the damage by agreeing to go out to lunch (not brunch!). We choose a place that opens at 12 to avoid the motherly brunch crowd.

We arrive and order and I decide maybe to feel fancy and more celebrated I should order a mimosa before our pizza comes. Nothing says Mom like pizza and a mimosa. While food significantly improved my mood, turns out day-drinking wasn’t the solution when you still have to parent a toddler. Instead of coming home refreshed, I had to take a nap when the baby did. The rest of afternoon felt like a long march until bedtime + Sunday chores.

Laundry, dishes, lunches. *The drudgery*

When I first started making Fox’s lunches, I thought I had entered into some kind of motherhood nirvana. Cutting up foods into tiny portions into tiny containers: It felt so nurturing, so adorable. When he was 8 months old, I remember stacking up his purees, color-coded like an artform, and packing them into a cooler for a road trip. Sweet potatoes, green beans, carrots, beets, squash, all stacked in Pantone precision. And then once he got to the 1-year-old class, gone were the purees you could freeze in mass and just defrost–it became something I had to do every night. At first, it was a ritual that I cherished: cutting the grapes, cheese, vegetables, strawberries, hard-boiled egg, the ham, the avocado: the nutrients! I placed tiny containers into a cute lunchbox ergonomically designed to look like a snail. Why do people complain about this?

Eight months in, I had only swears for those f*king grapes.

Wash them, cut them in half, no fourths, maybe eights? These are enormous grapes and the internet and my mom keep warning me about grape choking.

It is routine.

It is repetitive.

It is the kind of thing my husband is so good at.

For months, he made our week’s lunches on Sundays. That man loves to chop things en masse. He ordered a 30 quart bowl online to make the task easier. Yes, the bowl is so comically large that it is nearly impossible to wash in our sink, but eating fresh food for lunch every day is such a blessing. When left to make my own lunches recently, I made toddler food. Tiny containers with hard-boiled eggs, shredded chicken, peas and carrots with a side of fruit and cheese. My lunch preparation brain is so wired for child portions, I flounder when asked to cook for myself. Every since Fox was born, Aaron has shifted to doing most of the adult meal prep. I lost that part of my routine–I donated it all to my son, so when Aaron’s not home, I end up eating hummus and carrots or fruit and cheese for dinner: a meal of appetizers!

There’s a line in a book Fox used to love to read that says “some Daddies take care of Mommies so they can take care of you.” The illustration is of a family of foxes, no less. While Aaron also regularly takes care of Fox, there are these routines that I complain about that don’t even make him flinch. He just grabs that planet-sized bowl and chops and stirs and portions while I am folding laundry or putting food into tiny containers.

So when Aaron falls asleep the night before Mother’s Day before putting the card out on the table for the morning, I forgive him.  What he does every other Sunday is far more important.

Next year, I will be more clear that I do, however, want to eat breakfast on Mother’s Day.

Helplessness means you’re doing it right

1 Oct

file_000Picture it: Baby is napping, the laundry is running and I finally have a chance to take a shower before our neighbors’ barbecue. At the end of the shower, I hear a gurgle. Water is slow to drain but I think we’ll have to get a coat hanger and clean my hair out of the drain later. (Not my first clogged drain.)

I am drying off and then it happens.

The rising.

A darkened sludge starts to accelerate its pace from the drain upwards, carrying with it the wriggling legs of a thousand cockroaches.

The horror!

Just as I’ve come to grips with what is in front of my face, the toilet water joins the assault and spills onto the floor. I race to the closet and throw down Aaron’s strangely XXL-sized towels to stop the water from gushing down the hallway. I send a bunch of emergency texts to Aaron because as I gaze upon this sewage attack, I realize I have no idea how to make it stop.

I am instantly helpless and grateful.

That turns out to be the perfect way to explain how parenting feels.

When I think back to those seemingly endless nights of my son NOT sleeping, I was brilliant at spinning it into a positive to maintain my sanity. Here’s an actual thing I said to Aaron one night after sleeping for an hour and over-reading about infant sleep: “He just needs our help more than other babies.”


This mentality led me to sleeping for, at one point, 30 minutes a night. There’s no spinning that: my demise was near. So I broke ALL THE RULES and slept with him for two months until he was ready to transition to his crib (which remained right next to our bed until he was 7 months old because ARE WE SURE HE’S READY?)

He was ready. He immediately started waking up less when we weren’t right next to him waking him up. Turns out he’s a light sleeper.

Sleep eventually became a dependable commodity in my house, but there was a period near the end of the school year when my stash of frozen milk was dwindling and I wasn’t pumping enough at work to keep up with baby’s appetite. It was May. I had almost finished six months of pumping three times a day and teaching six periods a day with 25 minutes of planning and no lunch because pumping. To be that close to the end and not make it induced panic. Had I started supplementing with formula several months before, this probably wouldn’t have fazed me. But one more month might as well have been a broadsword dealing the final stroke against working moms.

At the time, Aaron was buying formula just in case and reassuring me that it would be fine. That’s nice, honey, but I am too deep into crisis mode to hear rational thought, so just hand me some pumping supplies at 10 p.m., so I can do this for the 5th time today instead of sleeping. 

It became a weird challenge for myself–another moment of helplessness I was trying to control. If I just do more, I can conquer this. Fox would have been fine either way–this was about me. I needed to win this one. The whole school year had been a blur, me trying to balance this thing that kept me connected to my son while away from him, while also trying to do right by my students.

I decided I would not be taken down by 30 days on a calendar, and so I doubled down.

Pump. Teach. Pump. Teach. Pump. Teach. Pump. BABY! Pump. Dinner. Dishes. Grade. Pump. Sleep. Repeat.

Day by day, the helplessness faded and the formula stayed on the shelf.

The cockroach water receded, the towels were washed and a Roto-Rooter visit later, we could flush the toilet again.  It was as if nothing had happened here.

Before bed that night, I gazed down the clean hallway past the door of my sleeping baby and the only thing I felt was grateful.