How cool would it be to invent some insane creature out of the depths of your imagination and then see a tangible, cuddly rendition of it appear on your bed one night? Kids these days are just too stinking lucky.
My five year-old daughter is really interested in blood. She has what comes across as a pretty macabre fascination with stories in which people get gashes, scrapes, shrapnel and lacerations of all varieties. Of course, if you'd seen her on the playground last week when Primo chipped his tooth and witnessed her screaming in horror at the sight of his blood, you'd understand that her obsession is a way of trying to work through a massive fear about lack of body integrity.
That's a lengthy way of me explaining and justifying why I was telling the kid about Lady Macbeth on the way to school last week. Every day, on the walk to school, she demands that I tell her a story. And its always a bloody story she wants. I've mined my memory for every story of injury I can recall from my own life, from the lives of my friends and enemies, from lives of people in fiction and non fiction and when those ran out, I made up a bunch of stories. But now, I'm on the prowl again for some good bloody material and ideally something of substantive literary value, too. So of course I thought of Macbeth.
"Oh I've got a story with LOTS of blood in it!" I exclaimed, "Bloody daggers and bloody hands and ghosts and everything!"
And I told her the whole story, in Cliff's Notes version, excluding the suicide. I felt like that was a little too intense. The regicide, for some reason, I felt like was OK. I lingered with particular attention to detail on the indelible blood spot on Lady Macbeth's hands. I tried to explain how it wasn't really there and that's why she could never wash t off but I don't think Sec got that 100%.
Afterwards, Seconds said:
"When I grown up, I am NOT going to kill anyone."
"That's good," I said, "You shouldn't."
"Oh I won't," she said, "I don't want to get blood on my hands."
Lately, my kids have been beating each other senseless and -- call me crazy -- I can't stand it. The fistfights are a relatively new development and an extremely unpleasant one. I mean, Primo, 7, and Seconda, 5, have always fought but recently they've taken their squabbles to a new level which is bit too physical for my taste. Its like when the baby came, they just decided that three kids was too many for this family and they'd better trim those numbers down by killing each other. The kid gloves, so to speak, are off.
It usually begins with Sec pestering Primo in some terribly aggravating way that only a kid sister could manage, like calling him a silly name or swatting at him with her little talons or shoving the last cookie in her mouth even though she already ate hers and her brother hasn't had any yet. She does this approximately four hundred times in the course of a normal day. And for the first two or three instances, Primo usually manages to maintain his composure. But then apropos of nothing, she'll call him Professor Poopyface and its like, that was the last straw. He just suddenly blows his top, and its Unleash-the-Kraken Time.
I'm sure there are all sorts of collaborative problem solving techniques I could be employing to trouble-shoot this and I try, I really do, but I also have a newborn and am trying to find us a place to live that boasts more than one bedroom for five people. I'm busy. So I usually end up screaming "Stop it you two!" or "Why did I bother having children if they were just going to kill each other?" or "One day, you'll regret acting like this!" or some other such ineffectual phrase.
This weekend, the kids really outdid themselves with their sibling smackdowns. We went up to Fort Tryon park for the first birthday party of my best friend's son. The weather was sublime and the scene was bucolic -- a dozen or so grown-ups wearing summer dresses and khakis,sitting on picnic blankets, drinking lemonade, while the super adorable birthday boy toddled around in a bow tie. It was the kind of scene we don't belong in.
At first my kids were kind of shy and this made them stick together, holding hands as they selected sandwiches and sitting next to each other as they ate birthday cake. They managed to convince the party-goers that they liked each other, and that they could be civilized.
"Awwww, they're so sweet with each other," a child-less young woman cooed as she watched them.
"Just wait, lady," I thought.
And, much as I hate to say it, I was right. As soon as they got comfortable in the party environs, they got feisty. They began chasing each other and playing tag and then I knew we'd be in for a barroom style brawl. After a bit, when the kids started wrestling dangerously close to what remained of the birthday cake, my friend offered them a tub of bubbles. Not one to share, mind you, but one bubble tub for each of them. In other words, what could there possibly be to fight over? I figured this would buy me at least 10 minutes of peace and quiet. Kids go cuckoo for bubbles, even the big kids. Its just one of those things.
But five minutes later, I saw the kids were running around again, now playing tag WITH the bubbles in hand. Before I could stop them, Sec stumbled and fell, dropping her bubbles to the ground, where they gurgled out to empty in a matter of seconds. A look of black rage passed across her face. And I could have put money on what happened next. She raced over to her brother and promptly knocked the bubbles out of his hand, causing a huge belch of bubble juice to be poured on the ground. I know Primo so I know that he was planning to keep those bubbles all summer, to apportion only a certain milligram dose of bubble juice per day so that it would last and last and last and he'd never run out of bubble juice. He can get kind of Scroogey about this stuff. So when she caused his bubble juice to be squandered, to just sink into the dirt like that, he went loco. You could virtually see him let go of his grip on sanity as he grabbed the bubble tub off the ground and tossed its entire contents directly into his sisters face.
Not the general vicinity of her head or her front half, but DIRECTLY INTO HER FACE.
We all stood there dumbstruck as highly concentrated soap doused Sec's eyes and nose and mouth. And of course her mouth was open. Agape. She was shocked.
And then she started screaming. No specific words, just general screaming. I was nursing the baby and couldn't get up, but I barked orders helpfully from the grass.
"DO something!" I told my husband David.
"Just LOOK at her!" he replied.
It did seem impossible to believe that one could remove the soap from her body's surface, it was so saturated with it. You'd need a swimming pool or at least a very powerful hose to get the job done. And we were in the middle of a park and wouldn't you know, no where near an emergency eye wash station.
I tossed him a Poland Springs water bottle.
"Are you kidding me?" he asked, "What am I supposed to do with THIS?"
Seconda was now sputtering and spitting, trying to get the foul taste of soap out her mouth. She was also blinking madly and screaming. "MY EYES ARE BURNING!" and then, realizing that might be a bad sign, she started hollering, "I DON"T WANT TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL!!! PLEASE! DON'T TAKE ME TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM!"
Meanwhile Primo got his voice back and started trying desperately to defend himself, reminding me that she'd started it. Which of course is SO relevant. At which point I hissed that he should go away, far away. OK, not too far away, since we were in a public park, but there, over there by that tree. Where I couldn't hear him.
Then David started the colossal task of rinsing Sec off, in the process soaking her thoroughly. Eventually, we were able to convince her she wouldn't need to go to the hospital and she calmed down and started to enjoy her role as victim.
"I just can't believe my own brother poured the bubble juice right into my eyes!" she mused out loud to anyone who'd listen, "And for no reason!"
This threw Primo back into a dissociative homicidal rage, on and off for most of the afternoon.
"Should we go home?" I asked David, "She's soaking wet and her face is still coated in soap and the kids hate each other."
"Just put her in the sun to dry," he counseled, "And we'll go to the Cloisters."
That's just how we roll. If we let a little ruthless sibling smackdown deter us, we'd never do anything or get anywhere. And the upside? Seconda is assuredly the cleanest little girl in America. And she's got a good story.
One of the kids favorite things to do is gawk at the contents of the baby's diaper. It never ceases to amaze them how supernatural her poop is. The meconium really freaked them the hell out.
"What IS that?" Primo gasped, "Why is it BLACK?And GOOEY?"
He seemed unsure that his new sister belonged to the human race after witnessing was was coming out of her rear.
Then it turned yellow. Which was even more horrifying.
"Is that POOP?" asked Sec.
"Is that normal?" asked Primo.
And of course, the consistency of it has them awestruck. And its ability to get EVERYWHERE. Infant poop can not be contained. It is vast. It contains multitudes. And for some freaking reason, no matter how well you put on the diaper or what position the baby's in, it always leaks out the upper back area. One of the great mysteries of the world.
After the first two weeks though, the kids ceased to be scared of the poop and are now just fascinated by it. So whenever there's a dirty diaper in our house, the call "SHE DID A POOP!" rings out and children rush over from all corners to see what the damage is. The best is when the kids have a friend over and then its just plain rubber necking.
"You've GOT to see the bay's poop!" Primo advertises, "Its yellow!!!!!"
So after a full morning of whining, crepe-eating and walking around downtown, I decided to do something totally unexpected and rather than accept a gift on Mother's Day (none was being offered anyway), I'd give one. To my husband. The gift of time alone to work on his book I sent him off with his laptop and took the kids to the new playground near our place.
The playground has been closed for two years getting renovated and it just opened on Friday. You can imagine the excitement of the local kids. When we stopped by briefly after school of Friday the sky was so blue and the trees were so green and the whole place was so filled with the laughter of children and the sight of their hair blowing in the breeze as they wang on the wings and hung from the monkey bars - well it was like a commercial for childhood. So on Sunday, I told the kids they they could put on their bathing suits and we'd take the playground for a real test drive, sprinklers included.
The place was mobbed. I should have realized it was a safety hazard, having that many children running at top speed in such a tight space but I'm not crowd averse and figured the kids would elbow out some space for themselves. They did, and we had a long afternoon of romping around. Even Terza seemed happy to be at the playground - going and smiling contentedly in the stroller. But after one too many Olympic-style leaps for the high bar, Sec's able hands missed the bar and she landed flat on her back. It was the kind of injury that had parents coming over to make sure all was well. I, for one, thought we were going to have to head to the ER. I don't tend to freak out about playground falls but this was a high impact to the spine fall and it had me worried. Sec was crying so hard she couldn't breathe. Then, because I am so highly informed about medical practices, I decided I would see if she had truly sustain ed a final injury by having her bend over and touch her toes, which I now realize would have probably totally screwed her, had she really been hurt. But she was able to touch her toes and reach for the key and achieve all the other quack-job medical tests I had her take to make sure she was OK. And after a few minus on the bench and some Goldfish, she was back in the game. Crisis averted, I thought.
Primo, for his part, was having a freaking BALL of a time firing these super cool water canons they have in the sprinkler area. I mean, the kid spent a good forty minutes shooting that water cannon while Sec recuperated from her fall and then had me push her with all my might on the swings. WHen he tired of shooting the canon, Primo took a turn at being shot with the canon and was running through the sprinklers with wild abandon, laughing his face off, Such a picture of glee. Did a mom's heart good on Mother's Day.
David walked through the gates of the playground of Eden, rejuvenated from his alone time and in great spirits. Together we watched Primo and Seconda racing around the sprinklers and though it was late and we should have headed home already, we were loath to leave. THAT'S how much fun everyone was having. Until Primo had a head-on collision.
This is what will tend to happen in a crowded playground when one runs through the sprinklers at warp speed with one's eyes closed. The lower half of Primo's face intersected with the top half of another boy's face as they ran directly into each other, and the two boys recoiled, hitting the ground like a sack of potatoes. This didn't really alarm me, as children are known to bash heads without too many terrible repercussions. But then Primo clutched his mouth which was streaming with blood and he spit out a chunk of tooth.
Thankfully, he hadn't knocked his whole tooth out, just the top half of one. What freaked him out what the fact that the big chunk of tooth had fallen into his mouth and he'd thought it was food before realizing, "Shit, man.That's my freaking TOOTH."
Suffice it to say, mass hysteria ensued. Primo grabbed his mouth with both hands, screaming and wailing in terror and agony. It didn't help that he's scraped up his knee ad foot pretty bad and blood, heavily dilue with sprinkler water to make it look even worse - was coursing down his legs. The other boy, who'd gotten Primo's mouth right in his eye, was clutching his eye and screaming in agony. Seconda was standing there, frozen with terror, and crying harder then both of them put together. The kid is terrified of blood and looked as though she's witnessed an unspeakable atrocity. She may need counseling yet.
David swiftly jumped in and picked up the broken tooth chunk, which he mentioned to Primo in the hopes that it would cheer him. It did not.
"AHHHHHH! THAT"S MY TOOTH! MY GROWN UP TOOTH!!!!!"
With the whole playground watching on, we led our two hobbling, hysterical children and one very confused newborn out of the playground. It took a while, and a criminal amount of video game playing, before Primo calmed down. It helped when I told the kids they could skip after school the next day -- maybe even get picked up early from regular school -- to go to an emergency dental visit.
At that visit, our pediatric dentist assured me there was no nerve damage and slapped some crazy goo on there to cover the exposed inner tooth stuff and sent us on our way. Primo's bottom tooth-scape looks like a craggy mountain range now but I told him it builds character and the ladies would love to hear tell of his playground war story. He's already started to hone his anecdote and it begins like this, "It was a day like any other . . . "
Being an incurable complainer, I have an endless stream of stories about shitty Mother's Days I've had, most of which center on me getting my hopes up that I'd be venerated the way I would like to be by my husband and kids and feeling thoroughly disappointed and let down when nobody venerates me, not even for a millisecond. So I have made a concerted effort in the past year or two to manage my expectations, which is to say understand very early on that it will be a day like any other where I will be woefully under-appreciated, taken for granted and abused by blood relations. The only difference being, I get to pick where we eat lunch.
This Mother's Day I thought back to my favorite Mother's Day, when Seconda was a newborn, just about the age Terza is now, and we took the kids to the East VIllage and walked down Eighth Street, stopped into some of the old coffee shops I used to haunt in my youth and had lunch at this delicious little creperie. For some reason, this stands out in my mind as the Best Mother's Day Ever. In point of fact, I don't recall anything at all about that day (I was so sleep deprived with the newborn and Primo a toddler that I have amnesia surrounding that entire year) but I do have a picture David took of me at lunch - I am wearing a pre-pregancy button down Miss Sixty blouse and the baby is wearing an adorable kimono onesie gifted by a friend with a lot of disposable income and the long and the short of it is --- we look GREAT. I look skinny, the baby looks adorable and compliant and we both look genuinely stinking happy. And that is good enough proof for me that henceforth, I should use that Downtown Crepe Lunch as my Mother's Day template.
So this Sunday, David, the kids and I headed out to the Lower East Side, to a little crepe stand on Ludlow Street, where we feasted on overpriced and under-whelming fare that reminded me of my glory days in Paris. To continue the nostalgia fest, I decided I'd take the whole family on a walk down Ludlow to the junkyard where I performed in a cutting edge performance of Romeo and Juliet the summer I started dating David. Those of you in the know about downtown theater circa 1999 might recall the phenomenon known as Shakespeare in the Park (ing Lot). This was not part of that. I auditioned for that and didn't even score a call back. This production was a knock-off a few blocks away, in an actual junkyard, with rats. The piles of old tires were the miss en scene. David came to see me play the Nurse in that production and afterwards we went out for drinks and that's basically how we ended up married with three kids. And since I haven't been back around those parts since, oh, 1999, I thought it'd be fun to rake a walk down memory lane, with my kids in tow. Yeah, I know. Dumb.
I explained this exciting plan to the kids as we scraped the last of the strawberries and Nutella off our plastic places.
"Mommy, I'm sorry to say this but I don't want to see the junkyard where you did your play," said Primo, very politely (that being his concession to Mother's Day), "That sounds extremely boring."
"OK," I replied, just as politely, "Certainly. And we should do whatever YOU want today because after all, it is called First Born Son's Day."
It took a second for him to register the sarcasm.
"You mean we HAVE to go anyway?"
"Yes, of course," I replied.
"Oh God," he grumbled, "Mother's Day is the pits, It means you can force us to do whatever you want!"
I explained that most days for most kids are like that. Its called childhood.
So we dragged the grumbling, whining kids down Ludlow Street a few blocks before it occurred to me that it might have been on Stanton, or was it Rivington? Or could it have been Suffolk?
"Mommy's taking us on a wild goose chase," said David, joining the ranks of the whiners.
"Suffolk Street stands for 'Suffering of the Kid Folk on Mother's Day," piped up Primo.
"All right, all right, I give up," I conceded, "I can't remember where the junkyard was and anyway, I'm pretty sure its an apartment building or an organic grocery by now."
"Hooray! Lets go to Economy Candy!" shrieked Seconda.
Which we did. And then to the ABC playground which was blessedly empty, probably because all the other children in the city were busy baking homemade cakes in honor of their mothers.
Afterwards we returned to the Slope and headed to our local playground for some low-key frolicking. What we got instead was nothing short of playground carnage. Blood. Tears. Emergency Dental Visits. Tune in next time to hear more . . .
Unfortunately, not English, or any other language known to man. But she's speaking, definitely. And its so freaking delightful, I almost pop an artery from the force of sheer joy that courses through me.
One of my favorite things to do is put Terza on my lap when I read to Primo at bedtime. Sometimes she's crying too hard to achieve the Hallmark bonding moment I aspire for but sometimes she's chill enough to hang with us while we read (right now its a fantastic middle-grade gem know one seems to know about called Half Magic which I highly recommend).
Last night, the baby was crying her head off while I held her in her preferred football hold and it looked like bedtime book reading was out for the night. But then I turned the baby around to face Primo and I and she instantly stopped crying and perked up. And starting talking.
"Gruuuuuuu," she gurgled.
Primo and I giggled. I love that he shares my delight and pride over the baby's little milestones.
"Gruuuuuu," Primo gurgled back.
The baby broke into a magnificent smile. And don't you even dare tell me it's gas. People who say that are just haters. Ye of little faith.
"You told her a joke," I said to Primo.
"Yeah," he said, "I told her a knock knock joke and I didn't even know it."
"Gruuuuuuu," I gurgled
"Gru. Gru. Gruuuuu," she replied.
"Oh you don't say," I replied right back. I guess its kind of sickening to witness such a saccharine flow of gooey affection and probably even more sickening to read about it but the oxytocin is calling the shots here lately.
"Let me try," said Primo, "Grrrrrruuuuuuuuu!" he voiced expressively.
And the baby burst into tears.
Which made us just laugh our heads off.
"What did you say to her?" I asked Primo.
"I must have insulted her," he cackled, "Maybe I called her a jerk in baby language."
Yes, this is how we get our kicks. You gotta get them somehow.
I kept Primo's tiny hands covered for the first month and a half of his life by tucking them inside those side-snapping newborn shirts with the sleeves that fold over the baby's hands. The reason for this was twofold:
A. I was too scared to cut his teeny tiny nails and this way, I didn't have to and he wouldn't gouge his eyes out with his unkempt talons.
B. I was afraid gross germy visitors would touch his hands and break the pristine wall of sterility I had cultivated around the baby.
So the kid didn't know he had hands for much longer than is appropriate and I now cite this case of over- zealous neuroses as the reason he didn't know how to hold a pencil correctly til he was 6 years old.
Just the other day, I realized I'm doing the same thing with Terza. she's three weeks old and her hands have lint in the palms because theyve never seen the light of day. I resolved to be braver and less crazy this time and unleash her hands. So I peeled back those sleeves.
It's like Christmas morning for the baby -- she is so delighted to discover her digits. And as soon as I uncovered those hands, she commenced the nursing baby's bra clutch.
I'd forgotten all about the adorable little maneuver but it's one of my favorite memories from breastfeeding. It's a gesture of ownership, as in "This milk maker's mine, folks. Go find your own." Ay the sight of those minute, wrinkly, delicious little fingers curled so instinctually right next to my heart, well, I just swoon.
I'm in the thick of a very intense, kind of one sided love affair with my baby. I'm head-over-heels, crazy in love with the child. Things really heated up this week when she broke out her first real smile and the single most endearing sound in the known universe -- the coo.
Now I basically spend my days chasing the high of that smile and relentlessly pursuing her coo. This is tough work because she screams her head off approximately 98% of her waking hours but I don't care. I'm hooked. I must elicit more lopsided, open-mputh smiles. I'm bewitched.
Poor David, demoted again from the love of my life to the person who occasionally changes the diapers of the love of my life. And poor Primo and Seconda, who don't produce any sound softer than a bellow anymore, much less a coo, and can only get me really money when they're asleep and cherubic again. I mean, all four of them are the loves of my life of course, goes with our saying, I'm just heavy into the bonding phase of this oxytocin-driven baby honeymoon now, and really kind of loving it.
The kids think it is HIGH--larious when the baby starts screaming her head off. I guess that's a good thing. Soon enough they'll cease to see the humor in it. But for now, they think its so histrionic, like how over the top can you get? We get it already, babe, things are not copasetic. Enough with the high drama.
For my part, I'm surprised by how much higher my anxiety threshold is to hear the baby cry. Its not like I let her go on and on or anything but I remember with PRimo, within two seconds of him beginning to scream, I'd get apoplectic and drop everything in a panic to make it stop. My threshold to noise in general has gone way, way up, I guess, and I've also learned too that sometimes babies just cry. For no apparent reason. Unless you consider that life on earth is pretty much a colossal pain in the ass more often than not. In which case, there's your reason right there.
Nicole's a born and bred New Yorker, incurable neurotic, perfectionist, and mother superior to two firecracker kids. She lives in Brooklyn with her family and contributes essays and articles for mommy mags like Parenting, Parents, American Baby and Time Out NY Kids.