Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Notes from the Travel Trenches

Its not our first plane trip with three kids. Its not even our second. Yet for some reason during the flight we just took to Tennessee to visit our Southern family, we finally felt the somewhat unmanageably large size of our family of five. Maybe its because Terza is now officially a toddler. She was only a toddler for about seven hours before we got on the plane, the evening of her first birthday, but in those seven hours, she seemed to age seven months.

To say that we now officially have our hands full is to put it mildly. 

Up until the day she turned one, Terza had only taken a few wobbly, consecutive steps. I now realize that was probably just because our apartment is so tiny she could only get five steps in before she encountered an obstacle in the form of a wall or a piece of furniture which threw her way off balance and caused her to plop to the floor. At the airport, though, it was just wiiiiiiide open spaces, a magic kingdom of carpet and row upon row of leather seats to alight on momentarily for balance, an aspiring toddler's dream come true. The kid just took off in Newark Airport, racing around the gate area, low enough that she passed right under those cordoning-off-barriers meant to keep people in lines. 

It wasn't just the fact that Terza is now mobile that made me feel like I was traveling with thirteen children rather than three. It was also the delay.

Delays in air travel, just like traffic in a car ride, takes you over the edge from This-is-a-pain-but-I-can-handle-it! to Good-God-why-did-I-ever-take-these-kids-out-of-the-house-much-less-out-of-the-state-and-moving-forward-is-there-someone-I-can-sell-at-least-one-of-my-children-to? 

We were only delayed two hours but as those two hours took us from arriving at 9:30pm to arriving at 11:30pm, it made a pretty significant difference. By the time we'd gotten our rental car, installed the infant car seat, uninstalled it because I flatly refused to use such a piece of junk to secure my baby's well-being, re-installed it when we were informed it was the only one they had, and then drove the long way up through the mountains to where my in-laws live, it was 1:30am.

Now I realize other kids just fall asleep very sweetly in the car or on the plane or wherever they happen to be at just-past-bedtime, like they've taken a gentle hit of opium or something, and this sounds lovely. If this were the case, I'd probably have three more children and no blog since it would essentially eradicate the majority of what I have to complain about. My children are made of different mettle. In fact, I think they are actually made of metal, or at least whatever batteries are made of. They never run out of energy. Even Benadryl won't knock them out. I know this because I tried it on this particular plane ride. Only for Primo, and only because his allergist instructed me to, since he's allergic to dogs and my in-laws have a bunch. Yet despite the fact that we gave him the dose before the plane took off, he was still wide awake and bushy tailed two, even three hours later, though at the three hour mark, he crashed hard  -- not, in fact, going to sleep, just whining about how tired he was and fighting ruthlessly with Seconda.

Even the baby who is a BABY, didn't succumb to sleep until almost midnight, even though I nursed that kid like it was closing time, and plugged her mouth at every opportunity with pacis. Despite being demented with exhaustion, she was pretty good-natured about the whole thing, just kept bashing her head into my chest and into the plane window and the tray table like a bat with screwed-up sonar.

Eventually, we got into the car and after I yelled at everybody and promised them I'd never take them anywhere ever again, they finally ran out of things to shout about and fell asleep. Then it was just a matter of transporting their bodies into the appropriate sleeping spaces in the dark. But by 2am, we'd done it! Which gave us a whopping four and a half hours of sleep before the first rugrat roused.

Ahhhhh, vacation. Only R and R if by those letters you mean Ruination and Riot. Still, its ruination and riot in a new backdrop.

Monday, March 25, 2013

First Birthday!

This delicious milk-filled morsel is now a toddler. How the hell did that happen? And I know it sounds insanely trite but seriously, how could I possibly be so inordinately lucky?

Its just a bittersweet moment, your youngest child's first birthday and it's so amazing to me how universal that it -- the joy and relief that your child is growing older and the sadness that they are too, the nostaglia for a time that is barely even in the past yet. When I try to remember ever feeling that intense blend of feeling in my pre-life kids, I can't recall ever experiencing that, really the equals parts bitter and sweet.

Well, maybe not equal. Because as much as I love babies in general, and my Terza in particular, I do not love sleepless newborn nights and having to support their tiny little heads and wondering if breastfeeding is going well. And as much as I love snuggling with a tiny, swaddled baby, I love even more hearing my kids learn to find their voice, to tell me what they're feeling and thinking (Ok, not all the time, they do have a tendency to overdo it, logorrhea, I wonder where that shit comes form, but still). I love, perhaps more than anything, to discover what kind of an individual my child is -- to see the ways they are like me and their Daddy and their siblings and the ways they are so different, so particularly them.

A very happy birthday to my baby girl. As of a few days ago, when she took her first uninterrupted series of steps, she is a bona fide toddler.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bad Kid Jokes

Because I, for one, need a good laugh:

Bad Kid Jokes

Not jokes told my bad kids, by bad jokes told by ALL kinds of kids. 

This is my favorite:

An Ice Cream

if you want an ice cream what should you do
pee on the owner

Happy Hump Day. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Toy Stories: Kids From Around the World

In this incredibly cool photo series, Toy Stories,  Gabriele Galimberti photographed children from around the world with their most beloved possessions. Reminds me of that amazing documentary, Babies; there's such a universality to the kids and their relationship to their toys, and there's a good amount of commonality in the toys themselves (Barbies, anyone? Cars?) but all the specifics, of their environment, of their poses and expressions, the quantity of the toys and what types they've assembled, are so fascinating. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why are girls so complicated? And more importantly, how am I going to make it through parenting two of them?

That girls are complicated and hard to understand and boys, simple, is a gross generalization and I loathe gross generalizations, particularly along lines of gender. But I have to say, I'm finding this one far too true in my house.

Maybe its be more useful not to compare my son and daughter, and I know its what the writers of Siblings Without Rivalry would tell me to do. So fine, let's leave Primo out of it. Let me just say Seconda's interior emotional life is a big, wild, tangled mystery to me. As it how to respond to it.

I find myself over and over again feeling like I'm on some candid camera parenting show where some jerko producer has gotten my 6 year-old to set me up for some impossible circumstance where I'll be caught saying and doing the absolute wrong parenting thing. Except its a trap, because there is no right thing.  That option does not exist. 

I'll give you an example. In Kindergarten, Seconda is learning how to read. Now, when Primo was in Kindergarten, despite the fact that he was much younger than Sec is, I forced him to read to me every night for five minutes or so, even if he only got through one or two three-word sentences in that time. We did this from the time he was four or so. He hated it. I hated it. He protested. I perservered. Learning to do something like reading is hard at first but it will get easier the more you do it, I reminded him. Back then, I had a lot more time and a lot more staying more. 

With Seconda, I've been terribly remiss. She doesn't want to learn to read and I haven't pushed it, until recently and I'll be frank here, its because I noticed that alot of the kids in her Kindergarten class are ready to read the Wall Street Journal. 

Shitballs, I thought, we're really behind.  

So I try to get her to read me to every week night, before I read bedtime books to her. We accomplishe this roughly three nights a week, if we're lucky. She hates it. I hate it. She protests. I have to fealw ith the baby and forget about it half the time. That's where we're at. The funny thing is, she is a fantastic reader. The first time I had her read to me, she whizzed through the book, hardly stumbling on a word. I was shocked and amazed. The trouble is, it comes to easily that if she does encounter a word she doesn't know right off the bat, she gets really, really, really frustrated. Angry, even. She basically throws up her hands and says something like, 

"This is the dumbest book I've ever seen in my life!" 
"I hate reading and you're the worst mommy ever!" 
"Mark my words - I am NEVER READING AGAIN!" 
"I want Daddy! I like him better than you!"

All that is OK. its when she starts the self-deprecating stuff that I get upset:

"See how stupid I am!"

The first few times she said this, I couldn't help but make a big deal over it, telling her never to say such unkind things about herself, flooding her with attention about how smart and clever and creative she was, what a great reader and all that. Then I realized it was fueling her self-criticism, so now I just try to be very low key and tell her I don't agree and point out how much she's improved as a reader. So, I've got that under control. Figured that shit right out. THAT is not the complicated bit. 

What stumps me is this: As she's reading to me, I offer a more or less unending responsorial of encouragement. When she finished a sentence, I say softly, "great!" or "good job!" This is not something I do intentionally; its really just an instinct. There are a lot of areas in parenting where I need a lot of improvement but providing specific praise and encouragement is not one. Except that Seconda HATES it when I do this. At least, I think she hates it. The reason I think that is she keeps telling me to stop. 

"DON'T SAY GREAT MOMMY!" she shrieks, annoyed. 

"OK, OK, I won't. I'm sorry, I just forgot."

Then she reads a page and reflexively I mutter, "Good!" and she yell, "MOMMY! What did I say!"

"Oh, all right, I'm sorry," I reply, "I'll just be quiet."

"No, don't be quiet," she tells me, "Say, 'Bad.'"


"Instead of 'Great' say 'Bad.' Say 'Bad job.'"

"Seconda," I reply, "I am not going to say that."

"Please, Mommy! Do what I say! Please!"

I look at her quizzically. Speechless.

"Well do you want me to read or not? Say "Bad Job/" 

I look around the room, wondering if there's a hidden camera. This is a trap. I can sense it. But now she's really starting to like the idea and its getting her excited about continuing to read, and soemtimes its just what the doctor ordered, to give the kids a little bit of control over innocuous things, so I give it a try. Can't hurt to try. 

She reads a sentence. 

"Bad job," I say. I use a funny voice, trying to make a game of it, making it clear I'm joking. Still, alarm bells sounds in my brain. FUTURE THERAPY! FUTURE THERAPY! CEASE AND DESIST! 

"No," I say, "Forget it. I'm not saying that." 

Instead, I agree to saying nothing, which I feel is a compromise. 

Still and all, the whole thing is so confusing, I feel I need a professional to advise me and to clarify what is motivating my daughter. WHY does she want me to tell her she's dong a bad job? I'm sure its a simple impulse but one that gets all kinds of convoluted before its expressed. More importantly, if its this complicated now, what the hell is going to happen when puberty hits? Lawd a mercy, I don't stand a chance. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

I have a brain and a uterus . . .

I don't often post pithy little quotes here but I was watching a documentary on PBS last night called "Makers: The Women That Made America" and let me tell you, that public programming GALVANIZED me. Meryl Strep narrated it (of course).

Its funny, I used to feel like I was so invested in "women's issues" back when I was a college coed and reading Betty Friedan and Naomi Wolf and Lucy Irigaray. But I didn't really start caring in a deep, serious way about what happens to women, despite the fact that I was one, until I had a daughter. Now I have two; maybe that's what I care doubly-much.

So when I heard Pat Schroeder talk about her experience as the first woman in Congress on the documentary last night, I was moved in big way. This moment, in particular got me:

Men used to ask her how she could be a mother and a Congresswomen. And she would say:

"I have a uterus and a brain. They both work."

Go watch the documentary. Then burn you bra. I've got to keep mine, however. After three kids, I just can't do without.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tragic McTragic

Primo is studying realistic fiction in third grade; he's been developing characters with likes, dislikes and problems. The problem part, he has down pat. The kid could write for Law and Order. 

He asked me to pass his realistic fiction manuscript to my editor so she could buy the book and get it in bookstores ASAP. I, however, told him we should test the market first via A Mom Amok.

So, without further ado, I give you . . . . 


"One morning, Amy woke up, she smelled the sweets from the bakery. She looked out her window. She saw her dad. She was sad her mom and dad had just gotten a divorce. 

Craven woke up. He saw his sister's bed. She had got lost at the beach and was never found. He was sad. 

Then, the most troubled of them all woke up. Her name was Agatha. She was born with a face deformity, dyslexia and had gotten mentally ill after her dad had a car crash. All of those people walked out of their houses." 

He goes on to describe how the three sad friends end up fortuitously meeting one day by the river. Which is what saves them of course, because no matter how miserable and downtrodden and dyslexic and deformed and mentally-ill you are, life isn't so bad when you've got a friend or two. As soon as they meet up, their luck begins to turn:

"That day, Amy told Craven and Agatha, "A new sweet shoppe opened."

"Nah," said Craven, "I'd like to go to that new video game arcade."

When thet went Craven saw something at the door. 

"Can it be?" he exclaimed. 

The thing at the door started running. Craven ran. It ran faster. Craven ran faster. It ran faster.  Craven ran so fast  he felt like his legs would burst. Faster, faster, faster!

 Craven grabbed the thing - it was his sister! 

It turned out his sister has nearly drowned but was saved by the lifeguard. She had damaged her brain and had gone to the hospital. She ran away from the doctors and played video games all night. But now she was safe and that was all that mattered to Craven. 

"Your problem was solved but ours wasn't," Agatha and Amy said at the same time. 

"Life will be hard but all your problems will be solved someday," said Craven, "Someday."

Monday, March 4, 2013

Telling the Truth on Facebook

A friend on Facebook sent me this link to a post on Kveller last week and I've been laughing about it since:

We Need to Quit Telling Lies on Facebook

I'm guilty of "fakebooking" too, especially via photo uploads.

"Mother-Son Dim Sum!" reads the caption under a picture of Primo eating pork dumplings under a chandelier in the dim sum banquet hall.

I didn't take a picture of us getting lost in Chinatwon for twenty minutes in the freezing cold or waiting in a throng of patrons for forty minutes for a table.

"All geared up for the Bronx Zoo!" reads the caption under the picture of Seconda, adorablye ccentric, in her puffy pink coat, Spyware Night Goggles and salmon colored tuto skirt. I didn't take a picture of me shouting at her to "TAKE OFF THAT FILTHY SKIRT  - YOU CAN'T WEAE THE SAME CLOTHES FOR THREE DAYS WITHOUT WASHING THEM!"

It's a carefully edited version of reality, that Facebook. Like the Christmas Card. We should institute a "Get Real" Day on FB where people post pictures of themselves with no makeup on and screaming at their kids and write real captions like "For fuck's sake, isn't the weekend OVER yet? When do these jokers go back to school?"