Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fuc-Yoo Mama, Fuc-Yoo!

Note: This story has been told verbally many times now, but it's time that the tale be posted here, on the Interweb, for ALL to see and enjoy (and to allow even more people to question our parenting abilities).

Sylvia was two. TWO mind you, when we had driven from Cincy up to Indianapolis for a family event. We were staying at Sally's mom's and, the weekend over, I was taking our bags out to the car as Sally sat in her mom's living room, amicably chatting away with half her family. The girls were playing and there was a din of chatter from Sally's mom, a few of Sally's aunts and uncles, her sister, a cousin, and a niece and nephew or two.

I threw a few bags in the trunk of the car and then came back inside to gather up the last little tidbits of our familial traveling detritus. But as I re-entered the living room, it was stone cold silent. Not a word was being said. No one was speaking.

I looked quizzically around the room as I blew through, en route to the back bedroom to get the last of our bags, then came back through the living room again. Still not a word. I asked Sally what was going on and she said, "I'll tell you in the car."

As you know, whenever someone says, "I'll tell you in the car," it's not going to be good. No one waits to tell you in the car that they were just nominated for a Pulitzer, or won the lottery, or realized what an absolute genius their kid is because the tike just recited a soliloquy from Hamlet. (And, in this case, quite the contrary.)

In the car, I learned that Sally had been asking the girls to get their things ready, 'C'mon girls, get your coats. Pick up the toys,' etc. She asked Sylvia to get her shoes on. Sylvia - as usual - didn't. Sally asked her again. Sylvia didn't. Sally asked her once more.

Sylvia - who was two mind you, TWO - turned, pointed her finger directly at Sally and replied, clear as a bell, in front of all those people (including her own grandmother, great aunts and uncles, an aunt, etc.) "Fuc yoo Mama, fuc yoo!"

Sitting in the car, the chilly silence of the room now made absolute and total sense to me.

"Wait, she really said it? I mean, it wasn't something that sounded like-"

"No," Sally replied, "She said it." Apparently Sylvia's body language, tone, the context, and the irascible little finger had made it all pretty clear and absolutely irrefutable. Our beautiful little blond, spritely two year old girl who loves fairies and princesses had just, in front of half of Sally's family, told her mom, in no uncertain terms, to fuck off.

'Hello, Child Protective Services? Yeah, hi. I have a couple of parents that might need... uh, CPS' help. You see their two-year old girl just told her mom to...' You get the picture here.

As I now hesitantly drove the car back toward Cincinnati and the girls watched 'Cars' (again) on the car's DVD player with the volume purposely turned way up, Sally and I muttered back and forth in the front seats.

"Did she really just..."
"And it was definitely...."
"In front of the whole family..."
The answer to all was an undeniable YES.

I flashed back a few weeks before, during a lovely family breakfast. The sun was out, the birds were twittering, and young Sylvia was just learning how to exert herself with her rather controlling big sister Lillian. Lillian would always tell Sylvia what to do and how to do it, but now Sylvia was finally pushing back, saying things like, 'No Yillian, me no like dat!' I was proud of her and her new efforts to be her own little woman.

On that morning, Lillian told Sylvia that they were going to do something together now, and Sylvia replied, "Uc-yoo, Yillian, uc-you!" After nearly choking on our Cheerios, Sally and I immediately looked at each other, eyebrows furrowed and shared a 'Did she just say...?' sort of look. We immediately laughed.

"That sounded like she just said...."

"Oh my god, I know. Didn't it?"

We looked at each other, again with furrowed eyebrows.


"Couldn't have been."

"No way."

We went on about our day and all was well. After all, there's no way a two-year-old could have learned THAT word, THE WORD. Right?

Back in the car, wondering when the CPS helicopter would descend upon us, we realized that oh yes, she certainly HAD learned that word - and since the breakfast incident her enunciation had improved too! 'Congrats, Parents-Of-The-Year, that little Sylvia is really sumpthin'! Now, please duck your head as you enter the CPS helicopter.'

We finally devised a strategy on how to respond. We turned 'Cars' off for a moment and asked for the girls' attention. Sally and I spoke in tandem, like a right and left hook from a boxer, each one of us spurting out a sentence or two at a time.

"Sylvia, you used a word back there that's a very strong word."

"A word for adults. A word that only adults should use."

"And it's just not a word that children should be saying yet. A word you shouldn't say until you're much older."

"Much older. It's inappropriate to say it now."

"Really inappropriate."

"And definitely inappropriate to say it to momma."

"And certainly in front of the whole family."

"So that's a word that you should absolutely not use."

"For a very long time."

Sylvia was quiet, clearly hearing the stern, serious tone of our voices, and just taking in everything, her little brain replaying, reviewing, absorbing - as always.

Meanwhile though, Lillian's brain was tied in knots. In the midst of our stern words to Sylvia, Lillian was racing: "What is this word?!?!? What is it!?!? I didn't hear it, what is it!?!?!" Lillian was desperate to hear this wonderful, powerful, parent-shaking word, but we didn't dare go there.

I think Sally said something like, "Honey, it's a word that you don't need to know right now. It's inappropriate for children." She had to say something because I was being hit with one of those parental bouts of laughter where you're trying so hard to stay all parentally stern and serious, but you're laughing inside so hard you're nearly crying. Lillian's intense and passionate curiosity about THIS WORD, just about had me in stitches.

"You'll hear it, and learn it, soon enough Lillian, trust us."

We having now satisfactorily addressed the issue - and essentially run out of things to say about it, after reiterating our base message three or four times to Sylvia - the car got quiet. Sylvia never said a word.

Then Lillian piped up, "Can we turn 'Cars' back on?"

Yes honey, we certainly can. We turned the DVD back on, feeling better now to have addressed the issue and moved on, back to some sort of normalcy. I felt the CPS helicopter back off a little.

But, under the din of Lighting McQueen and Chick Hicks' banter, Sally and I kept talking about it. At one point, Sally rightly, and incredulously, asked, "I mean, where do you think she heard that word!?!?"

I thought back to the time that, in the midst of 'daddy-daughter wrestling time' Lillian launched herself in a 'Super Jump' from the couch, driving her skull into my right eye socket (awarding me my first parental black eye). I certainly bellowed THE WORD on that day, and loud enough for the neighbors to hear. But Sylvia was too little then, just about 18 months, and that had been a few years ago now.

But then I thought back to the nights that Sally and I often had beers while the kids played or watched a show. We'd talk about work, family, life, the house, etc. and sometimes, especially when talking about work, we tended to get a little animated, a little fired up. I could recall THE WORD coming out of our mouths on more than a few occasions.

And then there were the 'Friday Night Dance Parties' when we'd have Sally's music on while we were getting ready to go out or just blowing off steam, the girls running about, jumping on the bed, or just generally 'shakin' their booty'. Too often, Eminem or Kanye or someone else would come on, maybe talk about what they'd like to do in the back of 'their Hummer truck'...

The more and more I thought about it, the more and more I realized how often THE WORD is out there, all around us. And, I have to admit, Sally and I were both pretty amazed that Sylvia had gravitated toward this one special word (one that we certainly don't use daily but that is also, I now know, out there) plucked it from our lexicon, and applied it in - for her and for her little defiant moment - an absolutely correct context.

Regardless of our 'pride' in this special little, never-to-be-forgotten moment of familial bliss, Sally was still pretty mortified. After all, it was her daughter that just dropped, right in front of literally half her extended family, what was, as Ralphie in 'A Christmas Story' put it, 'THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the F-dash-dash-dash word.' Soon after, Sally got a call from her mom about it. Sally absolutely fretted over it. She, as a good mom does, worried about it. She looked up advice online (Search: 'Toddler with trucker mouth') and dug into her little library of parental help books to find out what exactly had gone wrong and just exactly how to correct it.

Me, on the other hand, well, I (gently) made it the subject of our humorous little Christmas letter. Worse still, I eventually even wrote a blog post about it.

I think I hear that CPS helicopter in the distance again...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wee Mr. McMurphy's Magic

Having kids in your life brings the magic back into your world. Take, for example, Wee Mr. McMurphy.

Now, I like to tell friends of mine that are about to have a baby that there's no real secret to parenting. I say, "For thousands of years, far less capable people than you have been having kids, kids who turn out just fine, so try not to worry about it too much." After all, if you care even a bit about that kid, you'll do just fine. There is no magic potion or secret to raising kids. 'Feed, care, love - repeat' is pretty much the mantra.

But as the care-givers and providers in the relationship, we're all too often bogged down with taking care of the kidlets (and keeping up with mortgages, battling our all-consuming email In Box, rushing off to make our troga (treadmill yoga) class, and all the accompanying drudgeries of the modern American full-time parental home owner) to stop for a moment and see the magic that they see everywhere. It's far too easy to just stay head-down, buried in the minute-to-minute-to-minute constant tasks of what's next: Are the girls up? Yes, check. Get them fed, check. Find suitable clothes, check. Make them wear said suitable clothes, check. Hair and teeth? Brushed, so check. Get them into car...

On the surface, the days can blend into a never-ending series of menial tasks to be completed, only to all return the next day, Sisyphus-like, to be completed all over again.

But as your kids get a little older, they start to bring a new joy back into many things that, as an adult, long ago lost their specialness. Yesterday, St. Patrick's Day, for example.

Now, I'll admit I'm personally more than a little baffled at the whole St. Patty's Day thing. If I recall correctly, the day is hardly even noted in Ireland, but in the U.S. it's a pretty significant celebration (and huge if you live in such places as Boston, New York, or Chicago), wether or not you, like so many Americans, can actually claim to be a quarter or an eight or a sixteenth Irish, or not. As you get older though, you start to see it as nothing more than a rather odd anachronism back to days when Irish immigrants needed something to celebrate, but that now has degraded into not much more than an excuse to go out, get plastered, and pretend to like some American's attempt at 'corned beef & cabbage'.

But then our girls started coming home from school, talking about 'McMurphy', the leprechaun that (thanks to our girls having great and very engaged teachers) started visiting their classrooms. As the days counted down to St. Patty's day, McMurphy started visiting their classroom more and more each night and getting into more and more mischief. He apparently moved various items in the classroom, messed up projects they had completed (just slightly of course), kept losing his hat or his shoes or other little items around the room, and - most laughably - would apparently pee (green of course) in the potty at night, leaving it there for the kids to discover.

Lillian's utter joy at all these events was palpable. She would rant on, rapid-fire, with hardly a breath between sentences, to tell us all that McMurphy had been up to the night before, how leprechauns sneak into rooms, how fast they are, what kind of jigs they dance, and all the very latest on leprechaun culture.

So, the night before St. Patty's Day (and with Sally out of town on business), I realized that Wee Mr. McMurphy needed to make a visit here as well.

With all things parental though, a great idea immediately started to go south. After the girls were down, I immediately fell asleep too, instead of staying up to plot out McMurphy's doings. I got up early to take care of this, but then so did Sylvia, pattering her way into my office at 5:30 AM. I brought her back upstairs to try to put her to bed, but she only flopped and tossed and turned. Finally, I admitted defeat, took her downstairs and made her some breakfast (the term 'breakfast' for Sylvia being used in only the loosest terms as lately we can't get much more in her than a sippy cup of chocolate milk). It seemed McMurphy's chances to visit our house were disappearing faster than green beer at a Boston bar.

But then, an unheralded miracle: Sylvia walked herself back upstairs and went back to bed.

I didn't miss the opportunity, immediately springing to action to do SOMETHING for St. Patty's day (above and beyond the greenish outfits or meager accessories that I'd found for the girls to wear later that day). But I was stumped. What to actually DO? I hadn't had any time to think things through. Then it hit me - the green pee!

I quickly went to the cupboard and grabbed the #1 best possible weapon in the 'Parent's Arsenal of Duplicitous Tricks': food coloring.

I grabbed the green one and went straight to the bathroom. Soon two drops of green food coloring were suspended in the bowl's water, slowing dispersing in a dark, VERY green cloud. I stared at it a moment. 'Too green?,' I wondered, then pushed it out of my mind. What next? What do leprechaun's DO?

I remembered the #2 best possible weapon in the 'Parent's Arsenal of Duplicitous Tricks': glitter.

Off to the basement's craft bin to find the glitter. I found the three vials; silver, gold, and red but then was stumped. 'Did I use gold for the Tooth Fairy? Or was that silver?' McMurphy's glitter would have to be different and we had no green... 'I think the Tooth Fairy was gold...' I grabbed the silver.

Back upstairs, I sprinkled it around the potty. 'Too much? Did I over do how much a leprechaun would REALLY leave? Stop over-thinking this man!' The girls would be up in a few minutes and the mad rush to get to school would be on.

'WHAT do leprechauns DO??? Tricks! They play tricks on people!'

I saw the girls shoes by the door and immediately tied them together, sprinkling leprechaun dust all around them. ('Leprechaun dust? Do Leprechaun's have 'dust'? Stop over-thinking this man!') Three balls of socks left on the couch, normally a nuisance, presented a new opportunity. I un-balled them all and then re-balled them in mismatched pairs. Genius! Leprechaun dust marked the scene of the crime.

'What else!?!?'

Too late... my alarm went off and it was absolutely time to get the girls up, or else we'd never get to school on time.

I went upstairs, and pretty much pulled the girls out of bed. Sometimes this is a major fight, but at least this time I had the 'ace in the hole' of being able to at least mention it was St. Patty's Day, the mention alone of which would provide some impetus and energy to get them up. Ever so slowly they emerged from the sleepy cocoons of blankets (Sylvia, as always, especially slowly). And with Sylvia still groggy from her early morning wake up, things again quickly started to go south.

I knew, were this a normal morning, it would immediately take a downturn into fighting, crying, uneaten breakfast and tangled, misshapen hair. But not this day, not this glorious St. Patrick's Day!

Sylvia, in my arms, was whimpering and Lillian was already bossily complaining. But I just smiled... and waited. Lillian said, "I need to use the potty." I blurted out, "Don't forget to turn on the light!" which was asinine, since she always does.

She did.

And she screamed.


"What?" I asked, blithe-fully ignorant.

"He came to our house! He peed in the potty!"

"WHAT!?!?" I hammed, running to the bathroom.

"Look, look! Green pee! He PEED in our POTTY! He came to our house!"

Immediately the morning took on a new excitement and energy, as the girls ran around the house looking for other traces of Mr. McMurphy. They found the shoes and squealed. They found the socks and their voices reached such a pitch that I feared windows might shatter. And then they started to run around the house, looking for more.

"Daddy, my book! He read my book!"

"Uh, what?" I hadn't touched a book...

"My 'Where's Waldo?' book! I always shut it but now it's open. He read my book!"

"Uh, okay..."

They ran upstairs to search their rooms for more mischief from Mr. McMurphy as I recalled her teacher having made green milk. As I dropped a few drops of green food coloring into a half-full cup of milk, I heard, "My slippers! He messed up my slippers!" That was followed by peals of laughter too. There was something about Sylvia's room that they said he changed, and then more back in Lillian's, the back to Sylvia's. They were accruing a list of leprechaun deeds that I hadn't even thought of, much less done.

I set the milk on the counter and waited for them to come back downstairs for their breakfasts. Soon they did, and they squealed again at the discovery. "He drank green milk and left some!" That inspired more running around to find more traces of Mr. McMurphy.

I thought, 'Green milk? Why not green apple juice?' and set about creating another half-empty cup. This scene ended up being like something out of a bad sit-com though, as I snuck out the apple juice, then hid it behind my back as they tore through the kitchen. Then I pulled out the cup and nearly poured the juice as Sylvia stumped in, asking, "Da-dee, when McMurfee coming to my class at big girl school?" I replied something like, "I think today honey," then went back to trying to pour the juice as she walked out. I poured it quickly, feeling like a safecracker or jewel thief, then again hid the juice as they both tore through the kitchen again, seeking out more leprechaun traces. Soon I managed to get the green food coloring in the cup and get the juice bottle put away.

Then, as if scripted, Sylvia asked to be picked up. I nonchalantly picked her up and went about my business with breakfast, waiting. Soon she said, "What dat?" and pointed to the green juice. I called Lillian back into the kitchen and again screams of excitement filled the house.

Eventually, I was able to get them dressed, fed (partially at least), combed & brushed, into the car, and off to school. Apparently, I later heard, they told each and every classmate and teacher every single detail of Mr. McMurphy's romp through our home.

But I started to realize that there was a time when, as a wee lad myself, I believed in leprechauns too, when St. Patrick's Day wasn't about idiots of various and random heritages in a drunken stupor on a non-holiday that even the Irish don't care much about, when it was about magic; about dancing leprechauns, rainbows and pots of gold.

'Oh yeah,' I remembered. 'I used to like St. Patrick's Day too.'

So, while there isn't a lot of magic that goes into parenting, there's certainly a hell of a lot of magic that comes back out from being a parent.

And I haven't even STARTED on Christmas yet... :-)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lillian's Story (Abridged)

"The other day, at school, we were doing recess and we were all ninjas, me and Jayannah and Addison and Marino and Malisia and Cadin and we were all ninjas and I was the Pink Princess Ninja and Jayannah was the Purple Princess Ninja and Addison - she's the one who has a hat with tiny, teeny, tiny teeny little candy canes on it and you met her once after school when she was wearing a black coat - she was Violet Princess Ninja and the boys were all regular ninjas, except Cadin who was the Golden Wolf, and whenever he howled, like this, 'How-how-HOOOWWWWLLL,' it meant that danger was coming and so we all had to be ready to fight bad guys and so Cadin would go 'How-how-HOOOWWWWLLL' then we'd all get ready with our karate to fight bad guys and we fought bad guys and saved the world."