Friday, June 22, 2012

Schputtering


As a parent, you often lie in bed at night, exhausted and worn out, too tired to follow through on all your mid-day promises to your spouse about spending some time together that night after the kids are in bed. 

But you think about your day, and you can't recall ever actually accomplishing anything. You know you were busy, you know you were moving all day long, but you feel like you didn't actually DO anything. 

So where did all that time and energy go? It went to schputtering. 

A big part of daily schputtering: preparing
food, then cleaning up all that's left over. 
Schputtering is an ancient yiddo-germanglish word - and not something that I just made up (really, what sort of cad do you think I am to just make up words and then try to pass them off as real words with an ancient history?). It's what you do when you can't do anything, because you're constantly doing everything. 

As a parent of young kids, you have to run two (at least two) lives. And I don't mean that you get to be a spy or a secret agent here. You have to RUN two lives (again, at least two): you have to brush two sets of teeth, comb two sets of hair, make two sets of meals, dress two bodies, etc. etc. etc. But the second life you run, doesn't want to do all these things. Your kids don’t want to brush their hair or go to school or put on their pajamas. So, you have to push it all, Sisyphus like, up The Hill of Personal Hygiene everyday - twice (not to mention the Get to School Hill, then the Stop Teasing Each Other Hill, and the What Do You Want for Dinner Hill, and all the others in your own little daily mountain range). You are constantly pushing those boulders up all those hills... only to do it all over again the next day. 

So, with all this pushing of stones going about, you don't have a lot of time to do all the work on your home, on your life, on your relationship that you'd like to get done (much less stuff that you actually WANT to do, like read a book, go to a movie, hike, etc.) But, inevitably, a sudden and entirely unexpected quiet will come over the house. Suddenly the children are playing quietly (and well) together, or engaged in a craft, or engrossed in a fantastic story of princess-mermaid-ballerina-Taylor Swifts who go to the world's most amazing mall filled with all the cookies and candy in the WHOLE WORLD. Suddenly, you have no stones to push up any particular hills, for a moment. 

So what do you do? 

You don't dare start a project or try to get anything done, because you know, you KNOW, another stone is about to roll right down another hill, and it will come crashing right into your chest if you're not looking for it (generally, RIGHT at the moment when you've pulled the entire garage apart because you finally wanted to straighten it out, or you have realized that you just super-glued your fingers to the broken princess Barbie that is wearing a ballet tutu atop her mermaid fin). So, you know – from too much experience – that you can't dare start something that you really want to do. 

So, you start schputtering. 

You start walking around the house, sort of in a zombie-ate-my-brain stupor, just sort of looking around... 'What do I do? What do I do that is productive but is going to take no more than six minutes to accomplish and can be left completely mid-stride when the next boulder runs down the next hill at me?'

Sylvia, chowing down on some pancakes,
wondering what next she can to do keep
her folks schputting along. 
You wander about, until you see some toys that the girls didn't put away. So you put them away. ‘Ah, that feels good. Something accomplished!’

Then you see three-days worth of mail is stacked up on the counter. You sort it and put it all in its respective piles for the recycling, bills to pay, and coupons for cool things that you'll keep and put in the drawer with every intention of using to do something nice with your spouse, only to find them again a year and a half later, long after that business has gone completely belly up. 'Ah, mail sorted. More accomplishment.'

Then you see the kids' coats on the floor, try to put them away, and are immediately hit by a suffocating wave of other coats, mismatched boots, and single mittens. You spend a whopping, precious eleven minutes cleaning out the closet. ‘Productivity!’

You stop, unsure of what to do next. You listen for the inevitable fight or crying from the kids' rooms upstairs, but not yet. It's still happyville up there for now. So, what next? Ah, the laundry! Check it! Because, surely, SURELY, there is a load still in the wash that needs to dry, or one in the dryer that needs to go into the hamper, or one in the hamper that needs to be folded, or one that's folded that needs to be put back in the kids' closets… where you'll find another load strewn across their floors, ready to go into the wash.

That done, you're feelin' GOOD. You are a machine of productivity! You start to wonder if you really could be so bold as to actually knock something off the three-month old 'To Do' list and maybe clean out the car, or replant that shrub - or even be so brash as to take a moment and sit down on the couch with that book who's plot and characters you've forgotten three weeks ago.

But… you've been burned before. You have to keep it short. You reset the couch cushions, refill the dog and cat food, maybe straighten up your office, always waiting, waiting, for that next stone to come rollin' down at you, which it inevitably does as a fight, or a cry of 'All DONE POOPIN'! or an immediate need for a peanut butter and honey sandwich with extra honey on soft bread with no crusts. 

Thus, after a full day of this over and over again, you're in bed, exhausted, and you can't remember all the 126 little tiny, incremental things you got done today. You're all schputtered out. 


So, what did you ‘accomplish’ that day, since you didn’t get to finally uploading the photos from Easter, or get the car washed, or rearrange the living room furniture, or get to your gymkata class? Not much. Just a whole lot of caring for, supporting, and taking care of some awesome little kids – which is, of course, also called simply ‘parenting’.  

Friday, June 15, 2012

WonderTime*


Parenting is dichotomous. For while parenting fills your heart and home with love and laughter and a level of fulfillment (I think is) otherwise unachievable in the world, it’s also – frankly, if I can be honest here – one huge, time-sucking, mundane, repetitive, soul-stealing total pain the in ass. (And forgive my being so blunt there, but I feel that it's true. And I'm a guy that loves being a parent!)

The trials and tribulations of parenting are obvious (and legion throughout this blog), but I absolutely must focus here on one of the more amazing positives here, something I call 'wondertime'.

After 42 years on this planet, some things tend to get a little mundane and you, quite naturally, take them for granted (if you even notice them at all any more). But when your toddler or preschooler starts to experience them for the first time and really starts to actually GRASP their concepts, these same things become huge, even monumental. There are just so many little things that we have forgotten about, that we just accept, but these supposedly now mundane things can fill our children with absolute wonder. And their palpable awe of these things can bring you right back to a time when you too found these little parts of life every bit as wondrous.
Sylvia, learning about gecko eyes
at the Boston Museum of Science

So, here, for you, is a very short list of a few wonder-filled things my girls have reintroduced me to:

MAIL! – Mail is an amazing thing. It is proof that your nation has achieved a certain amount of safety, security, and wealth to be able to provide this service (not all countries have mail, you know). But it’s also magic. A person, in uniform, comes to your house – almost EVERY DAY – to bring you things and leave them in a special box. Sometimes those things even have your name on them – they are for you! Sometimes those things come, somehow, from grandma. Sometimes those things have money in them for your birthday! Sometimes those things are kids magazines, just for you, or even toy catalogs (what we call ‘kids menus’ after a three-year-old Lillian dubbed one Toys-R-Us catalog by that name)! Like the guy in Blue’s Clues will tell you, mail is worth wailing about.

GARBAGE TRUCKS! – Oh my, but the garbage truck is a wonderful thing. Like mail, it’s a reminder that you live in a safe, wealthy country (many countries don’t have garbage pick up, either). But, unlike mail, it’s a special event that only happens once a week! Guys in special suits come, sometimes first thing in the morning, with a very special truck that is only for garbage and it has flashing yellow lights on it, and they take your garbage away! You never see it again – it’s GONE! When Lillian was four and Sylvia two, I’d yell out, ‘Trash Truck!’ on Friday mornings, and we’d all run to the couch by the window that faced where the trash guys took our garbage, just to watch and wave. Amazing stuff.

WINDSHIELD WIPERS! – Our cars have little arms on them that we can control. They clear off the windows when it’s rainy out. Better still, those windows have SPRAYERS that spray the windows to clean them off. That is just way too cool. It’s so cool, that sometimes you just have to ask your dad or mom to just turn them on, just to see them again and be sure that, yep, those little wiping arms are still there.

MONEY! – Money is amazing. You have it, then you can hand it to people for stuff. You just hand them pieces of paper or little metal disks and you get back candy, toys, rides, all sorts of stuff! It’s especially fun when your three-year old begins to recognize money, like Sylvia a few years ago stepping out of our car in a mall parking lot. She saw a penny on the ground; “Daddy! Money! Money, daddy – look!” She picked it up and held it aloft for the entire world to see. Money is power. Sylvia knew this, she heard about it from us, her parents, because when you have money you can do things and when you don’t, you can’t and suddenly Sylvia had her own little bit of power, right there in the palm of her hand. “I have money daddy, money!” It was a penny, but she’s getting the concept at least…

Lillian, in PJ's, with early morning lady bug
POCKETS! – When was the last time you really appreciated pockets? I mean pockets are pretty wonderful. Not all of kids’ clothes even have pockets, so when they do have pockets, they can carry… STUFF! Sylvia’s parking lot penny went into… you guessed it, her pocket! Pockets can carry little dolls, or piles of rocks, or seashells, or candies, or stuff you want to use later. Without pockets, it’s much harder to carry these things. So pockets are cool! They are worth telling the world about, “Look daddy, I have pockets on this dress! And I’m going to put X, Y, and Z in my pockets!”** 

These are just a very few things that my girls have reintroduced to me as being quite amazing. Their wonder constantly wakes memories within me of doing some of those exact same things, allowing me to see the joy in all these forgotten things and to, for a moment, feel that childlike amazement again. And these are just a few. There are dozens, maybe hundreds more: the light in the refrigerator, rubber bands, bubble wrap, camping, remote controls, light switches, bridges, tape, Pop Rocks, spit balls, sprinklers – the list really does go on and on and on. (Oh, and don’t even get me started on holidays, especially the grand daddy of all wonder-moments, Christmas. That’s a WHOLE other league of ‘wonder’ going on there.)

But, when it comes to these modest little things, I’m so thankful to my girls for reintroducing me the true wonder and amazement of these inventions that I have taken for granted for so long, and for allowing me – for a moment or two – to be, again, that wide-eyed amazed little kid too.


*With apologies to the excellent parenting magazine of that same name that existed, all too briefly, prior to the economic downturn. It was the one parenting magazine that was actually positive, proactive, and chock full of great recipes, ideas for games and toys for kids of a variety of ages, and offered realistic, sound parenting advice, rather than the usual fear-mongering parenting magazines out there that are constantly emblazoned with terror-filling headlines like “25 Things in Your Home that will KILL your Toddler – RIGHT NOW!” It was such a good magazine that we would buy subscriptions as baby shower gifts for people. If you are a parent, the back issues are worth seeking out.
RIP WonderTime. We miss you…

** Side note, once when I was a kid of about seven or so, I found some cool worms and I thought it would be super awesome to put them – and there were a LOT of them – into my pocket to take home. Well, I first played out in the sun for several hours. When I got home, I was excited to get my worms back out and build a little home for them. Well, let’s just say that that particular pocket wasn’t quite so wonderful…

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Of Peas... and Lipsticks

Lillian hates vegetables. She despises them actually. Her hatred is so very deep that she will sometimes actually completely flip-out (and I mean have a total meltdown) just because there are vegetables on the plate NEXT to hers.

Lillian devilishly taunts Sylvia with her 'lipsticks'
while Sylvia recoils behind her frozen peas. 
And I don’t mean she’ll flip out if there’s a plate full of veggies sitting right next to her own plate, I mean she’ll flip out if there is, say, a small pile of peas on a plate on the setting next to hers – a good full two feet away. She will see the offending mass of green or orange or yellow stuff, her eyes and mouth will shock open in terror, then she will quickly pick up her own plate and everything else from her setting, and move somewhere else – usually to another table entirely.

Her distain was so acute that we actually looked up to see if there is actually a medically noted phobia of vegetables. There is.

It’s called lachanophobia.

And we’ve fought the battle, fought it over and over and over again. We’ve tried every vegetable imaginable. We’ve tried numerous variations of each vegetable. We’ve tried hiding them, disguising them, covering them with cheese or brown sugar, inserting them into things, and more. The only thing that has really worked with Lillian is if you take the Jessica Seinfeld route of shaving bits of a veggie into a mass of carbs and fats and then feed it to your kid as a muffin or some other more familiar food, trying to be content that this dusting of vegetable mass that you were able to slip by your kid’s radar is certainly better than nothing.

So, we did what all good parents eventually do: we gave up. Hard to admit, but it’s totally true. Lillian beat us. There, I said it. Congratulations seven-year-old girl – you just wore down two 40-year-old (ish) adults!

But our misery is Sylvia’s opportunity.

As Sylvia started to grow out from under the yoke of oppression that her older sister held over her when she was two or three years old, finally standing up for herself and telling Lillian what was on her mind, or what SHE – not Lillian – wanted to do, and generally putting her little four-inch foot down, she started to use vegetables against Lillian.

You see, Sylvia loves her veggies. She chows on carrot sticks, asks for extra peas (even pulls the peas out of Indian rice to eat them like a treat before the actual rice), loves her some broccoli, and will even try exotic new vegetables. And, while mackin’ on some squash puree or something, she at one point realized just how much it repulsed Lillian. So she did what any good little sister would do: she started taunting her big sister with it.

She held vegetables aloft before eating them, so that Lillian could bear witness. She declared, town crier like, which vegetable she was about to eat. She chewed with her mouth open. She asked for more, and then more again. She pointed out how much she had eaten and pointed out where the bowl of more veggies was on the table. She often walks around the table with her plate to eat her veggies right in front of her sickened and screaming lachanophob big sister. Sylvia saw Lillian’s weakness, and like a good general commanding troops or a boxer in the ring, she immediately exploited it.

But Sylvia is not without her own kryptonite. You see, Sylvia hates lipstick, or ‘lipsticks’ as she calls it. And, as the parental fates would have it, Lillian just LOVES makeup (and all things girly for that matter).

Now Sylvia’s fear is so acute that she asks her mom if she is, “Wearing lipsticks” before Sally can even kiss her good-bye or night-night. She inspects family water bottles to be sure that no one with lipsticks has used it before her – and if they have, well then she just doesn’t drink water then. It goes so far that she will ask me if I have any ‘chapsticks’ on before I kiss her, or before she drinks out of my water bottle.

Now, a quick search of the interwebs tells me that, thankfully, there is no official phobia named for a fear of lipstick (although apparently there is a band by that name), nor is there even an official phobia for a fear of make-up in general. But if there were one, Sylvia would certainly have this ‘revlon-aphobia’.

So, what does Lillian do? She taunts her sister with it, of course! Sylvia won’t do what Lillian wants or maybe gets her in trouble? Lillian is off to her bedroom to apply some Hello Kitty lipsticks! Is Sylvia being a whiney brat to Lillian in the car? Lillian digs out some lip-gloss (or perhaps ‘lip-glosses’ in Sylviaspeak) and applies in layers (sometimes missing her lips and creating this creepy sort of clown-face look). Then, once firmly applied in layers thick enough to make a house painter proud, she chases Sylvia, threatening to ‘kiss her all over’ with her lipstick-caked lips.

So what do Sally and I, the parental equivalent of the U.N., do here to assuage the saber-rattling of these two super powers? We have tried peace talks. We’ve tried d├ętente. We’ve tried disarmament treaties. We’ve tried the spray bottle, squirting them in the face like a bad dog or a cat trying to sharpen her claws on your new sofa. But, in the end, we settled on deterrence – you simply arm them both. And with this ‘mutually assured destruction’ (in Cold War parlance) comes an uneasy, stressful ‘peace’ – of sorts.  

When we’re at the dinner table now and we’re serving vegetables, we make sure that Sylvia is aware that Lillian can go get her lipsticks whenever she likes. When we leave the house and Lillian holsters her lipsticks or lip-gloss, we grab a ziplock bag of frozen peas and hand them to Sylvia (the peas eventually defrost and serve the double purpose of providing her with a healthy snack later).

So, while in the world of Jude and Ward Cleaver, everything little sibling conflict might actually have a parental solution that can wrapped up in a nice, tight, little succinct package, the reality of real-world parenting is that it doesn’t work that way. And, as sheriffs of this one-horse town, sometimes to keep the peace you’ve got to just make sure that both your little gunslingers are armed – even if it’s just with a baggie of frozen peas and a Hello Kitty lipsticks.