Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A few days ago I returned home to find my daughter's play date heading out the door with a bag of parting gifts.  

"Sadie gave me all these things!" the child shouted with glee, clutching her grocery bag of booty.

"Yep, Sadie gave her all those things," the play date's dad said with a little sigh that I know meant "I'll be picking these things up at my house now..."

I sat down on the grass next to my husband and watched our friends drive away and then I congratulated him for clearing our house of a bit of the clutter.

"Yep," he said.  "She even gave away Squirrel."
"You let her give away Squirrel?" I barked.
"I asked her twice if she was sure about it and she said she was," he replied.
"I can't believe you gave away Squirrel," I hissed.  I launched myself off the grass and stomped inside, mumbling.

A bit of back story:  Nearly three years ago, when Sadie was brand new to pre-school, she formed a tight relationship with this little stuffed squirrel in her classroom.  Every day we would find her making up songs for the squirrel and carrying on intimate conversations with the squirrel and one day, with the assistance of our babysitter, Sadie liberated Squirrel from the confines of the classroom and brought him home to live a pampered life.  Squirrel has attended zillions of tea parties, worn a tutu to ballet class and donned striped pajamas for bed.  For Halloween last year, at Sadie's behest, I made him a witch costume.  For no reason at all I made him a kimono out of some  silk pajamas headed for the hand-me-down pile.  Sadie was attached to the little guy and (not to sound too squirrelly) so was I.  

So I was mad at my husband.  Mad at him for failing to understand the importance of this little toy.  Of course instead of bringing up my issues in a calm and rational manner, I sped through dinner preparation and gave terse directions for table setting and hand washing.  

My husband (bless him and bless him again) was patient.  "I thought it was a good thing," he said.  "I knew Squirrel was a big deal and I thought it was very kind of her to give him to a friend."

I opened my mouth to say something, but suddenly all I could do was cry.  In between sobs, I tried to explain.  "It's not Squirrel," I said.
"I didn't really think it was," my husband said, wrapping his arms around me.

I cried for the fact that my daughter was growing.  I cried because I miss that funny little girl with the nonsensical language and the round baby belly.  I cried because she's almost in kindergarten and because she's sometimes mean as a snake.  I cried so much, my husband offered to drive over to our friends' house and bring Squirrel back.

"It's okay," I said.  "Things change."  I figured if at four she knew how to let go, then at forty, I should know how to do it, too.

The next day, our babysitter, A., arrived and as usual I gave her the schedule updates and kid mood forecast for the day.  "Also," I said, "Sadie gave Squirrel away."

A's eyes filled with tears.  "Our squirrel?" 
I turned to my husband.  "I'm bringing him home," I said.  

Squirrel is back.  And my daughter is delighted.  "How was your sleepover?" she asked.  She packed him into a basket and took him to a birthday party.  She made him a bed in my husband's slipper.  She is not headed to college.  She is still small and silly and thinks nothing of wearing a tiara to the grocery store.  She is four going on five and we have all the time in the world.  

Monday, April 20, 2009

My son is home sick with an earache and a sore throat and a little fever all of which combine to slow him down and make him especially prone to hand holding, lap sitting and shoulder leaning.  I am amazed by my child's capacity for tenderness.  I'm sorry he has to be sick to let it surface, but I can't help but be grateful to see it under any circumstance.  

Lately his attitude has been so bad that I've begun to wonder if the downhill slope from six to seven is a slide into certain juvenile deliquency.   He shakes his fist at me when ask him to put on his clothes.  He shouts at me when I wonder when he'll finish his homework.  He grits his teeth.  He kicks his sister.  And then, just when I think he's become as hardened as Tony Soprano, he sobs inconsolably over a missing sock or the discovery that we're out of "Triple Berry O's."

Some time ago, our pre-school teacher suggested I read a series of child development books which distill each year into a handy Cliff's Notes size tome.  According to these books, my 4 year old was "Wild and Wonderful" and my 5 year old was "Sunny and Serene."  I'm wondering if my seven year old will be "Incarcerated or Institutionalized."  

A couple of days ago, I was talking with two of my dear friends, both mothers to six and half year old boys.  "You look tired," they said.  "How are you?" they asked.
"It's been pretty rough." I said.  "Theo is crying all the time.  Or yelling all the time.  One or the other."

They both looked relieved.  "You, too?"  We all started to talk at the same time.  Threats, tears, violence, remorse.  All part and parcel of being almost seven.  And all happening in other houses all over our neighborhood.  Normal kid stuff.  I had almost forgotten one of the most important things you can do as a parent.  You can talk to other parents.  Though what's going on in your house might seem like the fifth act of a Shakespearean tragedy, nine times out of ten, it's going on somewhere else too.  Labeling something "developmental" is just another way of saying it's not going to stay that way.  I think suddenly of the now defunct Polaroid photo.  Holding that blank square and waiting for the image to develop was one of the pleasures of my youth and young adulthood.  My boy is emerging, he's developing.  It's hard work.  He's entitled to be cranky and crazy and crying.  Just as I am entitled to be all of those things in the hard process of becoming a parent.  Because I'm developing, too.  

Today, I played two games of Yahtzee, three games of Trouble and too many rounds of Connect 4 to count with a boy who sometimes calls me Mom and sometimes calls me "Turkey Pants."  Today, he leaned against me and gave me kisses on the palm of my hand.  Today he fed me a strawberry and told me he loved me.  Tomorrow, the fever may be down and the hackles may be up, but it's only a stage.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Last night, I sewed the tail on a little purple mouse named Squeaker.  The mouse was not alive, though its tail was so leathery that it must have been something alive at some point.  It's the kind of little mouse you buy at the pet store to give to your cat.  A kind of training mouse, I suppose.  Though we have a cat, this particular mouse belongs to my daughter.  She likes to go to the pet store and often buys things for our cat that I know she actually wants for herself so I'm pleased in a way that she's cut the charade and taken full ownership of this mouse, whose name she pronounces with the emphasis on the first syllable so it's ""  I do not pronounce the name correctly, nor did I sew the tail correctly.  I used red thread which was the only color I could find and contrasted nicely with the dyed purple fur and matched the little critter's eyes, but Sadie was appalled.  "You wrecked it," she shouted.  "You are always messing things up," she continued.  "I hate you.  Why do you have to be so wrong?"  I took a deep breath and reminded myself of my new plan to REMAIN CALM and BE PEACEFUL.  

I have been taking a lot of deep breaths lately and asking my children to take them with me.  "Slow down," I say.  "I understand," I say.   I say these things in what I hope is a loving voice.  I say them even when I want to throw my hands in the air and scream.  

My clumsy repair of Squeaker's tail was not the first thing to go wrong in Sadie's day and I tried to remember that.  First of all, Squeaker had lost his tail.  More to the point, he'd had it yanked off by one of the Star Wars loving, gun-finger pointing, girl-teasing boys in Sadie's class.  The biggest problem, though and one that recurs with alarming frequency, is that Sadie wants a pet.  She wants a real live pet.  She wants any kind of pet. Yesterday it was a white mouse with red eyes.  Before that it was a hamster that would live in a pink, sparkly castle and before that a rabbit and before that a dog and a pony and a turtle and on and on. 

We do have a cat named Pokey.  And a fish whose name is Tanya.  But if it were left to Sadie we would have a menagerie.  

Over the course of my childhood I had somewhere around sixty-eight pets.  Your standard dogs and cats gave way to guinea pigs, ferrets, a pair of gerbils named Sam and Janet Evening, an iguana, a goat, an owl, chameleons...  Two guinea pigs quickly became four and then eventually ten.  The gerbils multiplied.  Everything smelled of cedar shavings and urine.  

There are days when I like the idea of a dog.  There are days when I come dangerously close to bringing home that sparkly hamster castle.  My mother was a volunteer at the zoo.  My brother went to the State Fair and brought two baby goats home in his car.  Perhaps the need for a menagerie is in my blood.  

Last night, when Sadie seemed to be about to stop crying about Squeaker's tail, my son looked up from his homework.  
"So, it looks like that pet situation is over," he said, rolling his eyes.
Sadie looked at him for a second through soggy lashes.  
"I want a white mouse with red eyes," she wailed.

I will remain calm and be peaceful, but that "pet situation" is far from over.