Friday, December 29, 2006

Somewhere in Middle America

We had an excellent extended Christmas holiday and an easy drive home yesterday. For the first two hours of the drive, Paolo played with his new Star Wars figurines. Then he ate lunch, went to sleep, and woke in good cheer. About five hours into the trip, I asked him if he'd like to watch a video, in case he'd forgotten about that screen two feet in front of his face. He declined, citing his preference for "sitting back and relaxing." Once it got dark outside, he watched a couple 30-minute videos, and then we sang and talked and laughed until we got home. He was so good it almost made me want to let him keep all of his new toys. Almost. Paolo removed his pants within five minutes of entering the house, and put up a colossal fight over every single bite of his dinner, so everything is pretty well back to normal. This weekend we are looking forward to a massive toy reorganization and deaccessioning. It's either that or adopt twelve children just so all the toys get played with.

For a certain pair of readers who may be missing the pitter-patter of little feet (and the floor-shaking THUD of those feet jumping off of the furniture), here's a transcript of my bedtime conversation with Paolo last night:

Paolo, with a great sigh: I just really want to go to Grandma and Grandpa's house.

Me: We'll go back again, honey, but we had to come back to our house.

Paolo: Why?

Me: Because this is where we live.

Paolo: I don't like Arkansas. I like Florida.

Me: Florida is where your other grandparents live. You mean Nebraska.

Paolo: I want to live in Abraska.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Party 2006: I didn't offend any mothers, but I did try to poison their children

I went to Paolo's school holiday party yesterday afternoon. I had signed up to bring something because I'm involved like that. All the obvious picks were taken, like cookies, cupcakes, candy canes, cheese cubes, so I decided on baby pickles - sweet gherkins, to be exact. As I drove to school, bowl of pickles beside me, I started to second-guess the wisdom of my offering. Oh well, if the kids don't like them, they'll pass over them when they fill their tiny plates. No big deal. When I walked into the classroom, the children were already sitting at their tables with enough sugar on their plates to keep them awake until the ball drops on New Year's. I casually put the bowl down next to the other food and went to find Paolo. The teacher didn't catch my please-don't-notice-me-or-my-pickles vibe and loudly announced, HEY EVERYBODY, PAOLO brought PICKLES. That made me cringe because I don't think it's fair to drag Paolo into this. Give him a few years and he'll be begging me not to come to his school parties toting strange food: "My friends don't eat hummus. Please can't I just bring a bag of cheetos? Why do you hate me?"

The teacher walked around to each child offering BABY PICKLES! Aren't they CUTE? Many refused through mouthfuls of red and green frosting, some accepted out of curiosity, and some were forced to accept by their mothers. (Because dads? They don't go to school parties, the wimps.) By now you're probably wondering why I'm so worked up over introducing a measly bowl of pickles to a roomful of three-year-olds. It's not like I passed out raw garlic and tabasco soup. What's the worst that could happen? Well, I am in a position to tell you, because THE WORST is exactly what transpired.

All of the following happened in slow motion. The first children stuck out their tongues to taste their pickle, screwed up their faces, shuddered, and put the pickle back on their plates. The less hesitant took a bite and, perhaps feeding off of the anxiety of the other children, screamed in horror and flung their pickles across the table like live grenades. I didn't need to duck because I had already crawled under Paolo's chair in embarrassment. The most sensitive tots actually wept after taking a bite, and there's nothing grosser than a little kid sobbing with pickle juice and snot running down his face. In the midst of this chaos was my perfectly serene Paolo, snacking contentendly and asking if we were going home now. Yes, I think I've brought enough pain to this festive occasion.

The teacher told me later that some kids at her table enjoyed their pickles and requested more. It might even be true because just about a whole jar of sweet gherkins disappeared. But from where I was sitting (crouching), I turned a happy classroom Christmas party into Viet Nam.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum

The last time I took Paolo to the grocery store, he was feeling more than a little mischevious. We had selected a grocery cart with a bench seat, which is a horrible contraption because the buckles are broken and nothing stops a hyperactive toddler from jumping out at will. Nothing except my reprimands, which lately go unheeded. The trip dragged on so long I could see liver spots forming on my clenched hands pushing the grocery cart in four-feet increments. Finally, I snapped and demanded in my most serious parental tone--the one that lets him know I mean business, without scaring anyone who might overhear into calling a hotline--that Paolo get in the cart and STAY in the cart. Paolo climbed aboard and cheerfully threatened to punch me in the belly. Now, I knew that he wasn't going to lay a hand on me, but I can't say the same for the OTHER SHOPPERS whose eyebrows flew off their faces.

I related this story later to Sam, who looked awfully guilty as he listened. Apparently, when Sam goes shopping with Paolo on Monday afternoons, he tells him the grocery cart is pirate jail. When Paolo wants out of pirate jail, he punches Sam in the belly, and Sam stops and lets him jump out. It's a system they have. I asked Sam why he couldn't have come up with another signal for Paolo to use when he wanted to walk beside the cart, like, call me crazy, words? He shook his head very gravely and said, "No can do. There's only one way out of pirate jail." I'm living with two nut cases. Send help.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Unless you meant "I" for Indigenous People

Paolo had homework Monday night, which strikes me as odd because, last time I checked, he's in daycare. We call it school because we want to feel better about ourselves for not staying at home teaching him world capitals and Latin, but really it's daycare. Yes, the teachers provide instruction in early learning concepts, such as the alphabet and colors and days of the week, but Paolo had that stuff wrapped up ages ago. In fact, his teachers have asked me for tips. Repetition and electrical current will do the trick.

The homework assignment was to write down three words that begin with the letter of the week. That's actually a game I play with Paolo - thinking of words that start with a certain letter...with mild electric shocks. "No, I'm sorry, circle starts with C not S. Good try." Zzzzzt. Unfortunately, the letter of the week is I. I really did want Paolo to do this on his own, but I?? His first guess was eyeball. Fair enough, but technically, no. Zzzzzt. So we helped him along with clues leading to ice, igloo, and in.

Paolo also had to bring in an item for Show and Tell that starts with the letter of the week or the color of the week, which is white. Is it just me or is this unnecessarily hard? Sam saved the day by suggesting Paolo's toy R2-D2. It's white, and if Paolo should have to talk about it, he could, even if just to say this is mine and if you touch it I will break your fingers. I noticed today that some children had indeed brought something starting with I, and their names and items were written on a big sheet of paper taped up on the classroom wall, with the letter I circled for emphasis. I was disappointed by my lack of creativity until I read the list. Parents, teachers, Native American does not start with I.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

What would you not give?

I try not to get too caught up in tragic events, but I do have something to say about the Kim family. The main story, of course, is that James Kim set off into the bitterly cold wilderness on a superhuman mission to get help for his stranded family, a mission that sacrificed his life. Every news report writes a line about how the Kims had very little food with them, and that, once the food ran out, Kati Kim breastfed her two children, seven months old and four years old. That's the part of the story that affects me the most, that puts me in the frigid car, melting snow for water.

What new mother hasn't had dreams she wakes up from in a cold sweat because of some imagined threat to her baby? When Paolo was an infant, I had my share of horrible dreams of being lost or stranded and struggling to survive. I’d wake in a panic, my heart racing, wondering how to save my baby. It brought me comfort to know I could feed him, wherever we were, and as long as I could stay hydrated, I could keep him alive. That would be enough to soothe me back to sleep. When I read about Kati Kim nursing her children in the absence of food, I knew that her most horrible dream had come true. Thankfully, Kati had decided seven months ago to breastfeed her new baby, and she hadn’t stopped. According to the 2004 National Immunization Survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70% of mothers reported ever breastfeeding their infants, 36% reported still breastfeeding at six months, and 18% reported breastfeeding at 12 months. Any responsible, caring father like James Kim would have risked his life to better the chances of his family’s survival, but only one in four mothers with babies over six months old would have been able to keep their children nourished when the food ran out. One in four.

The Kim children have two heroes for parents, and I just wanted to point that out because I haven’t heard anyone else say it. I don’t know what the lesson to be learned from this tragedy is. I guess it teaches us that our nightmares can come true, and at least one in four new mothers will be able to get back to sleep tonight.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

As if I needed a reason to skip the office holiday party

It's that time again. Working stiffs everywhere are gearing up for their annual corporate holiday party, and I just got my emailed invitation. Oh good, I'm invited. Usually, I'm a fan of a free meal at a swanky place, but this year my office party will be held at a mediocre local restaurant with a buffet. It's not what I consider sufficient compensation for spending my free time with people I wouldn't normally associate with without a paycheck. But what's this? There will be a silent auction of gift baskets at the party. Well, someone grabbed hold of the fun knob and cranked it up. Bidding is strictly voluntary but strongly recommended, as it's for charity, so don't be a Scrooge! Hang on to your Santa hats (or reindeer antlers), this fun knob goes up to ELEVEN. All partygoers must choose a Christmas-themed name for themselves and their guest to use in the silent auction. The names must be submitted and approved by the office administrator prior to the party. Well, deck my halls, this is sounding better and better. I guess we could get a sitter. Holy Sugar Plums! I have something else planned on the same night and time as the office party. What to do?

Option 1: And the winners of the Razorback gift basket are Menorah and Big Baby Jesus. Thanks, Jennifer and Sam, your money will go to some organization that promises to use it to purchase gift cards for foster children. Because of you, at least one set of foster parents can afford to buy a bottle of Jack and some chicken wire to reinforce the cages.

Option 2: Put on your pajamas, Paolo, we're going to the library for a special holiday storytime.

I thought long and hard before making a decision. By that I mean I rolled my eyes s l o w l y before deleting the invitation.

Please chime in with your ideas for "Christmas names" that Sam and I could not go by for the silent auction we won't participate in at the party we're not going to attend. It'll be fun.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Just take it off already

It is a rule that Paolo may not sleep in his cape, due to the obvious strangulation hazard. Plus we're just mean. Every night Paolo questions the foundation of this rule and tries to reason his way around it. He can't grasp that the cape might hurt his neck because it's not hurting him right now, so I've had to resort to the old "I said so" standby. Since children are creatures of habit, I came up with the association that, when lights are turned out at bedtime, capes come off. (That's capes with an 's' because sometimes Paolo isn't the only person wearing one.) This worked well for a couple of nights. Last night, however, Paolo got clever on me. I turned off the bedside lamp and reminded Paolo to remove his cape. Ah, but the booklight is still on, and that's a light, so the cape can stay on, he reasoned. Okay, you got me, but once I turn off the booklight, that's it. And he agreed. I finished reading his book, clicked off the light, and again asked for his cape. "But, Mama," he said as he crawled over the top of me to point at something on the nightstand, "there's still lights." "The alarm clock?!," I said into his stomach. "That doesn't count. That's not…it's only a…will you just…." And then I cracked up, and we laughed together until it hurt.

But I still made him take his cape off.

Monday, December 4, 2006

His religious fervor is really cramping my style

Since about three weeks ago, we say grace in our house before every meal. Paolo has been trained at school to pause before dining to clap his hands together and say, "God is good. God is great. Let us thank Him for our food. Amen." I know he has the first two lines reversed. I've tried to correct him, but he answers to a higher power now. My husband keeps reminding me there's no harm in it (while telling me with his piercing glare that, if I roll my eyes again, I will be spending the night outside in the snow). I, however, feel that there are a lot more stops on the train ride between this "God" and our table. There's the cow, for instance, the farmer, the sun that shone on the fields, the rain that watered them. The butcher, the grocer, the loving, if faithless, mother who purchased and prepared this tasty and nutritious meal set before us, amen. I'm just saying, there are parties with stronger claims on deserving thanks for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Like any religious fanatic, Paolo takes the whole blessing thing too far. I handed him the whisk I used to make whipped cream so he could lick it, and he had to pray first. He saw me mid-granola bar, chewing an unsanctified bite, and was appalled. "Mama! You didn't say 'God is good'." Last night, Paolo had to go poop right as we sat down to dinner (as usual), and he kept yelling from the bathroom, between grunts, "Don't take any bites! We have to say 'God is good.' You're not eating, are you?" This level of piety, I don't need.

I'm pretty sure my fraudulent prayer is worse than not praying at all. It certainly isn't doing my peace of mind any good. Leave it to my darling husband to put a twinkle back in my eye. He suggested, if this is bothering me so much, I can revise the rhyme ever so slightly to stick it to them at school:

God is great. God is good. Let us thank Her for our food.