Monday, July 27, 2009

Brontophobia: Fear of Storms

My little Violet is hitting that age. That age when a toddler develops fear. And I can say that I think I hate this more than any other thing a toddler does. While the protesting, arguing, hitting, and willfulness are annoying, I know that they are happening because my children are growing up and thinking for themselves. I get that, and while I might not really enjoy it, I understand the necessity of this to their intellectual and emotional development.

I don't understand the cloud of fear, though. In the last few weeks, poor Miss V has started becoming afraid of several things. Like sudden loud noises. And lying down on a changing table -- though sitting, standing, and climbing on the same changing table seem to be fine.

At first it seemed to be the hair clippers -- when Scott gave Milo a recent shearing, Violet hid in the bathroom, peering around the door frame with her eyes wide, ducking inside the room if Scott so much as motioned in her direction with the clippers. OK, that's fine -- I'm not planning to let her get a clipper cut, anyway -- in other words, this is just a spring rain.

The fear was contagious, though, and it spread to the vacuum cleaner. It's much more difficult to avoid a vacuum cleaner, particularly during shedding season as our beloved mutts drop fur in hunks. I cannot abide by furry clothing or furniture, so I vacuum daily during summer shedding season.

Next up was the fan Scott used to inflate the air mattress in the tent. Again, this isn't an instrument used regularly, so avoiding it shouldn't be difficult.

Now we include power tools. Poor little babe ran screaming to me when we were out at Scott's parents' helping with their new siding. She did it every time grandpa cut a new piece of siding. We eventually went inside the house where she was less affected.

After being in Chicago, or 'Cago as she says, the noisy item at the top of the list is hand driers. Since she's not using a toilet, she was only in and out of public restrooms for diaper changes. This created the Perfect Storm of terror for my poor baby: screaming hand driers and changing tables.

Trying to get her diaper changed was painful for both of us. The minute we approached a restroom, she would tense. Washing her hands was fine and fun, provided we chose to air-dry, which I generally do. But if we walked past the sinks and she noticed me looking around for a Koala Care station, she started whining. If I dropped the changing table into position, she cried outright, "No! no! no! No, mama, I 'cared!"

The final diaper change of the weekend had both of us in tears as I just couldn't make it any better for her and simply refused to change her on the floor of a freeway exit McDonald's. I had refused one other diaper change at Shedd Aquarium -- after I'd watched not one, but two mothers change poop blow-outs with an inadequate number of wipes and was thoroughly disgusted. Thankfully, Scott jumped to the rescue and was in and out of the men's room in no time.

As I pushed the door into the restroom, she tried to vault over my shoulder for Scott as if she thought he would save her from the hurricane of whirring hand-driers. I set her gently on the changing table and she quickly scooted nearly off the end of it. "No, mommy! No! No diaper! Its 'cary! I 'cared!" She was flinging her little arms about, reaching for anything she could use to haul herself off of her back and back into my arms. Talk about heartbreaking... She cried, I cried...

As soon as she noticed me crying, though, she subdued quickly and swiped at my tears as I was wiping hers. "Okay, mommy... Okay. I luh loo..."

She was trying to comfort me they way I comfort her, by holding her tightly and saying, "It's okay, baby... it's okay... I love you..." Not surprisingly, this had the opposite effect of what she'd intended and blinked faster, trying to hold back more tears.

And maybe that's why there is this kind of developmentally appropriate fear -- to teach a child compassion. To help her recognize when someone is giving her everything they have in a moment to help her stay intact. For that moment when she was concerned for me, her fear subsided. Even if the fear wasn't quelled, clearly the love is getting through and touching her, keeping her light shining brightly through the storm, a lighthouse in a dark port.

So maybe I get it. It doesn't mean that I like sailing in this weather.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Some Shorts

So Scott and I got out last week to go see a movie (Public Enemies, if anyone cares). While we were in the very short line to buy our tickets, it seems we fell through some sort of wormhole and ended up at the Bizarro-Theater...

First, an older man, looking very much like Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future, was purchasing tickets -- to which movie, we did not know as we entered the lobby during his transaction. As he was collecting the tickets and his change, he was dialing his cell phone, apparently to call his movie-going companion. Though he was wearing a corded headset with the phone, he must have been talking to somebody who was deaf, or maybe he was deaf, because he was SHOUTING. I'm going to call him Mr. Crazy for the rest of this tale.

"Are you here yet?"

The person on the other end of the line, hereby referred to as "Dumb Bunny" or "DB" for my own amusement, answered something that annoyed him.

"Well, you would be if you had left when I told you to leave! Don't give me some flimsy sob story excuse, you knew what time you had to leave to meet me on time for the movie."

His cutting tone prompted me to glance slyly over my shoulder. At first, I wasn't sure that he was on the phone as the fraying gray trench coat obscured my view of his headset -- I did momentarily think that he was talking to himself. I studied him for a moment, noticing that he was wearing shorts, dark socks and Crocs. His posture was that of a petulant child, gut paunched out, shoulders down and back and chin jutted forward at such an angle that it looked as it his neck extended forwards from his shoulders instead of on top of them. He shuffled back and forth, pacing two feet one direction, then back the other direction. He held the cell phone in his right hand, but his left was glued to his side.

DB said something else, also very annoying to Mr. Crazy.

"Well, you should have been here by now. That traffic light isn't that long. Where are you? You would have been on time if you had left when I told you to leave."

After berating DB three or four more times about being late, DB must have been approaching the parking lot because Mr. Crazy announced that when she (I did assume his caller was a woman) pulled into the lot, his minivan was on the right.

"Well, my little minivan is on the right in a row close to the door."

Perhaps if Mr. Crazy had given his caller a row number, she might have had a better shot of guessing the correct row into which she should turn. But he didn't give her that information, nor could I tell that he'd communicated that she was to park next to him.

"Well, you need to turn right now. Turn right now. No, not that right, your other right! I said your other right. No, I said your other right. You turned the wrong direction! I told you your other right! The OTHER RIGHT! OTHER RIGHT!!!"

By this time, I wasn't hiding the fact that I was staring at him like he'd just fallen out of a space ship. Scott had clearly noticed him and, I could tell, was concerned about the malevolence in Mr. Crazy's voice. Like our beloved dogs, Scott adopts a certain level of tension whenever he's starting to get worried about a situation -- the MAN in him comes out and he goes into extra-protective mode.

"Well, you could have been parked next to me if you had turned right when I told you to turn."

Mr. Crazy has started everything he's said with "well," as if he was deflecting some implied criticism. Given the minuscule pauses in his tirade, I doubt that DB had enough time to say more than three or four words, so I can't believe that she was harassing him, so his use of "well" must be habit. I'm not sure that I could personally enjoy much conversation with a person who starts every sentence with "well," like a thirteen-year-old boy trying to explain his way out of a detention. Then again, I don't think that I could live with a person who yelled at me over the phone -- even once.

While this is going down, the patrons directly in front of us had been trying to sneak a couple of 13 or 14 year-old girls into a R rated movie. When ticket girl had asked for ID, the only one in the group who looked to be 17 or 18 said (let's call him Mr. Hot Pants), "I've got mine. But they (the Pantsies) don't have theirs."

Mr. Hot Pants looked like a pretty typical Iowa late teen/early 20's non-college student. I say non-college because he has a bit of that whole "Rebel Without a Cause" air about him, and a mullet. Sure, not everyone who adopts that hairstyle skips college and heads straight to the wide world of trailer park mansions, but I've been working on a college campus for a while now and the majority of college boys give off a much different vibe. I am making an assumption here, so if you want to disagree with my assessment, I won't hold it against you.

The girls looked like your average middle schoolers with their Fruit Smackers lip gloss and short shorts. Both girls stood with their legs crossed; one was flipping her hair and the other smacking gum. They were trying their best to appear older than eight graders.

Ticket girl told Mr. Hot Pants that they all needed ID cards and he flipped on her, swearing. "I can't believe it! Shouldn't one ID get us all in? You f-ing c-nt!" he paused for a moment and added, "Then gimme two tickets to Ice Age for them." The Pantsies rolled their eyes and huffed.

Scott slides forward in line and is about to ask for our tickets and I suggest to him that he ask the ticket girl if Mr. Crazy was going to be attending the same screening that we were.

Scott leans toward the safety glass and says, "Two for Public Enemies, unless he's going to that showing. I don't get out to many movies and prefer not to go to the ones with crazy people in the audience."

The ticket girl, who looks like she is 17, blinks her heavily mascaraed sparkly blue eyelids and says, "Nope. And I don't blame you." She doesn't look phased at all to see Mr. Crazy so enraged with his yet-to-arrive companion that he's vibrating, nor does she seem agitated by Mr. Hot Pant's fury.

I really wanted to say, "Hey, Mr. Hot Pants -- check out your future self in Mr. Crazy over there!" If my kids were to behave like either of these exemplary role models, they would be staring at their ceiling in the Land of the Grounded for Life compound.

And the Pantsies? Well when Mr. Crazy's companion (yes, she was a woman) arrived, she slunk into the lobby with a cowboy hat pulled low over her face. She didn't look at anyone but Mr. Crazy, and when she looked at him, her face was a mess of emotion -- frustration, fear, embarrassment... Is this what your future is holding, dear Pantsies? I wanna know what parent allows their daughter out of the house wearing shorts cut off so short that the pockets are hanging out the bottom -- who thinks that this is attractive? Who wants their daughters to attract that kind of attention? I'm not advocating a return to Victorian morals, but I don't want my daughter wearing shorts so tiny she has to yank on them just to cover her underwear -- pants should automatically cover your undergarments.

When did become OK to let your inner crazy shine in public? When is it ever OK to treat your companions like rabid child-killing dogs just because they didn't park next to you? When is it ever OK to swear at a service provider? Why don't people respect each other (or themselves) more?

I would never publicly berate my companion, nor would I stand for it if he treated me badly. I would never get mad when someone caught me breaking a rule, no matter ho arbitrary the rule seems.

And, for the love of all things chocolate, I would never wear short shorts -- at this point in my life, that might be the biggest crime I could commit.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


I have a confession to make:

I love sleeping with my kids. I love feeling them as they turn towards me in slumber, their shallow breath puffing gently on my face. I love curling around them as they rest and grow, tucked safely under my arm.

I also love my husband and marriage, so the kids sleep in their own beds. Most of the time. Ever since we let Mocha in the bed when she was a pup, poor Scott has always been on the business end of whatever creature was in the bed. I get all the nice, cuddly parts and he gets kicked. Or, in the case of when Mo was little and she'd sleep around my head like a halo, he'd roll over to spoon me and get a face full of dog butt.

I think that Violet and I were crazy spoiled on vacation -- the days we weren't out and about during naptime, she and I nursed and snuggled to sleep on Milo's opened sleeping bag, like a couple of pickles on a hamburger bun. It was so nice to nod off with her little hand on my neck or her cheek pressed into my shoulder.

I love the little twitchy dance the kids do as they let the last bit of their consciousness slide away. I love how malleable their faces look. I love that moment when they start sleep breathing.

I remember coming home from Epcot Center after fireworks the last time we were in Florida -- Milo had fallen asleep in the lap of my dad's wife Robin and when it came time to load the bus for the ride back to the hotel, I eagerly volunteered to take his weight. Clutching him to my chest as the gears on the bus groaned and the brakes hissed, I held him there, his sweaty little face against the pulse on my neck. The bus was crowded and everyone was volunteering to hold him to "give me a break," not understanding that that WAS the break -- that when he was sacked out on me I was recharging my batteries in the sleepy glow of adoration.

It's not that kids are hard to love when they're awake, it's just that it's impossible NOT to love them when they are asleep. There's no bad behavior or wrong choice that can withstand the forgiving visage of a sleeping child. I can feel mind-numbing frustration with them when they're awake and pushing all of my buttons at once, but the minute sleep settles them, my heart melts and I'm falling in love all over again, my breath stolen.

Perhaps it is their utter vulnerability.

Perhaps it is mine.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Jedi Academy Doesn't Allow Moms

While on vacation, Milo told me this little gem:

"Mom! The moon says it loves me!"

The moon was, in fact, smiling down on us brightly, hanging in the sky like a slice of ripe melon. The cosmos was celebrating with us.

My little buddy had a fantastic fourth birthday in California. It was pretty much any kid's dream birthday as we went to Disneyland to take advantage of the "Free admission on your birthday" promotion. Because Violet is not yet two, the four of us got in for the price of two tickets! Not bad!

There were two things which we were interested in doing at the Happiest Place on Earth -- meeting Cinderella and watching and maybe participating in the Jedi Academy show. Well, the line to meet Cinderella was 90 minutes all three times we checked on it, so we decided that since Violet didn't know she was going to miss seeing Cinderella, we would skip it and save the princess meet-and-greet for the next trip. After our first attempt at seeing the royalty, we checked the show schedule and determined that one of the presentations for the Jedi Academy was concluding and that if we bustled over to Tomorrowland, we could score some prime real estate at the front of the crowd for the next presentation.

Milo and I sat down on the terrazzo floor in front of the stage while Scott, Violet and our dear friends Carol, Alex and Hannah grabbed some lunch. While we waited the 45 minutes for the next show, Milo and I talked about what we were going to watch and I told him that they would pick some kids from the audience (aged 4-11) to participate and learn how to be a Jedi.

"You mean like learning how to use a light saver? And the Force?"

Yes, exactly that. Milo's eyes widened.

Now, as I've blogged before, he's been struggling with some social anxiety for the last 15 months or so; I really thought that he would balk if I suggested that he volunteer to be a Jedi. I asked him, "Would you like to learn how to be a Jedi?"

"You mean go up there and use a light saver? We could do that!"

"No, buddy, I mean YOU would go up there and do that -- they don't let mommies come to the Jedi Academy."

"No! I couldn't do that if you won't come." He paused, "But I can already use a light saver and the Force."

"Yes, you can. I think you could do a great job if you wanted to be a Jedi!"

"I do want to be a Jedi! I think they should pick me!"

He was coming around to the idea of volunteering. Just then, Scott brought him some lunch and a little sign that said "It's my 4th birthday!" Milo asked what the sign said and why he had it. I told him that it might help him get picked to be a Padawan. He considered it, then propped it in front of him, leaning it against his scuffed green shoe. Scott returned for a third time, this time bearing Milo's clone trooper baseball cap -- or, in Milo-ese, his "clome stooper" hat.

The sound guys made their way back to the booth and the familiar strains of the Star Wars theme pierced through the crowd noise -- the Jedis were arriving! First up were two assistant Jedi instructors that warmed the crowd and offered the advice that if a kid wanted to be picked for the Jedi Academy, he/she needed to show lots of enthusiasm. Suddenly, from the back of the house, the Jedi Master came running! Milo squealed and cheered!

The Jedi Master took the stage and said something that I can't remember -- I think both Milo and I were getting excited about the selection process. He started picking kids from house left to house right and we were sitting just right of center. As his gaze moved towards us, I grabbed Milo's hands and the sign, started cheering loudly, yanking him off his feet with my excitement. The Jedi Master looked our direction and I bellowed, "It's his BIRTHDAY!"

"How old is he?" inquired the Master.


"Yes, we'll take him!"

Milo couldnt' believe it -- he balked for just a moment when the assistant tried to bring him to the group, but I knelt quickly and said, "You can do it! You can be a Jedi!" He nodded and went with the assistant, slipping his hands in his mouth with anxiety.

It is in the best interest of the entertainer to put a cute little kid front and center, so naturally Milo was the Padawan closest to the Master. They had slipped a brown robe over his shoulders as he ascended the stairs to the stage, his white hat was pulled low over his eyes until the Master looked at him, smiled, adjusted the hat so we could all see his face and said, "Let's get started, Milo!"

I think Milo had forgotten that he was wearing a button with his name on it, but he was completely impressed that the Jedi Master knew his name. So impressed, in fact, that he wasn't aware that they were repeating a Jedi oath. He chewed his fingers, peering through the crowd to find first me, then daddy, to whom he gave a thumb's up smile.

The assistants gave each child a light saber, then Milo focused on the task at hand -- learning a light saber combination of attacks. It proved a little funny that he could engage his light saber, but not necessarily disengage it -- he couldn't do that as fast as the other kids, so for a while, he was JUST getting the light saber disengaged when it was time to engage for the next kata. So cute! In fact, that's what I overheard a woman saying about him, the littlest Padawan.

Suddenly, just as the lesson was finishing, the ominous Darth Vader theme boomed through the speakers and the Jedi Master sent all of the kids stage left. Storm troopers marched down the center aisle with Darth Maul. Darth Vader emerged from under a lift in the stage, shrouded in fog. They were under attack!

Thank goodness all of those kids had light sabers and had just learned a choreographed attack! The Jedi Master indicated that the kids on the stage, including Milo, were to take on Darth Vader and the kids on the floor were to battle Darth Maul. Milo was second in line for Vader.

The Jedi Master called him forward by name, he scooted quickly to his side, light saber drawn prematurely. Once again, he had just managed to get it disengaged when the master called for him to engage. Indicating where Milo was to attack, he ran Milo through the set of blows they had practiced, Milo did an especially good "Duck!" maneuver. As he finished his combination, he got a "Good job!" and was escorted to the floor, where he took a seat along with the other finishing Padawan.

He searched for me, beaming with pride, and gave me a thumb's up smile. Then he said, "I want to battle Darth Maul, too!" I laughed. Eventually, battling 25 kids proved to be too much for the baddies and they retreated -- the Jedi had saved the day!! The kids were all marched up onstage where they were presented with a certificate of achievement and disrobed (they were disarmed after the solo fights).

Milo came running back to me, thrilled that on his birthday he had beaten Darth Vader in a light saber battle! Thankfully, I had been snapping pictures like a sports photographer on speed, so I did capture his battle in between the cheering and tearing up.

I can't say how proud of him I was for participating -- both Scott and I thought there was a real chance of him bolting from the stage, paralyzed by anxiety, but Milo did it! He conquered not only Darth Vader, but a tiny bit of that anxiety that has been his dark side for the past year...

And me? Well, I got the exquisite experience of watching my little man taking a big step forward right in front of my eyes -- and the entire crowd.