“Well…what happened was…I was looking for something to count and nothing was very exciting, not my animals or da blocks and my fingers are boring…so, um, I made deez. Deez lines are exciting for counting, aren’t they mama?”
Mo (age 4)
Conversations with and among the kids
When my oldest daughter feeds her siblings or dolls, she extends the spoon toward the intended recipient and then opens her own mouth. It’s a reflex. She doesn’t even know that it’s happening. She models the expected behavior to the person/object being fed, the necessary first step to eat. It’s a sweet, unconscious reflection of her nurturing nature. It’s also a sweet reflection of her father.
I first noted this particular quirk when he would feed her as a baby. And then I noticed that his own mother did the same thing when she would feed our children. Sweet, sweet genetics. Learned behavior, perhaps, too–but if it weren’t for genetics the other two mini persons in our family would be opening their mouths when feeding others. And they don’t. I’ve checked.
There are other less, and some more, obvious traits that are traceable through the branches of our little tree. The shape of my middle daughter’s eyes, they are the exact same shape as my grandfather’s.
The way my son crinkles his nose when his smile passes the threshold between I’m happy and Holy shit, it’s amazing to be alive. I do the same, as did my mom.
It is incontrovertible evidence of the power of evolution and science. Evidence that we are each a unique compilation of the As and Gs, Cs and Ts of those who came before us. Evidence that there are some things we can’t fight.
My middle daughter’s Kindergarten class is headed to the Lincoln Park Zoo for a field trip tomorrow. She must’ve asked me about tomorrow’s weather 20 times tonight. I told her it would probably rain but not to worry, she’d still be going to the zoo.
She can’t wait for the zoo. She loves the zoo. She would spend every day at the zoo if she could. This zoo is her zoo. She knows every inch of it and has memorized the most inane of facts about its animals. Not simply species facts, but actual, individual animal facts. Family histories, favorite foods and preferred places to be scratched.
She can’t wait to demonstrate her expertise. And that desire, it’s genetic. Both her father and I are know-it-alls.
After I assured her that despite the forecast for rain she’d still be heading to the zoo, she shook her head and said, “That’s not the problem. I was really hoping for something I’ve wanted for a super long time.”
“What, then?” I asked.
“If it’s raining Caruso won’t be swinging outside and I was hoping that it would finally be nice enough weather for Caruso to…you know…do his thing.”
Then she burst out in giggles.
Caruso is a gibbon. A resident of the primate house who likes to swing inside the outdoor portion of his enclosure and piss on unwitting passersby.
It’s hilarious if you like that kind of thing. And in our family, whether due to nature or nurture, we do. Maybe we got it from that thirty-thousandth cousin a couple times removed we share with Caruso.
Here is video from Caruso’s birthday party last year. The dude is a legend.
I texted the dog walker today to ask if he could take our pup home with him for a weekend over Spring break. He responded that my 8 year old daughter had already confirmed the arrangements…a month ago.
She is amazing. So on top of her world, and ours. So concerned about the order of things and the wellbeing of all those things and people. So believing in her own ability to make a difference and set things right.
Last night she asked that I make copies of a flyer she’s drafted. She wants people to know what they can do to protect giant (and red) pandas. She believes that people only need the right information to make the right choice.
Mama, if they know what to do then they will do it.
If only it was that simple.
I knew a month ago that I needed to find a home for the dog for the weekend. But it took me until now, the very last minute, to act.
She wants to talk about who’s running for President and she tells me about the things she hears on the news and on the playground. She’s heard things that scare her. She’s heard things that run contrary to all she’s been told about what’s right and how people, all people, should be treated.
I’m worried about her apparent belief that she needs to take care of things like the dog’s vacation accommodations. I’m worried that a part of her already understands that adults–including her father and me–don’t always take care of things, at least not with the urgency that she believes is needed. I’m worried about the possibility that we adults could elect a President who shits all over the values she holds. I’m worried that she’ll distribute her flyers only to learn that most people will not care about the pandas.
On the other hand, her trust that people will eventually do the right thing when provided the right information is evidence that all hope, all faith in the decency of people, is not lost.
And my eventual efforts to find a weekend home for the dog are a good sign too. I can tell her that I talked with the dog walker today and thank her for being so on top of it. I will assure her that we are on top of it all too and that she doesn’t need to worry. I will give her the copies I made of her flyer and she’ll have them to distribute tomorrow. And I will dish out some ice cream and we’ll dance to Miley Cyrus’s joyous ode to America, Party in the USA, because that’s the best way I know to ensure that the day ends on a high note.
I won’t be a chisel to the edifice of her faith in mankind…and her parents. At least not today.
He woke up sobbing just a few hours after he went to bed. I was still up in the living room. I went to his door to listen, unsure if he was still asleep and I was just hearing the soft cries of a bad dream that would pass in a minute or two, or if he was really awake and upset.
I went in and found him, head buried in his pillow. He looked up at me and the light from the hall made his teary-wet cheeks twinkle.
“It’s gone, mama. Gone.”
What’s gone, baby?
Oh no, what happened?
“It’s gone. They took it. And now [sniffle, sniffle] I can’t think of anything.”
I lost this week. I hate losing. And I had a long drive home to stew about it.
Upon my untriumphant return home I was greeted with the following:
Peanut (7): Did you do your best to convince the judge? Were you nice? Did you practice? If you did those things you should feel good, mommy.
Sassy (6): You need dessert. I’ll have some with you if it will make you feel better.
Mo (3): (holding my face in his advent-calendar-chocolate-covered hands) I like winning, mama. You’re gonna win the next day.
My job is the kind where winning and losing take place daily. Winning is important. Clients want to win. I want to win. I take it personally when I don’t. But contrast that with the conversations I have with the little people. I’m constantly telling them that winning is not what matters–that it’s the effort, the hard work, the way you play and how you pick yourself up, that matters.
So there I was, kneeling on the floor just inside my front door, car keys still in hand. Three little ones in their pajamas, so happy that I made it home before bedtime, surrounding me. Hearing the messages I’ve sent returned to me. And turning my disappointment around.
Some moments make crystal clear that these little people are the best thing I ever did.
The girls ran in their first cross-country meet yesterday. It was an elementary school invitational held at the local high school. Sass, who turns 6 this week, was nervous. I asked what she was worried about. She started crying and said that she didn’t want to get lost. I told her not to worry, that she couldn’t get lost because she would be running with the rest of the kids.
She looked up at me with those huge, drippy green eyes and said, “No, mama. I won’t. I’ll be in the front.”
Peanut: I heard that Saint Patrick played magic music and all the snakes left the land, but that’s nonsense because there is no such thing as magic music.
Sassy: ‘Scuse me Paige, but it’s not nonsense. Remember, the Ancient Egyptians played music to make the snakes calm down and not bite the queen so maybe it’s not magic but it’s not nonsense.
Mo: I LOVE snakes!
Peanut: He liked four-leaf clovers too. We should decorate the house with them.
Me: Actually, the story goes that it was a shamrock…a three-leaf clover–
Peanut: What story?
Me: The one about St. Patrick.
Sassy: So this is all just a story?!? What are we talking about then? I’m talking real stuff. Really real stuff about Egypt.
Me: St. Patrick is real stuff too. It was just a very long time ago so it’s hard to know now which parts of the story are real and which are not.
Sassy: That stinks. They should have used hieroglyphics.
Mo: My shoe needs fixed. It’s broken.
Peanut, 7. Sassy, 5. Mo, 2.
Snow is exciting for kids, with the construction of snowmen and the whoosh of fast sleds. But snow is dreadful when it’s accompanied by arctic temperatures that make spending more than a few minutes outside dangerous. This winter we’ve had to explain the phenomenon of frostbite and ask the question, “is building a snowman worth losing a finger?”
The answer was, “yes.”
So, as the mounds of white taunted them, we barred the doors and hoped the siren song of winter would be muted by the theme from Wild Kratts.
Today, though, is beautiful. A balmy 36 degrees–but it’s Monday. School calls and outside diversions will have to wait. We hope that we’ve turned the corner on this winter and that we will no longer have to stretch our imaginations to create more inside games. We’ve hosted carnivals, markets, restaurants and even a kind-of TED talk series for a captivated, stuffed animal audience. My favorite of the inside games, though, was not one that was created with parental support–or supervision. It wasn’t even a game really. It’s more a state of mind.
The tail store.
My 5 year old crafted a selection of tails from pipe cleaners. The almost-3 year old got in on the game too. But one tail was not enough for him. He sported a dual tail apparatus while running endless laps through the kitchen, dining room and living room.
“Look at me! I’m running. I so fast. My tails are so fast. Do you see dem?”
The oldest was nonchalant about the tail thing, not partaking in the donning of tails but offering creative advice along the way, “I think you should use the purple for a dragon tail…..Yes! That’s it. More dragon-y.”
But the 5 year old was serious. After creating a whole collection of tails, Sassy Bottom Baubles Spring/Summer 2015 (look for them in next month’s Vogue), she disappeared for a while in her room. After a few minutes she came looking for tape, and I obliged. Normally, a request for tape made outside of the scope of communal arts and crafts time and without explanation means something is broken, ripped or otherwise destroyed. But, I was tired and lacking in motivation so I didn’t protest when she zoomed by me, on all fours, with the roll of tape in her mouth.
A few more minutes went by and I began to wonder about the quiet and fear for the safety of the pet fish who have taken up residence in her room. I walked in and found her working carefully to affix a selection of tails to her dresser. She turned to me, face beaming like the sunshine we all longed for, “It’s my collection.”
“This way, I can choose what kind of tail I want, whenever I want,” she explained. “When I feel like being a tiger, or a mouse. When I want to be a kitten or a cheetah, I pick one and put it on, and Taa-Daa…I’m a tiger.”
“I love it,” I told her. “They’re beautiful.”
And they were. They were beautiful. A simple and simply glorious depiction of the way kids can feel empowered to be something or anything they want. She wants to be a tiger, and an astronaut, and a dancer. She does not see any of these as impossible. She is not afraid to make her dreams known. To give them voice–and tail, for all the world to hear and see.
I want her to stay this way.
I don’t want her to be quiet about what she wants. I want her to express her dreams and make them happen. Unless that dream is to build a snowman when the thermometer reads “LL”–lower limit–i.e. so cold the damn thing cannot even tell you how cold it is. Quiet and a little less relentless would be good in that situation.
Or maybe not.
Necessity and dreams are the parents of invention. With an adequate supply of pipe cleaners, she just might invent some newfangled snow gear before moving on to her career as an intergalactic ambassador of tiger dancing.
We were talking about what it means to be the President, what they do, what qualities they should have and what the kids would do if they were the President of the hands-down best, but still beautifully and tragically flawed like a legendary warrior or any of the lead characters in Twilight, country on the planet.
Here are my notes. These kids have some good ideas.
P (almost 7), S (5) and R (almost 3).
P: Presidents should be old, because you have to live a long time to know the right thing to do sometimes. When you’re little, you might know but it’s better to be old. Mama, I can’t wait to be old, but I don’t want you to die. I’m going to be a mother of one [holding up one finger for emphasis] baby when I’m old. But I want you still to be here. You’ll be here, right? [This kid dips my heart in gooey sweet caramel every day and takes a giant bite, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.]
S: America is the best country on Earth, but there might be another good country on Pluto which is now a planet again because it [holding up one finger and demonstrating that she listens to her teachers far better than she listens to her parents] is round, [now, two fingers] orbits the sun and [three fingers and a bent pinky at 90 degrees] moves in its own circle [balled up hands circling her face as if she is the sun, which she kind of is to me…when she’s not whining]. They thought Pluto was NOT a planet, but they took a closer look [closing her left eye and looking through a pretend magnifying glass with her right] and, whaddya know, it is a planet. Um. Um. What was the question again?
R: Um. Scooze me. I need food. I soo hungry. [What he lacks in diction and verbs, he makes up for in adorable politeness.]
P: Presidents make rules, right? They should be smart so they make the right rules. If I were the President I would not let people use dangerous machines. [This is a reference to my day job, and a story for another time.] I would also say you cannot cut down anymore trees because if you cut down all the trees, the dangerous animals [I think she meant endangered, but who am I to say?] will have no place to live and it will be a really crazy bad idea because we need trees to breathe. [Man, how I love this kid.]
S: Yes, there are no trees on the moon which is why we can’t breathe on the moon. Also, wait. Um. I remember what I was going to say. The President should be big like Daddy.
R: I’m big.