sideways rabbit

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Some Father's Day "forevers," sappiness not required

Five Things My Son is Learning From his Daddy:


1) It's okay to be proud that you're from the South.


2) It's okay to take your time. Low 'n' slow is the way to go.


3) Hard rock, classic rock, Southern rock, lesser-known tracks of '50s and '60s rock 'n' roll, dub reggae, underground surf rock, old-time mountain music and gritty blues are all vastly superior to any collection of music specifically geared for children -- unless it happens to be the specifically-geared-for-children albums made by Jerry Garcia, Johnny Cash or Leadbelly.


4) Disney is an evil oligarchy insistent on stealing your innocent's child's soul. SpongeBob, on the other hand, is totally harmless.


5) Daddy's got your back. Always and forever. Bullies can try to bring it, but they ain't gettin past Daddy.


A Few Things I Learned From my Own Daddy:


1) A whole lot of dads don't wear ties and play golf, as all of the Fathers' Day cards sold for the last 50 years would have you believe. Some dads like to drink beer and gamble on horses instead.


2) Sarcasm can get you through anything.


3) A divorced dad doesn't have to be an absentee dad. Even if said divorced dad would rather eat carbuncle soup than talk about his feelings or dispense sage fatherly advice, the fact that he's around, in all his shambly sideways obliqueness, means a lot.


4) Lying is bad, but exaggerating to the point of nonrecognition is just a birthright.


5) That's not a purr that comes out of a cat's throat. It's a motor, like a boat. The two entities work exactly the same.


(He's never backed off from this.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sleeping bags: the new straitjackets

I love camping almost precisely as much as I hate it. At 41, I'm getting a little too old to sleep on the rooty forest floor. (I'm furiously trying to manifest a pop-up camper into our lives.) And the preparation and clean-up involved makes my ADD explode like toadstools. Still, there's nothing quite like the gooey core of inner serenity that a weekend in the wilderness imparts. The humans back in the city grimace and hurry, ambitiously stifled in their metaphysical straitjackets. But you are free.


Where we live, in the N.C. mountains, there are so many glorious places to camp it would take the better part of a fortnight to list them all. (Don't you just love the idea of a fortnight? There's no other increment of time that deserves "the better part.")


Still, I'm into lists lately. So here's my latest:




1) WONDERFUL: It gets your kid out of his comfort zone. No school, no schedules, no TV, no Angry Birds, no whining rut (e.g. at bedtime). His exhilaration is palpable. He cavorts. He is overwhelmed. He crawls into his sleeping bag at night and falls asleep in two flicks of a bat's wing. TERRIBLE: It, um, gets your kid out of his comfort zone. At home, you've trained him to hold your hand in parking lots, look both ways before crossing the street, and to steer clear when Daddy pours accelerant on the grill in an attempt to sear ribs on damp charcoal. But the minute you get to a campground, he pedals his bike straight toward the dense, 510,000-acre forest bordering the tent site. The novelty of wearing Daddy's shirt to keep warm warrants dragging that shirt's extra-long sleeve through the campfire -- just to see what will happen.


2) WONDERFUL: Your extraordinarily picky eater will try foods while camping he would never dream of eating at home. TERRIBLE: This mainly means a hot dog on a stick.


3) WONDERFUL: Thanks to early wilderness experiences, your child will hopefully grow up comfortable with the notion of bears, bugs and other wildlife. He has seen a copperhead. He has heard a fox cry at night for her kits. TERRIBLE: Bad stuff can still happen. Going on mother's intuition, you put your kid's bike helmet on him before the tubing portion of the camping excursion, even though he's never worn a helmet while tubing before. Ten minutes down the river, he smacks hard into an unexpected, fallen tree, leaving a scratch on the helmet you'll obsess over for weeks. Could have been the head. Could have been the head.


4) WONDERFUL: Thanks to his natural five-year-old's curiosity, he will ask many questions about the flora and the fauna. TERRIBLE: Thanks to his natural five-year-old's curiosity, he will ask ABSOLUTELY ENDLESS questions about the flora and the fauna. Oh, you thought you were going to blissfully lose yourself in that novel you'd saved for the trip? Hm. Funny.


5) WONDERFUL: Camping helps solidify your identity as a family. Who are we? We are campers. We are hikers. We are tubers. TERRIBLE: The stress of camping with just one child has you dwelling on how utterly unable you'd be to handle more than one. Parents who do are miraculous. You, on the other hand, would end up in a straitjacket (see first paragraph).

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Gave Him Love, He Gave Me Sleep

They say motherhood changes you. This is profoundly true--too profound to articulate, really. "I never knew I could love someone so much" -- true. It's been said, and I can't say it any better. So, for Mother's Day, I'm going to muse on three other, rather mysterious ways motherhood changed me. Was it having a baby so big he sailed off all pediatric charts by eight weeks old? Was it that jolly toddler who defied generations of pessimists on every branch of his family tree? Hard to say. But my mind, body, and spirit have certainly never been the same.


BM (Before Motherhood):


1) I didn't sleep. From age 9 to age 35, I worried about not sleeping way more than I actually slept. I read books about insomnia, took pills, consulted traditional therapists and hypnotherapists, tried homeopathic remedies, and contemplated the worst. A biofeedback specialist told me I had the same level of muscle tension as a person who'd suffered an industrial accident. I had lots of ineffectual "therapeutic" massages, and one terrible breakdown.


2) I was nervous. Nervous when I was a kid, nervous when I was a young adult, nervous all the time. Nervous as a wild rabbit in a cattery. I fretted. I wrung my hands until I popped my wrists out of joint. I paced so hard I wore a groove in the hardwood of an apartment floor -- a groove I had to pay for. I was skinny. Did I mention I didn't sleep?


3) I was shy. Morbidly so. Called upon to give my opinion in a college class, way back in the early '90s, I feigned old-fashioned muteness. In certain situations, I simply couldn't speak at all. Wine, beer, and rum helped this situation. Until I became unaccountably allergic to all of them.



AM (After Motherhood):


1) I started sleeping, and now I can't stop. I am as narcoleptic as a kitten. I crave naps the way some people crave salt or guns or liquor or religion or secret websites. From the age of 1 to 3 my son took four-hour-solid naps every afternoon. I napped too, and somehow I caught it -- some sort of somnambulatory virus. Long after he outgrew napping, I carried the wavering torch. I stumble through every day in search of a blank hour and any reasonable mattress.


2) I still worry, but there's an ocean floor of perspective underneath. I move much slower. My body is completely different. D boobs are one significant, unexpected alteration. Where they came from I'll never know. But it's hard to pace the floor when you have a milkmaid's figure. I'll take a wooden stool instead. With a pillow--for napping.


3) Except in a few select situations, I am no longer shy. I just don't give a frickin' flip. I'll say anything -- try me. I read poetry in front of strangers. I talk on radio shows. I'll talk about anything, anywhere and anytime. I rudely interrupt dear friends so I can have my say. I exhaust myself and others. I have a hard time shutting up.


Except, of course, when it's time for a nice nap.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

How we Roll (and Limp)

This week we officially became the universe's most accident-prone family. Toting a box of groceries that obstructed my vision, I executed an unintended single salchow into the broken-off corner of a brick patio partition at the local health-food supermarket. I flipped over and landed on both knees, burst into tears like a baby, and almost expected applause. Nothing's broken, thankfully, but our orthopedist said a lot of confusing things that culminated with the shudder-inducing phrase "blood in the bone," and fitted me with a brace for the worst-off knee.


I say "our" because this unusually warm physician has treated the whole family in an unusually short period of time -- six times in four years, to be exact.


Beau started the trend when, at two, he leapt off a play bridge at the mall play pit, landed with apparent safety on the mat underneath...and didn't get up again. Though the impact was nothing, the angle was rare. He broke a bone in his foot. Since he only cried for five minutes, we didn't get him diagnosed until the next day, when he refused to walk and began crawling around the house, cheerfully regressing to the new normal. He wore a cast up to his knee for four weeks in the crushing humidity of midsummer, including a 100-degree trip to Chattanooga, and was so nonchalant about it I'll never forget the grace. (In fact, I think in general he was the sweetest two-year-old in existence. The major attitude didn't kick in till about age four. He takes his time.)


The next autumn (I almost said fall), my husband broke his leg after slipping on some dried berries in the garage. He wore a cast for six weeks, miserably. We joked that he broke his leg skateboarding. In fact, we joked about it so much the fib became real, like the Velveteen Rabbit.


Last summer, Beau sprained his knee in another fall. A couple months later, I broke some obscure bone between two toes, running my foot into a corner of the bathroom wall. For no real reason, I was in a hurry. Last month, my sister (who's part of our household) pulled a tendon in her left foot, necessitating a walking boot. We are identical twins. When I went to the bone & joint clinic on Friday about my knee, I somehow, against all bureaucratic odds, got her same receptionist, nurse, and, once again, the same doctor. Birthdates were looked up, brows wrinkled, different last names puzzled out. There was some fun.


As proven in this jittery photo, having a hurt knee with a rambunctious five-year-old around is like trying to balance a jello square on a toothpick. You hold your breath, and you hope for the best.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

It Takes (Just One) Villager

My house is a sty, and I don't know why.


This picture of the living room doesn't do the messiness justice; my pride prevented showing a truer representation. I snapped it early this morning when it was in a more or less pristine state. Just a bunch of cars around and, in the background, the cheerful new storage bucket I recently bought to contain all the vehiculage. (The storage bucket is made of burlap, and somehow, in the store, it had a folk-arty, Early Americana vibe I found appealing. Now I'm thinking it looks like a tacky leftover from a 4th of July sale.)


We are four people (my husband, son, me, my twin sister) living in 1296 square feet. For four, that's a small space, relatively speaking. Unless one uses the Third World Hut Standard.


Ever have the Third World Hut Standard wielded against you by an earnest friend? It confers an exhilarating breath of Sweet Perspective -- for approximately four-and-a-half seconds. After that, it's as obnoxious as dog poop wedged in your espadrille fibers.


"Don't complain about having closets the size of foxholes. If you lived in a Third World Hut, you wouldn't have any closets at all."


"You may feel cramped, but if you lived in a Third World Hut, you'd also have all your relatives living with you. In one room."


"Americans are so spoiled. If you lived in a Third World Hut, you'd be happy just to be alive."


My Third World Hut slinger happened to live in a house twice the size of mine. Add hypocrisy to smugness.


OK, so our house resides somewhere between hut status and middle-class breathability. And, as every stay-at-home mom who ever popped a valium (or tinctured up the roots of her Valerian plant--this is Asheville, after all) knows, if the kids are home most of the time, the house will look like a trash factory all of the time. It's physics: any attempt to corral clutter, mop a floor, scrub the filmy bathroom sink, only lasts for seconds. Seconds! Even if you don't actually see a small person drip a popsicle on the couch or smear toothpaste on a wall, the house will re-dirty itself anyway, just from habit. The house is used to the abuse; it's comfortable being a victim.


The thing is, if you have more than one kid, people will forgive you a messy house. "Look at all she has to keep track of!" But I'm here to testify that you don't need more than one child to turn a hut into a sty. It's not about the number of messmakers; the phenomenon is more deeply organic than that. A little person is an adorable crucible of chaos. And as with any bomb, it takes only one.


Who's with me?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Superheroes Under the Bed

"Don't worry. He'll grow out of it." Well, I'm not worried. And I also don't think he'll grow out of it. Our son's been obsessed with vehicles since the age of 18 mos., when he got a board book about construction vehicles called "Diggers and Dumpers." His first non-needful word (i.e., after "mommy," "daddy," "blankie," and "paci") was "dumper." He's five-and-a-half now, and the obsession hasn't waned; it's just been refined. Today he can identify almost every conceivable make and model of vehicle parked in a lot or whizzing by on a freeway. Since he can't read yet, he relies on visual clues: the shape of the logo on the back of a Ford pickup, the telltale curve of a Subaru Outback's back bumper, the front-to-back articulation of a Cat flatbed. But this post isn't about cars and trucks. It's about superheroes. A while back, a friend kindly gave us a giant tub chock full of action figures, his own son's entire outgrown collection. There were superheroes of every tier -- everything from the usual suspects (Batman, Spiderman, et al.) to Transformers to Star Wars figurines to curious characters who likely had their 15 minutes in a low-grossing movie. Not sure what's up with the strained-face fellow who sports boulders for hands. Edward Scissorhands' troglodytic cousin? Amid the 30-some figurines were two matchbox cars. Presented with this windfall, Beau delicately removed the pair of vehicles and shoved the rest aside. Is he the only little boy in existence who has zero affection for superheroes? Not yet willing to give the box away, I keep it tucked under our bed for visiting children. (After all, we know a little boy who has refused to get out of his Batman costume for three straight years.) SHOULD my son be playing with superheroes? Is this a crucial spoke of development, a waystation of imagination that helps kids flex some crucial moral muscle? (Y'know, that whole good-versus-evil business.) Or is he just so happy to "be here now" that he doesn't need escapist fantasies? Probably both scenarios are ridiculous. Like most mothers of only children, I am guilty of overthinking everything. Lightning McQueen and Towmater are the closest we've come to vehicle superheroes, and the infatuation was brief. Luckily, lots of monster trucks on the professional circuit sport anthropomorphic characteristics. Monster Mutt. El Toro Loco. Grave Digger. Excalibur. Bigfoot. Sampson. Avenger. War Wizard. Certainly, they're not out saving the world. But they're not exactly evil, either. It's all good.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Angry Birds and Major Attitude

I turned my back the other day and my 5-year-old turned into a teenager.

In real time, he's still 5. But some of the things coming out of his mouth suggest the edgy cocktail of scorn and self-consciousness more common to a 15-year-old.

"I can't wear that shirt. It doesn't look good. No one will know who I am."
"I hate this haircut, Mom. It makes me look like a little kid."

So I asked myself the classic parental-existential question, equivalent to Hamlet's little "to be or not to be" thing.

Where is he getting this from?

Certainly Scott and I have never intentionally shamed him. (Too much in that department lingering from our own childhoods.) So why, then, does the thought of wearing a new shirt to school or donning a costume fill him with such disdain and dread? Lots of kids like to wear costumes. Most boys his age don't care what they wear.

But our little guy is suddenly, excruciatingly, aware of it all.

On Thursday the kids at his preschool were told to "dress as farmers" for a butter-churning experiment. Absent overalls and a straw hat, the best thing I could do was a flannel shirt I'd been saving for fall, a camo neckerchief, and a tractor shirt he hasn't worn in a year. My sweet friend Tracy thoughtfully loaned me a few sprigs of hay from a bale in her yard. You know, like an accessory.

"Let me just stick this bit of straw in your pocket," I suggested to my son. "To complete your costume."

He plucked them out with a scowl. "That," he said, "will be staying at home."

These are the words we are not allowed to use to describe our son, his accomplishments, his toys, his friends, animals, the weather, the mountains, or anything else in his 5-year-old milieu:


The one word he will accept:


And that's it. Sometimes he'll allow "awesome," if he's feeling especially generous. Here's a kid who still can't manage to button his own Levi's but can navigate a smartphone with striking finesse. He scores embarrassingly high on Angry Birds and adores Pandora, scrolling expertly through the list of stations with his stubby index finger to look for the hard rock. (He's memorized the icons.) He insists on the Rolling Stones, the Replacements or Nazareth. For bedtime. For a while, I tried to urge him toward more soothing fare: Bob Marley, Gillian Welch, Nick Drake, R. Carlos Nakai.

"Not those. Not those," he said irritably. Scroll, scroll. "I want the rock and roll."

If there's an antidote to all this attitude, it's a sudden blossoming of some surprisingly sophisticated, if rarely exhibited, manners. When we were in St. Augustine last week for Easter, Beau and I found ourselves suddenly alone after a busy day at the beach and visiting with relatives.

"So, Mom," he said softly. "I haven't talked to you all day. What do you think of St. Augustine?"

This morning he inquired, all sweetness, of his father: "So, Daddy, how is your sunburn today?"

"Why, Beau," I commented. "What a nice thing to say. You're getting to be a lovely Southern gentleman."

He growled at me. Actually growled.

"You mean cool."