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."

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Home Boys

Yesterday began a week's vacation for my son and husband, and they celebrated it by doing what they do best...staying at home. Neither one got out of their pajamas yesterday. I took this picture at a shamefully late hour, almost 10 p.m., interrupting a popcorn-and-Scooby-Doo marathon that had somehow turned into a display of aerial circus arts.

Homebody-ness can be passed down like wide feet and big heads, which, incidentally, they also share. I've never seen anyone who has the homebody gene worse (or better, depending on your perspective) than these two. I mentioned in a previous post that Scott was a stay-at-home dad for seven months, when Beau was 3-10 months old. And that they left the house only two times in those seven months, and were perfectly happy.

Of course, an infant whose physical and emotional needs are being met at home doesn't know or care that there's anything else out there. But when the kid's 5 and the dad's almost 42 and they still hover at home like bumblebees in tulips, you know this thing is going to stick. "What do you like most about preschool?" a well-meaning friend recently asked Beau. "When I get to go home again and play with my cars," came the answer.

Beau gets out of his program at 11:30 a.m., and the only way I can schedule an afternoon playdate or anything happening after, say, 2 p.m., is to stretch out errands until that time. We can't land at home and be expected to go out again until he's had time to reconnect with his happy place for at least two hours. He's like that vintage superhero Ultraman, whose solar powers were drained when he was away from his home planet. Or, more mainstream-ily, like E.T. In reverse.

Sometimes I don't know why, exactly. Our house is small. And for a small house, it contains lots of people: me, Scott, Beau, and my twin sister, Holly. It is frequently chaotic. It is never not cluttered. But he doesn't care. By 25 or so, he will have outgrown his childhood bedroom (shoot, he's almost too big for it now), and I envision him setting up camp in our basement, letting in girlfriends through the carport door. Or maybe he'll do a 180 and become an extroverted adventurer. Perhaps, as a young man, he'll be living halfway across the country or the world, painting his chosen town red while his proud, doddering parents follow his every move on Facebook. If that's the case, I'll just have to cherish the early days when he would interrupt a camping trip, beach vacation, zoo excursion, or glorious mountain hike to politely inquire: "Mommy and Daddy, this is fun. But can we go home now?"

Sunday, March 18, 2012

And a pint for all my baby brethren

Happy Late Saint Patrick's Day. One morning this week, idle and anxious and absent any freelance work, I attempted to figure out what percentage Irish my son might be. My father is pretty much 100% of Irish descent, so I call myself 50%. My husband is a trickier case. He bears the proud Italian surname of the stepdad who adopted him when he was a toddler, but his biological dad is an English/Irish mix, and on his mother's side he's British and German, plus an Irish great-grandmother lurking in there to add tartness. So, with the help of a statistical friend, I estimated Beau to be about 39.5% Irish.

But as my own cousin Missy says: "Percentage doesn't matter. Irish is Irish." And she's right. It's not in the numbers. It's not in the hair or eye color or concentration of freckles. I have dark hair (or rather had, before the grays invaded like a battalion of Moors) and dark eyes and sun-loving skin, all inherited from my Irish-American father. There's only one redhead in his whole sprawling family. It's not in the much-ballyhooed love of drink, either, at least not in my case: I'm allergic to alcohol.

It's in the attitude. Some in his family delve into genealogical research and play complicated, merry music at Celtic festivals. But my dad's too busy tracking the fate of his favorite thoroughbreds to bother with such sincere shenanigans. "I'm not proud of being Irish. They're all gamblers and drunks," he says with a snort, popping another beer before he gets on the phone to his bookie. As for the sweet traditional music of the Mother Country: "Why would you want to play that s**t? There's no money in it," he grunts, thumbing through his copy of Rolling Stone magazine.

The sarcasm. The pessimism. Really, how much more Irish could you get?

My husband loves to tease. He teases and he doesn't know how to stop (the Irish, as you know, are sadly prone to addiction). We have a family joke about getting him a "sass-ectomy" if he doesn't quit. There's lots of German in him too: the icy blue eyes, the stoicism, the grudge-holding. But that gymnastic verbal humor that manifests in ever-morphing nicknames bestowed on his beloveds, or in smutty original Limericks belted out in the shower of a morning, is nothing if not Irish.

Our son, meanwhile, has always acted as though he were being nipped by Leprechauns. He exuded sass long before he could walk or talk...just check out this photo of him at nine months, where he appears to be ordering up a round of pints for the boys, albeit in baby babble. He is rarely caught taking anything seriously. His medium is eye rolls and shrugs. Get too mushy on him and you'll be treated to a gentle but expressive raspberry right in the face. On the other hand, it can take him half an hour to relay a story: none of that quick-tongued Irish wit for him. He's more about the lag-time sucker punch. So my new goal is to discover how much of this kid's inherited Irish charisma stems from my brisk northern roots and how much from my husband's syrupy southern roots.

Clearly, mama needs a job.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Daddy's Home. Life Can Go On.

I try not to be jealous that my son is not a "mama's boy." Never was, probably never will be.

Not that we're not close in our own way. Shoot, I let that child wipe his snotty nose on my shirt and skirt in elaborate swirls. It makes us both giggle. Now that it's allergy season, his nose is snotty all the time and my clothes are beginning to resemble a MoMA exhibit. Great-grandmothers are rolling over in their graves, waving handkerchiefs in skeletal hands.

But Daddy is his undisputed favorite. Part of this is logistics. I'm the one home with Beau all day. We easily get irritable with one another. Daddy, on the other hand, works long, hard hours exactly so I can be home with our son. His appearance at the end of the day is like a renewable visit from Santa Claus.

Part of it is the insular period of time Scott was a stay-at-home dad, caring for Beau from the time he was three to ten months old. Unlike some distinctly Asheville-type SAHDs who might be found ferrying their infants around to various enriching activities, Scott only left the house with the baby once in seven months. Seriously. (Excursions into the backyard for fresh air don't count.) "What did you DO all day while I was at work?" I am still curious to know. "I don't know," Scott always says with a shrug. "We ate. We slept. It was easy." It seems to me this time was crucial in forming Beau's personality. Like his daddy, he is a homebody to the nth degree. Hound dogs with the happy blues.

A lot of it is karma. Or maybe I mean closure. Anyway, without going into the twisted family dynamics, I'll reveal that my husband didn't meet his biological father until he was 17 and had a troubled (now resolved) relationship with the stepfather who adopted him when he was still a toddler; when this happened, Scott's first and middle names were changed along with his surname. If there was a paternal identity crisis that informed Scott's milieu, it is now soothed like honey in the intensely sweet bond he shares with his own little boy. I posted this particular photo, taken when Beau was about 15 mos. old, to show the strong physical resemblance: large round head, peachy skin, heart-shaped face, pretty pout. When Beau's awake, his shadowed brown eyes cause people to exclaim how much he looks like me. The eyes are ours to share. But when he's at total peace, as in this photo, he's pure papa.

Daddy had to go on the road for work this week. He was gone one night and two whole days and while this might not seem like a huge deal, here at home the heavens toppled right down. The child went to sleep rubbing his cheek against a photo of his father, before finally rejecting it: "That's not the REAL Daddy!" Days were filled with long, dramatic sighs. When Daddy's return finally drew nigh, Beau pulled a box up to the living-room window, to sit on and see down into the street, and kept up a faithful vigil.

"I'm looking for a man who's got not too much hair and a silver car," he bayed mournfully, to no one in particular. Finally, the father-child reunion was sweetly achieved.

As I write this on a drowsy, sunny Sunday morning, they're rocking out to the Stones in our basement man cave. Satisfaction!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Chains of Love

"I think he's doing remarkably well," said my friend Cecilie, as I drove her this morning to her second day at the Organic Growers School Conference here in Asheville. She meant that Beau, as an only child, was weathering with stoicism the three-day visit -- she called it "takeover" -- of another five-year-old in his domain.

But it's not just any other five-year-old. It's Cecilie's youngest child, Solveig, born the same month as my son. Cecilie and I have known one another since we were eight, but have not lived in the same town since we were twelve. Nevertheless, our amazing epistolary friendship -- first "real" letters, then e-mail and Facebook -- has lasted almost 30 years, i.e., most of our lives. So when Solveig and Beau were born the same month, we decided an Old World style marriage contract was in order. And we're only half-kidding!

Their initial meeting was concurrent with Cecilie's and my joyful reunion this past weekend. She and Solveig are staying with us -- I insisted she bring her -- and Scott & I are babysitting while she attends the growers' conference during the day. (Having recently moved to Alabama with her big family, Cecilie's thrilled to finally be starting her dream farm in the balmy south.)

A strikingly lovely child who has her Norwegian mother's Fjord-blue eyes and red hair, Solveig (pronounced Sool-vay) is as fearless as Beau is measured and cautious, so there have been some amusing yin-yang moments going on, as well as some precious clinches of love (cuddling on the couch in the morning, showing one another the designs on their night-time pullups, chaining themselves together with Zoob blocks), and some grumpy disagreements. Here I should critically mention that Solveig is the youngest child of six. She breathes brothers and sisters. And, as any reader of this blog knows, ours is an "only."

It's been intriguing to witness the dynamic. Solveig is blithe and independent, Beau the word that comes to mind. With occasional mutters and frowns, for three days he has shared toys that heretofore have only been shared on brief playdates with friends or, at longest, an overnight visit from his triplet cousins. So far, I've seen only two tears -- one from each of his big brown eyes, over a dissension in choice of bedtime books. But I think he may be fulminating a grudge. He tends to.

Solveig is a breeze. Literally -- she is like an Alpine wind, except a little sweeter and easier than that (must be the Alabama creeping in). Yesterday, at the threat of snow that never materialized, we brought the kids to this giant arcade warehouse facility officially titled Fun Depot. I call it Migraine Dungeon. Zooming around Go-Kart tracks, Beau rode with Scott and I with Solveig. Peering over at her, her strawberry hair streaming off her high forehead, I tumbled down a rabbit hole plop into my childhood. She could have been Cecilie, cantering on her horse on her long-ago farm in Western New York. For that moment, she absolutely was. Then, Cecilie-like, she noticed that I wasn't paying attention. "You have to keep your speed up," she chided about my driving. Her voice is a little deeper than you'd expect, just like Cecilie's was as a child.

Soon after that, we ran out of money. Beau was already tired, but Solveig wanted to keep going. She pointed to game after game and I had to shrug sheepishly. "We didn't bring enough money," I said. I braced myself. But no tantrum came. She shrugged and moved on.

So it's a sad testament to our personal lack of fortitude that after this relatively fun and easy trip to the arcade, upon arriving home, Scott and I crashed HARD, popping in a Scooby DVD for the kids, going to our room to take a nap (our house is tiny), and telling the kids to come get us if they needed us. It's hard to explain our exhaustion. Really, they'd behaved just fine. It was simply that we were unused to caring for two children, shepherding two personalities.

"I think we really are meant to be an only-child family," Scott said wearily, before dropping off to sleep. Today, we're taking the kids on a hike, putting a little March bluster into them. I'm sure it will perk us up. Because after all, there are wedding plans to be made...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Imagine (There's no TV)

If there's an upside to having multiply divorced & remarried Baby Boomer parents, it's that your child ends up having so many sets of grandparents he's bound to experience an alternative lifestyle along the way. (I'll say nothing in this post about the inevitable who-to-visit-at-the-holidays fiascoes.)

Yesterday we motored the 100 miles over the mountains to Knoxville, TN, to visit my mother-in-law "Mama C" and her long-bearded hubby L.B. ... L.B., a whip-thin fellow with an old-school Mississippi accent and love of literature, is Mama C.'s fourth husband: finally, her perfect match.

In the spot where 98.9999 percent of Americans would keep a TV, Mama C. and L.B. instead sport a ginormous portrait of their icon John Lennon. It's a silkscreen, not a flat screen, but as you can see from the scale of this photo, it's more room-filling than some people's home theaters. (I should mention that their cozy little house is just shy of 600 square feet.)

Mama C.'s brand of hospitality is an original mix of Old Hippie and Old Southern. This is a woman who brings her own spoon (an heirloom silver spoon) and china bowl to the Motel 6 when she travels. In the bowl goes her homemade granola. Some grandmas make gingerbread men. Mama C. will serve her five grandchildren cunning little "tofu men," carved with an (antique) cookie cutter and slathered in that gritty, "real" peanut butter you squeeze out in bulk at the health-food store.

Mama C. doesn't hurry, ever. She wouldn't if she could. She wouldn't any which way. One time we had to take her to the airport. We were already late -- they were holding the plane for her -- and she thought nothing of dallying in the parking lot, determined to figure out whether the striated dianthus sown in the median landscaping exactly matched the variety that once bloomed in her own mother's Myers Park home in Charlotte. My husband, who was traveling with her (they were attending his brother's wedding in Martha's Vineyard), barely escaped this scenario without a brain explosion.

On the other hand, when Beau was hospitalized for pneumonia at age 2, she was the one who read to him for hours without once glancing at her watch. Mama C. can draw out a 16-page picture book to last approximately 50 minutes. And my poky little boy, who would take half a morning deciding which way to exit the truck if we let him, is made of much the same stuff. He didn't get this quality from his own parents: Scott and I are both jumpy and irritable. Our nerves work overtime. We don't relax.

Nope, he definitely got his syrupy vibe from Mama C. It doesn't matter if it's skipped a generation: a leisurely outlook is as inheritable as olive skin or trick knees.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Freelancing and SAHM-ing (A Sticky Situation)

In this picture, my son aims a Valentine's Day lollipop at my laptop screen like a Home Guard soldier musketing deserters out of a mountain cave. (Don't you just love a random Civil War metaphor on a gloomy day?)

The deserter on this front would be me, however -- me trying to steal a moment to e-mail a local architect about an article when I clearly should have been in the bathroom guarding my little boy from the poisonous spiders he's convinced live there.

Before Beau was born, I was the arts & entertainment editor at a local newsweekly, a position I held for almost 10 years. When I became a stay-at-home mom, I inched gradually into the choppy waters of the freelance milieu. Today I write lifestyle features for regional publications, with the (very) occasional national assignment floating by to sharpen my stroke.

In the beginning, my work day was well-defined. I was blessed with a baby who took a solid four-hour nap every afternoon from the age of 12 months to 3 years. He went down at 1 and woke up at 5. And yes, bedtime was still at 8 pm and always went fine. Spiritually speaking, those were the ice-cream-and-unicorn days. I napped with my baby for the first hour or two, and worked for the last half of the Epic Sleep. And I bragged. Oh, how I bragged. I was insufferable. I feigned surprised that all babies weren't borderline narcoleptic cases like mine. What, you only get an hour's nap from yours? So sad.

Well, karma came calling like a virus requiring a helpline. During the golden era, Beau apparently stored up all the sleep he'd need for the next decade. Because he went cold turkey on his third birthday and never again took another nap (falling asleep in the car doesn't count, no matter what our mothers say). He doesn't sleep well at night, either, frequently rising at the unholy hour of 5 a.m.

So I lost the nap window for writing & editing time. (It didn't help that the economy entered quicksand territory around this time, sucking journalism down with it.) When he turned 3, B. was old enough for part-time preschool -- we shunned daycare from day one -- but neither he or I were emotionally ready for the separation. It finally happened when he was almost 4, and I gained a few half-days for my "other" work. But that preschool didn't click and when I found another I liked better, it was a program that only lasted until 11:30 a.m., more a "mother's morning out" deal than a preschool.

But he's still there, because he likes it and we like it and when all's said and done, he's still mostly at home. Which means I've had to get mighty creative to score the fewer and fewer freelance pennies I still bring in. I've held phone conversations with Japanese bonsai masters while my child smeared my arm with peanut butter. I've multitasked with a miserable lack of aplomb, shouting "I'll come wipe you in a minute!" without remembering to first put the A-list novelist I was interviewing on hold.

My favorite freelancing-while-mothering mishap occurred last summer, when I met with interior designers at a historic manor that was being staged for a high-dollar fundraising event. I was dropping by to snap some reference shots for later writing, and I had to bring Beau; I had no other choice. At one point, we were left alone in the dining room with a 100-year-old trompe l'oeil mural ... and he licked it.

I won't try to minimize how frustrating it can be balancing one's time so precariously. But the million-dollar-mural-licking moment? It was...well, you know what I'm going to say.

It was priceless.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hoarding Between the Lines

A hoarder is only as hopeless as his or her lack of space.

My mother and her brother, aged 65 and 69 respectively, are both hoarders. It's one of their family traits, inherited along with paranoia and astoundingly youthful-looking skin. (Hey, life's a balance.) But whereas my uncle has only a 900-square-foot apartment in which to collect, pile, and furrow out paths to the kitchen and bathroom, my mom has a large home, a vacation condo, and a suite of warehouses spanning the length of a city block. (The latter hoarding venue is her husband's business, a marine-supply company, where she is in charge of accounting.) The woman has enough storage space to start her own cryonics factory. And thus no one knows she's a hoarder but the people who share her genes.

Uncle hoards antiques and vintage paper goods. Mother's more of a sentimental hoarder, saving everything from last millennium's Christmas bows to her own childhood bed. She has every book my sister and I ever read, yellowed paperback versions of the "Little House" series and the "Dancing Shoes" series and the "Wrinkle in Time" series. In a morbid mood, she likes to threaten that, someday, it will be our job to sort through this terrifying heap. When that time comes, I can only hope Mrs. Whatsit sweeps me up in a tesseract and sends me to Planet Uriel for some R&R.

I didn't get the hoarding gene, and happily, I don't think we will ever have a house big enough for me to even consider saving every greeting card ever sent to us by distant relative, erstwhile frenemy, or sinister insurance company. As the mother of an only child, though, it is tempting to hang on to a few things, milestones of bygone babyhood that will not be revisited via child number 2. In a single shoebox, I have saved a favorite receiving blanket, his first shoes, two fleece sleepers from the first six months, and his first toy.

I also kept his cradle, which he slept beautifully in for four months before worming his way into our bed. It's an antique cradle Mother had restored and fitted with a modern mattress and crib bumper. That cradle never leaves this house. It's in the basement, and it's in use, holding our camping equipment.

But that's about it. Other parents of only children -- have you held on to your child's baby things? I'd be very curious to know.

There's only one relic from my own childhood that I've consented to keep in the house, and that's a bookshelf Mother painted for my sister and me when we were four. (Irritatingly precocious in that single area, we were already by then reading books.) This was during Mother's crafty phase. She painted the bookshelf a sort of murky aquarium green, and she stenciled it in a vaguely Scandinavian motif.

My sister and I lugged that thing through college and long after. Cleaning it out today, I discovered a half-burnt stick of incense that wanted only a bottle of Rene Barbier and a soundtrack of Smashing Pumpkins to bring the 1990s back alive. I put it in Beau's room and stacked it with his books, which had seemed a lot until then. There was still space, so I filled the rest with toys and the breathing nebulizer he uses sometimes for asthma.

Almost four decades on, the bookshelf is a dingy thing, but the painted stencils are still quite clear. "You're never getting rid of me!" they seem to chirp. As long as they keep that to themselves.

Friday, February 3, 2012

He's Not Shy, He's Just Not That Into You

My son is a bit of a snob.

No surface preferences or privileges betray this. He's not a five-year-old "foodie" who goes for kale over crackers and mango lassies over chocolate milk. Not that there's anything wrong with that: We know plenty of such pint-sized epicureans in Asheville. He hasn't been to Disneyworld, although I am hoping to introduce him someday soon to Dollywood, our own mountain theme park. And he definitely doesn't have a passport. (It only took me about 15 seconds to recall at least four of his little acquaintances who had visited Europe by their third birthday. Not that there's anything wrong with that, either.)

We are a proud working-class family of small means. If we ever make it abroad, it may not happen until Beau is a strapping young man steering his aging parents down the Rue de la Paix by their arthritic elbows.

And yet there it is -- he's a bit of a snob. We first noticed this tendency when he was just five months old, in Sam's Club. He was perched inside his little bucket carrier deep inside one of those mondo-sized carts, and we passed a demo man hawking paring knives in an exceptionally loud, grating voice.

"Look at him!" said my husband, meaning the baby. If an infant can sneer, Beau was doing it. His eyebrows were arched like the Gothic roof of The Duomo, his mouth pursed in silent disbelief. He looked like a kewpie-cheeked incarnation of Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy.

A few years later, an early preschool teacher called him "aloof," a spot-on assessment I tucked into my heart with a knowing chuckle.

His frosty demeanor is usually construed as shyness. So many only children are shy: it only makes sense. Then again, my twin sister and I could have made the list of Shyest Children in Human History, if such records were compiled. It wasn't a charming shyness. It was constant fear, constant tears, a self-consciousness that manifested into a morbid disinclination to meet anyone or try anything new.

Beau's not shy in the same way. To be sure, he dislikes strangers, especially the annoying kind who bring too much desperate vitality to the table. "Hey, buddy! I wish I was your age again. You have the life! Give me five. Harder. Come on. You can do it. What's wrong? I won't bite!!!" Ask him one of the old, tired questions -- "So, what do you want to be when you grow up?" -- and he will give a practiced shrug that would be downright rude, were it not so leisurely.

I wish I'd had that self-assured shrug in my repertoire when I was growing up. Who says we have to answer all these pushy people wanting us to conform to their hollow, clownish posture? I was 30 by the time I learned to compose my face in a neutral, pleasant expression so that strangers would quit roaring "SMILE!" at me on the street. All those times I was pegged by the Smile Nazis, I'd never been particularly sad to begin with. I was just being myself, thinking to myself. A trifle gloomy, but all right. I was born with a sad face -- I can't help it.

I'm grateful that, so far, Beau's perceived aloofness isn't holding him back too badly in the social department. (Given the chance to ease into a mode of affection, he will give his all. He has certain friends he adores, like the one we met yesterday at the nature center, who was very good-natured about the fact that Beau was gleefully rubbing his head against him like a cat. At home, he's so close to his daddy they're like complementary ingredients in a burrito.)

It's even served him well, in some cases. Like when he was waiting for his turn in his first karate exhibition and, while he should have been nervous and high-strung, instead sat stock-still and assumed a look of such boredom I could have sworn he was preserving his chi.

I should probably talk to him about not appearing so darn haughty when a certain kind of person pelts him with their forward questions and demands for vivacity. But first, I'm taking a lesson.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

From Scarred Souls to Smartboards (Back When Grammar School Wasn't for Chickens)

Not that we're competitive or anything, but my husband and I love to play a macabre little game that could be titled: "Whose Backwoods Elementary School Inflicted the Greater Amount of Physical and Emotional Damage?" Both of us attended rural grammar schools in the mid-1970s, albeit in different sections of the country: me in the wintry farming valleys of extreme western New York State, he in a sparsely populated Piedmont county straddling both Carolinas.

I had a teacher who tied errant students to their seats with jump ropes and shut any saucy mouths with swaths of masking tape. Another smelled continually of cheap gin and once slurringly remarked about an art project of mine: "That looks like a pile of crap." (Her self-satisfied air suggested she'd let me down easy, choosing a relatively wholesome adjective when she might have used a word better suited to her earthy, explosive nature.) In fourth grade, a male teacher body-slammed me against the blackboard for allegedly laughing during the Pledge of Allegiance. It was a "gifted" class. Our enlightened leader was a disgruntled, 400-pound Vietnam vet struggling with some, ahem, massive personal issues.

Scott talks about his elementary-school principal who stalked the halls with a spanking paddle in hand. The giant wooden slab was pocked with large holes, which somehow, thanks to physics, made its eventual contact with its targets all the more painful. Field trips, no lie, were to the county jail. (At least in our school we were bused to the inner-city planetarium for fun.) Instead of educational, these excursions to prison were meant to be cautionary. Fly right, or get used to your final destination behind bars. The young students were invited to feast their eyes on the offerings inside the evidence lab. Scott clearly recalls a pickled finger floating accusingly inside a briny Mason jar, casualty of a domestic disturbance involving a sharp kitchen knife.

The well-documented Horrors of the Bus is where my husband stretches our little contest into the winner's circle, earning what they term in horse-racing a "photo finish." The most spectacular bus incident I remember is some enterprising hooligan lighting a marker on fire and rolling it under the seats. But Scott and his peers were treated to an extracurricular show of human sexuality. He says -- he swears on his copy of Church of the Subgenius -- that the busdriver, a high-school student, drove his young charges to their various destinations while being pleasured in a creative way by his amazingly fearless girlfriend. A blaring boombox set near the bus's vestibule thoughtfully masked the auditory portion of the proceedings.

Delicate readers, how things have changed. No longer are our children required to attend whatever unholy assemblage of cinderblock, pitiful funding and tenured nutcases happens to comprise their neighborhood public school.

Today, here and now in Asheville, N.C., lucky parents who live in the city proper get to choose from no less than eight public elementary schools, three charter schools and five "magnet" schools. Plenty of you already know the idea behind magnets -- schools with themes (science, arts, etc.) that are intended to attract parents who've decided (probably prematurely) that their child shines in one of these disciplines. Really, what's great about these schools is that the competitiveness for enrollment means they all boast similar progressive features and reasonably competent teachers. Each school has a computerized "Smart Board" (what, you thought they still used blackboards?), and each one tries to outdo the others in after-school programs and stimulating classroom environments. I saw free-range chickens and rabbits, obelisk-topped music rooms, pillow-strewn lofts for "quiet time," beautiful woodland trails. In our local-food-loving city, each magnet school features a much bragged-about garden in which students are required to sow, eat, and deeply appreciate their own vegetables.

In fact, I'm quite sure that a school without a garden will eventually be considered as abusive as a school with a paddle-wielding principal.

Recently, open houses for rising kindergarteners were conducted at all the city's magnet schools. I dutifully attended each one. Despite our herd mentality as Concerned Involved Parents, my fellow tour-mates and I diverged sharply in our points of interest. My issue is anti-bullying: who has the most intensive program in that area? Others wanted to know whether the national push to improve school-lunch offerings had yet to reach local cafeterias. What about drama programs, all but leveled by state budget cuts? How interactive was each school's principal?

I have my favorite school, with high hopes of getting in. But when I find myself getting too torqued up over the decision, I have to remember that whether or not my son gets to enter the Room Formerly Known as the Library (now "media centers" in all schools) once a week, twice a week, twice every other week, accompanied by a teacher picking out his books or left to his own selections, it will make a negligible impact on his overall scholastic career and emotional health. No crap. No gin. No pickled fingers. It's all (mostly) good.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Great (Aunt) Expectations

Sometimes I picture my only child like a round little river rock surrounded by ever-expanding ripples of soul-protection. The closest ripple is his immediate family -- myself, my husband, and my twin sister who's helped raise him. His four little cousins are another important ripple. If you have to be an only child, it is fabulously lucky to have four first cousins who just happen to be your exact same age. (More on this extraordinary coincidence in a future post.)

Next comes the grandparent ripple, a complicated one that also deserves its own post. And then, further out because of physical distance but towing an enormous pull in its wake, is my son's Great-Aunt Ripple. He has four of them, wonderful women all: my father's four sisters, ranging in age from early 50s to early 70s. They all live within a few miles of one another, but, alas, 1000 miles away from us. They have four distinct personalities, but all of them live to laugh, and love to bestow their various grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-nieces and great-nephews with handmade gifts so unique and well-done they put upstart crafters to shame.

These ladies were ETSY before ETSY was even an embryo. Since Beau was born, he has received no less than three quilts from them, one made out of John Deere-printed fabric with his name in foot-tall letters on the back; white fisherman sweaters and eggplant-shaped hats; and blankets and books galore, including, memorably, a custom-assembled hardcover book using personal photos and a story line his great-aunt wrote to his interests (i.e., trucks and tractors).

This fall, we went up north to visit, and there was a party to celebrate all the October birthdays in the family. Somehow, though, it was my own October baby who came away with the bounty. The take included a book about making homemade toy boats, complete with all the materials needed to make them; a triptik for the 12-hr. drive back comprised of a paper grab bag for every state we passed through (inside each bag was a puzzle or book, a snack and a toy); and a gingerbread house to make. While we were there, Beau was presented with the decorative embellishments for two homemade cakes -- two! One great-aunt managed to find candy Legos. Another great-aunt bought licorice "worms" and a load of other scary edibles to make a haunted cake. Putting these elaborate confections together was an artistic joy for Beau, jumpstarting a love of whipping up interesting messes in the kitchen.

Most recently, one of the great-aunts sent him a roll-out fabric "road" she'd made, printed with bulldozers and edged with a series of pockets to shelter matchbox cars. It gave me a shock of nostalgia, being reminiscent of something made for my sister and me, from the same source, almost 40 years ago: a felt wall hanging with pockets marked A-Z that held small felt toys for each letter.

The fabric road came with a comment: "I know he'll do something creative with this." It is precisely that sentiment that makes all their gifts so irreplaceable. Beau's too young yet to fully appreciate what these ladies do for him, but basking in thoughtfulness this authentic, and being expected to bring his own ideas to the proverbial table, can only be a good thing. Make that great.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Mitzu Species" and Other Thrills of the Hunt

Sometimes you just run out of ideas, and then genius forms of entertainment emerge in all their amorphous, low-test, cost-free glory.

It's been a snowless, dull sort of winter. We've hiked a little, we've played board games, we've read, we've had "playdates" (all fun, but I can't say this smarmy word aloud anymore, I just can't) and drop-offs, we've gone to the museum and the mini-golf place, we've gone to the Y, we've wallowed in blizzards of flour making cookies, biscuits, and salt-dough beads and boulders. And we've watched every "Scooby-Doo" ever made, retro and current. Shaggy's Casey-Kasem-voiced hysterics are stamped in my brain like some uncomfortably familiar second id. (I'm scared too, Shaggy. And I want a huge sandwich as well. I'm scared too. And I want a chocolate cream pie.)

Good Lord, it's not even February. The other day I picked Beau up from his preschool, which only lasts until 11:30 in the morning. It's more like pre-pre-school: anything that lets out while my coffee is still kicking in sort of doesn't count. (Not that I'm discounting the hard work of those teachers, bless their kind, no-nonsense, unbelievably organized hearts.) It was 28 degrees and sunny, with a 10 mph sharp north wind blowing. Driving back from Candler to Asheville, a single possibility emerged: a trip to the immense Skyland Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Mazda, Mitsubishi Dealership.

It was acres and acres of glitzy new vehicles, all bearing five-digit pricetags. Its sheer size was comforting, though, because only one salesman bore the cold to come out and ask if he could help us. I was all ready with a lie, something like, "yes, we're definitely looking to purchase a $30,000 giant pickup truck sometime in the new year; right now we're just deciding between the disco-green and Satan-black color." But the wind cut close and I only managed the truth: "Honestly, this is just for fun. I promise we won't touch anything."

Amazingly, he didn't seem to mind. He paused a second, his sales training caught in his throat like a midwinter phlegm event, and said: "Well, y'all let me know if you need me." After that we sailed. It was a memorable day for Beau...all those trucks, all those shiny new trucks, in one place. He can recognize any vehicle brand in manufacturing existence by the mere shape of the label, and was at first content just to skip between the rows, shouting out: "A Dodge Dakota. A Chevy. A Mitzu-species. Another Mitzu-species."

Pretty soon that wasn't enough, and he had to go in for some close contact. We kept our promise, sort of. We didn't touch anything...with our hands. But whenever he saw a "dualie" -- that's a big ol' truck with two pairs of conjoined-twin tires in the back -- he had to bend down and give the bumper a gentle kiss. All the dualies were likewise distinguished.

My phone struck noon, and we hadn't even seen the Jeeps or Mustangs. "Mom, this is going to be a good day all day long."

Monday, January 9, 2012

Kick Start: The Journey to Karate

Our household is about as disciplined as a bag of sugar spilled on a shag carpet. So I figured a little karate might benefit our only child, and I enrolled him in a beginning program last August. Admittedly, it is a loose, fun program, a class combined with gymnastics -- not one of those scary martial-arts schools that tend to thrive in blank cinderblock buildings, the barely accredited kind governed by clench-jawed INDIVIDUALS WITH ISSUES.

Really, that's not true at all. It had nothing to do with discipline. We ended up in karate because we couldn't do soccer. Beau is prone to leg injuries, and after a knee sprain this summer, his orthopedist directed us away from the inevitable youth starter sport: soccer, he said, was rife with potential disasters to legs.

I was secretly relieved. Although we'd certainly support Beau in whatever he chose to do, we don't follow team sports in our house, at all, which makes us a slightly grotesque curiosity in some corners. Because we're not exactly intellectuals, either, but somewhere in the middle. Neither Bergman nor the Broncos shall brighten the corner where WE are.

But I digress.

Karate. Unlike the three other athletic endeavors we've tried so far -- swimming lessons, basketball, and T-ball, with a respective success rating from disastrous to reasonably enjoyable -- the karate class did not require close involvement from parents. We watch through an observation window, but y'know, they're all dressed in white, it's hard to tell who's who, it lasts an hour, and it's all too easy to pick up a book, diddle on the phone, or start a gossip session with a fellow mom. In short, I really had no idea whatsoever what he was learning in there.

And he wouldn't tell me. Beau's like his dad: when he doesn't want to talk, which is a lot of the time, wild senseis couldn't drag words out of him. When I pick him up from his morning preschool class, for instance, our conversations tend to run something like this:

"Hey, Beau. What did you do today?"
"I dunno."
"But you were just there. Surely you remember something."
"Mmmm....I dunno."
"Did you have a good day?"
"Look at that flatbed in front of us, Mom. He's hauling 4,000 million boards. Or maybe just six."

But at least he was getting exercise in karate, and seemed in great spirits at the end of every class. Then I learned there was to be a "board breaking" ceremony to commemorate the jump from white to yellow belt. Really? Impossible. I pictured some kind of trick board, with a pocket of air in the middle, like one of those ersatz dictionaries with a secret cache for a whiskey flask. They were going to break real boards? How had that had a chance to happen? Pessimist that I am, I began to brood, again, that I'd chosen the wrong activity for my son's laidback personality. We practiced at home for the board-breaking, just a little, using a phonebook. But he went all noodly on me, distracted by a tow truck on the book's back cover.

The day came: today. Looking utterly bored before he was called -- or was it the proper meditative spirit? too soon to tell -- he executed a fierce sidekick and smashed his board apart, an exhilarating move that seemed to surprise him most of all. He stared. Everyone cheered. He closed his mouth. I gushed.

Later, at home, I suggested we put the broken board on the same shelf as his T-ball trophy. First things first, though. Two halves of a pine plank mean nothing if a fleet of matchbox cars has not parked on them.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Six Little Mittens and One Fat Migraine

It got cold this week. For about ten minutes. In fact, we experienced an incredible temperature variance of nearly 80 degrees, from a high of 67 degrees in the valley on Saturday to a night low of 10 below zero (in the higher elevations) in 24 hours. Once upon a time, I would have dwelt on the wicked vagaries of climate change: January in Asheville used to be reliably, consistently cold-ish, with snowflakes more or less around every day and the occasional blizzard blowing in to liven things up.

This time, I was too busy doing a scramble for Beau's mittens to worry about global doom. Since we don't use them regularly, it's guaranteed they'll be awol when needed. I dumped out his underwear-sock-mitten-random-lost-Lego drawer and came up with no less than six gloves/mittens. Notice I didn't say "pairs." All were singletons -- not a mate in sight.

There's so much that's wrong about this. I'm not sure how we even came to be in the possession of so many mittens when I can count on one glove-less hand the number of times they're necessary during an Asheville winter nowadays. More gravely, the dearth of even one matching pair points a finger -- or rather five fingers -- at my egregious lack of organization.

At such times my mind always darts to my mom friends who are wrangling big broods with better sense than I manage one. I have a dear local friend, R., with four sons, age 13 mos. to six years. Four boys! My sister-in-law, M., a gorgeous superstar of a grande dame who runs a horse farm and five-year-old triplets with equal aplomb, would never wantonly lose her kids' mittens in frostbite temperatures. This is a divine certainty. Finally, and inevitably, there's my friend of longest acquaintance (since third grade), who's got six kids. Math isn't my thing, but I think that if C. lost the number of mittens I have, it would equal about 36. Right? She'd be the first to admit it, though, loyal Viking that she is.

I can dress Beau in mismatched socks and it'd take him a week to realize it. But he'll notice right away if his hands are awry. The best I can do is choose the black glove and the black mitten, a variance undetectable from a few paces back. Up close, it looks sort of cute, like a hoof and a claw. God bless the animals. They never judge.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Chop Shop

Beau was born with a full head of black hair, and it almost immediately fell out, as newborn hair often does. He was left with a brushy thatch on his back crown that, paired with his round cheeks, made him look amusingly like an infant Kim Jong Il. When it grew back, it was feathery, soft, dark chestnut, and voluminous. Here in Asheville, many little boys sport long hair. But the first time someone complimented me on my pretty little girl, when my son was about 10 months, he got his first haircut tout de suite. Turns out I was more traditional than I fancied myself to be.

I still have those first clippings. Since the inaugural chop, however, his hair's been cut so much I don't attach any sentiment to it. We zigzagged between salon and home haircuts, according to which mode I was in -- fond indulgence or determined frugality. Then my husband stepped in.

A haircut by Scott is a distinctive work of art. He's not trained, yet somehow the style looks remarkably the same every time. The first couple days, Beau's hair resembles a nest gathered in haste by a small, self-deprecating winter mammal. Soon enough it sprouts into a miniature sort of hipster cut: the Keith Richards shag with an elfin undertone.

There was a wiggly period that resulted in a haircut with big patches of exposed scalp. We thus entered the Years of Compromise, age 3-5, when I took Beau to one of those $10 chain places, emerging with a stare-proof -- if uninspired -- ’do. Today, though, spurred by cabin fever, Scott got out his shears. He draped Beau in a towel, salon-style, to promote big-boy behavior. It's possible a sugary bribe may have been involved.

"Now you can see his eyebrows," my husband said. Indeed.