sideways rabbit

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...