sideways rabbit

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?"