Get over it, people

My company, in a rare display of forward-thinking, set aside an empty office for the use of new mothers needing to pump for their babies -- in the past few months, I think five women have returned from maternity leave. The office is right next to my cubicle, and features a lock and a tasteful shower curtain across the interior window (so nobody can see in). Seeing all these moms go in with their pumps, several times a day, makes me not at all nostalgic for that phase of my life.

Anyway, at least once a day, it seems, someone will walk by the office, do a double take, and say, "What's with the shower curtain? Who's using that office?" And either I or my boss will reply, "Oh, that's the lactation room." And invariably, the person will say something like, "I'm sorry I asked!" or "Too much information!" or "You're kidding, right?" or "Yikes, I'm outta here!" (And then there was the person who said, "You mean...for puppies?" I'm not even sure what to think about that.)

It was funny maybe once. Now I am weary of the comments. I want to hang a sign like the ones you used to see at the airport security gates to deter jokes about highjacking. "Lactation Room. Comments Unwelcome." These women have to work, their babies need breastmilk. End of story, move along.

Yeah, I'm feeling a bit cranky today.


On her sleeve, a broken heart

A playdate turned very, very sour for my daughter yesterday; her two friends turned on her, rejected her, went off to another house and told her not to follow. I saw the whole thing and it wasn't Mallory's fault; I would be the last to claim that she's a perfect child, but honestly she did nothing to deserve being treated the way she was. It was a classic case of little girl manipulation and power-tripping. When the one girl said, "We're going to my house, and you're not invited," Mallory simply collapsed. "She's faking," the other girl said. When I stepped in and suggested that they both leave our yard (before I smack the both of you, I did not add), Mallory cried even harder. "Don't leave! I don't want you to leave!" she said, and then, as they left, "No! Let me come with you! I want to play with you! Whatever I did, I'm sorry!" She actually ran down the street after them, wailing and begging them to return. I ran after her, caught her as she was ringing the doorbell to the one girl's house. The girl's dad came to the door, saw Mallory crying, looked at me. "They weren't playing together very well today," I said hastily. I picked Mallory up and carried her home -- honestly, I haven't carried her in two, two and a half years.

We talked about the incident; it's hard to explain to your child that sometimes, people are just not very nice. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang; it was the second girl and her mother, who had seen the chase scene from her front porch. The girl apologized to Mallory. Mallory burst into tears again and gave the girl a big hug. The mom and I said something light-hearted about little girls fighting. (Ha! Ha! Not funny.) They left; I saw it was very nice of the girl to come say sorry. Mallory was quick to point out that the first girl hadn't done the same.

The whole thing makes me terribly sad, but what bothers me most is how transparent Mallory was, how openly emotional. When she dashed down the street, I was thinking not just, oh, my poor child, but also, geez, Mallory, show a little pride! I don't know how to teach her that sometimes it's best to not show your feelings; sometimes it's best to make people think you just don't care.

Later that night, we had dinner at Chris's parent's house. Mallory said she wanted to have a sleepover, and my inlaws said that was fine. But when it was time for me and Chris to leave, she changed her mind. But then she changed her mind again when Phoebe said that she was going to sleep over. Then she started to cry, saying, "If I stay here, I'll miss my mommy, but if I leave, I'll miss my sister!" Chris said it was no big deal, she just needed to choose.

"Do you know what shape my heart is right now?" Mallory asked.

"What?" Chris asked.

"Broken!" Mallory sobbed.

I'm afraid that Chris and I almost choked ourselves, trying not to laugh. But that's Mallory -- dramatic, sensitive, emotions right out there for all to see. I know I just said this in my last post, but I am so dreading her teen years.



What do you do with a child who says, on a Thursday night after attending four days of Vacation Bible School, that she doesn't want to go back on Friday, the last day? When she refuses and refuses and refuses to give a good reason, and then says that it's because "boys were kicking her," and when you refuse to believe that kicking would be tolerated at a church function for children, amends that to "boys were scribbling on my art project"? And when you explain that sometimes bad things like that happen but you can't let it get you down, or allow it to spoil your fun, she just reiterates (again and again) that she won't go to Bible School, she won't, she won't, she won't, you're mean if you make her. And the next morning, as you're trying to get ready for work, she goes on to say that the music at Bible School is too loud and hurts her ears, and that the snacks are no good ("Today it's cheese! You know I hate cheese!"), and that during storytime she has to sit criss-cross apple-sauce "on a floor with no rug!" and it hurts her knees. And you try to tell her, in a variety of ways, that she needs to get over it. You tell her that it's not a good thing to quit. And then she says, "But you're the one who started it! You're the one who signed me up! It's not my fault!" and you realize she's right.

Would you make her go back to Bible School? Because I didn't. Was it the right decision? I don't know. Am I afraid, very afraid, of her teenage years? Yes, yes I am.


Writing this down so I don't forget it

On her birthday, Phoebe greeted each of her presents with a long, drawn-out "Ohhhh!" and a two-syllable "Wow!" (Yes, wow can be two syllables, if you're a three-year-old native of North Carolina.) It was all very cute and we laughed. But her best response to a present was a few days later, when a box came from Aunt Aimee. It was a Cabbage Patch doll, in a swimsuit, and Phoebe said "oh!" and "wow!" and then added, breathlessly:

"This is the cutest doll I've ever seen in my whole special life!"

Now that's an expression of gratitude, there.



A few years ago, my mom gave Mallory the book "The Twelve Bugs of Christmas." It's a very cute book, but takes a long time to read if you do it right; if, for example, on the sixth day you read:

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Six tinsel bugs a tangling
Five glowing bugs
Four cuckoo bugs
Three snowflake bugs
Two sneaky bugs
And a fruitcake bug in a pear tree.

However, I am lazy, so I always cheat when I read the book to my kids:

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Six tinsel bugs a tangling!

and then on to the seventh day.

Last night, Phoebe brought the book to me. "Grandmom read this book to me when she was here," she said. I started to read it in my usual lazy way. But when I got to the third day, and was about to turn the page, Phoebe put her hand on mine and said, "Mommy! You're not done! You have to read the whole thing!"

My mom had read it the right way, apparently, and Phoebe remembered. It struck me that that's what grandmothers are for; they put an extra-special touch on everything they do.

I was very worried, when Mallory was born, how she was going to form a relationship with my parents, who live so far away. I'm not proud of this, but there even times, in the first months of her life, when I even resented my in-laws for being so close, for being able to see Mallory any time they wanted to, when all she had of my parents was phone calls and photographs. (I got over that, by the way; I think it had a lot to do with being postpartum!)

But then something remarkable happened. We went to visit my parents, when Mallory was a few months old, and Mallory let my parents hold her without crying once. We went back when she was about a year old, and she cried whenever my mom left the room. The next year, when my mom came to visit us, Mallory immediately latched right on to her, asked her to read her stories and play with her Sesame Street house. And so on through the years; Mallory has never been shy around my mom, has always accepted her without hesitation and is always excited about her visits. Phoebe was a bit tougher; she wouldn't even speak to my parents for a year or two. But with this last visit, every bit of her shyness evaporated, and within an hour of my mom's arrival, Phoebe was asking her to play Barbies. (Both girls are a little bit shy still with my dad, but Mallory still asks, occasionally, if Granddad really likes to eat wormcake, which is something he teased her about when she was maybe two years old, and Phoebe always includes a Granddad and a Grandmom in the story she makes up with her "guys.")

I still wish we lived closer; I'll always wish that. I wish that my girls could see my parents (and my sisters and brothers and nieces and nephews, etc) any time they wanted, that my family was more a part of their daily life. But I am comforted by the knowledge that Mallory and Phoebe have developed a close bond with my parents in spite of the distance -- and that it's not just because of the photos and the phone calls and the not-frequent-enough visits, either. It's because they know that my parents love them; and that's more than enough.

Notes on a Water Park

My company sponsored a family day at a nearby water park -- discount tickets, free lunch, free parking, free ginormous refillable drink cup. I thought this was an excellent opportunity for some family fun. Chris was lukewarm about the idea. Lesson: always listen to your husband. Here is what happened.

10:30 a.m. Arrive at water park, along with half the other residents of North Carolina. Fight through the throngs in the changing room and lockers. Apply sunscreen to protesting children.

10:40 Mallory asks for cotton candy.

10:45. Go to the Wave Pool, a big "beach without sand." Phoebe, being under 48", is required to wear a life jacket. Phoebe whines incessantly that she does not want to wear the life jacket. Leave Wave Pool.

11:00. Mallory spies huge waterslide that she would like to try. Chris and I ask her if she -- our notoriously cowardly child -- really, really, really means it. She insists that she does. Chris takes her to the end of the vastly long line. I tell him I'm taking Phoebe to "Happy Harbor," the section of the park for smaller children.

11:10. Arrive at Happy Harbor. Why is everything in this park so far apart? My feet hurt.

11:15. Phoebe is crying and rubbing her eyes. Maybe she got a bit of sunscreen in her eye? I tell her to buck up and try the little Whale Spout slide.

11:17. Phoebe slides. Then she tells me that she needs to go potty. I sigh heavily.

11:20. We arrive at the closest restroom. Phoebe is whimpering and I know the situation is desperate. There are at least a dozen people in line ahead of us. I almost go to the front and ask to cut in -- and then I realize that it's too late.

11:23. Luckily, the restroom we are in also have showers. I whisk Phoebe into a stall, strip her down, and spend the next ten minutes scrubbing her and her swimsuit and trying not to think too hard about what I'm doing. (No, it wasn't just pee, in case you're wondering.)

11:35. Back at Happy Harbor. Phoebe is still rubbing her eye. "My eye hurts," she tells me. I show her the slides. She is not interested. She tells me she wants to go home. I say that's impossible. She commences wailing and thrashing.

11:40. We retreat to a bench outside of Happy Harbor. Phoebe cries in my arms. I figure at least her tears may wash away the suncreen and make her eye feel better. I wonder if Chris and Mallory enjoyed the big slide.

11:45. Chris and Mallory round the corner. They are both dry as a bone. After a 45-minute wait, Mallory chickened out at the top.

11:48. Mallory asks for a slushie.

11:50. We go back into Happy Harbor. Mallory decides to try the little slides there. I notice that as she slides down, she holds herself very rigid and braces herself with her feet, so as not to build up speed.

11:55. Phoebe is still crying and demanding to go home.

12:00. I wonder why my children are incapable of having fun.

12:10. We proceed to our free lunch. Phoebe wails when I leave her at the picnic table to get my hamburger. She stops crying to eat some potato chips. Then she rubs her sore eye with her salt-covered fingers and starts wailing again. My co-workers look at me curiously. Needless to say, no other children in the area are crying.

1:15. Lunch is over. Mallory is disappointed that she did not win the raffle -- two free tickets to the water park. As if we are ever coming back to this dreadful place anyway.

1:25. We walk back to Happy Harbor. Why is the pavement so rough? Why didn't I buy water shoes? My feet really hurt.

1:28. Mallory asks for cotton candy.

1:32. Back at Happy Harbor. Mallory splashes. Phoebe, who has apparently cried out all the sunscreen and salt from her eye, is starting to enjoy herself. I find a place to sit down. Things are looking up.

1:42. It starts to rain.

1:45. It's still raining. I hear a lifeguard say that they won't close the park unless there's a lightning report. Phoebe and Mallory are having a blast.

1:50. Phoebe asks to go potty. We go back to the bathroom, through the pouring rain. Throngs of people are clustered under the shelter by the bathrooms...so they won't get wet. At a water park.

2:00. Back at Happy Harbor. Still raining, kids still having fun. We slide, we splash, we ride intertubes down the Lazy River.

2:47. Rain stops. Mallory asks for cotton candy.

3:15. Going down a slide with Phoebe on my lap. I trip when we get to the bottom and fall on my face, pinning Phoebe underwater. I scrape the hell out of my hand on the rough bottom of the pool. Phoebe is fine. A lifeguard has to bring me a gauze pad for my bleeding hand. "And they call this Happy Harbor," Chris says, which makes the lifeguard laugh.

4:00. We go back to the wave pool. Mallory asks for cotton candy.

4:15. Chris and I are done. My feet are killing me and my hand really hurts. Children don't want to leave. We bribe them with the promise of cotton candy and soda.

4:20. Back to the lockers. Change clothes in the bathroom stall. Mallory offended because I've forgotten her underwear.

4:40. Wait in line for hours at a concession stand.

5:00. Leave park. Kids buckled in with their snacks and drinks. As we pull away, Mallory says, "Can we come back tomorrow?" The "NO" from Chris and me is a deafening roar.



Mallory: Mommy, can you do magic.

Me: Yes, I can.

Mallory: What kind of magic? Can you show me a trick? Can you teach me?

Me: No, it's a special kind of mommy magic. You have to be a mom to understand.

Mallory: (sighs in disgust, leaves the room)

A few moments later:

Mallory: Daddy, you know how to make a person disappear, right?

Chris: Um, what?

Mallory: You know...like, can you make a person disappear from one room and reappear in another? Like magic?

Chris: No. Why would you think I could do that?

Mallory: Well, Mommy says she knows magic, and you're much smarter than Mommy, so you must know how to do it too!

Chris: You think I'm smarter than Mommy?

Mallory: Uh, yeah. So can you make me disappear?

Chris: Mallory, even real magicians don't really make people disappear. It's just a trick. They find ways to make it look like they've done it, but no one can actually disappear.

Mallory: Oh.


Mallory: So, can you make me disappear now?

In the end, Chris and Mallory did put together a disappearing act and performed it for me and Phoebe. Phoebe was both astonished, and, I think, a bit alarmed when Mallory "vanished." When she realized that her sister could also reappear, she kept asking to see it again, and again, and again.

On an unrelated note, it's hard to play Hangman with someone (Mallory) who spells badly. I got "hung" on a word that turned out to be: "amaracn". "What's that?" I asked, and my daughter says, "American, of course!"


(Conversation between Chris and Phoebe, who is flipping through a Disney Kids' Cookbook)

Phoebe: Look at that, Daddy! That looks delicious!

Chris: That's a chef salad. You wouldn't eat that.

Phoebe: No, I wouldn't! Look at this one, Daddy! It looks wonderful!

Chris: That's a taco. You wouldn't eat that either.

Phoebe: No, I wouldn't! Look at this one, it looks really good!

Chris: That's a ham sandwich rollup. You wouldn't eat that.

Phoebe: No, I wouldn't!

And so on.


Pieces of Yesterday

I'm doing some geneaological research by request of a distant cousin, and I've spent the last day or so poking around on ancestry.com. (By the way, if you are an Oblander or Schmidt living in Oklahoma, or a Holladay or O'Connor living in California, contact me, 'kay? Thnx.) Here are two things I found that made me catch my breath.

This is a sheet from 1930 Federal Census, Precinct 2, Parmer County, TX.

It's hard to read, I know (if you click on it, it will enlarge). But do you see it, about halfway down? Rudolph Renner, head of household. His wife, Clara. Their sons Johnnie, Orva Lee (actually, Aubrey), and Rudolph Jr.; his sister-in-law, Mary Baker. Scrolling over you see that Rudolph is 30, Clara 26; they were married when they were 21 and 18. Rudolph was born in Russia, Clara in Kansas (though her parents were born in Russia), the oldest boys in Oklahoma, Jr in Texas. They speak German in the home, and Rudolph is not a citizen. He is a farmer, and did work the day before the census was taken.

Rudolph and Clara were my great-grandparents, and Johnnie (age 7), my grandfather.

But this one is even better:

This is a "Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry" for a ship that arrived in the U.S. on September 9, 1908. Rudolph Renner is listed as a 7 year-old-male who was "placed in hospital on arrival," but then deported a week later.

Rudolph's life had been difficult even before he faced deportation. The year before, back in Russia, his mother had died in childbirth, leaving behind a passel of children. His grandparents were emigrating to America and decided to take Rudolph and his oldest sister, Mollie, with them. Before he left, Rudolph's father told him that he must never change his name (originally, Kruegel), as it would be his only connection to his family; weeks later, Rudolph and Mollie were adopted by their grandparents and became Renners. The family got held up in Germany; Rudolph wasn't cleared to emigrate because of an eye infection. His grandparents and sister went ahead without him. He, a six-year-old boy, stayed behind in a children's home in a strange country; he didn't even speak the language. (I contemplate leaving my six-year-old behind in such circumstance and...well, actually, I can't contemplate it.) Months later, he was finally put on a ship to America. He became the favorite of the sailors; they gave him fresh fruit and candy and let him run wild. But, as the document shows, he was not allowed to stay in America. He went back to Germany -- and let's imagine his grandparents, in Oklahoma by this point, at a time without cell phones or even landlines, wondering what's happened to their boy. With no instructions awaiting at the European port, the sailors smuggled Rudolph back onto the ship and back to America, again -- his third trip across the ocean. (My father delivered the eulogy at Rudolph's funeral, and he ended it with: "Thank you, Granddad, for having the courage to cross that ocean.") This time they landed in Galveston, and Rudolph's uncle showed up to claim him just hours before the ship left for Germany again.

If that's not all heartbreaking enough, there is this. When Rudolph saw his uncle, he said, "Are we going home now?" His uncle said, "Yes, home to Mollie and Mother and Father and all the brothers and sisters." The uncle meant his mother and father, Rudolph's grandparents; Rudolph thought he meant his own parents and siblings. So on the whole long trip from Galveston to Oklahoma, Rudolph -- a boy left behind, a boy who traveled the ocean three times all alone -- comforted himself with the thought that he'd be reunited with his first family. Imagine, if you can, his disappointment when he realized the truth.

I used to love that story, and would tell it to friends with a kind of glee, and wrap it up with, "It's a miracle he made it to America! I almost didn't even exist!" Now that I have children, I just think it's terribly, terribly sad. I feel so sorry for that little boy, yet I'm proud of him too (and glad he made it, of course). It's so odd, to see the official document behind the story, to see that scrap of paper that, really, doesn't tell the story at all.


Putting the "good" in "goodbye"

My children were awful the last day of my parents' visits. The weekend had been too full: too many late nights, too many firecrackers, too much sugar; and they woke up on Monday morning in foul, foul moods. They cried over breakfast, they tantrummed when we went out shopping, they tearfully refused naps, they argued over having leftover birthday cake before lunch. And I was angry with them, for ruining the last few hours with their grandparents, for being so rotten in front of their grandparents, for exposing my own parental fallibility in front of my mom and dad.

I let the girls come with us on the trip to the airport, mainly because I hoped they would fall asleep. Phoebe did; Mallory spent the whole hour trying to talk me into setting up the slip 'n' slide when we got home. When we pulled back into the garage, I was annoyed with her, and I was regretting the late-afternoon nap which would make Phoebe stay up impossibly late once again. And, of course, I was sad that my parents were gone.

Phoebe woke up, looked around, and said, "But where are Grandmom and Granddad?"

"They're on the airplane, sweetie," I said. "They had to go home."

"But when are they coming back?" she asked.

Mallory answered, "Soon, I hope!"

And I smiled, because they had both, finally, at the end of a long day, said exactly what I needed them to say.


Emergency Broadcast System

I have a long post in mind about my parents' visit (fabulous) and Phoebe's birthday (she's three!), but I have no time today. So instead I'll quickly share this:

My mom and I were sitting at the kitchen table, chatting. Mallory was upstairs in her room. Suddenly she dashed into the kitchen, taped a piece of paper to the wall, and dashed out. The paper said:

"A bad prsin is coming to crash the wrld."

A few minutes later, she ran in again with another sign:

"It is rile rile tro!"

Then we were encouraged to take cover in the broom closet.

(Need a translation? "A bad person is coming to crash the world. It is really really true!")


When Phoebe Was Two

When Phoebe was two, she liked melon and cucumbers and French fries and Chex mix. . . .and not much else.

When Phoebe was two, she had a bit of a stutter. Sometimes it was a first-letter stutter, as in, “Are w-w-w-w-we going to have d-d-d-dinner soon?” Sometimes it started that way and then became a long, drawn out vowel-sound stutter: “Are w-w-w-eeee-eee going to have di-di-diiiiii-ner soon?” with every repetition becoming a little bit higher and squeakier. I guess I shouldn’t refer to a speech impediment as adorable, but I will anyway, especially because I’m 95% certain she’ll outgrow it soon.

When Phoebe was two, and Mallory called her “mean,” she would respond: “I’m not mean, I’m happy!”

When Phoebe was two, she’d pick up a hula hoop, hold it around her hips, and let it fall straight to the ground. Only when it hit the floor would she start to shimmy her hips.

When Phoebe was two, she was stubborn and strong-willed and prone to tantrums.

When Phoebe was two, she liked to sing. She’d stop if she realized someone was listening, but if you were very careful, you could overhear lyrics such as these: “Drink water for Jesus/And you won’t be sirsty/If you’re hungry, eat fruit snacks/And drink some more water.”

When Phoebe was two, she was a night owl and rarely went to bed before 11 o’clock. Every night we tried going to bed earlier, but after a few minutes of snuggling she would turn to me and say, “You’re my best mommy, Mommy! Let’s get up and go see my daddy!”

When Phoebe was two, she was very shy.

When Phoebe was two, she loved wearing fancy dresses. Sometimes she would change her clothes three or four times a day, just because. She also loved wearing her “jewels”, the more at one time, the better.

When Phoebe was two, she loved Max and Ruby, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy, Spongebob Squarepants, and Shrek. Her favorite toys were dolls of all sorts (baby, princess, Barbie), but she also liked Play-doh and crayons and items such as calculators on which she could do her “work.”

When Phoebe was two, she was delighted by the simplest things. “Are you wearing that blue shirt today, Mommy?” she’d ask excitedly, or, “Did you buy that dog food at the store?”

When Phoebe was two, she liked to go shopping for shoes.

When Phoebe was two, she was adorable, and we adored her. And we can’t wait to see what’ll happen now that she’s three.

(If you have a few minutes, you can take a look at this photobook, which is all about, you guessed it, when Phoebe was two.)


Big Ideas

Mallory thinks big. And I can't keep up.

Here are a smattering of examples.

I come home from work one day to find her busy at her desk. "Mommy, I'm making invitations!" she said. Invitations for what, I asked, and she said, "I'm inviting all my neighborhood friends over for a Girl Scout meeting!"

"But Mallory, you're not in Girl Scouts," I said.

"That's okay! They can come over and we'll just pretend we're in Girl Scouts! We'll do crafts, and have a snack -- do you have stuff for s'mores? -- and we'll dance! See, here's my invitations, I said for them to come over Saturday at six."

"Oh, honey, I don't think this is going to work. I'm not even sure what we're going to be doing Saturday at six."

"But I have to invite them over! I made the invitations already and I'm ready to put them in their mailboxes! Please Mommy?"

"No, listen, how about you just wait and see if Maggie and Lizzie can come play on Saturday afternoon. You don't have to send an invitation, you can just go knock on their door--"

"But Mommy, then it won't be a Girl Scout meeting!"

As it turned out, she did end up playing with the neighborhood girls most of Saturday. Toward the end of the day they came in from the yard and Mallory said, "It's time for Girl Scouts!" Thinking fast, or maybe not, I just passed around some construction paper and glitter markers. The girls drew. "Isn't Girl Scouts fun?" Mallory said. The older girl, who is actually in Girl Scouts, came over to me and whispered, "Isn't this just kind of a playdate?"

Another day, I came home to find that Mallory was planning a Candy party. What's a candy party? It is, apparently, a party at which you play Candyland, and eat candy, and make gingerbread houses, and eat more candy, and hit a pinata, and eat more candy, "and, Mommy, we have to decorate our slide like a giant candy cane." The party, of course, was at 6 o'clock on Saturday and she wanted all her friends to come.

Last night, she came downstairs with a sheet of paper in her hand. "Mommy, I've planned the games for Phoebe's birthday party," she informed me. "We're going to play 'Farmer in the Dell,' have you heard of that game?" I answered with a tentative "yes." "I have it all written down who is going to be who," she said, handing me the paper. Sure enough, there was a chart of the players. Phoebe was the "chiyald", Mallory was the wife, friend Stephanie was the cat, friend Tiffany was the dog, and friend Toney was the "chese." I told her that the game sounded like fun. She then spied the roll of wrapping paper I'd bought that day and said, "Oh! I need all that wrapping paper to make cards for everyone at the party!"

It's neverending with that child. I feel bad sometimes for trying to put the brakes on her. I hope she never loses this enthusiasm, this creativity, this imagination. I also hope that we don't have to have a party every single Saturday, at 6 o'clock, for the next twelve years.