Sunday, November 30, 2008

"But We Could Have Adopted NICE Children."

I realize my latest entries have been all sweetness and light. But it's the fourth day of a four-day holiday weekend, parents alone with the kids, who are being their relentless selves, and THE GLOVES ARE OFF.

Yesterday, I nearly lost my mind. Here's how it happened.

Took Thing 2 (my daughter) to the beach, which is one of the amazing things you can do if you live in Southern California and it's two days after Thanksgiving. Let her play in the sand to her heart's delight, getting pants, socks and feet thoroughly filthy. Brought her to the amusement pier, where she rode on the kiddie merry-go-rounds, then met up with Daddy and Thing 1 at the carousel. Let her ride the carousel four times. Even let her eat a tootsie roll.

She fell asleep on the way to the pizza restaurant, even though it was only a five-minute drive, and though she briefly rallied to inhale a slice and a half, our troubles began soon after.

She would not leave the restaurant. Daddy and Thing 1, who'd already gotten too restless to remain, had gone back to the car in a garage that was charging us by the minute to park. I had to carry her out. She flailed and protested. I set her down. She wanted to dawdle on a bench. I picked her up again -- already a mistake on my part, since I've been nursing a hernia since I was pregnant with twins. I set her down again in an attempt to get her to cross the street. Protests continued unabated. And on it went, the sturm and drang, the whining, the flailing, all across the street, into the lobby of the building where we'd parked. That's where I made the big tactical blunder.

I put my purse and the diaper bag into the waiting elevator and turned to pick up my daughter. She darted away and the elevator doors closed. My money and drivers' license and house and car keys all disappeared behind those closed doors.

I lost it. Screamed at Thing 2. Called her an idiot, which was not at all the right word for the situation and not a word with which her nearly four-year-old brain is familiar. Uttered some curses. And desperately rang every elevator button hoping for the return of my stuff.

In a few moments, the elevator returned, and the doors opened.

My stuff was gone.

Round two of yelling commenced.

Within seconds, Thing 2 turned into a blubbering mass of jelly. She was crying. She was also terrified that her mostly kind, occasionally irritated, but normally loving Late Blooming Mom had turned into a red-faced, foot-stomping, yelling and bad-word-saying toddler who just happens to be in her forties.

I grabbed her and took her in the elevator down to her Daddy, handing her off rapidly while quickly shouting a terse version of what had transpired. I stomped off to the woman running the parking booth, hoping against hope -- but not believing -- that my stuff would have been turned in.

I steamed and seethed on the brief elevator ride to the parking attendant. And there, just outside the elevator, near her booth, sat my purse and the diaper bag -- rescued by some good Samaritan. Everything was undisturbed.

I'd blown a gasket for nothing.

Well, not exactly nothing. My daughter had disobeyed every request in the last twenty-plus minutes, after I'd done nothing but let her do as she pleased all morning. And she'd risked getting my wallet and keys stolen, even though she doesn't yet understand about that risk.

It was a good thing Daddy drove the kids home.

She fell asleep on the ride home, since we were way late for naps. So did he. But both woke up in the dreaded transition from the car to their beds. She refused to sleep. Daddy sat with her in front of the TV. I wanted nothing more to do with her. But I couldn't get him back to sleep either. And the cat wanted me to nap with him. He was meowing incessantly, the third "child" in need of mom's attention.

I snapped all over again.

I told Late Blooming Dad I was going out, and didn't know when I'd return.

Spent the next two hours wandering around the neighborhood. Cried. Brooded. Felt ashamed. Felt pissed off. Tried hard to get it all out of my system. Tried to remind myself this life -- family life -- is the life I've wanted and longed for. But just felt trapped. Wanted to be anywhere but home.

By the time I wandered back home, Dad had things under control and was plotting to take them out to dinner to get them off my hands a little while longer. I decompressed for another hour or so.

Later, after Dad gave them baths, I was able to get them changed, teeth brushed, books read, and into their beds. Going down for the night was a challenge, especially for my daughter -- I'd apologized already for screaming at her, reassured her I loved her, lectured her on the need to do what mommy asks, but she still had questions about the incident. Mercifully, they both finally drifted off by about nine-thirty.

Then it was time for the debriefing, on the couch, with Dad.

As we went over the day's events -- Thing 1 had had his share of fits, it wasn't all on Thing 2 -- and talked out our anger and exhaustion, I found myself ruefully telling dad, "We could've adopted, you know. After the miscarriages, you were the one who was so adamant that I soldier on, so we could have our biological offspring. When all along, we could've adopted NICE children."

We both cracked up.

Then Dad pointed out we were three days into a four-day holiday weekend, and he fully expected it to be like this. "My thought when the holiday began was, let's just get through the next 96 hours and make it back to work on Monday," he said. I was the one who'd had dewy-eyed, sentimental expectations of a perfect family holiday weekend. I was the one who'd been the idiot.

Now I realized that all over America, families had hit the day-three wall of the four-day holiday, and there were probably short fuses and fit-throwing kids and screaming parents all over this land of ours. Why should our family be any different?

Thankfully, it's 2/3 of the way through Day Four, and things are going a lot better.
But as Yogi Berra says, it ain't over till it's over. Wish us luck.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Yes Zone, Thanksgiving Edition

It's Thanksgiving Day, and I'm thankful for the good folks at the Los Angeles Auto Show for opening their doors today.

On a day when just about everything else is closed, save the local playground, I got to take both kids to a giant "yes" zone (which I've written about previously here: it means a place where your kids can pretty much do whatever they want without getting into danger or trouble, and you don't have to keep saying "no" to them).

Basically, the annual Auto Show is a few "ginormous" rooms lined in plush carpet, full of shiny, gleaming, brand spankin' new cars, most of which you -- and your kids -- can go inside. Thing 1 is already something of a car fanatic, thanks to his favorite movie, CARS. Thing 2 is game to go along where there are bright lights, pretty colors, and buttons to push. The Auto Show is jam-packed full of opportunities to clamber, climb, pretend to drive, and push buttons. They did it all, and even better, there was an unexpected bonus: they got to ride around in car-shaped strollers between the exhibit halls and the various cars on display.

There was one glitch with the bonus, however: even though we'd let Thing 1 and Thing 2 select their individual car strollers, about halfway through the experience, it was noticed that one had a safety belt to click and the other didn't. All hell broke loose as Thing 1 wanted to trade cars with Thing 2, since she had the safety belt in hers. Suddenly his red car wasn't nearly as appealing as her yellow car. He found scratches to object to, and then said his was dirty. He pitched a fit and demanded a switch. We tried negotiating a trade with Thing 2. She agreed to switch at the Ferrari exhibit, but only briefly. Soon Thing 1 pitched a fit again. Late Blooming Mom tried cranking out the "You get what you get, and you don't get upset" rule, to no avail. Dad got the contents of two yogurt "squeezers" into Thing 1 in the vain hope that nutrients would turn him more rational. But by then, trading with his sister was no longer his ardent desire. He'd spotted another stall full of car strollers, and was adamantly campaigning for a full trade-in.

Probably we should've stood our ground. But it's Thanksgiving Day, and we'd already had it marred by one fit. So Dad managed to cajole a trade-in, and suddenly Thing 1 was climbing into a new green car stroller. From there, it was on to the hybrids and electric cars, and lunch, which wasn't much of a lunch -- a few bites of overcooked burgers, raisin bran cereal from which Thing 1 insisted on eating only the raisins -- but at least, as Dad sarcastically pointed out, it was expensive. (Memo to self: don't be lazy, pack a lunch from home next time.) To get them out of the hall and back to our own, decidedly un-pimped but reliable ride (a ten-year-old Camry, for those curious), we divided a kid's sized portion of strawberry/vanilla swirled frozen yogurt into several smaller portions, and shared.

On balance, though, it was a great outing. The kids were thrilled. And save the stroller trade-in shenanigans, it must be said that a good time was had by all. Yay for the yes zone, once again.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Their First Trip To The Movies

It was mostly about the popcorn.

This being contemporary Hollywood -- over-commercialized, branded and marked by sequels and prequels, it's probably fitting that the first movie Thing 1 and Thing 2 experienced in a movie theater was a sequel. MADAGASCAR 2. We picked it because they'd seen MADAGASCAR at home several times, pretty much liked it -- like most kids in America, they especially like to sing along to "MOVE IT, MOVE IT" -- and were only scared at one moment in the entire movie. So we figured it'd be a safe choice, though perhaps not the life-changing experience they got when they first screened MARY POPPINS at home.

We prepped them about how it was going to get dark when the previews came on; how the screen would be much bigger than our home TV; how they would have their own seats, but could sit on our laps if they got scared; how it was going to be loud. We'd been told by other parents of preschoolers to expect we might have to leave part-way through the movie, when the darkness, volume, or scary moments might prove too much for the kids.

Turns out, there was no reason to worry.

Thanks to the big heaping boxes of popcorn I put on their laps, they were content to munch -- and drink water from their sippies, placed conveniently in personal cupholders -- while witnessing the incomprehensible (to them, anyway) ad for a 007 Blu-Ray disc collection (I was cringing at the violence and the six-year-old behind us reacted to an explosion by saying, "That is not good"), all the trailers (which, thank goodness, were actually for kids' movies), and much of the film before getting restless (Thing 1) or momentarily frightened (Thing 2).

The seats were way too large for small legs that can't bend at the knee with a seat that long, not if they're going to sit back. Thing 2 solved the problem by sitting "criss cross, applesauce," while Thing 1 wound up getting up 2/3 of the way through and stretching his legs. He might've left had I not coaxed him into my much more comfy lap for the rest of the movie.

There were a lot of questions asked, primarily by Thing 2, who is keenly observant and the more sensitive, perhaps because she's a girl. It took a lot of attempts to finally get her to whisper the questions to me instead of ask them at full volume. When certain characters disappeared from the story for a time, she was terribly concerned about their whereabouts. When dangerous or scary things happened to characters, she got worried and at one point, cringed and closed her eyes and nearly started crying (thank you, evil producers, animators and writers for including a chomping, terrifying shark that had no business jumping out of the ocean and following a lemur all the way ashore and up to a volcano). Thing 2 evinced no such concern, and was fully absorbed and happy, at least until the popcorn ran out. (That's when I wound up coaxing him into my lap.)

But on the whole, they took to the in-the-theater experience like veterans. Several times Late Blooming Mom and Dad stole glances at them, as they smiled or stared in awe at what they were seeing ... or just kept stuffing popcorn into their mouths and looking small in the big red chairs. I think it was more special for us than it was for them. We even saved the ticket stubs.

When we emerged, it was quite foggy and dark, and the kids were full of energy. They gleefully ran to the fast food Greek restaurant (where they objected to the food, so we had to pop into the Mexican fast food place next door), and pretty much held it together for a post-dinner trip to Trader Joe's to buy cookies (a successful ploy by Dad to avoid having to give them ice cream; a couple of small animal crackers satisfied the "treat" demands). Bedtime was an hour-plus late, but we were all content.

Nobody ran howling from the theater; a fairly good time was had by all, save Thing 2's distress at that totally unnecessary shark (are you hearing this, Dreamworks? As a movie industry professional who analyzes scripts for a living -- let alone as a pissed off parent -- I put you on notice the shark was stupid). And a milestone was achieved.

Anyone for a matinee?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Late Blooming Parents Mean Late Blooming Grandparents

You don't plan to be a Late Blooming Mom or Dad, it just happens.

Soon after, you come to realize that, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell's BOTH SIDES NOW, something's lost, but something's gained.

Sure, you're getting to parent after establishing yourself in a profession, gaining some financial stability, and having attained the wisdom and maturity that come with being around 35-plus (or in my case, 40-plus) years.

But when it comes to grandparents, your kids may get short shrift. My kids got only one set of living grandparents. They're lucky that Grandma and Grandpa are way into them, and still healthy enough to enjoy them. But Grandma and Grandpa are also older than a lot of their peers' grandparents, and not quite as fit and nimble and game for babysitting as others. It's not their fault they can't bend and lift thirty-plus pound preschoolers, nor chase after them if they run into trouble. They can't wrestle a recalcitrant grandkid into a car seat, and they don't have the stamina to handle two of them alone for any length of time.

The other Grandparent problem that can come with being a Late Blooming Parent -- or any parent of this generation, I suppose -- is that many parents don't live in the same city or state as their elderly parents. This necessitates a lot of travel on somebody's, or even everybody's, part once the grandkids show up. Late Blooming Mom and Dad spend a big chunk of what little vacation time they have traveling east to make sure Thing 1 and Thing 2 get quality Grandparent time. Grandma and Grandpa make the trek west even more often, reciprocating more thanks to the freedom of being retired.

But the distance thing can be hard on everyone. This morning, Thing 1 and Thing 2 could not bring themselves to say goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa, who were scheduled to leave for the airport. Saying goodbye meant acknowledging that it'll be a while before they see the grandparents again, and when you're not quite four years old, your sense of time isn't exactly well-defined. They don't understand the difference between Monday and Tuesday, this week or next, let alone waiting months into next year before they get to see Grandma and Grandpa again.

Late Blooming Mom and Dad sometimes think about how nice it would be to live in the same state or city as the grandparents. But then we realize a host of reasons why we can't relocate -- jobs and the home we're paying off (who wants to sell in this market?) and the lives we've built here. We do the best we can, pooling the frequent flier miles and carting Thing 1 and Thing 2 across country when we can, hosting the grandparents here when they can come. It's never enough.

Still, there's something sweet about seeing the kids starting to remember their last trip to Grandma and Grandpa's house, anticipating the next one ... and speculating about the next time the folks will come visit us.

When I grew up, my living grandparents were a borough away -- Brooklyn -- and we went back and forth nearly every weekend. One grandma even slept over in my room on occasion, and babysat when she could. Going to visit grandparents was full of rituals. There were things I could play with that were found only at the grandparents' apartments. There was a recliner chair at Grandma Esther's, and she always gave me money to go across to the candy store and buy penny candy that they didn't seem to sell in Manhattan anymore. At Grandpa Bill and Grandma Ceil's, there was a high-rise view from which, if you craned your neck, you could sorta see Manhattan ... and there were dinners at Garguilio's, the kind of red sauce Italian place where every waiter looked and sounded like Billy Joel. When the grandparents came to Manhattan, there were crullers and chocolate blackout cake from Ebbinger's Bakery, and toasted, buttered raisin bread. Grandpa Bill used to swing me with both arms, in what he called "the grandpa swing." Grandma Ceil always tried to feed me, and had more cans of condensed milk and rolls of toilet paper in her house than she could ever need. She'd brush my hair one hundred strokes, and she was the only person who called Grandpa Bill "William."

I wonder what vivid memories of Grandma and Grandpa my kids are now acquiring on these visits. I know it's different when you don't see each other routinely, the way I did my grandparents. I just hope we're making the best of the situation, and for all the disadvantages of having Late Blooming Grandparents, the kids are getting what they should: hugs, kisses, and a sense of who they came from, at least from Dad's side of the family.

It's not ideal. But it's what we got.

Friday, November 14, 2008

She Can Smell Chocolate On My Breath. It's Just One Of My Favorite Things.

Thing 2 found some money on my desk the other day, a bunch of coins. She said, "Can I have these monies, monmy?" I said yes. She did that little jump she does when she's gleeful, a kind of full body bounce, and said, "I love monies!" Then she gave some coins to Thing 1, who said, "How many monies do you have? I have five monies!"

On the ride home from preschool, Thing 2 tries to convince me to let him watch certain shows or movies by prefacing his request this way: "You know what we hadn't watched in a long time?" He means "haven't" but it comes out "hadn't." Anything we "hadn't done in a long time" is the thing he most wants to do this minute.

He also interrupts frequently with this query: "Kin I tall you someping, mommy?" And when he wants a television show recorded on our Tivo, he asks, "Kin you recorder it, Mommy?" Perhaps because he also sometimes plays the recorder, or at least blows into it, and after all, "recorder" isn't much different from "record."

She asks for two pony tails rather than calling them pigtails.

He gets upset if she doesn't wear the pajamas or socks or underwear he wants her to wear. He may be just shy of four years old, but he might as well be a professional wardrobe consultant.

She could spend all day trying to draw hearts and flowers, or getting me to draw them for her so she can color them in.

He could eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or mac n' cheese for every meal of the day.
He even eats peanut butter and jelly on his Vans mini waffles.

He falls asleep faster if I lie on the floor beneath his bed and hold his hand.

She holds two small stuffed yellow ducks, one in each hand, while sleeping, and sometimes touches each duck's soft beak to her cheeks, as if the ducks are kissing her.

She calls his favorite character "Light McQueen," always leaving out the "ning" part. And when she counts to twenty, she always skips from fifteen to eighteen.

He carries his cars around with him in a soft Cars-the-movie themed lunchbox. He insists on bringing the same car to Share Day every week.

She sucks the juice from the hard middle of the mango.

She can smell chocolate on my breath every time.

With no prodding, at totally random moments, he'll lean his head into my body and say, "I love you, mommy."

I write these down so I don't forget them. At this moment of motherhood, they're my favorite things the kids do or say. Like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, they're worth more than all my monies.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Yes We Did

Fair warning: Late Blooming Mom is happy about the election, and though this isn't generally a site for politics or partisanship, tonight I'm making an exception.

Here's how election night 2008 went down around here.

We set up the kids with the MARY POPPINS DVD in the living room, because they just couldn't get interested in election night returns. Much as I wanted them to be witnesses to history, I had to recognize that they're not quite four years old, and CNN coverage, even with its new-fangled holograms, couldn't hold their attention for long.

So in the family room, where the other TV is located, we camped out on the couch, riveted, leaving them to their jolly holiday with Mary.

We could see where the night was going, but after so many years of disappointment, the still-vivid memories of the 2000 recount and the 2004 map swinging from Kerry to Bush over the course of the evening, we didn't let ourselves believe it ...

But then, at 8pm Pacific Time, they called it. And something happened I don't think either of us expected.

We burst into tears.

It was at once the fulfillment of the dreamed-of America we'd been brought up to believe in, but had long become cynical about, and the cathartic release of the eight-year rule of a horrid administration that combined incompetence with arrogance and sometimes doses of downright evil (I'm paging you, Dick Cheney).

But the best was yet to come. Thing 1 had somehow found our Fourth-of-July American flags. In his bright blue snow men pajamas, he walked into the family room waving one of the flags, smiling, and saying, "It's election night!" Then he pointed to a photo on the laptop open on the table in front of the TV, where we'd also been checking updates, and said, "It's Barack Obama!" He was gleefully proud of himself for knowing this, and giddy with his flag-waving cheer.

Later I wound up kissing both kids -- so did daddy. And daddy added, "Barack's going to help us."

We remained in a happy daze of disbelief all night -- calling family and friends around the country, no matter how late in their time zones, and exchanging updates on Facebook. One dear friend, another late blooming mom, said it best: "Our friends are all beside themselves with joy."

A lot of my friends are members of one minority group or another -- Asian-American, Jewish, Latino, African-American, gay, etc. It can't even been put into words how incredible we all feel that a member of a minority has been chosen by the majority to lead us all. We grew up seeing mostly white guys rule, with the occasional woman getting a shot at power, but not at the biggest, most powerful job. We were told time and time again that you can be anything you want to be in America if you work hard at it, but on some level, we never quite fully believed.

Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech has always been political church to me, a religious experience every time I see or hear it, even though I'm too young to have seen it when it was originally delivered. To me there are like 3 great speeches: FDR's inaugural "Nothing to fear but fear itself," Lincoln's Gettysburg address, and King's. But Barack's 2004 Democratic Convention speech, and his speech on race this year, come pretty close. And with his election, I really do believe King's vision has been realized. It's not that this is the end of racism in America. But it shows that in today's America, more of us judge people on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

It also shows that democracy still works. After years of dirty tricks by Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and their ilk, I was really getting demoralized, thinking there was no way people could hear the truth unfiltered, and act on it, discounting the lies and distortions, or at least deciding an election for reasons that really matter, not fake wedge issues or personal attacks that weren't relevant to fixing the country. People took the power of the ballot in their hands and changed power, peacefully, and they did it despite the negativity and distortions. That's the way America is supposed to work.

But perhaps the best development of what happened election night is this: the first president my kids are going to be conscious of, the one they're going to spend a good deal of time growing up with, is a man of mixed race. Their image of who a president is will be shaped as much by his picture as the pictures they'll see in school of George Washington, Lincoln, FDR.

Only in America.

And when they're learning their country's history, they'll know they were around when this amazing thing happened.

Maybe it took the worst economy since the Depression to make this happen. That's one way of looking at it. But I prefer to see it this way: this time, at last, we voted for Hope.