Lately I’ve been having bizarre, highly detailed dreams. Clay comes into the bedroom to wake me up with a kiss before he leaves for work and I open my eyes and say things like,
”I dreamt we were living in a large, wooden house. But then we were invaded by Nazis. We escaped! To a Rocky’s game – except Raphael (who was a toddler) was crawling under the seats and trying to eat people’s popcorn. I kept grabbing him by the ankles and hissing, ‘if you don’t stop that the Nazis will find us!’ and then we went swimming.”
Clay is kind about my raving. He listens, and nods, and never accuses me of being insane. However, since I seem to be driven to share my…special dreaming insights with people, no fewer than three people have cocked their heads at me and asked, “Are you by any chance pregnant?”
NO, I say, no I am not.
Allow me to reiterate:
This is not “hmmm…COULD I be?”
This is No.
ALTHOUGH, I did have a dream wherein Clay and I had a baby – but we used a surrogate to carry the baby. Except the surrogate turned out to be a man. My mom was going to deliver the baby – in our garage – on top of a Tupperware container we have out there to store the boys’ off season clothing in. I kept asking her “How is this going to WORK? I mean, he’s a MAN.” Mom just dusted off the lid of the container, helped our nice laboring surrogate…dad…up on it, and rolled her eyes at me. “Don’t worry, it’ll be FINE.”
And it was! We had a gorgeous baby boy, and Clay and I were so happy that we decided to go on a road trip. I believe the dream ended with us deciding to take my van (clearly a dream delusion) and us saying, “Well then, let’s hose it out and go!”
The thing about dreams like this one is that they SEEM so real that they linger in my mind. No one needs that mess lingering in her mind, particularly when she’s got other things to figure out, like getting Max’s inhaler to school with him (DONE! I WIN AT MOTHERING!). All these profoundly irrational dreams persist in my thoughts, wisps of unreality that I don’t have time to sort out. And to make matters worse, I suspect the children smell weakness, and have decided to use it against me.
Tonight, as I half-heartedly cleared dishes from the supper table, I turned to see Max sneaking away from the last of his meal. I don’t care if he doesn’t want to finish his dinner, but he had specifically requested this food on his plate, and assured me he would most certainly perish before my eyes without it. So. I suggested he darn well hie himself back to the table and finish his food. He looked at me, eyes bright with the many thoughts behind them, and said in a vague sort of voice,
”Don’t worry, Mom. This is just a dream.”
I actually paused, looked at him hard, and thought about it for a moment. A torrent of giggles assured me it was not a dream, just my beloved middlest child messing with my head.
Dreams are odd but life? Life is very strange.
As I pulled a load of clothes out of the dryer, something small and plastic fell to the floor. I stooped to pick it up. It was a red oval “jewel,” a small craft gem that Raphael had given me sometime during the week. During Sunday school a few weeks ago he’d somehow pocketed a fistful of these precious gems, and he’s been doling them out to me ever since.
“Here, Mom,” he said one morning at breakfast, “this one is for you, because you like green.” He pressed a round green jewel into my hand. I thanked him, kissed his head, and slipped it into my bathrobe pocket.
As I sat at the computer one afternoon, he sidled up to me.
“Give me your hand,” he murmured. I held out my hand and he dropped several flower-shaped jewels in my palm. “These are for you because they’re beautiful and you’re beautiful.” I thanked him, kissed his head, and set the jewels down in a huddle around the base of the monitor.
“These are for you,” he said as I cleared the lunch dishes, reaching out to me with a tight fist filled with something. I held out my hand and he dropped in three blue hearts. “They mean that I love you.” I thanked him, kissed his head, and tucked the hearts behind the fruit bowl on the counter.
The thing is, I am in an endless (and losing) battle against the clutter around here. There are so many choices about what to toss and what to save. Little plastic gems just don’t seem like something to save. After a few days I surreptitiously swept the hearts into the trash, hid them under a butter wrapper. The flowers were hidden in an empty grapefruit rind. The green jewel was tucked in the bathroom trash, under an empty toilet paper tube. There is only so much stuff one woman can be expected to keep in her life.
Whenever Raphael asks about some treasure he’s bestowed upon me – be it jewel or handmade crown or drawing or that one special stick – if I’ve already disposed of it, I look around vaguely and say, “Hmm…I’m not sure WHERE that is…”
He thinks I’m just foolish and forgetful.
Tonight I picked up that little red jewel, cloudy from its trip through the wash, and turned it over in my hand for a moment. Tre used to bring me treasures – pop tops and leaves, paper airplanes and notes. Max used to bring me gifts – often they were living things, insects and the like. Neither of them would dream of doing such a thing now.
I accept these gifts from a still-adoring Raphael, and cast them away when he’s not looking because I can’t seem to remember how quickly he’s moving away from me.
Raphael is right.
I’m foolish and forgetful.
Hey, you know what Clay and I did this weekend?
We celebrated our first anniversary.
I KNOW! But really, truly, it’s been a whole year!
Saturday we took the kids to the library. I ran into a woman I haven’t seen for…what….nearly five years. We spent time together in the year after my first marriage split up. Our kids used to be in the same homeschooling program.
When we passed each other, there in the children’s section, we both had one of those pause…look back…think hard…what IS her name?...moments. Finally we both confessed to faulty memories and figured out where we knew each other from.
“Is THAT your baby?” she gasped as Raphael walked past, brushing me with a proprietary hand.
“Yes! And look!” I pointed out Clay, across the room, “THAT is my husband!”
And I laughed out loud, a little too loud even for the children’s section of the library, because it surprised me again, the joy of it.
Look. There he is. Perhaps it was seeing this woman, who knew me last as a fragile, skinny, scared person, and thinking about those days as compared to these.
There he is. Here we are.
After the library we dropped the kids off at my parents’ house and went out to celebrate. We sat so long over dinner, laughing and talking, that we missed our movie.
Here we are, and what a good place to be.
But of course it isn’t only us – there are the kids too.
I remember reading somewhere in the weeks before the wedding last year that “experts” estimate that it takes seven years for a step family to blend.
Seven years, I thought. SEVEN YEARS?
The thought panicked me, and made me tired at the same time.
To the “experts” I submit the following scene:
I was making Raphael a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, and as I slipped it onto a plate and turned to the table, Clay glanced at it and shook his head.
“You cut it the wrong way,” he whispered to me. I shot him a look. I think I know how to cut his sandwich.
I set it down in front of Raphael, and he took one look at it and slumped in despair.
“Moooooooom! You CUT IT WRONG!”
He ate it anyway, but informed me several times that next time I should just let his dad make his sandwich.
And maybe next time I will, because here we are. My kids have a dad again – one who cares enough to notice the right way to cut a grilled cheese sandwich.
What a beautiful thing.
Happy anniversary, love.
I took Carmi into the vet’s today. It was nearly time for her usual visit, but I bumped it up by a month because she had a…thing on her shoulder that I wanted looked at. Just a little bump, but over the last month it had grown noticeably.
I chatted with the vet tech about the bump and she confirmed my suspicions.
”Well, the doctor will see if she can express anything out of it [express = code word for ‘squeeze it like a nervous 13 year old sitting in the bathroom sink’], and if she isn’t able to get anything, she’ll want to take a sample to send to the lab to be analyzed.”
Translation = It is either a harmless doggie pimple or virulent dog-eating cancer. Run along and try to enjoy your day with images of your dog dying a cancer riddled death. Ta ta!
And so I did.
When it was time to pick her up the kids and I surged around the desk. The nice vet tech went through the paperwork with me, discussing the various discoveries. Carmi has “moderate tartar,” meaning that three tooth brushing sessions a year aren’t cutting it. Damn. She had full anal glands and they went ahead and emptied them. (Lalalalala, filling my mind with non-anal gland imagery until that particular phrase fades from my consciousness. LALALALALALALA!)
“And the bump…let’s see. Oh, right. The doctor was able to drain some fluid from it.”
“OH, excellent!” I replied. It was not, in fact, dog-eating cancer.
“Yes. Would you like to see what she got out of it?” She was, God help me, reaching for a gauze pad.
You know, there are questions in life that give me pause. Questions that make me think, to delve deeply into my understanding of right and wrong to come to an answer. “Paper or plastic?” is that sort of question. Also, “Do you think, as a society, America will ever find a way to reduce its carbon footprint?” Questions like that make me ponder awhile.
“Would you like to see the substance the vet squeezed out of a pustule on your dog’s shoulder?”
Not so much a question that requires wise reflection.
“WHAT?” I replied in a near-panicky voice, “NO!”
The nice vet tech looked embarrassed for me and quickly moved to throw the offending gauze. The OTHER vet tech at the counter dived for it.
“No, wait, I want to see it!”
There are many things that give me pause in life, many questions I’ll never be sure I know the answer to. However, these things remain clear:
1 – I do no want to see substances that have been squeezed out of my dog.
2 – I will never brush her teeth often enough to make the vet happy.
3 – I would not make a good vet tech.
And let’s not forget:
4 – I’m ever so glad that the goodest of the good dogs does NOT have dog-eating cancer.
I was out after dinner, on a rare nighttime errand. Even rarer, my gas tank was running on fumes (Clay usually fills my gas tank for me – and I don’t care if women all over the world object, I think it’s only meet and right). I stopped for a few gallons, stamping and muttering in the cold. The night was foggy, an unusual thing around here. I climbed back into the van and nosed my way out onto the misty cold street.
I flexed cold fingers on the steering wheel and punched the buttons on the radio, searching for a welcome voice. As I did, I heard a beep from my purse. Somehow I never hear my cell phone ring, but I do catch the “message waiting” alert. I fished the phone out and dialed in to hear the messages.
“Hi, honey,” Clay’s voice said, “I was just wondering – how long did you want me to cook this chicken? Love you.”
In the background I heard a tumble of the boys’ voices. They were playing a board game, and I could hear the arguing about whose turn it is. Raphael called out, “Tell Mem she’s beautiful!” As he hung up the phone I heard Clay start to respond, “Ok, guys, it was Tre’s turn-“
I listened to it twice. It was just a moment, a snippet of an evening spent huddled around the kitchen table, surrounded by the smell of chicken stock simmering on the stove and the din of boys playing.
Suddenly the van seemed much warmer.
Ok, so last week when I picked the boys up from Monday school I noticed that Max’s breathing was a tad tight. (Self-justification effort, the first: I NOTICED! It was SUBTLE, but I NOTICED!) Max has asthma, but not so’s you could tell, most of the time. We keep a “rescue” inhaler around, but he only needs it once every few months or so, which means he doesn’t really require more intensive meds. Occasionally he’ll wander in from playing, wheezing a tad. It’s so subtle that I have to shush everyone and put my ear right next to his chest to hear it. When I do, I send him off to use the inhaler, tra-la-la, and all is well. For some kids asthma can be life-threatening. For Max, it’s always been a slight nuisance, nothing more.
The tightness in his chest that I heard last week was sub-wheezing, but STILL, I NOTICED.
“Max,” I said, “have you been wheezing today?”
“Yup. At P.E. It always happens.”
“Well, we’ll have to bring your inhaler next week, in case you need it during P.E.”
Wasn’t that A Good Idea?
Wouldn’t that have been A Grand Thing To Do?
I thought so too. I even thought so this morning, right up until I sailed out of the house with:
- One (1) dozen (12) cupcakes for a Valentine’s party.
- Eighteen (18) Star Wars Valentine’s cards, labeled and divided between Tre and Max, in bags with their names written upon them in holiday-themed red ink.
- Fourteen (14) Superman Valentine’s cards, filled out by me and Clay, after the cupcakes were done, in the wee hours, on behalf of Raphael, in a bag with his name written upon it in aforementioned red ink.
- One (1) more bag, containing a well-balanced lunch for Max, who is a freak of a child and does not like pizza.
- Yet one (1) more bag, containing a Neopet, that Raphael was taking for Tell and Show, to represent the letter N.
- And yet zero (0) inhalers.
(Long, boringly detailed list of the things I had to remember this morning – effort, the second.)
I flung the children at their state-approved educators for the day and sailed out into my Monday, trilling happy songs.
I came back in the afternoon, an hour before school ended, for Raphael’s class V-day party. I walked through the halls, humming to myself, happy with the day, not a care in the world. As I made my way to the kindergarten room, whom should I see, sitting on the floor under the water fountain?
Gasping for air!
“Um…honey?” I peered down at him. He wheezed and gave me a half-hearted smile. I crouched down next to him and observed. Each breath came so hard that the hollow at the base of his throat sucked in. He raised his shoulders, fighting to free up room for air. “Max, are you ok?”
“Oh, sure,” he gasped.
“You sure are wheezing a lot,” I said stupidly.
“Oh, it always happens in P.E.,” he said…well, not airily, to be sure. But without concern.
“Good lord, honey. Did you tell Ms. Bess?”
“Well, I told her I needed to go get some water.”
“GO tell Ms. Bess.”
I was stumped. I didn’t have his inhaler, it was a half hour drive away, and I didn’t know what to do. I thought if he went back into class…I don’t know…SHE would know what to do.
(Undoing of all the previous efforts to redeem myself, noted.)
I went on to Raphael’s party, and sat with a furrowed brow.
However, not furrowed enough, because later, as I made my way through the hall to do a small errand for Ms. Sue, I peeked into Max’s P.E. class to see him.
To see him racing around.
Racing around and still fighting for air.
I did what any loving parent would do – I throttled him.
See? Asthma can be life-threatening.
(And NO, I did not actually throttle him. What I did was hurry home, skipping several errands, to get him to his inhaler. By the time we GOT there, he was breathing just fine, thankyouverymuch, running around and laughing his trademark thunder-roll of laughter. I, on the other hand, sat around, invisioning lung scarring. Lovely way to spend an afternoon. And you'd damn well better believe the child will have his inhaler next Monday.)
I’m sorry to say that I’m not a very good mother. Oh, I’m a loving mother…and an INVOLVED mother. I’m even a thoughtful mother.
I’m just not very GOOD.
The main problem I have is discipline. It is ever so important to give your kids boundaries and consequences. The best explanation I’ve heard is that if you don’t discipline your kids, the world will.
And the world doesn’t love them.
And I KNOW this, I do. I know that I shouldn’t let the kids get away with 1/10 of the stuff they pull. I just…I don’t like taking things away from them. I don’t like removing privileges. If they have a much-anticipated play date in the afternoon, I want them to GO and ENJOY almost as much as they do. I just keep hoping that if I continually explain to them WHY they shouldn’t (fill in the blank), eventually they will realize I am right and start acting like wonderful little civilized beings, instead of wonderful little maniacs that cause me to lose my freaking mind.
It makes me crazy – I make me crazy, because I know better. They will get away with what they can get away with, not because they’re bad, just because that’s what people do. And I get increasingly irritated with them and soon I’m screaming, no one is happy, and the dog is cowering and I hate it when she does that.
So then I renew my resolve to be firm. Calm. Gentle and in charge.
It’s like a diet, except when I fail I get no chocolate.
Well, today I suspect I may have hit a new low. In the mid-morning lull between chores and school, I sent the boys downstairs to clean up the play room. Max was in A Mood, and things immediately started deteriorating.
“You guys!” I called out warningly, “stop fighting!”
Can you believe that didn’t stop it? No, SERIOUSLY?
While the discord downstairs built to a crescendo, I got on the phone to work out the details of an expected play date for the afternoon. Max was expecting his friend Grant to come over, but as it turned out, he couldn’t come. Oh well. I assured the mom we’d be ok and hung up. As I did, Raphael and Tre came barreling up the stairs, each clutching an injured body part.
“Max HIT me,” bellowed an incensed Tre.
“Max KICKED me,” wailed Raphael. I sighed and headed downstairs to dispense justice. Max was waiting for me, glaring.
“Did you hurt your brothers?”
Just then I got a burst of inspiration. I cut in.
“No but. It’s not ok to hit or kick. I’m sorry, but you won’t be able to play with Grant this afternoon.”
“WHAT?” He burst into tears. “NO, Mom, PLEASE!”
“I’m sorry, but I’ve asked you several times this morning to leave your brothers alone. If you won’t listen, you’re going to lose privileges.” I was calm, I was firm.
He threw himself on his bed, distraught. I told him I was sorry he was sad and went back upstairs.
So let’s recap: poor behavior from my son. I dispensed a consequence that wasn’t a consequence at all, but me taking advantage of the situation to come off like the tough mom I aspire to be.
You be the judge – great big lying phony, or clever mother?
I need some chocolate.
When I was a child I fully intended to be artistic. I liked the idea of it, the passion and drama that being artistic would surely confer. I went through phases where I feverishly sketched in notebooks, clutching them to my chest should any NONARTISTIC types (read: my family) wander too close.
Sadly, I had no talent. Worse still, I didn’t actually have much interest in ART. My focus was being interesting, and there were plenty other options for that which didn’t include the irrational need to SIT STILL so much.
But then I had babies, and as was often the case with my long lost misguided notions, this one was reborn with the boys. THEY would be artists, for LOOK AT THEM AND THEIR BEAUTY. They were surely the most interesting beings I’d ever met, and would therefore be artistic. Plus, I wasn’t going to screw up as my well-intentioned parents had obviously done with me.
Oh, I kill me.
As soon as Tre got old enough to reliably handle crayons without eating them, I started seating him in front of paper and crayon.
”Go, child! CREATE!” I breathed joyfully. He looked at me blankly, scribbled some random lines, then said,
“Can I be done now?”
Really, other than one burst of creativity when he was two and a half and drew a great swooping mural of a Christmas tree on the wall, Tre has been forever and utterly uninterested in art. He was five before he drew an actual representational picture.
And to be honest, it wasn’t all that good. I tried to encourage him, I really did.
“Here, sweetie! Why don’t you draw a picture of our HOME!” I would say in tones suggesting I was offering him a free cruise. He would sigh and dutifully start drawing lines on the paper. Pause. Look at me.
“Do I have to draw ALL the rooms?”
Eventually I gave up. I released him from the burden of art.
Max, on the other hand, seemed to like putting crayon to paper (or pencil to wall). However, he has always had…let’s call them bilateralization issues. For the longest time he could write an entire sentence in mirror image and not be able to see what was wrong with it. I mean, the whole thing would be flipped, from the punctuation to the capitol letter, and I would boggle at it and say, “Max, honey, can you see what the problem is here?” He would study it and study it and shake his head, bewildered.
So he liked to draw, but it was usually amorphous shapes. Correction: one amorphous shape with his right hand, and a perfect mirror image of it with his left hand. It often looked like two hemispheres of a brain, which IS interesting and MIGHT even be art, but was beyond me in many many ways.
Finally, I just gave up. Raphael has been known to commit acts of drawing, but he’s on his own. I have retired from the art scene.
Well, today Tre received a book. It is an instruction manual on how to draw Mario characters. He settled down with it right after dinner and spent the rest of the evening working feverishly away. He was delighted. Finally! I could almost hear him thinking, someone to show me the
He churned out many works of art that Max assured him were “perfect!” and then, “oh, that one’s better!”
He is prolific, very pleased with himself, and seems to believe that he’s conquered this whole art deal.
Max, on the other hand, came home from school recently with this picture.
Isn’t it lovely? Don’t you adore the parrot and all the vibrant colors?
Did you see this guy?
There’s a story behind the “Dead” guy. See, that’s an explorer that wandered too deep into the jungle and ran afoul of the natives who didn’t appreciate his intrusion. It’s all about property rights, really. However, I’m afraid not everyone will see it as innocent, and might instead assume he’s a freak of a child, clearly the result of defective parenting. Of course, I assume people will think that when his fingernails are too long, also. So.
I gently suggested that he might want to keep the dead guys out of his pictures – at least at school. He was nothing more than puzzled by me.
However, all is not lost. Tonight as I flopped down on the couch next to Raphael to watch “March of the Penguins,” he turned to look at me. He smiled widely, blissed out on all the penguins and being tucked against my side. He reached up and patted my cheek.
“Mom, you’re so beautiful,” he sighed.
Now, that boy’s got a good eye.