The Other Loss

We buried my mother this week. My family flew to New York for the service and we stayed with my father for two days. When we got to his house, we sat in his living room and he immediately went into the kitchen to wash dishes. My two-year-old daughter, having just met the grandfather she’d only seen in pictures, kept saying “Where’s Papou?” Then she ran back and forth between rooms saying, “Hi Papou!” He responded but continued to wash dishes.

When he finally did sit down with us, my husband kept up our end of the conversation. We didn’t talk about my mother and I realized that without her, my father and I had nothing in common. He calls me every other week with long stories about dental work or cataract surgery or how his lawyer “fired” him, but when we get in the same room, there’s nothing. I worried about this visit, because the last time I saw him, I was six months pregnant with 16 extra pounds on me. He called me later to tell me that I should check with a doctor because obese people have back problems during pregnancy. In six months of pregnancy I’d gained 16 pounds. Obese? But I still haven’t lost the baby weight. He didn’t make any comments this time but I guess without that topic of argument, there was nothing left to say.

We did talk about some things. I mean, we must have, but nothing important because I don’t remember. My husband said that we create a lot of tension when we’re together. And I said “Well, we haven’t had a good relationship since I was ten.” Did he expect that my mother’s death would change anything? I didn’t.

 But it has. My father and I no longer have a thread to connect us. I can’t ask, “How’s Mom?” to spark conversation. I don’t know what will happen now but I expect the frequency of the phone calls to fall off. I don’t think they’ll stop because I’m his daughter and my father has a strong sense of duty. He cared for my mother for so many years, after all. But I don’t anticipate our relationship improving from here. Even at the funeral, he didn’t sit in the same row as me. We’re not sure if it was because the service started rather suddenly and he couldn’t move or if he really was avoiding me but it doesn’t matter. When I was right in front of him he didn’t want to bother with me.

I lost my father and my mother the same week. And I’m sad. I’m not sad for my mom, because she’s no longer trapped in the body that betrayed her. I truly am grateful for the release. But for some reason, I’m sad about my dad. And I don’t know why. I never call him unless my day can’t get any worse. I keep the phone calls short, because if I let him talk he launches into the rhetoric of the extreme right or he says something racist or insulting and I have to hang up. When I’m at his house, I can’t wait to get out. Yet somehow I can’t imagine my life without him. And I guess that’s it. He was a constant in my life. I knew I’d always get those phone calls. I knew he’d always make racial comments. I knew he’d take care of my mother. But not now. He’s made it abundantly clear that he’s not interested in me anymore. And I’ll get over it. I have my own family now. They love me. It’s just that I expected the loss of my mother. I didn’t expect to lose my father with her.

Kids are Fun?

“Do you have kids?” our neighbor asked us four years ago, as he cast his line off the neighborhood pier.

 “No,” my husband said.

“They’re…fun,” he said as he caught his four-year-old daughter mid-run and swung her around.

 Fun? Really? I had no idea kids were fun. I knew they meant work, responsibility and loss of freedom, but I never heard that they were fun. In my life up until that moment I thought kids were just an enormous burden that people endure because they love them, not a new form of entertainment.

 But now that I’m a mom I realize he was right. They do entertain. They cry, spit up, scratch, kick and throw tantrums in the aisle at Safeway, but they also make us laugh, love and rejoice in the simplest things.

 My 2-year-old daughter, Rose, is funnier than I am and she doesn’t even try. She’s quite the chatterbox but sometimes her pronunciation is a little bit off. For example, “big truck” sounds like “big (another name for a rooster).” You should see us when we’re out at the supermarket and they get a delivery. “Yes, Honey, that IS a big truck. It is most certainly a truck. No question about it, it’s a truck.” “Clock” sounds just like truck.

 “Fork” comes out as another word for making love and “Spongebob” comes out “butt ‘fork.’” You would think these terms would only come up at home but she uses them in public all the time, whenever we see a Spongebob doll or go to a restaurant. “I want a fork!” plays really well with the diners at the next table. “Here’s your FORK, sweetie.” They’re still reeling from when she said “I want to ‘sit,’” which sounds like another word for poop.  Fortunately for me, I buff with the social Turtle Wax  that lets embarrassing behavior roll off my back.  

When I was pregnant, I discussed kids with a coworker who had three and one on the way. He told me that once we had kids, we’d never sleep again but we would think the loss was totally worth it.

 We gave up a lot once we had Rose – more than we expected. We moved from Maryland to Seattle when I was seven months pregnant and when she came along, we really understood why people live close to their families. My husband’s mother came out for a week to help us, and she even babysat one night so we could go out but after she left, there was no one to ask for help. We didn’t go out for about five months, when we exchanged babysitting with a mom I had befriended.

 We used to go to Key West every year for the Parrot Head  convention. We went three years in a row, and I’d gone two years by myself before I met my husband. We haven’t gone since 2006. We planned to, even registered, in 2007, but we couldn’t because I was too pregnant to fly. And then we kept saying we’d bring Rose to Key West but we haven’t yet.

The only restaurants we frequent now offer balloons and crayons at the door. The weird liquor laws in Washington prohibit us from bringing Rose almost anywhere adults gather. I can see it now that she runs around and wreaks havoc, but what about when she was a baby, strapped to my chest all the time? Did they worry the bartenders might mistakenly serve her?  

 And though Rose was always a good sleeper, she’s still a kid and every day at 7:30, weekend or not, she’s crying, “Mommy, where ARE you?” My husband and I each take her one morning on the weekends, but this week we were all sick, and even though we didn’t have to work, neither of us could not get an extra minute of the sleep we desperately needed. 

 But my neighbor was right. Kids are fun. It’s just not the same fun.

 While not as exciting as the gossip and occasional boobies we were used to at parties, there’s always drama: tantrums, spontaneous shrieking and even nudity, just on a much smaller scale.

 Though we don’t see people as much, we have a constant companion who facilitates spontaneous conversations with strangers wherever we go.  

 We don’t vacation to sexy destinations anymore but we do fun things together more frequently. We go to petting zoos, u-pick farms, playgrounds, farmer’s markets, pools and local parks. We love watching her explore, and let’s face it, we need to keep her happy because if she’s not, she can make us miserable.

And we rejoice too, more than we ever have. Rose let go of the bed and took her first steps the day before my 40th birthday and it was the best gift I ever got. When she eats or drinks something now she declares it “Delicious!” It’s really much funnier when you’re her mom but that’s the thing—it makes us laugh and we’re proud at the same time. The other day she spontaneously sang all of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” at the dinner table and it blew us away.

 No dates, no vacations, no happy hours and no sleep. Drama, company, family fun and pride. My neighbor, my coworker, and everyone who said we’d never be the same – they were all right. Nothing will ever be the same and we wouldn’t want anything to be different.

Warming Up to “Slow to Warm Up”

My daughter Rose is shy. More precisely, she’s “Slow to Warm Up.” She has trouble approaching other children and groups intimidate her. She plays with a few kids all the time, but it took a long time for her to get comfortable with them. She has a couple of friends that she sees once a month or so and each time we visit she sits on my lap for half an hour before she’ll even acknowledge them. At preschool and elsewhere, she bawls every time another kid approaches her. 

She’s the one who cries, but the shyness is harder on me. She deals with it and it’s just the way she is. I’m her mommy and I want to fix it. The last time we were at preschool, she cried about 10 times – when kids tried to enter the playhouse where she hid; when they took her toys; when they got too close. It was a total sobfest and I left convinced that something must be done. My daughter would not suffer social isolation for the rest of her life. I had just read that personality is determined by the time we’re three, and she’s almost two, so time is running out.

 I wanted to enroll her in a daily preschool immediately to force her into a social “sink or swim” situation. As soon as we got home from class, I fired up the computer to research preschools. As I surfed, I realized that preschool was just the beginning. She’s not good at making friends so the friends she would be forced to make according to plan had to accompany her to kindergarten. That meant I needed a preschool near her intended elementary school. So I looked up elementary schools. The way it works in our district is that, based upon our address, we have a choice of four or five elementary schools. Of course I wanted her to go to the best school our tax dollars could buy, so I checked out all the reviews, test scores and rankings for every school on the list. And then I found the gifted program which moves her to a new school in the third grade. I expect her to be in the gifted program because it’s in her genes and after all, she’s a pretty smart kid already. (Of course I think she’s gifted. I’m her mom.)

 So by the time I was done with my “preschool” research I had her starting school next September (they really don’t take 2-year-olds — especially if they’re still in diapers); going to the application-only Meadowdale Elementary; and transferring to the gifted school in third grade. So much for keeping the same friends, plus by putting her in the gifted program I’d given the other kids a reason to torment her. And the whole reason for preschool – to boost her social skills – was completely forgotten.

I never expected to be THAT parent – the one who has to get her kid into the right school, from preschool through prep, but there I was. I really do want her to keep the same friends, but in my zealousness over her education I lost sight of that. Once I came up for air, though, I remembered that shyness was the “problem” at hand.

But why is curing her shyness such a big deal to me? Why did I obsess so much I forgot my purpose? Why? Because Rose gets the shyness from me. Her father consistently amazes me with his social prowess, but I can’t start a conversation with anyone. Sure, I can chat about coupons on line at the supermarket for 30 seconds, but I really can’t work a room.

People who know me would never think I’m shy. And just like Rose, I’m more “slow to warm up” than shy. I have a lot of friends and I am very chatty once I get to know people, but I’m bad at meeting people and I take a long time to trust them. I’ve met a lot of people with my third drink in hand, but I need that social lubricant to be the outgoing, life of the party gal I want to be. I hate the shyness in myself. It’s painful and I don’t want it for Rose. When I was a little girl, the other kids picked on me and I just retreated, then withdrew. Then they bullied me because I was an easy mark. To top it off, I wasn’t the same size as the other kids so they called me fat. I didn’t really learn any social survival skills until high school. And even that was a disaster at the end.  

I love my daughter and I want her to have the best life possible. But I have to separate her life experience from my own. She is not me. She will have her own life and I can’t control every little thing that happens to her. Maybe she’ll be a very happy introvert who wins the Nobel Prize. Maybe she’ll be isolated and unhappy and have to overcome the shyness herself. But it’s her life, and even though she’s only two, I can’t change who she is, no matter how much I hate the qualities I’ve passed on to her.

I’m not going to stop facilitating her social life, because she needs one regardless of her disposition, but I am going to keep the focus where it belongs. If I don’t like being shy, I must overcome it myself. And the next time I feel the need to quash part of Rose’s personality, I have to ask myself, is it her or is it me? If it actually is her I have to accept that she is who she is and just love her for everything she is and everything she’s not.

Mommy, the Poo and the Flustery Day

I had a bad day. I woke up at 7:00 a.m. for the 16th day in a row, exhausted and yearning for my usual sleep-in Sundays. Some people sleep 5 hours a night without a problem. My need for sleep borders on the freakish. I need at least 9 hours a night to function well, 8 to survive with a severely compromised vocabulary and with 7 or fewer hours I behave like a severely intoxicated bitch. My doctor says my vocabulary will refresh if I sleep enough, but I never do, so if you notice the dumbing down of this blog, you’ll know why.

 Back to my day. I was so tired; every cell in my body felt like it was vibrating. Everything was shaky but I worked five and a half hours before the babysitter dropped my almost 2-year-old daughter Rose off in the afternoon. Rose has been erratic about her naps lately but she’d lost some sleep the day before and I had grand plans to put her to bed a half hour early, at 1:30 p.m.

 We played for a little bit and, dreaming of my own sweet slumber, I said “Nap time,” and she said, “Noooooo!” and I picked her up and put her in her crib. After 20 minutes of, “Mommy, where ARE you, Mommy?” which I ignored, she started to cry. It’s not unusual for her to cry when she doesn’t want to nap but this was different.

I opened her door to this: Rose was standing up in her crib, naked from the waist down, her pants and diaper on the floor. Picking up her diaper I said, “Oh, Honey, did you need a new diaper?” then I saw it. Two pieces of fresh poo sitting on her bed sheet. I moved closer and saw there was poo smeared on her blankets and one of her dolls. So I pulled her out of the crib, cleaned her little butt off, took off her poopy socks, diapered her, put on new pants and set her down. Then I yanked the blankets out and put them in the hamper, took the doll out of the crib, took off the sheet and wiped down the mattress (whoever decided to cover those in plastic, God bless you!), changed the sheet, cleaned the doll, got a new blanket and inspected the crib for anything I’d missed. 

I let Rose stay up for another 15 minutes, which is our pattern when she won’t sleep, then put her back to bed with a good feeling that this was it, her poopy diaper kept her up. This time, I thought, she’d go right to sleep, so I optimistically lay down in my own bed.  Through the monitor I heard her babbling to herself, which she often does before a nap. She wasn’t moving too much so I figured she was calming down. Then after about 15 minutes, “Mommy, where ARE you? Mommy, where ARE you?” I let her go a little more but then she started crying and I had to accept that although I was ready for a nap, she still wasn’t. 

 So I grabbed her and she stayed up for another 15 minutes, I gave her some Benadryl to help her sleep, felt guilty for drugging her but assured myself that it would help her snotty nose too so it was perfectly legitimate. We both went back to bed and, despite Mommy’s evil drug pushing plan, she did not sleep. We went several more rounds. Once while we were up I called my husband and told him that if this continued, we would put her up for adoption. He agreed. I was too tired to count the number of nap attempts but she finally lost the fight at 3:30 and let me sleep.

 Today she fell asleep in the car at 2:00, right on schedule, but I was expecting another late nap. We had just pulled up to the grocery store, after she threw a fit and head butted me at the Halloween store. The grand rule of life says that if an experience is fun, it makes a great memory, but if it sucks, it’s a learning opportunity. If I learn nothing else from this it’s that plans plus kids do not mix. I have a severe planning disorder with, I’m noticing now, some control issues, and I need help. I can’t mother a toddler according to the schedule I’ve got in my Palm Pilot. I’ve got to give up that control and roll with whatever comes up, whether it’s a late nap or short nap or no nap at all. Like so many other things that slipped on the priority list, planning, I’m sad to say, is another thing that, as a mom, I must leave behind.