June 2010


picture of bear with mysterious appendage between legs “Mommy, mommy!” My daughter runs into the room, “The bear’s got poopies! The bear’s got poopies” (her word for the male genitals).

I take a look, sure enough there is a furry appendage dangling between his legs. “What’s going on?” I muse, “This bear did not have a penis yesterday.”

My mind is blown.

I have always suspected that stuffed animals become real in the night but this is actual proof. My daughter’s lovey must have     come to life, driven our Volvo to the nearest hospital, received anesthesia and undergone a sex change operation. I can see it all play out:

Bear: It’s time doctor. I just can’t go on like this. It’s as if I’ve been sewn into the wrong body.

Dr. Well let’s make things right.  Nurse, hand me the stuffing.

Nurse: Yes doctor.

Dr. And the fur.

Nurse: Yes doctor.

Dr. And the needle and thread. Bear, this next part is going to hurt a bit…

I’m just about to alert the press and possibly animal control (this bear is liable to be in great shock when the pain killers wear off) when suddenly my daughter tosses him into the air. He lands with a thump, “Sage” I reprimand. “You do not throw a bear who has just undergone surgery.” I run to his side, ready to comfort him and assure him that we will love him no matter who he chooses to be when I notice that his head has rotated ever so slightly to the left.

Wait just one minute…

I cup my hand on his skull and twist. Just like that his penis is gone. The bear is gender neutral once again-eyes in the front. TAIL in the back.

I’m mildly disappointed that the great bear sex change adventure was all a mere fantasy but ultimately glad that the much loved animal will not be shipped off to the zoo or toted around as Hollywood’s next big attraction.

Note to all toy makers: If you are going to create a bear with a rotating head, do not also give said bear a tail!

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I must have been sixteen or seventeen– old enough to be up at three in the morning drinking stolen vodka out of a Dixie cup and talking about conspiracy theories with a half-dozen friends.

“Have you heard there’s a place in New Mexico where they store aliens?” says the host.

“No freaking way!” (I’m shocked and intrigued)

“And have you heard that if you play The White Album backwards it’s actually a message for devil worshipers?”

“What?” (I’m skeptical)

“And have you heard there’s a mountain with a secret chamber that can withstand a nuclear bomb and the melting of the sun. AND when all has been lost the president will choose seven hundred of the most amazing and vital people to go there and repopulate the earth.”

“Only seven hundred?” (I’m terribly concerned)

I probe: “What do you mean seven hundred? Who is he to say? And what are the qualifications? Do you need to be famous? How do you get on their radar?”

The host has no answers.

I go home feeling simultaneously gutted and determined. “I’m getting an invite to that cave.”

At the time I’m very into lists: lists of my favorite bands, lists of the places I want to visit, lists of cartoon characters I’d like to do the voices for. I start a new list: “Reasons I should get chosen to live in a cave and repopulate the planet.”

First I think of all the qualifications they might look for in a cave dweller: good hygiene, a sense of humor, 20/20 vision, someone with a working flashlight. I’ve got these things. My chances are looking good.

Next I try to think of all the reasons that someone might get picked to repopulate the earth. Mostly I figure “that special someone” will have to have an impressive resume. Like maybe they will have written some books or started a world changing not-for-profit or composed a symphony or invented something like Velcro or pace makers. I decide I’ll spend the next decade or so working on this part of the list. I teach tons of children, do voices for cartoon characters on TV and write some stuff. But when I take stock it just doesn’t seem like it’s enough. After all we’re talking about seven hundred people out of the whole human race.

It’s so depressing I abandon the list for a while. I keep working on myself. I fall in love. I get married. I have a kid. Then one day, as I’m going about my business it occurs to me that my latest adventure (the one where I gave birth and have henceforth been engaged in child rearing) has led me to develop a plethora of skills that would really come in handy in an apocalyptic cave. I return to my tally and add my new qualifications.

For starters there is now proof that I’m fertile. If the goal is repopulation, I’m good on that front.

I have also become astonishingly low maintenance. I can pretty much subsist on the goldfish crackers and raisins that I find under the couch cushions. So I’d be a win when it comes to food rations.  AND I produce milk, lots and lots of milk. I would be an obvious asset if the food supply ever got low.

I’m now excessively patient. I can listen to someone screaming and wailing in my face without batting an eye. I can wait all day for a moment of solitude in the bathroom. I can remain composed behind the wheel even while someone is kicking the back of my seat again and again and again. I figure patience would have to be super important if you were waiting for the universe to grow a new sun or recover from radiation. And you wouldn’t want to be in there with someone who kept clamoring, “Can we go already. Is it time? Is it time?” That would get annoying right quick!

Additionally I’m increasingly resourceful. I can fashion a kite out of a paper plate and a shoelace. I can build a fort in seconds flat. I can turn a banana peel into a puppet and a cookie tray into a sled. Give me a garbage bag and I can make you a slip-n-slide. Give me an ice tray and I can whip you up a game that builds number sense and tastes really fucking good.  Boredom has got to be an issue in any windowless cavern but not with me around. No sir!

Since giving birth I have been basted in every fluid known to man so I would not be afraid of the dirty work necessary to keeping the human race alive.

I’ve also been carrying a 27 pound toddler and a 50 pound diaper bag for the past many months so I’m super strong and can pretty much do everything required to live using only one hand.

And on top of all that I have the capacity to love and nurture like nobody’s business.

And who wouldn’t want that quality in a cave?

So I’m starting to think it’s all coming together. All that’s left is to invent some stuff, compose a symphony, become an agent of positive social change and then find my way onto the president’s radar so that I can show off my stuff.

New list: Ways to attract the President’s attention…

Any thoughts?

I’m lying in bed having a happy dream about building a tree house with Puck from the hit TV show Glee when I feel an intense need to wander away. It’s like I’m a super hero and I’ve gotten a telekinetic message that someone is in distress. Suddenly the scene shifts and I find myself on a rooftop with my husband and a small posse of friends. I’m trying to figure out why it is that I’ve been summoned to this location when all at once my husband and our buddies jump through the air and scatter across a dozen different rooftops.

“Go long.” I hear my husband shout and I can see that he is tossing something that appears to be roughly the size of a toddler. I strain forward and discover, much to my horror, that it is our daughter. Panic sets in, “What the hell are you doing?” I bark.

“Don’t you dare! DON”T YOU DARE THROW OUR KID!”

But he doesn’t respond.

I wail. I wildly pump my fists into the air. I froth at the mouth like I’m rabid.

“Help!” I call out.

But the more I shout the more I’m ignored. My kid is being hurtled across the skyline and these people all think it’s a game.  Then out of nowhere someone hands Sage a big blue balloon. She takes the string in her tiny hands and begins floating towards me. I know that in seconds she’ll be back in my arms and I’ll be able to keep her safe. I breathe for the first time since this whole catastrophe started. But as I reach for her she pulls out a large pair of scissors, stares me dead in the eyes…

And snips the balloon.

Suddenly she begins falling towards the ground and I know there is nothing I can do to stop her.

My entire being shatters as I run down to the pavement and find her lying on the ground.

“This is it,” I think as I approach. “My daughter is paralyzed or worse.” But when I arrive at her side she sits right up, plants her arms on her hips, and rolls her eyes as if to say, ” Jeez Mom what’s the big deal. You are so freakin’ neurotic.”

When I wake in the morning I do not need a book to help me analyze the dream. This night vision is so laden with obvious symbolism that I almost feel mad at my subconscious mind for being so uncreative. There I was building a tree house with one of the hottest stars on prime time television (and I’m pretty sure he was going to make out with me just as soon as we got the floor boards secured) when I pulled myself away from this fantasy world just so that I could worry about my kid.

And what did all that neurotic concern get me- an exasperated eye roll. Apparently my daughter was perfectly capable of falling a dozen stories and landing unscathed.

I should have stayed in the tree house.

The meaning was as plain and simple as a piece of dry toast. I need to be less neurotic. I need to chill. I felt like my subconscious mind was staging an intervention. My first response was denial. “It’s not that bad. I don’t worry ALL the time.” But then I really began to think about it. Lately I’ve caught myself wincing when she climbs the ladder at the playground. At mealtimes I watch her like a hawk to make sure she does not choke. During hide-and-seek I peek to be certain that she does not get abducted during the ten seconds that I’m supposed to be closing my eyes and counting. Sometimes in the freezer section at the grocery store I worry she will get frostbite.

Am I becoming one of THOSE moms? The ones who gasp and bite their nails and make their kids carry a list of things they must never touch. This cannot be. I remember those moms. As a child I hated those moms. I recall a girl at summer camp whose mother made her pack her very own personal smoke detector to install above her bunk. We all sat around making fun of that mother for hours. And then there was my classmate whose mom forbade her from drinking out of water fountains and swimming in pools all because of the germs. Her daughter was absolutely miserable, she missed out on pool parties and hydration. We called her mother “The Witch”.

I was never meant to be one of those moms. I was meant to be the cool mom. The laid back mom. The mom in the yoga pants who just goes with the flow, the mom who builds a tree house with a shirtless heartthrob.

And if I’m ever going to mellow it is going to have to be now. After all it’s now that the stakes are relatively low. All I’ve got to do is calmly watch my child scale a two-foot ladder surrounded by rubber flooring without feeling like I’m going to suffer a heart attack. This should be an attainable goal. It’s not like she’s asking to go skydiving or mountain climbing. Not yet. If I relax now I’ll be able to say yes to these endeavors later. And I want to be the mom who says yes to great adventure.

My resolve is firm.

Tomorrow night if I have the same dream I’m staying in that freakin’ tree house.

The summer after tenth grade I participated in an operetta.  Along with roughly one hundred other teens I graced the stage in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Patience”.  As I stood there holding a pink parasol and singing about being a maiden and milking cows I remember thinking, “This is ridiculous. No one sings her way through life.  If I were a real milkmaid I’d be perched on a bucket atop a pile of manure while rhythmically yanking a cow’s utters.” So each day in rehearsal as I pranced through this fictional reality I’d try to come up with some reason to sing (Some reason other than “Gilbert and Sullivan told me to”). During one rehearsal I pretended that I was a robot milkmaid who was programmed sing all the time. During another I imagined that I had a rare disease and the only cure was to utter aria after aria. In the end I never could get myself into the mindset. I made it through the run of the show, but walked away from the performance determined to devote all future theatrical pursuits to the non-musical variety. Life in verse was just way too inconceivable.

Then I had a child and the strangest thing happened. I began singing about everything.  At first it was mostly to sooth my own nerves. I’ d hum little ditties like:

I’m a good mommy my kid’s dressed and fed!

It’s been weeks and I’ve not dropped her once on the head.

Yay!

Next I sang to motivate my daughter.  We had a number about eating, and one about sharing. There was a song about dancing around naked, a song about diapers and one about cleaning. We even had a song to help us get through a good scrub-down in the tub. It featured a super hero washcloth who lived in the bath. It went:

I’m Squeezer, I’m Squeezer the bathwater sneezer.

I fill up with liquid just like I’m a cup.

I’m Squeezer, I’m Squeezer, the bathwater sneezer

If you are dirty I’ll clean you right up!

With each new verse we’d dunk Squeezer (a washcloth) under water and then ring him out over our daughter’s head. It was the only way we could pull of a bath.

But after a while the singing started happening all the time. I’d sing about making a left turn in the car or about peeling vegetables. I’d make up a musical number about our options for the day. I’d sing about the weather. Sometimes, I’d sing out little warnings like, “If you don’t pick up that mess. Mommy will be so depressed.” I bet if we had lived on a farm I would have sung about milking a cow too. I stopped worrying about making the words rhyme or maintaining any sort rhythm. I just wanted to keep the music going.

Then the other day my daughter started singing through life too. And just like that it’s as if I’m in an operetta all over again.  But this time it feels so right! It makes everything easier. Negotiations are simple when they’re sung; discipline is a breeze when trilling in a falsetto. Even tantrums become bearable if set to music. Just this very evening my daughter composed a whole song about refusing to go to bed. It was an instant classic. My husband and I have been humming it all night.

SO now I feel like I owe Gilbert and Sullivan an apology. I never should have been so dismissive.

They were right.

I’m guessing that they had children. I’m guessing they discovered that changing a poopy diaper and doing errands and distracting a toddler from an inevitable meltdown is all easier when set to a good melody. The fears, the tensions, the impatience, the insecurities all seem to slip away with song.

One day Sage is going to be utterly humiliated by my arias at the grocery store and my improvisational musicals about feces and nose picking. And when that happens, I’ll have to go crawling back to good old Gilbert and Sullivan, “I need an outlet,” I’ll say. “My kid is growing up. Give me some music to ease the pain.”

I only hope they’ll take me back.

Some say it’s time to stop nursing when your child can ask for it. Other’s say it’s when your kid can walk or hold a cup. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends shooting for one and the W.H.O. sets two as its benchmark.

I ignored them all.

My daughter is now 2.4 and I’m still holding on. Just before her second birthday I declared that weaning should begin “But only part way,” I said, “I’m doing it in stages to minimize shock.” Nursing her to sleep was the first to go. It seemed like a good strategic move. It would make bedtime easier and would save her teeth from inevitable rot. Next went the morning nurse and, shortly after, nap time indulgences were eliminated. With the extinction of those two snacks went my extra sleep. There were no more leisurely mornings spent suckling my offspring while falling in and out of sleep and my mid-afternoon nursing naps gave way to long car rides trying to get my daughter to drift off. “Let’s do Boobies in the car!” she’d howl as I pressed my foot down on the accelerator. There were so many times I was tempted to pull over and give her what she wanted just so we could both fall asleep on some side street. But I held fast. I meant business. My family and friends took notice. They started keeping track. “Just one more nurse to go,” they’d remind me. “You’re almost there.”

“Yeah,” I’d say, “I’m going for the last one just after my husband finishes school.”

But then he finished.

“Is it time?” they’d ask.

“Just as soon as my mother-in-law visits,” I’d say.

But then my mother-in-law came and went.

“Is it time?” they’d ask.

“Just as soon as we go on that out-of-town trip,” I’d respond.

But when the trip was over I changed my tune, “Well after the moon is full…well some time following the third game of The World Cup…if a black cat circles around my stroller… if I have a dream about a cow…” The excuses just kept coming and coming like I was in high school and trying to get out of family game night.

I tried everything to avoid the inevitable.

Then last week it happened. I got the sign. It was clear as water. It was like hearing a man with a bullhorn shout through another bullhorn that was attached to a third bullhorn. “STOP NURSING” he cried. “S.T.O.P”

Sage was lying next to me. We had just finished dinner and we were doing our pre-teeth- brushing nurse; the only nurse of the day. Suddenly she pulled away, “I wanna listen to ‘Paleontologist ,'” she said. My husband heard her in the next room and shortly delivered the ipod cuing up her favorite They Might Be Giants song: “I am a Paleontologist.” At first I zoned out and just enjoyed the music with her. But then somewhere around the second verse I glanced down at my daughter and it hit me that she was pressing an ipod to her ear with one hand and was holding my boob and nursing with the other. She was rocking out with a mobile device while breast-feeding. Suddenly, I could imagine her nursing at twelve, “Oh my god! Jamie was a total bitch to me and I’m like totally depressed because I was going out with David but now he likes Olivia and we’re probably gonna break up and I really need some boobie to take the edge off.”

It was scary!

Later that night I called a friend and recounted the events, “So, Sage was nursing and then she asked to hear “I am a Paleontologist” and started dancing with an ipod while nursing. An ipod!!! If that isn’t a sign that I should stop nursing, I don’t know what is.” My friend listened to the story and then responded quite simply. “You know, it’s funny. I thought you were going to say that you should stop nursing because your daughter can say the word ‘paleontologist.'”

I was silent.

“I guess that makes two reasons.” I said.

So Monday I set out to wean my daughter for real.

When Monday didn’t pan out I shot for Tuesday and when Tuesday came and went it was Wednesday and then Thursday and then Friday and next it was the weekend.

Now it’s Monday all over again. And all over again I nursed her. It’s like I’m a junkie just trying to get that last fix. “It’s one nurse,” I tell my husband, “why can’t I shake it? It’s only one.” But as I hear myself it occurs to me that it’s not “one last nurse” that I’m struggling to let go of, it’s my daughter’s infancy. It’s her dependence. It’s her first words and her first steps. It’s how she used to sleep on my chest. It’s how she once fit in the crook of my arm. It’s the extra soft skin she had above her wrists. It’s the time she stayed up all night just because the world was new and there was so much to look at. It’s the first time she spotted the moon and heard a guitar. It’s how she always tried to close her tiny hands around the wind.

Something about nursing keeps these things real. If I stop, I don’t know where they’ll go.

Still, I know it’s time.

So as I fall asleep I make the promise that I’ve made each night for the past week, “I’ll wean her tomorrow” I say. “Really. Really.

Tomorrow…”

When you take your child to ride a merry-go-round you generally assume merriment will ensue. Your kid will rise up and down upon that graceful synthetic pony while happy organ music plays in the background. Maybe you’ll get some popcorn, maybe snap some pictures, and you’ll all walk away feeling pretty fucking good. So, as we stood in line at The Carrousel we talked of all the fun that Sage would have. We scanned the horses and menagerie of other animals and picked the one she would ride. We hummed along with the music. We prepared our daughter for how she’d have to hold on tight and stay mounted till the song was over. Unfortunately, what we should have been doing was watching to make sure the carrousel operator was not a psychopathic baby hater.

No, sadly, that reality did not set in till my husband and daughter boarded the ride. They chose a dappled swine that was out of my view so I fixed my attention on two adorable sisters while I waited for the ride begin. The sisters were dressed in long flowing skirts and they were screeching with delight at the prospect of finding two horses side by side.  When they finally mounted their twin steeds they reached their arms across to join hands. It was so picturesque that I had to stop myself from getting out my camera. But just as the sisters were intertwining their fingers, this angry stomping woman beelined for the scene, “NO HOLDING HANDS!” She shouted. “You’re gonna fall and your head’s gonna be bleeding and I’m the one who’s gonna have to clean it up. Me! It will be ME! LET GO OR I KICK YOU OFF YOU HEAR!” The girls were stunned. They broke their hold and immediately gripped the ponies desperately searching for any bit of comfort. I tried to think of something to say to these befuddled siblings like, “Sometimes grownups get bitten by bats and they turn in to evil creatures who prey on small children but it’s OK . Soon she’ll go back to her lair and you’ll never see her again.” But as I was composing my speech I noticed the beast was pursuing a new victim.

She’d spotted a tiny little boy who had slid off his horse and was calling out for his mommy. This kid was apparently ripe for the picking. The lady looked elated as she walked his way. When she got to him she just crossed her arms and took a wide stance “ON OR OFF!” She shouted and then repeated “On or off! On or off! On or off!” until this kid was in tears. I could see his mother take notice of the scene and quickly tear through the crowd to rescue her son. “Finally!” the lady shouted at the mother, “Make your kid decide! What’s his problem?” she chided.

Following this scuffle Meanie McMeanerson headed for a boy who looked to be about ten. He was holding onto the pole with two firm hands and making jovial horse noises. He had clearly heard this woman shouting and was doing his best to be the model carousel rider. The lady was not buying it. “You’re going to be the kid who tries to climb the pole and who rides with only one hand.” She predicted aloud.  “DON”T YOU DARE! DON’T YOU DARE DO IT!” She warned.

All the parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles who had come to watch their little ones glide round and round in enjoyment began to look at one another like maybe we were going to have to do a citizens arrest on this crazy witch. And just as I was imagining how I’d be the one who would take her hands behind her back and say, ” You are under arrest for the being a terrible human,” the lady rounded the corner and though I could not see because the giant pole was blocking my view I could tell she was going for my husband and daughter. Suddenly I heard clamor and confusion and then before I could leap to the rescue with my posse of outraged parents and relatives the music started and the horses began going round. When my husband and daughter came into view I knew they’d been the subject of great wrath. Sage was white faced and my husband was shaking his head like, “Holy shit some lady just rammed a tire down my throat.” They did their best to enjoy the ride. Eventually my daughter even smiled. But after, when I asked her how she liked the ride all she could report was, “The lady say NO, NO, NO.”

When I asked my husband to elaborate he pretty much shared the same details. “Sage was scared so I got on the horse with her. I figured it would help. But then this terrible lady rounded the corner and shouted NO, NO, NO. She didn’t even tell us what we were doing wrong. She just screamed and screamed until I got off the horse.”

That night as I lay in bed I tried to think of some moral to this story; something I could tell my daughter to help explain the cruel behavior of this woman. I thought maybe I could say that sometimes grownups have really bad days and take it out on the wrong people or sometimes people yell when they are really sad and unfulfilled. But somehow these explanations suggested way more compassion than I was willing to offer this nasty child hater. Instead, I landed on the only possible moral that I could extract from such a silly and upsetting situation:  “Sometimes mean people who hate children take jobs operating carrousels. And that’s just…

really fucked up.”

We recently took our daughter to her belated two-year checkup. As is customary at theses visits she was weighed and measured and we were asked to give details about her development.

Is she sleeping through the night?

Is she drinking multiple cups of milk?

Is she pooping daily?

But then the doctor did something wildly unconventional. She asked us an open-ended question. We were not prepared for an open-ended question. “What has Sage been saying?” the doctor wanted to know. My husband and I looked at each other. “Well,” he nodded. “Well, yes,” I nodded back. “So much,” he said. “So, sooo much,” I reiterated. And then we both drew one massive collective blank. We just stared at each other shaking our heads like we’d been sideswiped by an elephant.

My husband was the first to break the silence, “She’s been saying everything.”

“Yeah, everything.” I echoed “And stuff too.”

“Lots of stuff,” my husband confirmed and we both grabbed Sage and gave her a big hug just to show how proud we were of the “everything” and the “stuff” that she’s been saying.

When we left the office my husband and I stopped on the sidewalk.

“What was that?” he said

“I don’t know.” I responded. “We seemed like total morons. She’s going to think we are crappy parents.”

“And I really liked her.” My husband responded. “But we can’t go back there if she thinks we’re idiots.”

“We’ll we have to redeem ourselves at the next visit.” I said.

“Good call” my husband affirmed. “Next time we’ll show her.”

I spent the following few days thinking of ways to seem very smart at our next doctor’s visit. We could rehearse in advance like we were going on Jeopardy.  My husband could be Alex Trebek and I could be the contestant.

Alex: Tell me three phrases your child has uttered.

Me: What are: “I want boobies!” “Holly macaroni!” and “Get out!”

Alex: You win it all.

Me: Yay!

But that just seemed way too involved. We’d have to get buzzers and those fancy pens that allow you to write on screen and maybe even a podium. So I decided to start making a list. It would be a comprehensive collection of everything that Sage has been saying. I’d become a parental anthropologist. I’d log her every word, I’d capture it all. At our next appointment we’d be smart!

I began the list strait away.

List of Words and Phrases:

It’s Amazing

I want pancakes

I want fresh water

That sucks!

Sheesh Kapish

Where’s my keys

I wanna hold the keys

This is not the right key

This key does not fit

NO KEYS!!!

I wanna drive

Paleontologist

I see the moon

You’re the best kind of mommy

Fuckin Christ

That’s funny bananas

Let’s sing

I wanna dance to Vogue

We could find out…

It’s beautiful

I see birds

Is that man makin’ a fool out outta me?

Watch your back

Grandma’s got two boobies

Daddy has no boobies

Where’s my notebook

I’m making a story

This is my game

Let’s play together

I want to be her friend

It was so much fun

Give me your wallet

Where’s the money

No thank you

Excuse me

Leave the door open

One for me, and one for you

But the more words and phrases that I wrote on the list, the more words and phrases I realized were missing from the list until the list just seemed endless and silly. And that’s when it dawned on me that my husband and I gave the only possible response to that doctor. Our child is saying “everything.”And even if the doctor had asked us a year ago when Sage only had a handful of words that same response would have been appropriate. And even when she was four- months-old and spoke solely in gestures and cries and subtle shifts that only we could understand it was  “everything” then too.

I put down the list and went to find my husband. “I don’t think were morons,” I said. “Just speechless parents.”

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