July 2010


Crenchy-Crenchy arrived after dinner. Well, at least I think she did. It’s hard to say exactly when she came because she was hiding under the couch and she was invisible. “Look mommy” my daughter called out from the living room, “it’s the girl.”

“Where?” I responded thinking she was referring to our four-year-old neighbor who Sage likes to watch through the window.

“Here” she replied lowering her belly onto the floor and pointing to the half inch space under our overstuffed couch.

I crouched down to have a peek and saw nothing but dust bunnies and broken crayons “Who is she?” I whispered.

“She’s Crenchy-Crenchy” my daughter answered like this girl had always been a part of our family and why hadn’t I ever noticed.

“Oh,” I said looking over to my husband.

“Imaginary friend?” he mouthed.

We both huddled around Crenchy in excitement. We had talked about this moment; imagined how spectacular it would be to see our daughter invent a person. I had an extra cup and bowl in the cabinet just waiting for someone invisible. Growing up my imaginary friends played such a vital role in my play. There was Dee-Dee, Brian, and Pal the dog. Together we spent hours doing everything from napping in the shade to joining the circus. I wanted to run and get my camera just to mark this monumental occasion but knew Crenchy would never show up on film. Instead we launched into question. If she was going to be a new member of our family we wanted to get acquainted with her strait away.

“How old is she?” we asked.

“Four and six.”

“Wow she’s forty-six. That’s so specific and so grown. Crenchy is now the most senior member of our family. Does that mean she’ll be making the rules?”

Sage thought for a moment, “No actually she is two-and-a-half just like me.”

I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that Crenchy would not be assigning me a bedtime or insisting that I wash my hands before dinner.

“Tell us more…” we encouraged.

“Crenchy is green and she has long hair and it is green and her eyes are green and so is her body.”

Finally we’ll be getting some diversity in this household.

Over the next hour Crenchy danced with us, listened to stories and took at least a dozen naps. “Shhhhh,” Sage whispered protectively, “Chrenchy needs rest.” At bedtime Crenchy curled up under our daughter’s bed and my husband and I looked on like we were watching a new baby. “Awwwww….now our household is really complete!”

“Is this really for real?” we wondered, not wanting to get our hearts broken if Crenchy was gone tomorrow. “Well,” my husband mused, “If she’s still here in the morning then I think she’s here to stay.”

I waited for daybreak like it was Christmas. When my daughter shuffled out of bed I held my breath, “Oh, hi Crenchy,” she said when she rounded the corner. My heart erupted with joy!

But as the day progressed… something seemed to shift.

Sage started to grow nervous around Crenchy and began making comments like, “Crenchy is bad,” and “I don’t want Crenchy,” and “Go away girl.”

Then as we were standing in the yard about to head out for our after dinner walk Sage looked up at the house and whimpered, “I’m scared about the girl…I’m scared about Crenchy.”

“Why?” we asked, wondering what harm this invisible darling could ever cause.

“I think she’s going to light all the candles in the house.”

My husband and I exchanged a troubled look. Could it be that Crenchy-Crenchy was NOT an imaginary friend but rather… A POLTERGEIST? Just like that my mind shifted to a scene from that terrifying eighties movie where a family is overrun my trouble making demons. They throw things around, make the grownups act crazy, and send everyone into complete and utter turmoil.

I spent the next few days keeping a close watch on Crenchy. After all, I was halfway convinced I might have to perform an impromptu amateur exorcism. At times Crenchy was amiable and friendly, she enjoyed having her hair combed and loved snuggles. “Oh, she really is perfect,” I’d think. But then she’d suddenly explode and Sage would run from her saying things like, “No Crenchy, no! Crenchy is very bad. She threw a shoe and hit me. Mean Crenchy!”

And just when I’d get ready to defend my daughter against this force of destruction Crenchy would once again return to her docile and charming self, “Oh, Crenchy is taking a nap.” Sage would say, stroking her invisible back sweetly.

I couldn’t seem to get a bead on this being. She was full of passion, full of mystery and full of contradictions. One minute she’d be helping out around the house, the next she’d be tossing everything off the shelves. She’d be singing sweetly and then flailing around and screeching like an octopus-receiving electric shock. She was at once vulnerable and fierce, contemplative and reactionary, rational and insane. Was she a friend or was she a wild spirit? And then all at once it dawned on me that Crenchy was both of these things.

Crenchy was two-and-a-half.

Just like that Crenchy became as familiar to me as my own imaginary friends. I took a deep breath and braced myself for the amazing highs and the baffling lows.

We now had two toddlers in the house.

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As I child I developed an intense fear of robbers. I figured they were coming for me and it was just a matter of time. I imagined they’d arrive in a pack of three. The leader would be the tallest and meanest and his two associates would be plump and gruff. They’d wear black bandit masks except for the head guy who’d be dressed in prison stripes, dark sunglasses and a top hat. The image was terrifying. There were several doors into my bedroom so I was never sure which way they’d enter.  If they came in the door farthest from the bed I knew I could escape out the back and hide in the crawl space beside the oak desk in my dad’s office. If they came in the door that was closest there would be no place to run.

So I came up with a plan: If the robbers entered through the “close door” I’d jump out of bed and give a friendly wave. “It’s about time,” I’d say, “I’m a bad guy too. I’ve been hiding out in this house all these years…just waiting for you. I know where all the good stuff is so follow me and I’ll help you rob the place. Oh, one thing, the family here is really nice, they’ve been good to me so don’t touch them. They’re heavy sleepers.  They won’t wake up. If they do, I’ll tell them the commotion was just me getting a glass of water.”

Following the speech I’d help the robbers loot the house but save my family in the process. The robbers would be happy because they’d get all the goods and my parents and sister would make it out unscathed…win-win for all.

As I got older and eventually moved away from home I became even more advanced in my robber defenses. By now I’d seen a lot of movies highlighting very crafty robbers and I knew the way to get them was to throw them off their game right off the bat. I figured booby-traps were my best bet.  The robbers would be cruising right along jimmying open a window or picking a lock when… WHAM!  A bucket would fall over releasing a dozen marbles that would send them tripping into a pair of scissors mounted in the seat cushion of an easy chair.

My husband was not a fan of these contraptions. He once got stabbed in the gut by a candlestick and fell on a trip wire I’d fashioned out of some twine. It was proof that my booby-traps were effective, but also proof that I’d gotten carried away. The robber obsession had to stop.

And for a while it did.

But the other night I was home alone with my daughter and I heard a noise, it was the sound of our door slowly opening with an elongated creak. I stopped in my tracks, my daughter glanced up at me with troubled eyes. I quickly swooped her up into my arms and stood like a warrior.

With little time to think I raced over my options:  It’s too late to build a booby trap, there’s nowhere to hide, and a robber would never believe I’m a bad guy while I’m lovingly cradling a toddler.

And just when it seemed that all was lost I realized I had one option left, something I had never thought of before- I could fight.

All at once I started to feel this surge- like I could move a Mac Truck with one hand. The desire to protect my child was so strong I felt like I could defeat any robber, even if he were a giant robot robber or a zombie robber or a vampire robber with supernatural strength. I could take them all. I felt like The Incredible Hulk.

I puffed my chest and took a step out of the room.

The door slammed closed, then open, then closed again. If this was a robber he or she was certainly not interested in being sneaky. “It’s a shitty robber,” I thought to myself. “According to the movies shitty robbers are the most dangerous of all.” I sang a quiet song to my child as I rounded the corner and then set her down behind me. If there really were a robber I would see him…now. I jumped in front of the door arms akimbo and feet ready to kick. The door opened wide and then slammed shut in my face. A set of maracas blew off the bookshelf, a picture rocked on its hook.

This was no robber…this was the wind.

“Silly wind,” I giggled nervously to my daughter.

“Silly wind,” she echoed.

As I put her to bed later that night I felt this very specific closeness, like when I first found out I was pregnant and wanted to hibernate to make sure she stayed safe all those nine months she was growing inside me.  When I finally left her side and walked to the back door to lock up for the evening I made sure to look out the window with an extra threatening look-just incase someone with mal-intent was hiding in the bushes.

“Listen You!” I said with my eyes, “Come near my kid… and I’LL TAKE YOU DOWN.”

In walks Nola. The diaper around her waist does not stop her from sporting an elegant swagger. She surveys the scene with a steady nod as if to take note of all the places she will venture over the course of the afternoon.

“Hey Nola,” I say.

“I got a sword,” she announces.

I look to her mother for confirmation, she shakes her head to validate the information, “She insisted on a sword.”

“Nola, why did you need a sword?”

“To get the flies,” she says with a half raised eyebrow and complete conviction.

That Nola is so cool. Anyone else would have gone with a fly swatter but this toddler plans to eliminate the bugs “gladiator style”.

At our picnic lunch Nola tells me when my daughter has buried her sandwich under the sand and lets me know that Sage is “a little bit thirsty”. She shares her yogurt snack without a word of protest and when my daughter trips on a tree root Nola pats her back and whispers that it will “be okay in just a minute.” Man, that Nola is mature. Later at the park Nola lets my daughter go first down the slide. When a boy who must be at least six, tries to cut in front of my kid Nola puts her hand firmly on his shoulder. “Hey big boy, it’s my friend Sage’s turn!”

Nola’s always got your back.

She’s the kind of friend you hope your kid will have. She’s kind and creative, smart and funny. Though she’s just a toddler I can imagine her being the girl that my daughter some day confides in.

And as I sit there watching them play it occurs to me that my daughter is that friend too. Though I’m only now beginning to see her interact with others I can tell that she’s going to be a gathering force. She rallies the troops. She conjures magic. “This is my dance,” she cries out as she teachers a crew of two-year-olds how to play air guitar. She sings her way through most days and shares stories like they are living things wriggling in her hands.

A few weeks ago we were at the beach and a gaggle of seven-year-olds were trading coloring books and whispering under a tree. My daughter inched towards them as if they had her on a leash and were slowly pulling her close. Before she knew it she was standing in the center of their circle and giving this look like, “Hey, how did I end up her?” I could see her searching for something to say, something to justify her sudden presence. “I have crayons,” she blurted and the girls giggled like, “what does that have to do with anything?”

I knew why Sage had chosen to say that. I wanted to defend her. I wanted to translate her words so these big girls would understand. “Hey you morons, you are holding coloring books. She wants to let you know that she can hang. She’s got tools to color with. You could use her goods. She wants to play.”

But I held my tongue.

Sage gave an awkward smile. I curled my toes and held my breath.

“Bye,” the girls said, shooing her away.

“Your loss!” I wanted to shout as the girls went back to their whispers and my daughter ran to my side.

“Hey,” I said as I swooped her up, “Someday you and Nola will share your coloring books with a little girl and she will be so excited.”

“Yeah” said Sage “And we will all color together.”

That Sage is so cool.

Necessity is the mother of all invention. Ergo, as a parent who is often overwhelmed and in need, I am like Thomas Edison. You give me a thunderstorm and I will immediately craft ways to harness the lightning in the service of a breast pump that does not require me to be plugged into a wall.

Before having a child my best invention was something I liked to call “tube of blades”. Its sole purpose was cutting a pie into multiple slices with two basic actions:

One – Press a button to release seven lethal blades from a hollow hand-held tube

Two – Ram all blades into a pie to instantly produce seven perfect slices

This invention was full of flaws. First, it was a horrific danger and would probably end up being sold as a weapon and featured in Jackie Chan movies. Second, I suspected that it may have already been invented by someone else. And third, it was not really essential. Sure maybe it would come in handy at an occasional barbecue or birthday party but it was not going to revolutionize anything.

But my new inventions… the ones I come up with in the deep hours of the night when no one is awake but me and my toddler; the ones that surface when I’m covered in feces and stale cheerios-

These are the ones that are going to change the world.

Now, I know as an inventor I should not reveal my ideas before I have a patent; that’s just bad business. But I’m not out for money, just improved quality of life. Also, I don’t know how to logistically make any of them happen. So, I figured I’d release them straight from my mental laboratory and into the universe. Perhaps someone with more brainpower and capital funding will run with them and make them real…

Snackume-cleaner

Picture the Roomba (that cordless vacuuming disk that travels around your house cleaning up dust bunnies even when you aren’t around). Now picture your typical snack trap – a container with three equal sections- one for raisins one for cereal bits, one for small berries. Now merge these two images together. You’ve got the snackume-cleaner! This little wonder will travel around your home picking up all the food items that your child has dropped. It will sterilize these bits and store them neatly in a little compartment so that your kid can enjoy them as a midday treat. This contraption will also include a “gorp setting” and a “smoothie setting”. That’s right, you’ll have the option to turn these crumbs into a delicious trail mix or whip them into a cool tropical drink. No more crawling around picking up after your wee one, the snacume-cleaner’s got your back!

Share Alert

Never again will your child have a play date that erupts into “It’s my turn!” “No, it’s my turn!” All you’ll need to do is Velcro this nifty button sized alarm onto your child’s most cherished toys and set the “share alert” to an appropriate time increment- maybe five minutes for a stuffed animal, ten for a set of blocks and fifteen for a book. When your child’s turn has come to an end an alarm will sound and a voice will say in a firm yet encouraging tone, “time to share, time to share.” No more bargaining, no more negotiations, just a simple reminder from the “Share Alert”. And just to make sure the sharing happens – if the item does not change hands when the alarm goes off a tiny dart will fly out of the button and attach it’s self into the ceiling. It will then reel the toy up into the air where no one can reach it. After all, “if you can’t share, you can’t play.”

Five AM Playgroup

This one is less of a “thing” and more of a “movement”. It’s a playgroup that happens in the wee hours of the morning. It will require you to have friends who are up early- most likely these friends will have small children, but insomniacs with free time will work too. Each week you will elect one friend to be “the watcher”. He or she will be responsible for looking after the children, feeding them, keeping them happy and safe, while the rest of you sleep on cots and futons in one large communal soundproof room. You will include as many people as possible in your rotation so that you can minimize the amount of time that you are required to be the one hanging with the kids at the crack of dawn. At a set time you will all wake and go your separate ways. You will be refreshed and ready to rock the day!

All during my childhood my mother swore that she had actually invented the jogging stroller. It just came to her one day as she was trying to come up with ways to work off the baby weight while simultaneously spending time with the baby. Every time we passed one she used to call out- “That was MY invention!”

After a while I just figured she was crazy. I assumed that there was absolutely no way that a woman who couldn’t manage to work a VCR could somehow invent something with wheels and breaks and gears.

Now I know she was telling the truth.

I’d been feeling pretty proud. On Monday I talked my daughter down from a red alert tantrum and then on Tuesday I got her to eat a three-syllable vegetable. Mid week at the grocery store I convinced her that she was not actually going to die if she didn’t get to open a bag of goldfish crackers “right now, oh Mommy NOW,” and then on Friday I skillfully navigated my way through a no-nap day.

By the weekend I was strutting around saying things like, “I’ve really got this kid down.”

But then something started to happen. It was strange and disturbing. My daughter began to reveal that she had gotten a bead on me, too. All this time she’d been systematically logging my weaknesses, noting the flaws in my logic, and finding the loopholes in my mandates. Without letting on, she had discovered my Achilles heel and amassed an arsenal of little invisible arrows. Suddenly she started firing them at random and taking me out.

On Monday, she somehow convinced me to give her ice cream by skillfully leveraging my own affection for this frozen treat.

“You love ice cream,” she reminded me. “You love chocolate.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “I do.”

“You should have chocolate,” she encouraged.

“Yes, I should,” now resolved to go get a scoop.

But when I returned she immediately commandeered the cone.

“Oh Mommy, I will share this with you, because you love ice cream.”

“Wait… what is going on…I thought this was mine,” but it was already too late.

Midweek she managed to avoid finishing lunch by tapping into my neurosis.

“Sage you need to eat a few more bites,” I said.

“What Mommy?” she responded.

“Bites.” I repeated, “I need you to eat them.”

“Huh…”

“Bites of your sandwich. That thing made of bread that you have barely touched. How about you have some.”

“What?” she persisted?

“Can you hear me?” I asked, now growing concerned.

“Huh?”

“Are your ears okay? Do you have water in there? Should I call the doctor?”

And suddenly I was so distracted by hear ears that I found myself automatically clearing her plate and dumping it’s contents into the sink.

Then at the end of the week she craftily manipulated my inner feminist.

She was in the tub with a friend and was having trouble sharing the many ducks and boats and plastic cups that bobbed under the faucet.

“Mine!” she kept shrieking each time he reached for a toy.

“Sage,” I calmly said. “When we have friends over we share. These are not yours. These are ours. Everything here is OURS!”

She looked me dead in the eyes and rose defiantly out of the water with her arms extended like a gymnast who had just stuck a landing.

“This body is mine,” she said, gesturing to her torso. “My head, my eyes, my heart, my hands.”

I sank into the floor mat ashamed that I had somehow managed to imply that her physical being was a shared commodity.

“Yes,” I agreed. “Those things are definitely yours.”

I took the weekend to recover.

Next week I’ll start afresh. I’ll learn from my two-year-old. I’ll take notes. I’ll dig deeper into my bag of tricks.

On Monday I’ll be back on top.

My daughter stands atop our coffee table like it’s a stage. She raises her hands gracefully above her head and circles her toe as if she’s stirring a pool of water. “It’s ballet,” she announces proudly. “I’m doing ballet”.

“Yes,” I respond. “It’s beautiful.”

“I need to wear ballet!” she says gesturing to her naked torso.

“Do you mean you want your tutu?” I ask.

“Yes, I want my ballet.”

I run to her dress up basket and bring in the half dozen tutus that we received after announcing that we’d had a girl.

She quickly chooses the one with the most adornment and immediately begins dancing wildly around the room.

“Come mommy come,” she says, waving her arms and summoning my inner ballerina.

Within seconds I’m snaking my body around standing lamps and chairs.

My daughter claps, “You need a tutu too!”

“Oh no…” I say, “I couldn’t…I mean…well…maybe I could…”

I decide I’ll give it a shot. I stretch the elastic, I suck in my stomach, and by some divine intervention I manage to squeeze myself in.

Then…

The strangest thing happens.

I suddenly feel like a ballerina, a real ballerina.

I leap.

I do these spins where I’m just rotating and rotating like I’m standing atop a turntable!

And I’m really fucking good.

It’s like those tennis shoe commercials from the eighties – the ones where there’s some scrawny average Joe who puts on a pair of Air Jordan’s and suddenly starts making slam-dunks.

And though I haven’t taken a ballet class in twenty years, and though I once almost got kicked out of The Nutcracker for being overenthusiastic and under-coordinated, I start feeling like Mikhail Baryshnikov might walk through my door at any minute and tell me I’m his muse.

I feel like I have this gift, this talent that has somehow gone undiscovered. And I start wondering, “How could I have gotten this far without ever knowing I was a ballet genius?” And I suddenly feel sad for all the ballets I was never in.

And I look over at my daughter now gyrating and flapping her arms and I think, “Well maybe she’ll be that ballerina that I never was and never knew I wanted to be.”

And I start clapping for her, and encouraging her to go “faster and bigger” and saying, “Ohhh, what a twirl!” and “Ohhh, what a leap!”  I start imagining how it will all play out- the classes, the performance, the scholarship to Julliard.

And then it hits me. “This it how it happens. It’s a simple moment. It’s a small flicker of longing and it suddenly makes you want to live through your children.”

I take the tutu off.

“You can be anything you want,” I say.

My daughter looks confused.

“Huh?” she asks.

“Nothing” I say, “Just grownup stuff”

And I go in the other room, leaving her alone with the music.

And she dances…and dances… and dances.

A pregnant friend called last week. We talked about co-sleepers, and pants with expandable waistlines, and what types of excretions to expect during labor. As we said goodbye we made plans to speak again soon. “Next time,” she declared,  “I want you to tell me what nursing is like.”

I hung up the phone with a mission. I was going to come up with the ultimate breastfeeding metaphor. This was a friend who had been with me throughout every step of my pregnancy, she listened to my freak-outs, brought me crackers when I felt nauseous and offered feedback on my endless lists of three-syllable baby names.

But then I moved, and now we live in two different cities, we don’t have the daily contact that we used to. We’ve lost touch. I wanted to give her something spectacular to make up for the distance; something that would paint a perfectly perfect vision of the bonding, and the sensations, and the mechanics of it all. Like the way Shakespeare summed up the journey of human existence simply by saying” All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

Like that…but with boobs

Try as I might every attempt turned into a horrendously epic run-on sentence. I could not distill the experience into a concise statement. There was no metaphor that would capture the many phases I went through as a first time nursing mom.  I decided I’d make a list- sort of like the “ages and phases” stuff that baby center offers the expecting parent.

It would be my Eriksonian attempt at capturing the mammary glands in all their glory.

The first three days – were like puberty. I was massively sweaty and my shirts were way too tight. My breasts felt suddenly powerful yet completely overwhelming. I cried all the time.

Days 4-6 – were like assembling a bookshelf from IKEA. I knew if I could just get the fucking positioning right it would all come together. I looked at diagram after diagram and it appeared so easy in the pictures. But each new attempt left me bruised, demoralized, and frustrated.

Days 7-18 -were like S&M. The pain was so bad I wanted to puke but I went back for more every two hours. Many people told me that my experiences did not sound normal; they speculated that perhaps there was something very wrong with what I was doing. They suggested I seek professional help.

Days 19-50 – were like learning the guitar chords to your very favorite song. It was hard, there were blisters, but they weren’t too bad; certainly nothing that would stop me. Each day it got easier. Eventually the blisters were gone, my hands moved with ease, I just knew what to do. I could finally experience it, like a song. I felt so proud, I felt like telling everyone, “Do you see this! Check me out. I’m going to do this everywhere. I’m going to do this right in your face! I’m a total rock star!”

Fifty-one days to two years – were like one amazing conversation. Like the kind of chat that leaves you knowing everything about someone. The kind that ends with you staring into someone’s eyes and feeling like the entire world is being held somewhere in-between your gaze.

Two years to two years, four months- were like the last two hundred pages of a very good book. I slowed down, I paid very close attention, I did not want it to end. I was not sure what would happen after I finished. I sensed that I would feel a little bit empty.

The other night was like saying goodbye to a very close friend who suddenly has to move.

After stressing over whether or not to finally wean my daughter, she announced while nursing, “Mommy, your boobies aren’t working any more.”

And just like that, the entire experience shifted

Somewhere

Into

The distance.

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