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.

Advertisements

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?

At age eight I was master of the universe. With my special brand of magic I could avoid any malady or unfortunate event. I had a plan for never growing old, never thinking mean thoughts and never facing danger. Here’s how it worked:

Each morning I’d begin the day by touching the light switch in my bedroom six times with my right thumb and six times with my left. This little ritual would ensure that nothing bad would happen to me up until lunchtime. Mid day, I’d recharged the OCD force field by eating only even amounts of food. Six bites of carrots, two halves of a sandwich, twelve French fries. The counting was a bit exhausting but the payoff was huge. The ritual would ensure that I was safe till bedtime. At night, when the real dangers lurked in the form of robbers and ghosts and spiders I stepped up the compulsive behaviors to include measuring to make sure my pillow was in the exact middle of the bed, kissing each stuffed animal in my room six times and washing my hands for sixty seconds. Usually I was so exhausted by all these protective measures that I’d drift into blissful sleep the moment the routine was over.  Somehow I really and truly believe that these small acts of inane repetition could actually keep me safe and secure.

To avoid ever becoming elderly and frail I held my breath every time I passed someone over the age of seventy. This was particularly difficult when our school music class took a trip to serenade at the local nursing home. There was no singing for me, I was too busy nearly passing out from lack of oxygen.

To avoid any sort of bad luck I made sure to never tear the toilet paper off of the roll in a jagged and uneven fashion. I was sure that if I could break the tiny paper square off clean, I was going to have a good luck day. I’d just keep tearing off little squares until I got one just right. “What’s taking so long?” My friends would ask in the bathroom, “Are you pooping in there?”

“Yeah” I’d say, “Now leave me alone!”

And I had to look out for my friends and family too, who would I be if I had this secret power and did not use it for the good of all those I loved. I believed I could keep everyone alive forever and ever if I just patted my heart and gave a little squeaking sound every few minutes. I even convinced my little sister to join in.  After all, looking out for our entire community of family and friends was a big task, far too big to tackle alone, “You just have to do a little clicking sound after I do my squeak and that will take care of grandma and grandpa and all our extended family” I informed her. I can only imagine what that year’s annual eighteen-hour drive east was like for our parents. We both sat in the back clicking and squeaking through eight states. It’s a wonder we made it there alive.

If I had really been savvy I would have opened a little OCD pharmacy. People could just come in with a neurotic thought or worry and I’d provide a little ritual to rid them of their fear.

Customer: I’m worried I’m going to die some day.

Me: Well, just wiggle your nose twice every time you pass a cemetery, you know like  Samantha on Bewitched. Just do that and you’ll be immortal. NEXT!

I could have made off my mental eccentricities.

At some point towards the end of second grade these rituals just got too time consuming. So I took a huge leap and started trying to wean myself off of them. “What would happen if I only touched the light switch once with each thumb… Oh look I lived through the day. Tomorrow I’ll try not doing it at all.”

Eventually the rituals just disappeared.

Suddenly I had mountains of free time that had formerly been spent clicking and counting and tapping. I could start having some fun. I could become less anxious.

But then I had a child. And the anxiety came back with a vengeance. Within minutes of giving birth I was coming to terms with the fragility of human life and my own mortality and an intense fear of baby snatchers and spiders that might want to snack on a newborn. So occasionally in my weaker moments, I bring the rituals back. Like if my daughter has a fever I suddenly find myself making extra sure to tear off an even sheet of toilet paper and give the light switch a bonus tap. I just can’t seem to help myself. After all, if I could control the universe, if I could spare my kid from ever getting sick or being bullied or coming face to face with a giant spider, I would. And if there is even the slightest chance that one of these routines works, it’s worth it. For hundreds and thousands of years people have called on all manner of forces to get through tough times and irrational fears. So what’s wrong with occasionally reaching out to a light switch? It is a source of power. And given all the overwhelming neuroses that come with being a parent I’ll take all the help I can get.

At our house all good things happen “When the clock is up”. It started at dinner. We needed a way to get our daughter to sit through a meal even when she deemed the offerings to be inedible. We tried songs and stories and slapstick and even magic tricks but nothing seemed to distract her from her ultimate goal of getting out of her highchair. Until one night, in a last ditch effort I pointed to the old wooden clock that hangs on our wall and showed her the journey that the big hand would take in order to land on the Roman numeral twelve.  “When it’s up,” I said, “you can leave the table.”

“When the clock is up?” she asked just to get confirmation.

“Yes,” I repeated, “ You can be done when the clock is up.”

In that moment the clock became her greatest ally. It was her gateway to freedom. The clock could give her what she most desired.

After that night she got it in her head that “the clock” could help her out of other situations too.

We’d be waiting in a line at the grocery store and she’d ask to go home because “The clock is up”. We’d be driving somewhere and she’d pronounce that she could get out of her car seat because “the clock is up.”

“There’s no clock here. It doesn’t work like that,” I tried to explain. But she needed something to help her wait it out. She needed a cue to look forward to; some sign that would let her know, “you will soon get what you want.”

So I just started inventing it. I started creating the passage of time. Like, we’ll go to the park and she’ll immediately ask for a snack. So I’ll say, “You can have a snack when the wind sounds like a cat.” And then fifteen minutes later, after she’s run around for a bit I’ll hold my hand to my ear and say, “Do you hear it?” And she’ll get quite and say, “The wind is a cat. Time for snack!” and we’ll eat.

Or she’ll be having trouble waiting for a kid to get off the swing and want to know “When will it be my turn mommy?” And I’ll answer, “It will be your turn after we find the biggest green leaf.” Then we’ll go around hunting for some foliage.

“Green leaf” she’ll say each time she spots one.  I’ll look over to see if the kid is done. If he isn’t I’ll say, “ Humm…I think there must be an even bigger one around here somewhere.”

Occasionally I just leave it up to fate. Like the other day we were walking towards the front stoop about to go collect the mail and I got a phone call. Sage immediately wanted to know when I’d be off. “When the red car goes honk” I blurted and then just sort of kept my fingers crossed that a disgruntled driver of a cherry corvette would not zoom by with his hand one the horn anytime within the next three to five minutes.

And the more we do this, the more we let time pass by our surroundings, the more I feel like we are tapping into something very primal and very real; It’s kid time, it’s earth time. It’s not broken into little fractions and bits. It’s graceful and continuous and unexpected.

It’s like watching a stray balloon move across a city skyline.

It’s like camping.

I want it to continue as long as it possibly can. I wonder if I can make it last forever. So I conjure up a scene of us way down the road, just to see if we could pull it off.

I imagine us ten years in the future…

Me: Sage it’s time to do your homework.

Sage: No mom. I’m waiting till the moon is full and the sky is clear.

Me: But the moon is full.

Sage: The moon is full yeah but the sky is not clear. Maybe it will clear up in an hour or two. If not there’s always next month’s lunar cycle. I’ll just tackle the book report then.

I picture us twelve years down the line…

Me: What are you doing driving the car?

Sage: Today I saw three yellow bikes in the parking lot at Walgreen’s.

Me: What does that have to do with anything?

Sage: I always knew I’d be ready to drive on the day I saw three yellow bikes in the parking lot at Walgreen’s.

Me: But you’re only twelve…

Sage: Age is just a state of mind mom. God you’re such a fascist.

No, this kid time definitely has an expiration date. But luckily I don’t know what that date is. I’ve ditched all my calendars and watches. For now I’m just flying blind. I’ll stop when a bee flies around my head six times or when my left shoe gets carried off by a hawk or the day after a black cat winks at me.

I’m thinking, or hoping, I’ll just know when it’s time…

On the second day of my daughter’s life I accidentally ripped off her umbilical chord while trying to change her shirt.  I heard this terrible popping sound and then there was blood everywhere and then I went screaming for my mother. On the seventh day she shit in my mouth and in my eyes simultaneously. It was so confusing when it happened, I just sort of spun around in a daze muttering “I have poop in my eyes can anyone find my toothbrush”. These little mishaps seemed to happen weekly. Some were comical, some were upsetting but all made me feel just a little bit out of control and clueless. So after four or five months when I started to get more graceful with my child; when I found myself skillfully positioning her at my breast while nursing her or nimbly strapping her into her stroller I felt really eager to show off my new skills and knowledge.

So I began making trips to Buy Buy Baby. Though there wasn’t anything in particular that I needed, I’d throw Sage into the Baby Bjorn and head into town. Once in the store I’d sort of prowl around searching for a pregnant lady who looked overwhelmed. Then I’d go stand next to her and pretend that I was in the market for the very same thing that she was looking for. After a while I’d sort of start muttering to myself. I might say something like, “Oh this is a lifesaver.” or “I’m going to stock up on these”.  Eventually the mother- to-be would look over at me with these really desperate eyes and say, “Can I just ask you a quick question?” I’d glance up as if I hadn’t noticed her and say, “Of course…” Then I’d be off. I’d give her advice.

I’d make jokes.

I’d put her at ease.

It felt so good.

Sometimes I’d link up with a couple who was registering for a baby shower. That was the big score! They’d have their list and I’d look through it saying “Need it, forget it!” like I was a judge on some new reality show and that was my catch phrase. Sometimes I got invited to join them as they registered. One time I even got to hold the portable scanner.  It was the best!

On one trip to the store I brought my husband along. Unbeknownst to him I was trailing these two pregnant friends (not friends of mine) who looked extra desperate as my husband was searching the store for a case of diapers. At one point we all converged on a ramp lined with nursing pillows.  The pregnant friends looked up at the pillows with great trepidation. This was my moment to interject and share my newfound nursing wisdom. But just as I was going to pipe up my husband said, “I’d go with the My Best Friend. It has pillow support all the way around. The Boppy is just really too limited.” The mothers looked over at him like he was some sort of sick maternity stocker. “Uh thanks” one of them muttered as if her subtext was “Who the fu#@ are you”.

Now here’s the thing about my husband, he is shy. Not in an obvious way but he’s the kind of person who will spend an hour in the grocery store looking for shoelaces just to avoid going up to a stranger and asking where they are. So for him to just offer up nursing advice to complete strangers, for him to interject like that had to mean that there was something so powerful about the need for new parents to share their discoveries.

I think this must be because parenting is scary. Not just the occasional fright but daily, sometimes even hourly holy shit terrifying. You are in charge of a person. If you don’t feed them they will die. This is an earth-shattering sort of power. And it is yours, all at once, the second your child enters the world. It just makes you so eager to be competent. After all, someone’s life is in your hands.  So you become a scientist desperate to find a cure for your own inevitable failings and flounderings. You just want to get it right. You try thing after thing until something works. And when you find something that works you feel utter joy. You want to race out and share your newfound discovery, “Hey everybody, have you seen this nasal aspirator. It really works, it sucks the snot right out. You’ll no longer have to listen to your kid struggle for air and wonder it he is going to suffocate on his own mucus. It is a miracle.”

And so you will do silly and maybe even illegal things to get the message out-like stocking pregnant ladies at Buy Buy Baby.