Smack Down At The Zoo

I love our local zoo.  It’s a great place to spend the day with kids. They have 435 species – ferocious and scary animals of every kind imaginable. But you will find nothing in the zoo more frightening than (cue shrieking sound) Tiffany, Professional Mother of Three.

The last time that Sean and I took in the zoo together happened to be the same day that (shrieking) Tiffany, Professional Mother of Three was there too. I first spotted her as Sean and I walked towards the entrance of the zoo. As we approached the ticket line, I noticed that she was wearing perfectly pressed crisp white Docker shorts, sensible yet stylish white sandals and a matching navy blue sweater set. With the sweater draped perfectly about her shoulders. Of course. Never mind that it was 93 degrees outside. Each of her three perfectly behaved children were dressed in matching white shorts and navy blue tops, the little girl with a matching headband. Perhaps they had just come from a JCPenney catalogue photo shoot. Or maybe they were going sailing later. Or maybe… MAYBE they were going back to (shrieking) Stepford!

I looked down at my tank top, blue jean shorts and flip flops and felt good that I didn’t have a coffee stain on me anywhere. That I could see. As we walked past TPMO3, with her perfectly dressed brood, she leaned over and said, “What a cute little boy! Did you know he has on two different shoes?” “Yes,” I lied with a straight face. I looked at Sean and no, the shoes were not an EXACT match, but they were close. They were both brown and they were both sandals. “He was very insistent about that!” I laughed. “Kids! What are you gonna do?” And I shrugged my shoulders. “I hear some kids do that!” she said cheerfully. SOME kids?? And then winked. Winked! Lucky for her, the only weapon I had readily available was a well worn flip flop which I was not willing to defile by using in a manner for which it was not intended. Unless she winked again. Then all bets were off.

One would think that given the size of the Ft. Worth Zoo that one probably wouldn’t bump into the same person more than once. At least that was my prayer. When we ran into her several hours later, she still looked as though she had just come from the spa while Sean and I looked as though we had just been pulled out of a commercial dryer. We had stopped to play in the sandbox and we had also bought a blue Icee drink, which we were both wearing.

We were looking at the horses in the area of the zoo that features all things domestic livestock, when TPMO3 came up behind me and squealed “Hi again! I’m TiffffanEEE!” She thrust her hand towards me in a manner that suggested she had practiced in the mirror. I thrust out my sandy blue hand in response. She took one look and slipped her hands into the pockets of her crisp white Dockers. “There’s that cute little boy with the two different shoes again!” she cooed as her children stood robotically still behind her.

Sean was standing on the second rail of a wooden fence to get a good look at the horses. “Oh be careful Sweetie!” she called to Sean. “I don’t want you to fall-all!” she sang. I was waiting for her to sing the second verse: “unlike your irresponsible negligent muh-thurr.” I failed to see her unrelenting interest in me unless she were looking for a project, someone she could lift up out of the sandy blue depths of haphazzard apparel and into the realm of clean, matching and pulled together.

“He’s fine,” I said to her after unhinging my jaw. “I let him climb on a ladder at home all the time.” Why oh why would I share this information with someone who probably has CPS on her speed dial? When I mentioned the ladder, her expression was one that you might wear if you had just discovered that your husband of twelve years was a female.

“No really,” I continued, “He’s pretty athletic and has a good sense of balance.” I added. Why did I feel the need to defend myself to this woman who was probably a good ten years younger than me? “Besides, if he falls, it’s not THAT far and I doubt that he would be seriously injured or that the horse would actually, you know, kill him!” STOP TALKING STOP TALKING NOW the voice inside my head screamed.

While I blathered on and on about my how horses almost never kill children, Sean had wandered off and I happened to catch sight of him out of the corner of my eye. He was bending down on all fours and was licking a grate covering a storm drain.

The look of horror on her face was priceless — as though she’d never seen anyone licking a storm drain. She abruptly gathered up her matching children and hurried off towards the Herpetarium. I swore I heard her instruct them to run, but maybe she said something about fun. I couldn’t really tell.

I called after her, “Tiff! Let’s get together for a play date! Call me!” No I didn’t really say that. I would have lobbed my flip flop at her though, but I’m not that good of an aim and she was moving pretty fast.

The Band-Aid

Betwixt and between. This is the confounding, ill-fitting space that Sean and I occupy this summer. We are two mismatched, uncomfortable dance partners.

He is tired, but doesn’t want to nap. He is hungry but doesn’t want to eat. He cries for Mommy to kiss a boo boo, then pushes me away. He wants a band-aid instead. I fetch a band-aid. I try to apply the band-aid to the invisible boo boo. For a split second I imagine he is admiring my skill, that he is pleased with my effort. I half expect him to look up at me and smile with gratitude. Then he breaks down sobbing. I have done it wrong. The world is near end. He wanted to “oh-oh-oh-puh-puh-en the band-aid him (sob) selphs (sob).”

I want to please him, to see him smile – when I am not wanting to scream at him, “Hey Buddy! Knock it off!” I don’t scream out loud. As I’m rummaging around the medicine chest, I scream inside my head. I return with another fresh, unopened Curious George band-aid. He mauls and mangles the paper covering until it is ashen gray. He holds it out to me crying in frustration because he can’t open it. I try to help him and only anger him in the process. He pulls it back like a game of cat and mouse, grumbling “I do it MYselfphs!”

We do a dance of helping and not helping, offering and rescinding, asking then denying until the band-aid is free from the package and plastered on his knee. Curious George is upside down, crumpled and battle worn. His smile is now eerily crooked and torn — which is exactly how I feel.

New Week, New Rules

Last week, you may recall that Sean nominated me for Most Negligent Parent of the Week after I failed to properly stow him in the upright and locked position in his car seat. But this is a new week. And anything that would have landed his mother in jail last week, this week seems like a good idea.

And so this week Sean does not want to be strapped into the car seat which lead to this discussion:

AM: Sean, I must strap you into your car seat.

Sean: No! (twisting and kicking and triple Lutzing)

AM: Sean, it’s the law. You must be strapped into your car seat. I need your cooperation. (It was like trying to arm wrestle an octopus wearing sunscreen.)

Sean: No! I don’t want strap in. Don’t strap me in!

AM: If I don’t strap you in, the police will take me to jail.

He stops opposing me for a moment to consider life without Mommy. I was regretting having said that thinking that he was imagining all the fun he could have with the stuff under the kitchen sink if Mommy weren’t around.

Sean: I no want Mommy go to jail… who make Sean’s lunch?

So there you have it. I am indispensable around here. At least at noon. Not just anyone can microwave chicken nuggets you know.

As I basked in the afterglow of my son’s overflowing affection, I resumed trying to strap an oily octopus into this car seat.

Cigarette Money

Last year, I read a story in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram that has haunted me. It seems the son of an elderly wheel chair bound woman went to her home on Mother’s Day, not to bring her flowers or even a card, but looking for cigarette money. When she refused to give it to him, he dumped her out of her wheel chair, turned the gas on in the house, lit a candle and left. She managed to claw her way out of her house before succumbing to the fumes. Luckily, someone notified the police and they arrived before the house was blown to smithereens.

I’ve thought about that Ft. Worth woman many times lately as I stumble blindly down the uncertain and precarious path of parenthood. And I wonder, “How did it come to THAT and how can I avoid it?” Although Sean hasn’t made any moves towards doing me in for cigarettes just yet, now that he’s in the throes of toddlerdom, pushing the boundaries (and my buttons) and testing the limits (and my patience) has become his full-time job. I’m sure that when cigarette-boy was two, he was cute and funny too. But somewhere along the way, something went horribly awry. Obviously.

Lately when I ask Sean not to touch something, he will look me straight in the eye and then quickly withdraw his hand, as though the object of his desire was on fire. When he senses that I am congratulating myself on my skillful parenting, he will slowly and ever so gingerly poke his defiant little finger into the luscious forbidden fruit of the moment – never once flinching or averting his eyes from mine. It is as though the collective forces of cantankerous spirits in the universe partner with gravity and bear down upon his hand. He cannot stop himself. He must demonstrate that he is not under my authority. I must demonstrate that he is. He waits for my reaction. I wait for my reaction. We are two sumo wrestlers, bent over in the ready to rumble position, eye to eye, forehead to forehead, waiting to see who will make the fist move. We circle the proverbial mat, we silently plan our countermoves. We do this dance six or twenty times of a morning, sometimes even before the clock strikes nine. And it wears me out. Sometimes to the point where I think that having rules and boundaries are entirely too much trouble. And then I think of cigarette-boy.

At that point, I usually draw a long breath and stall for time so all the child-rearing experts who now occupy the space in my head where my brain cells used to be can offer up their opinions. And they are a noisy bunch, those experts.

“Let it go! Just ignore it! Don’t make a big deal out of it.”
“What?! Are you crazy? Next thing you know he’ll be wanting cigarette money.”
“Is it really THAT important?”
“You’ll confuse him if you keep moving the boundaries. No means no means no.”
“Acknowledge his feelings.” (huh?)
“You must establish your authority. Off to the naughty chair.”
“Naughty chair now or electric chair later.” (gulp!)
“Distract him with something else and avoid the conflict.”
“Distraction? That was willful disobedience! That calls for time-out!”
“Time out? Bah! Spank him – show him who’s the boss.”
“Spanking? Barbaric!! Take a way a favorite toy”
“Spare the rod and spoil the child.”
“He’s ONLY two!! And besides, he’s cute. Give him some ice cream too!” That would be my mother’s helpful voice.

And finally, from her wheelchair, the Ft. Worth woman’s shaky voice rising above the others: “Get down on your knees woman, while you still can, and pray!”

* * *

Dear God, help me… Oh, and one other thing. Please keep my boy away from cigarettes.

Walking The Walk

When I was growing up, we didn’t have very many toys. If we got anything really special, like a bike, we usually had to save up for it or at least pay something towards it. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, in retrospect it was a good thing.

My brothers and I took care of the few things we had because there was never a question that if we lost or destroyed something, it would just be too bad. No one was going to replace it. One time my brother left his bike unlocked outside a store and someone stole it. It was another summer of mowing yards and delivering papers before he got another one. A very hard lesson, but one that wasn’t lost on me. I saved up for and bought my own car at 17 (1977 Mustang – so cool) and I always took good care of it. I knew if I wrecked it or did something irresponsible, then it would be back to walking.

I bring this up because there is a park across the street from our house. Sean and I have been going there at least once a day, sometimes twice, since before he could even walk. It is always astonishing to me to see the things left behind at the playground – expensive scooters, wagons, bicycles, helmets, basketballs, tennis rackets, shoes and coats. When I see these things I always think how if I were ten or eleven, I would miss my bike or scooter. Especially if I had rode it to the park and then walked home. But it’s not hard to imagine that these things were quickly replaced or perhaps that they were not even missed among the excess that is pervasive in this zip code.

A week or so ago, I sat on a bench looking at an expensive red Radio Flyer wagon that had been sitting in the park for several days. I know it’s expensive because Sean got one for his first birthday — not from his cheapskate parents, but from his indulgent Aunt Terrye and Uncle Jack. If it were up to me, he would have had to have saved up for his own wagon. Kidding! Just half of it. I’d chip in something. As I stood up to leave, I looked in the orphaned wagon to see if there might be something to indicate whose it was. I saw a cell phone and a garage door opener. It made perfect sense. The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. And I had to laugh.

Until it hit me like a bucket of cold water and one of the unchanging laws of the universe settled uncomfortably into my bones: If I want Sean to take care of his belongings, then I have to take care of my belongings. If I want Sean to be responsible, kind and considerate, then I have to be responsible, kind and considerate. “Do as I say, not as I do” means nothing to a two-year-old. It’s a daunting to think that I have to be the kind of person I want my child to be.

Damn those laws of the universe.

Sean Has A Lot To Learn From His Daddy Before He Gets Married…

As I was getting Sean into the car to take him to school on Monday, I bumped him on the head with the car door as I opened it. Poor little guy. He just looked at me like “Why would you do that?”

As we drove, I was multi-tasking, which is dangerous for a formerly semi-natural blonde like me. I was making a mental list of what I needed to get done (pay bills, grocery store, laundry) versus what I wanted to get done (Starbucks, Half Price Books, TJMaxx) while at the same enthusing upon command over every horse, cow and pick up truck along the way, which in Texas is a lot of enthusing. All while trying to honor those pesky red and green lights. My head wasn’t in the game.

When we were about half way to school, Sean pipes up from the back seat with a twinge of angst in his voice, “Mommy no strap me in!”

GULP! I pulled over as quickly as I could, ran around the back of the car and to the other side and buckled him into his carseat as the responsible mommys in mini-vans whizzed past me.

“Oh Sean! I’m so sorry!” I said. ” I am not a very good Mommy today!”

“Yeah, I know!” he said rubbing the bump on his head.

Glad I didn’t ask him if these pants made my butt look big.

Corn – The Great Mystery of the Universe

Corn is one of the most indestructible elements on the face of the earth. At one time it was on Mohs Scale of Hardness, but was later replaced by Conundrum. Or something like that. Which is a good thing because had it stayed on the list, your birthstone might be corn. It’s true. I would not make up something as serious as that just to amuse myself.

Anyway, you don’t need Moh to tell you about the properties of corn. You’ve eaten corn. You know that it can pass through the length and breadth of your digestive tract unblemished, unscathed and in tact. I became acutely aware of this fact soon after feeding Sean corn for the first time. From the changing table, I called to Antique Daddy, “Dude! Get in here! You gotta see this!” He never falls for that.

Since then, I have learned that corn can even hold up to the most stringent of wash cycles – the setting that I call the Last Chance cycle — hot and harsh. But this is not the time to bring up Antonio Banderas, this is about laundry. Anyway, those that emerge unrepentant and uncleansed of their stains from the Last Chance cycle, are cast into the rag bag of damnation destined to wash cars and mop up the unspeakable for all eternity. Be warned. It only takes one indiscreet fling with chili sauce.

I bring up the fascinating topic of corn for a reason. As I’m pulling some clothes from the washer yesterday, I notice there is corn on everything. And I wondered from whence does this corn come? I did not remember opening a can of corn and dumping it in the washer. But I’m a 46-year-old woman with a toddler, so I don’t remember a lot of stuff. Nonetheless, being the logical and scientific CSI person I am, I began to seek clues. So I yelled out, “Hey Dude! Did you put corn in the washer?” Oddly enough, there was no response.

I continued my investigation by checking pockets, which based on previous laundry experience, was probably a dumb thing to do. I hear of women who pull out ten dollar bills and lottery tickets or even loose change from pockets while doing laundry. I pull out things that breathe. And now? Corn. Someone, and I won’t name names here, had apparently filled his pockets with corn at the dinner table last night. On the bright side, it’s unlikely that I will be seeing corn on the changing table again, as it appears that none of it made it into his mouth.

In our next episode of Great Laundry Mysteries, I ask this question: How is it that a kleenex will disintegrate in your hand while dabbing a runny nose, yet survive a Last Chance cycle no worse for the wear? My theory is that kleenex is made of corn.