The Confliction of Five and Ten

What follows is a post I wrote in the fall of 2009.  Sean was five.  He is now ten, on the verge of 11. And once again we again find ourselves wobbling unsteadily between two worlds.  The one constant in the midst of the never ending river of change that is childhood is Mr. Monkey – he is still there, albeit a little frayed and wobbly himself, but still an ever present and never faililng source of comfort.

August 2009 – The  Confliction of Five

As of late, Sean has been trying to convince me that he is over being a baby, that being a baby is so yesterday, that he has moved on, that he has joined the ranks of the big boys.

But like a politician, his actions don’t always line up with his words.

The other day as we were leaving the house for a play date, he ran back to his bedroom and grabbed Mr. Monkey to take with him in the car. As we are walking towards the garage, I notice his grimy little boy fingers, set to automatic, busily working and petting Mr. Monkey’s muzzle.  Mr. Monkey used to have a nose and a mouth. But they have long since been loved off.

His fingers are long and delicate and even pretty.  I remember how I marveled at them, the first time I saw them, how fragile and breakable they felt in my hand, how they moved as though powered by batteries. I was fascinated by his fingernails, miniature and as fine as tissue paper.  The thought of trimming those itty bitty fingernails terrified me.

I still marvel at those fingers although now they are scraped up and have a good amount of dirt under the nails which need to be trimmed.  Even so, they are still long and delicate, and even pretty.

As we walked towards the car, I watched him out of the corner of my eye, his fingers methodically twitching over Mr. Monkey’s muzzle. I wondered if he was feeling anxious about the play date.  Then he turned to me and said, “Mom, I don’t care for cartoons anymore. Those are for babies. I prefer real shows with real people, like The Food Network and Survivor Man.”

“Oh really?” I said more than asked.

I was struck by the composition, the stark contrast between the boy clutching Mr. Monkey and the same boy telling me he has moved beyond childish cartoons.

He is conflicted.  He is a boy wobbling and balancing on a high wire between two worlds.  On one side of the wire is a soft and sweet and safe place, where all the anxiety and ills of life can be soothed by a fraying and well loved monkey. On the other side is a not safe and not soft world that calls to him to come taste new and exciting things.  And he is conflicted. He wants to live in both worlds.

I’m conflicted. I want him to live in both worlds.  And daily we swing wildly between the two.



Little Kids and Big Kids and Lessons In Community

When kids are of a certain age, generally speaking, they don’t want to play with the little kids.  It’s fun to run away and hide from them and that sort of thing. I know this from observing Sean and I know this from personal experience. I was the youngest, and even worse, a girl.  I spent the better part of my early childhood chasing after my older brothers, hoping to be allowed to play.  Either of them would have rather eaten a pencil than let me to hang out with them.  In their defense, I may have been somewhat annoying.  Somewhat.

And of course all the little kids want to play with the big kids because it makes them feel big and important and one of the gang. Deep down inside, I think I still want that. Just a little.

Anyway, in the last year or so when Sean is with either of his two good neighbor buddies, both of whom have younger sibs, they think its quite fun to exclude the younger ones.  Collectively, we moms do not permit this.  When this happens, I threaten suggest to him that if everyone can’t play together then we will have to go home.  I am hoping that at some point he will absorb this exhortation and do it out of a heart response and not under duress.

So then awhile back, Sean had a day off of school, and since it was was a nice day we went to the park to throw around our Nerf football.  I’m quite good with a football. I can throw it with laser precision and get that pretty little spiral on it.  It’s pretty impressive and you wouldn’t know that I could do that by looking at me.  I bring that up now because there has never been another opportunity.

So we were throwing the football back and forth and a young boy, maybe a 3rd or 4th grader, wanders through the park.  He stands off to the side watching, probably admiring my football spiraling skills or perhaps my tremendous beauty, I’m not sure which.  I ask him if he’d like to play. He does, so I toss him the football and step aside.  Sean and the boy throw the ball for awhile and all is calm, all is bright.

Shortly thereafter, two other boys pass through the park with a basketball.  They are 5th or 6th graders, I can’t tell. I can only tell if someone is a 1st grader.  They invite us to play a little b-ball (that’s basketball for you who are not as hip as I) and we set up teams; Sean and I and the 1st boy against the two 5th graders.

Aside: I can’t dribble a basketball to save my life. I do not have the basketball mojo. Never had it, never saw it, never been anywhere near it.  If I happen to make a basket it is a fluke of the laws of physics.  Tip:  If ever you are choosing up teams to play basketball, do not choose me.  I will understand.

There was something about the bigger of the two 5th graders. I could just tell that he was an oldest child and that maybe his mom had issued threats and made him to play with the younger kids and that at some point he had taken it into his heart.  He made several well-veiled “flubs” and allowed Sean to get the ball and take it down court.  I really appreciated that.

It wasn’t too long after that these boys grew weary of having to play basketball with me and decided to play Monkey In The Middle with the football.  Back in the day, we called it Keep Away.  I begged off and sat off to the side to watch.

The two fifth graders put Sean and the 3rd grader in the middle.  Sean had a great time running back and forth and trying to get the ball.  But the 3rd grader didn’t like it. It seemed to bruise his pride.  He threw a bit of a hissy fit which all the other boys ignored.

Eventually the 3rd grader had enough and stomped off, which left just Sean as the monkey.  The older boy would again discreetly flub from time to time and allow Sean to capture the ball and get to be a ball thrower instead of the monkey.  But it wasn’t long though before the big boys were ready to move along.

“We gotta get going,” the big boy said to Sean.

He gave him a knuckle bump and thanked him for playing.

Sean beamed with importance.

I winked at the older boy which I hope he correctly interpreted as a nod of thanks and not some creepy-old-lady come on.

As we walked home, I noticed a little extra spring in his step.

“That boy that stomped off, what did you think about that?” I asked.

“Not good.  That’s being a bad sport,” he said.  “Dad doesn’t like that.”

“Yup,” I said, “Neither do I.”

I was pleased that he recognized that.

“That felt pretty good, didn’t it? That those boys wanted to play with you.”

He nodded.

“Maybe you could remember that next time Kendall and AJ want to play.”

He nodded and skipped ahead of me.

Two lessons in one day.

Probably more effective than 100 days of motherly exhortations.

So to all the moms of big boys out there who have gone to the trouble to teach them to look out for and include the little boys – thank you.  Thank you very much.

That’s called community.

The Lightning Blue Remote Control Speed Boat

Sometimes when I catch Sean being good, I reward him by letting him pick out something at the grocery store.  The only limitation I put on him is that it must be something that can fit in the palm of his hand.  And it is for this reason that I haven’t told him where Wal-Mart keeps the iPods.

And so it was one day early in the summer.  When we got to the store, we headed straight back to the toy department in search of a reward. We went up the aisles and down the aisles and down the aisles and up the aisles trying to make a decision, trying to choose the exact right perfect reward that would fit in the palm of his grubby little hand.

Finally he stopped dead in his tracks in front of a display of little boy heaven.  He pulled from the shelf a box that was about the size of a small television.  Wearing a hopeful expression, he held out his hands to show me.  Behind the cellophane window on the front of the box was a lightning blue remote control speedboat. The sticker on the front of the box read $25.

“Sean,” I asked, “Does this fit in the palm of your hand?”

“No. But I really want it.”

“Well I can see why.  It is very cool.  But this is a big thing.  This is more the kind of thing you would get for a birthday present.”

“Oh. I thought that was what you’d say,” he said with dramatic dejection.  Dramatic flair does not work on me.  I’ve had my little-boy-manipulation shot. I am immune.

He hung his head, heaved an exaggerated sigh, and as though wearing lead boots, he walked the box back to its place on the shelf.  He patted it and then stood there looking longingly at it.  If I were a member of the Academy, I would have given him an Oscar right there in Wal-Mart.

As we continued on, I took a second look at the boat and made a mental note in case of the unlikely event that it was something that he still wanted when he had a birthday later this fall.

About a week later we went to a birthday party.

And sure enough the birthday boy got the lightning blue remote control speed boat.

I watched Sean watching the boy open the box, watching the boy’s face light up.

I watched him try to pretend to be happy for the birthday boy as he has been instructed to do.  I noticed his bottom lip start to tremble.

He popped his head above the crowd of kids sitting criss-cross-applesauce in front of the birthday boy.  He searched for my face.  He gestured towards the boat with open palms.  He shrugged his shoulders in a statement of disbelief.  I noticed that his ears were red.

He got up, stepped over a few kids and schlumped over to me with the lead boots, head hung low, both arms swinging from side to side like an ape.

He put his head in my lap and whispered through tears, “That was the very thing I wanted and HE got it.”

Part of me wanted to give him a stern lecture about how silly he looked, about how grateful he should be for all that he has, about how he should focus outward and not on himself, about how it wasn’t about him today, about how he will have his own birthday this fall, about how he was embarrassing me, about a million other things.

Yet, my heart broke for him because it was exactly how I felt for years at baby showers.  I would pretend to be delighted for the mother-to-be when really I wanted to lay my head in my mother’s lap and cry bitter tears about the unfairness that some other gal was getting the very thing I wanted.

In that moment, I didn’t really know what to do. I wanted to comfort and scold him all at the same time.  And no course of action seemed right.

So I told him it’s not his party and he can’t cry if he wants to — and I sent him back to the party.  We would have to talk about it later but in the mean time the civilized thing to do was to play the part of a good party guest.

The birthday party might have provided a wonderful life lesson about waiting and wanting and not getting everything you want.  But shortly after the birthday party, Sean came home from Memaw’s with a lightning blue remote control speed boat.

Memaw had three little boys of her own at one time but apparently she needs a little-boy-manipulation booster shot.

Mouse and Harvest Moon

By ‘The Artist Currently Known As Sean’

In this composition, the artist addresses the tension of post-modern life. Here, he uses loose strokes to invoke a sense of chaotic energy that falsely reads as a peaceful night sky, perhaps a reference to the uncertain economic conditions that are the backdrop to everyday life.

The artist creates a sense of orderliness out of the chaos by containing it in fractionalized spaces which likely symbolizes the sort of compartmentalization of life spaces – dark and light, public and private, internal and external, on-line and off-line. The deliberate use of green in places to depict the night is no doubt a nod to Remington. The brightly lit harvest moon refers to a distant hope, perhaps a statement of faith or perhaps a reference to the fall elections.

The loosely interconnectedness of the vines talk about the condition of modern man and the effect of the internet and modern technology on the human condition; connected at all times but ultimately small and alone, as represented by the mouse which appears to be sliding off the pumpkin.

Washable Markers on Notebook Paper (2010)
Currently on display on his mother’s refrigerator
Available for purchase

The Bunny Purse

Last week on the way home from school I asked Sean what he did in school that day.

“Nothing,” he said.

“Oh really? Not anything? You just sat at your desk with your hands folded for four hours?  I’m going to ask for my money back if they’re not going to teach you anything.”

This caused him to sniff in amusement.

“We had centers today.”

It was a crumb, but I take what I can get.

“Centers? Really? Reading?”

“No. Shopping.”

“Shopping Centers!” I laughed at my own joke.

“What did you buy?”

“Well!” he huffed, “I only had 75 pennies so I bought an electric pencil.”

“You mean a mechanical pencil?” I said rather than asked, “Good choice. Cool.”

“No, not cool.  I wanted to buy the bunny purse for you but it was like 100 pennies and then Karys bought it!” he whined with indignation.   “I didn’t have enough money!”

That was interesting because the last time we were at the school for a class party, AD noted that Sean had a huge stash of pennies in his cubbie while the other kids only had a few coins each. AD later suggested to me that Sean should set up a little business of making secured loans to the other children at a reasonable rate of interest. No, not usury. It sounds so ugly when you say it like that. Think of it as a math lesson in the power of compounding interest.

“A bunny purse?! You were going to buy me a bunny purse?!”  The very thought delighted and pierced my heart at the same time.

“Yes, it had a bunny on it with a nose and it was furry and pink on the outside and purpledy-pink on the inside and it had a nice zipper and a strap for your head.”  I think he meant a strap for my shoulder.  I tried not to laugh at the mental image of a bunny head purse.

“But Karys bought it!  I didn’t have enough money!”  The injustice caused his voice to leap an octave.

I looked in the rear view mirror to see his eyes beginning to swell with tears.  Didn’t have enough money. This thought stirred up ancient poor girl dust that never really settles out, but remains suspended in the soul for a lifetime.

In my mind, I could see him eyeing the bunny purse, turning it over and over in his hand, imagining how he would present it to me and how delighted I would be.  I imagined him counting on his fingers, working out the math. And then the disappointment, how it would fall from the ceiling and settle heavy over him, rounding his shoulders. I felt in my own heart the disbelief he felt when he realized the bunny purse was out of reach and worse, it was going home with someone else.  I know there is a good and powerful life lesson tucked away in the experience, yet it pains me all the same.

We drove another mile or so, neither of us saying a word.

“Well,” I finally said, “I have to tell you – I love that you would spend your money on me. That’s a very selfless big boy thing to do, and just knowing that?  That is a wonderful gift that would make any mom happy.”

This did not go far in salving his wound.

And you know what?” I continued, “There will always be people who will get stuff and have stuff that you want.  That’s just the way it is.”

Just recently I had been to someone’s gorgeous and fully accessorized home and felt a tinge of what he was feeling, familiar and bitter.

He sighed. Not what he wanted to hear. He wanted to hear how terrible Karys was for buying the purse out from under him.  That it was unfair.  That’s what I would want to hear.

But I didn’t say that.  I told him that even moms and dads feel that way sometimes.  I wanted him to know that, to be honest with him about that.

“But,” I said, “I find that if I can be grateful for what I have rather than disappointed over what I have not, that it makes it a little better.  A little.”

That’s a hard one to learn, and a lesson to be learned over and over. So I quit teaching and let it go.

When we got home, he disappeared upstairs, I assumed to contemplate upon the unfairness of life.

20 minutes later, he appeared at my desk. The cloud of gloom had lifted.

“Close your eyes and hold out your hands,” he said cheerfully.

When I opened my eyes, I was holding a bunny purse made out of construction paper, tape and staples.  My name was monogrammed on the front in purple crayon.

When life steals your bunny purse, make one out of construction paper.

I told him I couldn’t imagine any bunny purse anywhere nicer than this one.

And I meant it.

Big Fish Little Pond


On Saturday, my friend Gigi hosted a Mother’s Day luncheon for her church.  She invited several of us to speak on different aspects of motherhood. I spoke on infertility and late-in-life motherhood. Others spoke on looking forward to motherhood, adoptive motherhood, step-motherhood, grand-motherhood, military motherhood and another gal spoke on what it’s like being a mother to a special needs child.

One lady lost her son in a tragically freak car accident when he was 32 and spoke about what a joy he was to her for the time she had him.  Each story was inspiring and sharpened my perspective and deepened my appreciation for how similar and yet how different everyone’s experience at this mothering gig can be.

The picture has nothing really to do with Mother’s Day other than to record that Sean spent the entire weekend running around Gigi’s farm playing with her grandchildren, covered in dirt and totally unaware that he had a mother.

As we drove home, Sean handed me a Wal-Mart bag from the back seat and wished me a happy Mother’s Day.  Inside was a card and a candle.  I suspect at some point I will own the largest collection of Wal-Mart candles in the state of Texas. I just pray that my collection will grow beyond 32.

The Teacher

I wasn’t one of those moms who cried the day she sent her kid off to kindergarten. I was excited about the adventure that I knew was ahead for Sean.  I expected joy and it has been delivered in abundance.

But now that the school year is about to come to an end, I am beginning to feel a twinge of sadness, maybe the same sort of sadness that the other mothers felt in the fall.  I am not ready for this sweet season of half day school to come to an end.  For the past three years, we’ve enjoyed living in a small, safe bubble at this school and now that bubble is about to burst. And I’ve got my fingers in my ears waiting for the inevitable pop.

The leaving is so hard.  If only we could just stay a little longer, we surely would.

We’ve been visiting a lot of schools lately as we try to figure out where to send Sean for 1st grade. So yesterday, after we got home from school I told Sean about the school we had visited that day and how we really liked the 1st grade teacher.

“But I really like the teacher I have now,” he said.  He quietly dropped his chin to his chest and made that long face he makes when he is trying not to cry.  He tried to blink back the tears but they rolled down his cheeks anyway.

I didn’t have any wisdom to offer him, so I just reached across the table and touched his hand.

He wiped the tears from his face with is forearm.  “Wouldn’t it be nice if the teacher always went with you?” he whispered.

I nodded.  I pulled him across the table and into my lap.

And I thought to myself that a good teacher always goes with you, in some small way, wherever you go.