Month: April 2016

Last Week: a list of small failures

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Last week I learned that April is the month that all of the area preschools fill all their empty spots for fall. This was inconvenient. My town has a bunch of small home-based preschool programs, and I had always imagined moving Stump away from his from his large daycare center and into one of these setting when the time was right. I had thought we’d simply know when that time had arrived and the right spot in the right place would present itself to us. Clearly I had failed to think it through. We had already missed all the open houses. We had missed the moment that enrollment opens and parents clamor for spots and lay down their money. We were competing now for arbitrary openings left here and there, or hoping to be first on a waitlist. This was failure #1.

Kellie was working in another state when this search began. I had to rearrange my days to schedule phone calls and visits until there were no moments left for dog walks or staring out the window. The hustle of running from appointment to work to appointment to dinner and dishes and bedtime amplified my super-limitations.

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I failed to notice an appointment in my calendar, and so I double booked.

I failed to make Stump pee before bedtime, and so he wet the bed in the middle of the night.

I had a nightmare about missing work, and then I risked missing work when I failed to get Stump to daycare on time.

The cutoff for morning drop-off is 10:30, and we had scheduled a visit at a nearby preschool at 9:30. Stump had clung to me for the first fifteen minutes while we watched kids play with play-dough and rolling pins at the table. He got up in time to rifle through a bin of seashells and two four-year-old girls accosted him when we broke one. “Oh that’s fine,” the care provider told them. “I don’t know why they’re being like that,” she whispered. “The shells always break. That’s what they’re there for.” I chose not to share with her that breaking stuff is one of Stump’s major skills. At 10:10 I said “We’d better get going,” and then time did one of those tricks where it bends in a loop. I asked the provider one last question and her answer lasted a minute or two. Then we discovered that Stump had wandered into the kitchen and found the open door to the basement. On the way to the car, Stump wanted to explore the yard which had a small play shed with a pirate flag and a row of logs for jumping on.

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Preschool Bunny who I failed to discuss this post.

By the time I got Stump in the car it was 10:24. We didn’t have far to go, and so the whole way there I was optimistic that 10:30 was more of a soft guideline than a hard deadline. We made it to Stump’s classroom at 10:34 and for once Stump was immediately happy to be there. Just as he was unzipping his coat, his teacher approached me and whispered that she had to follow policy. No 10:34 drop-offs. I didn’t know whether to feel mad or ashamed or sorry, and so I felt all three at once, and those feelings battled in the pit of my stomach. I whisked Stump away, his coat half-unzipped and he asked me why we were leaving. “Because Mommy was too late,” I told him. “Why are we leaving?” he asked again, not understanding.

Kellie had arrived home on a plane the night before and luckily-unluckily she was home for the day, caring for Smoke who was running a fever. I knew she’d been planning to clean the house, to sweep up all the crumbs and wipe all the sticky spots and fold all the laundry from the ten days she’d been gone. I knew that with Stump home now she’d be doing very little besides taking care of Stump. When I came through the door with him, I thought I perceived a look. “What do you want me to do?” I hollered before I scrambled back to the minivan and drove back to work.

In the grocery store, I swiped the debit card before my total had loaded and the clerk had to remind me to wait for the prompt. This happens every time. Twenty years of my life I’ve been paying with debit cards and still I can’t seem to get it right.

At home after dark, I knew I needed sleep but instead I opened my laptop and kept scrolling and clicking, scrolling and clicking, aware every single moment that I should be in bed, but too tired to summon the willpower to remove my eyes from the screen.

On Friday morning I failed to control my son at yet another preschool visit. The teacher was so quiet and collected and when she needed my son to do something, she spoke exclusively in “You may” statements, as in: “You may take off your shoes now,” “You may step away from the computer,” “You may help clean up these blocks.” This had the effect of paralyzing my own parenting because I do not speak in “You may” statements—I speak in “Hey” statements as in “Hey! Get away from there!” or “Hey! Clean that up!”—and so anything I said to my child sounded like yelling. And so, when Stump picked up a piece of plastic corn and pretended it was a gun, I said nothing and hoped the teacher would not be too offended. And when Stump dismantled a wall of cardboard blocks and then began to roll around in the mess he made, I said simply, “I think we will need to get going soon,” instead of “Oh my god! You are out of control, dude!”

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Once I had dropped Stump off at daycare and arrived at work—on time this time—I looked in the mirror and my reflection said it all. The night before I had fallen asleep with wet hair, and in the morning I had tried to tame it by brushing it into a ponytail. I had thought it was more or less safely contained. But no, my hair was frizzing and falling out the elastic in random pieces, some of them wavy and some of them straight. I was not passably put together, not even for a Friday.

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The thing about my hair is that it often tells the truth about me. Even on my best days, I have a wild cowlick that rises up in the back an announces to the world that I can never fully contain myself.  I’ve said this before, but during weeks like this I think of my fellow humans, especially the ones who manage to walk through the world in lipstick and high heels. For a while I consider how I might leak out through the edges a little less. Could I pull myself together if I tried? I think it would take a lot of effort and expense. It would require supplies like hairspray and depilatory creams. It would require personal trainers and professional organizers. And still, at the end of the day I would probably come home and discover that I had spinach in my teeth or that I had put my underwear on inside-out. So I think I’ll keep doing it this way, where I’m visibly frazzled and imperfect, where the emotional energy I have at the end of the day goes into accepting that imperfection rather than trying to will it away.

A Scene of Changery

Before there was a change of scenery, there was the dream of a change of scenery. In September, as our summer ended, Kellie and I talked about Hawaii. We talked about jumping into warm ocean waters and hiking into Turtle Bay. I continued the dream by searching the internet one night while the rest of my family slept. If I could find us a space away from the resort scene and priced to our budget, then maybe we would go. It only took me a few clicks to find a little white house for rent on an 8,000 acre ranch. The photos showed green hills and rainbows, ocean views and horses and sheep. I showed the listing to Kellie and we booked it. Later, I showed it to Smoke to convince him that Hawaii was a place he wanted to go. For the months that followed, I sometimes clicked through the slideshow to remind myself of the place I’d eventually be. Just the thought of the hills and the warm air helped me breathe more deeply.

Before there was a change of scenery there were weeks of planning and packing. There were fluctuating airfares and impossible travel times. There was an impulse to cancel the trip if it meant a midnight layover in Anchorage or a 10 pm departure. There were the logistics of parking cars and renting cars and transporting car seats and packing toiletries and medicines and swimsuits and all the while feeling that, upon arrival, I would discover some essential item I’d forgotten.

The change of scenery arrives the moment I step off the plane and descend to the tarmac and my jeans are already sticking to my thighs. There are palm trees in planters just past the gate and Smoke has already put on his sunglasses. I have to keep Stump from climbing on the baggage carousel. We make a pile of bags on a patch of grass and wait for Kellie to pick up the rental car. My kids strip off their long sleeve shirts and climb along the walls, bare-chested. A pair of ladies with stiff hair make phone calls and give me the side-eye.

Seen from the beach: turquoise waves that climb and crest, and then stir up brown sand as they fall; off in the distance, whale spouts and whale body parts—the flash of a tail or the curve of a back; closer to shore, a scattered row of humans waits in that magic spot where the waves swell; some of them hold boogie boards; some of them dive into waves and come out the other side; some of them glide with just their bodies. On the shore my kids dig in the sand and wait for the ocean to fill the hole they’ve made. They throw sand bombs and bury each others’ legs. Sometimes they run off and for a long minute their bodies blend in with all of the other bodies and action. I run along the beach craning my neck, trying to see between the tanners and the Frisbee-throwers until finally I see the swim trunks I recognize.

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Seen from inland: vistas, storm clouds, araucaria columnaris. A wild pig with three piglets, all of them fighting to nurse. Wild billy goats and their families hiding in the scrub, bleating (we hear them before we see them). Friendly horses at sunset. A Hawaiian short-eared owl, soaring in daylight. At twilight another one swoops in front of our headlights and then lands at the edge of the road. It stands there, still and silent, and stares us down.

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The packing never ends. In the mornings we move food from the refrigerator to the cooler. In the evenings we move food from the cooler to the refrigerator. We pack towels and sunscreen and changes of clothes. We pack Benedryl and epi-pens in case of bee emergencies. I am constantly checking my purse to make sure my wallet is still there. I am constantly checking on my children’s skin for signs of sunburn. I know that I am supposed to reapply sunscreen every 90 minutes, but they are constantly wet and covered in sand.

Smoke, my older son, joins the line of boogie boarders on day 3. This keeps him busy and smiling for the better part of an hour, until a large wave sneaks up and topples him. The rocks in the sand scratch his back in several spots. He bleeds a little. Kellie helps him find his footing, wraps him in a towel, and sets him down in a beach chair, but he won’t stop screaming. “I hate this beach,” he tells me. I tell him we’re not going to leave just yet. He spends the next forty minutes pouting and writing in the sand with his toes in all caps: I HATE THIS BEACH. I try to laugh, but the truth is I’m uncomfortable. I also don’t want to be the parent whose kid complains about his Hawaii vacation. I don’t want to be the parent who berates her kid for not loving every minute of his Hawaii vacation. I keep quiet and let Smoke do his thing. Each time he tries to write his sentence, a wave comes and washes it away before he can finish, which is actually pretty funny. Eventually, he recovers. We leave the boogie board on the shore and jump in the waves together.

On the same beach Stump climbs the koa trees that grow at odd angles over the beach. It a good task for him—it keeps him happy but it requires supervision. Kellie and I stop packing our personal reading materials in our beach bags–there’s no chance of sitting for longer than a moment. Every day I repeat the following phrase in my mind: The Family Vacation. I say it to remind myself that this isn’t a personal holiday, but instead an exercise in intensive parenting, in togetherness. It’s not about rest or comfort or indulgence, so much as it is about building something, about offering my children a new landscape for their memories to hold, a landscape that we can share in future years. I had a chiropractor once who would tell me to “go to Hawaii” before she adjusted the vertebrae in my neck. It was her way of asking me to relax so that she could do her work, but every time she said it I pictured a pier just south of Hawi where the yellow tangs swim. Hawaii to me was not an abstraction, but a place in my brain that I could access. I want my kids to have those places too.

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At night, in the dark, I cannot find my way through our rental home. I walk with both hands out in front of me, reaching, feeling, waiting for my eyes to adjust. They don’t. I think I can make out faint shapes—a door, a bed—but I am mistaken. I run into a wall where I thought I’d find a door or a door where I thought I’d find a wall. The truth is simple: my body hasn’t learned this place.

When Stump is especially tired, he cries for the home he knows. As we drive on the back roads after sunset, he says, “I don’t want to go to our Hawaii home. I want to go to our real home.” I look out over the ocean at the scattered lights along the coastline and I look for words to explain how very far away our real home is, and what two more days means, how to help him understand that our real home is unreachable to us at the moment, but that we haven’t left it behind forever.

I never find words for this, and it doesn’t matter. Kellie parks our rental car at the end of the driveway and I carry Stump through darkness and into the house. His brother has beat us inside and already turned on the lights and we can find everything we need. We read one of the books I packed from our hometown library and he is asleep before I reach the last page.