legos

Some Things That Might Happen When You Move

You might, at the beginning, underestimate the work of moving. In the weeks that pass between buying a house and moving into that house, you might begin the process of sorting and packing. You know you haven’t done enough, but still, you might look around each room and think: that won’t take very long to pack. You will be wrong.

On the day you actually move from one house to another, you might be disturbed by the wreckage. It’s not that you expected things to be orderly. In fact, you’re the one who advocated for a move that would span several days. Let’s just move the beds, you said, and a few boxes of things we immediately need. Then we can come back and pack the rest. But this means you are left with a house filled with dust bunnies and all the things that have been hiding under the bed for many years: flip-flops and luggage and photographs you took in college. This does not look like a house that can be tamed. You might wonder how on earth this house will ever be clean and empty.

You might be impressed by how prolific the loose Legos are, and the k’nex and the marbles. You never stop finding them. They are in every single corner of every single room. You fill your pockets with them. They often carry dust and stray hairs. They are so prolific that one afternoon, as you are cleaning out the empty fridge, you find what looks like a loose blue k’nex piece stuck in one of the mounts at the back of the freezer. You will stuff it in your pocket with the other k’nex. Later, when you find the other blue piece on the other side, you realize that these are not k’nex but parts designed to hold a tray in place. You might feel foolish for a moment.

One night at the new house you might decide to make tuna salad for dinner. You know you’ve got bread, mayonnaise, and salad greens. You even know where the tuna cans are. You might not realize until after dark, when you’ve got the mixing bowl on the counter, and the mayo, and the pickles, that the can opener is still in the kitchen drawer of your old house.

You may find that packing is demanding work. Doing so invites deep existential quandaries, like: Why am I reluctant to get rid of this dress that doesn’t fit me? and Do I really need two ladles? By the end of each day you might be surprised by how tired you are. You might fall asleep next to your toddler, drooling in your clothes.

You may realize, for the thousandth time, that you and your partner have different attitudes about stuff. You would like to see 90% of it go away. It may be hard for you to decide which things to part with, but if someone were to do that job for you, you would thank them. Your partner, on the other hand, would like to keep things like cracked dishes that cannot be repaired. She would not thank someone if they secretly took boxes of her stuff to Goodwill. Not that you tried or anything. No really, you didn’t. Still, you will have to find a way to live with each other. You just bought a house, after all.

You might find that your hygiene standards change for the weeks that you are still packing and unpacking. Those pants that you painted in last week might turn out to be the only ones you can find. Go with it. One morning, you discover that they have worn out between the thighs. Don’t worry; no one will notice. You might rifle through one of the many garbage bags filled with clothing until you can find a hat that will cover your bedhead. You might wear your garden clogs everywhere.

You might discover that it takes only 10 minutes to set up internet in your new house even though the directions say to give it two hours. This small victory might be compromised when, on the same day, you spend hours battling with the brand new dishwasher. Though you got it to start yesterday, today it won’t. You press buttons, consult the manual, and still it won’t go. You take a break from trying, but can’t get it out of your mind. Why won’t it work? you keep asking yourself. Finally, at the end of the day, for reasons that will never be clear, you hit some magic combination of buttons and the thing runs like a Cadillac. Tomorrow you will have to figure it out all over.

You might be surprised by how fluid the word “home” is. In the days leading up to your move, you find it unimaginable. You will keep thinking that something will happen to prevent you from moving into the new house. It’s not that you don’t want to go, it’s just that your imagination is limited. Only two days after the move, you will marvel at how easily the shift happens. Sure, your stuff is in boxes. Sure, you still haven’t met the neighbors. But already this feels like where you live now. Your kids, who were anxious about the move, seem to barely notice that they’ve left something behind. Instead, they jump on their new beds and sit by the fireplace as if they have always inhabited this space.

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My Six-Year-Old is my Guru

SweetSometimes my kids blow my mind without even trying.

Yesterday I had three six-year-old boys in my living room playing Legos. The play date was coming to an end and Sam, one of my son’s oldest friends, wanted to bring home the storm-trooper-on-a-motorcycle that he had fashioned out of Smoke’s Legos.

“No, you can’t take it with you,” Smoke told him, “because last time when you borrowed my Bionicle it broke and you never brought it back.”

I was sitting on the couch grading papers, and I looked up to appreciate the line he’d just drawn. I was struck by the absolute clarity of Smoke’s answer, and also his even delivery. His voice was calm. It wasn’t loaded with resentment or grief. He was simply calling it like he saw it.

But, Sam was not impressed. “I never asked to borrow it. You just left it at my house.”

Cody, a new friend who wasn’t privy to this history, joined in Sam’s defense. “He didn’t ask to borrow it, so it’s not the same.”

The helicopter parent in me poised to jump in, to restate Smoke’s position and make sure it was honored, but that turned out to be unnecessary. “Well I never got it back,” Smoke told both of them. He took a breath. “Sam, here’s what what we can do. I won’t take apart your motorcycle.” Sam was nodding already, relieved at the idea of compromise. “And if you fix my Bionicle and bring it back, then you can borrow it after all.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a boundary set so cleanly. My son didn’t learn that skill from me. I’ve only recently learned that my relationships don’t have to follow a script, that when someone makes a request of me I’m not required to give them the answer they’re hoping for. Lately, I try to catch myself in the act of delivering a line, of giving a Yes or a Maybe when what I really mean is No. I try to remind myself that I can give the answer I actually mean, but that answer never comes out easily. I stall, I stammer, or my voice trembles, or it’s tainted with defensiveness.

But Smoke’s gentle assertiveness makes me wonder: What do we know before we un-know it? What communication skills are we born with that time corrodes? And what can I do to preserve in my kids their own clarity, their intuition, their emotional intelligence?

Two nights ago both of my kids were still awake at ten pm. It’s June in the Pacific Northwest and so it’s still light at nine, and of course there are barbecues and spontaneous visits and deer sightings that get in the way of our bedtime routine. But no matter  the reason, I start to lose my mind at ten pm when my kids are still awake, and on this day Stump, my 2-year-old, had just insisted on a snack.

Sneer“Goldfish,” Stump said after his bath and then he repeated the word “Goldfish” at least two dozen times. I knew he wouldn’t quit and I was too tired to fight, so I sat him at the kitchen table with a small pile of Goldfish crackers. But it turned out that he wanted the Goldfish crackers, not to eat, but to construct an interpretive scene. I sat in a neighboring chair and leaned my head against my hand. I was done.

“No cry Mommy,” Stump whispered, and he brushed his fingers across my cheek. “No cry Mommy.”

No one in the history of my lifetime has ever been able to pull me out of a funk so easily. I hadn’t been on the verge of tears, but Stump’s empathy perked me up, and I laughed. Stump laughed too and continued to touch my face. “No cry, Mommy. It’s okay, Mommy.” He was teasing me and comforting me at once.

I wished that Kellie had been there to witness Stump’s feat of emotional intelligence. Earlier that evening I had complained to her about some problem and she responded by saying “Why do you let that bother you?”

“That doesn’t help!” I told her, but when she asked me what she could say, I could only answer: “I don’t know!”

But now here was Stump, hours past bedtime, rescuing me from myself, as if he arrived in this world knowing all my secret codes and how to crack them.

Lessons I Learned During Puke Week

Over the weekend, the baby and I came down with the stomach flu at virtually the same moment. I was sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor eating my dinner, when the baby came over to snuggle. I thought that was sweet so I put down my plate—then he nuzzled into my neck and threw up all over the front of my shirt. A few minutes later I noticed that I didn’t feel so great myself, but it was hard to tell if I was genuinely sick or just grossed out from being puked on. By midnight I was running to the toilet.

There are advantages to being sick at the same time as your baby. Misery loves company. You can snuggle together, nap fitfully together, and whine in unison. By morning we had both stopped puking, but my joints ached with a vengeance. The baby looked teary-eyed and babbled with a raspy moan. My partner felt his forehead and asked, “Shouldn’t we give him some Motrin?” I had my answer ready. “No. He’s sick, so I want him to feel sick. If he doesn’t feel sick he won’t rest.”

But by noon I took pity on him. Or, to be honest, I think I just wanted him to sleep for longer than twenty minutes. In any event, I gave him the Motrin. A half hour later he was scaling the bathroom stepstool, pulling himself into the bathroom sink, and taking apart the soap dispenser. He was crawling maniacally from one end of the house to the other, looking for stray Legos to stuff in his mouth. He was squeezing himself into the gap between the shelves and the wall to better examine the array of electrical cords there. In short, he wasn’t feeling bad at all.

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Meanwhile, all I wanted was to curl up on my bed in the fetal position. I became acutely aware of how much energy it takes to leap out of the chair and extract the baby from the broom closet, or remove his hands from the toilet bowl—stuff I do every day without noticing.

Lesson #1: When the baby is sick, let him feel sick, especially if you are sick too.

Two days later, just as our world was returning to normal, I woke up and noticed that my five-year-old son’s bed had been stripped.  This is never a good sign. Apparently, my son is genetically wired to throw up all over his sheets. He has never—not once in five years—woken at night and successfully vomited into a container, or even aimed away from the bed. When I know he is sick, I implement the following strategy: 1. I cover his bed in towels. 2. I lie in bed next to him all night, barely dozing so that when he starts to stir I can lift his head and aim his mouth at the bucket.

But this time I hadn’t seen it coming. At six am my partner heard him retching and discovered that he had puked in the crack between his bed and his wall. This is even worse than it sounds. My son’s bed is nested in an alcove and the fit is so tight, we had to remove the trim from the baseboards just to wedge it in there. Hence, there is no moving the bed for easy cleanup, there is only crawling underneath it with a flashlight.

Lesson #2: If there’s an upside to getting puked on by a one-year-old it’s this: you can watch your partner crawl under your older child’s bed with a flashlight, a sponge, and a bucket, and feel only a small twinge of guilt.

The Word of the Day is: Uh-oh

I think that “Uh-oh” must be every baby’s fifth word. It’s easy to say and they hear it so often—when they drop food from their high chair, when they scramble for the Legos on the floor, when they attempt to climb out of the bathtub. Uh-oh.

My baby learned this word yesterday, but he doesn’t quite get the proper usage yet. To him, uh-oh is a conversation starter. We’ve been passing it back and forth all day. He climbed on top of the storage bin and announced himself: uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh. He pushed open the door to his brother’s room: uh-oh. He’s uses uh-oh to unwittingly announce his misbehaviors because to him uh-oh has nothing to do with accidents, it’s just something we say when he’s in the midst of doing something really, really fun, like dumping a box of cereal all over the floor.

Image(Our first uh-oh of the day. Sorry this shot was blurry; I was tired. After taking this, I noticed that my older son is acting equally crazy in the background, and there’s a plastic guy on the floor along with the rejected food.)