Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tis the Season For Tis The Season Blog Title Variations

I have a Facebook friend who is constantly broadcasting her good deeds: How much she volunteers and how much she donates and how much she does for others, with no gain for herself. And I find it perplexingly annoying. If you do a good deed and feel the need to announce it, then that seems to make it a little less altruistic, no? And yet I feel ridiculous lambasting a person who does indeed help others.

This is something interesting I noticed: In NYC, at the food store checkout line, there are little slips of paper that you can rip off and add to your bounty. Each slip is a little under seven dollars and it buys a meal for a homebound person in the city. It is subtle and casual and oh so easy to do. Here in Mass, I was at the grocery story and I nearly ran into, literally (runaway toddler) a giant display of those now lead-filled recycled bags filled with food. You can lift one of these ten pound bags of food and put it into your cart, taking up a good quarter of your cart, then pay for it, and — this is the kicker — put the giant bag in a giant box at the front of the store, to be delivered to a food shelter. Why not just employ the same slip of paper method? Why waste so much space and effort?

This is my very unscientific survey: In the city, I am a the grocery store every day, and frequently waiting on lines, and I have not seen one person take one of those clandestine tickets and buy a homebound persona meal. Not one. But in Mass, every time I am at the food store, I see DOZENS of people lifting those big, showy bags and putting them in their carts. Sometimes, even, two bags. I know there are all sorts of studies about this. Turns out we adults are a lot like kids, and we respond well to recognition and reinforcement for good behavior. “I Voted!” stickers come to mind. And the blood donation stickers. That sort of thing.

And, as long as we re talking about giving, it has always bothered me that some celebrities refuse to do commercials or endorsements, even though they are promised millions of dollars. I always think, why CAN’T you do a commercial for a freaking jewelry line that will be aired only in Japan, and take your $5 million dollar endorsement fee and, I don’t know, build a school? Make a food shelter’s year? Support a library? The celebrities say doing commercials and endormsemt will hurt their career. So what does that say about our society? Are we really going to stop watching someone’s movies because they did a commercial in Japan? It’s all so absurd. I would think that it would help their careers. Instead, pseudo celebrities are taking money for their own gain. Those ridiculous family of sisters have their clothing line and credit cards and TV shows and will show up for the opening on an envelope, especially if they get aid for it, and they are laughing all the way to the bank. Are they sharing? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say no.

Something I love about my Massachusetts town is that they just approved in their budget to spend just over 100K to help secure housing for the “6 to 7” homeless people in town who are committed to sobriety. I love that. The local food shelter recently received a 200K donation from a local school janitor, who saved that money his entire life. I love the sense of community here.

So what is the point of this whole post? I have no idea, really. All this is running though my head and the girls are sleeping and I have the luxury to raamble on.

Pictured above, I took the girls to Friendly’s. About halfway through our meal, a Veteran (he was wearing one of those war hats) came over and gave me a coupon for a free kid’s meal. It made me cry. Here is this hunched over man, who gave his time to serve our country and even now, in his old, old age, he is still giving. What can I say? I’m feeling sentimental these days. Meanwhile, the sundae looked nothing like the picture on the menu! False advertising. Who can I sue?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mother/Electrician/Emotional Caretaker/Mere Bystander

Tonight Avery was climbing up the steps to the deck and said something when she got to the top that stopped me in my tracks, literally: “You can’t get me, monsters.” Now, there is little doubt that Avery and I share nearly identical emotional circuitry, but this particular statement is one that I used to say often (and its variation, “Monsters come and get me”) as a child. My own battle cry, of sorts, that I would declare once I was certain I was in a safe zone. And hearing Avery say it…How does that happen? How does Avery echo iterations identical to mine, thirty years later? My personal childhood soundtrack, in her three-year-old mouth?

She’s sensitive, this we know for sure. She is very loving and affectionate. She’s creative and gentle with animals and infectious with her joy. She has a sense of humor that cracks me up. And…she’s a little needy, which, of course, is adorable when one is three, but not so much when one is, say, close to 40. Life is hard when you go around with your heart stapled to your sleeve. But how do you warn a toddler about that?

Avery is also very impressionable, which was reinforced today when I introduced the Elf on A Shelf thing to her and Madeline. I told the girls the whole story (elf watches the girls all day; flies back to Santa and reports at night; relocates to new spot each morning). This highlighted Avery’s other quality silmilar to mine: She asks a LOT of questions. How does he fly, she asked. He has no wings. I said he flies by magic, like Santa. But Santa has flying reindeer, she responded. Oh. So that’s how it is now. I actually need to work on my lies. I can’t leave Grand Canyon-sized holes and assume she will not see them. I wormed my way out of that one. Just barely.

She kept an eye on that elf all day. I caught her sneaking peeks at him. She even referenced Chaco to her sister: When Maddie misbehaved, Avery warned her that Chaco saw it and Chaco would tell Santa. At the end of the day, she asked me to pick her up to see if Chaco was smiling. I assured her that Chaco would deliver a glowing report, and she seemed visibly relieved. I swear she sighed with relief. It is cute and charming and all that, but I felt terrible. I know there is a tangible reward for all of her good behavior (lots and lots of presents) but the writing is on the wall: We have a people-pleaser, an approval-seeker; keep-the-peacer on our hands. Hello, Mini Me.

We went out to dinner tonight, and meet up with Auntie Annie. The girls were both a little not tame, which is never good when spaghetti is involved. Madeline literally had a hysterically laughing Avery in a head lock and Auntie Annie told the girls that the waitress talks to Santa, so they better behave. Avery’s face went white and she became still as a stone, lips pursed, hands down at her sides. Maddie continued her hi-jinx — if not escalating said jinx — as if to pooh-pooh our waitress and her Santa connection. Then Auntie Annie delivered the best line of the night: “Maddie doesn’t care about Santa because she can make a toy out of a stick and a rock.” And that is so true. Maddie doesn’t need the toys. Or approval. Or incentive. Or even to please. I don’t mean that in a bad way; indeed those very qualities will serve her well in life. I admire that immensely. Maybe she can teach me a thing or two. But my Avery, she just sat there, almost petrified. Because she is afraid she is disappointing Santa and disappointing Santa hurts her.

So all day I found myself delivering Yoda-like speeches to Avery: “You don’t have to be perfect all of the time, but you must show remorse if you were not good.” And “Being good is its own reward sometimes.” I delivered various other statements that I am sure went over her head because the truth is, I have never been good at imparting lessons to the toddler set. It’s an art, really, and this coming from someone who is good with metaphors and similes and such.

But let the record reflect that there is a smidge of concern over here. I want Avery to be Avery, but I also want to shrink the lessons I learned after almost four decades of living to fit her. Going through life overly concerned about what others think is not the greatest way to live. How do I dial that down without overly distilling who she is? How do I cater to her emotional needs, while also showing her that she doesn’t need to be so needy? How do I let her exercise free will while also molding her? This is the parental paradox. On one hand, I am just a caretaker of this beautiful blooming flower. In a way, my job is just to protect it in the most basic way and watch it grow, because with or without me, she will. On the other hand, I am trying to add some fertilizer to the soil and help the flower be the best it can be. I love my daughter exactly how she is. But I can say with certainty that her emotional makeup will lead to quite a few sad days in her later life.

In many ways, I am proud that my daughter will grow up and be like me. In a way, seeing this girl evolve into me — especially lately — has made me feel a little more confident about myself. But I don’t want her to suffer the heartache and break that comes to those of us with such raw emotional circuitry. So I find myself scrambling a bit now, to burn the end of my own emotional circuits and disconnect a few wires that have proven to always end in sadness; to remember that while my job is to feed and bath and clothe, it is also to be a role model for my children, which is a role that often gets lost in the shuffle.

But if Avery chooses to live her life that way, then I am fine with that, too. I know how to feed that kind of soul. And I can promise her that I will always be there to help her pick up her pieces.

It is raining and I love the thud of the big drops on the roof. My girls are up now. It’s time to see where the Elf landed last night.

Pictured above, this is the face Avery had when I told her that Nicole and Maddie went for a walk alone. Avery, like me, wishes she could Velcro herself to Nicole. Alas. Also pictured, the Elf on the Shelf. And Avery, concentrating on painting her spice rack for Nana.

Monday, November 15, 2010

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say

If our tax dollars pay for roads and schools, then why are there all those adopt-a-highway programs and why do we subsidize school funding with lotteries? There is a Wall Street hedge fund billionaire (this guy made two billionaire last year, which means he made a million dollars 2,000 times in ONE year, which means he could spend a million years every morning and every night for a year and still not come close to tapping his bank account) who is funding the campaign of a radical candidate who believes that the Constitution should be replaced with the Old Testament and that public schools should be abolished. Billionaires can buy candidates, and that is exactly what is going to happen soon. The top .000000001 percent of our nation’s populace will pick our government officials, and I’m guessing this doesn’t bode well for the masses.

Yeah, this is the sort of stuff that runs through my head all day. Well, that among other things. But it is really easy to feel like a teeny tiny speck of not-gonna-make-a-difference-so-why-bother. I’m trying to come up with my own action plan. My first objective: Convince Nicole to close all of our Big Chinese Bank accounts and put all of our money into a local bank. And if Bloomberg decides to run for President I will totally volunteer for his campaign.

Meanwhile, when random political thoughts aren’t racing around my head, I am reeling from a gift that our neighbors in NYC gave us. They were doing a bathroom renovation, which made quite a bit of noise. As a thank you for putting up with it, our neighbor gave us a gift certificate to have a family portrait done by a professional photographer/artist. We sit for a photo session and then an oil painting is created, based on the photo. Black tie suggested, for all of us. Total cost: Five-thousand dollars. Insane! I am beyond excited, and have spent more than a few hours coming up with creative outfit ideas. I tried to convince Nicole we should all dress as equestrians. Overruled. Hey, I thought it would be kitschy. Though I am trying to figure out a way to include over-the-knee boots. I scheduled a sitting for early next year, so we have some time to figure out clothes. And color my hair. The photographer will call me a month before to discuss the color scheme for the portraits intended hanging spot. Ha! Our apartment is not a blend of mid-century or Baroque or Minimalist anything. Cute that he thinks we have a design scheme. "Pottery Barn" with touches of "Restoration Hardware" about sums it up.

Pictured above, dress idea? That is so not something I would wear, but why not have fun? Who wants to see a portrait of me in jeans and a turtleneck with a cardigan? Not hot.Not hot at all. Also pictured, a bird, with a nut in his mouth.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Nature, 2. Nuture, Zero.

Avery may physically resemble Nicole, but it is becoming abundantly clear that Avery has the same emotional framework that I have.

The girls and I came up to Massachusetts early again this week. My “soaking up every last ounce of fall” rationale is evolving into “we need to be here to witness the first snowfall, which can be any time” excuse. Regardless, the girls love it, and I do too. Walks in the woods and trips to a real food store and visits to the library and running in the driveway trying to catch leaves as the fall on us does our souls good. Obviously, the biggest drawback is Mommy/Nicole withdrawal. We all know that I do not crave many spaces in togetherness, but I am at the point in life when I realize 1.) it isn’t all about me anymore and I need to remember that the girls come first and 2.) some space is a good thing and 3.) Nicole loves alone time so she benefits from an empty apartment every now and then and 4.) really interesting things happen when routines are all shook up.

Avery mentions Nicole all the time and asks when she is coming back. She misses her in an obvious and constant and wistful and occasionally visceral way. (Madeline, on the other hand, is the strong, silent type.) That alone makes her a lot like me. But our exchange the other morning really drove the point home.

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t like to yell or raise my voice to the girls, but when one spends 12 hours a day, every day, with them, sometimes I slip. And being up here alone, without Nicole, means that there is not an ounce of relief in sight. The other rainy morning, I was trying to get the girls dressed and shoed and jacketed and hooded and out the door to go to a toddler event at the library. I am never late, but having kids has definitely pushed me to the border of my lateness comfort zone. Cooperation is key, and I wasn’t getting it form Avery at all.

The more I asked Avery to cooperate, the more she too that as a license to run around like a crazy child. And she was being very picky and petulant. She had a fit and wanted to wear Maddie’s jacket, which I foolishly acquiesced to after about five minutes of listening to her whine about it. But then, after I switched the coats (Maddie is so very low key about these things), she wanted her coat back. You see where this is going. I started to loose my patience, and I spoke in a strong voice. She was jacket-less. She still didn’t have her shoes on. Maddie was ready and I was ready, so I started gathering the keys and books and told Avery to put on her shoes and meet Maddie and me at the car. Avery freaked out. She burst into tears, and ran around in circles looking for her shoes. She looked and acted terrified and was clearly in a panic. And then she broke my heart and asked me “Can you please hug me, Momma?”

She has asked for hugs before, and I know I need to hug her after a time out or a tough toddler/Momma moment, but this time it hit a chord with me. That is something I would do, demand that hug. Beg for physical contact. That is exactly how I act. I get so upset when I know (or think) I disappoint someone or even just during a difficult exchange that I feel like I need an instant and immediate physical act of proof that the other person still loves me. So while maybe I made someone mad or upset, I still feel like they love me. Childish, I know, but it is important to me. And it is why I tried to enact a rule that Nicole and I had to hold hands when we argued (I read it somewhere), but that sort of fell by the wayside. But I do think it is an important symbolic gesture.

Nothing is crueler than capitalizing on a child’s worst fears, and I won’t do it to mine. Some people, once they smell your intense fear of abandonment, really love to exploit it. This fear of mine has been exploited on quite a few occasions in my life, starting at a very early age. Was I born this way or did it evolve? I don’t know. But I do know that apathy and abandonment and even the threat of abandonment certainly added fuel to that emotional fire of mine.

While denying Avery affection or a hug certainly would drive my own point home to her, I won’t do it. There are probably 40 parenting philosophies that contradict this, but I will hug Avery on demand, no matter when she demands it. I will interrupt a time-out for a hug. And I am now starting to tell her that even when Momma is angry or upset or sad that she did something, I still love her. I don’t want her growing up thinking that love is conditional or that abandonment is normal. It’s not in my world.

In fact, I have a philosophical argument that proves that there is no such thing as abandonment, but that is another post.

And right now, at this very moment, Avery is biting her toenail with her mouth, which is something I did as a child (and can assure you I DON’T do anymore!). Nature, Point 2!

Pictured above, look who snuggled next to me as I typed this post. See….no space, physical or otherwise, in our togetherness! And also, late fall pictures.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

It Might Come Cannon-Balling Outta the Sky

Watching the election return coverage is making my heart race. Political discourse these days is just so petty, contentious and annoying. Fox is too FOX. CNN is too CNN. MSNBC IS too MSNBC. Everyone yells and bickers and no one answers questions anymore. Spin spin spin and push your own agenda. Oh, then make an “It Gets Better” video, but don’t actually do anything to help things get better.

I voted in the morning, and it was a harrowing experience. It feels like it never happened. First, the polls opened about 25 minutes late, and I was five minutes early anyway, so I waited about a half hour to *maybe* vote. I watched one doctor walk out without voting because he had to get back to the hospital, and wouldn't get a chance to leave later in the day. Democracy in action, folks! The scanners weren’t working so I was directed by three distracted employees, who were clustered around me and several others, reading manuals and chewing on their fingers and arguing over how we vote without scanners. It was decided we fill out the ballot and stuff it into an envelope. I feel like my vote is out there, uncounted, lost in the bureaucracy of the NYC Board of Elections. The poll workers were not very encouraging. I had to even ask the yawing poll worker to return my ID.

And now, the returns on TV are just making me feel anxious and sad. Everyone seems so defeated or smug. Plus, I really hate that they make Rachel Maddow wear makeup. Couldn’t we take her seriously in a clean face and sneakers? I could. Why can't that be a Prop to vote for?

Anyway. After voting, I hightailed it up to Massachusetts with the girls. It is decidedly past peak here, but it is still heart-stoppingly beautiful. The palette has changed again: The golds have deepened to a rusty color and the reds are a bit browner. Most of the leaves have fallen off the trees, and the ones that are left drop like torpedoes. The air is chilly, though, and you can feel winter’s icy fingertips reaching for us. I’m ready! Well, first I need to buy new gloves, but the I will be ready. I lit a fire tonight, my first one all by my own self, as Avery would say, and after some fits and starts, it was decidedly roaring, then all glowy with burning embers. The girls are sound asleep and I am lounging in partial pajamas, as it is so hot. But I don't mind.

And the stars are just beautiful. I held Avery outside, tipping her back in my arms so she could see them twinkle, and she serenaded me with her "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

Tomorrow we will collect pine cones to make fire starters and go to story time at the library and paint with purple and red paint (their favorite colors) and make our daily trip to the food store for coffee! and cart rides! and aisle wandering! and go in search of some post-Halloween 90 percent-off bargains. I also will officially begin Christmas shopping.

There is an electric charge in the air or maybe just in my air. Or maybe it’s my lip gloss. Could be. Who knows? There's something due any day, I will know right away, soon as it shows. Etc.

Pictured above, Avery, our little Firestarter, helping with the wood. And Halloween. It was kinda a bust, as only three people in the neighborhood we traveled to opened their doors. I had NO idea there was a scientific process for picking out a neighborhood (I went with one with sidewalks....) But the girls were ecstatic anyway, so that alleviated the guilt I felt a bit. Next year, we will pick a better hood. You know, one with people that give out candy.

OK, I need to crack a window or take off more clothes. It's getting hot in here....