Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The giant hamster wheel of life

Epiphanies can come at any moment.  Mine came today on a trip to buy dog food at Petsmart.  As usual, it took me twenty minutes to do what most people do in twenty seconds.  My problem is that I want a quality product but am too cheap to spend $20 on four pounds of dog food, so I end up waffling back and forth, putting bags of dog food in my cart only to put it back three minutes later and grab another one.  Not that this is even remotely interesting.  It was even less interesting to Matěj's 18 month-old attention span, which he made clear with increasingly louder protests.  As I usually do, I took him over to the bird/small rodent section for some entertainment.  Normally the rodents are so fast asleep that I worry if they are alive at all, but today there were several using the hamster wheel in the mouse cage.  Well, specifically, two mice were using the hamster wheel in its proper manner while another clung on for dear life as it was being spun around and around at breakneck speed.  The problem this mouse faced was that there was no other option but to dig its tiny little claws in and hope for the best.  No option for exit, lest it be hurled unceremoniously into the air, no time for philosophizing on the meaning of life, only time to concentrate on hanging on for dear life.  And that's when it hit me.  That is me.  I am that mouse, gripping the spokes of the giant hamster wheel of life, being propelled by forces beyond my control (my children).  Each day a lesson in survival, no time for pontificating (not that anyone within earshot would care), being flung through life on sheer perpetual motion.  Life with kids never stops.  Your job is never done.  You move from one challenge to the next; there are no vacations, weekends, holidays from parenting.  It is a constant state of vigilance, worrying, and yes, a lot of the time, stress.  But, then I thought to myself, carnival rides aren't so different from that hamster wheel.  Being spun around can also be fun, if you allow yourself to release and enjoy the ride.  Yes, your job as a parent is never done, but this also means you're constantly growing, constantly evolving, constantly working on becoming a better person, even if sometimes you fall short.  Yes, you do move from one challenge to the next, but you also move from one joy to the next.  Your every vacation, weekend, holiday enhanced by seeing life's joys as if for the first time again, through your child's eyes.  As for the constant state of vigilance, worrying and stress, well, that's par for the course.  When you love someone as much as you love a child, you should expect nothing less, but it makes those moments of joys all the more sweet. 

Now, if someone could please remind me of this noble, enlightened state of mind tomorrow when I'm cleaning food dumped all over the floor for the umpteenth time while watching my other child draw on the tile with permanent marker....

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


No matter what anyone tells you, parenting is all about trial-and-error.  You can read all the books you want, ask doctors and friends all the questions you want, and even have past experience with children, but, when all is said and done, nothing is ever surefire when kids are involved.  We're all just making it up as we go.  Winging it.  Improvising.  Flying by the seat of our pants.  Anyone who says differently is either lying or in denial. 

Well, maybe not completely.  We all start out with ideals: things we want and things we don't want for our children.  Some of us *ahem* maybe created a wonderful utopia in our heads in which we envision our extremely well-behaved pre-school children sitting quietly at their miniature table, perhaps wearing a button-down shirt with a sweater vest and some penny loafers, writing profound works of literature or scribbling away at an extremely important, as-yet unsolved math theorem, or, dare I say, composing a breathtaking opera for their mommy to sing.....?  In reality, however--and I do mean this quite literally, since I'm actually watching one of my offspring do this very thing--they are sitting at this exact same miniature table, having just appeared from a seemingly clandestine meal of dried play-doh from underneath said table, attempting to draw on themselves with three different highlighters simultaneously.  The fact is, you cannot control how your child acts or reacts to any situation, nor can you determine their personality beforehand.  They will simply be who they are, and the only thing you can do is gently direct them in a preferred direction, not dissimilar from navigating a small rowboat in a wild, untamed river with a single paddle as your only tool. 

One thing you do have control of, however, is how YOU react to the challenges you face daily as a parent.  You draw from your own childhood experiences as well as from friends and family around you.  One rule I have devised as a result is that I try never to lie to my children.  Sometimes it may seem easier to tell a little white lie to your child to avoid a sticky situation (and I am not denying the fact that sometimes this may be necessary) but my experience with a rather unfortunate childhood haircut has lead me to try to be as truthful as I can with my boys. 

This applies to difficult subjects as well.  One such subject has arisen a few times with the death of fish from our aquarium.  One day, when Jakub was about three years old, noticed that one of our fish had, um, shall we say, "passed its expiration date," and said, "Look mommy, the fish is sleeping on its back."  In my blundering naivete, I thought I would make this a learning opportunity about the cycle of life and death and proceeded to tell him that it wasn't sleeping, but, in fact, dead.  I explained that it wasn't going to get any better, and that we need to remove it from the aquarium.  We made a big ceremony about taking it into the bathroom and flushing down the toilet, waving bye-bye, saying a few good words about the fish, and all the rest.  Jakub didn't seem to care one way or another about the experience, which was a shame because I had all sorts of insightful answers for any questions he might have about the subject, so I thought nothing more about it. 

Soon, however, I noticed he was having potty accidents, and would only use his stand-alone potty, which I hated because what goes in must come out, and I'm a little freaky about germs.  When I asked him why, he said it was because he was afraid of the fish.  For about a week I became increasingly more exasperated until I finally made the connection to the dead fish we flushed the previous week.  Thankfully, he was perfectly happy to use the toilet again, once I explained that when you flush the toilet, whatever is in there goes away forever (an important lesson, since it applies not only to things that normally go in the toilet as well as dead fish, but also to various things you might not want to flush down the toilet, such as, say, various cosmetics, for example).  However, it is quite obvious that my wonderfully devised teaching moment, as well as the poignant ceremony, was unequivocally a bust.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Night visitor

I don't know if all moms respond this way, or just the high-strung ones like me, but the slightest child-related rustle over the monitor or otherwise during the night acts like an electric jolt to my system that instantaneously peels my eyes open.  My brain usually lags several seconds behind, which often results in a bizarre half awake/half asleep state, kind of like a digital photo slide show in which one picture fades into the next, except in this instance, it's my dreams fading into reality, which is often more than a little confusing for my sluggish grey matter.  Nowadays, these lurches into reality are a result of Matěj's frequent night wakings, but last night, I heard a rustle and a whispered "Mommy?"  I bolted upright in bed, ready to spring into action when I saw Jakub's small silhuette in shadow at the entrance to our bedroom. 

Me: "What is it honey?"
Jakub: "Mommy, I want to sleep in your bed with you."

I hauled my tired bones out of bed and walked to Jakub, explaining to him that there wasn't enough room in our bed.  I know from experience that if I gave in even this one time, bedtime would become a battle of epic proportions (threatening to wake Matěj)  every day for several weeks to come.  I wanted nothing more than to cuddle with my little boy, but those of you who know me know that sleep has been a challenge in our house ever since Jakub was born almost four years ago, and it has become a bit of a pet obsession of mine.  The fact is that nobody would have gotten any sleep, what with Lumberjack Joe sawing logs all night on one end of the bed, and with Matěj's baby monitor broadcasting his screams into the night on the other.  But when I got to Jakub, I noticed that he was clutching his favorite Krtek pillow from aunt Lída, ready to snuggle with mommy and daddy in bed.  Reluctantly, I lead a disappointed, protesting Jakub back to bed, tucked him in with his tykelight and twilight turtle (as you can see, we've invested a desperate amount of money into gadgets in the hope that our children might sleep better), and promised him that for his nap the next day he can sleep in my bed.  But sometimes it's the little things that get to you, and I kept replaying the image of his little form hugging his pillow at the foot of our bed, which made my heart ache, knowing that all too soon he will go from wanting to snuggle with mommy to wanting to be dropped off three blocks from school so his friends won't see him with his hopelessly uncool mom.  I lay awake last night, willing myself not to rush back to Jakub's room, scoop him up in my arms and bring him back to bed with me, just so we could share that intimate bond between mother and child a little while longer.  Maybe I'm being too uptight, or maybe it all seems selfish for me to guard my sleep so fiercely, but it really isn't. The more I sleep, the more I have to give to my children the next day. More energy, more enthusiasm, and, perhaps most important, more patience.  I have learned that I need to take care of myself so that I can take care of my children.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I am...

I am an entertainer
I am a chauffer
I am a cook
I am a consoler
I am a mess cleaner-upper
I am a tushie wiper
I am an encyclopedia
I am a boo-boo kisser
I am a middle-of-the night soother
I am a laundry service
I am a food source
I am a maid
I am an organizer
I am a detective ("Why is the floor blue?"  Followed by, "OK, why is there blue toothpaste on the floor?")
I am a planner
I am a railway engineer
I am a play fort architect
I am a sand landscape artist
I am a play-doh sculpture artist, available for commissions
I am a craft designer
I am a personal shopper
I am a silly song singer
I am a crazy dancer
I am a meanie (Sorry, you can't wear your shoes in the bath no matter how much you scream)
I am a softie
I am a referee
I am a mediator
I am a judge and jury
I am a cheerleader
I am a coach
I am a defender
I am mother, hear me roar

Sing a song

Jakub loves to sing to himself.  Most of the time, he makes up songs about random things like rain, shoes, grass, books, and pretty much anything that enters his consciousness.  These songs usually involve an aimless melody, wandering subject matter, and a disproportionate amount of falsetto singing.  He was singing one such song this morning when I remembered an incident from this past Christmas:

One of the houses in my parents' neighborhood went all out with their twinkle light decorations.  Every single inch of their roughly half-acre front yard was covered in tiny, glittering lights.  The crowning glory of the entire display was a giant, twelve-foot tall candle, complete with simulated flickering flame, on the roof of their house.  As you can imagine, this was a source of great fascination for my children, and whenever we had time, we deviated from our normal route home to gaze at the spectacle.  One night, Jakub decided to grace us with yet another song:

Jakub: "Giant candle....giant, giant candle........candle on the roof!"
Me: "That's so beautiful, Jakub.  Why don't you sing a song about mommy?"
Jakub: "No I'm done singing."
Me, with injured ego: "You don't want to sing a nice song about mommy?"
Jakub: "No."
Then, a few minutes later:
Jakub, singing: "Underwear, under, under, under, underwear....UNDERWEAR!!!" [finishing with great fanfare.]

Nice to know that in the giant totem pole of life, I occupy a lower position than smelly undergarments.