Monday, November 29, 2010

Hold the Applause

I’m not feeling terribly creative in a writerly way these days, but maybe that’s because all my energy is getting used up trying to be a decent sleep-interrupted mother/friend/sister/auntie/teacher/church worker/baker/chauffeur.
The energy is so used up, in fact, that I’ll admit to wanting just a hint of applause for a few small things I’ve given myself to on behalf of the Girls:

1. Oldest requested bread today. Not from a store. The homemade bread I make, weighing out the flour, kneading, letting rise, punching down. I made it tonight, and not only that, I taught her how to make it because someday, I reason, she will be able to make bread herself and I will be eliminated from this process altogether. Teach a girl to fish, right?

2. Middle requested games. I am not a game player by nature. I played a lot of Rummy with my brother and my mom in the winter of 1988. And last December I played a video game. For about a week straight. In the off years I’ve embraced a round or two of Boggle, my passion fading quickly when I realized I was never going to beat the husband at a word game. But this is neither here nor there. Middle is an avid lover of games (card, board, and video) and she’s smart enough now for challenges beyond Dora Candyland, which I could get through without paying a whole lot of attention. Now, she is pulling out games like Blink, Monopoly Junior, and Go Fish, which require not only counting, but rolling, sorting, interrogation, finger dexterity, mental focus, and the necessary referreeing of two siblings arguing over rules. But okay, well, only Blink requires finger dexterity. Tonight—wait for it—tonight I played not one, but one-and-a-half games with Middle. Indeed, I got through Disney Princess Go Fish and moved on to a less-than-rousing 15 minutes of Monopoly Junior, at which point I begged off on account I had so much church work to do and honestly I was sooo tired, and yes, church work seemed way more relaxing than counting out two dollars of paper money to watch imaginary fireworks on Dr. Doolittle Boulevard. Or whatev.

3. Tiny, well, she’s just full of requests, many of them having to do with my being up at midnight, 2, 3, or 4 AM.

4. I lied about all of the girls’ requests being small. This is not small. This is big: I, crazy I, have agreed to a CAROLING PARTY with dessert and hot chocolate at our house afterward. It is my penance for not doing trick-or-treating this year. A month ago, Oldest asked, “Mom, are there any other holidays where kids go door to door?” And I came up with caroling, yes I did.

They get to invite whoever they want. At this point, if the attendance rate is 40% of the invitee list, then we’ll barely be able to fit everyone in our house. And I’ve agreed to keep my mouth shut about all the kids they are not inviting who might feel left out because they aren’t invited. But who am I kidding? If we invited all those kids, we would need to borrow the neighbor’s house to fit them in. This is their party, I promised the girls. But that means we better get crackin’. There are invites to make and address. Song lists to create and print out. And by the way, will any of their little guests be able to read? And by the way, do children even know Christmas songs anymore? This concern led to my one stipulation about the guest list: PARENTS ARE INVITED. There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that I’m going to be singing Christmas solos for the neighbors while supervising a flock of 20 kids on a dark December night. No, I’m not. So, parents, please mark your calendars (er, if your child is invited).

Well, now, I guess that’s all I really wanted to say, and now that I re-read what I just wrote, I can see that none of this merits applause. In fact, it might merit a smackdown. My children are healthy, wealthy (in a North-American-Middle-Classish sort of way), and wise (as far as 6 and 8 year olds go). We suffer no terminal illnesses, homelessness, or poverty. I am not working double shifts to make ends meet. I'm doing what a lot of middle class Midwestern parents are doing, and our lives are full of privilege and favor not afforded to much of the world (Um, we're having a freaking caroling party). I suffer only from mental boredom, busyness and, it seems, a bit of parental selfishness. (Would it have killed me to finish Monopoly?)

With echoes of Jane Austen's Lady Catherine in my head, I ask that you withhold your compliments, for I deserve no such attention.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Little House on Raven Street

Now that winter is coming, the Little House books are easier for me and the girls to identify with. We can hear the wind roaring around our little house on Raven Street and snow is just around the corner, soon-to-be drifting at our front door. There are no wild panther screams, however. No trips to the barn to milk the cows and feed the horses. We’re feeling rather lucky, lying around on our recliner couch, reading about girls in faraway days in not-so-faraway prairies. Oldest and Middle are recovering from strep throat, and the Tiny and I are holding strong against bacterial infection and fevers. But the Tiny is fussy and congested and everyone wants to be petted and held and snuggled more than usual, including me. In the midst of the snuggling, I’m still trying to get work emails sent, plan budgets and sort through laundry and grocery lists.

In addition to reading the Little House books, we’ve also been watching the TV episodes where the bright, wholesome face of Michael-Landon-as-“Pa” beams the kind of sincerity that makes me squirm uncomfortably. But, between you and me, the husband and I will simultaneously giggle and shed a few tears over the tops of the girls’ heads when Michael Landon is on.

Once, when Laura was chastized by “Ma” for inappropriate behavior, she nodded and chortled brightly, “Well, I reckon you know best, Ma.” I reckon that those words will never be uttered in our house. (Do real seven year olds possess such profound wisdom?) But, now, I guess there are a few truths about the world that the girls have grasped, and Oldest’s questions this week suggested as much. For instance, when I informed the husband about the amount of “drugs” (aka Amoxycillin) needed for her dose, Oldest (overhearing) fired out: “Street drugs or regular drugs?”

And then, when I asked to clarify a statement Oldest made and then paused, taking in her meaning, she felt sure my silence indicated amusement. “Are you going to put that on Facebook?” she wondered aloud.

Indeed, no, I was not scheming to document her words in my Facebook status (although I ususally am). I did write on Facebook in the aftermath of getting lunch warmed up, children fed, and the Tiny soothed later in the day. During all that commotion, my very introverted self had been very locked up in her own head, sifting through the contents of emails, phone calls, and schedules. The Tiny had been crying, so unhappily sitting in her infant seat, so forlorn, that I went in search of something to soothe her. And a few minutes later, after she was suitably soothed, I updated my status in the third person:

“[Heather Truhlar Weber] realized she was trying to juggle too many things today when she found herself trying to insert Tiny's pacifier into the 6-year-old's mouth.”

It was true. Tiny was crying and Middle was chewing on cornbread at the kitchen table when their mother wriggled a rubber Nuk against Middle’s lips and waited for her to part them. Middle looked up at her mother with a look of utter anthropologic curiosity, perhaps surmising the act an unseen-before ritual of mothering. But no, Middle was certain that most reasonable mothers would never have confused the Tiny with the Middle. This was a was a moment to reckon that Middle--not Ma--knew best. And you know, I think there may be a lot more of them.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Happy Birthday to Middle

Dear Middle,

How can it be that you are six years old today?  Your age, slipped in between the ages of Oldest and Tiny, has caught me by breathtaking surprise. You are short enough to look like a preschooler, but oh you possess such verbal skills, the ability to set the record straight, explain the rules, detail an injustice. "Just for you to know," is how you often begin a dialogue with me.  "Just for you to know, I'm leaving my Barbies out while I get a snack and then I"m going right back to playing."  You have a knack for anticipating my responses and you understand how our family works, how I work. You know I'll see those Barbies scattered all over the floor and request their return to the box they are usually stored in.

Rare are the days anymore that you get in bed with me in the morning, throwing an arm around my neck. But, once in a while, you return pajama-footed to what was never a family bed, asking for a sippy cup full of warm milk. And you recline on our pillows, the cup in one hand and a lock of hair twirling between the fingers of your other. I know now that if I repose with you for long, you'll take advantage of the opportunity to ask for a story. If I'm sitting, if I'm lying down--it is story time. Your interests run deep, meaning lately we read the same story over of Sir Lancelot's boyhood and coming-of-knighthood.  Initially, I replaced the more obscure phrases like "courtly arts" with words such as "reading" and "writing," but after our fifth read, as  you've begun to appreciate the scope of the narrative, I returned to its original wording, which now, I can see by watching your face, you grasp unblinkingly.  You laugh at the ridiculousness of Lancelot's arrogance and furrow a brow at the death of his parents because your heart is enlarged enough for indignation, empathy, pathos, and compassion.

Your feelings at times fizz right at the surface--giddy delight or frustrated stubbornness. Most nights you can't remain seated at the dinner table for your excitement over all the stimulus surrounding  you. Tiny, in her little seat, smiles up at you, inviting you to entertain.  Or there is a squirrel at the window, or a picture in the living room  you have drawn and want so very badly to show us.  You are an oft-silent observer of the world, your curiosity revealed in a choice question, a slew of words that suggests prior reflection, like when you eyed my postpartum body the other day and, without judgment and with some nostalgia, asked, "Mom, when are you going to get skinny again?"  And that question is because your world has changed so much in the last year, your own mother has changed before your eyes and produced a tiny human who cries and smiles and spits up and laughs at you.  Sisterhood with the Tiny becomes you. You are a star, the apple of her eye, and you take great delight in falling over with giggles, dance-walking across the room, peek-a-booing until her face erupts with gratitude.

Sisterhood with Oldest looks different, as it should.  You are her mentee in many ways, emulating her drawings and her literature choices--everything but her blue jeans, which you flatly refuse to wear on account they "itch."  But that's okay because you are coming into your own--it's inevitable and subtle right now, but you are differentiating, deciding to play outside because you want to, even if Oldest stays inside to draw.  And there you go, off to jump on the rusted trampoline, off to rake leaves into an awkward pile in the front lawn, off to get the neighbor girl for fort play.

I said you were deep, and this is another reason I know: when something wounds you, either in body or in spirit, you keep silent while the pressure of your pain--and the shame you seem to carry for feeling it-- mounts unto bursting.  And then you sob, five minutes or several hours after the injury. You weep and choke and wheeze because you've held it all in for so very long. Then, I want to race backwards to that moment you remained silent, when  your lip quivered and nobody noticed, and when your eyes grew red with tears yet unsprung. I want to hold you in that place, assure you there is enough comfort to go round, and convince you that wounds are not suffered better in silence. And perhaps I will  yet. That's part of my job, and there is still time.

You're only six,  you know?  (Don't, please, try to grow up too terribly fast.)

So, Miss Middle, I raise a glass of apple juice to toast in your honor, in reverence and celebration of all you are and all you are to become.

[Trumpets blare. Confetti scatters through the air. I lift you high in a great big hug.]