Monday, February 25, 2008

A stranger in a foreign land.

Most of my 15-month old son's communication attempts were running a little something like this:


POSSIBLE TRANSLATION: Blanket. Bath. Baby. Bye. Binky. Ball. Balloon.


PROBABLE TRANSLATION: I want that thing, over there, the thing that will either choke me or put my eye out, right now!


TRANSLATION: I want to eat. Yesterday. But not any of those things you are offering me. I want what the dog is eating.


TRANSLATION: Why won't you let me climb onto the couch and jump on it until I fall onto the hardwood floor and crack my head open?


TRANSLATION: How could you have let me climb onto the couch, fall off and crack my head open?

Needless to say, this game of Guess What the Small Angry Man Who Lives in My House is Saying was getting old fast. I was not pleased with him. He was not pleased with me. I know this because he would scream and point at me and then bang his head repeatedly on the nearest hard object, like an angry drunk, but with more gusto. Then the full-on tantrum would begin and it's a runaway train: tears and snot intermingling in such quantity that we both needed a bath afterward.

I held myself accountable: how couldn't I understand him? I'm his mother. I should know what he needs. I wanted to bang my own head on the floor right next to him. My patience, the quality I didn't even know my character contained in such short supply, was drying up fast.

But, because Finn happens to be exceptionally cute and has this way of crawling into my lap and making me feel like I am the last important human on Earth, I breathed deeply. I gave myself timeouts. I ate chocolate. I ate more chocolate.

And then, like everything in parenthood, just when you're hanging on by a Veggie Chip about to fall into the abyss, something changes. A new problem emerges to take your mind off the old one. Or a good friend calls, the one who never tells you about how absolutely perfect her children are. Or you remember you're going out tonite, sans children, to a location where adult beverages will be served.

Or, in this case, you make contact.

It happened when I was picking him up from his beloved babysitter the other day. After months of feigning baby sign language ignorance, Finn broke out in a signing sentence. OK, not a sentence. But he did sign "more" and "please." I couldn't believe it. I took him home for a test run. Bingo! Within a few days, he was saying "ball" and "bye." He was signing "milk." After months of "Baaaaaaaaa!!" let me tell you, this was no small thing.

As I type this now, he is curled up on the dog bed of the hairiest dog in America, wearing his best sweater, holding his favorite blankie, rolling around trying to collect as much hair as possible on to all of the above. Meanwhile, he is pointing at everything, imperially requesting information like a millionaire on safari. And I am his guide:

ME: Yep, that's the television. That's the carpet. The dog. The dog's nose. Your belly. Elmo. The printer.

He smiles that heart-melting smile that means: you understand me. That means, you know what I want, that you get me. And for the moment, there's no need for patience. Gratitude and joy are right there at the ready.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love, actually.

My Valentine woke me early this morning, whispering gently in my ear:

"I'm so excited. Tonite's our date!"

Then she let out a toot and announced she had to poop. So much for romance.

This Valentine's Day, my four-old will be my date for the evening. Her father and I had a wonderful dinner out last night and celebrated before the rush, so tonite, it is Reese and I hitting the town. First, dinner (Mexican, her choice, chicken "not spicy" and rice) to be followed by a UC Davis women's basketball game. When I told her we were going, she couldn't believe her good fortune.

HER (screaming wildly): What, you and me are going to a little girl football game? Just the two of us?

ME: Well, actually it's a basketball game and they're not really little...

HER (screaming wildly): A basketball game! Just the two of us! This is the best ever in my whole life!

Something tells me she's not entirely clear what she's in for, but the fact is, Reese is completely in love, and if you've ever been in love, you know, the venue doesn't matter. And no amount of time "just the two of you" is ever enough. When you're in love, the moment you've completed the "walk of shame" home, you're on the phone with your honey: "I miss you, I miss you too, why don't you come over, no you come over." It's the first cut that's the deepest.

And it's like that for Reese; I am her first love and until the moment she comes out of its spell and realizes the incredibly big doofus that I am, no amount of me is enough for her. And anything we do together is "the best ever."

This morning she sat in my lap, stroking my face, cradling her Valentine goodies.

HER: You have a beautiful face, Mama. I want to marry you.

ME: Well, thanks, but you can't marry me honey, I'm your mom.

HER (sighs, pause): OK, then I'll marry Daddy.

The truth is, I envy her vulnerability, the trust in which she places in me, thrusting her heart into my hands with everything's she's got, never wondering whether I might drop it. It's an act of bravery, and though I know I will do everything I can not to dissappoint her, I know that one day, real love, romantic love, might not be so kind. I know that one day, someone who doesn't love her like I do, someone who wouldn't throw themselves in front of a semi to protect her, may be the object of her affections.

I know that for most, loving means losing also, at least for awhile. Until you win.

For now, we'll eat Mexican and watch "little girl" basketball and I will hold her hand in mine and know that, for tonite, my little girl's heart - and my own - are full.