Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Maybe it all comes down to non-dairy creamer.

After thirty years, apparently Mocha Mix makes the difference.

At least that’s what I gathered at Noah’s Bagels today. I couldn’t help overhearing a fifty-something woman and her seventy-something mom talking about what the fifty-something’s husband had done to prepare for his mother-in-law’s upcoming visit.

“He was so sweet, Mom. He says to me, ‘Don’t forget, your mom likes Mocha Mix in her cereal every morning. We need to get Mocha Mix for her.’ And I told him it’s not necessary, she’s only going to be here for three days and then we’ll have to dump the rest of the Mocha Mix down the sink, since we don’t drink it. Next thing you know, he’s back from the store with the Mocha Mix. He tells me he thinks we can splurge $2.50 on Mocha Mix for you. What a doll, huh?”

As I sat at my little wooden table next to them, feeling the glow of her happiness beside me, I began thinking about how we start these married lives of ours. With the dresses and the cakes and the honeymoons. The mushroom tarlets versus the shrimp canapés. I think of all the pageantry and parties and anniversaries and houses and jewelry and flowers that punctuate a life together.

And then I think about Mocha Mix. And how so often, when we really think about it, the things that make us the most happy in our marriages, in our lives, can be had for about three bucks.

Sometimes even less.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sweating the big stuff.

It is 11:15 at the park and already, it's hotter than Sacramento in April has any right to be.

No one checked with me about this climate change. No one had told me that wearing a fleece vest and long sleeves on an eighty-degree day might be a poor choice, like eating questionable leftovers or microwaving plastic. But even if they had, I wouldn’t have heard them because I was busy getting other people dressed, ones who fought being clothed as though they were allergic to Old Navy.

“We’re going to the park!” I said, trying to rally excitement, compliance, while gently shoving my one-year son’s pudgy little piggies into sandals. Finn had already escaped my diapering efforts, preferring to run naked down the hallway with his big Buddha belly leading the way, holding onto his privates protectively, already smart about the things that matter.

Meanwhile, my four-year old daughter Reese is busy tantruming in the other room, crushed that she has not gone first in this entertaining exercise.

And just like that – forty-five short minutes later – we’re at the park, fairly presentable. There is lunch in my diaper bag. There are wipes. Even two buckets and shovels of equal desirability. We are good to go.

And then we’re not. This is a park we don’t go to often. I am in unfamiliar territory. Reese has gone one way, swinging from a series of unstable and odd poles, and Finn is toddling off in the opposite direction, presumably to eat sand and discarded bits of Veggie Booty.

This is when I realize I am sweating more than is socially acceptable.

So, I do what you do in times of trouble – I go for the lowest common denominator: lunch. We join friends at the picnic tables. I dole out sandwiches, juice boxes, raisins and granola bars. We are set and so we eat.

For about two solid minutes.

The kids, lunch grazed, are off to play. I am chatting with another mom when I look up to see Finn halfway up a chain-link-rope-ladder-thing-a-ma-bob that telegraphs "deathtrap" to every maternal fiber of my being.

My seventeen-month-old is climbing it like it’s Everest.

At the exact same moment, I see Reese clinging on to the top of a climby thing she's scaled to the top of and now has no idea how to get down from. She is not pleased.

I know I’m in over my head. I am swimming upstream with my two guppies and I know we’re headed into deep water, so I cut my losses and swim for shore. I assist my daredevil with his climb. I collect Reese from her post. I pack up and head out.

As I escape with a child tucked safely under each arm, I am quite the sight, balancing diaper bag, food, toys and tikes - grace never my strong suit.

And just like that, I am the mom you feel sorry for as she blazes past you, a whirlwind of peanut butter and sand and tears and snot, her overwhelm and harriedness almost a scent coming off of her, like smoke, all of the other mothers cowering away, trying not to inhale.

I am also the mom who, a half hour later, is putting these sweet innocents down for a nap, singing their songs, holding their blankies, rocking them and feeling their warm, peachy heads heavy against my shoulder, with no place I’d rather be.

And this, ultimately is the truth about parenting young children. That for every hot, sweaty, end of your rope moment, there is one of these: a sleeping, perfect being, heavy in your arms, trusting you completely. And you, holding them, knowing that, for today, you have proved worthy of it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ode to a pediatrician.

When you first met Reese, our now four-year old, she was less than a day out in the world, still swaddled tight, lined up with all the other babies in the hospital nursery, like loaves of French bread in a pink and blue bakery. You inspected her. You, our lucky find. We hadn't done the "Meet with the Pediatrician" item #34 on our list prior to childbirth and we had no excuse, Reese being a week late and all - finally having to be evicted, never one to make sudden changes easily.

So you, kind doctor, were randomly selected on the insurance form. Your name seemed friendly, your office close. Somehow, miraculously, you were accepting new patients. And our insurance was accepting you. That's why you were the one to walk in our hospital room that December day and tell us gently that our baby girl was going "under the lights." She was jaundiced; such a common thing, but this daughter of ours was being serious about it, her billirubin levels skyrocketing. Reese was going about getting yellow like it was her job.

You told us we wouldn't be taking her home for a few days, but that I would be released. Hospital policy. My heart, hormones in full swing, reeled straight to the pink and white linoleum floor and stayed there. A few moments later I looked up to see you patiently waiting for the news to sink in. You empathized. You, a mother yourself, said you knew how hard you knew this must be. You gave us options. You never looked at your watch. You sat down in a chair opposite my bed and went over what our plan would be. Our plan.

That was the first time a doctor had ever surprised me, your compassion making the impossible possible.

Since that day, our healthy, happy girl has been joined by a little brother. The two of them have had their share of visits to your office, leaving outfitted in stickers and tongue depressors. But last summer, Reese had a disturbing cough - we brought her in a few times over the course of a week to be checked. She was listless and feverish, so sad and uncomfortable, her usual good spirits far away. We saw the on-call doctor each time and were told it was "just a virus." Finally, on our final visit, holding our sick little one in the waiting room, we were relieved to know it was you we would be seeing that day. You checked all the same things the other doctors had checked, but you did it so slowly, so carefully, as though there weren't ten other kids in the waiting room. As though you didn't have your own two waiting for you at home.

"Breathe deep, Reese. Again. Again."

Ten, maybe fifteen minutes passed as you closed your eyes, stethoscope in hand, listening so closely to those tiny lungs, intent as though it were Mozart. You told us you heard a "crackle" in her lungs. You wanted a chest X-ray. It was seven o'clock at night and you sent us across to the hospital to get it, STAT. We asked when you would be at the office until. You said, "until you get back." Two hours later, we were sitting back in the exam room. "It's pneumonia," you said. "We'll do antibiotics and she'll be just fine."

And she was. And when she got it again this week, less than a year later, it was you who diagnosed it, who listened so patiently to her breaths, who thanked her for her patience and for taking so much time with you. Once again, your thoroughness, your kindness saw her though - saw all of us through.

So, for all of the things I overprepared for when it came to parenthood, all the researching and reading, the buying and doing, I wanted you to know that the one thing I missed, that I forgot completely - #34 - turned out to be the one thing I got so right.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Hey, that's my brother."

Not having grown up with a sibling, I'm still getting used to all this sibling revelry. Or rivalry, depending on the moment.

They are opposites in so many ways, Finn and Reese. She is slow and steady, he is fast and furious but both of them are sensitive and kind-hearted, as well as unbelievably impatient. And they love so many of the same things passionately and whatever they don't love passionately, they do, simply because the other one does, making the item in question at risk for short supply.

He wants her purses and sunglasses, she discovers a deep need for his balloons and the baby toys she hasn't glanced at in a year or two. It's simply about guarding what's yours, what might be yours, never mind the value of the actual thing. I once had to intervene in a dispute over posession of a piece of packaging, the gift long forgotten, the plastic sheathing somehow wildly fascinating.

They understand eachother in ways I do not. He brings her the things he knows she wants; kind offerings, her blanket, her Sippy cup. They are given up to her almost with reverence, his eyes smiling at the delight he knows he is about to see in hers. She sees what he needs, the fall where no one knows what happened and he cannot tell us; she is his voice explaining what exact body part was hurt and how, what he needs to make it all better. She knows what he needs better than anyone and will be his voice, ensuring he gets exactly that and no less. There is also this:

REESE: Finn, that is my balloon. THIS is your balloon.

(LOUDER): THIS IS YOUR BALLOON. THIS ONE!

(BOTH SCREAM)

REESE: THIS ONE, FINNIE!!!!!!!!!THIS ONE!!!

(SOME SORT OF SHUFFLING, SCUFFLING)

REESE: Yep, that one Finnie. Good job.

(PEACE RESTORED.)

So much of the time I hold myself back when I hear them get into it, in the midst of playing so nicely, dress-up or cars or school, both of them reeling with righteousness. I want to go in and tear them apart and make them apologize and make it all fine and fair. But I wait. I curb my every instinct to go in and sometimes, in that extra minute, the problem is solved. He moves over or she gives him the crayon or they both find something else to do. All is well. And they've done it alone. No arbiter of justice to impose upon them. They've navigated their world and have found a path to okayness and I am thrilled for them - for their luck in finding a home, a person with which to find their way.

When we are at school picking up Reese and Finn is playing amongst the big kid toys, delirious with joy, his diaper sticking a bit up out of his pants and one of the kids calls him "diaperhead" - something he is totally unfazed by, it is Reese who is offended:

"He's no Diaperhead. That's my brother."

And when we are at the park playing and a big kid comes a little too close to Finn, there is Reese, warning:

"Be nice to him. That's my brother."

I tell her how proud I am, her looking out for Finn this way. How lucky they both are to have someone who has their back. How he will protect her and love her just as much as she does him. But of course, she doesn't know. Already, she doesn't remember a time without him, her brief two years and eleven months on Earth before him a distant memory.

There is no before Finn for Reese. Obviously, there is no before Reese for Finn. There is only the two of them, two little sweet specks on this planet together, everything better and stronger and more difficult and more lovely because of it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Like two lovers saying goodbye at the airport.

That's how it is for Reese and I at bedtime lately.

Except I'm the much less clingy lover. And she's the one you always feel sorry for and have to avert your eyes because she's making such a scene.

Somehow we've gotten into an elaborate bedtime routine with Reese that has more steps than putting together a piece of furniture from IKEA. Way too elaborate to elaborate on here, that's for sure. And embarrassing, this fact that a four-year old has snookered us into this much hoopla each evening. Anyway, one nice part, aside from just getting to hang out with her, is that in an effort to keep me just a moment (or twenty) longer as I'm inches from a clean getaway, holding onto the frame of her doorway with my fingernails, the rest of my body pointing off down the hall in the direction of non-Noggin television and unhealthy treats, she has come up with a new twist in her scheming: flattery.

"Mama: you are so _______"

Pretty.

Handsome. But in a girl way.

Lov-a-ly.

Special.

Interesting.

"Mama, you have a warm heart and that is why you are going to be 100, because your heart is SO warm."

Then, there are requests for more hugs, "ones she can feel." She says this, squeezing the life out of me, her strong arms tightly around my neck.

"Sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs bite. If they do bite, I'll be right here. I don't want this dolly. I need that dolly. I'm thirsty. I have to go potty. Can you get Daddy right now. No, RIGHT now. This second. "

And I'm finally off, down the hall to send in the talent for Act II and then, she is calling after me:

"I love you. See you in the morning, Mama."

If these statements are not met with a call and response-response, much chaos and tears may ensue and some steps of the process may require repeating, thus shortening the already brief time between kid bedtime and ours to mere minutes.

But in the moments the kind words are falling from her lips, manipulative or not, agenda or not, they can't help but plant themselves like little seedlings in my heart, where I keep them safe for another day. When maybe the compliments might have dried up and I will have to dredge them up from here, from this fertile ground of love and happiness - her four-year old perspective of me and all my perfection and how nothing is greater than being carried in my arms down the hall and there are no goodbyes on the horizon.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Dick Broder.

He would have been 64 today, my Dad. Gone since June 2001, he is in my heart every single day. I miss him when I hear a piece of music that cuts right to my gut, when I smell a perfect cup of cofee, when I see my son's smile light up a room, when I feel my little girl's hand in mine, when someone mentions the Dodgers, or jazz or Tony Orlando and Dawn or love or fatherhood or daughterhood. I just miss him, plain and simple.

I can't think of a better way to honor him today that to put out into the world a little part of his greatness, his writing.

From a letter he wrote me in 1996:

"...I guess the point I’m trying to make is this: Welcome challenge. Work harder at avoiding the first impulse. Don’t get too attached to any one idea. Encourage conflict in matters of concept and language. Seek the oblique. Look very closely at the simplest problem. Surround yourself with an array of stimulus in every form imaginable. Eavesdrop on everyone and develop an ear for genuine dialogue. Read everything you can get your hands on. Research subjects that you already know too well. Make your writing a full contact experience. Enlarge your circle of friends and include people with which you have nothing in common. Go visit someplace with nothing particular in mind. Examine foreign media. Learn everything there is to know about a subject completely unrelated to any of your endeavors. Take up a sport that will physically challenge you. Go for a week without makeup. Buy a hat. See several sunrises. Have a cigar and martini. Listen to Mozart. Read out of town papers. Listen to talk radio. Watch really old movies and foreign ones too. Sign up for a lecture series where you will struggle to understand everything. Watch body language. Hang out in neighborhood bars, but not in your neighborhood. Interview strangers under any pretext. Swim in the ocean. Get to NY soon and spend your days in museums and nights on Broadway. Get some Billie Holiday records and some Miles Davis and John Coltrane too. Read Hemmingway’s newspaper stuff, not the novels. Write letters to various editors on subjects that strike a chord with you. Be able to argue both sides of almost any issue. Learn how to play poker and shoot pool. Learn the names of trees and plants. Get a computer and get on the net. Take part in the campaign. Explore Chinatown. Find a columnist that you like and read him/her everyday. Do crossword puzzles. Watch or tape the Mcneil Newshour or ITN from London. Watch Booknotes on Sundays on CSPAN. Go to a little league game. Audit a class at UCLA. Read the sports page. Catch a few races at Hollywood Park. Spend an evening at an emergency room. Get a tour of the morgue. Tell your employer you want to visit Israel. Join a synnagogue. Look for cheap airfares to Europe this fall. Find a pen pal in Brazil. Donate some blood. Read a trashy novel and then critique it. Get a police scanner and learn all the codes. Get a cheap short wave or CB radio and eavesdrop.

The world that surrounds you is free for the taking…use everything!

Love,
Dad

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Just like old times.

12:43 a.m. You and me, Finn. We’re walking the halls, your blanket draped over my shoulder, your head cradled in my hand, binky in your mouth. Teething wakes your usually solid night and we walk. We wait for the Motrin to kick in and, for once, I don’t wish this middle-of-the-night-time away. I am not wondering when you will fall back asleep so I can return to the warmth of my bed. Instead, we crack the blinds to the front yard, the street light outside our big window shining in, a moon to you. “Ball,” you say. And I say yes. A ball. A light. A moon. You drop down onto my shoulder. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak, goes your pacifier. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. Our train, the one we don’t even hear any more because we’re not listening, rattles past our house and we know it because there’s no distractions, no videos, no dinner to be made or baths to be had. Just you and I, lying on our worn green couch, the one your father and I got on sale the week before we got married, our first communal piece of furniture. The train rumbles past and your head is on my shoulder, your eyes closed, your weight on me, a warm compress on my heart. You are not often still these days, my sweet boy. My big, almost seventeen-month old, who runs and can now eat cereal and milk out of a bowl with a spoon. You are a blur of growth and new skills each day; holding you in my arms, you with no place you’d rather be, is rare. Watching you sleep only happens on the half-inch screen of my video monitor, all in black and white.

So tonight we lay, your head on my shoulder, you sleeping softly in full color, right in front of me and I do not wish this time away. I hold onto it with everything, and then I write, so that I remember.