Nothing more obvious

sunflower

“There would seem to be nothing

more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment. 

And yet, it eludes us completely. 

All of the sadness of life lies in that fact.”  

~Milan Kundera  

 

 

Judgement Day (or everyday for parents in public)

As a parent, I feel I am always being observed by other parents, grandparents, non-parents and even dog-parents. While everyone seems to have an opinion on the correct way to care for and raise a child, they really have an opinion on the things not to do in childrearing. Topics like co-sleeping, bottle vs breast-feeding and spanking vs gentle parenting come to the top of my mind.

These spectators/parenting experts feel most called to share their thoughts based off a single moment like when the boys have been picking on each other all day until one grows tired of it and shoves the other. The onlooker only sees the shove, the moment of crisis, and makes the judgement about a lack of discipline, too much screen time or the need for more religion in a heathen world. Remember, we are in the South.  

Helpful, not really.

This weekend, we went to a Fall Fest at a winery. There was a face painter, activities for the kids, booths of junk, food trucks and, of course, wine. After the boys bounced out of their socks and shoes in the bounce house, we bought a jar of salsa, checked out the knick-knacks and retreated from the hot sun with water for the boys and wine for us.

Two well-dressed family sets walked past us, the women pushed strollers and tugged on toddler’s hands while the men brought up the rear.

A man in a half-buttoned Hawaiian shirt watched them from a nearby table with a nearly empty wine bottle in front of him. He said loudly to no one in particular, “Yee-haw. One has the fan on the baby and the other has the fan on herself. Makes you wonder which one is the better mom.”

Everyone who heard the man gasped and asked the nearest adult for clarification, “Did he really just say that?”

Somehow the only people who didn’t hear the man were the mothers as they continued pushing their strollers and tugging on their toddlers.  

Daddy Longlegs and I looked at each other and whispered, “Hillbillies.”  

While the hillbilly was offensive, but he brought up an interesting question about self-preservation and self-sacrifice, which one makes for a better mother? Its something that each parent should decide for their family. One thing is for certain, moms don’t need judgement. We get enough comments and side eyes from the outside world, not to mention the criticism that generates from our own heads and hearts about what we should or should not be doing.

We need support and understanding. And some of us need fans.  

Fight or flight

While waiting in line for a pancake house, a man with greasy, grey hair and a sunken-in mouth pushed his way through the backdoor of the kitchen.

I held Baby Brother, who is now quite a big two-year old, in my arms and Daddy Longlegs pulled Little Legs close to him.

“Something tells me that guy isn’t supposed to be in there,” I said.

Little Legs yanked Baby Brother’s shoe off. Baby Brother kicked him in the face and Little Legs started to cry. Obviously, we didn’t have the time to speculate long on the unwanted guest in the house of pancakes.

We went back to making observations about the length of the line, the weather, and trying to keep the boys from bumping into people around us with their wrestling.

Suddenly, the kitchen door swung back open and the grey haired man flew through the air, landing on the sidewalk. The cook, a man in a white apron with a backwards ball-cap, stood in the doorway with his arms crossed.

“You ain’t welcome here,” the cook said.

“You can’t tell me where to go,” the man said.

He grabbed the top of the trashcan and threw it to the ground, not unlike a certain set of boys, in an adult-style tantrum. The weight of the lid surprised the man, and it didn’t go far, landing next to his feet. Returning to his rampage, the man snatched the hat from the cook’s head.

The manager of establishment appeared, a woman with frizzy, blonde hair and black pants.

She said, “You gotta go,” and thumbed the air.  

The man threw the hat down and grumbled something at her. He puffed his malnourished chest up at her like a sick rooster.

She planted her feet firmly in the ground and said, “I am not afraid of you.”

Another kitchen staffer arrived on the scene with a four-foot-long wooden stick, wrapped with white tape. He held it in one hand as he approached, prepared for battle.   

“I don’t need this,” the man said, eying the weapon and the growing crowd of kitchen staff.

The man shoved his way through the line of onlooking, prospective pancake eaters.

While this was happening, I slowly crept backwards, carrying Baby Brother and pulling Daddy Longlegs and Little Legs along with me, not wanting to draw attention to our retreat.

In this open-carry state, it would take one vigilante of justice to pull out a gun and fire shots. I was not interested in one of us catching a stray bullet or trashcan lid as the two sides waged a breakfast war.

That night, Daddy Longlegs asked Little Legs, “Did you have any questions about what happened today?”

Little Legs nodded, “Why did Mommy run away and make us leave?”

And now I have questions. Am I a total wimp? (Yes) Should we have stayed? (No) How do I teach my boys to be brave in a safe way? (Still unsure but accepting any and all advice.)

On Making Friends at the Park

Tired of going down the slide, the boys decided to climb up the side.

It was the natural order of events that gave me little concern. They were taking a risk by ascending where most would descend but the sweet reward of reaching the top without having to run all the way around the playset was too much to resist.

“I have sticky hands,” Little Legs said as he embodied a boy-sized gecko using his hands and feet to move upwards.

He had the advantage of perpetually sticky hands, from a love of candy and reluctance of washing, to help with the climb. All signs of a bad parent, I suppose, but useful in the case of slide-climbing.

“Feet sticky, too,” Baby Brother added as he lizard-walked effortlessly behind his brother.

From the hill leading up to the playground, a little blond girl ran towards us.

“I’m going to make some new friends,” she said to her mother.

Her mother lagged a few steps behind her, loaded with a backpack, another smaller blond child, water bottles and a pink scooter.  

“Guys, get ready to say hi,” I prepared them.

They were about to make a new friend and I was going to make a new mom friend and we were all going to be the best of friends. We already had blond children, overpacking and the need to get them outside in common.

The girl went straight to the slide having observed the boys from a distance.

“You don’t climb up the slide,” the girl said.

“You go down it,” she explained.

Her mother caught up her with and said, “You aren’t their mommy, that is for her to tell them.”

As the window of friendship potential closed, she gave a meaningful look in my direction. Her dark sunglasses made it impossible to tell her intentions. However, the tight, lipless line that was her mouth filled in the gaps of my assumptions.

I laughed and said, “Boys, slide down. No more climbing.”

Of course, they listened.

They promptly climbed, lizard boy style, back up the slide and camped out at the top where they declared, “No mommies allowed,” and returned to catching flies and scaring off bossy girls and their mothers.   

How to Motivate Maniacs

Two hikers raced past me down the paved trail. They were small boys with dirty blond hair and scabbed over knees. Their dusty, black, Velcro-d New Balance tennis shoes pounded the pavement in unison, differentiated only by the size and the worn heels of the smaller, now twice used pair.

“Red light,” I yelled.

I grabbed my bag to prevent it from bouncing my keys out and ran after the maniacs.

“Red light, yellow light, red light,” I yelled.

They laughed in their temporary state of deafness and ran around a blind curve, accelerating as they went downhill.

I imagined one tripping and rolling down the side of the forested hill or the other slamming into an unsuspecting person on a nature stroll.

Clearly, the light system was not working.  I would have to work with the maintenance department for a reset but in the meantime, I had to put the brakes on the situation.

“Stop,” I screamed.

It was a futile use of my vocal cords.

I assumed they would eventually run out of gas or steam or whatever mysterious energy force gave little boys who refused to eat full meals the energy to still have the zoomies. Yet, I also knew that the chance for mishap was quite high at any point before they petered out and wanted to intervene before the expected accident.

If its expected, is it still an accident when objects collide? Does it become Fate or destiny? Perhaps that is a question better directed to an insurance claims adjuster or someone in the ministry.   

As I continued to consider the possibilities, two older women with grey, curly hair and hiking sticks watched the spectacle as we emerged from around the bend.

“Do you want us to help catch them?” one offered.

She stuck her stick out, indicating her plan to trip or whack them, whichever came first and was easier.

What could I do but laugh? The old stick method was sure to bring the critters to a screeching halt, but it felt wrong to allow strangers to break their high spirits or to use such serious means to an inconsequential end.

“No, thanks. Maybe another day,” I said as I raced past keeping the duo in my sight.

They retired to a bench for a bench break and waited patiently like they hadn’t just gone full racehorse on their old workhorse of a mother.

“Guys, we have to work on listening better.”

I explained that they needed to stay close for safety reasons, obviously, I used the example of a bear or a bobcat grabbing them and taking them into a cave. After that, they stuck around, and we finished the excursion with minimal accidents.   

No tripping, whacking, or yelling needed, just the mention of a wild animal carrying one of them off and they were back on track.      

The Power of A Lifesaver

“If you listen and follow me, then I will give it to you,” I said.

We were in a parking lot, at the edge of a wooded area with a short and shaded trail. It should have been perfect for my young hikers who were already protesting exercise in the heat.

I held a single wrapped, green lifesaver.

“I promise, just give me that green thing,” Little Legs begged.

Baby Brother raised his arms up, “Mine.”

It was impossible to promise the candy to one boy and not the other, so I renegotiated the conditions.

“If you both listen and follow me, then I will break this in half, and you can each have a piece.”

Surprisingly, they both nodded in equal agreement.

Inwardly, I laughed as the ease of the negotiation. All I needed was a pack of lifesavers and I could motivate my sons to do anything. I thought we could tackle a trip to Kohl’s, visit their great-grandparents and maybe even get some yard work done.

We set off on our walk, three brave explorers filled with the promise of candy and good behavior, which lasted about one minute before they began their end-the-walk initiative by alternately crying and sitting on the path, refusing to take another step, like two stubborn, coordinated mules.  

No one got the lifesaver.  

Great Snips

A skinny woman in an outfit of all black ushered the boy through the salon to an adjustable chair. She tapped a silver lever near the base with the tip of her tennis shoe. The chair eased down closer to the ground, while a blurry snake tattooed on her ankle wrapped its way around her leg.

“Climb on up there,” she said to the boy.

“Its too high,” the boy said as he clamored onto the seat, one limb at a time.

“What are we doing today, mom?” the stylist asked.

“Let’s go a little shorter than usual,” the mother said from behind the chair.

 Nodding her head, the stylist ran her fingers through the boy’s hair. 

“And then I get a lollypop,” the boy said.

The stylist shook the folds out of a crinkly cape and snapped it at the back of the boy’s sun-browned neck.

“If your mom says its ok,” the stylist said.

“She says its ok,” the boy said without a moment of hesitation.

He stuck his tongue out at the reflection of his mother in the mirror and turned to his own countenance, admiring the shaggy brown hair as it edged into his eyes and over his ears unaware as a wooly lamb that he was about to be sheared.

He Who Needs No Introduction

A man knocked on the door. His camel-colored company shirt had many, possibly too many, pockets. How many matchbox cars could fit into those pockets? I wondered in my toddler-boy-brain conditioned state.

The name “Brad” was stitched on his shirt, right over his heart. Shaggy, brown hair was pulled back from his face with a grungy bandana. In one hand, he held a black nozzle which was connected to a round, silver container on the ground.

“I’m Brad, bug guy. You want me to start on the inside?” he asked.    

Here was a man who needed no introduction, yet he gave one.  

And while the contents of his container were to remain a mystery, his mission was clear.  

He was there for the bugs. No dilly. No dally. And certainly, no small talk.

The Anxious Mama Mind

We went to a cookout over the weekend. Our friends prepared a classic fourth of July spread with hotdogs, hamburgers, chips, cookies, cocktails and of course, popsicles. They had a blow-up pool and an inflatable slide with a small pool at the bottom to reduce the impact of the slider hitting the ground.

Little Legs tackled the climbing wall which led to the top of the slide like a professional mountain climber after watching the other kids make the ascent a few times. Baby Brother also attempted the climb. His arms and legs were neither long enough to reach the grips nor strong enough to hold on. He was sentenced to a life at the bottom.  

Unhappily, he threw himself out of the pool and flipped onto his back with his arms and legs in the air, writhing like an upside-down-blonde-haired-boy-beetle.

I ran over to check on him to find him laughing at my worry and noticed out of the side of my eye that one of the hosts ran just as quickly next to me. He stopped a few feet short and to the right of the bug and knelt to examine the black, electrical cord snaking its way through the water to the house.

Without a word, he returned to this seat with the other adults.

It was only later that I learned he was testing the cord to see if Baby Brother was being shocked.

“That’s exactly the way a person looks when they are being electrocuted,” he explained to Daddy Longlegs who then explained it to me.

I felt like throwing up. The known risks that face our children are endless and no matter how much helicoptering and preventative steps are taken, there are still the sinisterly common things which pose an equal and unavoidable threat.

A strike of lighting, poisonous spider bite, rusty nail through the foot, there are too many points of danger to consider. All I can do is my best to protect and care for them and it has to be enough, but oh, how my anxious heart and mind do worry.

How to right a wrong.

I am deeply saddened by the recent decision of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe V. Wade. If I were to leave the house, I would wear black, but I am too sad to be in public.  

Although it was a known possibility, it felt as a shocking as a slap across the face when the news broke. It was impossible for my eyes not to water, to not feel a sense of powerlessness and even humiliation at being so unheard and unvalued as a person able to make decisions about my body.

I am in mourning for myself, women around the country and the girls who are to follow behind us who will suffer at the hands of their individual states.

Soon, anger will set in and with it the energy to do something more than post on my blog (anonymously) or complain to my friends (two) or mope on the couch next to my husband.  

For now, I will feel the feelings and later prepare for the fight.

The Summer Day

By Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t exactly know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?