Monday, August 3, 2009

String of Stories

Last Friday morning was one of those mornings. I’d almost nursed the kiddo back down when Joe’s alarm clock caused just enough stirring to pique his interest into being more awake than asleep. After 20 minutes it was apparent we were up. I’ve been tired for days with the heat and hoping desperately for even a half-hour more. No such luck.

So we trundled ourselves downstairs and got on with our day. It was still tolerable and not too bright, the first cool morning we’ve had in days. With Joe indoors getting ready and Kiddo busy following him around, I went out into the garden and took the hose with me, giving everything a good soak. Just as I was finishing, Joe came out and gave me a kiss goodbye. Kiddo was indoors, playing happily.

Luckily, I spied some zucchini that had been growing covertly under cover of the leaves and needed to be brought in before they grew any bigger. Joe was just getting the car out of the garage when I decided to go in and get a knife to cut the vegetable from the vine.

The screen door was locked.

I tried it twice and flew down the stairs and stood behind Joe’s car waving my arms. “He’s locked me out!” Joe smiled and got out, bringing his set of keys with him. (I usually keep mine in my pocket when working outside for this very reason.) We got into the house to discover Kiddo sitting on the woodbox, holding an open tube of sunblock in front of his mouth. The cream was on his chest and neck.

Oh, expletive deleted.

I looked my son in the eye. “Did you eat the cream?” I asked.

“Eat the cream.”

Let’s try it again. “Did you put the cream in your mouth?”

“In your mouth.”

Okay, Polly Parrot, I’m going to pull your feathers out until I get a coherent answer out of you…oh, wait, no, this parrot is my dear little boy. Okay, Mama, what next? He won’t open his mouth enough to look for some white residue, but maybe I can sniff his breath and see if it smells like the sunblock. But what does the sunblock smell like?

I found out by accidentally squirting a big gob of it up a nostril. There’s nothing like snorting a little sunblock first thing in the morning, right?

Once I found a tissue and salvaged a sliver of my dignity, I flipped the sunblock bottle around. Caution: If your child ingests this because you foolishly left it in your diaper bag CALL POISON CONTROL, YOU HORRIBLE, NEGLIGENT PARENT!

This was shaping up to be quite a morning. I’ve experienced enough near-misses with kids so that I don’t go instantly into panic mode, and while I figured things would be fine, I decided to be a good mom and call Poison Control anyway. It turned out that our hippie SPF 20 mineral sunblock won’t kill anyone, “though kids will gag on it and throw up because they get a gob of it in their mouths and don’t know what to do”. Oh, and the fact that it tastes like sunblock might also have a little something to do with it.

Poison Control Lady also said that the big issue with sunblock is that some sunblocks use aspirin in them, which we know is a big no-no for little ones. Luckily, we were in the clear.

Two hours later, I was able to laugh about this with a friend as we walked through Laurelhurst Park. It’s good to recognize that everything is not going to the dogs when these things happen. Taking that deep breath and knowing things are okay and remembering next time that sunblock is no longer safe in the diaper bag or that keys must be on your person at all times—all of these things are essential to making it through your kid’s childhood without having a nervous breakdown. Laughing at myself isn’t a skill that has come easily to me; I’ve had to work at it. But it’s paid off.

Lately I’ve had an image in my head of a string of beads, or perhaps something more like a charm bracelet, that is never-ending. This string is my son’s childhood and our mutual experience of it, and those charms or beads, well—those are the memories I’m going to keep, to save up for him. More and more, it becomes apparent that whatever it is about our children’s lives that we focus on, the stories that we tell our friends, our children and our selves: this is what our children will remember about their growing up. We have the power to make this a beautiful gift, collecting stories of near misses and triumphs and sweet moments and stringing them along, rich and bright and twinkly, to share with our children as they grow. We also have a dangerous power: to snarl and twist the thread with our criticism, to construct a mass of dull and shabby objects on a string, if we focus only on all those negatives in our lives.

I want you to know that I originally wrote the first half of this post as a vent on how hard it is to be a mother, someone who is a 24/7 on-call First Responder of home disasters and then some. It can be a cruel job, truly, with the sleepless nights, demanding children, expectant partners and always, always someone somewhere (relatives, neighbors, children’s teachers, friends, online and television experts) to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. And there’s no parade for us. When we avert disaster, we aren’t congratulated, but questioned: why weren’t you watching the kid? What could we possibly be doing that’s more important than raising The Future of Humanity? It’s a thankless job at times. That’s why it is so important to stay positively focused whenever we can. When those opportunities pop up and the love and the beauty and the joy are evident, we have to grab them up and add them to this open-ended string of memories. These moments don’t always give us second chances, they aren’t going to be around forever, so we have to hold them and store them close to us, even if only for the moment. Acknowledging what is going well is equally as important as the problem-solving aspect of parenting, because this is what keeps us afloat during those incredibly hard, sticky spots we get stuck in with our families. On particularly bad days, we can pull out that string of little gems from our memories and know that it’s real, that life can be good, and that maybe tomorrow will be better for everyone.

Last night Kiddo and I were lingering over a snack at the kitchen table when the sunset sky caught my eye. The light had changed to a hazy, gorgeous pink and cast its hue on everything outdoors. I was in my pajamas and Kiddo just in a diaper, but I scooped him up anyway and carried him out into the street. “Look at the sky,” I told him, pointing upward. “Look at the color…blue and pink and orange.” Indeed, it was bright salmon color on the horizon, quite stunning, and the few clouds hung quietly down, a wash of pink on the pale blue. “Look at the color.” I said again.

“Want to see it,” he said.

“It’s right there in the sky.”

“Want to see it”, again.

We stood outside, looking for another minute, him wondering what all the fuss was, taking this strange glorious sky for granted, and me? Sliding another story onto the string, knowing that it only makes me love him more.

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