Saturday, January 29, 2011

You Give Me Fever

I wish this were a post about how hot Joe is, but when Kiddo is running a temperature of 102+, that's just about the farthest thing from my mind.

If you peeked into our house, you'd see some disturbing things. Like my hair. It's 12 noon and I haven't yet showered today, so I'm wearing a hat, so as not to scare myself when I pass mirrors. I was alone as nursemaid from 7 a.m. until 9p.m. yesterday, when Joe came home from work. I had a better attitude yesterday, partly because I had a mission to get out and pick up videos* and soup, and because I only had one person yapping at me. The adults switched shifts around 10 or so; Joe slept with Kiddo until 5, when fever #3 dropped in. We gave him Motrin, which completely hit his "ON!" button, and by 5:15 he was begging to go downstairs and play. Temporarily playing the role of Angel of Mercy (not a character people usually associate me with), I took Kiddo downstairs and kept him fed and busy reading books until I was nearly falling asleep at 7:30, and so we switched, and I went back to bed until 9.

My second act of benevolence of the day was coming back down at 9, because believe me, I could have slept longer.

Yesterday, Kiddo was relatively tired and docile, which I personally appreciate in a sick kid because it makes my job easier. I'd rented a Reading Rainbow dvd on the topic of "Music!" and the original "World of Beatrix Potter" Volume One. Lavar Burton, how I miss thee! That show was one of the best on PBS. The scene with Peter Rabbit being chased by Mr. McGregor was a bit overblown in regard to tension, but Kiddo seemed to enjoy it. Today, though, Kiddo says he wants to take a "not mean video" upstairs and wants nothing to do with either one, which means that we are back to Mr. Rogers again. sigh. (I love you, Fred Rogers, but mind-numbing repetition is not a friend of the nursemaid!)

And the dishes await, but this is the first moment I've had to myself in a while. Joe's at the store, picking up yet another new digital thermometer-- do they make them from used goods, or what!--and a short list of Trader Joe's necessities. Like hummus. We can't go out tomorrow for our date, but I can have some hummus and pita, which makes me extremely happy and satisfied in some weird way. Hard to explain.

Sometimes I wish for another reality. Like, say, my kid would blow his nose well, instead of sniffing constantly and coughing on it. How gross is that? Or if he only liked spicy foods like hot and sour soup or Kim Chi. Perhaps this is very flawed thinking, but they always helped me feel better. He's even reluctant to eat chicken noodle soup right now, or drink water, and I'm actually bribing him with 2T servings of kefir (thanks for the suggestion, Alisha!) to get the other stuff in his stomach. The kefir is a big hit, even if he only takes 2 sips of it, I'm going to milk this one until I can't. And serving after serving of applesauce with powdered probiotics mixed in.

As I mentioned before, Joe and I had planned a date for tomorrow-- one of Kiddo's Honorary Aunties had offered to watch him, but she's also living in a house with very new twins, so we can't have her carrying the plague back to the babies, now, can we?

Add to this, I am ready to just disinfect myself. I have been coughed all over so many times it's like I have a protective coating of germs on my face and hair. When he's snuggled up next to me I duck down when he begins to cough, which I am sure is contributing to the big Fashion Don't Coiffure on the top of my head.

Best stop posting now-- don't want to use up my entire sense of humor on this! Having a sick kid can be misery at times, but he's still sleeping, so I'm going to Woman Up and get them damn dishes done. Even if a clean kitchen has no affect on Kiddo, it'll do me some good.

*What does the nursemaid pick for vids? The Social Network, which I am dying to see if only to reinforce my bias against Facebook, ha ha;  Patti Smith: Dream of Life because Patti is one of my #1 Hero-Goddesses and is such an incredible inspiration of what can happen when a person with integrity and creativity pursues their passion; and the first season of The Ricky Gervais Show, simply because I am in dire need of "having a laugh", and he makes me laugh so hard. Just about one of the funniest, most genius guys out there. "Let the mocking begin!" (acknowledgements to Tia for that one!)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In the Toy Aisle

Yesterday, Kiddo and I caught a bus and took a trip downtown to meet Joe for lunch. I love bus trips with the little guy. Sure, he's nearly four and weighs so much more than he used to, but on the bus we get the snuggle time life at home doesn't always make time for. We have our same old landmarks we talk about each time: the brightly painted Cuban restaurant which he calls "the colorful building"; all the roadwork equipment on lower East Burnside; the Burnside Bridge itself, spanning the Willamette; the 'beautiful gate' of Chinatown; and the grand destination, Carwash Fountain across the street from Big Pink, looking pinker and mauvier in the fickle sunlight.

We ran a few errands--made copies for preschool, stopped at Peets for the requisite tin of Malty Assam-- and then met up with Joe at his office to eat lunch in the breakroom. Kiddo is certainly my husband's child, they both chatty and friendly to no end, and Little Mister is quite the mini-celebrity there. After finishing my foodcart bowl of beans and rice, we headed out to search for my new mystery item: reasonably-priced cloth napkins. Stopping at Ross, my quest was met with disappointment, so we walked over to the toy section, as a few toys had caught my eye. They were too young for Kiddo; not that he'd know. He kept asking for toys that we'd had long ago and he'd lost interest in. Others were cheap plastic crap versions of better toys that we actually did have, and I reminded him of this. Then something in the next aisle caught his eye.

An Ironman toy.

Ironman? Really? I know the toys exist; I haven't seen the movie, but it's also likely that no child should either. I thought of the Black Sabbath song, and how, um, unhappy it was. The cover of the box showed a picture of Ironman in full close-up.

"I want that." said Kiddo, pointing to the box. Then he paused a beat and added "What is it?"

"What do you think it is?" I countered.

"I don't know." He still had that "I want that" look, so I asked him a question.

"Look at the face. Does it look happy, sad, or angry?"

Kiddo thought. "Angry."

"Yeah, he kinda does. You know, honey, we don't buy angry toys. They don't play nice." Then, miracle of miracles, out of the corner of my eye is a Matchbox-sized "John Deere" construction set, complete with dump truck, excavators, bulldozers, the works. 7 pieces, $8. Reasonable to me.

"Wow, look at this" I handed him the box of machines. "We could take this home and put rice in the bin, and you could play with these. Would you like to do that?"


Score one for Mama, one for John Deere. Ironman? I hope not to have to see you for a few more years. You might be some kind of ass-kicking bad-guy fighter, but I'm still the one who holds the wallet. And today, Kiddo came home all hot to ''play machines in the rice" again. I don't even know what he can do with a grumpy-looking plastic doll. Do you?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Go-Between

This morning, another rainy Sunday in Portland, and I'm up with the birds. Okay, before the birds. The birds are allowed to sleep in because of winter's tardy sunrise. It's the wrong season for chicks to be in the nest, and so the wake-up call of the crows is rather late in coming. For me, my little chick is peeping in the black six o'clock morning. It's my morning to take Kiddo down and let Joe sleep in, and the next hour and a half of my life is spent hissing "SSSHHHH! Daddy's sleeping. You need to be quiet." like a snake with a broken tongue... SSSHHHH...SSSHHHH. Waking up with a cup of tea, making a pot of rice to eat with the eggs I plan on making later for breakfast, and trying to keep a lid on the noise. Joe came down and Kiddo pounced on him, ready to play, happy to make all the big sounds he was containing within, stomping and 'woo woo'-ing himself as he pretended to be different things.

We talked about our day, the plan of it: Joe wanted to get a run in, and then do some shirt shopping at the mall. While I hate the mall, I knew the optimum plan would be to get there by 10:30, because we need to be heading home to eat lunch by 11:30 or Kiddo is stretched too far. Joe, with his ability to be a food camel and go for hours without eating, often forgets that he possesses a magical ability our son doesn't. Once again, I telegraph the needs of the one to the other, and our morning begins in full swing.

Later, on the way out of the bathroom, I hear my husband on the phone with his folks, talking about recent events in the news. A reminder to him: "Be mindful of your audience." He looks at Kiddo, playing nearby with a Tinkertoy crane we built earlier and then changes the subject of the conversation. Ten minutes pass, and I remind him of what he had planned earlier. He wraps up the call, thanks me (because this is my job, keeping the family running) and hops in the shower.

Why did we all go to the mall? I still don't know. Joe heads off to shop; I've already made a plan to just walk around with Kiddo and see what we shall see. The mall is waking up, we are taking advantage of the church-time lull of Sunday morning, and it is pleasant for a change. The busy, angry shoppers aren't here yet, more the agnostic early risers, families, the pace is slow. We walk over to the bridge that spans the ice rink, and watch the crowd of mostly-mature skaters practicing ice-dancing, partners in arms, waltzing over the cold slick floor of the rink. It is oddly sweet. Two ice dancers lead, then a woman repeating the steps of the female skater of the pair, and then a small row-of-ducklings pack of older girls following still, watching their teacher and doing as she does. It is remarkable to watch, but Kiddo is ready to move on. We meander into a bookstore, where I search out a copy of Vanity Fair, only to discover Justin Bieber on the cover, which forces me to reconsider my purchase entirely. Instead, we descend the glass-towered elevator and spend my fun  money on two rides on those 75cent kiddie ride machines--a firetruck and a race car. Kiddo's more comfortable in the race car, sitting down into something likely feels more secure. Then we wander over to the pretzel shop, where a kind-faced girl making pretzels sells us one plain one, taking the money from Kiddo and telling us to 'be careful, it's hot'. I ask her if we can watch her for a moment, and she makes a pretzel and we go. Passing by the photo booth, Kiddo wants to go in. Why not? For a moment I'm reminded of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe taking the day on Coney Island* and I'm amused at the thought of treating the mall as not a place of commerce, but our own personal amusement park. Rides, pretzel, photos.... not much different.

We head back to meet Joe, finishing our pretzel as we walked. I look at my clock. 11:20. "Mama, I'm hungry", my little guy says to me.

Well. Right on time.

*Reading Patti Smith's "Just Kids", a chronicle of her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Shine on, Patti. Wonderful.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

At the Heart of This Tragedy

Last Saturday, a terrible thing happened.

I don't think I need to state what that was. You know. And it is hurting all of us-- so many of us--at once.

What happened on Saturday is saturated in confusion and anger, in so many ways. It might not be for months, maybe longer, before we find out something resembling the whole truth about Jared Lee Loughner. What he was wanting to prove. What he was thinking he'd fix. What pushed him over the edge. What we have right now, though, are angry voices everywhere. The extreme actions of someone with extreme beliefs are causing more polarization amongst those of us who remain frustrated, sucker-punched and hurting. And so the discussion turns to if we should blame icons of cross hairs on political maps or The Communist Manifesto*. Everyone is scrambling to shout "This guy was not one of US!", as if there are any blameless sides to be had.

And no one seems to be--ever-- reflecting on the collective culture of violence and death which stands to threaten us all.

We can talk about being a nation of peace, but we seem to relish war and offense on a regular basis. Our televisions and  movies are full of it; showcasing the most base and vulgar human beings in our country and making celebrities of people who act out angrily, yet continue to be popular for their fighting and outrageousness, glorifying it. Daily, children play video games which depict people doing horrible things to each other in realistic settings, and thus these acts are normalized for them. Intention is everything, and allowing our children to make the choice, even in play, to hurt, slap, fight, shoot and kill teaches them to become familiar with that feeling of intention. Even if they would never do anything physical to anyone else, they do come closer to the actual act than if they'd never done it to begin with. I'm old school: I'm still appalled that a person called a 'retailer' would make a conscious decision to sell this sort of product, knowing they're peddling the promise of violence for filthy profit. I'm appalled that an adult would want to spend their time this way, or feel that this is an allowable use of their time. I'm not talking battling mythical creatures or children pretending to fight dragons, I'm talking about human characters brutally killing one other.

Even the most innocuous talk radio, NPR, the most calm and reasoned in the mainstream, has whole days of litanies about who was wounded, maimed, killed, here, overseas, in your own backyard. The word 'dead' peppers the daily news often enough that I can't listen to this station when my son is present. How can he experience the world as a safe place when the news is an endless retelling of violence? They must report, and so we parents quickly turn down the volume, cheerfully blabbing away at our kids, hoping they haven't heard "Six people dead and more than a dozen injured...", and that they didn't see that moment of terror and sadness on our faces.

I don't understand this at all. I don't understand the rhetoric and noise of a culture that plays at normalizing violence and then acts horrified when it happens. I know there are many, many families who teach peace who are trying to explain this to their children, those which are old enough to understand that what happened was so incredibly wrong and frightening. These are the same conversations we will have with our children when police shoot a mentally ill person, or when one country practices flat-out genocide, or pictures of prisoners being tortured appear on the newsstand. We are doing our best to keep our kids heads afloat, teaching them to dog-paddle through this morass of rhetoric and finger-pointing to say "Keep striving to do what's right. Keep what is best about your humanity. When violence is used, no side ever wins. Ever. We can do better. We should be better than this."

I think of Mr. Rogers, and how he understood the necessity--for the fate of the world-- to teach our children to master their anger. To choose the higher path, whenever possible. To be "the master of the mad that you feel". Extremists are those who fall through the cracks... they might be educated, but what they missed out on was that one critical piece of social development: to think before one acts. To consider what's right before one does. This lack of skill doesn't know a political party or position: it adopts one as justification for its actions. Fuel for the fire, heat for the anger. The tendency for the anger to be in control is always there for some, and the helplessness underlying that anger must be enormous. People who feel competent and confident within themselves know how to enact satisfying change in their lives without hurting others to gain a sense of power. Extremism has nothing to do with a love for anything; there's nothing in these acts other than acute fear.

Fear, too, is on the march. Last year, Steven Colbert nicely jested us about it, to get us used to the idea, but the fact is that there is a lot of fear out there. The surveys on politics and religion from both the Pew Charitable Trust and the Public Religion Institute confirm this; people are becoming a little more wiggy about things we used to not sweat so much. Yet, as a parent, it's my job not to translate that fear to my child, to instead contain those feelings and to teach him that fear is nothing more than a feeling, even a terrifying one. How we react to those fears--in anger, or in search of more understanding, even as we hold our sorrow too--will teach our children to be braver, to make the higher choices and to put themselves in charge of their feelings, instead of the opposite. In the weeks and months ahead, as this case goes forward to trial and we try to reconcile ourselves to the idea that this was an isolated incident, let us forget the finger-pointing and instead move forward, mastering the mad that we feel and being willing to love and grieve with each other, despite our differences. It is all we can do.

As my husband said, as the first of this firestorm began: "With a position of responsibility comes the obligation to speak responsibly." We, as parents, must do this. Let's hope all of our leaders can follow this example.

*By no means a go-to book for liberals or lefties, at least not the ones I know, so I'm not sure how that got dragged into the conversation, other than the desire to blame and sensationalize and disassociate.