Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween: Break Out the Costume... or Break It Off

It’s Halloween here at CafĂ© Catiche. This time of year, I fondly recall orange and black icing-swirled cupcakes brought to school in shirt boxes, construction paper crafts, and homemade costumes. Having children, I get to live vicariously through their own little Halloween parties and pageants. Today, I was excited because Tiny Man was going to be celebrating with his schoolmates in his preschool parade. The assignment for costumes was sent home as a way to further literacy: dress your child as a character from his favorite book. Every night, my son enjoys what his own sister used to read repeatedly as well, a nonfiction book about Egyptian mythology and mummification rituals.

This is easy, I told myself as I patted my own back for creatively solving the costume problem: a roll of white crepe paper and a roll of self-adhesive bandage. This afternoon, with wrappings and a little magic tape on hand, I strode confidently into the classroom, where my son eagerly awaited, and began the process of mummifying him.

Oh, how foolish I was! He complained regardless of the fact that I had mentally prepared him for his mummy costume. This was not what he wanted to wear, he insisted. He would rather be a gladiator, which of course, is not a character in a book we read, so that one, designed (also handmade) for this weekend, was sitting at home.

“You’re choking me,” he whined, as I loosely wrapped the outside of his face and around his head and neck. By the time I was done, I had cleverly wrapped his body and arms as well. He looked fantastic, but the self-adhesive bandage (which works by pressure, not glue) bothered him, so he pulled it off, crinkling up the tape and binding it in places where it now complicated re-wrapping. His teacher and I re-attached it more comfortably. He went to sit with his friends (who, by the way, loved his costume) and watch a five minute counting video until the parade started. I hoped the crepe paper wrapping would hold. He seemed content with his friends and looked adorable, but I knew better than to assume that no battle lay ahead.

As the children lined up for the parade, my son came to me crying. All the wrappings were off and crumpled on the floor.

“New costume!” he demanded through tears. He had removed it all himself.

“No,” I said. I told him that the consequence of destroying his costume was that he would have to walk the parade as himself, not as a mummy. The crying became louder and he did not stop. Outside, I put him in time out and told him he could not cry in the parade, but that when he was done crying and ready, we would try again. The crying continued. I removed him from the playground, where children were being organized, and brought him, still crying, back to the classroom. We packed up his things and left. Meanwhile, Tiny Man, in that sort of still yet unnamed vowel sound that children are able to carry, continued to whine, complain, and really, just irritate me.

“Why are you mad at me?” he asked.

“Had I known this would have gone as badly, I would have stayed at home,” I said. Reiterating what he already knew (the effects of his choices), I tucked him into the car, turned out of the parking lot, and before we were half-way home, he was asleep.

Last year, he refused to wear the top half of his handmade shark costume. In full fish regalia, Tiny’s face peeked out of the jaws of the shark. It was a brilliant idea that took days to conceive but only a night or two to make. Everyone loved it but him, and he was the one that had chosen the shark concept. The year before, he was a superhero, but destroyed much of his face make up and undid the spiked hair prior to the trick-or-treat walk. The previous Halloween, he had also rebelled against his costume (a devil, because he is one). This weekend, he will be wearing a gladiator costume that I used my new sewing machine to help make. I built the whole concept around a helmet that he loves to wear.

I’ll let you know if we make it down the sidewalk, costume intact. I doubt it though.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Imagining Pants

The latest running joke in the house is that our dog wears pants. I am not sure why it started, and it may have been something suggested by the rabbit, but this is a definite topic of conversation lately. Today, I got a text from my husband that our dog preferred the laundry room to the outside. (I can no longer leave her in the house when no one is home. She gets lonely. She rebels. She poops under the baby grand piano in the living room.) I texted back to my husband that of course she prefers the laundry room, as that is where she washes her pants. Instantly, I could see her in all her full, fuzzy husky glory, slipping out of her red satin pajama bottoms and tossing them into the wash. I just wish she would wash her dog blanket as well.

This Sunday at dinner, my son asked why our dog poops under the piano. I quoted my husband, who was not here at the time.

“Because, it is a magic canopy and it makes her poop disappear,” I said.

“She thinks her poop is invisible,” added my daughter.

My son seemed satisfied with these answers and we moved onto non-fecal dinner conversation. In the meantime, the dog lay at our feet. She was thinking about her pants, I said to the children.

Last night at dinner, my daughter announced the dog’s newest outfit: a purple dress with matching hat. She said our old dog, a Sharpei that still lives out his existence in the home of my former life, once wore a tutu. I had forgotten about this, but he did. Such is the life in an imaginative household. We had even danced with him as he wore my daughter’s tutu.

Mid-morning today, I received a note from my youngest step-daughter. She said she had two pet mice, plastic ones. So I asked the most obvious question: Do they were pants?

And so it goes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Travelling with Children

I spend huge amounts of time on the road with small children. Among the elements of our established travel routine, such as well-stocked activity bags for each child and pre-packed snacks with water bottles, I can also count on the youngest to create a distraction about one hour into the trip and again less than an hour from the destination.

Tiny Man burst into tears yesterday, going from whine to 60 in one second flat.

“Someone is tickling my back,” he sobbed. No one was tickling his back. His sister sat curled up on the opposite end of the rear seat with a book. She had not moved. His crying grew louder. I told him to hang on and we would pull over when there was a safe place. We were cruising a country road with no real shoulder above the ditch that separated asphalt from cotton fields and tobacco crops. His crying persisted among complaints of an apparently acute itch until we arrived in a one-stoplight town. I turned off the small highway and parked beside rows of desolate looking brick store fronts. Grass grew in the cracks of the sidewalk. One lone Mexican eyed my truck and disappeared into the dark doorway of a tienda behind me. I could hear the theme of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” playing in my head. Tiny Man’s howling reduced to breath sucking sobs and tears ran down his cheeks. I unhooked his seat belt, checked his back, rubbed it, and told him he was fine.

Crawling back into the driver seat, I heard the call of the wild from the backseat again.

“I’m hungry,” said my daughter.

Let’s just say I am sometimes not the most patient person.

“For crying out loud,” I exclaimed. I was eager to escape this town. “We just ate!”

“We did?” she asked.

“I hungry, too,” insisted Tiny.

Yes, we had eaten a lovely brunch at a nice restaurant with my oldest step-daughter in her college town. I had enjoyed crabcakes with eggs hollandaise. It was an exceptional meal, and my son, who normally loves crab and likes just a bit of spicy on his plate, had turned his nose up mid-way through dining.

Sundays in a small town dominated with what looks like weapon-packing Mexicans really don’t leave a lot of snack options. Even the Exxon station a block away looked menacing.

“You are going to have to cope,” I growled. The truck kicked into gear and we headed to the bigger highway where commercial offerings seemed a little less…frontier. Eventually, children were fed, and then a third stop was made--this time to remove the offending shirt from Tiny’s back, rub lotion on his skin, and button a softer one back on him. I was not very friendly about this, to be honest. A fourth stop ensured a refueling of the gasoline tank and the emptying of bladders. We were somehow, still close to the initial schedule.

We were doing ok, aside from occasional death threats to restore peace and quiet, when a new, urgent call came from the back seat.

“I has to peeeeeeeeeee.” There were 38 miles left to travel, making it our fifth stop in four and half hours of drive-time, we had missed the rest area my husband had told me (via message) to seek, and I was tired of gross bathrooms. We found a gas station, pulled to the side of it where a guard rail bordered the parking lot, and I let Tiny Man urinate onto the grass on the other side. We both leaned over the rail to watch the stream and make sure we did not get splashed.

When he was done, he pulled up his pants, and I cuddled him then tossed him up and down for giggles. This is just life with kids, I thought.

“You’re a good mommy,” he said. “I know this.”

I sure hope so. One more roadtrip down, countless more to go. I think we can make it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Only Time You'll See Politics Here

Young people will reiterate overheard opinions or stories, tack new meaning onto them, and state them as though entirely self-conceived. My daughter recently made a certain statement that I found a bit embarrassing. I don’t know where she heard it, but it at least entered private conversation at our own dinner table, where we could discuss her words and the impression they may give. Her opinion was terribly slanted and I am afraid that if she says it in public, she will have misrepresented the true feelings and spirit of this family.

“We really should stop selling stuff to China. We shouldn’t be paying them all this money,” she mused, “and let them solve their own problems or whatever.”

(Yes, I am sure you were expecting something a little different.)

My husband smiled and spoke gently. He said that what she appears to have learned about the relationship between the US and China is a bit limited. He explained about trade, about China having loaned money to the US, and touched on countries having to work with each other. He addressed her immediate statement and raised possible questions that will help her understand there is always more to a story, and that an opinion, such as what she likely overheard from another parent or teacher at school, is not necessarily a fact. He did a very nice job.

This week, my daughter hit us with another one:

“I’ve been studying Mesopotamia at school. Did you know we now call Mesopotamia Iraq? I hate Iraq. All they do is kill each other. The whole culture there is bad.”

Mercy! I took a breath.

“Sweetheart, it’s so much more complicated than that,” I began. I told her I have taught children whose families had emigrated from Iraq to the US. I explained that what she is seeing on the news about war there is indeed unfortunate and horrible, but just one slice of what is an ancient and incredibly fascinating culture. My husband said that to make a grand slam statement about an entire culture is not okay, and that she needs to learn more about it. Mothers, fathers, and children live there--just like us, I reminded her.

After that I gave her the usual reminders about the other things we teach our children: sit up, elbows off the table, and close your mouth when you chew. Conversation turned to other things, such as school and weekend plans. Visions of Breyer horses and doll dress designs resumed in her head. I am glad, however, my little girl is aware that these political issues are part of the world we live in, and maybe one day she will develop incredible diplomatic skills as a result of having to research an issue and form an educated opinion.  I do look forward to seeing what she will discuss next, and I hope that she still feels she can air her thoughts at the table. Trying not to quash that while coaching her toward a broader view requires diplomacy on our behalf as well.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Define Normal

Occasionally, I post conversations with my fifth grade daughter here. They have been funny and entertaining until recently, when other things about her behavior have started to suggest that a visit to the doctor is required. All of this is frustrating, fills me with both a terrible sense of urgency to help her, and yet gives me hope that finally, after years of enduring what we thought were personality quirks, there is an answer that will give her a new sense of focus and take care of certain compulsions that she has. Life here will change for the better.

Last night, I talked about a recent conversation with my daughter where I said, in a moment of complete quiet and joy, how much I love her and how I treasure her company. Her response: “Mom, if you were to throw chocolate in the ocean, would it float? What would happen to it?” Yesterday, again during a drive home from an errand, I paused to tell her again how much I enjoy being alone with her. She responded by asking, “Are we going to the grocery? Oh, wait, yes we are. I remember that.” Note that I had discussed the grocery with her as we got in the car after the last errand, discussed it again en route, and then suddenly she could not remember where we were going, nor could she realize that she is part of another conversation taking place.

This morning, my daughter lost her thumbdrive. We discovered this ten minutes before we were due to leave for school. Because she obsesses over certain things, and will toy and play with objects past the point that a child her age would, she had not followed repeated directions to safely store her drive in her school bag front pocket. I understand this, but even asking her about the homework’s back-up copy was hard:

“Sweetheart, did you save a copy of your presentation?” I asked gently.

“Well, I decided to study Mesopotamia and not do the Sumerians.”

“No, honey. Did you save a copy of your program on the computer?”

“Well, I did not want to do the Assyrians. There was nothing on the Assyrians,” she said.

“No, listen!” I said before asking again and slowly emphasing the words of my question. “Did you save a copy of the program you wrote on the hard drive of my computer?”

“Yes. Yes, I think so.”

She sat down at my desk, found her files, copied them to a new drive. When she was done, I brushed her hair and assured her that soon, we would see a doctor to help her. I said that she does things she cannot control, we know this, but she must try to remember, and try to meet us halfway. By the time I delivered both children to school, I was already exhausted with worry. I mailed the checklist and written interview that the pediatric psychologist had sent me last week. Both children will be evaluated, but for now, we have to wait for papers to be read and processed. For all of Tiny Man’s challenging behavior, his sister’s quiet and absent-minded ways have taken on a new meaning and her needs seem to overwhelm his right now.

I no longer get as angry. Even frustration is waning. Instead, I am moving to a sincere sadness. My daughter lives in her own world. She is suffering at school because of this. She is often lost in thought and I have to check her emotions. She forgets things, loses things, has a raging case of Pica, is unable to keep up with her classroom workflow, has incredible impulses regarding the need to shop, fidget, or dive into activities without waiting for instruction. Her grades yo-yo, homework takes 3 to 4 hours a night, she frequently wakes for potty breaks at night, and she seems discontent during her quiet moments.

Interestingly enough, her step-mother has been instrumental in helping support our daughter. This trouble is bringing us to a reconciliation that I had not anticipated, an unexpected blessing and relief in a time of hardship. Without this woman bravely coming forward and risking herself to my scrutiny and my ex-husband’s defensiveness, I might not have known as quickly what we think my daughter’s problem is, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. The step-mother assured me that ADHD is a multi-faceted problem. While my daughter does not exhibit overactive behaviors, she does all these other things that take away from life at home and at school. I am entirely grateful for this support and understanding.

For years, I was asked by strangers, friends, and family how I had raised such a sweet, cooperative daughter. I was told how lucky I was that she was so normal. Define normal. I had always thought she was, especially compared to so many kids I knew who were severely and profoundly challenged with physical and emotional disabilities. How, when, and why did this baby girl progress to suffer the challenges she faces?

We could have worse problems. We have already faced such things. There are remedies for my daughter’s issues and time is on our side. I know this. And I can be joyful that I have the support not just of my loving husband, but an ex-husband, his wife, the elementary school faculty, and my family. Soon, a doctor will be able to objectively examine both our children, make decisions, and eventually, everything will be okay—for a while before a new obstacle presents itself.

I guess you could say that’s normal.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

How to Kill a Bug

You know you have an interesting marriage when you ask your spouse to kill a bug and he shoots it with an air gun.

This story ties deeply into the past. When my husband was a young man, maybe college age, his father had been trying to trap a rat in the kitchen. He set a trap inside the kitchen cabinet, where the rat was indeed caught, but somewhat reluctant to die. My husband said his two little sisters sat at the kitchen table while their father disappeared wordlessly into the bedroom, returned with a gun, opened the cabinet door, and blasted that rat to kingdom come. My husband often jokes that there were three holes to patch that day—one where the bullet exploded the skull of the rat and travelled through the exterior wall of the home, and two for the heads of the girls as they hit the ceiling.

Just keep that story in mind. You see, tonight after the kids were tucked in, I was curled up in my reading chair in the office when a downright hideous mustache bug ran up the wall near me, across the fireplace, and down the other side. He was a really big bug, by the way. (I think he might even have been the size of a rat.) I despise these mustache bugs—also called house centipedes—because they have many legs with spines that can leave the same painful sting as a bee. Worse, the buggers are horribly fast. I used to kill my own bugs, but now, married to a former military officer, and hence, trained killer, I happily have reassigned that duty to him.

“Baby!” I said frowning. “Please kill it.” The bug had tried to camouflage himself against the brick near the corner of the fireplace where it jutted from the wall, a rather awkward location for a would-be safe and effective swatting. My husband established code red and put me on alert. My job was to watch the invader, track his every move, and report it. I tucked my legs up under me, leaned over the edge of the chair closest to the hiding bug, and made mental notes. At the time, I thought my husband was going upstairs to get a shoe. I was wrong. He came downstairs wielding a gun. I fled the scene for the kitchen, covered my ears, and waited.


“Eleven pumps on this air gun,” he said. “Minimum recommended is three. Maximum is ten. The bug is gone.” He seemed more amused with himself than anything else. I think I was in a state of shock. I have seen people do a lot of things to insects—fry them with sunbeams and magnifying glasses, stomp them, catch and release them, kill them using one’s own hands (ugh!), and the last resort, shoot poison from a can of Raid.

In the kitchen, my husband gave me a debriefing. He showed me how the air gun worked and discussed the splattered bug, target practice, and the pellets, which he had not needed to use this time. Finally, I just started to laugh. I laughed until tears ran down my face.

“This just assures me you are exactly the man I thought I married,” I gasped reminding him about the time he shot a passel of house-eating squirrels in the backyard of a former home in a former marriage—from the hideout of his living room using the lock notch of the sliding glass door as a guide. I cannot remember how many critters he killed, but there had been a great question about what to do with the squirrel carcasses. I do recall something about his having to light candles and blow the scent of a fired gun out of the house…before his then-wife came home.

My husband was proud of tonight’s unique problem solving technique because of the awkward location of the bug, its known speed, and the likely ineffective use of a shoe. My version of solving this problem would have been to use the long wand of my Dyson vacuum, or what I like to call The Giant Bug Sucky. Either way, so long as no one gets hurt. In the meantime, if you really need to know how to kill a bug, you know who to call.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Wealth of Friendship

This morning, I wrote brief letters to some friends who each face intense heartbreak. My own troubles are light in comparison with theirs. I was going to write about hardship, forgiveness, and grace today, but as I reread the first two lines of this post, I see that I am rich with something that makes all our troubles bearable: friends.

I have close friends from every state in which I have lived. I have strong relationships with people that even if we have not spoken recently, they could be called upon for advice, prayer requests, or simple uplifting. For those of you who read this with whom I have not been in contact regularly, I sincerely apologize. Please note this does not mean you are far from my heart.

I have a close friend from the West that I have known since we were first-graders. In my head, I still visualize her as a double pony-tailed wispy blonde-haired little sprite. She is now a chicly coiffed professional and a single-mother. We don’t speak often, but when we do, we pick up as though we saw each other yesterday. My college girlfriend lives in the deepest South and has been a rock for get-real advice and for sheltering me at my worst and lowest moment. She has been a model for true Christianity in respect to her being able to love me when she could not understand how much in denial I was about the problems in first marriage. There is another lady friend in the Northeast, whom I also met in college, but we bonded some time after graduation. I sheltered her when her husband was serving overseas and she needed help with her son, who struggled with autism. What I learned from her was that people who are worried sick about their children can withdraw from a more public life as a protective measure; I was able to recognize it in myself when it started happening to me. We speak often. We are usually going through the same problem at the same time.

There is a couple that resided with me as neighbors in one state, and then after their move to the Midwest, my now-ex-husband and I ended up relocating an hour away from them. I will never forget hiding out from tornadoes in their basement, cooking together, or making stained glass art with my girlfriend. Her husband has always doted on my daughter (and now sends goodies to my son since his birth after we moved), told me funny stories, and talked to me as a real person. He never once ignored me or disregarded my opinion due to my gender (some men have a real talent for not “seeing” their friends’ wives.) He is a brother. When they visited here this summer, my husband and I were not quite ourselves. I have felt bothered by this ever since, but I think, given the history of their ceaseless love and support, that they understand families have ups and downs. They will love me as best they can from afar. I cherish this. Another friend from that same area was always a mentor for motherhood. She helped me care for my then-baby-daughter, guided me spiritually, and gave honest, but gentle childrearing feedback. We spoke recently when I needed parenting advice, which she gave me willingly and lovingly. Her influence on my daughter still runs strong today.

In my last state of residence, I had the unique experience of bonding with a Bible study women’s group, who supported me through separation and divorce. I also had good neighbors on my street with whom I still share great rapport (although I owe one of them a phone call before he shoots me). These neighbors, and my sister, bonded as a group. We still circulate support for each other almost in the form of a rally. Their obstacles, their hardships have made each of us more aware of our impact on others, how to support without judgment, how to live when under public scrutiny, and when I am with them, I feel so much love that I think nothing gets better than this. They have known me specifically through the birth of my son, the end of my first marriage, and witnessed the romance with my current husband. They gladly celebrated our remarriage. Last year, when we were up to my ears in legal troubles, they were incredibly positive and uplifting.

I tell my daughter that I am so rich. I may have lost my former homes or any financial assets I could have had, and sometimes my financial outlook is really scary, but I have never had more love. My own husband, who began as a friend himself, and was part of my family long before we ever married, has his own story, his own deep and abiding love despite the fact that I am over-sensitive, analytical to a fault, afraid of conflict, and exhausted from the responsibility of motherhood (which makes my first three flaws worse). He would rather blame himself than allow me to take the heat, even when I clearly deserve the blame.

I love you all. Don’t give up on me. I think of each of you daily. I hope I can honor you the way you have honored me with your loyalty. You all make living, not just bearable and worthwhile, but beautiful and joyful.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

DMV Bureaucracy

I posted this particular diatribe earlier this year, then retracted it after a day, and rewrote it. Here it is again:

Somehow in last year’s move, I misplaced the title to my car. My husband told me to check the firebox, but I did not see it in there. And, so began an adventure. I read the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) websites for the information I needed. I could not get tags for my present state of residence until I had a new title from my previous state. You might be able to understand my frustration with the DMV of my previous state of residence, as it posts the following unclear information below:

Where to Apply

You may apply for a replacement title at either your county tag office or the in-person Customer Service Operations of this department's Motor Vehicle Division. If you apply in-person through the Customer Service Operations on a 'while you wait' basis, there will be an additional $10.00 special handling fee charged per application. At this time, the county tag offices in this state do not issue titles.

If you are now a resident of another state and you have lost your title, you may apply for a replacement title at either this department's Motor Vehicle Division or at the tag offices in the county where you previously resided.

Save money! Apply at your county tag office. Most title applications processed at any of the county tag offices in this state result in the printing and mailing of the titles by this department's Motor Vehicle Division within three (3) business days of the county's entry and approval at no additional charge.

So, let me get this straight. The first paragraph says to apply at the county tag office and then says that office does not issue titles. If you come in person, you will be charged ten dollars and still do not get to walk out with your title. So, where does the title come from? And why are you charged ten dollars to just hand in your application in person to someone who won’t go through the extra trouble of printing your title for you on the spot? So why go there at all?

The second paragraph says that if you live in another state you can apply to the DMV or county tag offices (not that they will process your application). I believe this was largely covered in the first paragraph, and frankly the link to this web page was titled “If you are no longer a resident of this state”, so…

The third paragraph says you can save money by applying at the county tag office (which cannot really help you). The DMV will then print and mail your title. But I believe the first paragraph says if you do it in person, you will be charged ten dollars. So really, that does not save you money, now does it? Interestingly, this paragraph promises the mailing of your title in three days.

The form that I printed off the web shows that in order to have an expedited title, I need to pay a $10 fee in addition to the $8 replacement fee. According to the above quoted site, however, most title applications are approved and sent after three days with no additional charge. Define most. So, I wondered, do I do what the form says, or what the site says in regard to the fee? Is this some kind of trap or game?

Also, because I no longer live in the state of this particular DMV, I cannot apply in person. When I click the links of “department’s Motor Vehicle Division” and “tag offices”, I am directed to a site that shows office addresses and phone numbers. No specific information for my case exists there. There are email links, however. I fear that if I use them, an automatic response will direct me to call. I tried that. Twice. Two waits for ten minutes with automatic disconnection at the end of each wait period. And by the way, clicking the various highlighted links in the online text sent me in circles.

The entire web page (the site really) should be rewritten to say something effective, for crying out loud, like maybe the following:

If you are no longer a resident of the state of X and need to replace a lost or mutilated title, print out the form MV-1, fill it out, and mail it with copies of your current driver’s license (or whatever) to the state’s main DMV branch.

Please include the $8 fee in a check or money order for processing.

If you are able to visit our offices in person, please note that we charge an extra processing fee of $10, but that the new title will still have to be mailed to you.

Click on these links for addresses and phone numbers of the DMV branch you wish to contact:

(Main Department of Motor Vehicles for the State of X

Listing of tag offices by county.)

How hard is that??

So, having followed directions to the best of my ability and having mailed the application, I waited a couple of weeks and called the DMV again. This time, someone answered the phone and transferred me to someone else, who when I told her what the website said in regard to time, process, and fees, laughed at me.

“No,baby. It’s going take about a month to get your title. Maybe longer.”

I asked her if she was able to report to whomever managed the website that none of the information posted is correct. She laughed again. She still would not confirm if I had sent the right amount of money either.

“Can you enter the system and see if my application has been received?” I asked politely.

“No, baby. The only way you know if your application got here is if it has been processed. And then it shows up on the system.”

Well, now, this does not help me at all, I thought, and resigned myself to waiting. Finally, the title did come. The DMV office in my new state processed everything in front of me in fifteen minutes, printed a new title immediately, and I had a new plate in no more than a week’s time. I was not charged extra for showing up in person, nor did the state website provide unclear or untrue information. Beautiful, I thought happily.

Months passed, and my husband was cleaning out his firebox one afternoon. Guess what he found? My old title. Weeks of aggravation and dollars wasted.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dinner, Diapers, and Desperation

Years ago, my father called me to ask if I would invite a friend of his to dinner. The gentleman and his wife were new to the area, and they happened to live an hour away from me in a university town where my husband had an office. Being delighted to meet another friendly face, I arranged a dinner for the friend, his wife, my husband, our little two-year-old girl, and me at an Indian restaurant on the town square.

On the afternoon of the dinner, with my husband conveniently working near the university that day, I chose dresses for myself and my little girl, made sure she had enough in her sippy cup for the hour drive there, and packed a diaper bag. I saw that there was one diaper left in the bag, and none in the house. It’s okay, I thought, I always keep a stash in her dad’s car. Somehow, wipes were also absent from this bag, but the other essentials were there: her blanket, her toys, snack food.

The drive ended up taking almost two hours due to road construction and there were no grocery stores en route. When I got to my husband’s office, my little girl’s nappy was soaked. I put her in the one remaining diaper I had and went to my husband’s car where I kept extras wedged into the door pockets. Finding none, I ran back in his office.

“Where are the diapers? The extra diapers?”

“We used them all--I guess,” he shrugged. He did not seem overly concerned. In hindsight, I should have gone ahead to meet our new friends and sent him to the store, but time was ticking and we were due at the restaurant in minutes. There was no store on the way to the restaurant, and the town was still unfamiliar to me. I reasoned that we would be okay because our daughter had already had her bowel movement of the day; however, mid-way through the meal, a certain stench wafted its way about the table.

Please let it be gas, I thought, but with the stench lingering, I knew that my daughter had officially soiled herself. I began to fret. I had no diapers, no wipes, and there were no other families with toddlers in the restaurant. I scooped up my daughter from her high chair, snatched a linen napkin from the table, and scurried into the restroom. The only place to change my daughter was the floor. Mothers hate this. How hard is it to install a fold-down changing shelf? Pushing thoughts of bacteria aside, I started to untape the diaper.

Please let the poo be solid enough so I can reuse this, I hoped. Oh, I was so far from any realistic expectation. The diaper was full of a certain despicable substance that penetrated each layer of padding. I started to pace as my baby girl lay on the floor peacefully observing my panic and cooing, “Mommy!”

Fortunately, there were paper towels to clean her pudgy bottom, and I had the linen napkin that would have to suffice until we could get home.

I laid the napkin in a triangle and slid it under my daughter. Please let this work, I prayed. But, a new problem arose: the napkin was too small and I could not tie or pin it closed around both chubby baby legs at once. There was only one solution, my underwear, which happened to be a white and pink hearted thong. I removed my undies, hoped that no one in the restaurant had x-ray vision, and then lifted my toddler’s legs through the leg holes. As I knotted the sides, my baby said, (seriously), “Good and tight, Mommy!”

I stood her up, tucked the napkin around the heart-speckled fabric, told her not to play with her diaper, and hoped that she would not bend over for the rest of the evening. She was wearing a cute little play dress, one that did not come with bloomers.

“What did you do?” whispered my husband when we returned to the table.

“I’m not telling,” I said.

“I bet I can guess,” sang the wife of my father’s friend. My daughter plopped down on the floor to play with toys.

“I’m still not telling,” I said, fidgeting in my seat and feeling suddenly awfully naked.

After dinner, with the night turned cool and breezy, we two couples hugged goodbye, parted ways, and walked toward our cars.

“Really, what did you do?” asked my husband once we were out of earshot.

I lifted the back of my daughter’s dress. A thin line of hearts ran between her cheeks and pinned a flap of linen about her. His laughter echoed on the quiet street.

“And what are you wearing?” he chuckled.

It was a cold walk in my dress that night. Lesson learned--I never again ran out of diapers or wipes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Toxic Friendships

One day last year, I had a conversation with my daughter about toxic friendships.

“You know that kid at school that makes you crazy? She tries to be your friend and the whole thing is just wrong and bad for you? But you cannot figure out how to get rid of her?”

“Yeah,” said my little girl.

“I have one of those.”

“Oh, that’s bad,” she said, “real bad.”

I told her that there are many problems one encounters as a young person. I said you may grow older and more mature, but the obstacles still occur. This was not good news to her, but I assured her that moments like this are good learning experiences for future relationships. Over coffee and tea we discussed what to do about toxic people and what was happening with her own less-than-desirable relationship. Time resolved both of our problematic relationships. Eventually, my daughter stopped clashing with this other child at school, and the two could offer friendly hellos and move about in similar circles. In fact, they are together in class again this year, seem to be getting along better, and the other child’s mother has requested a playdate.

My own toxic friendship wasn’t just uncomfortable; it was frightening. A woman I had met at a children’s event became my walking partner for a very short time. She fairly quickly had alluded to her recent recovery from some kind of a mental episode. I was compassionate and non-judgmental at first, but as time grew, I became incredibly concerned. She exhibited difficult behaviors and told terrible stories about herself and her relationships. She could not interpret her friends’ actions as what they were—reactions to someone who behaves unpredictably and irrationally. The last time I walked with her, her dog lunged and snapped at a passing jogger. My then-friend repeatedly whipped her dog with the leash--in front of me, in the presence of others, and without an iota of remorse, shame, or sense of awkwardness.

Horrified, I went home as soon as I could. In the next several days, I neither initiated a call nor returned hers. Finally I did leave a message for her—that I was thinking about her, but was unable to commit to walking at this time. My answer was truthful, but I was not completely honest. I thought about telling her why we could not be friends, but no amount of honesty would have changed the situation, improved her future relationships, or made things ok. She was too far past the point of return. In fact, my telling her she scared the hell out of me may have invited more trouble than this family needed.

This past summer, I ran into her while exploring an historic part of town. My former friend had not even recognized me. In fact, wild-eyed and at least twenty pounds lighter than she once was, she was barely recognizable herself. Out of politeness, I stopped to say hello, but her conversation was strange and confused. She was almost as disheveled as some of the street people in the area.

Thankfully, I have never heard from her since, and that door to the potential relationship has officially closed. I cannot help but wish her well and hope that one day her interior light is restored and her reality includes healthy relationships. Sometimes, that well wishing is the best we can offer.