Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Discipline and the lack thereof

I recently went to dinner with my parents and brother as well as some relatives on my mom's side who I either hadn't seen in over a decade or had never met at all. We met at a restaurant and unless your children could be understudies for the Von Trapp brood, restaurants tend to bring out the worst and loudest of the wee ones. My kids are no exception. Ben could hardly stay seated and preferred to hop from empty booth to empty booth. I suppose I should be glad he chose empty booths rather than occupied ones. Ethan, as usual, could only stand his high chair for so long before he decided that he needed to be in my lap instead. Toys were repeatedly dropped, bits of bread were thrown, tantrums were had, and the kids misbehaved as well. Honestly, it occurred to me when I was home and processing the evening that I was probably the bigger embarrassment through it all.

The thing about kids is that they are, you know, kids. It's a known fact that children can be loud and hard to contain. Anyone who has children knows and accepts this while those without children tend to look on with horror while silently promising themselves that their kids will be different. The fact remains that we were at a family restaurant with family surrounded by other families. It was a whole building full of people who "get it". So why was I such a mess? I spent more time bellowing at Benjamin to stay seated than I did amiably chatting with my relatives. I insisted on keeping Ethan contained and squalling rather than allowing him to move about for a bit and let him "get his wiggles out" as "Yo Gabba Gabba" would put it. By the end of the evening I was a jittery, stressed-out, harpy who was too consumed by the behavior of my children to realize that I was no picnic, either. I had been just as loud and just as an unruly only without the excuse of childhood to hide behind. I know better.

I'm not saying that I should have just allowed my children to run amok, but I need to calm down. These past few months since I've entered the world of stay-at-home parenthood, I've been repeating as much in my head. Flying into a fury over what is basically a normal part of childhood (and therefore parenthood) just doesn't make sense. It doesn't make the kids behave and it certainly doesn't do me the tiniest bit of good. Calm has been hard to come by, though. It's gotten better, but I'm still not where I'd like to be. In my mind, every other mom and/or dad is better qualified, more patient, more creative, and a far more effective disciplinarian. The itty bitty rational voice in my head tells me often that this is a heap of lies but the tremendous blob monster of inner shame and self-admonition has gotten its hands on a megaphone and just won't shut up. I have to get the blob monster under control, especially now that Ethan is exhibiting the truth to the phrase "terrible twos." If I don't, I'm afraid I'm going to end up in a padded cell somewhere while my kids terrorize the populace as adorable thieving arsonists.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Toy Overload

We are drowning in toys. It was bad before Christmas but now it's just absurd. The floor of our living room is cluttered with Duplos, toy cars, tiny plastic figures from "How to Tame Your Dragon", rubber snakes and lizards, stuffed animals, foam swords, and more. I have no idea where to put all of these things so I've just left them where the boys dropped them. Each one is a little promise of a badly bruised foot but unless I can get my hands on Hermione's magic bag I don't know how to remedy this predicament.

You would think, too, that the boys would be deliriously happy with all of these fantastic new toys to play with but I think their little minds are blown. They're happy enough at first, but then they begin to realize just how many toys there are. Playing with the dinosaur means not playing with the car but playing with the car would mean the foam battle ax is neglected and so on and so forth. However, it's impossible to play with all of them all at once. As soon as child A puts a toy down to reach for another, child B moves in to claim the recently discarded item which suddenly inspires within child A the fierce conviction that that toy which he had dropped on the floor is the only toy out of the hundreds that will make him happy. To not have that toy means desolation and despair. Violence erupts. I generally end up taking the toy away from both of them which works for only a short time before they have to fight over another magical plastic talisman of childhood joy.

Thankfully, the noise-making toys were to a minimum this year. They each have one of those tubes that, when flipped over, sounds like the calls of a robot cat in heat and then Ethan has a little dog flashlight that barks. Clyde bought Ben a harmonica. I can only hope he purchased the thing in a fugue moment of pure ignorance rather than out of a previously hidden sadistic streak. Still, it's not so bad. I even enjoy one of the noise-makers. Specifically, I'm a fan of Ben's "Big Roarin' Rex"* that could easily function as a duck call. Now, when we ask Ben what sound dinosaurs make he says "quack!" I can only hope that it's somehow factually accurate. I love the idea of the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex sending shivers of terror through the spines of its intended victims with a mighty quack.

Considering the growing mountain of toys that is slowly but surely taking over every bit of livable space in our home, I think the only remedy is a purge of epic proportions. I'd have to get the kids out of the house, of course, because they'd no doubt kick up a mighty fuss over every scrap of plastic even if they haven't seen it for months. Clyde and I have done this before but they toys never really made it any further than our garage. This time, I plan to donate as much as I can. We have plenty of discarded toys that are in good condition and still function as the manufacturer intended. If we don't get them well and truly out of our space, we run the risk of the kids glimpsing some long-forgotten treasure and I'll be damned if I have to listen to the "Sing and Go Choo Choo" one more time.

*I created a meta moment of narcissism by linking to a YouTube video of myself in this blog. So very shameless.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Surviving disillusionment

I was watching a video on Youtube in which someone recounted how he learned that Santa isn't real and how that moment shattered him. It made me think of my own personal Santa death. This memory seems particularly relevant to my life at this moment because I think I was about 4 years old which is the current age of my oldest son. However, I have no idea how Ben feels about Santa Claus. I don't even know if he knows what a Santa Claus is. Furthermore, I'm not convinced its necessary to perpetuate that cycle of belief and disillusionment. I want to state for the record that I'm not scarred from learning that there is no Santa nor do I feel any resentment toward my parents for the part they played in encouraging my belief. We do odd things for the sake of tradition.

This happened when my family still lived in Baker, OR. The fact that this is a very early memory means that I'm a little fuzzy on the details but I remember the basic gist. I decided that I was going to see Santa Claus. We had made a big to-do of leaving milk and cookies out for the big guy and it never occurred to me that all that fuss would be had over something fictional. Of course Santa was coming. I waited until I was certain that everyone in the house was in bed and I crept downstairs, no doubt anxiously clutching my pink nightgown with the white bunny rabbits all over it, to catch Santa in the act of leaving our Christmas loot beneath our tree. I heard the crinkle of wrapping paper and the tinkling of the little bells and various other ornaments on our tree and, holding my breath, I peeked around the corner...to find my mom and dad placing the gifts instead of Santa. I could have written this off as some sort of fluke except my dad was clearly eating the cookies we had left out and drinking the milk as well. I couldn't believe that my dad would be mean enough to steal cookies from Mr. Claus so I was forced to conclude that it was all a hoax. In the mind of a 4-year old, cookie theft is worse than lying. Just as quietly as I had been going down the stairs, I made my way back up and went to my room to crawl into my bed. We carried on the charade for several years afterwards because I never let on to my parents that I had discovered the truth. It seemed important to them that I believe, so I pretended to.

I had a similar incident with the Tooth Fairy. Actually, I'm not 100% sure if I ever believed in the Tooth Fairy to begin with and any belief I had would have surely evaporated with the Santa myth revealed. Even so, I made sure to place my newly liberated baby tooth under my pillow each time one wriggled free. The Tooth Fairy may not be real, but the money I found the next day certainly was. One night, though, I woke up from the sensation of my pillow being jostled and I blearily opened my eyes enough just in time to catch my dad retreating from my room wearing a multi-colored robe and a floppy straw hat decorated with a rainbow ribbon. That image is better than any tooth fairy. I might not perpetuate the Santa myth, but I'm partial to the idea of dressing like a crazy person to bewilder my sleepy children. I can get behind that tradition.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Elephant Seals

Elephant seals are my Vietnam. And by that, I mean that I have been traumatized by elephant seals and suffer flashbacks of the trauma from time to time. I don't mean to belittle the gravity and horror of the Vietnam War. I'm just saying that were we to create a trauma graph from "Zero" to "Apocalypse Now" based on my life, my elephant seal experience represents the spike on that graph.

Approximately 6 or 7 years ago, Clyde and I went to California to visit his family as well as to attend a wedding. I do have pleasant memories about this trip; the hotel we stayed at that was right on the coast, the wedding itself which was lovely and had the bride walking down the aisle to "Storybook Love", and the equal parts endearing and frustrating fact that Clyde stuffed his pockets with Hershey's kisses at the wedding reception and then forgot about them until we had done a load of laundry and found all of our clothes covered in chocolate stains. However, those memories merely huddle in the greater shadow of the Elephant Seal Experience.

There was a beach off of Highway One at a place a little north of Cambria which elephant seals are known to frequent. Clyde and his family had visited this beach before and thought it would be fun to take me there. I was excited. I had never seen elephant seals before, not even in a zoo. I'd get to see them in a natural habitat, just hanging out and doing elephant seal things! It would be awesome! We parked the car and made our way to the beach where there was already a throng of people, pointing and taking pictures and chattering animatedly about the seals. I practically skipped to a gap in the crowd where we could get our own look at these no doubt majestic creatures.

At first, I was pretty amazed by it all. The beach was cluttered with these great, whiskered mounds of seals. For the most part, they just lounged on the sand but there were a few more active blokes who heaved their bodies around the beach like tremendous mobile Hefty bags full of thick pudding. Clyde and I pointed in shock and awe at these creatures with their bulbous, floppy noses and bodies covered in battle scars. The females stayed mostly huddled together and some of them even had pups. It could have been a moving and inspiring scene except everything turned awful.

A big nasty brute of a male came flopping and heavily undulating up the beach toward the clustered females, grunting in either anticipation or the effort of hauling his great carcass... or both. Not sure. The one he was after was a mother with a pup. The female tried to shield her baby which actually seemed to do more harm than good because when the brute mounted her, the poor pup was semi-pinned beneath the weight of both his mother and the violently amorous suitor. It was terrible. I remember noises - the big male's grunts that sounded like a giant attempting to suck up the last of a huge milkshake with a straw, the resounding slap as he smacked one flipper repeatedly against the female's side, and the pup's plaintive squeals as it struggled beneath the weight. And then it ended and the male began to slide away, allowing the mother to roll off the poor screaming pup who was only too happy to shuffle to safety. But that's not the end of the horror. Not for me, anyway. As I looked on, I saw a puzzling reddish-orange froth on the sand.

Me: What is that?
Clyde: I don't know... is that blood?
Me: Good lord, did he hurt her!?
Clyde: Wait... there's a trail of it leading to the male... and what's that pink.......oh.
Me: What? I don't get it... I... ohmygod... is that... is that it's PENIS?!?!?!

The image of that screamingly pink organ, covered in frothy orange goop has been seared into my mind perhaps for the rest of my life. I cannot think of elephant seals without shuddering in revulsion and terror. I fear that when I'm lying on my death bed, THAT is going to be the image that pops into my head with my last breath and it will be accompanied by the horrified screams of an infant seal.

I will not leave you with the image that haunts me years later. Instead, I just want you to imagine that you are a female elephant seal basking in the sun on a sandy beach with your sisters and your children and your nieces and nephews. All of the sudden, that peace is broken by the guttural grunts of a horny male elephant seal that has you in its sights.

Monday, December 6, 2010

True story

During the first few weeks after I gave birth to my first son, it seemed that any time I listened to the radio I would hear "Can't Help Falling in Love". Mostly, it was UB40 but a couple of times it was Elvis. I know that the song is mainly associated with romantic love - what you would feel for a boyfriend/girlfriend kind of thing. However, to me, this song is very much about how I came to love my first born child. That statement would probably raise some eyebrows, I guess. Didn't I love my son immediately? Didn't I adore him from the moment I first saw him? From the moment I first knew I was pregnant? Honestly and still a little shamefully, my answer is no.

I daydreamed about the baby that I would soon hold in my arms. I was petrified of any possibility of losing him. Any twinge I felt, any little pain, had me frantically dialing my OBGYN for advice and reassurance. I impatiently counted the days until my due date and often couldn't sleep due to the anticipation of it all. My husband seemed to be amazed by how quickly it was all happening while I was losing patience. I wanted my baby! I wanted my baby right now, damnit!

My memories of the immediate aftermath of Benjamin's birth are a blur. I remember seeing him for the first time and the sensation of having every word I could speak and emotion that I could feel ripped from my mind. I was overwhelmed and overawed. Suddenly, I was holding this little person in my arms and I was struck with the realization that I was responsible for him. After the months of waiting, all of the discomfort, the indescribable feeling of having a tiny being inside of me, here he was. He was crying and utterly confounded and hungry. And, actually, so was I.

It wasn't until we were all home and away from nurses and blood tests and distractions that I felt the ton of bricks hit me. Ben didn't sleep for longer than an hour and a half before waking and shrieking. We would exhaust all of the reasons - is he wet? dirty? gassy? hungry? cold? too warm? - and then sit dazedly with him in shifts through the very long nights. Making things worse was the fact that my husband didn't get much paternity leave. Before I knew it, it was just me and Ben left with nothing to do but figure each other out. It wasn't easy and it certainly wasn't immediate.

During the day, I was just able to keep it together. I dressed Ben up in the seemingly endless amount of adorable outfits that came flooding in from friends and relatives. I took an insane amount of pictures and nursed Ben while I uploaded them onto my computer and sent them out in emails. Everyone told me that I needed to nap while he napped but I began to believe that my new baby did not want me to sleep. Ever. He would seem peaceful and completely asleep and I would try to lay down and make up for the lost sleep during the night. The moment my head touched a pillow, however, the screaming would start. This also happened whenever I tried to eat anything. I would either gulp my food down quickly enough to guarantee heartburn or just go without.

The nights, however, were the worst. As the sun went down, I felt a separate darkness start to enfold me. It was a darkness full of fear and desperation and loneliness. It was claustrophobic and unrelenting. I would huddle on the couch, panicky and sobbing, while Ben would cry from the other room. I had heard of people "snapping" or "losing their minds" but I had never understood it or felt so close to it than during those horrific night-time hours. Later, during a conversation with a new OBGYN in Vancouver, I would learn that I had been going through postpartum depression. At the time, I was too ashamed and horrified to really let anyone know what I was going through. I was supposed to be in bliss, after all.

Through it all, I kept hearing "Can't Help Falling in Love". At first, I felt like I was being mocked or admonished in some way. I resented it while at the same time forcing myself to listen to it to really try to feel the way the song told me to feel. I wanted so badly to fall in love with this small, helpless stranger that had completely taken over my life. I wanted the contented sighs and feelings of wholeness that I had read so much about. However, wanting it only reminded me that I didn't have it. Wanting it reminded me that the stupid creeping darkness was on its way in a matter of hours. I hated myself and I hated Hallmark and I hated Gerber and I hated Kodak and I hated every freaking thing in my life that took hold of me and shook me and told me that I was an awful mother, an awful human being. I thought I would drown in all of it.

But during all that madness and all that self-hate and frustration and terror, there were moments that couldn't have been more perfect. There were little pockets of peace when Ben was in my arms and nothing had ever felt better. Moments when I would look at him and he'd look at me and it was the profoundest discovery that could be made. And little by little, those small moments began to happen more frequently. Being a mother started to feel less like an obligation and more like a privilege. I didn't want to go to work because it hurt to be separated from Ben. I'd think of him and smile without trying. Eventually, one day, I realized that the darkness wasn't there anymore. At least, not in the gigantic way that it had been before. I had fallen in love with my child.

I didn't go through all of that the second time around. My OBGYN at that point was apprised of what I had gone through and was determined to keep me from going through it again, as was I. Everything was a little easier. I don't attribute it all to the difference in temperament between my boys or the fact that I was proactive. I think that knowing what I had gone through, all the pain and terror and exhaustion, made me realize that the pay off - the deepest and most complete love I've ever felt - was worth it all and I could face it if I had to. So this is my cheesy blog about my first born and how he made me helplessly fall in love with him and how that opened me up to let myself fall in love with his little brother.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Head fluff

The thing about me is that 90% of the time that I'm being quiet, I generally have an internal monologue going on in my head. The topics vary depending on the mood I'm in/how tired I am/how hungry I am/etc. Also, sometimes I'm interviewing myself in my head which is disturbingly narcissistic and also lots of pathetic. I think I mainly do this to figure out if I'm worth talking to, after all. If I bore the crap out of me, I can't expect others to remain riveted. I try to catalog the things that amuse me to use for future conversations with other human beings but I usually forget by the time that happens so I really shouldn't bother, I guess. And I still have friends so I suppose I'm not completely boring or horrible. Unless all my friends are pity friends.

I just took a break to go get myself some eggnog and the whole time I was preparing it, I was talking to myself (in my head) about the nog. I call it "nog" in my head. I'm too gangsta to bother with "egg", yo. See? That crap is what slips into my head on a regular basis. So now I'm sitting here, with my nog, and thinking about how I spend my time when I have time. I have started to stay up really stupidly late because I enjoy "me time" once my kids have gone to bed. Basically, it just means that I get to watch crappy TV and dink around on the internet without feeling guilty. I also color in my kids' coloring books. It relaxes me. I get all uptight when my kids break out their coloring books and crayons because they never stay in the lines, they break all the crayons, and they don't know crap about shading. I'll watch them and offer encouragement until I can't take it anymore and I snatch up the least broken crayon I can find and try to instruct them on the proper way to color. I'm probably stifling their creative impulses but I want to leave a legacy and part of that legacy includes coloring within the lines. It usually just ends with Ben telling me to color everything while Ethan takes advantage of my diverted attention to decorate our fireplace hearth.

I also draw non-elephants. I have a drawing of a non-elephant sitting next to me at this very moment. It's my friend Jonathan's* fault and I should probably say no more about it.

My dinking around on the internet has pretty much boiled down to YouTube, Hulu, and the blog "Hyperbole and a Half". I both love and hate that blog. I love it because it is hilarious and creative and snarky and wonderful and I hate it because, well, that's what I wanna dooooo (I'm whining, flopping my arms around uselessly, and stomping my feet. At least, that's what you should picture). Imagine that you have figured out what you want to do with your life only to discover that someone else is doing the exact same thing, they started before you did, and they are infinitely better at it. Son of a bitch. Anyway, my blogs have been less about being funny and sarcastic and more about being whiny and defeatist in a not-funny way. Not what I was going for, mind you.

The truth is, if you haven't figured out yet which I doubt, I have no idea what the heck I'm doing. I read some pointers on how to create a successful blog and they included things like "be about a specific topic", "know your ideal demographic", "be capable of forming complete sentences", "lay off on the constant whining because it just makes people feel embarrassed for you". Clearly, I'm doing it wrong.

* You won't find anything about non-elephants in Jonathan's blog so don't go there if you'll be disappointed by that fact. However, Jonathan's funny and stuff and he does yoga. That's cool.