Monthly Archives

May 2014

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When Life Gives You Lemonade

When I came home from my last business trip, my daughter Katie’s lemonade stand was on the sidewalk in front of our house. The sun had set, the ice had melted, and I grumbled as I carried the sticky folding table to the garage.

I checked the till — about ten bucks in loose change and dollar bills. At 25 cents a cup, that’s pretty good for watered-down Country Time in soggy Dixie cups.

It’s been heating up in Ohio. We’ve had a couple 80-degree days already — good for the lemonade business. Katie’s got an entrepreneurial spirit and a ton of energy, and my wife is great at channeling it. Over the winter, Katie sold firewood and hot chocolate. Springtime was smoothies and painted rocks (the neighbors will buy anything).

I did my tour as a stay-at-home parent when Katie was born, and it kills me to miss so much of what is happening now.

But I’m the breadwinner, and like a lot of working parents these days, that means I’m on the road a lot. Last month it was San Francisco, Boston, New York, DC, and all the while I’m thinking of Ohio and our quiet side street with my kid on the corner selling iced lemonade under the hot sun.

“It’s my job, Daddy” Katie tells me. She’s developing a good work ethic, that’s for sure.
“Where’s all this money going?” I asked her once.

“You’ll see,” she said. I imagined coming home one day to a pony in the driveway.

“Just clean up when you’re done,” I reminded her, knowing she’d forget and knowing I’d end up rinsing the big red cooler, again.

All in all, I realize how lucky I am. I have a job I love, with health care, and a family I can talk to whenever I want — thank you Skype. But every time I fall asleep in some distant hotel room, I ask myself, “Is what I did today worth more than tucking my kids into bed?”

Children are adaptable. They are resilient. And mine have gotten pretty good at saying goodbye. A hug and a kiss and they send me on my way. No drama, no guilt trips. It is tempting to think they are taking it better than I am.

But a few days ago, Katie brought me a shoebox.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“I’ve been saving it,” she said. She lifted the lid, revealing a pile of change and wads of bills.

“This is great, sweetheart,” I said, proud of her for not spending it all at the candy store downtown. “What’s it for?”

She laid the box in my lap, put her arms around me and said, “It’s for you Daddy. So you won’t have to go away tomorrow.”

I thought about cancelling my meetings for the week. But I have to work, and so I have to leave home sometimes. I talked to Katie about responsibility, and what it means to provide for a family. I held her tight, probably a little too long.

After she went to bed, I realized what I should have said.

“Sweetheart, I promise you we will open a little stand together, and we’ll sell firewood in the winter and smoothies in the spring and lemonade all summer long.”

Someday soon, I’ll make good on that promise.

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This Is All Possible

We pick up the moving truck in five days.

Between now and then, I still have 14,712 items to sort, donate, and/or pack. Katie wants to know whether she’ll be permitted to wear bikinis in California, and if she needs to be nine or ten to join the surf team, and how late she will be permitted to stay out ‘shopping with her friends.’ It is becoming clear to me that we should leave her behind. California is where she will become a teenager. I can only handle one catastrophe at a time. Lizzie refuses to pack anything but stuffed animals. There is something lovely in that. Lizzie is clinging to her childhood at the same time that Katie is drop-kicking hers into the sea. And Henry? Henry just wanders around the house overturning half-packed boxes, jumping in piles of clothes, and laughing. To him, this is all a game.

While each kiddo’s perspective is understandable, what I love is their aggregate. This is, indeed, a big move. Like the hermit crab in that Eric Carle story, our family is outgrowing its current shell. Henry’s crib is not making the trip, nor are many of the kids’ childhood toys. Katie feels these changes most intensely. And though she is wrong about the shopping and bikinis, she is right that we need to embrace the new circumstances. They are coming. In the face of this, Lizzie knows we can’t let go of every comfort. Too much progress too soon is scary. She reminds us that we should always have something soft to fall back on. And Henry? He is right to make fun of my piles. I take things too seriously. I stress about matching the Tupperware, kvetch about packing the kitchen. There is something marvelous (dare I say fun?) about starting over. I keep thinking of that Emily Dickinson poem, “I dwell in Possibility.” Recluse that she was, Dickinson was likely writing about the power of poetry rather than the open road. But that notion of possibility speaks to me as I gaze west. There is yet no junk drawer in our California house. In that new town, I am not yet known as slovenly or garrulous or a wit. I will probably be the same. Still forgetting people’s names thirty seconds after we meet. Still sneaking chocolate chips when I wash the dinner plates. But it is possible, as Katie, Lizzie, Henry and Emily have together shown me, that the combination of the old and the new might also be a lot of fun.

Here’s hoping.

 

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Sick Kid

Our four-year-old was in the hospital this week.

I held her hand in the operating room as the anesthesia took her away. Ken stroked her hair as all three of us snuggled in a tiny adjustable bed. We listened through the night to her labored breaths and whimpers. I brought her juice and water and popsicles and applesauce, and did my best to explain why all of this happened.

In return, she called me the worst mommy ever and spit medicine into my hair. She screamed and hit and peed her pants.

A sick child is pitiful. There is almost nothing I wouldn’t give to trade places, to suffer myself and take on her pain.

But yesterday, punch drunk and nerve-fried after yet another battle over those chalky, pink antibiotics, I hid in the hallway, downed an entire box of Junior Mints, and wished she would just shut up. I cursed Ken for eating the last Ramen noodles. I yelled at the other two for spilling Gatorade on the carpet. I WAS the worst mommy ever.

And this was just a 90-minute procedure. A couple of days in the hospital. A couple more recovering at home. Minor surgery.

But minor surgery is what happens to other people’s children. When it comes to our own, there is no such thing.

Even though I will be fine and Lizzie will be fine and all of this will pass, I’m grateful for the friends and family who have swooped in and saved me from myself. Who have asked what I need. And when I said, ‘nothing,’ dropped off chicken soup and coloring books and balloons anyway.

Today, I’m tipping my hat to parents who regularly nurse sick children, who live these weeks of sleep deprivation and ingratitude all the time. It’s okay if you are not always up to the task. You don’t have to be. We are all out here, and we can help.

When I emerge from this post-surgery frazzle, I’ll look for those silently suffering moms and dads. That gal in the preschool pickup line whose clothes look like jammies. That fellow in the park with a five o’clock shadow at noon. I’ll drop by with a fresh loaf of challah bread and some coffee, or even a box of Junior Mints. When it comes to caring for these kiddos, no one should have to go it alone.

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Perspective

Day 2 in the hospital with Lizzie, recovering from her 4th cleft palate surgery.  Bad sleep, worse food, and a kid in pain.  Easy to feel sorry for ourselves, until we see the nurse sprinting from the OR with a tiny white cooler.

Snark

Why I Hate Mother’s Day

I hate Mother’s Day. I know this makes me a curmudgeon and an ingrate. But in the brief time that I’ve been celebrated by this so-called holiday, I’ve come to really, really detest it. I dislike greeting cards. Chocolates go straight to my hips. Orchid corsages make me sneeze. And don’t even get me started on breakfast in bed.

Oh how I loathe it! In tromp the children, interrupting my sleep. Bleary-eyed, I must feign hunger and excitement: “Ooh, oatmeal scrambled eggs! What fun! And are those jelly beans floating in the smoothie? Great! It will be sweet, just like you.” Then there is the sharing, spilling, and witnessing. The kids suspect my enthusiasm, and actually want to see mommy consume the food. Last year, I ate cheesy, green eggs (my eldest daughter was on a food coloring kick) until I nearly vomited, which, truthfully, would have neither looked nor tasted very different than the eggs did the first time around. I was only reprieved from the feast when my youngest daughter overturned pink apple juice on the comforter. That was the first 15 minutes of Mother’s Day.

Following the grease smears on my pillow are a well-intentioned, but ultimately off-putting parade of cards, gifts, or activities. My children seldom buy me presents. After all, they are only seven and two. Usually, they just wrap up things they find around the house: my stapler; a box of Kleenex; a pear. However, that doesn’t stop my husband. There are the gadgets — the orange juicer (a gift he’d always wanted), the portable speakers for my kitchen radio (I found them yesterday, dismembered, in my daughter’s crib). Occasionally, there are signed IOUs, intentions to complete household chores on a later date. Last year, for example, he promised to lay a patio, an endeavor that we are still pondering today.

I saw a billboard recently that advertised: “Take Mom to the Zoo.” Moms, it seems, get in free on Mother’s Day. My mind flashed to all those poor mothers, whose families drag them off to see kangaroos and giraffes, moms armed only with macaroni necklaces and construction paper broaches, rather than the picnic lunches, wide-brimmed hats, and sunscreen that, on a good day, make visiting the zoo with one’s children just barely tolerable. By day’s end, most of these moms will have changed poopy diapers outside the monkey cages, and carried their exhausted and sunburned children the thousand or so yards back to the car. Happy freaking Mother’s Day indeed.

I long to celebrate Mother’s Day my way: quietly, selfishly. I spend every day with my family. On Mother’s Day, I just want to be left alone, to do whatever I want, whenever I want, the way I could before I became a mother. I fantasize about sitting on my front porch with a seasonal beverage, and reading in the breeze. I want to garden, but only a little. I want to jog without a stroller. I want to eat a salad from start to finish, with no interruptions, vegetable complaints, or ketchup. I wouldn’t mind pushing a button to summon my children, briefly. I would smile at them, feel pride. But then I would want to push another button and send them away again. I wouldn’t mind a date with my husband, but preferably to two different movies. In his, some fellow could make clever quips as he kills bad guys, stops runaway trains, and beds large-bosomed beauties. My film would be foreign, subtitled, and evoke memories of my time as a college student overseas. Perhaps we could meet for dinner afterwards, but only at a restaurant where they use real napkins and none of the choices is macaroni and cheese.

I read recently that Mother’s Day in America has its roots in the post-Civil War era. Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the words to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” was an early advocate. In 1870, Howe wrote a Mother’s Day Proclamation, decrying war and inviting mothers into political dialogue to avoid losing more of their sons on the battlefield. In later years, mothers were urged to fight for other causes, including improved sanitation and public health. And in 1914, Woodrow Wilson finally declared a national holiday, setting aside one day every year to pay homage to the good work that mothers were doing. Surely these early founders would be baffled by the transformation of a day urging feminist political action into a day encouraging men to buy women flowers.

So maybe my daydream of lolling around at a spa in a swimsuit that doesn’t also include a skirt or cape is just as off the mark as my daughters’ cornflake pancakes. Perhaps Mother’s Day should include that kind of quiet reflection, but only as a catalyst to higher ground. What cause am I ignoring these days? What community problem needs my help? Maybe next year, I’ll be up early to run in a Mother’s Day 5K to raise money for a local charity or homeless shelter.

At least that would get me out of breakfast in bed.

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Butterfly Stickers

I don’t pretend that my life is especially difficult. But balancing school and work and family can be a real headache at times. My wife is finishing her master’s degree while working full time, so I spend much of the day with our 2-year old, Katie. She definitely gets priority over law school, but I still have to keep up with classes. Most of my reading happens after Katie goes to bed, which makes for some pretty late nights. When assignments are due, I know to expect that low throbbing pain to work its way up my shoulders, into my head.

Still, I almost always look forward to Katie’s bedtime ritual, even though every minute I read books to her is a minute of sleep I’ll never get back. But last week we had one pretty tough day together, and by nighttime, I was too tired even for Dr. Seuss. Katie had been to the pediatrician for vaccinations, and they made her feel just lousy.

We took our usual pre-bedtime bath, and I could see where the shots had gone into her thigh. There was some red swelling. She pointed and said “Owee, Daddy.” Her little voice can break my heart, especially when it says she’s in pain. It was time for some fatherly magic – I went into the medicine cabinet and got a sheet of twenty tiny butterfly stickers from next to the Band-Aids. With all the fake seriousness I could muster, I peeled one off and stuck it where the shot had gone. “All better,” I said.

She smiled weakly. I got her jammies on, turned off the lights, and tucked her into bed. “Lorax?” she asked, hoping I’d read her favorite Dr. Seuss book. “Not tonight honey,” I said. I laid down beside her and sang songs with my eyes closed.

I don’t know how much time passed, but I awoke in the dark. I could hear Katie’s breathing, and knew she was asleep. And my head – it didn’t hurt at all. The skin felt tight, but the ache was gone. I got up, leaned over to kiss Katie’s cheek, and quietly left. I stopped in the bathroom to splash some water on my face, and looked into the mirror. And there, stuck to my forehead, were 19 magical butterflies.