Monday, July 20, 2009

Growing Up is Hard to Do

I really like O. at the age and size he is right now. Even though he's getting harder and harder to carry up and down the steps, which he occasionally still likes for me to do, I have loved seeing my first baby turn into a real boy right in front of my eyes. He's just old enough to manage lots of things on his own, but young enough to still want to cuddle when he first wakes up, and to run straight to me for solve-everything hugs. However, I certainly wouldn't want him to stay this age forever.

Every age that my children become helps me meet a new part of the people they are becoming. It's amazing to compare them to pictures at the same time last year and see all the ways the babies in them have slipped so imperceptibly off their frames. I look at those old pictures, and feel a pang of nostalgia for each of those old stages, but then remember the parts of them I didn't yet know. So, in many ways, I welcome the fact that they grow up so quickly.

In fact, wouldn't it be nice to skip right over the "I don't know how to communicate, so I'll just throw myself on the floor and wail" phase, or the "I'm figuring out that you can't make me do what I don't want to do, so I'll just refuse to do it until you scream like a crazy lady and scare the hell out of me" phase?

My son, however, has decided he's just fine with staying just this size forever. Last week, as I put him to bed, we had this conversation:

"Mommy, when I grow up, and move away, will you miss me?" he asked.
"Well, yes, I probably will," I replied.
"When do I get to be a little boy again?" he asked.
Not quite sure what he meant by this, I told him he already was a little boy.
"No, but after I grow, do I get to shrink down to be little again?"
"Well, no, you don't, bud. Once you grow, you never go back to the sizes you were before. That's just not how growing up works."
"But when I was throwing up, I shrank then."
"Yes, you're right, you did shrink a little then, but only because you lost some weight. But your body knows that it needs to stay big, so it gains that weight right back. That's why you eat good food to help your body stay strong and grow bigger," I told him.
"I don't want to eat any more food. Because I want to just stay little."
"If you didn't eat food, you would get very sick, and have to go to the hospital, and I wouldn't want you to feel sick. Besides, you don't have to worry about getting bigger."
"But when I get bigger, will I have to get a new bed? Because I like my bed."
"You don't have to get a new bed if you don't want to. You can keep this bed as long as you want."
At this point, he started to cry, with real, big fat tears.
"Oh, buddy, what's the problem?"
"I don't want to move away from here! I will miss Charlie too much!"
"Oh, my boy. You can stay in our house as long as you want to, and you can take Charlie anywhere you go, anytime you want." I was so desperate to reassure him that I tried not to worry about the thirty year old freeloader version of him that may someday throw this promise back in my face when I tried to kick him out of our basement.
This seemed to calm him, as the next question out of his mouth involved why the puffer fish is called a puffer fish.

It came up again early this week when we were stuck in yet another dinnertime battle. We try hard not to create conflict over food, but sincerely worry that he does not eat nearly enough. I made the mistake of mentioning again that the doctor said he needs to eat good healthy food so he can grow big and strong, and he replied that he wasn't eating anymore, because he did not want to grow anymore.

It would be easy to be flattered that my son simply wants to always be with me, or to be concerned that he's got some underlying fear of growth and maturity, of transitioning to new stages. I don't think it's that simple. I think it has more to do with the intensity with which my son, and perhaps all children, experience the world. I once read some research that suggested that children are constantly experiencing the kind of thrills that many adults seek out in the form of skydiving, whitewater rafting, and global travel. The researcher proposed that the thrill comes not from the potential risk or danger of such activities, but rather the newness inherent in them. We are anxious to recapture that sensation of stepping outside what we know to experience something novel. For children, this sensation is just part of meeting the next morning.

Perhaps this is why our children cling to routine. So many parts of their world move so quickly, and so much of their memory is lost forever to them, only available through the pictures or stories that are shown and told to them. It must be a frightening place to live sometimes, trapped in the only present they know, with so much of the future ahead and uncertain, and so much new knowledge just waiting for them to ask about. I might be tempted to stay right in my own bed with the stuffed friends I know and love forever as well.

I'm trying not to make too big a deal out of this exchange and this current concern of my son's. I'm not truly worried that he's going to start starving himself, or be stuck with Peter Pan syndrome permanently. Rather, I'm fascinated with the way his mind works, and have to remind myself sometimes to stop and think about why he says the things he does. These are the moments I'm glad to stop and savor, to not skip over.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Error Messages

I'm getting a little tired of troubleshooting.
I consider myself pretty good with electronics, computers and such, and can usually ferret out solutions for problems on message boards and implement them on my own.
Once, when the in-the-door water and ice dispenser on our refrigerator stopped working, I discovered it could be fixed by turning on the light that is built into it. Seems it was a slight freeze-up, and simply needed a little warm up.
I've resolved a few computer viruses by downloading free programs, even the one that appeared to be sucking the life right out of my computer as I watched, complete with a biohazard sign that replaced my children's faces on my desktop wallpaper.
I really dislike having to get someone else involved in the repair process, when I know I am perfectly capable. I recognize that I get slightly unreasonably absorbed in these processes, but can't really help it. I'm currently in one of those cycles where I have a few too many of these things on my plate, and can't wait until they all get worked out.
It started with the camera that I dropped in the sand "doom." The lens error of course is staying put on that one, and I can still hear the grains of sand grinding around in there. Understandable. My own fault there.
I pulled my old camera out of the cupboard to start using until J. can accumulate a few more frequent flier miles and use them to order me a replacement. (See, there are a few good things about his frequent business absences, and plenty of good reasons NOT to get rid of anything!!) Fine for the first 25 or so pictures I took, but now I'm getting the dreaded "Memory Card Error." I'd had this problem before, one of the reasons I got a new camera, along with the fact that the switch to review photos sticks. Oh, and it's got a ridiculous delay when you take a shot of children in action. Not that I'm complaining or anything.
This is a known Canon problem, and there's a chance that I'll get a free repair out of it, even though it's obviously out of warranty. BUT, the support people are obviously not in on a Sunday, and of course, repair means I have to send the camera for an indeterminate amount of time, I'm sure, leaving me right back to where I started: without a camera.
Oh, actually, I do have one. The one my cousin found in the beach house we were staying at last month. She was looking for her own misplaced camera (hers was NOT in a 'doom') and found this one in the theater room. She offered it to me after I realized mine was toast, but I felt all bad keeping it when someone was probably missing it, and was planning to drive it down to the realty office and everything. (We were missing Charlie ourselves, remember). Then I booted it up and realized that the pictures on the memory card were of ten year old girls dressed in hoochie-mama dance competition costumes, about 100 shots of Disney on Ice, as well as lots of candid shots of nacho chips and stuffed puppies. I'm thinking it belonged to some girl whose Daddy bought her a new one on the way home from the beach.
So, unless little tricks like blowing compressed air down into the camera, heating the battery with a hair dryer, and using a pencil eraser to clean contact points are successful, I'm stuck with the neon pink Insignia.
Next on the list, before it implodes altogether, figure out why my laptop takes a full five minutes to wake back up and get connected to the web. Guess I should also back up all the photos (which I can't use my camera to look at, btw.)
Also, my driver's license is missing, and since it was already about to break in half, I'm not even going to bother tearing the house apart to find it. Though I will have to go on a search for proper identity documentation. Can't SOMETHING just be easy for once??

Spider update: The hairy beast was found in the bathroom. J. killed it with a shoe. FIVE DAYS LATER. Do you think that was long enough for it to lay eggs? Yet another thing to Google.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I Don't Care if it IS Charlotte's Great-Great Granddaughter

Just last week, I was bragging about how I'm the only inhabitant of the Small World that is not creature-phobic in some way.
It's true. I have no real issues with creepy-crawlies. I don't mind putting a worm on a hook, taking the fish off the hook, picking up a caterpillar to put it in the bug house, or letting the roly poly crawl around on my hand. I campaigned against killing the bat on the screened in porch at the cottage recently, and didn't jump off my chair when the snake emerged from the coiled hose at the beach. Also, killed the cockroach in the outside bathroom at the beach (It was big, and I swear was waggling its antenna at me as if to taunt me.)
J. does this really nice little dance anytime there's a wasp or mosquito around. He has been known to squeal at the possibility of a fish swimming next to him. (To his credit, a parrot fish DID bite him on the finger in the Cayman Islands. Drew blood and everything.) At the beach, there was this really enlightened running joke about the fact that he's the hunter of the bugs, so I can be the gatherer (meaning, he doesn't actually pick up the dead flies after he swats them).
O. has the normal preschool phobias of snakes, monsters, wolves and moving picture frames in his dreams, but his all are tied in with a dislike of the dark, and you know: sleep.
N.? Well, she doesn't much care for anything squishy.
Think koosh balls, and the small rubbery frogs, lizards and dinosaurs that can be stretched out and snap back into place. O. calls them "gooey." N. cannot handle anything with this texture, the frogs especially. I can always tell when O. is taunting her with them: there's a squeal and sound of tiny running feet, and then her stricken face appears. She wraps her arms around herself as if to give herself a hug. For a while, anytime we even pulled into the Walgreens parking lot, she gave me that look and said "Ball? Ball??" as if pleading for her life. There is a large display of squishy balls next to the counter there that we have to give a wide berth. For some reason, this has also transferred to a generalized fear of snakes. "Nake! Nake!" she quakes, with this look of mock horror that is really hard not to laugh at.
Earlier this week, I had let O. play with two of his larger squishy dinosaurs while N. was napping, and forgot to put them away when she woke up. After dinner, N. discovered them and wouldn't come back into the living room. J. held one and petted it and kissed it, trying to show her that it was not anything to be afraid of. She took a few tentative steps toward him to try and check it out, only to step barefooted on the other one on her way. Shrieks and sprinting, and I don't think she'll fall for that technique again.
Anyway, I tend to stand on the sidelines of these outbursts, chuckling and shaking my head. "Oh, you poor, poor souls."
This morning, though. There was a spider. ON MY UNMADE BED. In the sheets. It was furry, and had yellow marks on it. (I can't rule out that they weren't hourglass shaped. You know. Like a BLACK WIDOW.) I swear, it was as big around as the mouth of a Mason jar. (Okay, maybe more like a quarter. But still.)
I tried to be brave, went and got a tissue to squish it in. I was trying on a new shirt, though, and as I leaned over to pounce on it, the tag shifted, and I SWEAR it felt like the spider jumped up and bit me on the neck, so I screamed. Then, when I did actually pounce, the spider JUMPED. And is still missing, even though J. shined the flashlight under every surface in the room.
The point is, if you need me to scoop out your pumpkin guts, I'm there. Need help with the more gruesome acts of fishing? No squeamishness here. I'll even help set up a worm or ant farm.
But I might be sleeping in the spare bedroom until further notice.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Travels Without Charlie

O., flying his new pterodactyl kite

We've been quite the Traveling Wilburys lately, in and out of town most of the month of June. Last week, it was the beach trip -- a week in the Outer Banks with my extended family. There were 22 people all in one house for the week, which sounds like craziness, but really is just like always having company and entertainment for your children around. This is year four for this family reunion.
This year we found a place that was accessible only by four wheel drive vehicles. No paved roads, just a four mile drive straight up the beach. This made for some interesting experiences on the beach -- like did you ever think you'd let your children set up their sandbox on the road? Each day, as the beach got smaller and smaller with the rising tide, we tried to create barricades of chairs and boogie boards to force the traffic higher on the beach. One morning, a crazy local garbage collector drove his pickup right through our barricade, sending the boogie boards twenty feet in the air. Thankfully, I wasn't on the beach when it happened, but I believe there was some swearing and fist baring to which we also wouldn't normally expose the children.
The northern reaches of the Outer Banks, NC are famous for their herd of wild horses. Our beach house this year was smack dab in the middle of the tour route to see them. Each day we'd watch the jeeps and big blue school buses outfitted with beach tires drive past and slow right near our rented property to point out the horses. A herd of about nine, including a very young colt, grazed on the dunes all around our place at different points of the day all week.
It was a week of no schedules except rotating from pool to beach to snacks and meals. We couldn't get O. out of the pool once he realized that he could float around at will wearing his life jacket. But then he discovered jumping waves in the surf, and spent hours pretending he was a dog and then a fish leaping over the small waves.
N. was a sandbaby all week: smoothing and shoveling, scooping and sifting. She had a lineup of buckets and watering cans at all times, often picking up all of them at once in big bouquets, afraid that all of this fun just might disappear before her eyes.
Because the area we were staying in was so undeveloped, the sand dunes kept encroaching on our walkway to the beach. My cousin and his girlfriend spent much of the first two days shoveling out the crow's nest overlook to the beach (I'm pretty sure I saw her holding the shovel more often, come to think of it...), but the wind kept blowing more and more back each day. I kept telling O. to stay on the path, and off of the dunes because we needed to protect them. He wanted to know why, so I told him it was to protect the environment and to keep the sand on the beach. Then he wanted to know what the environment was, so we had a great little talk about ecosystems, etc. Al Gore would have been proud. The rest of the week, whenever someone in our group tried to take a shortcut that would save them a little trudging up a hill in the glaring sun, O. made sure to remind them to "Stay off the doom!"
My camera fell out of my pocket one evening (the picture of N. with her buckets was the last one I took), got buried in the sand and rained on. My dad found it for me the next morning, and while we were able to rescue the memory card, the lens seems irretrievably impeded by grains of sand. Doom, indeed.
The other tragedy of the week unspooled at bedtime the first night at the beach house, when Charlie could not be located. Charlie, my son's best friend of the stuffed bedtime variety, he/she of the indeterminate gender and wearer of N's hairbows on the ears. He was not in the car, not in the luggage, not anywhere in the mess we had already made in our bedroom.
I started to feel a true sense of panic and a sting of tears in my eyes when I realized he was probably back in the Virginia hotel room we had stayed in the night before. J. told me to keep a lid on it in the hopes we might be able to get O. to sleep without realizing the possibility of Charlie being gone for good. I barely slept, and when J. finally talked to the head of housekeeping the next morning who swore she was holding Charlie in her hands and was going to put him in a locker to wait for us to pick him up on the way home, I literally wept with relief.
Each night when we put him to bed at the beach (with his sister's stuffed dog acting as poor substitute), he implored "Why did we forget Charlie at the hotel?" and "What if Charlie is missing me?"
I can't tell you how many times I've thought we should have a double of Charlie, and have never made the requisite Ebay search. I implore you all right now, always make the last sweep to check for missed items, or maybe even create an ID tag for the best loved friends and blankets: I'm seriously contemplating it.
When we stopped back at the hotel on our way home, J. went in to retrieve Charlie by himself to try to avoid a tremendous scene. He says he doesn't want to even know what his face looked like when the front desk clerk returned holding aloft a tiny blue dog that looked NOTHING like Charlie. Fortunately, a return trip to a safer holding location brought forth the true dog, and all was right with the world.
Charlie is now back where he belongs, being swung by his ears around our family room, sporting the hairbow color of the day, and snuggled right next to my son at bedtime.
It almost makes it okay not to be waking up each morning to the sounds of waves breaking on the beach, wind ruffling the manes of horses, and happy company preparing for a day of vacation. Charlie's been watching over O. since the beginning...

Reunited, and it feels so good!