Tipping the canoe (and my 4 year old, too)

dock

Last Sunday night, Lily, lying in her bed, told me, “I thought Nevie would sink to the bottom, and you wouldn’t be able to find her.”

No, Lily hadn’t just awoken from a nightmare; instead, she’d spent the day at her grandparents’ cottage in Irish Hills – and watched as her mom, her 4 year old sister, and her uncle got tossed out of a canoe and into the lake.

I’m not sure why or how it happened. The kids had been taking canoe rides with one or two of the adults for a while at that point; 7 year old Lily was paddling a red kayak around the dock, learning how to steer it; and Neve was campaigning hard for one more pass in the canoe, though her 4 year old cousin Kara backed out at the last minute because the wobbly vessel made her nervous.

Joe begged off, having just taken kids out onto the water two or three times, so my brother-in-law Chris volunteered to steer in back, while I oared up in front. Neve settled on the seat in the middle.

After a few minutes of paddling out onto the lake – Sunday’s slow-forming storm clouds had started to gather, and the wind was picking up – Neve said she wanted to go back, so we turned and headed back toward the dock.

And in the midst of paddling, I suddenly felt the boat throw me over. I was shocked, but I also remember thinking, reflexively, “The second you surface, look for Neve, reach for Neve.” Continue reading

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The night gymnastics became a contact sport

NevegymnasticsRight now, I’m sitting in the front row of our local gymnastics center’s waiting area, near huge, plate glass windows, doggedly watching my 4 year old’s class.

Not because the class is riveting (girlfriend, please!). In truth, it’s not even my daughter Neve – in her purple gymnastics suit with silver stars, and her brown, curly hair swept up in a side ponytail – that I’m focused on. It’s another girl in her class, a bigger one who’s wearing a pink dance leotard with a sheer skirt.

Why? Because Pinky’s the one who got so impatient with Neve last week during class that she, by all reports, decked her.

The story goes like this: as Neve’s classmates individually made their way around a circuit of various kinds of equipment, Neve stopped to ask the teacher a question about how she was supposed to do something; she must have had trouble getting the teacher’s attention, because Pinky, who was behind Neve in line, got frustrated, hit/pushed Neve pretty hard from behind, and called her “stupid.”

Now, in fairness, Neve responded by calling Pinky “stupid” right back, which is less than ideal; but Neve was also upset enough by what happened that she came out to find me in the waiting area.

Unfortunately, I was utterly lost in the world of my laptop just then, sitting in the way-way-back row of chairs, scrambling to finish up an assignment for work. (It was an obituary for a longtime “Jazz Revisited” radio host, Ann Arbor-ite, and all-around-mensch Hazen Schumacher, so even though I hadn’t known of his work previously, I was studying up like crazy in order to try and do his life/career justice.) Being a 4 year old, Neve often leaves class for a bathroom run, and sometimes – well, sometimes she just leaves because she’s 4 and gets distracted easily. But this time, my bouncy little sprite wore a dark, cloud-like expression.

“A girl in my class hit me,” she said. “And she called me stupid.”

Oh. Didn’t see that coming. Ah, let’s see. Improvise, Mommy, improvise… Continue reading

Most parents’ worst travel nightmare? Check.

deltaIt’s painfully fitting that Joe and I flew too close to the sun, metaphorically speaking, and flapped our waxen, melting (parenting) wings for dear life, while sitting on an airplane.

Yes, we recently experienced every parent’s worst nightmare while trapped in a claustrophobic, man-made aluminum bird, and felt the discomfort and disapproval of a couple of hundred people that suddenly fell dead silent.

Better yet, my mother- and father-in-law were seated just a few rows back.

Ohhhhhh, yes. It happened, people. And – fortunately? unfortunately? – I lived to tell the tale. Continue reading

The curative power of little girls, ducks, and evening walks

DEARTH OF DUCKSI love working in a newsroom. I really do. The people who work there are generally quick-witted, articulate and intellectually curious, and when news big and small (and sometimes absurd) comes over the transom, the place pulses with a vibrant electricity. It’s a fun place to be.

But on days of national heartbreak – which have become too common lately, with the Newtown shootings in December, and the Boston Marathon explosions on Monday – it becomes a place where these same great people must work to do something productive with the harrowing news that we’re all receiving simultaneously. And while there’s something inspiring and impressive about this act, the consequence is that there’s no escaping the story, on our screens or in our minds, since we’re all constantly tuned in for updates and information.

So days like Monday are hard. You feel angry and frustrated, because even though the statistics still stand wildly in favor of your family’s safety, you can’t rid your mind of that infinitesimal possibility of sudden destruction and loss. (You reflexively want to gather your family in your basement and only occasionally come out for food.) Such thoughts consumed me when walking my little daughters to preschool three days after Newtown. And now I’ll feel this during my next run through our neighborhood, and my next 10K race.

Right now, people are pledging to run to honor today’s victims, wearing old race T-shirts, changing their profile pictures on Facebook, and giving (online) voice to a collective sense of sadness and fear – all of which reflects a populace struggling mightily to find a way to respond in a positive way to the violence.

And while the cynical part of me thinks these symbolic gestures will do nothing to prevent these tragedies from happening again, I have to remind myself that there’s really nothing substantive any of us can do – writing my Congressman with a request to “get Americans off the crazy-train of violence” doesn’t seem particularly useful or effective, either – and that these small acts aren’t necessarily about solving the problem, but about grieving the loss, honoring the victims and survivors, and reflecting on the value of life. And most of us would rather do something than nothing – so we run, we pull on a shirt, we update our status, we virtually rend garments.

Still, as the clock inched toward five o’clock on Monday, I locked up the house, as I do every day, and I walked down the sidewalk toward the girls’ preschool.

Once I got there, things were chaotic, as usual – Neve was crying and desperately pulling me toward the door that leads to the playground, while Lily was throwing every item from her cubby onto the ground and obsessing over some “bracelet” she said her teacher was supposed to put there – but as unpleasant as this push-and-pull phase of multi-child parenting can be, the girls’ micro-drama nonetheless forced me to focus solely on them, solve (or at least distract them from) their problems, and exist only in the exact time and place I was occupying.

That’s something you hear a lot about if you practice yoga – being present and all that – but there really is something to it. In yoga, it’s because if you’re not focused on what you’re trying to do, and how you’re approaching it, it won’t happen. You have to focus on various parts of your body and the teacher’s voice. And that’s one of the main things I’ve always loved about the practice: it gets me out of my neurotic little head for an hour here, an hour there, and then everything else that worries me doesn’t seem quite as tragic or awful. Continue reading

When things fall through the cracks. Like shoes. And a seat belt.

toddlersneaksOur family outing to attend a Purim Carnival in Ann Arbor on Sunday didn’t begin well.

Why? Well, let’s see. Neve was late getting down for her nap, so we knew she’d only get about 40 minutes of sleep before we had to scoop her up, take her out into the winter cold, and buckle the infernal five-point harness on her.

Joe thought maybe, if we were lucky, we could get her into the car quickly and smoothly enough that she’d fall back asleep when we started driving. To that end, he went out to put the packed diaper bag in the back of his car, and Lily ran out after him. She climbed up into her car seat to wait, while the car warmed up, and I gathered the things I thought we should have that didn’t make it into the diaper bag – Neve’s hat and mittens, Lily’s hat and mittens, an extra snack “just in case” – and went outside to join Lily in the idling car.

Joe appeared on the sidewalk, speed-walking with Neve – who looked dazed, wrapped in two blankets – in his arms. He tried to figure out how to buckle her into her seat with minimal fuss, but the blankets were a logistic nightmare, and in the middle of dealing with them, he said, “Oy. Her feet are bare.”

“I’ll go get her some socks,” I said, unbuckling my seat belt and running back into the house. I grabbed a pair, came out and put them on her little pork chop feet, and watched her as we drove off. She didn’t fall back asleep, but instead, looked bored and vaguely disgruntled throughout the half hour trip.

Upon getting to Ann Arbor, we were running a little late, so Joe inched forward at an intersection to turn right, not seeing an elderly man on his bike in the crosswalk. I yelled for Joe to stop, he stomped on the brake, and I suddenly felt and heard Lily’s body press against the back of my seat.

Oh, no. Continue reading

Struggles with my four year old rage-aholic

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALate last week, I’d had a good day at work, and was generally in a good mood, when I walked to Lily and Neve’s preschool/daycare and entered the building. Within seconds, though, one of the caregivers approached me in the hall and said, with a grimace, “Uh, some really bad news.”

Because she normally works in Neve’s room, my first thought was that Neve had fallen ill; but then she added, “Lily got upset a few minutes ago and hit one of the kids, and then hit a teacher who tried to stop her, and then she hit Miss Jenny,” Lily’s most beloved teacher. “Now she’s screaming and crying and will not calm down.” (Turns out she’d been assigned a group and a room that was not to her liking.)

I felt myself physically and emotionally wilt. Lily has had these awful bouts with anger plenty of times before, and she knows better than to hit me or Joe. But she’d never before hit teachers, that I knew of. So in that moment, I knew things were getting worse, not better.

Having dealt with these meltdowns before, I knew I’d be trying to calm her down for a good while, so I decided to leave Neve in her classroom while I tried to deal with Lily. (Which made me feel guilty on top of despairing, since Neve had been there all day and would spend even less time with me because I was dealing with my flailing, screaming, out-of-control older daughter.)

I entered the empty classroom where Lily sat red-eyed, red-faced, howling, and wailing on the floor next to her teacher, who was kindly trying to distract Lily by talking about something else entirely.

I sat down on a nearby chair, cupped my face in my hands for a moment, gathering my strength, and plowed into the conversation, knowing perfectly well that none of it would get Lily to a state of calm any sooner. Once she’s “left the building,” as Joe and I call it, she’s out for a good while. Continue reading

Why leaving the room while two kids weep is sometimes the best thing you can do

Lily, Joe and Neve (and Barbie?) in a more peaceful moment…

On Wednesday, I had the kind of experience every parent fears when (s)he’s on the verge of having a second child: you’re on your own, and both kids are crying and miserable. But I lived to tell the tale, which goes like this:

I got the kids home from preschool a bit earlier than usual, and Lily asked if she might apply her 30 minutes of TV time to watching “The Little Princess.” I agreed, so I played with Neve on the floor while Lily settled into an armchair, focusing intently on the Shirley Temple movie that I also ate up as a kid.

When her time was up, she asked me to read the new books that arrived that day through her school’s book order. Neve pulled on me – wanting my attention, too – and of course, she won’t just sit and listen to the books that Lily likes at this point. So I was stuck.

“Please, Mommy,” Lily kept begging. “Please just try.” So I tried. Neve kept reaching out and grabbing the book to close it, and when I pulled it out of her reach, she screamed and cried. So I tried to find things to distract her while reading loudly from a book I held high up in the air.

Less than ideal reading conditions.

Somehow, we got through the first book, and Lily pulled the next one off the top of the small pile. “Sweetie, I can’t. I wish I could. You know I love reading to you, and I know you’re excited about your new books. But Neve isn’t old enough to enjoy these kind of books, and she’s pretty unhappy.”

“No, no, Mom, I’ll hold up the book. Like this.” Lily proceeds to turn to the first page and hold the book high in the air, as I had done.

So I tried. And Neve got frustrated again, reaching to close the book, and cried and yelled in my ear. After a few pages of this, I told Lily I couldn’t do any more.

“I’ve got to take care of both you and Nevie by myself until Daddy gets home, and Nevie’s really unhappy. So I’ll read every one of these books later, but right now isn’t a good time, sweetie.”

“But I want you to read to me,” she said, a plea I almost never reject – and she knows it. “Please, Mommy. Please!”

At this point, I stood up to physically untangle myself from the situation; Lily had flung herself across the armchair, screaming, the very picture of child-grief; and Neve sat on the floor, red-faced and crying, holding a half-empty milk cup.

So I did what any self-respecting parent would do: I called my spouse and pressed the “speaker phone” button. Continue reading