“It’s not what it looks like!”: One parent’s lament

Neve, playing happily on dry land

Neve, playing happily on dry land

There are so many things about parenting that, from the outside, look entirely different from the inside.

Subtle things. Like, one day, I’d herded both girls (because the little one wanted to tag along, of course) into a restaurant’s single restroom, and when, after everyone had washed their hands, Lily pulled multiple paper towels from the dispenser – after I told her she only needed one – I got surly and sharp with her.

“That’s a waste! We need to create as little waste as possible! It’s terrible for the environment! And I asked you to take one! You took FIVE! You don’t need five!”

In this moment, even as I’m saying the words, I hear them through the perspective of a 5 year old (or my calmly blinking spouse, to whom I repeat my grievance moments later), and they sound like the ravings of a crazy person. What is she talking about? Why is Mommy losing her s*** over paper towels?

A pretty reasonable question, really. And I don’t honestly know the answer. I wasn’t more sleep-deprived than usual. I’d had a decent day up until then. But out of nowhere, this ugly anger just poured out of me, and I snapped. What the what? Continue reading

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Ice cream and existentialism with my 5 year old

icecream1While walking Lily to a nearby ice cream parlor for an after-dinner cone this evening, her words took me by surprise twice.

Once, because I heard a sentence I might utter, word-for-word, coming out of her mouth.

Let me back up for a second. Lily had been a couple of months overdue for her annual check-up, and Neve was due for one as well, so I made a dual appointment for them at the pediatrician’s this afternoon. Weirdly, they assumed each other’s personas when the doctor arrived in the exam room: Neve was a distracted, restless chatterbox, and Lily became watchful, quiet and serious. (It was a bit like “Freaky Friday,” with both body-changers being kids.)

Because I’d noted this, I asked Lily, on the way to get ice cream, “You seemed nervous at the doctor’s office. Were you scared of getting shots?”

Lily nodded, and then, she added, “Well, I wouldn’t say I was nervous. I was more” – she paused as she considered her word options – “concerned.”

Oh. My. God. It was like she’d turned 32 in front of my eyes. (Which was only too fitting, given the conversation that followed.)

I was reeling a bit from this little-sage pronouncement when she followed up with, “I wish babies could stay babies.” 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