Friday, April 25, 2008

After the rain

After the rain come the worms, languishing on the sidewalks and driveways, longing for the grass, for the soil, before they are baked by the sun into coiled fossils of themselves. All that aerating potential, all those casings, squandered.

But for Rowan.

Rowan, for whom the three-block walk to the babysitter’s this morning was a worm-rescue mission, the stretches of concrete filled with new potential for good works.

“Oh! A worm!” he’d say every 15 feet or so, dropping the Thomas and Percy trains he held, one in each hand, in order to stoop down to pick up the latest candidate for salvation. “There you go,” he’d say to each one, dropping it onto a lawn. “You’ll be okay.” Then he’d look up at me: “I think that worm needs to go to bed,” he’d say. “I think so,” I’d reply.

Sometimes, often, even, I find the inevitable distractions of the walk — the sewer grates, the snow banks, the endless sticks to pick up and discuss — mildly irritating. I should tattoo, “The journey, not the destination,” on the back of my hand, but not today. Today, I am all for the worms, all for Rowan's nurturing of them, the way they coil in surprise at his touch as he gently picks them up, even for the way he also manages to tread, oblivious, over others in his new white sneakers with the Velcro fasteners.

We talk about the worms, and I try to explain why they are good, why they are important to the plants and the soil. “And what else?” Rowan asks, after each of my sentences. And I tell him something else. The word “compost” is used. Bliss.

He scans the sidewalk ahead of him for more worms, the wind whipping about our heads, the sky grey and unsure. Looks up at me again:

“It’s a nice wormy day, isn’t it?”

It is.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

This morning, I bribed Rowan with chocolate to get him to wear corduroy pants

Was that wrong?

It’s just that I am so very, very tired of the fleece sweatpants. The never-ending rotation of red, green-with-orange-piping, and black. The floods. The boy has a drawer full of jeans and cords, but he is passionately attached to the fleece sweatpants. Each morning, I offer up a different pair, and each morning I am cheerfully rebuffed. “No,” says Rowan, “I just think I’ll wear my red pants today.”

What is one supposed to do in the face of that kind of resolution? Bribe with chocolate, of course.

Actually, I prefer think of it as a reward rather than a bribe. As my friend Michael, the child psychologist, says, a bribe is giving chocolate before the pants are on; a reward is given after. In fact, I went one step further: I gave Rowan half the chocolate right after he put on the corduroys, and promised him the other half at the end of the day — assuming he kept the pants on all day. “Okay,” he said. “But if they get wet, I take them off.” Fair enough.

In our house, we have fingernail gelt, a little-known Jewish tradition that has its roots in the traditional giving of chocolate gelt — those gold-foil-wrapped chocolate coins, for the uninitiated — at Chanukah. Fingernail gelt is given not after the menorah is lit, but rather after all ten of the grimy, scratchy, blackened fingernails on my three-year-old’s hands are clipped off.

We also have leaving-the-library gelt.

And now we have pants gelt, too. I’m sure parenting experts the world over are sighing disgustedly at my tactics, muttering things like “slippery slope” under their breaths, but I don’t care. My boy is wearing cords. My boy is wearing cords.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A drop in the bucket

Milestones are popping up around here like gophers these days: Isaac claps his hands! Rowan got his first barbershop haircut! (I wasn’t sure that would fly but apparently he got to watch Go, Diego Go while sitting in the special kids’ chair, and now he has oddly perfect little bangs. Much better than my last attempt in the bathtub, which nearly took out an eye, prompting said visit to the barber.) Isaac says “Mama”! Rowan went to the dentist — no cavities! Isaac uses a sippy cup! We’re even getting some sleep: after fits and starts and the latest round of illnesses, both boys are — more or less, all being well, ptuh, ptuh! — sleeping through the night.

(Pause for a moment while we consider the gravity of that last statement. It’s been two nights now. First, Isaac finally started sleeping through, just in time for a Rowan to get a cough and begin waking up multiple times. Rachel and I ended up trading off nights on the couch so that one of us could sleep while the other settled Rowan without — and this was the kicker — climbing into bed with him. Just as Rowan was starting to improve, Isaac got the cough, plus another tooth, and began waking up again. And so it went. Of course, just as they both began to sleep again, I got the stomach flu. But I digress.)

And Rowan has stopped drooling.

For upwards of three years, Rowan has drooled. For a long time, it was age appropriate. Then it was mostly kind of gross, in that benignly gross way that little kids just are, with all their various leaky bits needing constant wiping up and mopping off. There he’d be, talking away exuberantly, a steady stream of saliva dripping off his bottom lip. Or engrossed in a story, the drip drip drip of the leaky faucet of his mouth soaking the front of his shirt. Did other three-year-olds still drool constantly? Somehow, I couldn’t quite bring myself to ask around.

How do you teach your child to stop drooling? I took a page from the “Tell them what they can do, and not what they can’t” book of parenting, and got on him, trying to catch him just as the drop began to form on his lower lip: “Rowan, swallow your spit. Swallow your spit.” He got the hang of it fairly quickly, managing about half the time to catch the saliva before it dropped. This went on for a few weeks.

And then, all of a sudden, I noticed the absence of drool. Like the absence of the background noise of a dripping tap. In the way he seems to do so many new things — slow lead-up, seemingly sudden mastery — he got it. One more thing — check. Done. A million more to go.

Don’t get me wrong — the sleep thing is big. I wouldn’t trade a good night’s sleep for Rowan's dry shirt front any day. But then again, I don’t have to, do I?

Mama Non Grata

This is an oldie but a goodie — I had to take it down temporarily, so am now re-posting.

In December, I took a business trip. And when I came back, Rowan liked Rachel better than he liked me.

At first, I enjoyed the shift. As the birth- and breast-feeding mom, I’d had 25 months of milky baby love, toddler devotion. When Rowan was hurt, he wanted me. When he was sleepy, he wanted me. He brought me his toys and books. He climbed into on my lap while we sat at the table, and held onto my leg when he wasn’t sure about a new situation. As for Rachel, well, she was great, too, but, she just wasn’t me.

But now, I could sit quietly and read the newspaper on a Saturday morning while Rowan insisted that Rachel read stacks of books to him, that Rachel play trains, that Rachel change his diaper, carry him upstairs, bathe him, put him to bed. “Night night!” he’d say cheerily, literally pushing me away and turning to Rachel. I could eat my dinner in peace without a two-year-old climbing into my lap or trying to pull me out of my chair — “Mommy get up!” I could wander around by myself at the weekly farmer’s market, sampling Gouda and local elk sausage, without hefting around 35 pounds of clingy toddler. I was freer than I had been in two years, and I welcomed the space.

Becoming second-best also meant that I had the profound pleasure of watching Rachel and Rowan together, the two of them cuddling on the couch, rolling out Play-Doh at the dining room table, snuggled up reading stories in bed. I was used to only fleeting glimpses of these tableaux, spoiled by my entering the room, drawing Rowan to me like baby moth to Mama flame, leaving Rachel in the shadows. Their beauty was, and is, astonishing, and I savoured it.

Ironically — or not — it was around this time that Rowan's names for us finally solidified. Unlike many of the other lesbian parents we knew, we had never sorted out whether one of us would be “Mama” and the other “Mommy.” We never made up cute nicknames for ourselves, like “Mama S” and “Mommy R.” Some women we knew had opted for cultural or linguistic variations on the word “mother,” like the Hebrew “Imah” or the Spanish “Mami,” but none of those felt right. We didn’t worry about it. Instead, we figured that Rowan would come up with his own names for his moms. “Kids are smart,” we said. “He’ll figure it out.”

And he did. After hearing his whole life us saying versions of, “This mommy is cooking — ask other mommy to put your shoes on,” or, “This mommy will read you one more book, and then your other mommy will take you upstairs for bed,” he now calls us — quite sensibly — “This Mommy” and “Other Mommy.”

Guess who’s Other Mommy?

At least, mercifully, he eventually shortened it to “Uh-Mommy,” or “Uh-mum,” which actually sounds quite sweet — if you don’t know what it means.

But I know what it means. And while being Mama non Grata has its perks, especially now that I am 37 weeks pregnant with baby number two and can use all the breaks I can get, little stings quite as much as my crying toddler pushing me away because he wants his This Mommy. Suddenly, I’m on the outside, the fifth wheel at the playdate.

I know: it’s what Rachel put up with for two years with barely a complaint. I know it’s what she’ll put up with again, in all likelihood, with the second one. I know I’ll have my hands full what with nursing and sleep deprivation and the like, and that when this new baby arrives it will be even more important for Rowan to have a healthy attachment to his other parent. And I know that it’s all just a phase — Rowan has already shifted to a more neutral ground, and he will shift again and again.

But I guess, somehow, I never really imagined that this “phase” would last more than a few days, or that Rowan would ever really reject me, for Rachel or anyone else. Even when it’s tiring, and overwhelming, there’s something immensely gratifying about being the centre of a child’s life. I was ready for a break, but I wasn’t ready to give up that privilege in its entirety.

It was bound to happen eventually, I keep telling myself. And it will only, properly, continue. But for now I am revelling in every walk where Rowan holds my hand, every morning-time cuddle, my nights to sing him to sleep. Maybe the fact that it’s not a sure thing is what makes his pure affection that much sweeter.