Ten Things About Which Chicken Said,
"BUT I NEEEEEEEEED IT!"
Today.


1. A peanut butter sandwich with plum jam.

timestamp: forty-five minutes after i made the sandwich
oh
oh wow
you must have been
ravenous
you must have been gripped with the bottomless hunger
of a man who has crawled a thousand miles through the desert
chewing the sand
and trying to convince himself
that he was eating a gluten-free vegan cupcake
do you need
like
a teaspoon of milk
to wash that down there
or
what
2. Grape juice. Apple juice. Tomato juice. Lemonade. NOT APPLE JUICE. Wait, okay, yeah, apple juice is fine.

3. A bag of plastic ornamental fruit with the fuzz peeling off that he found on the ground at Goodwill. Not even good enough to hang on a hook at Goodwill? Chicken must have it.

4. This pencil sharpened.

mommy
mommy
mommy
look at this pencil
i can't even color with it
it's so bad now
can i have the pencil sharpener and take it in the bathroom
and you stay out here?
5. Buster's pajamas. 
That Buster was wearing. 
While asleep. 
"But but but but but you could just wake him up a little?" 

6. To pull all of the curly little rainbow pubes out of this clown wig and leave them scattered about on the floor:

no, baby.
but but but but but but but--
no. mm mm. nope. sorry.
but but but but but but but--
it's gross, kid.
but but but it's the FOOD FOR MY DINOSAURS!
oh. well... uh... let's put it on a plate then, okay?

7. A popsicle.
No, wait... actually, ice cream.
No! A popsicle.
NO! ICE CREAM!
NOOOOOOO!
A POOOOOOPPPPPSIIIIIIICLLLLLLEEEEEEE!!!

8. To carry his own lunch box to the car in the morning on our way to school. (Spoiler alert: he left it in the garage. Thank god the school has a backup cheese quesadilla supply or I would have been making three round trips to and from school today and I had a lot of work to do a movie to watch while I drank tea and felt sorry for myself because I have a midlevel head cold that's due for a big promotion any day now.

9. To wallow like Jabba the Hut in the pile of pillows under the couch that we constructed for the express purpose of allowing ALL of the children to throw themselves repeatedly to the ground until they either ate dinner or fell asleep/knocked themselves unconcscious (play date mommies aren't picky.)

10. A song about digging. Before you ask, yes, of course I tried No Diggity. He's not falling for it. He needs a song about dirt (sand would also be acceptable) and shovels.

12:00 pm - I realize that it can't wait any longer. It is now officially a poop emergency. Apoopalypse NOW.

12:01 pm - I lure Buster into the bathroom because he can't be trusted with run of the house. He is a climber. 

12:02 pm - Buster starts opening and closing drawers in the bathroom until he finds his new Elmo toothbrush. Still in the box. We bought it yesterday. He brings it to me and politely asks if I would please open it grunt-shrieks like a boy raised by wolves while slapping my knee with the box until I open it. I hand him the toothbrush.

12:03 pm - I lean over to get some toilet paper, leaving a couple of inches of access to the toilet bowl for only a "one-Mississippi," MAX.

12:04 pm - I add "Buster toothbrush" to the shopping list.

it was a bad way to go, elmo
no doubt about it
but please
know
in your heart of hearts
that your impact on my children is not reflected
by how you met your end
no
indeed
you have served honorably and well
for approximately fifteen seconds
before my son
threw you
in a potty
that had not been flushed yet

just because you're shitty now
doesn't mean
you
are shitty
or ever were
except sometimes
on the eighteenth consecutive listen
of elmo's song
or the first time you
as an adult
realize that elmo
only ever refers to himself in the third person
"come on, elmo,
you're not
the rock
mm kay?"

but none of those crimes
was deserving of the punishment

and for that
i extend my sincerest apologies
on behalf
of buster
who threw you
without any hesitation whatsoever
to
your
demise.
I have many pregnant friends and acquaintances right now.

Ladies, on behalf of all of your mom friends, I would like to apologize for what I think of as the most irritating habit on Earth.

We just cannot help but tell y'all how it's gonna be.

Pregnant mama: I'm so nervous for labor!

Parent friend 1: You should be. Labor is the worst.
Parent friend 2: It honestly is the worst thing I've ever experienced in my life. I think. I blacked out after nobody answered my pleas for a merciful execution.
Parent friend 3: I blacked out after I vomited. The third time.
Parent friend 4: Make sure you get to the hospital early so you have time for your epidural.
Parent friend 5: But not too early though, because if they have to induce you then you'll end up with a c-section, and that's MAJOR ABDOMINAL SURGERY.
Parent friend 6: The nurse dropped my baby. Don't let the nurses touch your baby.
Parent friend 7: I had a water birth at home and it was magical and don't let any of these people tell you that labor is going to be awful because, okay, yes, it hurts more than anything else ever, but it's also a moment of true connection with all of woman kind. No but if you do go to a hospital then you'll end up with a c-section for sure, and probably also a traumatic birth experience and your baby will never trust you. Just don't go to a hospital because hospitals are for illnesses and pregnancy isn't a disease and your baby isn't a symptom.


Pregnant mama: 22 weeks along and I feel great!

Parent friend 1: JUST WAIT.
Parent friend 2: You don't even look pregnant. You don't even have a baby bump. I don't even know why you're posting pictures like you have something to be proud of.
Parent friend 3: YEAH, 22 weeks is nothing. Soon you'll be fat and miserable.
Parent friend 4: I felt great at 22 weeks too. At 23 weeks I got hemorrhoids. Just don't get cocky.
Parent friend 5: You look great! LOL Not like me! I looked like an acne-ridden hippo! LOL! I was so ugly! And fat! And miserable! LOL! My husband was like when will you be pretty again hahahahaha! He said that yesterday! LOLOLOLOLOLOL


Pregnant mama: Does anyone have any recommendations for strollers/car seats/travel systems?

All of her friends: The best stroller/car seat is the stroller/car seat that I have that none of your other friends have. Mine is the only acceptable model. All of the other strollers/car seats except my stroller/car seat are not only crappy, heavy, and overpriced, but are also deathtraps that WILL blind your baby before they decapitate him/her.


Newborn baby mama: Chloe just smiled! OMG, only 2 weeks old and already smiling! Our angel.

Parent friend 1: She wasn't smiling at you. Babies smile reflexively in order to win goodwill from their caregivers. She won't smile out of happiness until 8 weeks or so. But awww! So happy you're enjoying this!
Parent friend 2: Just wait until she starts talking! That's REALLY magical!
Parent friend 3: She's probably pooping. Was she pooping?
Parent friend 4: I remember those days. :) God, they're so easy when they're that little!

___

Fellow parents, hear me now. This. is. not. helping.

I understand the urge to share your experience. I am so guilty of offering unwanted, inappropriately timed advice.

I have detailed, for 10-weeks-pregnant friends, my five-point-plan for introducing solids, with the smug magnanimousness of a person handing a New York Times to a homeless guy: It might make me feel good to give it, but it doesn't really help the recipient. This guy needs a toothbrush and a cheeseburger more than the op-ed section, and our knocked up friends need unconditional support more than to be drafted, against their wills, into the listening end of our therapy sessions.

You have to read this book. It's amazing. It's a parenting bible.

Wow, okay, but, I've got some time, right? And I'm not sure I know what kind of parenting style I'm going to have.
I haven't even met my kid, you know?

No you need this one. Trust me. 


Thank you? For... thinking of me? But, I'm like 8 weeks pregnant. I literally just found out. Ten minutes ago. And then I called you.

Ohmygosh I am so excited for you!!!
It's going to be amazing!!! 

Especially when you read this book and do everything in it.
There's a really good chapter in here on potty training.
I've found the most important thing is to SET A SPECIFIC EXPECTATION.
Do you have a pen?


Uh... no...

I'll wait.

Fellow parents, we have to stop with the "oh, just wait until [wherever I am as a parent.]" "Oh just wait" translates to, "your experience is nothing compared to mine."

We have to stop with the "let me tell you how your birth is going to go." Because for reals, we have no idea what is going to happen in and around our friends' vaginas, and thank God for that. 

We have to stop with the "you must have [this piece of equipment.]" You remember how it felt to select, carefully, the first gifts you would ever give your child? Give your friend the same gift. 

We have to stop with our well-intentioned belittling of our pregnant friends.

You don't win a prize for accurately predicting your friend's misery. Best-case scenario, you become a sterile, distant version of a friend, someone with a proven track record of knowledge who she can text at 10 pm without a $25 after-hours nurse line charge. That co-worker who always has a stapler remover. Worst-case scenario? Your friend can't talk to you anymore. End of friendship.

At the end of the day, we who have been there carry a heavy burden. We know, or think we know, what lies in store for our friends, and we want to help them avoid some of the hardships that accompany pregnancy, birth, and new babies. We know some neat tricks. We have some perspective. We want to give those things, sometimes out of love, and sometimes because it feels good to be the expert. It can be so hard to keep our mouths shut.

(via text)
Baby shower gift!!!
Take it off your registry biatch.
love u mean it xoxo

But when we're tempted to unload the sum total of our own expertise on our unsuspecting fellow breeders, we have to remember two critically important truths:

1. Each person's pregnancy/birth/postpartum experience truly is different.

2. Each person's pregnancy/birth/postpartum experience belongs to her, and her alone.

It is not our job to protect our friends from their experiences, or attempt to press them into a shape that is easy for us to recognize; it's our job to stand by them and say, "that's incredible," or "I understand," or "I know you can." It's so easy to say, "don't do that, do this," or "just wait, this is nothing," in the hopes of showing our friends a shortcut to a resting place, the spot where she can look back at the rocky ground she's traveled and say, "that was hard, but I think I've got more in me."

We're trying to say I love you, but all we're doing is saying, "you need help," when the last thing she needs it to be told how obvious it is that she's struggling.

All we're doing is sowing seeds of worry and judgment.
All we're doing is unintentionally hijacking their lives.
All we're doing is giving our friends their first taste of what it means to be the target of disapproval and a presumption of ignorance. We don't mean to, but we do.

All we're doing is initiating our friends into the Fight Club of Defensive Motherhood, in which you cast doubt on your own judgment, undercut your own gut, undermine what you want for yourself, lash out prematurely at mothers who don't roll your way, because you can only hear patronizing advice so many times before you start to strap on armor over a body you used to think of as capable of walking because hey you've walked a lot of steps over a lot of years, but that was before everybody told you that you're walking wrong and they know how to use your legs better than you do.

Here's what we should do, in my humble opinion, which you didn't ask for, and which might make you feel bad despite the best of my intentions. (See, I told you I'm the worst!)

Instead, let's initiate our friends into the Sisterhood of the Divine Gut-Trusters. Let's teach our friends that they are the CEOs of their families from the moment that "+" pops up on the ept. Not their friends with more kids. Not the pediatricians. Not the nannies at Barnes & Noble.

Let's show our friend that her victories and missteps both belong to her, like tattoos, like scars, like her breath. Those choices, win or lose, and the way they prove her grit, compassion, humanity, are the most profoundly important part of the crazy gift of becoming a parent.

Soon enough she'll stand somewhere like where you are now. She'll be scrolling through Facebook and spot a status by a college acquaintance: "31 weeks in - our baby could come anytime! Eeek!"

If we've done our job, then she won't say "In your dreams, principesa. You've got 2 and a half more months of mouth-breathing left. Buckle up, if you can find your seatbelt extender." She won't say, "I think you have a typo. You meant 41 weeks the baby could come anytime, right?"

Instead she'll remember when you said, "The clock is ticking! Can I take you out for a pedi before she comes? Better make it soon!" She'll remember how you said, "How are you feeling?" and really listened to your answer. She'll remember how it felt to be heard rather than spoken to.

And she'll do us proud.




Chicken: Nana? Why does it rain?

Nana: To water all of the plants that grow on the Earth.

Chicken: I see.

(beat)

Chicken: Nana? Where is Granddaddy?

Nana: He's at work, baby. He'll be home later tonight.

Chicken: I see.

(beat)

Chicken: Nana? Who's God?


Nana: ... ... ... 

Kate? 
Could you come over here?
The 10 Stages of Sleep Regression

1. Sympathy

Poor guy... He's having such a hard time. I just wish I knew how to help, you know? Poor little baby... Oh he sounds really upset... 

2. Problem-solving

I am going to use the internet to read about common sleep regression solutions. There is no way the village of the internet will lead me astray.

3. Fear

OhmyGod if he cries like that it could mean he has a ruptured eardrum! Or a urinary tract infection! Did you see any blood in his diaper? DID YOU EVEN LOOK?

Do you think he's okay? He doesn't seem okay. Do you think he's sick? Do you think he's teething? I bet it's a night terror. I bet he had a night terror. I'm going in. 

I KNOW, but he's alone and scared in there! 

4. Paranoia

Oh iiiiiiiii seeeee. I see it aaaaaaallllll so clearly now. Scared, huh. SICK, ya say. Good one, little man. Oh he worked me like Boiler Room. Always Be Crying, right, you little operator? As soon as I walked in he was all "Mama! Mama!" And then I picked him up and he started giggling and pinching my armpit skin. I can't believe I missed the signs, they're so obvious. You should have seen the glint in his eye. He knows EXACTLY what he's doing. He is a pudgy little puppet master and we are dancing to his pudgy puppet master polka.

5. Soaring elation

Wait... did he... is he... asleep? Wait... yes... he's not rustling around... he's quiet. Oh thank God. You know, that actually wasn't too bad! We handled that pretty well I think! There's something to be said for having done this whole thing once bef--

6. Blood Vessel Popping Rage

SON OF A. ARE YOU KIDDING ME. Are you fucking serious with this right now? Can you believe this asshole? I5 minutes? 15 minutes is enough for you? No. No. NO. AW HELL NO. Say hello to my LEETLE FRIEND. (wields plunger of baby tylenol)

7. This is All Your Fault

I just don't understand. He slept fine last night. We must have done something wrong. Did you do the baby massage? OK, did you do the night-night song? OK... did you read him three stories? WHAT? You only read two? WHAT? Because he seemed like he was tired? How does that strategy seem to be working out so far, huh? Huh, Mr. Nanny? Huh, Mr. Two Stories Is Enough? Huh, Mr. No Respect for the Ritual of Bedtime? OH OH OH OH and by the way, thanks for the brimming cup of APPLE JUICE with dinner, that sugar load probably isn't contributing to this hellscape at all, nope, not at all, nothing to do with it. 

8. Remorse & Carbs

I'm sorry. It's probably not all your fault. Let's eat a baguette stuffed with mashed potatoes. It feels like the right move.

9. Attempt at Zen, Rapid Slide into Despair

Okay, so, okay. This is just our life right now. White-knuckling two glasses of bourbon, listening to our beloved son howl. Okay. This is just... you know, sometimes you just have to accept the facts of the situation without putting a label on them. Like, okay, he's not sleeping, so we're not sleeping, and he is screaming, and we feel anxious, and we're whisper-fighting, and I'm already bloating from my carb sandwich, and we both feel like we are alone, so alone, so unreachable and exhausted and just unable to summon the will to brush our teeth, which makes us feel like total failures not just as parents or partners but as human possessors of teeth. When we are at the dentist getting root canals, at least we won't be able to hear the screaming... at least there's that, right? So... okay.

10. Co-sleeping 

Fuck it. 


Aaaah
after 5 hours
of broken sleep
I feel
and look
so refreshed
wait
sorry
I meant
recycled
like
recycled paper
kind of gray
and permanently floppy
like
smashed pulp.
Yeah
that's what I meant.

Now
I remember
why
I remember
nothing.

Yesterday, a stranger felt quite comfortable recommending that I medicate my son.

Usually I'd say something like "to be fair... [insert kind excuse on behalf of strange woman, perhaps something about how "high energy" Chicken is, or how, yes, okay, he did try to push a little girl out of the bouncy house.]"

But today, no. I'm not going to be fair.

I'm not going to err on the side of kindness and the smothering of my intense feelings in order to make sure that everyone has a nice time.

No, I'm not just going to assume that I misunderstood her, that she didn't mean it that way. I'm not going to tell myself that she's old so it's okay for her to use racial slurs and make haughty proclamations about what's wrong with Chicken, and what's wrong with me.

No. Not today.

Here's how it went down.

We were at the community center where, on Fridays, they put up two bouncy houses in the gym, and scatter around a bunch of cars, tricycles, scooters, toy lawnmowers, and an oversized foam block set. It's called Toddler Gym, and it's $3 a kid, and when it gets too full it reminds me of battle scenes from Braveheart. But yesterday, it was pretty quiet.

I released my krakens. Buster beelined for a lawnmower. Chicken tore away to the bigger bouncy house and threw himself headfirst through the doorway. I posted up in classic mother-of-two triangulation position, and sipped my coffee.

All was quiet and lovely for a few minutes.

Then I turned to my right and met the glaring eyes of a snowy-haired septuagenarienne in a white turtleneck, pancake-colored polyester slacks, and navy blue Seahawks jersey. I immediately knew two things:
1. I would call her Estelle, and
2. Estelle hated me.

I scanned the room for my kids. Buster had his finger in his belly button. Standard. Chicken sat on the pillowy bouncy house floor, red-cheeked, panting, taking 5 (seconds) before he resumed bouncing.

I looked at Estelle again. Her owlish stare remained locked on me, her even-more-owlish pointy, not-quite-accurately red-liplined lips pulled down in a disapproving purse. I checked over my shoulder to see if there was something offensive going on behind me -a homeless man masturbating, perhaps, or a mother giving her child a non-organic juice box. Nope. Definitely me.

I got up and walked over to Chicken, who had finished his break and was back to bouncing. "Everything going okay in here, baby?"

From the blur of cartwheeling limbs, I heard him bellow, "I AM A TIGER WHO CAN FLY!"

"Alright, cool. Rock on."

I sat back down and checked in with Estelle again - yep, still glowering at me like I took a dump on her face after eating shellfish paella when I KNEW FULL WELL that she didn't care for Mexican food.

Maybe that's just what her face looks like. 
Maybe SHE is the inventor of Resting Bitch Face. 

So anywho, a few more minutes passed before I saw the beginnings of a kerfuffle in the bouncy house.

Chicken had been playing nicely with a little Asian girl in an adorable Tea outfit. I mean, nicely for a 3-year-old, which is basically not tackling, and occasionally screaming at her to watch him because he is a tiger who can fly.

Chicken decided that she was not sufficiently impressed with his tiger flying, and (I'm not even kidding) said, "I think it's time for you to go." Then he took her hand with his hand, placed his other hand on her back between her shoulder blades, and began to lead her, really quite gently, out of the bouncy house.

It was adorable, but I'm no squirrelly amateur. I could see where this was headed. I headed over to the bouncy house at a brisk clip.

She didn't want to go.
He really wanted her to go.
She pulled away.
He pushed back.
She sat down.
His gentlemanly escort turned darker, and he legit started to drag her by one arm to the door.

We talked it out.
He let her go.
He returned, sweaty and panting, to the important work of pioneering tiger flight.

The little girl's mom never even wandered over, and honestly, I didn't give the incident another thought. Yo, this is what life IS when you have two toddlers. My #1 job responsibility is murder prevention.

UNTIL we were packing up to go and Estelle walked up.

Estelle: You should medicate your son for ADHD.

Me: What?

Estelle: I've been watching him, in that air house. He's...  you should really medicate him.

___

Let's just step outside the moment here and recognize a few truths.

1. It's called a BOUNCY HOUSE. Or maybe a JUMP CASTLE. But air house? Air house, Estelle? COME ON.

2. Have you ever met a three-year-old who wouldn't literally bounce off the walls when presented with an otherwise empty bouncy house?

3. It's always open season on moms.

This isn't the first time someone has offered an unwelcome, asshatted opinion about my family. I think people look at the way I try to handle my two wild children, with soft hands and patient words, and assume I am either nice or stupid.They formulate an opinion. And obviously, since I'm nice and/or stupid, they must share it with me.

My default response has been to politely but coolly thank them for their concern, assure them that I'm not an idiot and that I make informed choices, say "have a good day," and then call my mom and say "GUESS WHAT JUST HAPPENED."

One woman at the park: "That baby carrier you're using is really selfish. Facing him in like that only feeds your need to be needed by your child. The best thing for him would be to face out so he can develop self-reliance. Oh, God, no, I don't have children myself. Just corgis," she said, half a dozen beige sausage dogs with smartass grins winding a leash web around her legs.

Me: "Thank you for your concern, We picked the Ergo after doing a lot of research on both the psychological and physical benefits of different carriers, and we're happy with our choice. Have a good day."

Another woman in a Target: "You'd better put a hat on that baby, now! He'll just freeze!"

Me: "Thank you for your concern. We're actually inside a heated store right now, so he would overheat with a hat. Also it's May. Also, he's a year old. So... have a good day."

But this time it was different. Estelle wasn't judging me. She was judging Chicken. She saw his zeal, his energy, perhaps his totally normal selfishness when he escorted the other little girl out of "his" house. She saw the same things I did, and where I thought, "that is perfect joy," she thought, "that boy ain't right."

And then she decided she'd better do something about it, and walked up to me, and told me to medicate my child. Buckle up, we are stepping back inside the moment:

___

Estelle: You should medicate your son for ADHD.

Me: What?

Her: I've been watching him, in that air house. He's...  you should really medicate him.

Me: I'm not concerned about ADHD. His level of energy and focus is developmentally appropriate.

Her: My son was just like him and we put him on ADHD medication and he calmed right down.

Me: I'm sure he did.

Her: He got a lot easier to handle.

Me: I'm sure he did.

Her: You should consider medication.

Me: I heard you the first time. I will not.

And then I took my boys and left.

I knew I still wouldn't say all the things I wanted to say.

I knew I wouldn't say, "Oh, Doctor! I'm so glad you're here. Listen, I think my toenail fungus is infected, could you take a look?"

I knew I wouldn't say, "I think you should medicate yourself until you lose the urge to comment on children you don't know and who aren't hurting anybody."

I knew I wouldn't say, "Fun fact! Bouncy houses were invented by parents of hyperactive children to level the playing field. Another fun fact! The kidney punch was invented by mothers of young children who wanted to teach strangers to butt out without leaving a bruise. You feel me?"

I knew I wouldn't say, "Since we're offering opinions on each other's appearances today, pull up a chair Estelle. I'd like to talk to you about panty lines and lip liner."

I wouldn't say any of that stuff. Anything I said that was snippy or defensive would only confirm her presuppositions about me and mine. But I knew I'd be damned if I'd thank her for her concern, or wish her a good day.

I don't think that ADHD is a flaw, and I think that people who decide to medicate their kids, including Estelle, deserve the benefit of the doubt and the right to make their own choices. Today, a day later, I can see that perhaps Estelle thought she saw a kindred spirit in me, someone who needed help, someone whose kid desperately needed assistance. I think I would be able to be kinder to her if she hadn't given me the stank eye for like half an hour before she walked up to me and told me, without any kindness whatsoever, to sedate Chicken.

If I thought Chicken needed help in order to focus, learn, and play happily, I would get him help. If that help was medication, I would absolutely consider it.

But...


someone medicate this child
for being
too
spectacularly
into
the number 1

Nah.

Walk on, Estelle. Good luck with all your future endeavors.
Neverland is a new series of posts about growing up. 

Still a Popsicle, Lovely Puddle

Chicken is three years old. Up until recently, the three things he worried about the most were:

1. Can I have a popsicle?
2. If I eat this french fry, then can I have a popsicle?
3. If I put the carrot in my mouth but then spit it out onto the plate, then can I have a popsicle?

He was a baby, a simple creature with ever-changing, yet singular focus.

Sure, he had a vocabulary and was prone to insights that brought me to tears THAT I WILL NEVER ADMIT TO SHEDDING because I'm a tough broad and sweet baby boy revelations don't ever make a tough broad cry while she smells her son's hair.

But he was still so childish (and by childish I mean goldfishish.) His ideas and exclamations, transcendent as they were, lived in the span of a single breath: inspiration, followed immediately by expiration.

But lately, I don't know if it's his breaths that have gotten deeper or his thoughts. 

Yesterday he sat at his little table, an orange crayon buried in his fist as he drew careful circles in reverse-ripples, each one smaller than the last.

this is no way reminded me
of
the ring
until
just now
and i have to say
thank god we don't have a vhs

I sat on the couch, drinking a cup of coffee and scrolling through Facebook on my iPhone with the slack-jawed, vacant desperation of a person who has boarded a plane that will never, ever take off reading a presidential biography and having, you know, thoughts.

I heard Chicken speak.

"Mommy, I don't want my voice to change."

"Hm?" 

"I don't want my voice to change." I looked up from the Buzzfeed list of child stars who have aged super badly a lyrical yet detail-packed description of John Adams' childhood home. There sat my boy. His head tilted so low it hung barely a breath from the table. His eyes never shifted from the orange circles.

"Why do you think your voice will change?"

"Because it just will. And I don't want it to. I don't want my voice to change and I don't want scratchy stuff on my face."

Then, quietly:

"I don't want to be a grown-up."

I did the mental shuffle of response options that I always do when Chicken says something alarming or asks a question that demands both honesty and tenderness.

Option 1: Relentless Cheer

But being a grown-up is AWESOME! You can buy cookies any time you want! Plus, you can reach high cabinets, and tie your shoes, and play flip cup, and you get to pick what you're having for dinner EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, and nobody tries to tell you when it's time to brush your teeth or get out of the bath or go to sleep. Dude, when you're a grown-up, you can stay up so late that it's LEGITIMATELY DARK when you go to sleep. Is your mind blown? Seriously. It's amazeballs, being a grown-up. You're gonna have so much fun.

Option 2: Relentless Gloom

Son, I understand why you feel that way. Being a grown-up is really hard. Right now you get to play all day long, and food just appears in front of you, and people beg you to spend an hour in your room every afternoon resting quietly with books in a soft bed surrounded by pillows and friendly stuffed dinosaurs. 

But grown-ups... Grown-ups have a long list of things they have to do, like make dentist appointments and get the oil changed in the car, and write a will, and worry about global warming. And once grown-ups are done with the have-to stuff, they don't have any time for fun stuff like playing or reading or watching a movie. Plus, our backs hurt. 

Plus, someday, when you're a grown-up, your brown-eyed precocious child will open his mouth and break your heart when he tells you that he's afraid of something that it is not in your power to prevent. My darling, I know I'm supposed to want you to grow up and change and be your own person, but if I could keep you just exactly the way you are, right now, forever and ever, so full of joy, so spirited and only just a little broken yet, I totally would.

Yeah, I understand why you don't want to be a grown-up, baby. I don't want it either. 


I hereby validate your feeling of existential dread.

Option 3: WTF?!?

Holy crap, what book have you been reading? 
Hey, can you count how many circles you have there? 
Hey, did you want hot dogs for dinner? 
Hey, let's talk about literally anything other than growing up. 
WORMS. 
CHEESE. 
I'll even turn on, yes, I'll say it... Caillou. If I have to.

I wanted to Option 1, but I didn't want to lie.

I wanted to Option 2, but I didn't want to cry.

So I led with Option 3, and he answered, "dinosaur books, twenty, yeah with ketchup only, worms have eyes, cheese is too yucky for me," and "I don't like Caillou." Oh, thank Christ.

Eventually, I remembered and executed Secret Option 4, The Correct Way To Handle This:

I understand why you feel that way. But baby, you've got a long, long, long time before you grow up, and I think as time passes you'll find some things to be excited about getting older. Right now, though, I'm proud that you want to just be exactly what you are. Your face isn't scratchy, and your voice is just what it's supposed to be. You're a magnificent, kind, funny, curious, 3-year-old Tiger, and there's nothing else you could possibly be right now. 

And dude, let me just say, I nailed it. But it was like 15 minutes after he said his thing, and by then his internal narrative had migrated from "icy pang of existential fear" back to "can I have a popsicle?"

I've never been so happy to unwrap a popsicle at 10:30 in the morning.

He held his popsicle until sweet tangerine-flavored water dripped from his fingers onto his paper. The fat drop landed perfectly at the center of his nest of concentric orange crayon circles.

"Wow!" I said, "look at that!"

We hunched over the picture together. He lay his head down on the table, studying the drop with sparkling eyes from only inches away.

I couldn't help it - the sweet, accidentally perfect drop at the center of his drawing, the not-on-purpose punctuation of an otherwise carefully constructed creation... It was as if I'd looked up at the night sky expecting to feel empty, only to look exactly at the spot where a shooting star blazed, unpredictable, unrepeatable, just for a second, just for me.

I couldn't help it - I couldn't help but feel like... yeah... good call on the popsicle, kid.
The water is, in fact, exactly at my head.

I promised myself this blog wouldn't turn into the Poor Katie show, and when I feel tempted to just wallow in self-pity as if it were six loads of clean laundry heaped on my bed, cold and wrinkled and standing between me and a half night's sleep, I try to ask a harder or more revealing question than, "who else feels bad for me and wants to bake me something?"

oh hey
robert frost
i'll take your
"miles to go
before you sleep"
and raise you
"four hundred mismatched thumb-sized socks to match
before i pack tomorrow's lunch"
checkmate
frosty
i win
(but if i won
why am I so sad?)

What's changed? Why is life harder now than it was a month ago?

Because that's the way children operate, ya fucking rookie. As soon as you get comfortable, BAM, Chicken starts to have nightmares about becoming a grown-up and Buster figures out the toilet lid opens and BONUS, there's a private jacuzz in there! I can't believe we are still having this conversation. Three years in and you're still surprised to learn that you don't know what the fuck you're doing? Denial. It's not just a dyslexic mountain in Alaska, am I right?

Also, I took a part-time job. 
Also, I renewed my commitment to a long-form writing project. 
Also, I still have two toddlers, a husband and small group of determined friends who have the audacity to occasionally need something from me, and an appetite that just won't be satisfied on six cups of coffee and pre-masticated cheese that I ate automatically when Buster spit the shining yellow gob into my hand.

Actually, nope, that was a lie. It wasn't automatic. I looked at the cheese glop for a good minute. I looked closely. I looked at the shiny, slimy, warm, tooth-pocked cheddar ball in a pool of foamy toddler spit in my palm and I SAID YES. YES, I should eat this fast before the spit cheese juice drips through my fingers onto the floor at the Little Gym. YES, I did it in public. And NO, nobody wants to be my friend there.

What do I really have to do right now?

I have to write a fucking blog post for once this month just anything just whatever, just what has Chicken said lately that was funny. 

I have to keep my children conscious and mostly clean. 

I really have to move the laundry. I thought one of the kids hid a post-fish-stew diaper in the closet, but it was really the load of whites that had lay, fecund and damp, sealed in its own juices in the 70-degree hallway for no less than 72 hours.

I really have to get this fucking turban squash seeded and sliced, JUST STAB IT STAB IT STAB IT ANYWHERE AND KEEP STABBING UNTIL THE BITES ARE MOSTLY NOT THROAT SIZED.

I should probably take a shower.




What do I WANT to do right now?

I want to write a good blog post, thoughtful and funny, one of the four that has been living in my head for the last couple of weeks, about Chicken's alter-ego, about friends who go back to work, about the exhilaration of dangerously over-committing oneself, about co-parenting.

I want to sit on the couch with Chicken and help him learn to write letters. He watched his friend spell his own name this morning, his face the same one I make when I learn that my friend has baked this bread from scratch. "What is this white magic? But when? But how?"

I want to fold the laundry and then put it away and turn back over my shoulder in the bedroom doorway to savor the smooth, empty dresser top, the air-filled empty corners where so many socks used to nest.

I really want to sip a cup of hot coffee and watch mindless television while slicing this turban squash into lazy, lovely, uniform cubes, and enjoying the feel of the slick, firm flesh, the satisfying snick of the blade when it meets the cutting board.

I really want to go for a run and then not shower. What can I say? The whole "no time for a shower" mom cliche never hit me that hard. I've always viewed bathing as more of a hobby than a habit.


___

It occurs to me that my have-to and want-to list aren't so very different - I want to do the same things I need to do - household tasks, writing, caring for my boys. Even though they feel so different, I could measure the gap between the day I'm slogging through and the day I dream of savoring with a single word:

space.

I need space.

I need temporal space. The time to perform a necessary task with even more necessary leisure.

I need creative space. (Yes, I rolled my eyes when I typed that. Yes, I'm a douche sometimes.) The acre of time and quiet needed to write something that feels good to send out to you, wherever you are, reading now.

I need physical space. There are only so many hours of the day I can have a Chicken on my shoulders, his fingers impossibly deep and coiled in my hair, and a Buster in my lap, holding both my hands as if they were gear shifts, while I attempt to be a horsey from the neck up and a tractor from the belly down.

I need to come out of the water for a minute. I need to not be surrounded entirely, just for a minute.

I need the water level to drop enough that my limbs don't remind me of how slowly I'm moving, as I struggle to stay on pace.

Oh, if needing made it so.

I recently told a friend that the thing about parenting kids my age is that the only way out is through. It doesn't last forever except in your mind, and you really have no choice but to put your head down, declare "good enough," and cut open the carton of soup for dinner.

After I put the boys to bed tonight, I'll watch mindless TV as I cut the turban squash into perfect, even cubes. I'll sweep the orange hunks of flesh from the board into a bowl. And I'll roast them tomorrow.

hello
lover

shorty wants that apple juice box
with all the sugar
(with the sugarrr)
got the whole store lookin at herrr

she hits the flo'
next thing ya know
shorty screams no no no no no no no no

them saggy diaper pants
and the binky on the strap
(on the strap)
she turn around and gave her mama's face a slap
(HEY)

she hits the flo'
next thing ya know
mama says no no no no no
oh hell no

hey mama
it's that shit that make me cray mama


For the last month or so, Chicken insists on "camping" when he goes to sleep at night. We creep into the dark bedroom where Buster is already sleeping. We pull his duvet off the toddler bed and into a nest on the floor, and tuck him in with, oh, about a dozen stuffed animals forming the toddler equivalent of a bowling lane gutter buffer along his body.

I think about what the anthropologists of the 37th century would think of us should this night be frozen like the ruins of Pompeii. They would step into the bedroom and find a large baby sleeping in a crib, surrounded by eighteen pacifiers. And on the floor next to him, a toddler, curled up under a blanket, his sleeping face uplifted toward his brother.

Look at that love, they might say. Look at the way he chooses to sleep on the floor so he can be closer to the little one. Ancient societies must have been kinder, more protective, and more nurturing than we are today. And the kids definitely would have respected their elders! Not like these kids today! Trilennials, right?

I think about the conclusions we make we come upon burial sites, the things we think we know about the past.

Now that I have two children I cannot help but wonder... did that child lie down to rest close to his baby brother because of the bloodborne impulse to love and protect?

Or was it because his mother said, "Chicken, seriously, listen, the only place that you cannot sleep is on the floor next to your brother. Do you hear me? I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME. I know what you're doing. You just want to poke his face through the slats until he wakes up. And then you'll just keep each other awake all night. So you can sleep in your bed, in the chair, in the closet, under the dresser... literally anywhere but where you are right now. Ok, yeah, you know what? Fine.  FINE. Stay awake all night. See if I care. I'm putting in my ear plugs. See you in the morning, buttholes."