Monday, June 25, 2012

An Indecent Proposal

Sophia and I are eating breakfast together.  This is a time when Sophie is inclined to suddenly reveal a little tidbit of what happens in her life when I am not around.  I relish these moments. 

These crumbs of personal experience must be offered, I have learned.  When she comes home from school, she is always tight-lipped about her day.

“So, Soph…what happened in school today, anything interesting?”

“Can I listen to Seussical?”

“Can we talk for a little bit first?  I haven’t seen you all day.”

“Okay mommy.  I will tell you one thing.  Then, you have to turn on Seussical.”

I sigh.  I don’t want to grill her.  But come on.  Why the secrecy?  When I was a child, I was all too happy to share every intimate detail of my day with my mother.  Much to her chagrin.

My mom:  “What happened at school today?”  She braces herself.  Pours a cup of coffee.  Takes a seat. 

Me:  “First period: insert lengthy story.  Second period: insert lengthy story. “  I am oblivious to all social cues that I should speed things up.  Eyeball rolls. Yawns.  Glances at the clock.  (She teases me to this day, asking me when she calls, “So what happened during first period?”  Very funny, mom.) 

And even now, I catch my husband glazing over, when, in Technicolor, I illustrate for him exactly how the day went. 

Even my therapist, MY THERAPIST, jokes that I talk too much.  Can I help it?  I’m a storyteller.  It’s in my blood. 

But, clearly, this is one trait Sophie has not inherited from me.  Which is why, I get really excited when she engages in spontaneous sharing.  I try not to act too hungry for every gory detail, but I know my eager expression betrays me every time.

“Trip asked me to marry him,” she says, as casually as if she was saying she learned how to squats in Kick N’ Flips. 

“Who’s Trip?”  I had never heard of this Trip fellow.  Never seen him at Montessori before.  He must be a new kid.  Clearly, a man of action. 

“Oh, he’s not in my class.  He’s a napper.  I see him on the play ground.”
“When did he ask you to marry him?”

“So, Trip was already in the bathroom, and I showed up.”

“What was he doing?”  I pictured a one room bathroom.

“He was going to the potty.” 


“And he asked me if I saw his foot.”

“So he was in a stall?”  She looks at me like I’m an idiot, as if this is why she never tells me anything. 

Yes, Mommy.”

“So what did you do?”

“I said no.  And he said, can you see my foot now?  And I said no.  And he said “AHHHHHHH!  My butt’s on fire!”

“I’m not following.”

“He says that sometimes.  To be silly.”

“So then what happened?”

“Then he asked to marry me.”

“And what were you doing, when he proposed to you?”

“Oh, I was pee-ing,” she says, matter-of-factly.  Really.  Can you think of anything more romantic than this?

“So what did you say?”

“I told him…maybe,” she gives me a coquettish, side-long glance. 

“Why maybe?”

“Because.  I don’t know if I want to marry him, or PJ or Samantha.”   

I nod, understandingly, and reach for pen and paper.  

“Let me get this all down, I tell her. “ And she beams, while I write down her story, asking her to recount each detail, making sure I get it right.

When I’m finished, she asks, “Can I see?” 

“Well, I just kind of scribbled it, Soph.”  I tell her, handing her the slip of paper.  She studies it, and I watch her mouth move.  She’s reading it. 

“What do you think?” I ask?

“Great!” I can see she is quite pleased with herself. 

She may not suffer from the same verbal incontinence that I do, but she shares the same impulse.  We all share that impulse.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dad Material

When I first saw Kevin, with his long straight hair, his ripped jeans and his tan poncho, I did not think there goes “dad material.”  Nor did I when I first heard him speak in class, brilliant and confident with a memory so keen, he never had to take notes and a tongue so sharp it cut holes in even the strongest of arguments. 

I just wanted to get me some of that. 

I can remember sitting with another student, telling her, I was pretty sure he liked me.  That I would make him mine.  She looked at me like I was nuts.  (Of course, she thought he liked her.  She thought everyone liked her.)

But what she didn’t know was that we had already started a relationship on the sly, talking on the phone each night, until I could no longer hold my eyes open.  Sometimes I even fell asleep, with the phone still in my hand.  And though he told me that he couldn’t picture himself ever getting married.

I knew better. 

It was Kevin who wanted me to move closer to him, not with him, but closer to where he lived and we both went to school.  So I did.  A few years later, he warmed to the idea of us moving in together.  We rented the second floor of a sky-blue Victorian with windows like portholes and a glorious back porch perched in the trees.  We called it the boathouse in the sky.  Four years in, I pressed my grandmother’s ring into his palm and told him he could give it to me any time he felt ready.

Subtle, I know.   But by that time, he had changed his thinking.  We could picture it, spending our lives together.  Oh, there were details to work through—where we would live (his state or mine), when we would have kids (before or at 40)—stuff like that.  But we agreed about the fundamental things, and there was still no one I would rather talk to for hours and hours.  He was my closest, dearest friend. 

I had small reservations.  When he refused to share my love of reading children’s books or singing camp songs at the top of our lungs, I was mildly concerned that he didn’t feel the way I did about children.  I was afraid he lived too much in his mind.   That, perhaps, childish things were too childish for him. 

We got married on a hilltop, surrounded by circles of people we loved.  An impending storm threatened the ceremony.   No rain, but lightening and thunder.  Someone joked that the Gods had stood up and taken notice.  I cried through my vows.  In pictures, I look like I am in pain.  We sealed the ceremony with a kiss under umbrellas and then rushed down the hill to the refuge of a billowy white tent. 

Flash forward three years later when, to my great joy, I am with child.  Kevin was interested and attentive throughout my pregnancy, but stopped short of reading to my belly, or pressing his lips to my swollen body whispering sweet somethings to the infant within.  Things I wanted did not resonate for him.  I wondered what kind of a father he would be. 

Now I know.  Kevin is the kind of father who allows his daughter to dress him like a baby and feed him with a bottle, plays endless hours of Wesley to her Princess Buttercup, and can patiently retell her the entire Star Wars Trilogy on a 16 hour trip out to Illinois.  He is the kind of father who has read every single children’s book on her shelf to her, too many times to count.  He is the kind of father who gently talks about with her about how she is feeling, and soothes her hurts and celebrates her accomplishments. 

I love watching Kevin with Sophia.  I am moved by their pure enjoyment of each other.  How she rushes into his arms, exclaiming, “DADDY!” when he comes home, her face lit up with love.  How they wrestle like puppies on the kitchen floor right in front of the refrigerator while I’m trying to make dinner, giggling like maniacs.  How she strokes his beard and sucks her thumb when she’s tired or sad and they both wear they same dreamy, far-away look. 

There was so much to love in Kevin, before Sophia.  But since she has come along, I have seen a side of him I didn’t know was there.  There is certainly a degree of stress that accompanies bringing a child into a marriage.  I’ve watched it strain and erode relationships.  We are not immune to the demands of parenting and it’s impact on our couplehood.  But the struggles do not outweigh the immeasurable delights.  Seeing Kevin as a father has only served to deepen my love for him. 

Happy Father’s Day, Kevin. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mistakes Were Made

Spoiler Alert:  You might want to read Gone Girl before reading my blog.  It is thoroughly entertaining and worth the hours I stayed up too late to read it.  I’ll loan it to you, if you’d like.  But, you don’t have to have read the book to get the blog.  Up to you….

What’s worse than having one parent who’s a psychologist?

Having two parents who are psychologists.

In Gillian Flynn’s new book, Gone Girl, Amy, beloved daughter and hated wife, has gone missing.  Amy is the daughter of two psychologists who have written a best selling series about her, Amazing Amy.  The Amazing Amy books are a set of morality tales in which Amy always emerges the victor.  The superior.  The doer of right things.  Amy, the person, lives under the specter of perfection.  A fictional self she must live up to. 

She is also a psychopath.  A person without a conscience, without remorse.  Though is not explicitly stated that this childhood gave rise to her psychopathology, it is implied. 

I think it could simply be ironic that Amy turned out this way.  But that may be because, reading the book, I felt a light being shined a bit too brightly in my own eyes. 

From the moment I was pregnant I heard people joke about Sophia’s terrible fate —that she was doomed to be screwed up, being raised by two psychologists.  As if we would be scrutinizing her every move (we do), forcing her to talk about her emotions (guilty), and analyzing her motivations (yes, that too), and that somehow, one day, this would push her over the edge.  (By the way:  The dual-psychologist effect is amplified when there is only one child to absorb all of this attention.)

Now the good news is that the most recent research on psychopaths reveals that there is most likely a genetic vulnerability, which may be expressed when coupled with horrific, extreme childhood abuse.  I haven’t heard of any psychopaths in the family tree (Kevin has conducted extensive ancestry research), and the worst thing I have done is pinch Sophie’s tushie because it is just so darn cute.

I cannot be the only person who has done this.  And, if there was any direct causal relationship between tushie pinching and psychopathology, I think there would be a lot more of them running around.

In Gone Girl, it wasn’t garden variety psychologist-parent behavior or even tushie pinching that pushed Amy over the edge.  Amy’s parents thought they could raise the perfect child.  Or that they were raising the perfect child.  Herein lies the difference.  I know I am making mistakes.  Every day.  They fly out of my mouth every time I yell, they seep into the atmosphere every time I grown impatient.  And I have no illusions that Sophia is the perfect child.  There are days she is perfectly monstrous, but most of the time she just being her willful, free-spirited, wacky self. 

The other parallel in the book that made me blush was the fact that Amy’s parents wrote about Amy.  (Guilty again.)  I think I am less concerned with the impact of having two psychologists as parents (which largely amounts to behavior charts, a concerted effort to foster social and emotional skills, and a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking), than I am of Sophie having her life so publically documented. 

Just the other day, I flashed to middle school.  What might it be like for Sophie if her friends discovered I have been writing about her all her life?  Or worse, her enemies?  Could this be a source of humiliation for her?  Have I deprived her of her privacy?  I want to believe that these essays are more about my musings as a parent than an expose of my daughter’s daily existence—but can they be separated?  Will they be separated? 

Perhaps not.  And if not, it will certainly be my duty to notice this and do something about it.  I’ve thought about having to stop, which I certainly would, if I thought it was hurting Sophie. 

I can only hope that these carefully crafted stories will one day be received, not as a life-long exploitation, but as a exploration of the parent I strive to be, and an homage to the person who made it all possible.  

This post is inspired by mystery thriller, Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn. They may not have the perfect marriage, but after Amy goes missing, Nick becomes the number one suspect. Can he discover what happened before it's too late? Join From Left to Write June 12 as we discuss Gone Girl. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

What Happens When You Die

Sophia and I are driving along the turnpike. I’m listening to podcasts of NPR in one ear, trying to ignore Horton the Elephant warbling about his ill-fated Who’s with the other, when Sophie suddenly asks, “Mommy?  What happens after people die?”

The question seems to come out of nowhere.  I put the ear bud out of my ear, turn off Suessical, and look at her in the rearview mirror.

“What do you think happens after people die?”  I ask her.  I’m not stalling for time, I really want to know what she thinks.

“Well…we scoop out their blood.”  She ventures.

“What?  Why would we do that?”

“To sell it!”  I shoot her a confused look.

 She gets impatient with me, “Like what you said, with the president.”

Oh.  Right.  Just moments ago I was listening to a story about a vial of Ronald Regan’s blood.   Apparently it was taken from a lab that tested his blood for lead after an assassination attempt in 1981.   The blood was to be auctioned off, but, responding to pressure from Reagan’s family and surgeon, the blood thief decided to withdraw it from the auction and donate the desiccated residue to the Ronald Reagan foundation. 

“Ew,” I silently thought.  My face twisted into an expression of disgust.  Sophie had called from the back seat, “What, Mommy, what?”

“It’s gross.”  I told her.

“Tell me!” the lover of all things gross replied.  And, though I know that I really shouldn’t have, I gave her a modified version of the story.

“Ew.”  She agreed.  “Gross.”

Now, I have to set the story straight.

“Soph, what happened with Reagan is very…unusual.  Most people do not get their blood scooped out and sold at auction.”  She watches me, expectantly, sucking her thumb.  “Any other thought about what happens after we die?” 

She removes her thumb from her mouth. “We get broken.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your body starts to fall apart.”  I am momentarily stunned by her completely unromantic, somewhat scientific conception of death. 

“That’s true.”  I affirm.  “It does.”  I probe her thinking a little deeper, “Do you think we can think anymore after we die?”


 “Do you think we can feel anymore after we die?”


“Well…lots of people have different ideas about what happens when you die. But many think exactly what you think—that we simply cease to exist.” 

Sophie, fortunately, has had very little experience with death.  A dead mouse we found in a field when we were picking raspberries.  Friends’ grandparents.  My father’s birds, which, horribly, died of starvation because of a miscommunication between my parents.   Though we never said how they died, she tells everyone they flew away.  

I wonder which of these experiences gave her this idea.  What really goes on inside that head of hers. 

“Will I die one day?”  Sophie asks me. 

“Yes, you will.  Eventually, everyone does die.”

“Will Snakey-Pie die?”  She means her beloved 6-foot stuffed snake. 

“Well, the thing about Snakey-Pie is that he’s not alive; he can’t die if he’s not alive.  We could die and Snakey would still be around.”

Sophie bursts out crying.   “But I want to feel him!”  (Sophie “softs” on Snakey, rubbing his fluorescent orange fur while she sucks her thumb.) 

“Well, we just talked about the fact that you wouldn’t be able to feel anymore, so you wouldn’t be able to feel Snakey if you were dead.”  I mean this to be reassuring, but the logic of it escapes her. 

She cries harder. 

“It’s a very sad thought,” I admit. 

“I will close my eyes, suck my thumb and soft on Snakey when I’m dead.”  Sophie decides, confidently rewriting her conceptualization of death—from annihilation to an eternity of comfort.  

I watch the calm return to her face.  I feel no need to disabuse her of this notion.  

Our conversation took us to the very edge of darkness, and after we felt the cold wash over our toes, we ran back for shore, squealing with the thrill of danger.  Relieved to, once again, be safe and feel the warmth of the sun.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Parenting in the Now

I’ve been really irritable lately.  I’m still off the coffee, so it can’t be that. 

It all started about a week ago, when Sophie woke me a couple of days in a row around 3 am.  Each time she a plausible excuse at the ready:

I ran out of toilet paper.
I’m too cold.
I just wanted to see if you were still there.

Each time, the turn of my crystal door handle and the pop of the latch bolt freed from its strike plate, severed me from a dream.  A quick death of my other universe.
The violence of it made my heart pound in my chest.  “What?!?   What is it?!?”  I sit up. 

I am ready to wrestle a bear.  But it’s only her, looking very small in just her watermelon underwear, clutching Snakie-Pie.  I fight the special gravity that holds me to my bed at 3 in the morning and resolve the issue.

Here’s more.
I turned off the air conditioning.
I’m right here.  Mommy’s always right here.

But by the time I climb back into bed I am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed awake.  If only I could feel this good at 7 am, when I am obliged to start my day.  I pick up my phone and make moves on all seven of the Words with Friends games I have going on.  It is my sedative. 

Just a few days earlier, a friend sent me a note, “You haven’t played in the middle of the night for awhile!”

Ah well. 

I take one last look at the clock, a half an hour has passed since Sophie busted in.  And, then, two and half hours later, she’s back.

“It’s too early, go back to sleep,” I moan. 

“But it’s light out mom.”
“But I’m hungry.”
“But I’ve been waiting for hours and minutes!”

After a few days of this, my body, ever accommodating, has decided that this is our new schedule.  So, though Sophia is back to sleeping through the night, and waking closer to 7, my eyes fly open at 3 and then again just before 6.  It is so unfair. 
If the disrupted sleep has made me edgy; Sophie’s subsequent resistance of her morning routine pushes me head long into anger.  

“Pick out something to wear.” She pretends not to hear me.  Picks up a book.

“You can either wear this or this,” I say, holding up two of her favorite dresses. 

“I’m not getting dre--essed,” she says in a defiant sing song voice.  Then she sticks her tongue out at me.   And then she rips the dress out of my hand and throws it on the floor.

So it’s going to be like that, is it?

What should do:  walk away.


The anger gets me nowhere.  She escalates.  Slamming doors.  Screaming back, “You’re not being nice!”

And then, like a child I answer, “You aren’t being nice to me!” 

What am I doing?  I am fighting with a four-year-old.  Like she was my sister. 

I finally remove myself.  But my heart continues to pound, and my mind goes into instant replay overdrive.  I should have done this.  She should have done that. 

My husband finds me in the kitchen, hacking away at a banana.  I don’t look up when he walks in, which lets him know what kind of a morning it has already been.  I can feel his disappointment.  He wants me to turn, smile and kiss him.  I just want to murder defenseless bananas. 

I am living somewhere in between our past argument and our dismal future breakfast, which is anywhere but the present. 

If I was in the present, I would be able to step away from my suffering self, observe my irritation, and, in effect detach myself from it.  I would understand how fortunate I am.  How silly I am being.  My anger would dissipate like smoke.  I would let it go. 

My anxiety is driven by the fact that I am deeply attached to my schedule.  To what is going to happen next.  I devote so many precious hours to imaging potential futures and then worrying about them.  I spend entirely too much time perceiving the present as a problem because it is interfering with what, I believe, should be. 

Sophia has no schedule.  She is blissfully unaware of time.  Tonight, just before dinner, she looked up at me and asked, “Is it still morning?”  It’s not simply that she doesn’t understand the past, present, future continuum—because she does at this point—it’s that it’s not on her radar.  She doesn’t keep track.  She loses herself in the moment. 

When do we lose this ability to be immersed?  To forget the world?  To play and delight in simply being? 

There are moments when I watch Sophie and, instead of being irritated by what I perceive to be dawdling, I am charmed by her deep interest in everything in her path.  When I allow myself to slow down (and quiet that voice within, shrill with the threat that I’ll be late), I can join her in that blissful place.  Right now, it is fleeting, my hyperactive brain will only allow me a minute or two.  But I am certain that with this newfound awareness, I can extend my visits to the present.   Abandon the false future.  Forget the troubled past. 

And parent in the now.