Sunday, March 31, 2013

Waiting for Yes

I come downstairs and find Sophia and Kevin curled up in bed together, snuggling.  They both look drowsy, their eyes at half-mast.  I sit at the foot of the bed, where there’s barely enough room for me. 

“What a night!”  I exclaim.  “The Easter Bunny showed up really late.”

“When?” said Sophie, sitting up.

“Not until after midnight.  He kept me up way past my bedtime!”  I whistled. 

“Do I have an Easter Basket?” Where is it?” Sophie was ready to leap out of bed.

“Not so fast.  Here’s the thing.  He hid your Easter Basket.”  I am enjoying myself.  Her anticipatory excitement.  What I know is coming next.  “And he gave me a whole series of clues to help you find it.”

Sophie is out of bed, wide awake now.  Ready for action. 

“I think he left the first clue on the table.”  She races into the dining room, where the fourth clue is waiting.

“No, the kitchen table.”  And she’s off and running to the kitchen.  She’s quiet for a minute, and then exclaims, “The bath!  Its’ in the bath!” 

“Come here, let’s check it.”

Sophie appears in the doorway singing the words to the first clue:

“A tisket, a tasket.  Where is Sophie’s Easter Basket?  Here is what you have to do…go on a hunt and solve each clue:  1.  We love to hear you laugh, the next clue is where you take a _________.” 

“I think you’re right!” I shout.

“Come with me, mom!”  We run upstairs to the bathroom and she plucks the next clue out of the tub.  Together, we race around the house, until we wind up at the pile of wood, next to the fireplace.  Sophie reads the final clue:  “You’ve almost found it!  You’re on fire.  Go into the kitchen and look in the ___________.”

“Parlor?”  Sophie ventures a guess.

“We don’t have a parlor.  Go look in the kitchen and see if you can figure it out.”


“Refrigerator doesn’t rhyme with fire!”  This is too much fun.  The basket is hidden in exactly the same place my mother hid my basket several decades ago. 

Sophie rotates 360 degrees, scanning every inch of the kitchen.  Her eyes settle on the shuttered doors that hide the our cleansers and cleaners and the…

“Dryer!” Sophie cries out, zips over to the machine and claims her prize.  Her face is lit with joy as she pulls out her basket.

“Kidz Bop!  Just what I wanted!  Choose Your Own Adventure!  Just what I wanted!”  There is a certain thrill that comes with getting someone just what they wanted.  I’m snapping pictures as she bounces up and down.  Like most of her pictures, these will probably be blurry. 

“An egg full of jelly beans!  Can I eat some after breakfast?”

“You can eat some now,” Kevin says.  “It’s Easter.” 

“I’ll have one and save one for after breakfast.”  She’s fearful that she won’t get more. 

“Eat them both and you can have another after breakfast,” because I’m secretly very happy that this is what she considers to be indulgence. 

Kevin reads her the first chapter of her new book, while I make coffee.  When they’re finished, they sit down to a couple of bowls of cheerios.  I’ve set out the hard-boiled eggs and a sheet of stickers for Sophie to decorate them with after she’s done.  A bad idea because she can’t keep her hands off them.  One rolls precariously to the edge of the table.

“Maybe you should wait until after breakfast,” I tell her.

Two seconds later she is fondling an egg again.

“Maybe don’t say ‘maybe’,” Kevin gently suggests, as he pushes the eggs away from Sophie.  He’s right.

“Don’t touch the eggs until we’re done with breakfast,” I tell her.  Sophie harumphs and sulks in her seat, not eating. 

“Maybe when we come back from the JCC, you can have another surprise for me.” 

“I think we’re done with surprises for today,” I tell Sophie. 
She reaches for another egg.

“Soph, I said not to touch them until after breakfast.”

Then she whips her bathrobe belt at me, narrowly missing my coffee. 

“Give that to me right now,” I say sternly, taking the belt from her.  Sophie folds her arms across her chest, her eyebrows set in a “V” on her forehead.  She’s quiet for a minute, and then she begins to wail and runs up to her room.

I sigh a very heavy sigh.

I know that one thing has nothing to do with the other, but why, why after we’ve been having so much fun, does she have to be so naughty?  Why is the joy so ephemeral, so fleeting?  Why is she only interested in the next surprise—not what I’ve done, but what I am about to do?

What is overindulgence versus giving your child meaningful, enjoyable experiences? 

You know you’ve got a problem when your child says…

“Mommy, please can I?  I’m waiting for a yes….”  Sophie is looking up at me, eyebrows cocked, hand on one hip, wearing an expression that is laughable on a five-year-old, but will be completely obnoxious eight years from now. 

What was she asking me for?  I can’t remember now.  Another sweet?  One more book?  Another episode of Word Girl?

It doesn’t really matter.  She knows I am loathe to say no.  Oh, I say it plenty, but every time I do, there is a tug within.  An equal and opposite reaction.  It takes great effort not to acquiesce.  She must see this internal struggle I go through, reading the flicker of weakness on my face.  The keenness of her perception is her gift and my curse.

Within me, there is an impulse to give Sophia her heart’s desire.  Not because I feel guilty, or I want to avoid a fight, or I’m looking to buy her love, but because I hold the false belief that it will somehow make her happy.    And it does.  For a minute. 

Of course true happiness has absolutely nothing to do with one more anything.  Any joy derived from that extra sweet, book, or television show is fleeting.  We might get a quick squirt of dopamine, but we all-too-quickly habituate to the novelty of the thing and then we just want more, addicts that we are. 

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t any appreciation, deep down, of the love that lies behind each yes.   And, ironically, each no.  Because even the no’s with their limits and boundaries convey caring.  That, and they make the yesses that much sweeter. 

Where to draw the line between yes and no is perhaps our greatest first world parenting problem.  I struggle with it dozens of times a day. 

After having disappeared upstairs in a snit, leaving me to my musings, Sophie re-emerges, blowing sharp notes out of a recorder.  The cloud has passed and skies are bright again. 

She comes up to me and quite unexpectedly gives me her special series of kisses that starts at my forehead, goes down my nose to my chin and then across my face from cheek to cheek. 

Is it gratitude?  An apology?  Or a little jolt of that undercurrent of love that lies beneath all of our interactions?

I can’t know. 

But I can hope that it’s proof that just as often as she’s waiting for a yes, something inside of her is waiting for a no. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Place Safe from Fear

There was a thick volume of Grimm’s fairy tales in my hometown library that I read over and over again.  I would pull it down from the shelf and sit on the floor, knees to chest, swept into another place by stories of beauty and horror.  The library was an old building, made of stone and must.  The rooms were cramped and cozy, so packed with books that there was little room to squeeze by.  It was the perfect place to probe my fear.  Where, safe from the real world, I could grapple with death and betrayal.  Where I learned about loyalty and love.  Grimm’s fairy tales were far more gruesome than anything I encountered in suburban life.  They promised that whatever my experience was, it could be worse.  Somehow, I found this reassuring.

Who wouldn’t want their child to know these morally ambiguous tales? These stories open up a conversation, if not with others, in one’s own mind, about right and wrong, darkness and light, fear and love. 

Sophia was only three when I introduced her to my own abridged crumbling copy of Grimm.  I read her a pre-Disney version of Cinderella.  In which, birds on Cinderella’s mother’s grave dress her in finery for the ball—not a fairy Godmother, and the step sisters hack off parts of their foot so that they might squeeze into Cinderella’s slipper, only to be returned as false brides, when they leave a trail of blood as the prince carries them off.  When I finished, Sophie squealed:

“Read me the part with the blood again!”  She loved its gory truth almost as much as I did. 

Here is the great irony:  I go to great lengths to protect Sophia from violent imagery on television—from the news, adult dramas, and cartoons that either horrify or numb one to death and destruction.   These potent images leave nothing to the imagination.  They are what they are.  And they either get stamped on one’s brain (I will never forget the scene in Carrie where the other girls threw sanitary napkins at her in the shower, which, by the way, I found much more frightening than the knives flying into her mother, the blood being poured over her head at the prom, or the hand that reached through the earth at the end.) Or, they are easily forgotten among heaps of expendable bodies. 

But I will let her read these stories.  Stories of which she must conjure the images out of her own dark self.  Stories that take on her fantasy of what is most fearsome.  Or not.  She has control over what she sees.  She becomes its mistress.  Her fear conforms to what she can handle. 

And in turn it makes the world more tolerable.  A place safe from fear. 

“Mommy!  Come look at what I read in the newspaper!” She is excited.  Just a week ago she said, hopefully, “Maybe next year I will read a newspaper!”  Apparently, she has discovered she can. 

“Just a minute Sophie.”  I have just stepped out of the shower.  My hair is dripping down my neck.  My body is still too damp to put on my clothes.  “I have to get dressed.”

It is 7:30.  Sophie is dressed, but she has her polka dot robe knotted tightly over her tutu, “to be cozy.” 

I come into the kitchen, where Sophie is kneeling on a chair, pen in hand.  She has been doodling on the paper.  There are hearts all along the top and a dark underline scribbled beneath one article. 

“Listen to this:  ‘Dr. Kermit Gosnell is charged with killing seven babies born alive.” 

I am horrified.

Sophie, however, is exhilarated.  Her eyes are shining with delight.  “I can read it by myself mom!” 

“Sophie, what do you think about what you just read?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, how does it make you feel?”

She thought for a minute.  “Sad.” 

I nodded.  “Me too.” 

“Why did he kill those babies, mom?” 

“I don’t know.  Some people do terrible things. “  She was still listening.  “But you know, it’s my job to protect you.  It’s my job and daddy’s job to do whatever we can to keep you safe.”

“I know,” Sophie replied.  “And grandma.  And grandpa too.  And my teachers.” 

“That’s right. All those people keep you safe.”  She looked content.  Unperturbed. 

Of course, I was the one who has already seen too many terrible things.  Who could see those babies.  Who wanted to sob at the thought.  For Sophie it was a witch.  A wolf.  A bad guy.    Read about in a safe place to probe her fear.    

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Big 5-Year-Old Love

I got an email from my friend Julia this morning.  Her daughter, Libby, age five, had just announced that she wanted to marry her infant sister, Stella.  At least Libby is no longer looking to depose her mother as Stella’s parent.  That had been the issue the last time we touched base. 

You see, Libby loves her new sister that much.  Almost makes me want to reconsider… Almost. 

Julia explained to Libby that, as Stella was a blood relative, they could not legally marry.  Not in this country, anyhow.  Libby would have to find another, more socially appropriate way to profess her undying love for her sister.  And consider other prospects for a life partner.

Libby decided that marrying a friend might be a good idea, with which her mother (who’s husband, I can attest, is her best friend), heartily agreed.

Well, of course, Libby picked my Sophie.  (I say in my most Jewish-mother voice.)

I shared this news with Sophie on our way to nursery school. 

“Libby’s mother told me that she wants to marry Stella.”

“She can’t do that!” cried Sophie, aghast.  “Stella is too young.  When Stella is a mommy, Libby will be a grandma!” 

“They’re not THAT many years apart.  Libby is about four years older than Stella.  I’m that many years older than daddy.”


“Besides, that’s not the reason they can’t get married.”

“Why can’t they?”

“You aren’t supposed to marry your sister.  It’s against the law.” 

“Oh.” Sophie was taking this all in.  Perhaps realizing that she had no sister with whom to fall in love and experience the disappointment of not being able to marry, fashioning it into a rationalization for why it’s a very good thing she’s an only child. 

Or maybe that’s just my own twisted imagining.  

“So you know who Libby decided to marry?”  I said, dangling the information before her.



Sophie’s face bore a serious expression.  She was considering this prospect.  “Well, I’m going to have a whole bunch of girls marrying me, so she could be one of them.”

My daughter is planning on having a harem.  Of women.

“Who else would you like to marry, Soph?”

“Leah.  Lilly.  Reid.”

“So you would marry a boy?”

“One boy.  And Margo.  We’d all be mommies together.” 

“Except for Reid.”

“He would be the daddy.”  The fantasy makes sense.  After all, when they get together, what do they do but play at being parents—I frequently hear Sophie and her friends bossing their dolls around with glee.  “Time to go to bed!  No, you cannot have another cupcake!  Yes, you have to wear those pants!”  Parenting with greater limits, consistency and vehemence than I can possibly muster. 

How do we decide who to marry?  Chemistry?  Security?  Someone with whom to continue the various dynamics we established in our families of origin?  

Imagine, marriage, not born out of sexual attraction, finances, and familial dramas, but friendship, pure enjoyment, and a vision of communal happiness. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Give and Take

Sophia was having a hard time falling asleep.  She had popped out of bed four times already, so when I heard her sobbing, I thought it was another ploy.  I was reluctant to go in.

But then my maternal instinct kicked in.  It tugged at my aorta, and whispered, “What if it isn’t?” 

Alright, alright.  I’ll check.  But, I told my maternal instinct, “there better be a good reason she’s carrying on.”

I stood next to the ladder to her loft, one hand on my hip, my eyebrows raised expectantly. 

“I don’t want to go to school tomorrow,” Sophia choked out, between sobs.   This was something she had never said before. 

“But why, Soph?  You love school.” 

“The girls don’t want to play with me!” 

“Sophie, you have lots of friends at school. “  I named a few to drive the point home.  “I find it very hard to believe that none of them will play with you.”

“They don’t!  They left me all alone on the playground!”  She continued to sob.  I know that, even at this age, children can be cruel.  She has shared, on occasion, an unkind word that was hurled her way.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she has cast a few stones herself.

“Okay, okay.  Shhhhh.” I tried to calm her.  “Would you like for me to talk to your teacher?  Would that make it better?” 

Sophie shook her head yes.  Well, maybe there is a problem.  Best to let her know I’m on it.  That I hear what she’s saying, and I take it seriously. 

“Okay, I’ll talk to her tomorrow.  Feel better?”

She nodded again.  I tucked her in, and she fell asleep.

The next morning, I revisited the issue at breakfast.  I wanted to make sure she stood by her story, and see if there was anything I was missing.

“So, Soph, can you tell me a little more about what happened on the playground?” 

She got very serious.  “Sure mom.  You see, I wanted to play ice cream store.  And none of the other kids wanted to play ice cream store.  They all wanted to play tag.  But I didn’t want to play tag.”

Oh.  I see.  It wasn’t that they didn’t want to play with her.  They just didn’t want to play what she was playing.  Or, perhaps, dictating. 

Just a week ago, I had taken Sophia and her friend Reid out to an indoor playground.  Reid and Sophia have known each other since birth and adore each other.  But Reid now has a sister that Sophie tends to gravitate towards when all the kids come together, so he was very much looking forward to sometime alone with his old pal. 

The playground was empty.  “Bet you can’t catch me,“ Sophie taunted and was off, running laps around the playground on tip toe in stocking feet.  At first, Reid chased her with glee, but on about the 10th lap, he started to slow down.  Sophie ran back to him. 

“I know, Reid!  How about we’re both babies!  Let’s crawl around!”  Reid smiled weakly and crawled around with Sophia.

“I know, Reid!  Let’s pretend this blue part of the rug is the water and we have to jump from rock to rock or we’ll fall in!”  Reid dutifully jumped after Sophia.

“I know Reid!  Let’s pretend we’re catching fish for our dinner!”  Reid, looking defeated started to follow Sophie.

“Hey Reid!”  I called to him. 

“What?” he replied, trotting up to me.

“You look like you’re tired of always doing what Sophie wants to do.”  He nodded, eyes cast downward. 

“You know, Reid, you don’t have to do what she wants to do all the time.  You can suggest your own ideas.  What would you like to do?” 

“I want to be a Power Ranger!”  Hmmm.  Hard sell, I thought.  I called Sophie over,

“Sophie.  Reid wants a turn to come up with an idea for pretend.”

“Let’s be Power Rangers!” Reid suggested, hopeful. 

“I don’t want to be a Power Ranger,” Sophie replied.  She looked thoughtful for a moment, “but I could be Wonder Woman.” 

“Okay!” Reid brightened at the prospect of their unlikely superhero duoship. 

“I have a bow and arrow, like Brave!” she announced, “and I’m going to shoot an arrow at you!”  She did, and they proceeded to engage in hand-to-hand combat. 

At least everyone was happy.

I considered Sophie’s behavior.  It wasn’t bossiness, per se, but rather an abundance of enthusiasm.  She was so wrapped up in her own ideas, she hadn’t considered that Reid might want to do something other than what she wanted to do.  Or her friends on the playground for that matter.  It was time for an object lesson.

“So what did you do?”  I asked her after she swallowed a spoonful of oatmeal. 

“None of them wanted to play with me, so I played with myself.”

“By myself,” I corrected.  It was an important distinction. 

“By myself,” she repeated.

“Honey, it sounds like it wasn’t that they didn’t want to play with you—just that they wanted to play something different.  I know you have a lot of ideas about what to do, but, if you want to play with the other kids, sometimes you have to do what they want to do.  It’s called give and take.” 

Sophie looked wary.  I still wanted to talk to Sophie’s teacher, but with a different aim in mind.

Though there is a rule that you really aren’t supposed to corner the teacher as she’s getting ready for her day, Sophie’s teacher graciously let me corner her.

“Ms. P, do you have a sec?  There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”

She nodded and we convened by the reading nook. 

I told her about Sophie crying and not wanting to go to school the night before.  Ms. P looked surprised.  Then, I shared Sophie’s interpretation—that her friends don’t want to play with her—and my own analysis of the situation. 

Ms. P smiled knowingly.  It was just as I had suspected.  “Sophie is a very strong little girl.  We love that about her, and we wouldn’t want to change it.  But, like some of her peers, sometimes she wants things a particular way and we have to help her be a bit more…flexible.”  I love that Ms. P gets Sophie.  That, rather than think in pejorative terms—bossy, stubborn, strong-willed—she understands the pros and cons of the personality trait in question.

“I’m on the playground in the morning, and Ms. F has the playground in the afternoon.  Would you like for us to keep an eye on things and help Sophie work it out with her friends?”

Yes.  That is exactly what I wanted.  I nodded and thanked her. 

I walked over to Sophie.  “I talked to Ms. P.  She’s going to help you take turns figuring out what to play with your friends on the playground, okay?”

Sophie nodded, satisfied.  I kissed her goodbye and left for work, satisfied.

There were others that would help me teach Sophie the value of compromise.  I am not alone in this.  She will, hopefully, begin to understand the perspective of others—that sometimes her own desires and needs will conflict with theirs, but that concessions can be made to preserve the relationship.  She will learn that having her own way is not more important than having friends.