Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lazy River

It had been my mother’s idea to take Sophia to the Land of Make Believe, a hybrid fantasyland that was half amusement park, half waterpark, a potent mix of danger and pleasure, in the Western-most part of North Jersey.  As we approached and spied a Ferris Wheel rising up out of the forested hills I asked my mother, “How come we never came here when I was little?”

“We probably couldn’t afford it when you kids were the right age.”

Probably not, I thought as we shelled out $75 bucks for the three of us.  Cash only.  A handsome, fair haired, blue-eyed boy with an Eastern Bloc accent slipped it into a cash register.  He was just the sort of boy I would have instantly fallen in love with 20-years ago.

“Where are you from?” I asked, which sounded more maternal than Mrs. Robinson. 

“Croatia.”  How does a teenager from Croatia find himself in this corner of the world?  I wanted to ask, but we were propelled forward by the sheer volume of pleasure-seekers behind us.  I wrestled our cooler inside the pack and asked a young girl from a similarly-distant land where I could store it.

“Right by the picnic tables.   Wherever you’re going to eat.”

“Really?  It will be safe there?”  I asked

“We’ve never had a theft,” she reassured me.   By the time we dropped off the cooler, I was dripping sweat.  It was already in the 90s and heat index was due to hit 106. 

“Let’s hit the waterpark first,” I suggested.

After storing our things in a locker, Sophie headed straight for what the park claimed to be “America’s Biggest Wading Pool.”  I don’t think they were lying.  It covered about an acre and was filled with a variety of slides and climbable ships.  Mom and I ran after Sophie through the shallow water, trying to keep stride.  As Sophie scaled the side of a pirate ship, I paused to survey the scene.  Parents and children alike were lolling about in the water, like sea creatures trapped in the shallows, trying to keep their hides wet for fear of dehydrating in the hot sun. 

After sliding out of a ship several times, Sophie grabbed us, “Let’s see what else there is,” and again, we were chasing after her as she took off, shoeless, towards the lazy river ride.  On the way over, we scorched our feet on the burning concrete, and in our hurry to hit the water, we accidentally got in the single tube line.  When we reached the front, the Croatian lifeguard surveyed us and said, “you want single tube?”  It was only then that I noticed the good parents of the world were taking their small children in double inner tubes, which had a space for both of them.

“I think we need a double,” I said.

“NO!” Sophie exploded.  “I want to go by myself!”

The ride looked tame enough, people calming floating on inner tubes down a concrete, chlorinated river that circled the other water rides.  But the tubes themselves were just round donuts, with a hole in the center that a skinny five-year-old could easily slip through. 

“No, Soph.  You don’t know how to swim.  If you fell out of the tube, you could drown.”

“I DO TO KNOW HOW TO SWIM!” Sophie stamped her feet for emphasis.  Swim lessons had given her a false sense of bravado.  She could doggie paddle a couple of strokes and hold her breath underwater, but she most definitely could not swim.

“Not well enough to ride down a river yourself. You have to go with me.”

“Maybe you step to side?” the Croatian lifeguard suggested.  Behind us was a line of hot, irritated customers, who had already definitively decided if they wanted a single or double tube. 

I flashed to a day trip Kevin and I had taken years ago, when we lived in Asheville.  We had driven out to the Nantahala River to go kayaking.  The lower run of the river is eight miles long and has class two and three rapids.  Class two rapids are considered moderate difficulty with clear passages, and generally require experience.  Class three rapids have high, irregular rocks, eddies, and a clear but narrow passage that requires expertise in maneuvering.  Scouting, that is getting out of your boat to figure out the best way to make it through the rapid ahead of time, is usually needed.  But I didn’t know any of this at the time.  At the outfitter, we were offered a single kayak or a double. 

“I want my own boat,” I told Kevin.

He was wary.  “We haven’t done this before.  We should probably go together.” 

I rolled my eyes.  “I’ve kayaked before.”  I told him, “I’ll be fine.”

Though he was skeptical, he relented.  We safely made it through the first five rapids.  The “Upper Nantahala Falls” were the final set before the main take out point.  They were the class three ones.  We got out of our boat and scouted the rapids, just as we had been instructed. 

Kevin pointed out what looked like a clear passage down.  He led the way, safely traversing the falls.  I followed, hit a rock, immediately upset my boat and was sucked under by the power of the water.  My body was battered against the rocks as I went over the falls without my kayak.  When I finally surfaced, I gasped for air and tried to swim, but the current was too strong and pulled me onwards, down the river.  I had the presence of mind to point my legs down river.  Kevin, ahead of me had pulled up onto a rock and was extending his paddle out to me.  But I was in shock.  

“Here, grab hold,” he called to me. 

 “I can’t,” I replied, emotionless, as I floated by.  I didn’t even try to reach for his paddle.

What I didn’t know is that just beyond the main take-out point, was a class six rapid.  The falls drop off at about a 45-degree angle and are replete with sharp rocks.  Class six rapids are defined as “unraftable,” the chances of being able to navigate it with a boat are very slim and without a boat—nil. 

One has to wonder why they would let tourists do this in the first place. 

I was headed towards certain death, when a boat full of Japanese visitors pulled close to me and yanked me out of the water.  Others retrieved my kayak and paddle as Kevin scrambled down the rocks to catch up to me.


Back at the water park, I should have simply laid down the line.  I should have said something like, “Either you get in the double tube, or we’re going somewhere else.”

I don’t know what came over me.  “Fine!  Go!”  I told her.

“Really?” she asked, as if she had never in a million years expected me to acquiesce. 

“Yes.  I’ll be right behind you.”  I told her.

But I wasn’t, because as soon as she was in her boat, she went floating off down the river, leaving me in her wake.  I quickly jumped in my single tube and tried to paddle to catch up to her, but to no avail.  I paniced and was completely unable to enjoy the lazy river Styx.  All along the way, I was assaulted by cannons, waterfalls and other squirting objects.  Sophie, I could see, was having a grand time. 

But I know how quickly a grand time can turn deadly. 

When we reach the end of the river, Sophie was standing on the steps waiting for us.   As we exited our tubes, I realized that we’ve been in two and a half feet of water the entire time.  At any point she could have stood up or we could have.  There was never any real danger.

“Can we do it again?” Sophie begged. 

The next time around, we all enjoyed the lazy river.  On the seventh tour, Sophie asked, “Hey mom, you want to go in a double this time?”

“Sure.” I told her.

As we floated away together, we told knock knock jokes and steered the boat towards every squirting attraction.  “Mom, this is the best time yet!” She told me.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sharing is Caring

There is something irresistibly magnetic about the playground outside Sophie’s preschool.  It’s not just Sophie.  I can hear each child as they cross the threshold out into parking lot, begging, “Can I pleeeeese go on the playground?  Just for eight minutes?”

They have learned to ask for small and unusual amounts of time, the way the homeless might ask you for 13 cents, so you wind up giving a dollar. 

I am weak.  Each day I give the dollar when I go to pick her up.  

Sophie knows all the angles:
“But look!  [Insert name of her best-friend-of-the day] is there!  Oh pleeeeeese?”
“Everyone else is on the playground, why can’t I go?”
“I barely got any time on the monkey bars today.”

I really really try not to operate from a place of guilt.  But sometimes, okay most days, I fail.  Only the rain deters us. 

We pass through the clanging metal gate, Sophie bolts to join her friends and I join the other parents who have been suckered into their 8 minutes on the playground.  We stand there sweating, in heels and sweaters that kept us warm in our air-conditioned offices that afternoon. 

Sophie is swinging from the money bars, “Watch this!” she calls skipping to every other bar, her tiny tan biceps popping out all over the place.  I watch.  “Watch this!” she calls again, as she does each time she makes another pass over the bars, “This time gripping the long bars on the outsides, shifting inch-by-inch, her legs swinging madly from side to side, like a pendulum.  I watch.  Sophie and her friends have discovered a thousand ways to traverse this flat metal ladder.  Their hands are calloused.  Their bodies are wiry and compact—the envy of even the fittest among us, who run miles and miles each week and still cannot attain what they do in pleasure and play. 

Another child hops onto the monkey bars on the opposite side. 

At this stage, I prefer to let Sophie handle the majority of her own playground negotiations.  But, with other parents around, I feel a particular obligation to make sure that Sophie is taking turns, and not bogarting the monkey bars, as she is wont to do. 

“Let, Anastasia have a turn,” I tell Sophie. 

“Okay, Mom,” she said, swings across two bars (To defy me?  To taunt Anastasia?  Because she wants to?) and hops down. 

“Can I have my snack?”

I pull out the handful of goldfish she has persuaded me to bring out onto the playground.  Instantly Anastasia is at her side.

“Sophie?” she says with the lisp of a younger child, “can I have some?”

Sophie crinkles the bag and pulls it closer to her.

“Sophie,” I warn, “ask her mother if it is okay, and if so, share a few with Anastasia.”

“No.  It’s my snack.”  Begin scene.

“It is not nice to be eating in front of someone and keeping it all to yourself.  You can spare a few.”

“It’s okay,” the other mother says, “we’re about to go have dinner.”  She is trying to smooth things over.  But I have asked Sophie to do this thing and she is unyielding, so now I’ve dug my heels in too.

“She can share a couple,” I say.

Meanwhile, Sophie is scarfing down as many gold fish as she possibly can.  Her mouth is full, and slivers of orange cracker, shoot through the air as she announces, “I’m almost done.”

“Give her one. NOW.”  I am using my I-Mean-Business voice. 

Sophie ceremoniously takes a bite of her second-to-last goldfish and hands Anastasia the other half.

“Sophie!  That’s not what I meant!”  Now I’m pissed.

“What?  I’m sharing like you said mom.”

“That is not sharing.  No one wants a half-eaten goldfish straight from your mouth.”
And as I am uttering these words, she takes the very last goldfish and pops it into her glutted maw. 

“Okay, Soph.  Since you can’t be generous with your friend, I’m not feeling terribly generous myself.  It’s time to go home.”

“NO! “

“Yep.  It’s time.” 

“I did share!  You saw me share!”

I am hearing the words “disengage” in my head, but it’s overridden my need to teach this kid a lesson.

“That was not sharing.  How would you like it if you asked to share a snack with me, I took a bite out of it any only gave you an itty-bitty piece.”

“But it was MINE!” Sophia wailed. 

Platitudes are one of several educational strategies Sophie’s school employs to foster emotional intelligence.  “Sharing is caring,” is one such saying that is drilled into the children by their teachers.  At home, during play dates, I hear it tossed back and forth between Sophie and her preschool pals as a weapon.  It is the warning, the reminder that comes before a righteous reclaiming of an item, “Leah, sharing is caring [grab marker].”   And, of course Sophia uses it when it works to her advantage.  “Sharing is caring,” she informs me, when I have a delicious chunk of homemade granola in my hands.  “Sharing is caring,” she reminds me when she wants me to hand over a bowl of popcorn during a movie.  But when it comes to Sophie being generous with what she’s got, Sharing is excruciating. 

At least it is right now.  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Hair Envy

Sophia has hair envy. 

We were at her friend Madeline’s house.  I was chatting with Madeline’s mother, while Sophie and Madeline were trying to milk a few more minutes out of their play date, suddenly disappearing into another room when I said things like, “Five more minutes” and “Please get your shoes on.” 

“I’m trying to grow my hair down to my butt,” I overheard Madeline tell Sophia in the adjacent computer room.  Madeline has long, golden locks that are notably longer each time we see her.

Madeline wandered back into the living room to grab some paper and crayons.  Sophie followed her, eyeing the point where Madeline’s tresses ended, in the middle of her back.  She pulled her shoulders up and said, “Well, I have short hair.”

Sophia’s short hair has become the latest point of contention between us.  She has finally given up on campaigning for a sibling and a cat and has moved on to stumping for hair growth. 

“Please mom, please can’t I grow it?  ALL my friends have long hair.”  This is not hyperbole.  All save one do have long hair.  It’s a princess thing. 

“No.  Not a chance.”  I like to be clear.  You open the door a crack and Sophie pushes it open. 

“But why, Mom, why?”

“Sophie, I’ve told you a million times.  Until you let me wash it, dry it and comb it without screaming bloody murder, you will have short hair.”  This is only half of the truth—the other half is that I adore her short hair—the way she looks like a little flapper, how it frames her heart-shaped face and magnifies her eyes.  The bob is as sassy as she is. One day, I imagine I won’t have much say in how she wears her hair, but today, I still have sway. 

“I won’t.  I promise.”

“Well, you can prove that to me by not putting up a fight every morning.” 

“Okay.  I will.”  Sophie says solemnly. 

But the next morning, you would think I was waterboarding her.  “AHHHH!   MOM!  STOP! STOP! YOU’RE HURTING ME!”  I am holding her hair at the root and combing each strand with the world’s widest toothcomb to avoid even a slight tug to her follicles. 

What’s worse, I feel like I’m waterboarding her, I don’t like this any more than she does, but somebody’s got to do it.  Looks like I’ll be able to preserve her as my pixie for a few more months. 

Back in the living room, Madeline did not mean to be taunting Sophie.  But she hit a raw nerve, “I’m going to have hair like Rapunzel.” 

It was just too much for Sophie.  I watched her wince, these words wounding her.

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting thoughts, beliefs, values or emotional reactions.  For example: “I am stuck with short hair.” and “I desperately want prototypical princess hair.”  We are motivated to reduce this dissonance by altering existing thoughts, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system, or by reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements. 

Madeline’s words still hanging in the air, Sophia’s eyes suddenly widened, as they always do when she’s about to share a revelation. 

“Well, I have hair like Rapunzel after she cut her hair.”  She shook out her sassy little bob for added effect. 

Dissonance resolved.