Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Fortress of Solitude

I have recently realized something: I am never going to be really alone in the bathroom again.

When I was about 22, I moved into a miniscule apartment in downtown Minneapolis. It was the first time I'd ever lived alone--no roommates, no parents, no nothing. Just me and 200 or so square feet. So I immediately went out and got a cat--apparently it was vital that I start living up to crazy-cat-lady stereotypes right away. Many things happened, of course, when I was living in that apartment. The battery on my phone died as I was talking to my dad after I'd only been living there a few days, and he sped the entire half hour from his house, to come make sure I was okay. I sublet my apartment to a coworker and moved to LA for three months (three of the most painful months ever, but that's another story). I met the man who would become my husband. And I learned to pee with the door open.

Now, as a woman, and a pretty self-conscious one at that, closing the door when I entered the bathroom was kind of a requirement. But if you've ever had a kitten who was somewhat over attached to you, you know what happens if you try to close the bathroom door. First comes the whining, then the scratching, then the incredibly pathetic little paw starts feeling around under the door, trying to figure out where you've gone and how to get you back. So rather than dealing with that every time I wanted to go to the bathroom, I started just leaving the door open. It was an incredibly freeing development in my life. I even started wandering around my apartment (sometimes) naked (partly). I couldn't turn into a free-thinking nudist overnight, but it was a big change for me nonetheless.

Of course, when I met my husband, I realized that I was still the kind of person who would prefer to close the door. I can live with a cat wandering around the sink while I pee, but I can't be one of those "I'm on the toilet while you're brushing your teeth and we're both fine with this" people. We moved in together a few months after I got back from LA, and while we were living together, his father stayed with us for several weeks after he had a stroke. He moved back into his own apartment later, but when we decided to buy a house, we concluded that having him move in with us was a good idea for everyone involved. Another reason to be a "bathroom door closed" kind of person.

Now we've come to a point I probably could not have envisioned when I was trying to get the cat to leave the bathroom door alone. My father-in-law's bedroom is across the hall from the bathroom. I have three small children who apparently cannot exist unless they are interacting with me in some way. I usually have a house full of other people's children, who are in all likelihood fighting with one or more of my kids. And the bathroom door? Well, until recently, I was convinced it was the one thing separating me--just for a few minutes--from all that. Right? I don't get to take leisurely baths; I don't even get showers without a 5-year-old suddenly needing to potty the second I turn the water on. I don't have a commute to complain about the other drivers while secretly enjoying this time that doesn't belong to my family or my employer. I don't have a bedroom to disappear to; while I do officially have a bedroom, it's shared by our daughter until the addition to the house is complete. So I am not out of line to expect that I get to go potty without interruption.

Except it seems that I am. One of the things about the blogosphere is that it's like having lots and lots of mom friends, and you can ask them anything you want or listen to them rant about anything they want, as though you had this endless back fence you can talk over anytime you want. And one thing I keep running up against is that no mom in the world can claim that she is left alone in the bathroom. There is always a kid who needs you the very moment you close the door, a dog who is scratching at the door, a spouse who doesn't understand that maybe you don't want to answer any questions right now.

I know that someday my kids will want to be left alone, that I will not think of the bathroom as the only place in the house I can hide. Someday I will miss them. I will bug them in their rooms when they just want to close the door and be left alone for a little while. I know that I ought to cherish these years, when they just want to be near me. But inside, I will grieve for the bathroom I once knew, the place I could think my thoughts, my onetime fortress of solitude.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bruce Wayne's Car

So first the big news: This morning, for the first time ever, Ezra pooped in the potty! We were sitting on the couch when he announced that during nap time, he was probably going to poop in his underpants (fortunately, I do put him in a pull-up during naps, since that happens often). So I suggested, if he was planning to do it, that we try now. He was pretty iffy about the whole idea until I suggested that, like his friend who has been learning to poop in the potty, if he does it successfully, I would take him to the store and get him a new toy. Well, that was all the pushing he needed! It took a couple of minutes and a couple of tries, but he did it! I was extremely proud of him and think that we may go the "pooping chart" route that worked with his friend. This little boy had to fill his chart (the size varied; I think the first charts had only a few squares, then as he got more proficient, he had to do more to fill it), and when it was full, he would earn a toy. Usually the toy was preselected, and often it was already purchased and sitting in plain sight, like on top of the refrigerator. Ezra has really wanted a toy of Frank from the movie "CARS," but it's a little expensive for just a random toy, so I think maybe I'll try that as an incentive.

So after this big news, we had to call Daddy at work. Ezra got to tell Daddy his big news, and he got to talk on the phone--very exciting. Then after we had hung up, Ezra got pretty worked up because he saw something out the window that he wanted to tell Daddy about--Bruce Wayne's car.

I was understandably confused about why the Batmobile might be parked out in front of our house, but I got it in a minute. Our next-door neighbor's name is Wayne, and he delivers pizzas. This means that his car has a topper on it with the name of the pizza restaurant. Zachary is very obsessed with Batman right now, and Ezra is obsessed with whatever Zachary is obsessed with. So when he saw our neighbor, Wayne, pull up in front of his house in his pizza delivery car, Ezra concluded that it was "Bruce Wayne's car."

Maybe I ought to worry that Ezra seems to know more about a fictional superhero than he does about our next-door neighbor, but I still think it's cute.

Stupid Layouts

Well, it occurred to me finally that though I liked my old layout, it wasn't the most interesting thing in the world. And though I may not myself actually be the most interesting thing in the world, I like to think that I am at least a little interesting, and it would be nice if the appearance of my blog reflected that. So off I went in search of a new layout for my blog.

And then I was immediately reminded of two things: one, the world (as it is represented by the inernet) is an extremely big place. And two: I am not good at anything more technologically advanced than an egg beater. So it took me most of my free time yesterday (which is probably a couple of hours in real time), but I did find a layout that I liked and that seemed to function with the limited instructions I was able to give it. ("Here. Go here. Be Pretty.")

So please let me know what you think. How does it look? Should I just go back to the old look? Does the new one work on computers other than mine? Are you there, Internet? It's me, Kendra. Any and all feedback is appreciated, since it lets me know I'm not completely talking to myself here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Things My Mother Taught Me

Several years ago, I wrote this essay. I submitted it to a parenting magazine and, in one of the more humiliating events in my life, received only a smudged photocopy of their submission guidelines in response. After scouring the document, I confirmed that it did in fact meet their guidelines; I don't know why they chose to send me that. But I was thinking of it this morning and still like it. So in honor of Mother's Day (because there's no way I will remember to post this on the actual day): Things My Mother Taught Me

When I was a little girl, I always looked at the cover of the coloring book to see what color the pictures should be. Then as closely as I could, I matched them. To me, staying inside the lines was an accomplishment to be proud of. And imitation was the closest thing to perfection.

I never mixed the play-dough. Such a thing would never have occurred to me. My creations were always of a single color, dismantled and returned to their canisters before they had a chance to dry.

Then one day, when I was about seven years old, my mother sat down with me at my little table to color with me. I remember clearly, it was a Tom and Jerry coloring book, and calm as can be, she started to color Tom purple. I was in shock that such a thing was even possible. There, right before my eyes, my mother was creating a lavender cat. It was my first inkling that the right way was not the only way to do something.

Last week, I was playing with my 11-month-old son in his room. He has several wooden puzzles with farm animals and food-shaped pieces. He had recently discovered that there were pictures underneath the pieces and was enthralled with the process of removing the pieces, one by one, from their puzzles. He would then hold them up, examine them, sometimes suck on them. I found myself asking him again and again, "Where does the cow go? Can you find the cow?" I even guided the pieces to their correct places and applauded when they fit. And suddenly I remembered my mother coloring Tom purple.

Now that I am a mother, I have the opportunity to shape my son's view of the world. I can teach him that there is only one way to do everything, or I can show him that there are a million ways to look at a problem and there are a million solutions. Putting pieces into puzzles is one way to play with them. Sucking on them, banging them together, and putting them into drawers are others. And are they any less useful? When I color the cat purple, I am showing my baby that he can do anything he wants, that the borders of thought and action aren't closed. I am letting him try out life and see what works. I am letting him mix the play-dough.

He will figure out what cows are and what they say and how they fit into the puzzle. That will come with time, I have no doubt. But more importantly, he will figure out who he is, what he has to say, and where he fits into the world.

When my mother colored that cat purple, I'm sure she was thinking only that it was pretty. But she taught me a lesson that day, one that I will be sure to pass on to my son: No matter what they tell you, there is more than one way to color a cat.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I Have Twouble Saying My Awes

I can't seem to decide whether I ought to worry about Zachary's speech.

See, my mom is a speech therapist, and she's always been all about correcting his pronunciation. When he was little, for some reason, all words that started with "sn" became pronounced as though they started with a T. So "snake" was "take," "snow" was "tow," etc. It was endearing and, as long as you understood what the system was, easily understood. He also converted "sm" sounds to P, so if there was a fire, there would be "poke" coming from it. My mom would notice this and make these exaggerated sounds when she talked to him: "You want to play in the s-n-o-w? The s-s-n-n-ow?" And I would roll my eyes and think, "He's 3, for crying out loud." And of course, he outgrew it.

Now he's 5 1/2, and he still has trouble with certain sounds. All the sounds in a certain family, the G, the J, and the SH sounds, seem to get the better of him. They all sound like S or Z sounds. It can make him a little hard to understand but you can usually get what he means. The most noticeable one, which seems to be rooted in an actual misunderstanding, is that most of the "th" sounds come out as Fs. So he "frows" the ball. He actually writes them that way. And since he's in kindergarten, my mom's voice starts whispering in my ear, telling me the time has come to help him talk right. So I had a talk with him and asked if he would like help listening to words so he could write them better, and he said yes. So I told him that "free" is actually "three," and he's been practicing it. For a while, I was all proud of him, listening to his speech improve, thinking my mom and her over-helping can kiss my good-mom butt. Then I started listening: "Free. Three. Three. Thirteen. Firteen. Thirteen." And my heart broke just a little. Is this what I've created? A kid who is worried, at 5 years old, that he doesn't talk the way he should?

When my sister was little (I don't remember exactly how old, but about Zachary's age), she had trouble with certain sounds too. And so, the story goes, she marched into the school speech therapist's office and announced, "I have twouble saying my awes." And, because the story is about how cute and determined she was, she was saying her Rs perfectly in no time. It's been one of those family legends about my sister's determination and ability to overcome things, even as a little kid. But now it makes me wonder: Was that her desire to talk better, or was there a voice whispering in her ear that she ought to do things better? Would she have sorted it out on her own, the same way she learned to walk and use proper grammar on her own schedule?

Tonight during his bath, Zachary must have counted to 500. Or rather, he counted to 100 about five times, since he's not sure what comes after 199, so he tends to start over. And as I listened to him go back and forth between the "frees" and the "threes," I felt so confused. Should I be helping him to reach some developmental milestone that I'm not entirely sure about anyway? Am I doing him a disservice, either by helping or by not helping? Is my desire to meet my mom's expectations, coupled with my desire to prove her wrong, getting in the way?

I asked his teacher at conferences, and she said there are other kids with more pronounced difficulty than his. I'm not sure that comforted me. I guess perspective is a pretty hard thing to come by in this world of terrorist threats and swine flu, and parenting questions are no exception.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pants Optional

It's been brought to my attention that Ezra almost never wears pants. I mean, seriously, he never wears pants. Somehow, since he is: 3, at home with me, and extremely strong willed, I haven't made a big deal about it. But maybe the time has come.

We're working on potty training, which means that some time after he gets up in the morning, I get him out of the (with any luck) poopy diaper and into underpants and a clean shirt. He's currently convinced that he can't poop on the potty, so I'm not making a big deal of that at the moment. So every morning, I say, "Pick out a shirt and underpants." And every morning, he answers, "I don't want pants, though." And since I convince myself that he's more likely to have potty success with fewer barriers to making it to the toilet on time, I agree. But this morning, I realized I'd really set up a system, when he added, "But after nap, when Zachary gets home from school, I'll put on pants and we'll go outside."

So I've apparently established a system where you don't have to wear pants, as long as you're in the house. How is this going to play out in the next few years? Will I convince him to wear pants to school, only to have him take them off as soon as he gets inside because, hey, we're not outside? Will he disrobe in front of his girlfriend's parents, explaining, "I don't like to wear pants"? Will he have to find employment in a pants-optional office?

Considering that we are talking about Ezra here, that's actually a possibility. The kid's got more force of personality than anyone I've ever met, including his father, which is saying something. But I figure I've got a few years before the kid with no pants on becomes an actual problem. Until then, he can go pants free--except when we leave the house. Then we all wear pants.