Feb 25, 2007

Who's the Boss?

"Daddy is the leader of our house."

That’s what my four-year-old told me the other day. I wasn’t threatened by this. Joe has certain responsibilities, I have other equally important ones. The simplicity of the declaration amused me.

"Why is Daddy the leader, honey?"

"Because he’s the one who fixes everything," Amos replied.

I’m never been much of a feminist but I do recognize this as something that would have horrified me, before I had kids. Before I had kids I was bothered by the traditional male chauvinism of family models like the Bradys. I’m not bothered by it anymore. In fact I’ve worked pretty hard to create the illusion.

"Mommy can I get the new power ranger?"

"We’ll ask Daddy when he gets home from work."

I’m aware that this looks like Joe’s THE DECISION MAKER.. But he’s not. I’m just being lazy, and putting off the commitment (if I say yes), or the fuss (if I say no). Joe does have a little more of an understanding about our finances on a week to week basis (I think I’m the true leader of the house, having delegated all of the bill-paying, check-balancing, keeping-on-top-of-car-and-mattress-payments to him), but I do not ask his permission before buying something and could say yes to a power ranger all by myself. This is a stalling tactic. It makes Amos feel hopeful, implies a yes from me in the ‘fine with me, let’s see what Daddy says’ kind of way, and then I can go back to my magazine, or telephone call, and Amos can go back to enjoying whatever it is he’s doing.

"Mommy can I have another cookie?"

"What’s Daddy going to say when we tell him you had cookies for dinner?"

In this scenario, Joe appears to be STRICT HEALTH CONSCIOUS PARENT. He’s not. True, I eat more junk food than my husband does. But we both agree that as long as the kids have eaten one good meal per day we don’t really come down hard on them for the junk they eat. Sure there might be a “you ate WHAT?” or “you’re going to turn into a cookie!” or even a more manipulative “if you eat too much junk you might not be able to keep your body healthy and then we might have to go to the DOCTOR or take some MEDICINE” (two powerful threats to two children who seem to have invented their own version of christian science when it comes to medical intervention, splinter removal, etc.) but no one is going to get in trouble for this digression, not the cookie-eaters, and not the cookie-allower. The ‘what are we going to tell Daddy’ pseudo-threat merely keeps me from seeming as permissive as I am. I get to let them eat what they want, and I get to imply general disapproval at the same time. We all win.

"Mommy my _________ is broken."

"Put it on the kitchen table and Daddy will fix it later."

Joe as CAPABLE HANDY PARENT or (more appropriately) JOE FIXIT. I am really good at fixing broken toys. I own various types of glues, cements, and other adhesive compounds. I also have a lot of common sense in this area--understanding that smooth things should be sanded before being glued, or that in some cases glue should be applied to both sides before attaching. Joe is good at drilling, nailing, screwing, gluing and clamping together larger furniture-types of things. The kids put their broken toys on the table and they either a)get fixed by one of us--but the kids always assume Joe did it, or b) sit there overlooked and unfixed for a few days or weeks, and then are either fixed by one of us, or thrown away if deemed unfixable (since at this point the item’s been out of play for so long it’s been forgotten). I don’t mind attaching a foot to the amputated action figure, if I’m already up and about and am in the mood to have the fleshy pad of my forefinger cemented to the fleshy pad of my thumb. Telling them Daddy will fix it takes the pressure to do it off of me, and allows me the time to fix the _________ after building up the energy to do it.

"Mommy this toy needs new batteries!"

"Tell Daddy."

In this scenario Joe is KEEPER OF THE BATTERIES. Truth be known, I’m better at putting batteries in things than he is (I’m more apt to follow the little plus and minus symbols) but they’re in a box in a closet and fetching them usually requires getting up and moving and sometimes finding out that we’re out of a certain kind of battery. Also, now that Philips head screwdrivers are involved in so many battery-replacements (I’m opposed to this if anyone’s counting) I am happy to pass this off as a Daddy-job since I don’t want to have to rummage through his tool box (it really is his tool box--something I have no problem accepting since I gave it to him for Christmas several years ago). In this win/win scenario for me, I get to avoid dealing with the batteries, I get the peace and quiet that the now-powerless toy offers, and I don't have to accept responsibility for the fact that we may have run out of 'D's or 'C's.

Then there are the following unprompted Daddy’s-the-Leader-of-the-House threats and statements:

"SHHH Daddy’s coming upstairs, what will he think if he hears you’re still awake?"

Daddy is MEAN BEDTIME ENFORCER. This is sometimes true, but more often than not I’m really the mean bedtime enforcer and this is just part of my ‘quick get into bed’ repertoire. Joe would not be visibly upset if the kids were still awake past their ‘bedtimes’ (since they don’t really have ‘bedtimes’ which is why I put ‘bedtimes’ in ‘quotes’). Joe is usually in charge of getting at least one of the kids to bed which is why the above threat/comment is rarely heard. The fact that they hardly ever hear it makes it particularly effective (no established pattern of this being a hollow threat so they have to consider being nervous about it each time).

"Wait until I tell Daddy that you hit your sister."

Joe is PRIMARY DISCIPLINARIAN. Ha! He has never once enforced a time out in his life. I’m the time out champ. They rarely get time outs (since that would usually require me to get up and expend energy picking a spot on the staircase, pointing a finger, looking angry, fake-storming away...) but when they do it’s all me. This is another example of a threat that is rarely heard so it sounds convincing when I use it.

"We have to put the toys away before Daddy gets home."

Joe as NEAT FREAK. True.

"Let Mommy do the dishes, Daddy’s going to be home soon."

Joe as JUDGEMENT PASSING NEAT FREAK. Also true. And not bad for the kids to understand. We’re all happier when Daddy’s happy so we need to do our part to straighten up, even if it means I’ve left the dishes until the last possible minute and need the kids’ cooperation to clean up quickly.

In addition to all of the implications above, Joe is the BILL PAYER, the LAUNDRY DOER, the PLANT WATERER, the GARBAGE TAKER-OUTER, the SCHOOL DROPPER-OFFER, and THE LUNCH PACKER. All fine with me. He manages all of this while holding down a full-time job that he likes some of the time. On a good day, Joe's also the TICKLE MONSTER, the HUMAN FERRIS WHEEL, the JOKER AROUNDER, the BORDERLINE BATHROOM-HUMOR SONG-MAKER-UPPER.

What do I do? I am the PARENT WHO'S NEVER CRANKY. That's pretty good.


Joe’s THE FATHER, I’m THE MOTHER. I’m not threatened by my children’s assumption that he’s the leader of our house--maybe all of his duties do add up to that. I’m comfortable with our different roles. I’m glad that Daddy's in charge of so many things and I think I was smart to make it seem like he’s in charge of so many other things. Ask Daddy, Tell Daddy, Daddy can do it, Daddy’s the boss? Who cares. I'll be the Mom anyday.

Feb 3, 2007

Adults Only

Adults only?

What does that mean?

It means that within minutes of arriving at the spa, Joe and I could feel some knob in our bodies being dialed down. Little energy pings fired off, sparkly, at our edges and then became fainter and fainter--like moving away from a crackling, spitting fireplace...hearing it fade, crackle and spit. Fade. Fade. Shhhhh.

It means that the habit of anticipating that someone other than me might be hungry or might have to pee took a while to break. In fact, I shelved my own urge to pee (what, me-- have a need?) on the way to the spa until it was too late and we were on rte. 28 in New Jersey and I couldn’t even focus on the map and I had to hold my seatbelt away from my hot sloshy midsection before I realized what was happening and so Joe pulled over right there on the edge (like we do with the kids sometimes...an edge where the road’s bending to the left so oncoming traffic can’t see the right side of the van) and I peed.

And since it was 7 degrees outside it created quite an astonishing visual effect.

And I asked Joe if he was hungry--or might be hungry in the next hour or so--and reminded him that if he didn’t eat soon he might have to wait six hours before dinner because there might not be any snacks--at least twice in the car as we drove...before realizing on my VERY own (which was nice because Joe could have shown me through loud exasperated sighs) that he could make his eating decisions all by himself.

Adults only means that the spa designers could landscape their pool area (their "aqua-lounge") with sharp craggy rocks the jagged edges of which I’d catch myself staring at, cringing at visions of bloody scrapes and worse, before remembering that no children would ever be climbing onto them, or getting too close to them, or doing that thing where they just can’t HELP but run on the side of the pool because their bodies are shivery and cold and they can’t wait to either jump back into the warm water or get wrapped in a fluffy towel.

Adults only means they can leave the big wooden drumsticks out in the middle of the lobby next to the precariously balanced set of cauldron-sized crystal healing bowls (or that they could consider having crystal healing bowls) without worrying that someone might move one, walk off with one, or use one as a weapon to clock a little sister in the head.

Adults only means that no one is asking me WHY anything. No one is asking me why I keep drinking hot water with lemon slices in it. I’m dying to tell someone why I’m doing it. I smile inside when I’m using the back of a spoon to mush the juice and loosen the pulp because I’m so pleased with myself for thinking of this... But no one’s asking, so I have to just hold all that good information inside.

Adults only means that I’ve become the quiet one and Joe’s Mr. Social. He’s so loose and relaxed that he’s making all sorts of friends--all the guys who work in the gym, the security guy, a mom from Rye and her daughter from DC who flew into Newark to get here and who does lots of yoga, our meditation teacher who misses Brooklyn--and I’m so loose and relaxed that I’m barely making eye contact with anyone, choosing instead to focus only on me, grateful to have lost the desire to edge into other conversations or to find common ground with anyone else. I’d avoided the mom from Rye and her daughter and slipped away contentedly when the meditation teacher ended the class with the chimes and some sighs.

Adults only means that when people are smiling at me it’s NOT because my children are doing something cute or looking especially gorgeous or are being especially awful. It could mean that they’re genuinely happy to see me but probably really means that part of the job description of everyone who works at this incredibly luxurious getaway is to be upbeat and curious and smiley.

Adults only means that the teensiest, quietest, smelliest little bit of gas can escape from my own body and I can’t innocently shrug it off as the generally mysterious foul-smelling aura expected from packs of children.

Adults only makes me realize how much I hide behind my kids.

Adults only allows me the space and energy to focus on the little things in life. Like on how I didn’t particularly love the exact tone Joe used to say goodbye to me at the end of one of our yoga sessions. I have a few seconds of feeling, umm, rejected? as I pad down the long corridor to our quiet hotel room. It’s a flashback to regular-relationship days when all of those tiny things mattered so much, a teensy seed of ‘hmmm what was that?’ buried under the stack of mattresses I used to sit on top of, alone. Teensy seeds that are hard to notice when you’ve got three little kids under the covers with you and one’s coughing so much she might throw up, and one’s worried about a kid at recess and can’t get to sleep, and one’s sleeping soundly but horizontally across everyone else.

Adults only means I’m Madonna and Child (and child and child) minus the Child (and the child and the child). Just some lady. Vulnerable to scrutiny, in a world where little things are amplified and I am only me. And the food is great, and the air is quiet, and the rocks at the pool are stunning, and the crystal bowls are beautiful, and the library beckons...

And I think I'm ready to go home.

Feb 1, 2007

Ode to a Broken Toe

Someone might have looked at the fact that I broke my toe (details to follow) three days after Joe presented me with my 40th birthday gift of a three-day retreat to a destination spa where we’d have unlimited fitness and yoga and meditation opportunities as an--oh I don’t know--unconscious effort to sabotage our first ever weekend away from our kids.

That same person might also think that the timing of this particular first broken bone EVER in my life, occurring as it did three days after turning forty, might be my way of creating a physical truth to match my inner anxiety about forty meaning old age and lost vitality--and if you’ve seen me gallumphing about with my inflexible medical boot with the open toes and heavy velcro straps you’d agree that I’m hobbling around like a little old lady (and not like an injured athlete which would be another option).

Regardless it would seem like a lousy thing to have a broken toe.

But I’ve been at the spa now for two days and I’m starting to think of it as a gift.

Because instead of feeling torn between a pilates class and a healing sounds meditation, a nature walk or an inner smile visualization, twenty minutes on a treadmill or twenty minutes with a book and an armchair by a fireplace, I’m simply choosing the inner work. The pieces of inner peace.

I broke my toe on Christmas Eve in my parents’ living room. I was the only one in the room--the room with the tree and the stockings--and it was almost midnight--so the miracle of gifts from Santa was just about to take place (or rather was in the process of taking place)--I was moving swiftly around, taking care of lots of really wonderful thoughtful details and in the midst of all of my generosity and goodness my foot slammed into the wooden leg of the loveseat--and four toes went one way, and the baby toe went the other way.

I heard a loud crack/pop and sank to the floor in agony--the only thing that made the pain bearable was thinking about the baby in Louisiana whose toes were chewed off by the famiy’s pet ferret. Surely that would be worse, ‘at least it’s not a ferret, at least it’s not a ferret.’ That’s how much it hurt, that I had to take that journey in my head.

I limped along nobly for the next few weeks. I reminded people about my toe on occasion, it seemed to be the polite thing to do--”I’m not complaining,” I’d begin, “but I just want to remind you all that I’m still in great pain, but you’d nver know it from how brave I’m being.” It’s important to let people know when you’re exercising such restraint, so they don’t forget to be proud of you and also so they don’t blunder into asking you to do too much. It’s the right thing to do.

Then I stubbed it again--in the kitchen--while moving around swiftly making the children’s school lunches. Yeeeeeeeowwwwwch! that hurt. I put the box of ziploc bags down, dropped the peanut-butter-smeared knife into the sink, and went immediately out to the backyard--a light freezing rain was falling and it was still dark and it was the perfect place to be in that much pain--pain too dark for a brightly lit kitchen, pain too ugly to hold in my body while looking at my son’s beautiful face.

The next day a podiatrist x-rayed my foot and showed me that my toe was truly broken. Broken as in imagine a line going all the way through a classic bone-shaped bone--and then imagine the two halves being together, but slightly off.

And so he wrapped it to immobilize it and gave me the hideous (at least it’s black) medical boot.

And if you want to find me anywhere in this spa just look for that little shoe--all alone outside the sauna, waiting patiently at the edge of the whirlpool, staying dry by a rock near the waterfall, lurking under the towel rack outside the steam room...or listen for the dry rasp of the velcro...that’s where I am.

But don’t bother looking for me in any of the fitness rooms--or on any of the miles of walking trails--because that wouldn’t be good for my toe.

I sent healing energy to the bone this morning in my inner smile meditation class--in the room overlooking the stark barcode of winter trees and the frozen pond beyond. I gathered up the earth’s energy and held the moon in my hands in Tai Chi for Enlightenment--and I don’t have to feel a bit of guilt for the things I’m not doing, because ultimately just being, and just being, and just being is what I need most of all.