Oct 18, 2008

But What if My Kids are Easy?

We used to be in Caribbean nanny land—lovely maternal warm and giving. Our babysitter was beloved by all. I made it clear that I only wanted her to keep my children alive and hold them a lot…so I’d come home and the house would be a mess but she’d be holding my sleeping boy and that was just fine. Diapers would be changed (more often than I’d have asked), milk would be put in (more often than I’d have asked), and hair would be oiled (that was odd…our scrappy blonde boy would be greased into Little Lord Fauntleroy, more often than I would have hoped).

And then I stopped working, and we didn’t need her anymore. We were ready for the college babysitter-type. Someone fun, someone who needed the money, but preferably someone with loads of sitter experience, as there were still vegetables to encourage, pull-ups to manage, bedtimes to negotiate.

Now we’re moving further down the scale. My oldest two children know all the systems. It just seems like a logistical fluke that they, at ages 8 and 9, aren’t old enough to just stay home alone and care for their little sister. We really just need someone who's at least twelve years old. Hannah Montana would be perfect. There's a fourteen year old a few blocks away who my children adore. We need someone to be pretty and fun with my girls and not take offense that my son is going to just stay upstairs reading, watching tv, and playing video games. We need someone to be pretty and fun and welcoming if he meanders downstairs and wants to be included in a game or a project. We need someone who can dial 911 or open the front door and start shouting if anything goes wrong. But we don’t need anyone to do all the hands-on nanny-mommy stuff anymore. Just pretty, and fun, and old enough. And by the way I know the pretty part is harsh--fun is most important, but pretty means my little girl will develop a mad crush, and she's always better behaved when she's flirting.

So do I really need to pay the three-kid rate?

Babysitting rates have skyrocketed since our early days of being parents. Part of it is just that our neighborhood has become affluent (but we’re not), part of it is that it’s nine years later, and part of it is that Brooklyn is still right up next to Manhattan and they always have crazy-high prices. We've had the good fortune to be sort of grandfathered in at the older prices. Like how house cleaners and therapists up their prices every year, but then the rate stays the same forever.

Until now.

A potential sitter, an incredibly dynamic and wonderful woman, just let me know what the current rates are. She said that she was told the rates are $10 for one child, and $15-20 for two, and more for three. This of course, added up to her asking for over $20 per hour. Well technically I have three children. But we pay $15 an hour. We can’t afford much more than that (but that’s a different essay)—but more importantly, is coming to our house and hanging out for 4 hours or so really babysitting THREE children? Is it?

Sadly, 14 year olds aren’t around to do school pick-ups plus commute plus snacks and homework. And that’s what we need. I get it. Commuting on a subway with my three kids and then overseeing homework is substantially more than flopping around being pretty and fun in the confines of my living room. But more than $20 an hour is just too much for us.

And then I started to think about it. This three kid rate. Babysitting thee kids might mean three wacky toddlers, all rolling around in different directions like marbles, with full diapers, and drooly chins. Forgive me for feeling superior, but we're kind of the opposite of that (and that, by the way, should cost like $100 an hour if you ask me). My youngest doesn't even need help wiping her butt anymore.

Our three add up like this. Three kids come in, put their shoes where they go, wash their hands. One child gets to watch unlimited Dora, two children sit down and do homework. After homework, one child disappears upstairs to laze around with various electronic things like Gamecube or Naruto. Leaving one kid to sit and ask thoughtful questions, while drawing or playing solitaire, or making an art project out of stuff in our recycling bin or something. I know that bad things could happen, but our kids aren't at the drown-in-the-bathtub or fall-down-the-stairs age.

So maybe we shouldn't have to pay like the other people with three kids do.

Did I mention? My kids are easy.

Originally posted on nycmomsblog.com

Sep 11, 2008

Crayola True to Life Series

Crossposted on Parentalapproval.blogspot.com

My youngest child just started school in the same building as her older brother and sister. Hallelujah! Only one PTA meeting to feel bad about missing every month, only one school asking us for more than we can give. It's simplified everything. The trick is that, now, she has to leave with them in the morning. No more packing them off to big kid school while we laze around in pajamas only JUST starting to consider what we want for breakfast, and what we should wear for the day. It puts a little more pressure on bedtime, and it puts a little more pressure on establishing some solid routines. Throwing out nighttime television (shhh unless the Mets are on) and morning television is a good beginning for us. Our little girl cannot tell time but 'after Dora,' and 'one more Backyardigans' has felt a little bit like 'I'm staying up til 8,' and 'I'm not going to bed til 8:30.' So cutting out those thirty minute chunks of time that eat away at her bedtime so easily seemed right. That left us with the question--well what are we going to do after dinner then? (Some of you will shudder as you struggle to answer the same question, and others will shudder at how ridiculously tv-centered our lives must be that we'd even have to ask it). Here's what we do: we do a lot of drawing, and then when the little one goes up to bed, we break out the board games she doesn't have the stomach for (she actually cheats at Candyland so we figure she's not ready for the hard stuff yet). So it was fun to be able to offer my kids the new and exciting Crayola True to Life stuff. Crayons, markers, and pencils, each with a tri-colored tip. I'm guessing the True to Life series gets its name from the idea that, in nature, no green is just plain green, no blue, just plain blue. In each case, there are a handful of obviously related colors (yellow/red/orange) and surprising combinations (purple/orange/red). The names of these blends are stunning--Maui Sunset, Grand Canyon, Yosemite Campfire... And we've all really enjoyed drawing with them. If we had to pick a favorite, we'd choose the crayons. There's something about the texture of the crayons and the blending of the colors that goes more hand in hand than in the case of the markers. Markers seem to me to be a bit more specific. If you want to color in something with a marker you tend to feel strongly about the color you choose. But with crayons, you get that kind of scrubbly texture anyway, and the colors don't tend to be as pure. So the subtle surprises in the crayons are slightly more satisfying than with the markers. A circle filled in with Amazon Rainforest (three green shades) with the marker creates a kind of schizophrenic disk of scribbled lines, yet in the case of the crayon, you end up with something that looks like a lemon that isn't ripe, with some extra greenness at one tip. In that instance, the True to Life series really does earn its name. As an art teacher, the only drawback I can see is that some children know exactly what color they want something to be, and don't feel very flexible about variations on that idea. Young children can be much more rigid in their expectations of their artwork than grown-ups tend to think they'd be. That said, I could see using the True to Life series being perfect for many different types of art projects--designs with watercolor overlays, invented flowers and fruits, or anything else where the surprises would be welcome. And in one final nod to the markers...I'm looking now at a 'board game' that my four year old made. Long intersecting lines form the boxes that your piece travels, and there's something really lovely about how the gold turns into purple and olive green. Who needs television after dinner? (stay tuned, this is only the end of week two).

Aug 6, 2008

My Summer Camp Acceptance Speech

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you so much for this incredible award! I'd like to thank the members of the Academy for recognizing all of my hard work this summer. I know I know, there were people who didn't think I'd be able to pull it off, having three different kids in three different summer day camps these last six weeks. And there were certainly those who thought it couldn't happen. But look at me! I did it!


I did the math too. I was scared to do it back when we signed on for this, but now that it's over I allowed myself to do it. Check this out! Six weeks of camp times three kids, five days a week, all different drop-offs and pick-ups (I know, I know)...and sometimes in three different boroughs? One hundred and eighty transitions! And no child forgotten! And (get this) no extreme latenesses. I'd have about died if I'd ended up getting in trouble like Karen did, for picking her daughter up twenty minutes late that day. Yikes.


Of course we all know how saved I was by the late bird option at those three weeks of camp my seven year old did in Park Slope. Too bad I didn't discover that until the last week! I still haven't gotten the bill for those extra hours but it's gotta have been worth it, right?


There are so many people to thank. Let's see, I hope I don't forget anyone.

Umm, I'd like to thank my husband for stepping in and handling some of the heavy-lifting, and especially that week where he did all the drop-offs and pick-ups for our nine year old and his friend at Mets Baseball Academy wayyy out in Long Island.


And also for the time we needed to sprinkle the kids around the city but I couldn't end up being stuck with the car (alternate side parking rules were in effect that day and I had an appointment in midtown!) and he agreed to be saddled with the van all day. But mostly for taking the time with me on those two nights--you remember those, right?--where I needed an extra adult and a piece of paper and a pencil and the cellphone in my hand to figure out the Sudoku of getting everyone set for the next day.

Then there's my friend Nadia, who lent me her car on the day when I'd figured out all the drop-offs and then realized at lunchtime that I had no way to get everyone home! Yowza! Good thing she was around. Good thing that weird light on her dashboard only came on at the end of the trip! Thanks Nadia!

I'd like to thank the traffic in the morning for being so agreeable, making it possible to nail two different 9am drop-offs two miles apart. One child was a handful of minutes early, the other a handful of minutes late. The camp counselors didn't even notice! I never thought I could pull that one off on my own! Too bad moms don't have stunt doubles, huh?

I'd like to thank the Children's Museum of the Arts in Soho for having that groovy ball-pit. Dragging my four year old from her camp to her brother's camp every afternoon became a lot easier once she discovered that gem. She actually wanted to go pick him up from then on!

Thank you Elena!--the mom from Park Slope I only met because I was looking to carpool with someone--anyone--who was heading into Soho for claymation camp. Thanks for not being as tit-for-tat as you had every right to be (and as some moms can be--which I find so annoying!). I know I was able to help bring your son home to you several times (that was helpful, I know) but I appreciate that you didn't keep score about it and didn't seem to mind when the scales tipped a little bit the other way. Thanks for being so flexible about all that! And thanks for feeding him on the nights we couldn't get to him til after dinner. Do I owe you anything for that?

(Music begins to swell)

Oh, umm, wait. I can't forget my kids.


Wait! I didn't mean that, I mean, I can't forget to thank my kids. A hundred and eighty opportunities to forget one of of you and it didn't happen. Right? We made it, we really made it, didn't we? I'm so glad you each got to do the summer camps of your dreams. But the greatest part was that you were all so exhausted by the time you got home. And you were hardly at each other's throats since you hardly saw each other!

(Laughter, Music swelling)

Okay, so...thanks so much to everyone for recognizing what I managed to pull off this summer. It was such hard work, and at times I wondered if it was worth it but standing here, holding this award, knowing that you all really appreciate my efforts...? Wow. Really. Wow. I'm truly humbled by this honor, and I'd like to dedicate it to all the moms out there, slaving away behind the curtain, making everything work for their own families, thanklessly. It's too bad there isn't enough room up here on this podium for all of us.

Jul 29, 2008

Smoking My Kids

In a recent essay in The New Yorker, David Sedaris talks about taking up smoking as a young man. He said it was as if he'd been fumbling around on a stage his whole life, and then the propmaster finally showed up.

At last! He knew what to do with his hands. Finally! He had an instant conversation-starter. Sure there were downsides to smoking, but to him, they paled in comparison to what were then some pretty obvious social benefits.

I get that. I really do.

I haven't smoked a cigarette in ages, but it was an awfully convenient accessory in college, and in some of the years after. Arrive at a party before anyone else I knew? Just ask someone for a cigarette or a light...boom!...instant interaction, with little flashes of knowingness, being now a smoker engaging with another smoker.

Traveling in a foreign country? Smoking'll come in handy too. First there's the comfort of seeing familiar brands abroad, and second there's another thing to have in common with someone whose language you might never understand. Smiling eyes, engaged hands...offering a cigarette, accepting a light. Piece of cake.

It occurred to me the other night, as I arrived to pick my middle child up from soccer practice, that my children are my cigarettes. I usually take my four year old with me to these soccer games but on this particular night I didn't have her with me. I found myself hesitating before approaching the group of parents. I was on my own. No prop, no built in distraction, no obvious conversation starter. Just me and a group of people I didn't really know. Usually it's not obvious that I don't really know them, so busy am I chasing around the four year old. And if she bounds towards them, golden-retriever-like, I lump along behind her and then end up having little snippets of conversation with them. Likewise, if she decides to roll down the hill over there over and over and over, I'm perfectly comfortable setting up a blanket and sitting alone on it with a magazine, keeping an eye on her, but also keeping near her and feeling justified in my decision to set up camp away from the other grown-ups. On this particular night I didn't really know what to do. Aiming directly towards the group of other parents seemed brash and forward. My intent would be clearly visible, and if I wasn't greeted with eye contact and welcomed into the fold I wouldn't really know how to get away. But setting up camp alone seemed ridiculously unsocial. I felt naked without her. It was then that I remembered the Sedaris piece. I was on the hilltop without my prop, and I wasn't sure how to behave.

I started thinking of all the ways that my kids have been my cigarettes through the years.

The biggest thing that stands out is the first grown-up party my husband and I were invited to after our first baby was born. Of course we brought him, he was just a few months old. But this wasn't a party full of parents, it was a medical school crowd. Sleek Grey's Anatomy folk mingling, having adult conversations about adult things. Since my social life had been swallowed up by pregnancy and childbirth--meaning that it was all I was ever required to talk about, I'd completely lost the ability to chat up strangers, if we weren't talking about episiotomies or cracked nipples. So there we were, my husband and me and the baby, attempting to schmooze and mix, but really we just kind of hung out by the dip all night and tried to steer conversations towards the baby. We fought over who was going to hold him (because whoever wasn't holding him might be asked to weigh in on some topic like politics or graduate school), and the poor kid probably got about seven diaper changes. Lull in the conversation? Oop, think I should go change the baby. Kind of like having to go put OUT that cigarette.

We took the boy to Chile when he was almost two. He was a platinum blonde kid whose looks got us more and more attention the further we travelled from Santiago. In one beach town about seven hours north of the capital, every restaurant we went into seated us in a front window. Places that my husband and I might have been nervous to go into--you know that uncertain feeling at the threshold of a new place, where you wonder if it even is a restaurant? No problem when there's a baby around.

I just returned from my twentieth college reunion. I brought my four year old. It didn't make sense to many, but it made perfect sense to me; I've since found out that the proper term for her in this case is 'distance regulator'--a chapter heading in books about intimacy (and how people avoid it, I'm guessing, though I haven't peeked). It was a perfect weekend, the perfect amount of being with old friends, and the perfect amount of being interrupted--oh, excuse me for a minute, I need to make sure she finds the dessert table--as well. There were extras on hand to help out with her, but it was always ultra-convenient to have her in the periphery.

Maybe someday I'll quit. Oh wait, I mean, maybe someday my children will grow up and move away and I'll be forced to find my way back to being comfortable without them. Or maybe I'll move on to some other kind of 'distance regulator.' I have a hunch that a blackberry might do the trick.

Jun 17, 2008

Babysitter Rejection

My most vivid rejection memory from childhood is of playing in the front yard with two older neighbor girls--the one who I choreographed the Dancing Queen routine with who ended up working at the U.N., and the one who became a track star in high school who teaches public school in the South Bronx. The Dancing Queen/U.N gal decided that we should race to her front door and so we all started to run there. I got there last and by the time I got up to the little cement step with the white iron railing they'd shut the door and announced that I wasn't allowed to play with them anymore. What a terrible feeling! I'd been slow, I'd been duped, I'd been dumped.

Aside from that, I wasn't the victim of a lot of rejection in my early years, or even in my later years. Maybe that's why I don't have tough-rejection-proof skin. Maybe that's why I can, on a certain kind of day, feel rejected so easily. Maybe that's why I can find rejection in the strangest places. Maybe that's why I cringe so much at the thought of calling around for a babysitter.

I know it's ridiculous. I do. I'm not always this sensitive. Just when I'm not feeling at the top of my game, or when I'm feeling a bit blue or disconnected--more often in the winter than in the summer. If I could just use that knowledge to my advantage I'd be fine. But I never know when a pair of tickets might end up in my lap, or some other kind of night out with my husband might present itself, and all of a sudden, no matter my mood, I find myself in need of a sitter. And the agony begins.

Take Jane. Jane never calls back right away. (Why doesn't she ever call?) But she usually comes through in the end--'Hi it's Jane? I'm so sorry I never called you back! Do you still need someone? Cuz I can do it if you haven't found anyone else.' Great, Super. She loves the kids, and ours are the only ones in her life. She's in school with a weird schedule and so I know (intellectually) not to feel bad if a Wednesday evening class means she can't watch them on a Wednesday night. But still...why doesn't she ever call?

Then there's Carly. Carly watched the kids once and wrote us a long note describing how wonderful they were. And now she's NEVER available. But I keep trying, especially since there's always that big gap between leaving a message for Jane and hearing that she can do it. Carly always sounds convincing when she says she feels bad, and she's a bigtime neighborhood babysitter and I'm usually calling at the last minute--so there's a chance she really is always busy. But still...should I be reading between the lines here?

Yolanda is fabulous, but has a way of accepting a job that unnerves me and makes me feel desperate. 'Yeah sure,' she'll say drowsily as if I just asked her if she liked milk in her tea. 'You can do it?' I implore. 'Yeah. No problem.' I can hear her shrugging through the phone. This indifference (even though it's a yes) triggers some nervous energy in me and I find myself prattling on 'really? really, it's okay?' It must drive her nuts. She said 'Yeah, sure' four mintues earlier and I'm there nervously rambling on, 'really? tomorrow? So, you can do it tomorrow? Really?' Several times I've gotten off the phone with her, still not confident that she understood what I was asking.

Adding to the awkwardness is that I call some of these women so infrequently it's impossible to avoid calling them in weird places and at weird times. Like in the middle of their own wedding ceremony ('whoa, sorry...I mean, congratulations'), on the other side of the world ('ouch, what time is it there?'), or in the wake of some tragedy ('ohhh, sorry...' I'll say, feeling guilty that I'm calling about such a ho-hum-life-goes-on reason--'so I guess that means you can't watch the kids so Joe and I can go out to dinner?' I might add sheepishly, depending on how desperate I'm feeling). Several Pratt students have just moved on with their lives (tends to happen to twenty-one year olds after they graduate): Peace Corps, Boston...but I rarely see this coming and feel foolish when my call finds them in some far off place.

And don't even get me started on the no-shows. Or the last-minute no-explanation cancelers. To be sitting in my going-out clothes with the kids in the living room all hopped up on pre-babysitter adrenaline in anticipation of some girl who never shows up is the worst feeling. My four year old LOVES babysitters, my seven year old loves it when ANYONE does an art project with her, my son LOVES that his sisters leave him alone. It's like being stood-up times four. I can know that it's a reflection of the lousy woman who didn't come, and not a reflection on me or my kids. But in the moment it feels pretty personal.

Hooray! I just got a pair of tickets to Wicked! What fun! Joe scored Knicks tickets! Wonderful! my friend just invited us to Ethan Hawke's new show! And ohhhhh crap....I think, picturing a stack of phone calls to wonderful women with busy social lives and oddly-timed classes. All it takes is one yes. One yes erases all the uncertainty, all those gaps of not knowing. It's just too bad it can take so long to find it.

May 2, 2008

Ring Around the City

My daughter is four and her friend Zed is 3. He was over the other day and they played like they usually do, all over the house. A little tv in the living room, some upper bunk time in my son's room, some action figure exploration, some water play in one of the bathrooms, sometimes they manage to sneak cookies upstairs and I end up vacuuming her bed with one of the funky hose attachments, to get rid of all the crumbs.

At one point the two of them started walking awkwardly across our oriental rug near the kitchen. They were kind of measuring out their steps and holding hands. She announced to all of us (Zed's mom, and several older siblings who were doing homework at the kitchen table) that she and Zed were getting married and we'd all have to yell out 'yip yip yerray,' at the right time.

She mumbled something about 'spitting up flowers,' though she might have meant 'putting out flowers.' Didn't matter, her imagination is pretty vivid and as long as a few of us waved our arms around and said 'flowers flowers flowers' she was pleased. They marched a bit, got distracted by Scooby Doo for a bit, and then remembered to kiss. He sat frozen while she puckered up and moved towards his face in slow motion. She made it to his chin, at which point we all yelled 'Yip Yip Yerray!' My camera was charged, which is rare in off-the-cuff moments like this one, so I even snapped a picture. Very very cute.

Eventually Zed's mom decided to head home to try to make a real meal for her kids. My older daughter went with them (it's the only time she eats vegetables), and my youngest, the new bride, got engrossed in Scooby Doo once more.

I did everything but make dinner. I folded sheets, sorted socks, watched some MSNBC, vacuumed up some more Milano cookie remains. I sat down at my computer to check emails and noticed my skinny wedding band sitting near the keyboard. It was then that I remembered taking both bands off much earlier in the day, during yet another frantic 'calgon take me away' email-checking moment--pretty soon they'll have to change that expression from a watched pot never boils to a checked email never arrives--nothing major going on in email land, but it begs to be checked every time I walk by my computer. Earlier in the day I'd walked home from Manhattan--over the Williamsburg bridge, and I'd gotten caught in a really chilly drizzle. I must have slipped both wedding bands off in an attempt to pare down and warm up, plus maybe my fingers were a bit swollen from all the walking.

So there was my skinny wedding ring--the one my husband and I designed to match his grandmother's engagement ring that he'd given me when we got engaged. I'd long since stopped wearing the engagement ring because I don't do well with jewelry that's pokey or with anything that requires extra thought. I'd managed to snag bathing suits (when did bathing suits start costing $80?) and scratch the cheeks of all of my children, drawing blood at times, forgetting the sharp art deco edges that held the diamond in place. I began to wear his grandmother's own wedding band instead, in addition to the skinny one we made. A thick chunky circle of sunflower-halves that gets much more attention than I could have ever imagined. It's practical, doesn't act like a weapon, and gets along nicely with lycra and nylon.

But it wasn't there.

Honey...I began, realizing that it was going to be hard to get her interested in anything now that she had Scooby Doo all to herself. Honey...I continued. Remember Mommy's shiny special ring?

I was feeling a bit frantic, but had to approach the situation with caution. Kind of like dismantling a bomb. Snip the wrong wire--in this case, reveal how important this is or act too accusatory, and the whole thing might explode.

What Mommy? She looked at me idly out of the corner of her eye.

Well, where do you think it might be? I asked cheerfully.

She shrugged noncommittally. I dunno.

Well, do you think you put it somewhere? A song in my voice--again, cross the line into 'you might be in trouble' territory and I'd lose whatever chance I might have of enlisting her help.

Maybe upstairs? She suggested. Maybe upstairs--but that's too vague. Maybe she's just looking to get rid of me and all this pestering.

Where upstairs? Another shrug. I dunno.

Well...did you put it on?

Shrug/I dunno.

Did you play with it?

Shrug/I dunno.

Could it be under the couch?

Maybe! I check it now, she said slipping under the pulled out futon where she and Zed had spent part of the afternoon. Nope, she said, backsliding out. Not there.

Where do you think it might be, I asked again.

Maybe in Zeddy's pocket?

Zeddy's pocket?

Yep. Maybe in Zeddy's pocket?

Did you put it in Zeddy's pocket?

Shrug/I dunno.

Was she saying this to put the whole thing to rest?--or could she be telling me the truth?

Zed is a pockety kid. He always shows up in blue jeans and several layers of shirts--each of which usually has a pocket somewhere, topped off by a jean jacket. This wasn't very specific. I think his boots might even have pockets.

Which pocket do you think you might have put it in? I asked.

Shrug/I dunno...pause...maybe the blue one.

The blue pocket?

Shrug/I dunno.

I went to the phone and called his mom. They were eating their healthful meal when I called. Zeddy stand up, I heard her say. And then. Yep, here it is. I've got your ring. She put it on the mantel for safe keeping. It was on the mantel in her house eight blocks away, deeper in Brooklyn.

Phew. Huge sigh of relief. The bomb was dismantled--the red digits stopped somewhere just before zero. Of course this was a teachable moment. But how? Should this be the time that I lose it completely and show my child who's the boss? The moment she'll always remember, the one that will make her afraid to go near any of my stuff? The one that might end up being her first vivid memory? Nope. Just a good time to remind my kids that the truth is always best.

I'm not even mad because I'm so happy that you told me the truth, I told her, but frankly I had to compete with the 'and we would have gotten away with it too if it hadn't been for you meddling kids' moment so I'm not sure she heard me at all.

I picked the ring up a bit later when I went to pick up my other daughter. The mom handed it over to me and laughed nervously. She was almost more freaked out that it had been in his pocket than I was. That she'd been in possession of it, and we might not have ever really found it.

I'm not one of these moms who has fun match-making toddlers--I understand the interest in doing it, but I think it does them a disservice, acting like they're grown-ups to be instead of little kids who are. But it would be awfully convenient if, eventually, she and Zeddy did fall in love and get married. She's already given him her great-grandmother's wedding ring, we've already yelled yip yip yerray. We'd be those kinds of people--the ones with the excellent stories to tell at the wedding.

Mar 31, 2008

Loving My Tree

My seven year old daughter and I have been taking African Dance classes at our local YMCA. It's a family class full of mothers and daughters, led by a beautiful and powerful woman, accompanied by an energetic and incredibly focussed drumming teenage boy.

As long as we've lived in Brooklyn I've been tempted by classes like this; friends of mine have raved about African dance, Belly-dance, etc. Problem is I've never danced at all ('cepting for those occasional moments when the mood strikes--rare rare times indeed, especially if alcohol isn't involved) and have been basically too uptight and self-conscious to try anything with the word 'dance' in it. But like people who get dogs find that their social lives pick up, so I've discovered how many more things I'm willing to try in the name of my children. What a fantastic excuse they are to get out in the world, to try new things!

Taking my daughter to this 'family class' became a safe entree into the world. And I've really loved it. Hard to believe I could love anything that involves prancing around in front of an enormous mirror in front of other people for an hour, but I really do. Moving in concert with a roomful of women--hammering out steps and movements, moving as one, applauding each other, it's fantastic.

One day after class my daughter said 'Mommy whenever you raised your arms up everyone could see your belly.' Of course I'd noticed this, and because I am who I am I'd considered being embarrassed about it. But it's hard to feel that way in a class full of strong rhythmic heavyset mamas--where size is strength, and where self-consciousness of that sort would seem as out of place as pausing mid-beat to apply eye-liner.

Years ago I saw Eve Ensler's The Good Body on Broadway. I remembered snippets of a wonderful speech given by a Masai woman about her body called Love Your Tree.

"Its your stomach. Its meant to be seen...look at that tree? Do you see that tree? Now look at that tree. (Points to another tree) Do you like that tree? Do you hate that tree cause it doesnt look like that tree?"

In the afterglow of this particular class, I turned to my daughter and replied "I'm proud of my belly, my body's given me three strong children and a wonderful, capable life. It's part of who I am and how happy I am and how proud I am to have had all of my wonderful experiences."

She considered this for a split second and then said 'Oh, well I was embarrassed."

"You were embarrassed when your own belly showed?" I asked, cringing at the thought that she be on the verge of being crippled by self-consciousness.

"No Mommy, I was embarrassed when YOUR belly showed."

At any other time this might have pinched, but again, there in the wake of that empowering class, I channelled the Masai woman and found the words to say "Well I'm not embarrassed about my belly, so you don't need to bother being embarrassed by it either. It's just a waste of your own good energy."

Of course, it was a moment of mommy-strength not unlike the power we're supposed to access in order to lift a small car off of one of our children in an emergency. And this comment does not speak to any consistently true feelings about my body. But it felt right to say it, and I'm hoping she heard it. And now I want to play Belly's song Feed theTree over and over (because it seems related), and tack Love Your Tree up on the refrigerator. And see if we can't get some major tree-appreciation going.

Mar 13, 2008

Don't Be My Guest

The other day I overheard my daughter arguing with her friend Fifi, who was visiting our house. They were both standing with their hands on their hips, bending forward in rage, noses almost touching. They're four.

"But I'm the guest!" Fifi said.

"No, you're not!" responded my own child.

They were in a squabble about who was going to go first with my nine year old's magnetic dart board. Needless to say this item only held their attention for as long as their fight lasted; they moved on to find other things to fight about moments later.

"Yes, I'm the guest. I'm at your house!" Fifi said again.

"Noooooooooo..." my child started slowly. Condescendingly. "I'm the guest" (actually, she says 'ine' instead of 'I'm' so I'll just insert that from here on).

Fifi saw me lurking in the doorway and looked up at me, confused. "She says I'm not the guest, but I am the guest and the guest always gets to go first," she insisted.

"The guest does always get to go first," mine countered. "But ine the guest. Remember? Your mom said so yesterday."

"But that's when you were at my house. Today I'm at your house so I'm the guest."

"No ine always the guest. You were there when your mom said it!" Then she started to tick the number of times off on her fingers......"your mom told me ine the guest, Chloe's mom told me ine the guest, Aliza's mom told me ine the guest...ine always the guest!"

OHHHHHH, I finally realized what was going on. At this moment, as with other similar moments, I remembered that Fifi's eleven days younger than my own daughter. Yet another example of something I forgot to teach my kid. Don't even get me started on the time the boy who's four months younger showed us all the movements to eensy weensy spider. I hadn't even taught my child the song.

In my girl's world, 'guest' has nothing to do with location, it isn't a status that can change. She's been told she's the guest by so many moms, so consistently, that she thinks she's perma-guest. Must be nice to live in her world.

Fifi turned to me for help. Instead of doing what I should have done, instead of intervening on Fifi's behalf (after all, she was the guest, shouldn't I have worked harder to make her comfortable in my home?), I just gave Fifi a look of exasperation. "You know what honey? she just doesn't understand" I explained." I'll have to explain it to her, but I think I'll have to do it another time. I don't think she's in a position to understand it right now." Fifi (did I say she was younger?) shrugged her shoulders and moved on to play with some other seldom-played-with item that was about to be elevated to sudden preciousness. And so the afternoon went.

I stuck to my word and I did try to explain the concept to my four year old. Several times. She nods like she understands, but of course she doesn't like it. Massively demoted, if you ask her. Sometimes when we walk to school and she's doing things like peering in pipes for watery eyeballs, or balance-beaming her way across someone's stone ledge, I see an idea flash across her brain, and she stops me and says "Mommy, sometime when no friends are at my house, can I be the guest?'

"Sure" I say. "No problem."

Mar 6, 2008

Pondering the Piano

The jury's still out on whether or not the piano was a good idea.

We inherited it from a neighbor who 'had no room for it.' Meanwhile, when I showed up to the neighbor's house to get a visual on it, I discovered an enormous house with a grand parlour and visible baseboards, NOT a cramped apartment as I'd hoped. No, this wasn't a true 'we have no room for it,' in which case taking it off their hands and putting it into our HOUSE might have seemed like a reasonable thing to do. It was one of those enormous living rooms where you can actually see the pretty brown stripes on the edges of the wooden floors. We have those stripy edges, but every inch is covered with some bookcase, couch, cabinet, or other vital bit of furniture. When my daughter needed a wall against which to practice hand-stands when she was taking gymnastics at Chelsea Piers we couldn't cough one up for her.

'Want to play it?' The husband offered. I stared at the pretty piano and the inviting keys. I only know three songs, and they're all duets. Testing this piano by playing Chopsticks just didn't seem like the right thing to do. I kept my hands low in my coat pockets and said 'no, I just want to see it.'

He then tapped out all 88 keys to show me which ones were dead and which ones worked. The working ones worked beautifully. If I'd thought to try the intro to the Entertainer (my other big piece) or the bottom parts to any of the three duets I know (Heart and Soul being one of them) I would have discovered that some of the dead keys are kind of central and vital to my limited repertoire.

Then he sat down and played a song to show me that the pedals worked. Pedals? I'd never gone near them, except to make big Halloweeny effects. I had no idea how to use them in a real song. Or in Heart and Soul or chopsticks. The song was beautiful. The piano was free. (The movers were not). How could I go wrong? I figured if he could make such a gorgeous sound then it would suit my children's basic needs--twinkle twinkle, up the swing (up the swing I go so high...then I come down from the sky...up five keys, down five keys), some simple stuff.

So I set about rearranging our living room so we could absorb it. The rearranging led me to weed out our 'game cabinet,' which led me to clean out my 'office supply drawer,' which led me upstairs to weed through the 'dress-up clothes' and to find a new home for the 'bin of plastic food.' I decided to keep one 'tangle of unknown black cords' but decided to toss another 'tangle of unknown black cords,' based on very little investigation into what devices any of those black cords might have operated. A decision I may regret next time I'm looking to download home-movies or plug a dvd player into a cigarette lighter.

Then the big moment--the arrival of the piano. 'Why those guys speaking only Spanish?' my four year old asked, referring to the Russian-speaking and very-efficient piano delivery guys. Man number one walked into the living room to see where it was going to go and said 'nice place,' which I took as an enormous compliment, as though I'd given him a tour of the whole house (all 1600 square feet of it) and agreed that I'd chosen the exactly perfect spot. He didn't make a snide remark about how he'd just moved it out of a prominent spot in a much bigger home, which I appreciated.

They ootched it into place, did a bit of drilling (?) to shore up the leg that was very wobbly (I hadn't thought to kick the legs when I'd gone to visit it), and left. Us. Alone. With. The. New. Piano.

It's been in the house now for almost 48 hours, and I've had to drive our seven year old daughter away from it about seven times already. Play it more quietly, I beg her, if the tv's on and she decides to hammer out twinkle twinkle, or the swing song. Or there's the mildly supportive 'great! you played it like nine times, maybe that's enough?' Why hadn't I anticipated any of this?

After being rearranged to make room for the piano, the computer desk now makes a big L that divides the living room a bit, and if I'm at my computer and my daughter's at the piano her left shoulder is brushing my right shoulder. I've tried to show her that if she kind of leans the heel of her hand against the rim of the piano the keys make a quieter sound. It's a subtle thing I'm trying to show her, and not always effective. But I try anyway.

And she's my piano player. The four year old just bangs away and I don't even try to stop her, which isn't fair, I'm reminded. And it isn't fair. And if our nine year old son approaches it it's a different story too, since he's officially not interested in it. So when he tries to tap something out I rarely stop him, which isn't fair. And it really isn't fair. I know.

I'm hoping that once the dust settles, the kids won't feel they have to play the piano every time they walk by it. It'll also help when we figure out how to lower the little thing that covers the keys. It's there, we saw it when the guys installed the piano, but once it was lifted up there's no visible way of lowering it again. Once that gets sorted out I suppose it'll be easier for them to resist. And yes, I get the irony. I got us a new piano that I hope the kids don't ever play.

The whole reason I got the piano is a strong belief that my kids should grow up in a house with a real piano. I did, and I hated lessons, but I learned those damned duets, and it's fun to bang them out sometimes. And there's something about kids and pianos and being good at math, isn't there? And my son doesn't want to learn any instruments so that's a good reason to have him live with a piano, right? So he can have a bit of familiarity with one? Because this is the closest he might ever get to a real instrument.

Oh, and the duets? We've tried a few of them but very few octaves have all the proper keys working. I tell myself it's better than nothing. But I'm just not sure yet.

Feb 27, 2008

The Cat's in the Cradle and the Song's in my Head

Attachment parenting all the way, was the way we went when the kids were young. Then, when they were toddlers I reclaimed my me-time. I went out for a movie almost once a week, or to dinner with friends, or even the occasional night or two away. We hardly ever used babysitters, but my husband realized that a satisfied wife was a happy wife, or vice versa, and he fully supported all of my little escapes.

If the kids ever gave me sad puppy-dog eyes and begged me to stay I felt zero guilt, since I'd worn them in slings, nursed them forever, and let them share my bed for years and years and (in some cases) years. Other moms had a harder time pulling away for these evening escapades. Friends who worked full time. Friends who only saw their children in waking hours (as opposed to our 'round the clock snuggling). But not me. Walking out of the house was one of the easiest things I did.

But now my kids are a bit older. Old enough that I'm starting to see this part of our lives coming to an end. And walking out of the house just got a lot more complicated.

The other night I was dashing out to meet some girlfriends for a late dinner. I hadn't seen these women in two months, especially now that several of us have started to return to work. We try to get together a few times a year.

My nine year old son looked at me and said 'but you always go out, why can't you stay and watch American Idol with us?' and even though he was completely wrong about the *always* going out bit, what he said really resonated. His words may have been 'stay with us,' but what I heard was 'I won't always want you to watch stuff with me.' With his skateboard-length hair and shifting fascination from home and family to local sports teams and school chums, he looked like a kid who was about to be a teenager. The type who might really want me around, but who certainly wouldn't come out and admit it. His posture was already starting to change from enthusiastic youngster to been-there, done-that.

My seven year old daughter climbed into my lap and asked me to stay. She said 'don't run out,' but of course all I heard was 'time's running out.' She still kisses me full on the lips, and almost seems to have a magnet in her that makes her press her whole body up against me, as often as possible. But there's a look that crosses her eyes when something doesn't go her way, and the older she gets the more it seems she thinks I'm the reason these things aren't going her way. And in that look I see the adolescent she might become. And it doesn't seem to be the type who'd rather hang out with me than do anything else.

And of course, like so many things in my parenting thanks to all the little gems that have seeped into my subconscious--when I say 'later' or 'tomorrow we'll do that' or anything along those lines I feel like the lame-o parent we all grew up despising in Harry Chapin's Cat's in the Cradle.

As a fifth grader listening to that song (at any age before turning into a parent for that matter) the dad just seemed so shallow. Now I understand him completely. He's just doing his grown-up things and loving his kid. Adoring his kid, but still doing his things. After all he had 'bills to pay.' What was the guy supposed to do? Go into foreclosure? He had a lot to do, that's why he couldn't play with the new ball. Listening to that song when I was a kid, I imagined the dad was off to play golf, or go whittle in solitude somewhere. Now I'm thinking he might have had to fold the laundry, or take the car to the shop, or return an important phone call from a relative that might end up taking so long it could pre-empt the post dinner board game he'd promised.


And look at me! I'm not running out to pay the bills, I'm meeting friends for dinner. I shudder at what the young me would have thought if the dad in the song had admitted to preferring something so indulgent to being with his son instead of remaining so vague as to invite all sorts of interpretations. Or malicious grown-up-distrusting misinterpretation.

As a kid, I thought it was great that the son in the song grew up to give the dad a taste of his own medicine. 'Right on, kid!' 'Attaboy!' Now I look at my own kids and think 'cut me some slack,' 'look how much I do for you,' 'I just need to see my friends, please understand.'

So this is where we are now. I'm beating myself up with Harry Chapin. This sort of self-flagellation isn't a first for me. Remember those old commercials where you'd see footage of some adorable girl in a princess dress spinning in a backyard and then the screen would go black and the words 'killed by a drunk driver' would fill the screen? That final frame haunted me so much it was hard to enjoy their exuberant childness, since I couldn't stop thinking 'what if this film clip ends up on one of those ads?' and I'd be flooded with sadness. I'm only just now able to go back and enjoy footage of my children as toddlers, now that I know they've made it this far.

My son is only nine. My oldest daughter's seven. I know they're not exactly on the brink of being teenagers. I'm hoping that 'not now mom I got a lot to do' is pretty far off. But the Cat's in the Cradle's dad's list of offenses began when his kid was pretty young--the son had only 'just arrived the other day' and he was already catching planes--so I guess I'm just wondering if there's still some time to undo some damage while they're still paying attention.

Maybe I should just hunker down in the house for awhile and be soaked up by these children. Maybe the movies that are in the theaters now can wait. Maybe my friends will still have the same fun gripes and energy for me in fourteen years when my youngest is off to college. Maybe we can wait and get together then. We're gonna have a good time then.

Feb 3, 2008

Four Wives

When I started to write for nycmomsblog I was offered an advanced copy of a novel--Four Wives by Wendy Walker. It was my first official 'perk' as a mom-blogger (unless you count the awkward event hosted by an office supply chain in which I was served pinot noir and bruschetta and shown their new line of paper shredders and GPS systems) and I happily accepted it. Full disclosure. I didn't think I'd be sitting down to write a review of it, even before I read it. I've never been moved to write a book review. And unless I've had a particularly awful experience with some kind of place or product, I'm not generally moved to write at all. I was just kind of intrigued at the thought of having a piece of fiction sent to me, just because. Besides the only things I write about are things specific to my own life as a mother. Even if I loved the book I couldn't imagine a scenario where I'd be sitting down to rave about it. I couldn't imagine that it would affect me the way it did.

At first, the author's name didn't mean anything to me, but when I got the book in the mail and looked at the author's picture, I realized I recognized her. I met Wendy over twenty years ago. We were in the same wedding party. My biggest memory of her is that she drove to the wedding in a day from somewhere down south and she showed up with a half-sunburned face and a sunburned arm and we were all to wear strapless gowns. I haven't seen her or heard anything about her since then, and that was probably, like, 1991.

The cover of Four Wives is a shot of a red bikini top floating on the multi-blued surface of a swimming pool and I was surprised to think that the Wendy Walker I remember would write a trashy novel. The Wendy I remember was determined to fight stereotypes about women and sex and I have a vague memory of a story of her protesting certain gender-based dress codes at some powerhouse Wall Street company where she used to work. Sheeplike in my desire to be accepted in my first few years in the workforce, this story of her strength and resolve made a huge impression on me.

Optimistically, I took Four Wives with me on a two-week tropical vacation. I've carted many books around with me on many vacations (Middlesex got a free trip to Berlin a few years ago, and I never even cracked the cover) and was hoping that I'd have a chance to read it. Thanks to children with serious jetlag and way-early bedtimes, I had plenty of time. And then I realized I was wrong to judge this book by its cover (forgive me for the obvious, but there's just no better analogy).

The first few chapters are named for the main characters: Janie, Love, Gayle, and Marie, and the book moves along swiftly. Janie's having an affair, Gayle's hopelessly rich, Love's consumed by her new baby Will, Marie's working to juggle work and home.

Initially the women are all recognizable. We've all read about adulterous moms, wealthy isolated women, strung-out moms, and the disenchanted moms aiming to have it all. And as in familiar beachy books, the plot clips along easily--one bite-sized chapter after another. I thought I'd polish it off quickly, but I soon slowed way down. I realized I couldn't gloss over any of the descriptions. They were loaded with insight. And I've been thinking and talking about many of Walker's observations ever since.

In her introductory chapter, Love goes to her baby's crib in the night. He's crying, clearly hungry, but she's supposed to be sleep-training him. All of her daytime promises, and the 'rules' go through her mind. "Why had raising children become about denying them the very things they craved?" she wonders before caving in and nuzzling him. It's something I've considered many times. Bringing babies into the world only to start toughening them up right away has always seemed so cruel to me and has, fortunately for my kids, informed many of my parenting decisions.

But it's the next line that really resounded. After berating herself for being 'a complete failure' for nursing him instead of leaving him to cry it out, she settles "into the state of defeat--a familiar place now."

The familiarity of the feeling of having failed is an enormous idea for me as a mother. It's almost as though I walk around hoping I don't fail at something (please let the children behave in the restaurant, please let my daughter share with Fifi, please let my kids show gratitude at Christmas time) there's that moment when something hasn't happened--when some vile behavior on a child's part seems to shine light on my horrible parenting--that just ends up feeling comfortable. Ahhh, that's how it should be, I'll think. Finally letting go of the tension of hoping things turn out well. Sometimes being in the worst case scenario feels safer (like when my 9 year old said "I already have this box set!" when he opened a gift last month, "I already have this one!" he kept repeating, since saying it once wasn't enough. What happened to all that prompting I did?--what happened to 'remember to be grateful and if you already have something, just smile and say thank you'). The thing's already gone wrong. No worries anymore. The familiar feeling of failure. It's something I know well, now that I'm a mom.

Every page yielded some gem like that. The plot served a fine purpose of moving things along, but I hardly needed it, so satisfied was I just scouring each paragraph for some wise observation, some new phrase to chew on.

I soon realized I was in good hands with Walker. I was surprised too, to find out that some of the men in her book were in good hands as well. Having been introduced to the world of the suburbs through the eyes of the less-than-satisfied wives, I was prepared to meet a cast of buffoons for husbands. Easy punching bags, given the backdrop of struggling women married to moneyed men with expensive toys. But that wasn't always the case.

When Marie and her husband Anthony have a dispute about cereal boxes he'd left out on the counter after breakfast in the morning (a dispute he only realized he was in when he came home from work and found the cereal boxes STILL sitting out in the kitchen) the fight feels as though it'll be stacked in her favor, but really isn't. Her 'I am not your maid' offense is soon matched by an earnestly presented string of things he points out he's done for her in the wake of some of her oversights, and I recognize the same kind of stale-mate I often find in my own marriage. There's no right or wrong, just a series of things that annoy me, or my husband, and that can set off another oft-repeated tension-filled back-and-forth if one or the both of us is feeling unhappy or unconnected or un-something else.

In my own marriage I've got the 'guy' role. I could walk around a shopping bag for a week, honestly not noticing it at all. Then my husband will come forward with some massive complaint about the bag that's been in the middle of the living room all week, and how he's been waiting for me to move it. My feeling in these moments is that if he's the one who's been noticing the bag, he should be the one to move it. Of course he disagrees, so annoyed at my claim that I didn't realize it was there--a claim that baffles me, since there's usually some glimmer of remembering having seen it, just not focusing on it (one of my big m.o.s as a mom is that a kid will have lost something and I'll come up with this dubious answer 'I remember seeing it in some really weird place and thinking that it was in a really weird place but I don't remember where I saw it.'--so there really is some strange seeing-but not seeing kind of thing going on. Imagine being married to that). This infuriating cycle will probably repeat itself forever, serving as a barometer for other things in our marriage--how generous we're feeling towards each other, how well-rested we are. Sad, but true. But wonderful to see so realistically portrayed in Four Wives.

I won't give away anything else about the book. But suffice it to say there's a particular reason I feel wonderful about it that I can't say here without spoiling the ending. I heartily recommend Four Wives. It's not a trashy read like the cover suggests (was there even mention of a red bikini or a swimming pool in the book?), but one full of helpful insights on marriage and on mothering, one written by the Wendy Walker I remember being so impressed by so many years ago.

Jan 21, 2008

Waiting for the Flu

You know the ad where the mom is sick but still has to take care of her sick kids and her sick husband? I don't want to be sick like that.

I want a good old-fashioned, laid up, splayed out kind of sick.

The kind where there's NO question as to whether or not to get out of bed, whether or not to call in sick, whether or not to continue to try to hit the regular day time marks--making school lunches, getting dressed, meeting the school bus, writing thank you notes for christmas gifts that were opened, say, a month earlier.

That's what I want.

I know *intellectually* that I don't want the stomach flu that's going around my school. *Intellectually*, I know it's an awful thing. I know that if I end up getting it I'll be miserable and think I'm going to die as my stomach gets turned inside out in every way possible again and again and again, and I'm not going to be able fathom how I could have ever welcomed the torment.

BUT! part of me craves it. Too sick to do anything but maybe catch up on some of my recorded shows...or to (finally!)plow through the Freaks and Geeks box set my tenant loaned me two years ago. Not to mention a head start, maybe?, on losing a few of the seventeen (yes, seventeen) pounds I gained in the last year--a final year in the house, in close proximity to our fully-stocked kitchen, before sending my youngest off to school and rejoining the work force.

A good friend with one child and a high-powered job considered having another baby JUST for the maternity leave. I get that. Just a chance to step out of it all and hole up for a little while. She ended up with shingles and was miserable. But maybe just a little bit well-rested? I remember bringing her a sandwich and eating with her on the stoop, in the sunlight, in the middle of what would have been a work-day. That's a nice alternative to getting everyone up and out and returning home after dark.

No new babies for me. But just a mini-three day respite. I'd like that. I think.

And, again, none of this wishy washy can I ask for the day off of everything kinds of walloping colds. The real thing. The obvious thing. But not over this three-day weekend please, and not on a Friday. Tuesday morning'd be just fine.

Jan 3, 2008

Shakes on a Plane

In conversations about flying--when friends are detailing their fears, rational and otherwise--I'm the Miss Mary Sunshine who proclaims "I LOVE to fly." I do love to fly. I always have. Airports smell like possibility to me. It's the only time I let myself buy People Magazine and eat unlimited Peanut M&Ms. Fig Newtons become a fruit product--something healthy for the flight. I love the surge of take-off, the familiar bounce of landing. I've been in planes that were struck by lightning, and white-knuckle turbulence. And I still love to fly.

And that's why it seems so significant to me that I was so terrified on my flight home the other day.

We'd settled into a red-eye from Honolulu (New Years Eve no less), returning from two weeks away from home. Back in March when I booked the tickets and paid with them using points from my credit card, it had seemed like a good idea to find the cheapest cheapest fare (since anything more expensive, times five, adds up to a whole 'nother vacation for us). And I booked us through Houston--with a two-hour layover, before continuing on to Philly, an airport which, oddly enough, pops up on kayak as being in the New York Area.

We'd handily survived the two daytime planes out to the islands--even though the video portion of the in-flight entertainment system had been down and the kids had been up. Turns out you can play 8 hours of electronic solitaire.

The flight was packed--a large family reunion of large people was squished into the chairs ahead of us, a sure sign that I'd be chewing on someone else's reclined seat-back the second we hit the right altitude. After stumbling awkwardly through a PG-13 movie that was completely inappropriate for my 9 year old son--black rectangles attempted to hide simulated blow-jobs, exposed breasts, semen collection from a stallion (!), etc.--I'd switched to the Nanny Diaries, and everyone else in the family dropped off to sleep.

Somewhere over the Pacific our plane made some strange grinding noise--and it sounded like an engine kicked into some other type of laboring-extra-hard gear. You could feel the whole plane rattling and struggling in the new bass hum, and those of us who were awake exchanged nervous glances. And that's the first thing that scared me. If I've ever though a spot of turbulence was too much I generally find relief by looking at my fellow unfazed passengers. But everyone who was awake was clearly fazed. And since we were all sitting with sleeping loved-ones, we had only each other to scan for worry, and because we were strangers, we sort of half-smiled too.

To make matters worse, the cute little cartoon airplane that insisted on showing us exactly where we were on our journey on the screen at the head of each section of plane was just surrounded by blue. Nothing but ocean as far as we could see. Then it tried to be helpful by showing us a new zoomed-out view. Now we could see that, not only where we surrounded by blue ocean, we were as close to LAX as we were to HNL. Other helpful information followed--we were 3 hours and 13 minutes away from our place of origin, we were 4 hours and thirty three minutes away from our destination, it was 14 degrees outside. Benign stuff like that that suddenly seemed significant.

Grinding along, with nothing but ocean for hours and hours fore and aft, my insides hollowed out and my fingertips got cold. I looked at my sleeping family and wondered how two parents are supposed to save three children. A shiver of helplessness sliced through me.

A few days earlier we'd been whale-watching off of Lahaina. It was my first opportunity to be seasick since having children--and the nausea kicked right in (despite the fact that I'm a mom and my body should have slipped into some mind-over-matter vomit-proof gear like it's proven it can do when handling some of the ickier parts of parenting). I worked hard on the boat to tamp down my sick-feeling and as long as I focussed hard on it--or rather focussed on not focussing on it?--I was kind of okay. Then one by one my daughters started to feel ill. My oldest wanted to go downstairs where it would rock less, and I was completely unable to escort her there (what kind of mom am I?). So my husband took her while I stayed up top with my toddler. We were fine until she started to say things I was feeling like 'stop talking to me' and 'I just want to look at the floor' and, again, 'stop asking me if I'm okay.' I started to imagine what it would be like if she got sick. I knew I'd get sick too. I'd be completely unable to help her. It was such a helpless feeling, sitting there wondering how likely it was that some stranger would run towards us eager to be of assistance, and to feel so unable to be the one who could do it. My m.o. in this type of situation is to walk myself through the worst-case-scenario. In this case of course she and I had both thrown up, all over ourselves, and would eventually be back in Lahaina, wearing brand-new tourist clothing. She'd be in a grass skirt with a coconut-shell bikini top, and I'd be in an XL BadAss Coffee tee--the one with the cartoon donkeys pulling their pants down--and a fringed, floral sarong. We'd survive. It'd be gross, but we'd get through it.

But this? Would someone offer to help us? Would I wake them up first? Tell them what was happening? Would it be obvious what was happening? Was there really a life-vest under my seat? Would my three year old agree to wear hers? Would someone know how to turn the yellow slide into a rubber raft? Would we all fit on the yellow slide rubber rafts? I'd refused to go into swimming pools in Hawaii because they weren't heated. How cold would the ocean be? Do people ever get rescued from plane-wrecks in the middle of the ocean? I couldn't remember.

Oddly enough, my thoughts turned to my electronics. Should I tuck my mini digital videotape into my bra? Footage of my seven-year old daughter wiggling on stage at the Luau? Should I swallow my memory stick? 600 pictures of proof that we'd had a great vacation? Would these finds bring comfort to our family and friends? Do they ever find the bodies of people who drown in the middle of an ocean? Do they do autopsies on floaters?

These are the thoughts that I tried to hold at bay while keeping my eyes glued to Scarlett Johansson and Laura Linney. Eventually a flight attendant started to move a cart down the aisle and I searched her face for fear and found none. Surely she had family too, reason to worry if there was reason to worry. Laura Linney fired Scarlett Johansson around the time I started to feel better. At some point I became one of the sleepers too.

We woke 'in the morning' to yummy banana muffins and gorgeous streams of airplane-window shaped sunlight. Cheerful ovals of impossibly bright light danced around inside the plane as we neared Houston, banking this way and that, circling the airport. The kids stretched themselves awake and murmured about what a quick flight it had been. The middle of the night middle of the ocean panic seemed like fiction.

Tray tables were locked and upright, seatbacks were raised (some not as soon as I'd have liked), and we began our descent. The plane angled down, down, down and then there was the lovely rubber squish-thud of the wheels hitting the runway--familiar engine shifts began to happen and then--just as quickly as we'd touched down--all of a sudden--the engine gunned up, and the plane's nose lifted up and we took off again steeply sharply. A rushed and upsetting take-off that sloshed all of our stomachs, and then some sloppy but no doubt important tilts and angles and we were up in the sky doing a slow loop around the airport. No one said anything for a few minutes too long. Then the pilot came on and told us in relaxed-pilot-speak 'Well folks, you can see we're in the air again...had to lift off to avoid a plane that hadn't left the runway yet...we'll bring it around and touch 'er down again.' Something like that.

My husband gave me an eye-roll indicating that he was sick to his stomach. My three year old began to vomit, most of it into an airsickness bag. Once we got her settled down using the babywipes that I swear I'll continue to carry with me for the rest of my life, my seven year old began to throw up too. I pressed the call button hoping that, in addition to bringing us extra barf-bags and plastic bags and paper towels, the flight attendant would bring us some sort of big-eyed sympathetic wasn't-that-just-terrible kind of expression. But we only got the bags and towels.

A few fellow passengers mused about what had gone on--of course being trapped in the middle section of the plane we'd had the worst view of it so had no idea how close our call had been. But mostly there was silence, and we did land again (and I tried to start one of those rounds of applause but no one joined in), and then we were spilled out into the airport. No knowing looks or nods from any of the crew. Just poker-faces and professional nods as we deplaned.

My seven year old threw up a few more times in the terminal. And then we were blended in with all the other people connecting from other places, whose planes hadn't almost exploded in a fireball upon colliding with a plane that hadn't left the runway, and then we were blended in with all the other people just arriving at the airport--who had had good night sleeps and who thought it was just an ordinary day. And the grouchy flight attendant on our next flight seemed annoyed when I asked for extra barf-bags just in case and he seemed inconvenienced when I asked if my daughter could sit next to me instead of off on her own like her boarding pass indicated. And that flight was uneventful and everything was back to normal.

My mind moves now to the $5 dollar tiki statues the kids bought with their spending money only hours before the flight. Ku the god of strength, and perhaps more importantly, Lono, god of luck and protection were swaddled in tissue paper in my son's Naruto backpack. Maybe they deserve to be unpacked and placed in positions of honor somewhere in this house.

And of course I'm glad I didn't eat my memory stick.