Apparently I'm wrong. And I've been wrong for a while. Here's what: one is "one". Two is "a couple." Three is "a few," and somewhere around six or seven is ...
“It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.” – Confucius
We’re on Day 10 here in National Blog Posting Month and I will admit I’m flagging: it’s difficult to have a regular writing practice with a small person waking you up with a night light in your face before dawn. Daylight savings has just added to the AM trouble here, but I’m optimistic Week 2 will go more smoothly as I have a few stretches when I can see the light of writing ahead. On the other hand, I’ll also be writing applications for a French preschool this week, so if I lapse off into foreign languages or extolling the virtues of a bilingual education here on the site, oh, about Wednesday, just send a note and I’ll know I’ve posted the wrong thing in the wrong place. Thanks in advance!
R: Is it time for bed? Let’s see…
Three year old (waving finger at R.): No, no, no, Papa: don’t think.
The videos in question are the brilliant and not-irritating-to-parents, Charlie and Lola, a British series based on the books of the same name about a little girl and her big brother – the most patient big brother in the history of, well, probably ever. Clever and visually interesting, and, crucially, not the usual nerve-crushing fare produced for the under-four-feet crowd. Ahhhhh. Thanks, Lauren Child!
(To have a look, I Will Never, Not Ever, Eat a Tomato, the very first book.)
You’ve made it: you are super popular. All the kids who hated you in high school because you wore beige corduroys and couldn’t throw a football worth a damn are queuing up in front of your kiosks to get their caffeine. They wait ten-deep on weekends to get ONE CUP OF COFFEE.
I get that you are above it all though. That you don’t care what they think of if you, even though you obviously do, in your slouchy knit hat, heavy glasses frames and vintage cardigan. You are painfully hip. Point taken.
But could you, just, please, for the love of God, swing by the grocery and pick up some #$(*&#$! Splenda already? I get that your body is a temple. A very skinny, fixie-riding temple. Mine is not. At least as far as artificial sweeteners are concerned. (FYI, Raw Sugar tastes like crushed up maple syrup, so don’t even start with me on that.)
And – oh – before you go back to practicing your I-hate-you half-smile: could you heat up. the. goddamn. milk? In the name of all that is holy, I do not want a room temperature latte. For $4.25, I should be able to get my coffee at the temperature of the sun.
OK. I’m done. Yes, I know I can go elsewhere and that high temperatures caramelize the delicate sugars in the milk and Splenda is probably made out of chlorine, but I live right over there and could you just…? This once? We’re all in this together. Me, you and your beard kicking off the day with your excellent coffee.
Thanks guys. Really. Thanks. See you tomorrow.
When A. was small and sitting facing backwards in her car seat while I drove, I began to curb my cursing at other drivers on the streets of San Francisco. Let’s be honest: the drivers here are the worst. The WORST. And I grew up in Boston and learned to drive on the BQE, so that’s saying something. I swear a lot here. Or I used to. With a passenger unaware of the rules of the road and unable to see their violators crossing my path, I had to take it down a notch: I didn’t want her thinking I was swearing at her. And right, yes, the swearing itself was probably out of order too.
“Dude,” started to permeate my ‘conversations’ with other drivers instead. As in, “Dude, what the [expletive now omitted]…?!” Or just, “Duuuuuuude#$)(#$! [expletive implied by tone and duration]”
Pretty soon, A. started asking in her new small voice, “See dude?” Short of mounting her in one of those rotating artillery nests on the roof of the car, that wasn’t going to happen. (Artillery isn’t for kids, no matter how many lanes ‘dude’ cut across to make an illegal turn.)
As her syntax evolved, her question did too: “Where’s ‘dude’?”
She’s lagging in her understanding of exactly how one should drive a car in heavy traffic (my way) and how rage can be compressed into sarcastic asides, but I applaud her curiosity and interest in the conversation at hand. She will make an excellent dinner party guest and a wonderful best friend.
At the playground the other day, it became clear that I may have to further curb my outbursts. A. was “driving” one of the play structures, spinning the wheel on the side of one of the towers and craning her neck around to the left and right and looking behind her.
“What are you doing, sweetheart?”
“Looking for ‘dude’.”
Hilarious, yes. Also:
They say that children imitate our behavior much more readily than they take the advice we so explicitly lay out for them. This is, in my experience, completely true. And it is a handy tool for revealing the hypocrisy in us all. While she is still just trying to identify this mysterious and always irritating ‘dude’ – before she realizes that ‘he’ is everywhere, not just a representative of the terrible drivers of my adopted city but of my unprocessed anxiety at the errands un-run, the laundry un-folded, the forgotten to-do, the breaths untaken, the pieces unwritten, and that international fame for as-yet-unspecified feats of selfless glory which has eluded me thus far, of all the hanging chads in the life of a full-time mother in a city that doesn’t quite suit her, before A. perceives the length of his reach with her child’s insight – the ‘dude’ has to go.
Because what I want her to see – in me and on the road ahead – is not an obstructing distraction, but a deliberate focus: for the moment, on the fun we’re having getting where we are going and how little it matters if we get there five minutes later. Five minutes is one more poorly-executed song in the car with her and me, our small team crossing a big red bridge on an adventure. I am no new age Polyanna (are there any where I come from?), but this drive – today’s and everyday’s – is so much more luminous and gratifying than anything I’d ever thought it would be that it silences me some days.
So I’m going to
goddam well focus on that while I’m the one driving, and A. will come across ‘dude’ in her own time, later, well-equipped with all the joy and resilience and extra singing I can provide today.
And any stray profanity she’s picked up, which can, on occasion, be enormously, cathartically helpful too.
Do not tell me you spontaneously learned to read when you were three.
I say this for a couple reasons, neither of which is that I’m jealous.
First, you did not.
Second, that is 100% not true, and no, you did not.
And third, oh right: because I will not hire you. So there’s that.
Lord Almighty, applicants, get some game.
Today was one of them. It started at 4:15AM when R. had to get up for a cross-country flight. It picked up again at 5:28AM when A. cried from her room and rocking and logic (“Sweetheart, it’s still dark outside…”) couldn’t coax her back to daylight savings sleep. A few hours later, finally quiet at my desk with a day of writing and catch-up, order-restoring work ahead, it abruptly changed course again: a call to collect my suddenly illing little A. from the other side of town. It was a hard day for all of us in our little family.
But, as I stagger north towards bed, I’m reminded again of what I tell myself on the days when I can’t seem to write: “I’m glad to have the opportunity to try. I’m grateful for the time.” I feel the same way about these days, even through a fog of exhaustion and headache and frustrated effort: I’m grateful just to be nominated. I had plenty of days of fog and exhaustion and headaches before I ever found R., before we thought of A.. If these days are going to happen – and, no matter how well I engineer our schedules and the inside of my head, they will happen – how much better is it to have them happen with R. and A., wherever and however they are? Better. Just better.
So onward. To bed and tomorrow.
OK, so we’re at Lowe’s which, even though it’s a hardware store and I have a soft spot for bins of nails and multi-purpose screwdrivers, I hate. I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s the poor organization. Maybe it’s the poor selection of hedge trimmers (which are also disorganized.)
Regardless of their many errors, here’s what today: they have a full fake Christmas tree display up front and center. Pre-lit. Like, a dozen of them + moving inflated cabins full of threatening snowmen and overweight reindeer. I’ll skip the universal, “WTF?” outrage that we’re barely past Halloween, etc. and jump right to the question on everyone’s mind: how am I going to beat the holiday cheer pants off the professional electrician up the street come Christmas time and will it involve my buying several of those trees either to create some kind of plastic winter wonderland diorama on our landing or to fully obscure the front of his house and its outrageous display of better-than-mine tasteful holiday lighting?
Christmas is coming, people. The time is now to plan for universal harmony, world peace and ass-kicking.
Something bad or unfortunate has happened to someone you know. Here’s what you say. You say:
“I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how difficult this is. I’m just really so sorry.”
If you can go the extra mile and send flowers, drop off a lasagna or offer a shoulder to cry on over high-quality whiskey shots or drinks featuring artisanal ingredients someone made up in Brooklyn just last week, great. If that is not appropriate – because you are uncomfortable with emotion or marinara sauce or giving 1800-flowers $75 for some tulips you could get at Trader Joe’s for $20 – that’s fine. You have added to the sum of kindness and courtesy in the world and your work is done.
In case you had any second thoughts or objections to that course of action, here are the answers to those:
1. “I’m not sure what exactly to say so I’m going to avoid the whole thing and say nothing.” Most people don’t say this in as many words but act like they did. Stop it. Just stop. The only truly bad option is to say nothing. Silence is the kind of thing that is remembered, not awkward phrasing.
2. “I’m pretty sure I’ll say the wrong thing or in the wrong way, and that’ll be worse than saying nothing.” No. That is incorrect. However profound your fear of saying the wrong thing, see above: there is nothing you can say that will be as wrong as saying nothing. Unless you are just a terrible, offensive person. Which you aren’t. We both know you’re not. So be a mensch already and say something nice.
3. “S/he is a really a private person and I don’t want to intrude.” Respecting people’s privacy is admirable but overrated. (Unless you are talking on a cell phone in Starbucks, in which case you should seriously fuck off already and respect everyone’s privacy because this is not your living room.) I am a private person and have been on the receiving end of many explanations of why I was deemed too private, too calm or too competent for someone to reach out to me, and here is my answer: compassion is always welcome. I and my kind may not choose to confide in you beyond saying, “Thank you,” when you are nice to us, but your effort is noted and appreciated.
4. Do not be nice to someone having a hard time and expect that s/he will then confide in you. This is not Oprah. No one is walking away with the answer to all their problems or a Pontiac. Try to tamp down your expectation of any particular response or resolution. The nature of having a hard time is that everything is weird. Any response is fine.
5. If that response is weeping and telling you the whole story from the very detailed beginning, it is OK to just listen. You do not have to fix this (and you can’t, even if you tried). It’s also OK to have your own limits and set them calmly and firmly, like excusing yourself for a voluntary root canal. Pre-planning a simple exit like this is fine.
6. Even if you think you can imagine how hard this is, even if you have been through something you believe is very similar, do not bring it up. Every disappointment is a unique (if unfortunate) flower. Commiseration and comparing notes will come later (at his/her discretion). The universality of pain and/or recovery is likewise not relevant right now, so keep that to yourself. Phrases to avoid: “We all suffer,” “This too shall pass,” and anything beginning with, “My brother-in-law…”
7. Do not assume that everyone already has someone to say kind things to them or that they can be heard enough. You never know. Erring on the side of generosity is always the better choice.
In short, “Do unto others,” etc. If you were in her shoes, would you want a kind card? A supportive word in passing? To be told that you are thought of when things are hard? Yes. Yes, you would. So let’s all make a pact right now that we will step out of our days, our concerns and details, our, “I am really so very busy…” and, “I wouldn’t know what to say…” and just say it anyway. It matters.