Baby Chickies

babychickies

A few weeks after my daughter turned two, she told me I was squishing her baby chickies. Well, more like wailed, she wailed that I was squishing her baby chickies. I was six months pregnant and had heaved myself onto the couch in order to read her a book. “Oh no!” she screamed. “You crushed my baby chickies! You killeded them!”

It took some moving of my significant girth and some talking before I came to understand that my daughter had three to five small baby chickies who followed her wherever she went.  At any time in the past two years these baby chickies have been named Princess, Princess Chickie, Naughty Pants, Bad Guy, Window and Shrelalala.  For almost a year, I had to set a spot for them at the breakfast table along with a small bowl for their own oatmeal. I’ve accidentally squished them with the back door and had to jerry-rig a special place for them to ride in the car because I refused to buy them their own car seat.

Once, after she heard me call them “imaginary” my daughter threw a fit and wouldn’t stop screaming until I told her they were real. There have been times, when she’s woken us up in the middle of the night because the baby chickies thought there was a lion on the wall and could they all come snuggle in bed? Of course.

Recently, I let my daughter play with an old digital camera. As I flipped through the pictures she had taken, I came across several of just the floor. For a four-year-old, this isn’t that odd. But there were a lot. Almost 30 pictures of nothing but floor. When I asked my daughter about them she rolled her eyes, “Oh mom, those are the baby chickies, can’t you see them? They are so cute!

A couple weeks ago, my daughter stopped talking about her baby chickies and I began to worry. Had they died? Had they run away? They had done all of these things before and I even had to mount a search party for them, just to stop my daughter from crying. (We found them under a pine tree, thank goodness.)

So, I asked my daughter where they were. “Oh they grew up and moved away,” she said casually.

I have spent the past two years caring for these imaginary (or excuse me “real”) chickens, they’ve become as much a part of the family as the beloved blankies and the iPad. And now, I was being told they had left us, grown up and flown the coop.

I sat down. “Oh no,” I said to my daughter. “They didn’t even say goodbye.”

My daughter came and sat by me. “It okay, mom. They love you and they will come visit soon.” She patted my leg.

I wanted to cry. So much of these early days of parenthood are defined by the ridiculous—bouts of screaming over the sun being too sunny or tantrums thrown over oranges being offered as a snack, right after a tantrum about oranges being wanted for a snack. Some days, parenting feels like walking through a fever dream. I feed stuffed animals crackers. I make up stories about monsters. Underwear is worn on heads. Mittens become socks.

These baby chickies are so much a part of who my daughter is right now. Her silliness, her imagination, her big, big heart for all creatures even those that walk the line between imaginary and real. I love them, because I love her and now they are gone.

“I want them back,” I told my daughter. “They are too little too leave.”

She just laughed. “Mom, everybody grows up.” Then, she walked away.

By the time you read this, my daughter will be four. Four is old. Four is zipping-your-own-coat-and-preschool old. Four is getting-your-own-snack-and-playing-Candyland-and-Go-Fish old.  But four is so little too. She still comes to our bed at night when aliens climb on the walls. She still needs pink band-aids to make things better. And she still has the baby chickies. They came back after being gone a week and they are still here. This morning, I had to make them pretend pancakes with magic beans, which I was more than happy to do. I know that they will be leaving me forever soon and I will be so sad to see them go.

This article originally appeared in The Cedar Rapids Gazette.

This Is A Self-Indulgent Post Full of Links and Brags: Do Not Click

I really hate curtain lifting posts. They seem so meta and self-indulgent. Like you just come here for the stories, so who cares how many emails I get asking me to shill $50 onesies or $6/a pouch organic yogurts, right? Sometimes I write back, “That is expensive, babies poop on that!” Mostly I just delete them. This is why my blog will never make it

But of course, this is a curtain lifting post. Do you like how I did that?

A lot of you know I finished a memoir manuscript last summer. I worked on it in my stolen moments between nap times and pool times and 2-5am, because the baby was still waking up at 2am last summer. And now, this happened:

 

!!! HOORAY!!!

Don’t worry. I’m not turning this into a writing blog. I always give terrible advice anyway. Sometimes people email me asking for writing advice. (Note: this doesn’t happen often.) I think maybe sometimes people think I might have insider information. But I really don’t. So, I always write super long email responses with tips on querying and pitching and lots of “hang in there” “you got this!” cat poster kind of stuff. And I never hear back. I imagine that most people, upon receiving my advice, delete it and just decide that buying a motivational calendar would have been a better use of resources. And to that I say, probably.

Or just go buy Dear Sugar.

Anyway. As I understand it, the work has just begun.

So, now, so I feel like I’m giving you something. Here are some links and just because I just finished a brag. I’ll give you links to other people’s stuff.

And yeah, okay fine. Here is some of my own stuff too. One time someone told me that all my self-promotion made them feel more bold about their own self-promotion. So that was a thing that happened.

The Bad Days Don’t Need To Have Meaning

kitsch

The Monday’s after holidays are sugar-crash-the-baby-is-a-candy-addict-and-will-knife-me-if-I-don’t-hand-over-another-M&M kind of days. My daughter lay on the couch today begging for chocolate Easter bunny for breakfast.

“No,” I said.

“Please.”

“No.”

“Can you just put some frosting on my tongue?”

I finally relented and gave both kids candy because my daughter eloquently argued that when she sleeps in her bed the whole night she does get a treat. And the baby eloquently argued, “AHHHH! CANNN-YYYY!” Well put, baby.

I figured it was like giving them a bit of the hair of the dog for their sugar hangover.

It sated them for a bit. But then they both started begging to go to the library, but SOMEONE had left the dome light on the car on and it wouldn’t start. This is what we have AAA for. Plus, then they’d get to see a big truck, which is always a good day. I called and was told an hour. So we played outside and played. And one hour turned to two. So we ate lunch and folded clothes and the baby kicked over the towers of clothes. My daughter sobbed and called him “your naughty son!” Then it was nap time and I told the AAA lady to forget it. But I didn’t use a nice voice. Honestly, I don’t think I was using a nice voice since I woke up at 5am.

(That’s right, I willingly start most of my days between 5-5:30, because that is the only time I have to work out. I told this to a group of Starbucks baristas once and effectively delayed their reproduction for another decade. I deserve some sort of award.)

So, I hauled both kids upstairs and was reminded that they were both missing key members of their stuffed animal entourage. I went downstairs, then upstairs, then downstairs. When all members of the group were accounted for, I walked into the baby’s room and saw my son and daughter snuggling on the chair reading a book together.

This is where I am supposed to tell you about how my heart warmed. About how it’s all worth it. About how love is great and parenting is hard and something, something, small things and joy. But screw that.

Of course, my heart filled with all those happy cliches as I watched them snuggle and read. I love those two. And they love one another until the moment where they start beating one another with pool noodles and wands. But then they love each other again. But really, love isn’t the point.

So much of these little tiny things, like dirty chubby fingers and jelly bean drool on dimpled chins, I will forget them. So will they. They are the little nooks in the sheer rock cliff of our days. They help us get from one place to the next. We bless them. Then we forget about them as we reach for another.

Kundera called life a struggle of memory against forgetting. He meant the big things–war, human, atrocities–I mean the small things, the holes in the hard rock of our days. But I’m okay with forgetting. I’m okay with time washing over these rocks and smoothing out the stone. I’m okay with things seeming better in hindsight than they are right now.

I don’t think it’s dishonest. I think its about perspective.

Kundera also wrote that kitsch is an ideal with no room for objection. “Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.” There is no room for the shit in the grass with kitsch.” So much of talk about parenting is either the kistch or the shit. No in between. But in reality, it’s all in between.

I’m not grateful for the bad moments. I don’t want them. But they are here. I don’t have to pretend there is some greater point to them. Or justify them with high minded ideas. Here they are. Here is the baby beating me with the Elsa wand. Here is my daughter telling me that I have ruined everything because I can’t find the play-doh. And here in the next moment is a snuggle a kiss. A clamor for me to sing “You are My Sunshine” and I do.Because that moment is here too.

In hindsight, these colors will wash into one another. But I’m here now, reaching for that next spot in the rock, making room for tears, shit, and kids in the lawn. Letting my memory and my forgetting bleed together and binging on jellybeans during nap time. I need my hair of the dog too.

How To Survive Your Children Hating Everything You Do For Them

This was printed in The Cedar Rapids Gazette as part of my Pants-free Parenting Column. It was printed in February right after a particularly brutal snowstorm. But imagining sweet, sweet, revenge, that’s still a thing.boydcrowder

 

I wasn’t adequately prepared for the snow storm. The Midwest has been my home for 16 years now and I rarely get worried about warnings of a blizzard. Blizzard predictions are usually all sound and no flurries. Except last Sunday when 10 inches of snow dumped on us and I was trapped in the house with two children and my husband, all demanding food. Also, the dishwasher was broken.

Feeling generous and bored, I spent the whole day baking. I made cinnamon rolls for breakfast, hot ham sandwiches for lunch and for dinner, I roasted a chicken, made garlic mashed potatoes, cranberry-walnut salad and biscuits. The meal was delicious, except I couldn’t enjoy it from all the shrieking.

My children took one look at the food and began wailing as if I had served them the severed limbs of their grandparents. My husband and I chewed in silence while my daughter sobbed into her hands: “I hate this food ten much!” and the baby kicked the table, tears streaming down his face.

This has happened before. And by before, I mean this scene is repeated five week nights out of seven. In fact, a few nights prior when my husband was working late, I had burned dinner while breaking up a fight over who could play with the remote-controlled train. Out of desperation, I feed them garbage—crackers, apple sauce, Jello, cheese sticks. My daughter had declared it “The best night ever.” So, their response shouldn’t have shocked me. But for some reason, this hurt. Maybe it was my raw hands from all the dishwashing. Maybe it was all the time I could have spent reading a book about blood spatter forensics instead of roasting a chicken. I was angry.

Instead of taking my anger out on my children or by taking the chocolate cake I had made for dessert and throwing it into a snow bank, I began to meditate on revenge.

I do this meditating practice often. When my children throw fits because they can’t have popsicles for dinner or ice cream at three am, I imagine them as adults sneaking into their house at two in the morning and screaming in their ears for a sandwich. When they make me that sandwich, I’ll throw it on the floor and declare it, “too yucky!”

When my baby yells “cookie” and tries to kamikaze out of the grocery cart while we are in the checkout aisle. I envision him as a teenager on a date and me walking up to him and yelling “cookie” over and over.

Mostly, these meditation practices are just fiction. I have no real intention of exacting revenge on them for the pain they caused me as children. That’s what grandchildren are for, sweet little, chubby balls of karma. But I remember when I was 15, my mom telling me a story about her friend who disguised herself as an old woman and followed her sons at a 4-H dance, sitting on the sidelines, spying on them. Then, when they came home, she questioned them about their behavior, which had been not up to her standards. The story seemed creepy then and is still creepy now. But I understand the smile my mom had when she told me about it. The story flirts with the idea of revenge. The justice all of us parents imagine as we sit at the table, while bits of our carefully prepared food is chucked at our heads.

That night, as I chewed my savory mashed potatoes, I imagined them coming home from college begging me to make them food. I imagined picking up a box of macaroni and cheese and tossing it at their feet. “Make your own food,” I would yell. “I’m going out with my friends!”

That image kept me sane as I put away the food and gave them a bath and put them to bed. Then, I stopped meditating and ate three pieces of chocolate cake.

Settle In

springmelt

The baby will be two in four months and I need to stop calling him a baby. He refers to himself as a baby in pictures. He points and says, “Baby! Dat Baby!” He points to my phone and asks for, “Bibeos baby.” So, I show him a video of him singing “Happy Birthday” and we laugh because that baby is cute, he is silly, he is outlandish and outsized in his big reactions and his small body.

I’ve been thinking a lot about his babyhood. His real babyhood. That first year when he was red, wrinkled skin and fists that barely reached his head. Before he could yell, “Mo candy!” or make the sound of a fox: “Ring ding! Cha! Cha!”

I didn’t handle the transition from one to two kids very well. I’ve been trying to figure out why. Maybe it was just more overwhelming than I was prepared for. Maybe I needed more Zoloft than I was willing to admit. Maybe I was too rigid in my expectations. Maybe all of this has made me softer and more willing to bob along in the chaos.

I hated who I was then. I cried a lot. I yelled even more. I wasn’t kind to Dave. I wasn’t kind to my daughter, who was just 2 and understood nothing. I remember once, in a fit of desperation, after she had pooped on the floor and refused to nap, I took away her blankie as a punishment. Blankie is her favorite comfort object, she’s been snuggling him since she was 9 months.

She sobbed, “But dat too special! But blankie too special!” I felt like a monster. More than yelling. More than screaming, taking blankie away made me hate the parent I was in that moment. All the advice says that when disciplining children you need to be firm and consistent. I caved. I gave blankie back. The next day, we were back there again. Poop on the floor. No nap. I didn’t take away blankie, but I did just shut myself in my room and cry, while she cried and then the baby cried.

I remember thinking, things will be better when he is six months old. Things will be better when he is 9 months old. Now, he is 20 months old and his baby book is incomplete and I look back on that mom and I wish she hadn’t wasted all that time. I wish she would have just learned to bob and weave earlier. I wish she would have stopped scrubbing the floors at midnight. I wish she would have just given the 2 year old the iPad and napped next to her.

Lately, the words I’ve been repeating to myself are “Settle in.” It’s not about leaning in or trying harder. It’s not about leaning back and finding reprieve. It’s about settling into what I have. It’s about realizing that this is a long haul. It used to be my mantra when training for half-marathons. I’d say to myself, “You have 10 miles left, Lenz, settle in and don’t get antsy.” I’m not a fast runner, but I enjoy the challenge of long distances. I like it when my body finally stops leaning forward with the eagerness of the start or desperation of the finish, and settles in for the long haul of the middle. My shoulders settle back, my pace becomes more even.

Right now, I say that to myself about my writing. “Settle in.” Writing is a long slog. You edit. You edit. You edit some more. You submit. You are rejected. You do it again. Let your shoulders go back. Let your pace become more even. Take a breath, settle in.

I am finally beginning to feel this way about parenting. I understand now that once one thing is conquered the next thing arises. I’m always being warned about 10, or 12 or god forbid 16 year olds. I tell people, I’ll worry about it when I get there. But first, I have to get there.

And I won’t get there if I keep feeling like I did when the baby was little. Like I’m always peeking around the next corner.

One time, when I was ten, my sister threw me into a lake. We were having fun. She had been throwing us all in and we would laugh, bob up and ask her to do it again. But when I opened my eyes in the dirty water, I panicked. I didn’t know which way was up. I didn’t know where to swim and I didn’t know if I could hold my breath long enough for me to find out. It must have only been a few moments, but I thrashed and kicked, scream pushing against my closed lips, until I found the light and the air again.

That’s what it feels like sometimes.

I told someone that story once and she said, this is how people drown, by fighting it. You just have to relax and let yourself float up. Of course. I remember someone else telling me that it’s not the water that drowns people, it’s the panic. I should have just relaxed into it. Settled in. Floated up.

This morning, I woke up throwing up from a migraine. The kids are on Spring Break and I have deadlines and I haven’t been able to find the help I need for this week, so I have to scramble through and then throw a birthday party and in the meantime, people need to be fed and cared for and provided with a warm loving family environment.

It’s nothing dire, but I still sometimes feel like I can’t find which way is up. But this time, I turned on the TV, made macaroni and cheese for lunch. This time, I floated.

It’s not without it’s risks. I worry my kids will feel the neglect of these days more than the relaxed fun. I worry whether I should have given them juice. Maybe I should go take the iPad away from my oldest. But then again, I remember, I can’t worry too much about things before I get there. Big breath. Settle in. Float up.

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