Oh God, the Feelings! And Candy Land.

New Candy Land, From Flickr User NathanReed

It has been an intense month for Child and I.  I am a generally sensitive person with loads of feelings.

But I have been in the midst of this confronting-feelings tsunami for about a month.

There are two things I want to tell you about.

1.  My sister’s wedding.  I already told you about it, sort of.  I am happy for her.  But I am also worried.  I am worried because she does not know how young she is the way I’ll say I didn’t know how young I was ten years from now.  This is a thing.  It is a hard thing.  I don’t really care about marriage.  I think it can be a reasonable pragmatic choice for some people, whether they are in love or not.  And my sister’s wedding RULED.  Here are some pictures.  But oh gosh, she actually did it.  She actually got married.  And oh man, she moved to Texas.  And holy birds, this is just kind of age-making.  I mean, I helped to take care of her when she was a baby.  I changed her diapers.  If it’s this intense when my baby sister gets hitched up, I can’t imagine what it’ll be like when Child does it.  Sheesh.

I am a crier. I cry when I am happy and sad and frustrated and occasionally if I am hungry.  I cry at weddings and funerals.  Whether I know or love the people or not.  I am still, a week later, occasionally crying about my sister’s wedding.  Especially when I see pictures or think real hard about how my family is different now: Richer, and more interesting, and with potential for greater closeness (but also for greater pain), for having made this milestone, for welcoming a new person.

And…

2.  Child met her paternal grandparents for the first time.  If you’ll recall, she hasn’t met her father.  We spent a lovely late morning with them, had some lunch, played at the mall, chatted.  It was cool and nice.  But it felt kind of similar in terms of adding new people.  In terms of overwhelming love and complicated, conflicting feelings.

They were sweet and loving toward both of us.  They did not have to be.  I wasn’t expecting them to be.  I wasn’t expecting anything.

But this was the third time we’d scheduled a visit.  So I was kind of scared they wouldn’t show up. I was half worried it’d be some kind of ambush.  I remain concerned for Child’s emotional health.  I have had the swell luxury of not really having to examine my feelings about Child’s bio father.  Maybe not about him, exactly, but about this situation as it relates to him.  I haven’t believed I’d have to.  I haven’t believed we’d have to figure out how to give Child that part of her family without giving her him.

I can’t help but think that this intense emotional overwhelm is at least partially responsible for the way I had the first migraine headache in like 15 years, and the way Child spent last night puking and moaning.

So this morning, during her little uptick of energy before she ate anything, she asked to play Candy Land, and so I took a break from playing catch-up and played with her.

I was struck by how absurd that game is.  It’s unfair and ugly (like life), but it’s all swaddled in pink and the excitement and indulgence of CANDY!, and it requires no skill.

The image above is the new version.  I played a very squared-edges, bare version compared to what exists now.  The board is vertically oriented, and just gauche, and the gingerbread man pawns are these wavy, pretty critters, totally unlike the basic, barely-recognizable cutouts of my youth.

Candy Land struck me as a metaphor for lives: It doesn’t matter how pretty you try to make it, or how much candy you eat, it still sucks, will often be boring, and it is more likely than not that you’ll lose, even–or especially–if you do everything right.

So.  Enjoy the cynicism for a Monday afternoon.  Any of you have moments of clarity over kids’ media?

Thanks for being here.

Parenting Chronicles: The First Whatever

Public Domain Image

Maybe you know or have figured out that the man we live with is not my daughter’s biological father.  He looks the part, having fairer hair than I do, and a cherubic head shape like hers.  But trust me when I tell you that’s not why I picked him.

He is part of our family.  And Child, when she forgets herself, calls him dad or parent.  She refers to us as a unit as her parents.  She thinks of him as her dad, tells him she loves him (and means it), kisses him before bed.  The two of them have a man-to-child relationship that sometimes distresses me in its high levels of kinetic energy and loud laughing or squealing, but seems really normal and healthy.

For a while, she was calling him her “male role model” at his suggestion, but she seems to be at a blissfully content stage right now about her understanding of the nature of her family.

She asks every few months about her “fahder.”  I suspect she’ll pronounce it correctly before she’s ready for the uncensored version of the story.

And maybe, when she gets pissed at me about it when she’s a mouthy teenager and writes some sobbing, heartfelt SpaceFace note about not knowing who she is and how I’ve lied to her all these years, I’ll shoot her computer and record it on video for all the world to see, because I’ll be embarrassed at my kid’s indiscretion and that she’s outed me  for having had her under circumstances it’s not safe to discuss with all age groups.

Whenever she asks, I emphasize that it’s important to understand that there’s no “right” way to have a family.  That families have any number of configurations of parents, men, women, grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc.

So I’m kind of delighted to report that Fella had his proper initiation the other day.

Here’s the conversation:

“Mommy, can I watch TV?”

“Is your room clean?” Fella asked.  I love how native he is about this kind of stuff.  

“Is your room clean?” I asked.

“No.”

“Then go do it.” Fella again, and after.  I tend to shut up and bow out, feeling grateful that someone else cares to have these combative conversations.

“I don’t want to right now.  Right now I want to watch TV.  May I please watch TV please?”

“No.  I think mommy and I were talking about going to Target.  Do you want to go to Target?”

“That’s okay.  I’ll stay here and watch TV.”

“Child, you know that’s not how this works.”

“Ok.  Can I buy a toy at Target?”

“No, but you can go get dressed.  And then maybe when we get back, you can spend the whole day cleaning your room.”

Sigh.  Whatever.” And she stomped up the stairs.

I’d wandered out of the room, or to another place in my mind, so I didn’t hear the last bit.  Instead, Fella walked up to me an poked my arm and said, “Hey Girlfriend, did you hear that?  I got the first ‘whatever.'”  And his chest puffed up like he would explode with triumph.

“Ha.  That’s great.”

“Yeah.  You might’ve gotten the first ‘I Hate You,’ but I got the first ‘Whatever.'”

Alive Baby’s Dead Friendship

I robbed this image from anther wordpress blog.

Child is a really sweet kid.  Her birthday’s late summer, so she’s one of the youngest in her class.

Her BFF is one just a few months shy of being a whole year older than she is.

The girls met at Little Lambs, the preschool to which they both went, about 2 years ago.  It’s a great place, even though it’s parochial.  Aside from that I got an incredibly good vibe from the place, it was affordable, and all the other places I visited were scary for one reason or another, my thinking was that knowing stories from the Bible can be a real help when one is writing college papers in literature courses.

When we moved this fall, we moved so we live around the corner from BFF, and Child opted to switch elementary schools from where she went last year so she could go to the same school as BFF.

Our school district lets us pick to an extent.

Child and BFF played together a lot this past summer.  BFF came over to our house a lot of days, and the girls had sleepovers and Child went to the lake with BFF and her family.  They go to each other’s birthday parties and have had a really good friendship.

In a happy twist of fate, Child wound up in the same class as BFF.

And all was beautiful and harmonious until yesterday.

Child said, “I want to play with BFF today.”

Since it’s child appreciation day, and Child will have no homework, I say, “Okay, I’ll text her mom.”

“Yay!”

So I text Mrs. BFF, and she says of course BFF can come play.

I go to pick up Child and I’m herding Mrs. BFF’s kids, too, because she’s going to be a few minutes late.  And I say, “Hey BFF, wanna come over and play at our house for a while?”

BFF says, “No.”

Child immediately starts weeping, but she’s hiding her face in my hip.  BFF does not see her weeping.  My heart breaks a little bit, even though I get it.  I remember.

BFF’s tastes have matured to the point where Child–who is just not mature in any respect–does not interest her anymore.  Sure, if she’s thrust into a situation where she has to play with Child, she will, or if it’s between Child and her brothers.  But she’d rather play with the girls who are those 6-10 months older.

Plus there’s the brutal social stuff: BFF definitely has what it takes to be a cool/popular kid.  Child is sensitive and strange (no surprises there), and I am not the kind of mom who refuses to let her go to school wearing insane things, or who tells her not to be weird.

Maybe that’s a failing as a parent, but the best people I know liked the learning parts of school but could’ve done without the social aspects.

And Child will be better off socially than I was.  They have become insanely aware of bullying and its dangers, and Child is gregarious and funny and coordinated.  I expect that she’ll play some sort of sport, and that’s a social network built in.

She’ll meet new friends and adapt.

But part of me wanted to say, “Hey Mrs. BFF!  Tell BFF she has to play with Child!”  Even though I recognize the myriad problems with such behavior.

On the rest of the way home without BFF, Child alternated between weeping and telling me how BFF won’t play with her at recess anymore.  How BFF plays with M__ and K__, but not with her.

I asked if she knew why, and she said, “she just won’t.”  I’m certain there’s more to the story than I’ll hear.  But still.  Sad, sad stuff.

And it didn’t occur to me until right now that Child’s exceedingly poor behavior last evening may have been a result of this tragedy.  In fact, Child said another thing that saddened and angered me in equal measure.

We were on our way home from Zumba and I told her that she was not allowed to stay up because she was being highly snotty, she said, “Maybe I should just kill myself.”  Which she then tried to deny saying, which is good, I think?  But still.  Caught me totally off gurad.  Rendered me speechless.  Made me angry in ways I was not expecting.

I sent her to bed and did not tuck her in or read her a story. I do not know if that was the right tack, but she was asleep instantly.  And now I will be vigilant.

What kind of six-year-old even suggests suicide?  Is this foreshadowing of dreadful teenaged years to come?  Will I be one of those tragic, 40-something alcoholic moms with a dead kid?

I hope not.  But this is one of those times where having her sperm donor’s input might be helpful.  I think that he felt sad about being alive from a very early age.

He said, when he found out I was pregnant, that he didn’t want to be a father because he always felt like he shouldn’t have been born, and he didn’t want to put another person through that.  Strong words, but felt ones nevertheless.

I was too busy pitying myself at the time to notice how sad that was, but I’ve thought of it often.

Parent-Teacher Conference Date: It’s not you, it’s me.

Tell me what’s wrong with this picture.  No, never mind.  I’m going to tell you.

1.  Everybody is smiling.

2. That teacher is wearing Ann Taylor

3. There’s a child there

4.  They don’t show you how your kid can read at conferences.

5. Those chairs are grownup sized

I had Child’s parent-teacher conference last Thursday.

I love her teacher.  She called herself a bitch because she demands excellence, and she doesn’t let those six-year-olds rule her.  She is legitimately awesome.

But as I walked to the school, my palms were sweaty and my heart was racing, and I was experiencing intestinal distress.

Outside Child’s classroom, this chair that’s like three inches tall is designated as the waiting area.  There are sweaty moms in pink track suits and gaggles of young children exploiting the halls while their parents get their talking-tos.  There’s a book fair.

I am so nervous I don’t even look at the books.  And I love books.    I sit in the stupid short chair and sweat and listen to my tummy gurgle.

I feel like I am on parenting trial.  I have these shuttering visions in which a white-wigged principal slams his gavel and sentences me to mom prison for not reading Child enough books.

Child is without question one of the best things about my life, and she saved me.  I love her more than I ever thought it was possible to love anything.  But I never wanted to be a mom.  This mommy thing stresses me out.  It is exhausting and hard and anybody who says otherwise is either preternaturally wired for parenting, or lying their faces off.

So even though the conference is all good news, or at least nothing terribly surprising, I feel like I’m on a first date.  I keep making bad jokes and interrupting her teacher.  Her teacher has a sexy voice, so I try to concentrate on that, then I try to figure out how her teeth are so great, and how much shorter than I am she is.  She is a short woman.  I think about her prettiness.

I have this unique-to-parent-teacher-conferences ability to hear myself as if I am talking into a jar.  I sound like I’m begging for approval; I sound defensive and desperate and like I am making excuses.

There is nothing to make excuses for. My kid is developing well and doing great.  She’s got some problem areas, but every kid does, and anybody who says their kid doesn’t is setting herself up for eventual, certain parent-ruin.

And Teacher notices.  She likes my kid and she talks about how neat she is, and how even her trouble spots are reasonable for her age and developmental prowess.

I feel the need to apologize for being a bad mother.

I curb it.

Teacher seems pleased that I anticipated the only complaint she had, and was already working to address it at home.

I latch onto that unstated encouragement and start this narrative for myself about how Teacher tells other Teacher at a water cooler how “If only every mom could be like Child’s mom.”

I leave the conference feeling nervy and pleased.  After I pick her up, I tell Child that she has to work harder to focus, but that she’s doing well and I am proud.

But I don’t want to go to another parent-teacher conference.  I want to have coffee with Teacher and tell her how pretty I think she is, and how glad I am she’s Child’s teacher.  I want to meet her in a normal place without dwarf chairs and with coffee or something else to put in my mouth so I don’t open it.

I wonder if I could break up with parent teacher conferences:  “Teacher,  I think you’re excellent, but I hate parent teacher conferences.  No, no.  It’s not you.  It’s me.  I’m anxious or something.  How about we just get coffee.  I have bad hips.  I can’t sit in those little chairs.  Oh, against the rules, huh?  I swear I won’t tell…”