Authorvexx

A Same Sex Marriage

I’m going to be attending a wedding soon, between a couple of very good friends (actually, I’ll be performing the ceremony *blush* but that’s another story). It’s naturally gotten me to thinking about my own marriage.

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My spouse and I will shortly be celebrating our 26th anniversary. The 25th was supposed to have been a really big celebration and there was even talk of a cruise but, when the time came, we were trying to come up with the mortgage, one child had just started in a new school… It goes like that. I’m pretty sure we managed to exchange flowers from Trader Joe’s but I can’t swear to it. Okay, it was not memorable. But it was okay, you know? It’s another year later and we’re still at it.

Once you’ve passed ten years or so in a relationship, you become something of a public resource. “Wow,” people say, eyes widening, “what’s your secret?” Now, I typically respond “I married someone with infinite patience”. It’s flip, I know, but there’s a good deal of truth to it as well. I mean, in many cases, that’s longer than you have to put up with parents. Only sibling relationships have greater longevity but you no longer have to share a bedroom with them. Yep, infinite patience is a valuable component in any long term relationship. Beyond that, there’s not much advice I can give because it’s all new to me. Really. I can tell how we did things up to this point but as of today, I’m as new to it as the next person. Each day brings new challenges, like making the mortgage, getting the kids into bed, being stranded in a vast forested region of Pennsylvania with a car that has died for the last time. (incidentally, if you can navigate that one without screaming at each other, dissolving into helpless sobs or vowing to leave everyone right there and walk home, dammit, your prognosis is pretty darn good).

Parents get this a lot, as well. As though having staggered your way through raising a toddler has prepared you in even the slightest way to raise a teen. It just aint so. We’ve managed. We’ll probably manage tomorrow. We’ll make an ungodly mess of things and go to bed hoping that tomorrow, we’ll try not to holler at the kids, we’ll try to remember to call when we get held up, we’ll try, by good, to mow the damn lawn. But on balance, we’ve done alright. We still love each other even if we’re less demonstrative than we once were, we’ve raised two kids who are awesome and smart and good and who know that Michelle Bachman is a whack job and only slightly less so than the people who think she’s presidential material. They’ll do alright. They’ll probably even do better than us. So that’s okay then.

Oh, and those friends who are getting married? Very sound prognosis, there. Some very deep, mature love going on there. A solid dose of infinite patience, as well. And after all, they have some experience

 

The Funnest Camp Ever

The kids went into full hysteria last week at the mall when they spotted a display of backpacks. Printed above the display, in something like 500 point type was “Back to School”. My son immediately began shrieking and keening in wordless melodramatic anguish. My daughter, for once, did not tell him to shut up and stop acting like an idiot in the store. “But we’ve only had two months,” they both protested. “TWO MONTHS, and it’s all gone and we didn’t get to do ANYTHING!” And so began a new round of their summer-long complaint about “having” to go to camp.

Never mind that it’s only day camp and that they make new friends there and reconnect with last year’s; never mind that their days are spent swimming, fishing, playing kickball, volleyball and field hockey. Or that a major field trip is part of every weekly program – complete with a ride on a motor coach. Or that they come home day in and day out with tie-dyed T-shirts, gimp bracelets, and photos of their (now, alas, sunken) entry in the cardboard boat competition. That they are freckled and tanned, respectively, and covered with hard-fought scrapes and banged-up shins and it’s all such a terrible burden on them. As a working parent, I’m not open to suggestions that they just stay at home, they can take care of themselves. They can. Really. Why don’t you trust us? Which camp they attend is negotiable; attendance itself is not.

I’d tried pointing out that the alternative – what we called one year “Camp Ima” – was a disaster. Oddly, this is not how they remember it. I’d taken the summer off and we’d made a list of all the cool things we could do and designed our own summer camp. Among the things we would do: Learn archery, build a cob oven, raise a vegetable garden, swim in a nearby river, go for bike rides along the rail trail. We’d make videos to share on YouTube, create shadow puppets and cook meals together from our very own family cookbook. Good god, what was I thinking?

The first day of Camp Ima found me vainly trying to get the kids out of bed. After approximately an hour of this, I found that I no longer wanted them to get out of bed. When they did finally drift downstairs, they were already fighting. Our first activity of the day was mediation and blame assignment, after which we repaired to the back yard for the first archery lesson. I began with the safety lesson. I must have laid it on a bit thick because when I finished and handed my son the bow, he shrank and cowered and wouldn’t touch the bloody thing. Diva crossed her arms, sucked her teeth and asked if she could go to her friend’s house.

The next day’s bike ride had to be cancelled due to the kids having left their newly tuned bikes lying in the front yard, from which they were promptly stolen. Instead we did “sign painting” and posted pathetic and ultimately useless appeals to please return our bikes around the neighborhood.

Vegetable gardening got off to a somewhat more promising start. Both kids enjoyed going to the garden center for the spindly little starts we would use and to pick out gardening gloves. “Now,” I said, as I loaded everything into the car, “when we get back, we can’t just stick these things in the ground – we’ll need to get the garden ready for them.”  “Okay” they said, cheerfully.

“Alright”, I said, when we were assembled at the edge of the garden plot, “first we need to loosen the soil, then mark our rows, then build up the rows…” “LET GO! IMA! HE WON’T LET GO OF THE HOE!” “WELL, HOW COME SHE GETS THAT ONE?!” “STOP IT, YOU IDIOT! *smack*

I did manage to get a garden planted that year, while the kids watched TV.

As the summer progressed, it transpired that my son recused himself from any activity that involved touching anything moist, squishy, dirty, sticky, gooey, limp or vaguely defined as “ewey”. My daughter positively reveled in all those textures but wouldn’t stick around long enough to do anything beyond squeeze the dough, throw dirt clods or let the raw egg ooze through her fingers. We completed not a single project, wrote off any number without even attempting them, and spent almost every minute bickering.

In spite of this, as this past summer approached, the kids begged me to do Camp Ima again. “Why?” I said. “You hated it.” They both looked shocked. “What!? It was great!” “Yeah, remember our garden?” “And cooking dinner for Mumma every night?” I stood there, dumbfounded, as the two of them launched into a giddy recounting of a golden, laughter and adventure-filled summer I did not recognize. Both kids draped themselves around me and hugged. “Please, Ima? Let’s do it again this summer?” “Yeah Ima,” my daughter said, “Camp Ima was the funnest camp, ever!”

On Becoming Ima

We’d been together ten years before we got talking seriously of having kids. We’d always planned on children, but we needed to work out the when and the how and – unique to lesbian parents – the who.

Over those years, we’d frequently played something akin to Mr Potato Head, taking our favorite parts of ourselves and sticking them onto our future children: “She’ll have your legs.” “Okay, but your sense of humor.” “He’ll be really smart.” “But I hope he gets your hair.” Etcetera. We had talked often and at great length about our values and our views on discipline, education, creativity and chores, enough to know that we were well in sync. We had not discussed what our children would call us.

​”Mom” and “mom”, beside being impractical, sounds, well, stupid. As we are neither hippies nor teenage babysitters, having our children address us by our given names was also out of the question. I have always wanted kids. I used to drive around conversing with my imaginary two-year-old, six-year-old, preteen. (I see you singing along to Prince in your car so don’t throw stones.) In all those imagined conversations, my child called me “mom”. I so looked forward to being that in another person’s life — “Mom”. Not “Mum”. Not “Nana”. Not any of countless things we considered. And certainly not “Ima”.

​”Ima” is Hebrew for “mom”; we’re Jewish so it seemed like a fairly clever solution. It also seemed appropriate that as the more strongly Jewish-identified, I should take the Hebrew name. I tried it out. In my head, on my tongue . . . and no matter how or how often I said it, it still felt wrong. It wasn’t “mom”, no matter what the dictionary claimed. It was a terrible dissapointment.

​Eventually, the day came when my first child – not even looking at me, but glancing over his shoulder in my direction – called me Ima. I’d love to say the moment was electrifying; that I had an epiphany. But I didn’t. What I felt in that moment was . . . natural. “Yes, that’s right, honey; that’s a ‘cat'”. In that moment, I suppose, I really did become Ima.

​And not only to my own children. On warm sunny days, the neighborhood rings with “Ima”. It matters not a bit to the other children that I’ve told them my name, or that my children have explained that it means mom. One small girl, recently adopted by her aunt, simply beamed when told this. She looked at me and my spouse and chirped, “now I have three moms!” She summed it up well for lot of the other kids.

​Ours is the house where the kids congregate. I’m the mom that makes lemonade slushies and fixes everything from bikes to boo boos. They know I claim to hate messes but tolerate quite a lot of it. Often times, I don’t even know who these children are or where they come from. “Ima, this is my cousin Hector. He’s from Puerto Rico and don’t speak English much. Can we go out back and bounce?”

​One day, during a friend’s visit, two of the boys who’d been riding their bikes up and down the street dragged in a third I’d never seen before. “He wiped out” they told me. The nine-year-old was shy and trying manfully not to dissolve into tears as he lifted his shirt to show me the nasty road rash. I cleaned the scrape and sprayed it with Bactine. I guessed he was at that terrible age when a kiss still would help but can’t be accepted, so I gave his shoulders a little squeeze.

My friend was quiet until after I’d given him an “all better” swat on the behind and sent him on his way. Then, chuckling and shaking her head, she asked, “isn’t he spending the summer with them right across the street?” I nodded vaguely. “Then how come they all come over here to get patched up?” I straightened and looked at my friend. “Because I’m Ima”.

The Ten-year-old Entrepreneur

As I have mentioned before, my daughter will be a fashion designer. She has a phenomenal eye for style, a winning aesthetic and – this may be her most important asset – one wicked entrepreneurial streak. Oh, in recent months she’s done the lemonade stand thing because it’s something her friends enjoy. They never sell enough to recoup the cost of the lemonade but it’s fairly cheap as an entertainment, so what the hell.
But a couple of years back, while the girls down the block were watering-down Kool-aid, my daughter set up a face painting stand.

For weeks, every kid in the neighborhood was emptying their pockets and piggy banks for the pleasure of running around sporting butterflies, rainbows, cat whiskers or Spiderman faces. She took requests and gamely dived in. She carried around a sketch pad I had made for her, with outlined faces in full front and profile. She quickly filled this with elaborate ideas and riffs exploring the many ways one might approach a face as canvas. She actually made money on it. Until her face paints ran out and she discovered that the ice cream truck had made away with most of her profits and she couldn’t replace them.

Then there were the duct tape wallets and bags. And the aluminum can flowers. And the hair makeovers. And the gimp bracelets. And so forth. A couple of weeks ago, I caught her searching some of my bookmarked recipe sites. “You can’t go in the kitchen”, she told me (uh oh). She’d just discovered that we have an ice cream maker; she already had a batch of something a very deep brown glooping thickly on the stove and wondered if we had any pineapple in the house.

The thing about a kid who just has to be making things all the time – particularly if such a kid is also a trend setter – is that she never lacks something original and cool to sell. Her latest enterprise is hand painted t-shirts. They’re pretty cool and very much in demand and she’s filling orders as fast as she can. As always, she takes requests. She’s very serious about the “customer satisfaction” thing but is perhaps just a bit too accommodating:

“Trina,” she tells me enthusiastically the other day, “is going to pay me six dollars for four shirts!”

Hmm. “She’s going to give you four shirts and you’re going to paint them?”

“No…”

“Okay, well, do you know how much they cost?” (Uh uh.) “A pack of three is at least $8. So you’re losing money.

“How can I be losing money if she’s going to pay me?”

“Honey, you’re good at math – it costs $8 but you’re only getting six.”

Comprehension dawns. Then her face clears and she tries to help me with my confusion: “but you buy the shirts.”

I do.”

She nods, happy that she’s been able to clear that up for me.

“So I spend $8, you paint some shirts and you get $6.” Uh huh. “Why would I do that?”

Now she looks confused. And a little hurt.

“So I can sell t-shirts.”

Perchance to Dream

I’m having some difficulty sleeping. Oh, blame it on the heat, or my propensity for drinking coffee until very late at night, but I have another theory. I’m a night owl by nature; I get bursts of inspiration and tend to do my best thinking sometime after midnight, so on a typical night, the rest of my family is already in dreamland when I finally stumble up to bed (this solitary time may account for the timing of my inspiration, but there you go). Only the dogs snooze by my side or underfoot waiting for me to call it a day.

We have one behemoth of an air conditioner that we use to cool the downstairs during the worst of the heat, and one small, ancient, horrifically noisy little beast, sufficient for cooling a single room. In keeping with the wisdom of the airline industry, we put this in the parents’ bedroom. We don’t want moms overheating now, do we? So, on a hot night, this thing goes through its cycles:

rattle rattle rat tattattattattattat rattlerattle griiind griiind griiiiiind rattlerattle ka-chunk! ROAR ROAR ROAR GRIND GRIND ROAR KA-CHUNK! rattle rattle…..

Add to this, that my beloved snores. Twenty five years ago, it was a small, cute sort of noise that was in a way reassuring. Over the years, it has morphed into a great, monstrous symphony of snorks, gurgles, and noises that sound like a balloon deflating, and something reptilian trapped in a drain. Nor are they in the least bit rhythmic, in which case it might be possible to adapt. No, each sound is new, unexpected and guaranteed to jolt one from any light sleep one might have achieved through the previous assault. I use earplugs when  I’m not expected to wake to an alarm but as I am the one who drives the kids wherever they need to be in the morning, that’s not often.

Years it took to get the kids to stop sleeping in our bed whenever they feel like it (pretty much always) but it took only a single 90o night to move them back in. With them, of course, come favorite pillows, stuffed animals, hardcover books, tomorrow’s outfit and today’s stinky cast offs — arrayed as though shot from a concert canon. Both kids fling bony limbs every which way, earning my son with the adolescent-boy joints the nickname “ankle-osaurus”. So we dragged in a twin mattress and told them to make the best of it. The other night, my daughter discovered that the dog bed was infinitely more comfortable than sharing space with her brother.

Now we can’t reach the bed without a half-twisting vault from the doorway only ever attempted by Nadia Comaneci in the 1975 Olympic trials. It is not possible to reach the closet by any means at all. And there we have it: beastly AC, symphony of snores; books, clothes, bedding, and mattress on the floor, one kid on said mattress, another kid on the dog bed. This, I suspect, may be at the root of my insomnia.

The other night I climbed the stairs, performed the vault from the doorway… and landed squarely on a dog. A 70-pound dog whose startled yelp woke the dog occupying my pillow. As I retreated back off the bed, I stepped on the cat. I gave up, went back downstairs, put some Bactine on my cat scratches, and dropped onto the couch.

And can I just say, that is one comfortable couch.

 

ADHD Playdate

My dogs both have tracking transmitters. While our family doctor may raise all sorts of weird, fussy “ethical” objections, I’m hoping the vet may be an easier sell on my proposal to have one placed on my daughter. Diva is ten – ten – and I haven’t seen her for three days and perhaps only a dozen times since the start of summer. Oh, she’s not missing, or anything. She just sort of has a life of her own which, at present, has taken her to a marathon sleepover/playdate. What the hell… it’s summer, right?

We got her a cell phone and she’s very good about having it with her at all times but all that texting and Facebooking plays hell with the battery and she’s drawn the line at carrying around a power cord as well. So, the tracker. To be fair, I haven’t seen a whole lot more of Wild Child, but no tracking device will ever be necessary to locate him. While my daughter roams her kid-sized world with an ever widening circle of friends, my son keeps mostly to his room, ensconced up there in his underwear, surrounded by the discards of snacks and very…um, vocally…playing his Xbox. If I’m not at home though, he’s even harder to reach than my daughter is, as his phone is invariably somewhere useless and far away.
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I was out the other day and needed to reach him fairly urgently. No answer. Hmm. I pulled over and used my phone to access the computer in my office next to his room. I typed in 96pt. on the desktop: GO GET YOUR DAMN PHONE! then cranked up the system volume to full and turned on something from Avenue Q (which usually gives him fits). I figured he’d hear it, go check it out and see the note. Nope. “Now what?” I wondered, “Ah”. If he couldn’t hear it, it must be because he was wearing his headset. And that meant he was online with his friend. So I called his friend. “Jason, are you live with Wild Child? Yes? Will you tell him, please, to go get his damn phone?” That did the trick. When he called, the first thing he said was “Why does my mom have to be the biggest geek?”

While I worry about Diva’s independence and Wild Child’s lack of it, I was even more concerned about my son’s tendency toward isolation. I’m an introvert and can fully relate to being comfortable with a fairly high level of solitude but “comfortable” in his case, is not “happy”. So when the Xbox took over his life, we went into full panic mode. That our already odd, not-exactly-popular, loner might well disappear forever into a virtual world seemed entirely probable. We put in place rules, limits, timers; we forced him to go outside, we nagged him to call his friends, we badgered him relentlessly and threatened to take away the controllers – in short, pretty much what parents do. None of which had the slightest impact on his consuming desire to retreat to his room and play Xbox.

My little adventure with trying to reach him tipped me to something I’d been missing all along: He isplaying with his friends. That they prefer to meet in a bombed out urban wasteland or on a distant planet, that they communicate over headsets, that some of them are in a different time zone, doesn’t – and shouldn’t – make that much difference. They get together. They play and have fun. In between bellows and shouts and “COVER MY BACK!” and “DUDE, YOU TEA BAGGED HIM!”, they talk about stuff 12-year-old boys talk about. So I think the next time I want him to see his friends, I’ll send him to his room.

Mashed Potatoes and Twigs

There is a phrase that I find so hysterically funny that merely uttering it in my presence will cause me to go into convulsions of helpless laughter; the breath leaves my lungs, my face spasms, something seismic rolls through me and I can’t stop. It can go on and on — waves of laughter — for upward of fifteen minutes. Look at me funny at any point during an episode and it can start all over.

For years, this was my private talisman against depression, for which I have been treated on and off all my adult life. I have heard of classes where participants gather round and force themselves to laugh in order to harvest the benefits attributed to laughter. While the image itself is pretty funny, the concept doesn’t work for me. I need a prop. Mine is “mashed potatoes and twigs”. Yes, there’s a story behind it. No, it’s not important nor would knowing it make it work for you. It’s mine. You’ll have to get your own.

Ours is a competitive family. Any pretext will do, with any commodity as the spur – the computer, the TV, the couch, attention, praise, whatever – but the ultimate competition is to defeat mom at something. My kids have tried unsuccessfully for years to beat me at “Poor Pussy”* This is a game in which each participant in turn tries to make “It” laugh or at least crack a smile by…meowing. Creatively. You get three meows after each of which, “It” — in order to demonstrate her unbroken composure — must solemnly pat the “kitty” on the head and say with a straight face, “poor pussy”. So exceptionally stoic am I, that my mouth has never once so much as twitched and it drives the kids absolutely spare.

Also in vain, they have tried to find my ticklish spots. The truth is, I’m ticklish all over but I take a peculiar, petty pride in thwarting them so through sheer competitive will, I remain blasé.You could say I was asking for it. It was inevitable that my Achilles heel would one day be exposed. When it happened, the kids looked on in delighted awe as Ima went completely to pieces, and they filed away this precious piece of knowledge.

The relationship between parents and kids is an inherently unequal one. Parents are bigger, of course, but we also hold the ultimate authority over bedtime, allowance, chores, play dates, media habits, transportation… pretty much everything. Kids wield a kind of soft power, chiefly in the form of tantrums and selective hearing, but it does little to alleviate their general sense of powerlessness. Let a kid get his hands on a weapon of this magnitude though, and it’s a game-changer. Over the next few months, the kids deployed it without mercy, again and again. I had kids sneaking up behind me, popping out of doorways, looming over me in the mornings, creeping over my shoulder in the car, shouting that magic phrase. Such power!

Toward the end (you saw this coming, right?), the tremors grew milder, the laughs less loud until one day… nothing. Thud. The pool had been fished out. If I was despondent, my kids were horrified. They reacted as though they had been responsible for the death of a small helpless animal. I reassured them that these things have a shelf life, they don’t live forever (and refrained from pointing out that they may have hastened its death). For a time, they’d take the occasional little stab at resuscitating it, as though the problem may simply have been one of delivery. But no luck. We sort of buried it in the backyard and moved on.

This was all at least a couple of years ago and while I’ll never be characterized as an optimist, I’m at least hopeful about life; as I wrote this and got to remembering my little phrase and the day it came into my life, I got tears in my eyes. From laughing.

*props to Mary Voors for introducing me to this game nearly 30 years ago.

Wild Child and The Diva

My daughter is a rock star. That is to say, take away the wealth, the fame and the trips into and out of rehab, and whatever it is that makes someone a rock star, she has it.

The “new girl” in school doesn’t typically have an easy time making a friend and fitting in, but when Diva started a new school mid-year, the girls (and boys) began competing for her friendship. She’s not popular; rather – and we make much if this distinction at home – she is well-liked. She’s funny and fashionable, she likes everyone by default, and she’s kind. Ask her “which one is Sandy?” and she never says “the fat one” or “the one who’s already getting acne,” she says warmly, “she’s the one with the really pretty reddish hair who wears the cute sweaters”. I mean, she’d be fairly difficult for any kid not to like.

Except, that is, the shy, nerdy brother of such a girl, in which case, it’s pretty much preordained that he’s going to hate her guts.  Wild child and the Diva have rarely resorted to actual hitting, but shrieking and name-calling form the background music of our home with “JERK!” and “IDIOT!” followed with infuriating regularity by “IMA!”

The rivalry is intensified by the fact that he is the older brother. With motives both generous and vainglorious, my son had looked forward to being little sister’s guide through school and life. Like an advance scout, he would blaze the trail and point out where water could be found and she, in turn, would look up to him. Instead, he’s found it necessary to consult her on everything from body sprays, to texting etiquette, to how to dress and wear his hair. His humiliation is complete now that, in physical terms at least, it is necessary for him to look up to her.

Girls can be relied upon to shoot up and start breaking out in curves a good two years before the boys see any changes in themselves…and at least one year before they notice any in the girls. Many of Wild child’s friends are sporting hairier legs, but not all. Some of their voices have begun the descent into a more manly timbre and others still sound like Justin Bieber. His best buds tower over him – watch them coming at you down the block and they call to mind Kermit the frog with bodyguards. I’ve pointed out to him that at his very age, my brother began the school year at 5’2″ and ended it at 6’1″ – the same age, not coincidentally, when I had to stop punching him as a negotiating tool.

We reckoned that his entry into middle school might lessen their rivalry a bit as it would at least having them spending their days apart, but we were genuinely afraid it might just eat him alive. Middle school might as well have been hell for me and…well, everyone I know, but it has been surprisingly kind to him. Moving from classroom to classroom gives his fidgets a little workout. A larger student population has meant a larger pool of nerdy and/or ADHD boys that can relate to him so he’s made friends. The net result has been a somewhat calmer and more confident kid. On one particularly good day, he learned both that he’d gotten a part he really wanted and his grades came back – all As. He smiled broadly as he settled himself into the car seat and said, “Hey Ima, I think maybe my awesomeness is finally kicking in.”

 

My son, the First-Person Shooter

One of the things we agreed on even before we had children was no “war toys”. I spent my childhood days with the neighborhood boys, all of us armed to the teeth, playing war. My evenings were typically spent in front of the TV watching coverage of the real war. My spouse was ROTC and a crack marksman. One would think that it might have occurred to us that our own childhoods, steeped as they were in violent play, nevertheless produced the kind of adults that, well . . . ban war toys. Parenthood is not typically that clear-eyed, however.

People with all the trappings of expertise were telling us that toy guns were bad and turned innocent children into desensitized little monsters, so we listened. We also made sure that our kids never saw anything on TV more violent than the Muppets. We vetted everything they might watch and then insisted that TV only be watched with all of us together, on the couch, a throw over our laps. This would be our peaceful family ritual to combat the evil influences that strained and slavered for our precious children.

As anyone with more experience could have predicted, by two, or son was nevertheless pointing sticks, broom handles, even Barbies at people and shouting “bang bang”. He became obsessed with guns. And swords. And grenades. Pretty much everything, in fact, on that list of forbidden toys. It must have been Kmart, during the holidays, where my then three-year-old son stopped dead in front of a gun. The celestial choir sang as he said in awe, “that’s the Power Rangers GRK10 Thousand X,” (or some such) “its a laser pistol and a flame ray, and that part comes off and it’s a photon grenade”. (again, or some such; suffice to say, it was the ultimate multi-tool for mayhem.) In my most stentorian parent voice, I said “Now you know we’re not going to get you a gun.” He shifted to stand in front of me, looked me in the eye and, like someone trying to reason with an hysteric, said “Ima, It’s. a. TOY.”

I called one day from the kids’ favorite toy store. “Hon, you know how much he likes playing dress-up and there’s a suit of armor here that he’s just mad for and it is pretty cool but, well, it comes with a sword. I was just thinking that if it was part of a costume . . .” He got the sword.

shooter1

He obsessed relentlessly over a cap gun he saw while on a camping trip. We gave in and got him the gun. It was the only toy he played with. For 27 hours. That’s how long it took for his gun obsession to vanish.

shooter2

shooter3

These days, his room harbors an arsenal: Bokken swords, Nerf guns, air soft guns, water cannons, six shooters, laser guns and more. He’s got a real Vietnam era helmet, a soft cover and a collection of replica service medals. We’ve moved from “no war toys” to an acceptance, even an appreciation of first person shooter games: Call of Duty, Halo Reach, Portal and a host of Lego adventures. The only time or wild child is not wild is when he’s parked in front of one if his video games. His body stills, his mind calms, his attention sharpens. He’s fascinated by World War II, writes his grandpa to learn about his experiences there, and has learned how to make chain mail armor.

He also dances ballet, makes animated movies and wants to be an artist. He’s sweet and patient with small children, tender-hearted toward animals and avoids fighting with anyone but me or his sister. God only knows how he’d have turned out if he was still obsessing over that gun.

The Fashionable Slob

My daughter has known since she was four that she is going to be a fashion designer. Believe it; I know her and I do. She will also be a top model, albeit under a different name — a single, first name kind of thing, ala “Madonna” or “Cher”. And get this: she will model her own designs and no one will suspect that the top model and the world-class designer are one in the same.

At a very young age, she had already mastered dozens of ways to tie a bow, knot a scarf, bling out her Ts, paint her sneakers, put up, put down and put wave in her hair – anything that served to make a thing more beautiful, more stylish, more uniquely her. She spends more time in front if a mirror than anyone I know and does not leave it until everything is precisely as she intends it to be. That casual stray wisp of hair over her left eye? Nothing casual whatsoever about how she got it to do that.

All of which presents me with what is perhaps the central mystery of her life: how can anyone so meticulous about her personal appearance be such a slob? I’m not talking about the usual kid disregard for messes but a piggy-ness that is quite simply, transcendent.

She notices if a casual friend is wearing her ponytail just the tiniest bit higher today, if the cashier is wearing an eye shadow that doesn’t suit her coloring, if I’ve lost just two pounds. But the precise moment a thing leaves her person or her grasp, it becomes invisible to her. It is as though clothing, toys, food, wrappers, dishes, toiletries, yes, even body wastes, once their usefulness is exhausted, cease to exist. Now I’m no neat-nick myself, but I am humbled by her towering greatness in this regard.

When I say that these things cease to exist, I mean she really cannot see them. Stand next to her, bend down to her eye-level, point to the filthy socks left right here on the kitchen table, and she looks confused and angry. WHERE? Oh, those? Those are my clean socks. Watching a movie together, we all laugh as the obsessive compulsive protagonist gets his first look at his beloved’s slovenly apartment. All except my daughter. “What? What’s funny?” Just doesn’t see it. “It’s extremely messy, honey.” “Oh,” (laughing now) “that’s funny.” It’s like translating the world for a color-blind individual.

We have a family rule: Food only in the kitchen, toys anywhere but the kitchen. It’s simple, it’s catchy, and it makes perfect sense. So why is it I am forever trying to track down the source of that stench coming from somewhere in the living room — or the car, or behind the computer, or wherever else she’s left some half-eaten thing to rot? My son has a hard enough time managing his one chore: to empty the wastebaskets — but a season of fruit-fly-exploding wastebaskets just about scarred him for life.

Naturally, we’ve read everything we could find that suggested a solution to our slob problem. “Oh”, she said to me one day when I suggested making a game of cleaning up “you got a new book, huh?” We reasoned that having and being allowed to decorate a room of her own would be a good motivator. A room of one’s own, in which to entertain friends, play dress-up, have sleepovers. The other day she burst, shrieking, into my office. “Ima, there’s something in my room!! There’sapile0fclothesinthebackofmyclosetandthere’ssomethingstucktothemwitbugsonitand something LIVING in it andyouhavetocomeseeanddosomething!! EeewwwEewwEewwgetridofit!! EEEWW!” Okay, first of all, what have I been saying about food in . . . what have I told you about putting away . . . why haven’t you . . . *sigh*. “Show me”, I say to her. I am stopped just over the threshold. Literally. Stopped. I don’t see any evident place to put my foot for another step. “Honey!” I say, “Good god, this mess is ankle deep!” She actually had the chutzpah to look down at my ankles and then up to my eyes. “Not yet.”

As a new parent, I believed that pointing these things out would result, eventually, in her being able to recognize them for herself. As a seasoned parent, I now know this to be magical thinking; the age at which she can be expected to clean up after herself coincides with the age at which she will wish you dead if you don’t stop nagging her to do so. But I’ll win in the end, once she’s old enough to date: I’m compiling a list of cute obsessive-compulsive boys.

 

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