Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I haven't eaten cole slaw in 28 years

In 1981 I was a kindergartner and one day at lunch time I found myself without my lunch. Did I leave it at home? Did I leave it on the bus? I don’t remember. There are many details from this hazy memory that I don’t remember. I didn’t know what to do so I timidly approached Mrs. F, my morning teacher. She was a good teacher, by all accounts, a caring teacher. But I don’t remember this. I remember that she intimidated me. I didn’t love her as I did my afternoon teacher, Mrs. P, the same Mrs. P who still sees my mother occasionally and asks after me, still calling my by my four-year-old self’s nickname.

I think there was no reason to fear Mrs. F but I never entirely warmed to her. And on this day, I was afraid –of a problem I didn’t know how to fix, of having made a mistake and of needing to call attention to it, of thereby calling attention to me.

The class was lining up at the doorway to walk to the cafeteria for lunch. All morning I had known I had no lunch. The badness of that festered in me, all morning. I didn’t summon the courage to tell Mrs. F until that last minute and in doing so, executed another wrong.

“Oh, Robin, if you’re getting a hot lunch you need a lunch ticket. And I asked for a lunch ticket count two hours ago. You should have told me then.”

These are the things I thought all at once, in a flurry:
1) But I didn’t know! I never got hot lunch before! I didn’t know about the tickets!
2) Am I in trouble for forgetting my lunch? Where is it? Is it making the bus smell bad? Will I get made fun of for a bad smelling bus on the way home?
3) Why aren’t you seeing how upset I am over this? Why are you impatient when I need kindness?

This is what I mumbled:
“Oh. Sorry.”

The panic only intensified as I tried to figure out what to do next. How did hot lunch work? What steps did I do to get it? Would I do something wrong? Would I mess up again?

I don’t remember how I got food, nor the entire menu. I don’t remember eating. But I do know that I ate. Among, I assume, other items, I ate cole slaw, which I’m guessing I never had before. And sometime after quiet time on our nap rugs, I threw up.

I threw up cole slaw and whenever the smell of cole slaw comes into my nose now, by brain conjures afresh the regurgitated slaw scent memory.

Was I already getting sick that day? I don’t know. Did I throw up from the stress of messing up? I don’t know. I don’t remember throwing up, only the after-image of recognizable slivers of cabbage, and oh, the smell. I don’t remember throwing up, but I do remember the black knots in my stomach at telling Mrs. F my mistake, at absorbing the exasperation in her voice. And it smells, even until today, like bilious eau de You Screwed Up.

Which is all a way of saying: my kid is through-and-through so my kid.

The new director at the girls' daycare has been bringing in all these great supplemental activities that have most of the kids wild with excitement. L's class has been meeting weekly with a Gymboree Play and Music instructor, and I've watched that class. It's so much fun. The older classes were playing weekly on a Tumblebus, which is a hollowed-out former school bus filled with gymnastics equipment and lots of padding. Now they have weekly sessions with Mr. M, a music teacher, and also an introductory Spanish class.

For all that E inspired the appellation Not-Ever-Still, she was upset during one session on Tumblebus because in her excitement to start she went the wrong way over a one-way climbing wall and the Tumblebus woman called her name out: "E, don't go that way!" Her friends stopped to look at her midway up the wrong side and she was embarrassed by the attention and by the having made a mistake. She refused to get on the Tumblebus at all after that day.

Tumblebus ended and Mr. M and Spanish began. E cautiously enjoyed both at first but quickly was screaming that she didn't want to go to either class. We never know how far to push her and how much to give her space to deal with the world on her own terms. Never mind that we pay extra money for her enrollment in these classes, never mind that all her friends think they're the most wonderful thing ever, never mind that there was once a language-immersion preschool we always envisioned sending our kids to that has diluted its content due to costs and a crappy economy so we never sent E, and this is now the closest thing to language immersion she's going to receive. Is it worth it, if she's screaming not to have to go?

How absurd is this: I asked her regular teacher to ask the Spanish teacher not to call on E and not to speak with her directly, but just to let her be in the room and absorb the lesson without one-on-one contact. And now, E can count to ten in Spanish. She says hola and adios. She asks me to quiz her on the colors in Spanish and she's starting to be comfortable, finally, with the Spanish teacher. It just takes her, apparently, a gazbillion times longer than any other creature on the planet. Give or take a million.

Mr. M comes to the school on Wednesdays and E begins her weekly moaning about him on Sunday nights. When is Mr. M coming? and I don't want to go to Mr. M! and He's not coming tomorrow, is he? and Mama, this isn't Mr. M day, is it?

Is it worth all this? For her to worry days in advance; for her to cry when I drop her off; for her to face that which makes her so uncomfortable -- are we inoculating her? Or are we making her anxieties that much scarier and bigger and badder?

This week I finally got her to talk about why she doesn't like Mr. M. When he and the kids are all singing a song together he calls on the kids who aren't participating and invites or reminds them to join in. So once he said to her, "Come on, E, sing along!"

She didn't want to sing. She was just listening, she told me. She didn't want to sing until she knew all the words, because she didn't want to sing it wrong. But then he called her name out loud, and everyone looked at her, and so she didn't want to sing at all.

She is so my kid.

So what's an empathetic mommy to do? She's three and it's a singing class. It's not like she wants to drop out of the 10th grade.

This morning, amidst the wailing, we struck a deal: one last try. We spoke with her teacher and asked for the same intervention as with Spanish. Could she ask Mr. M not to talk to my girl? And under those terms, tentatively, she stopped crying. She said she'd go.

Guess what? She loved it.

Its a big, bad world of social expectations and social interactions. Baby steps, love. I was so proud of you today.

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In honor of Earth Day

We’re making steps. As we use up a product I replace it with something organic so we reduce the chemicals in our home. We’re up to natural dishwasher soap and hand-dishwashing soap, washing machine soap and shower/bath products, and most of the cleaning agents for the house. We belong to an organic CSA. I’m trying to teach the girls about turning off water while brushing their teeth and not taking an hour to wash hands (but the faucet wants washing, too, Mama!) and not needing every light on in every room and L is really too young to be held responsible and E didn’t really think it was fun to turn the water off but then Moose A. Moose sang and danced about being Eco-Rangers! and she was all into it, for a while, anyway, until Noggin changed its monthly theme to springtime instead so she just wants to talk about using our manners when asking for the purple flowers for the spotted-dog flower seller. For a while she didn’t want to play that game known as Keep-the-Kid-Busy-Without-Her-Ever-Catching-On whereby we propped her up by the kitchen sink and let her rinse all the girls’ spoons and the food containers that are awaiting their journey to the blue recycling box but now that Moosey is evangelizing about the polite way to ask a dog owner’s permission to pet his Best Friend, yeah, we’re back to wasting the water. But hey! We recycle!

You know Moose A. Moose is running a cult, right?

So. We still waste too much water and our heat is set too high (but I’m not giving that up) and I tried cinnamon oil and baking soda to get rid of the ants but ultimately contracted to pay good money for lots of killy chemicals to just do the job already. But, we’re mostly paraben-free and BPA-free and other icky phthalates-free and our milk and eggs are growth hormones and antibiotics-free and we buy our cow and lamb and chicken by the entire grass-fed, free-range carcass or fraction thereof and almost all of our light bulbs are the good kind now! Except, well, the nightlight light bulbs and the over the stove-top light bulb, and also, things like the cars’ headlights’ flashbulbs, and maybe I’ll do this inventory every Earth Day, as a personal day of reckoning.

The thing I think we do best – most thoroughly and most consistently – is the recycling. There’s always a paper bag in the corner of the kitchen filling up with mail and cardboard boxes from new toiletries or packages received, scraps from art projects and leftovers from M’s work brought home. And we’re dutiful with the plastics, metal and glass, too. We don’t have to separate them under our county’s rules, so it’s easy to dump everything in the blue box. They tend to accumulate on the counter by the kitchen sink as the day goes by, and we always make sure they’re rinsed out and in the box before we go upstairs for the night. Our house has an attached two-car garage (which in itself is energy-efficient, right?) so the recycling box sits just past the garage door. All we have to do is open the door, lean out from the house’s hallway, and drop everything.

It’s a little bit of a tight squeeze, between the cars and the recycling boxes, to leave walking corridors into the house but if M and I both park just right, all car doors can more or less open safely, if not quite comfortably. Mostly, we think this system works well enough for us. It beats keeping the recycling on the back porch where animals would probably make a mess of it. Last week, though, we had a test of that faith. M was home already and I drove into the garage, aligning my car between his and the recycling box. He showed up in the doorway to the house and came down the two steps to help E out of her side of the car, while I pulled L out from the seat behind me. For a long time even after she learned to walk we never let L’s feet touch the garage floor, not because of the floor but because she’d go exploring everything: a lick of a radial tire here, a flick of a dirty bumper there, and ooh, how much of my fist can I work into the track for the garage door? But I swear, she’s heavy, that creature, and also she’s reached the stage where she very often objects to being carried anywhere if she sees her big sister walking. So I plopped her down and with a little pat on the bottom said, “go ahead, walk!” All was going well until her big sister stopped on the first of the two steps up into the house. She had dropped the day’s returned art project from school just as she was trying to hand it up to her Daddy to admire. This left L mid-step, and unable to proceed. I knew she was hungry because in the car ride home she had finished her milk cup and wailed at its state of depletion. So although I was disgusted, I shouldn’t have been surprised when she picked up a week-old drinkable yogurt container from the recycling box next to her and started deep-throating it. M looked at her and said to me with his finest shrug and school-boy dimples, “well, at least you know it was rinsed.”
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