Zero to sixty

speedometer

Man, I had a hard time with the girls on Sunday.  They were at their moody worst on the way to church, and the drama continued as we went into church.  The 8-year-old was being incredibly sensitive and reactionary, melting down over each perceived (or real) slight or indignation from her sister.  And that 12-year-old sister was providing plenty of slights and indignations.  On the sly, I asked for an extra extra “moments of silence to quiet our minds and hearts” that morning.  I got ’em, and the girls got donuts, so somehow we’d reset before heading home.  But, man oh man, it was tough.

I remember, sort of, what it felt like to be 12.  I remember that bubbling, burning sense of rage that would come of of nowhere and be directed usually at my parents. I remember being convinced that my parents were absolutely, without questions, two of the stupidest people to ever walk the earth.  I remember my mood plummeting to abysmal lows, ending in florid sobs on my bed, the kind that ended with those hiccuping, choking gasps.  And I remember that getting to the point of those hiccuping gasps somehow felt good.  I remember falling into fits of laughter so extreme that they’d make me weep, breathless.  I remember that quite often all of these things would happen within the space of any hour.

I’ve christened this preteen to teenage phenomenon Going From Zero To Sixty.  Those unpredictable, uncontrollable emotional shifts.  And boy has the 12-year-old been going from zero to sixty lately. And although I remember feeling that way and can empathize to an extent, I now feel a great deal more empathy toward my own parents, especially my mother.  The sleepless parenting of an infant was tough, but dare I say, this is tougher.  It’s tough to absorb and roll with all of the waves of emotion and not be tempted to answer back in kind. Good Lord, sometimes I want to collapse in florid sobs, but there’s dinner to get on the table!  I haven’t cussed at her yet, but I’m completely confident that it’s just a matter of time, and I want to save up that shocking first time for a moment when I really need to make an impact. 

Moms who’ve been through it reassure me that this is normal, that this too will pass, but that these next few years are going to be tough. Factoring in the 8-year-old, it’ll be a good 10 years before I’m done being jerked around and pummeled by Zero To Sixty moments.  This is why I’ve subscribed to a wine of the month club .  This is why I do yoga on unlimited passes.  And this is why I’m writing this. I know it drives them nuts to hear me kibitz on parenting.  But good lord, can I get an Amen?

The Ol’ Deer Snare

Last weekend the girls stayed at my mom and dad’s.  Staying at Grandma and Grandpa’s is always an interesting experience.  In addition to the treats that are only available there, being in your parent’s childhood home unaccompanied makes for prime snooping time.  When I was little, overnights meant staying up late to watch bowling over a dish of ice milk.  I could stumble across books my mom read as a child, or toys my dad played with, or leftover adolescent residue in their bedrooms. My own parents have moved from my childhood home, so my and my siblings’ childhood detritus has been neatened up a bit.  Still, the Fischer Price farm set is available for my girls, just as when I was a kid, and the same recycled crafts are dragged out for Grandma’s instruction. This time, the gals and Grandma produced pom poms.

The girls also learned about Davy Crockett;  my parents figured out how to use the DVR.  In addition to catching up on Monk and Gunsmoke, they recorded a couple of the Disney Davy Crockett classics.  Growing up, my entire family was well versed in Davy Crockett, thanks to my brother Pete.  The kid was obsessed.  He had a fake coonskin cap and musket by age four, and was devoted to the movies.  We saw all of them multiple times, having recorded them onto VHS during Sunday night Disney Family Movie time.

Dad chose to introduce the girls to the classic, Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, featuring such seminal scenes as the trick shootout with Davy’s nemesis, Mike Fink, and the battle with the injuns, now shockingly inappropriate.  The best scene, though, is when Mike Fink sings his personal anthem, Mike Fink, King of the River.  Dad queued up the scene, and he and I joined in the singing, much to the girls slack-jawed amazement, complete with saucy hip twitches.

After I’d gone, they must have really dug into the Davy Crockett lore.  Most notably Pete’s penchant for setting deer snares to try and catch my mother.  After supper, while mom cleaned up in the kitchen, Pete donned his coonskin cap and fashioned snares out of jump ropes.  Then he and my dad would give each other the signal–the old hoot owl–and shimmy on their bellies into the kitchen to set the snare behind mom at the sink.  She was required to pretend not to notice the grown man and child slithering loudly on the linoleum behind her.  We girls would have been in the other room, studiously ignoring the proceedings. When the signal was given, mom would somehow step into the jump rope snare, fall dramatically to the floor, and be strung up.  I can’t remember what usually happened after that, but God bless her, right?  I can’t stress enough:  THIS HAPPENED REPEATEDLY!

So this morning, I opened the bathroom door and stepped neatly over the jump rope lying on my bedroom floor.  I’m used to unexpected debris magically appearing in otherwise clean rooms. Then I noticed my 8-year-old attached to the end of the rope, looking at me with a look of malignant disappointment.  Noted.  The ol’ deer snare had been resurrected.

When I came down the stairs I noticed another hot pink loop of rope at the bottom of the stairs.  Shoving aside my thoughts of lunches to be made and time running short, I made my way down, paused dramatically in the snare, and fell victim to the newest iteration of Davy Crockett, kind of the wild frontier.  

 

Nostalgia for the Present

nos·tal·gia
näˈstaljə,nəˈstaljə
noun
  1. a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

The word nostalgia is learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος(nóstos), meaning “homecoming” and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain” or “ache”, and was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home.

 

So-this-is-my-life.-And-I-want-you-to-know-that-I-am-both-happy-and-sad-and-Im-still-trying-to-figure-out-how-that-could-be.

 

Today is the last day of elementary school for my oldest daughter.  My social media feeds are swamped with “look back” photos.  The teachers sent out an album and video last night.  I looked at the pictures;  a bunch were of the gang from Kindergarten.  I went back to Facebook.  People are doing the “first day of Kindergarten / last day of sixth grade” thing.  I’m a mess.  I’m afraid to even OPEN the teachers’ video, because I know what it will be.  A series of charming pictures that might push me over the edge in the static form.  But set them to music and gently dissolve between shots?  I will be rendered a hopeless mass.

Some of this is clearly plain old nostalgia for the past.  The platitudes are so universal at this point that they are almost meaningless:  blink and they’re 16!  slow down, time!  boom, they’re graduating!  I wonder if the ease and ubiquitous nature of photos these days makes these comparisons almost too easy.  It only took me about 30 seconds to locate the picture of her starting Kindergarten.  Slap it next to this morning’s picture and I have a recipe for parental nostalgia.

Does everyone suffer this way?  I really don’t deal well with the passage of time.  I’ve written about it before, and practically every days affords me an opportunity to be ripped from the moment and reminded that this, too, is fleeting.  As I attempted to recover from my Facebook reading this morning, I settled on a phrase that I think captures this particular affliction well:  nostalgia for the present.

Lo and behold, a simple search of this phrase reveals I’m not alone in my pathology.  Sia’s first tour was named “Nostalgia for the Present.”  It’s been used as a title for a book on postmodernism and a Berber village.  It is the subject of thoughtful essays on digital media and modern life.  Apparently this is even a field of study in the social sciences where it is termed “anticipatory nostalgia.”

In an attempt to wrench myself from a sobbing fetal position, I read a review article by Krystine I. Bacho, PhD,   It’s titled “Missing the Present Before It’s Gone,” and it did a good job helping me to unpack my feelings this morning.  She talks about work on people, apparently there are more like me, who suffer this affliction.

Recent research suggests that people who have a greater need to belong and less assurance of social acceptance are more prone to anticipatory nostalgia.  It isn’t clear whether a tendency to consider the future can mentally distance a person from ongoing social interactions or whether feeling less integrated encourages one to consider the future.  According to current research, anticipatory nostalgia is neither dissatisfaction with the present nor a gloomy view of the future, but a reluctance to let go of the present.  -Bacho, Psych. Today, 2016

 

Check, check, and….check.  “A reluctance to let go of the present.”  I clutch fiercely to those moments that, as I experience them, I know they will be the snapshots that comprise the flipbook of my life.  The CliffsNotes version of the full story.  The only bits of the constant thrum of daily life that I’ll even be able to recall at the end of it all.  How can I not miss them before they are finished?  Who doesn’t mourn a good book when you arrive at the last chapter?  The last morning of vacation?  The first day of summer?  The good stuff is still happening, but the shutter is clicking.

The writer of this article touches on whether this nostalgia for the present is, essentially, a good thing or a bad thing.  Does it help one in the present, or prevent one from truly experiencing it at all?  All I know is my own experience.  If it weren’t for this heartbreaking affliction, there’s no way I would be able to write.  It stinks to always be a little bit melancholy, but I suppose it’s the trade off for whatever bit of an artist’s eye that I have.

Thank God for poetry.  My searches also led me to a poem by Jorge Luis Borge, a fully fledged, similarly afflicted soul.  It’s so comforting when someone can disassemble your current state, identify its constituent parts, polish them and render them precious, and assemble them into something greater and more universal.  Perhaps you fellow parents suffering from both nostalgia for the past and nostalgia for the present can find solace in his words as well:

Nostalgia for the present

At that very instant:
Oh, what I would not give for the joy
of being at your side in Iceland
inside the great unmoving daytime
and of sharing this now
the way one shares music
or the taste of fruit.
At that very instant
the man was at her side in Iceland.

-Jorge Luis Borges (from the Spanish)

 

Oh well.  If that doesn’t work, I’m pretty sure that’s also why they invented wine.

 

 

 

 

I Went To The Woods To Live Peripherally: Random thoughts on sixth grade camp

Last week I chaperoned sixth grade camp.  This is a thing wherein all of the 350-odd sixth graders in our school district’s five elementary schools are combined prior to heading off to middle school, where they will officially become one class.  The kids are carefully assigned to cabins and groups so that maximum mixing of unknown variables occurs over the time period.  They do a lot of camp-ish activities, but I’m pretty sure that the main goal is to meet new people and break down the elementary school tribal barriers.  In addition to geocaching and a preferred method to tie-dye, here’s a few things I learned:  

Sixth graders still make friends by kid rules, i.e., easily and quickly.  The first day, the kids stuck fiercely by the people that they knew from their own schools, come hell or high water.  Unlike adults, however, they had pretty much gotten over themselves by the dawn of the second day. At the end, when the camp leader asked for everyone who had made a new friend or met a new person to raise their hand, every hand was raised.  Phone numbers were exchanged and, much to my locked-down-phone daughter’s chagrin, Snapchat handles were shared.

They make friends quickly, but the taxonomy has already been established.  I don’t mean to suggest that camp consisted of one big, happy, homogenous, kumbaya group.  The other thing I was amazed by was the sorting that happened. See, the whole bunch of kids were shaken out of their standard school social groups, dumped in a big bucket, shaken around, and then dumped back out.  The less jaded among us might hope that friendships would then coalesce randomly. Far from it.  All of the usual groups that were there when I was in school?  They were reformed and replicated almost as soon as the proverbial bucket turned over.  I especially noticed this among the girls, although to be fair it could be that I’m simply better able to identify the calling cards of girl social groups.  The socially elite, all wearing the same hairstyle and striding confidently in a clutch through camp. The sporty girls, all slightly differently yet similarly attired;  they seemed to be the girl group that had mastered interacting with the boys in a social setting most effectively.  The solid middle class, which would have been my people, mostly sticking to themselves but having fun.  The confident outsiders, banning together and wearing their weirdness proudly. The oblivious. The lost. It was hard for me to see my own daughter and her longtime friends from way back re-sorting in this way.  I settled on my message for the inevitable re-sort: I don’t care if you are best friends with everyone, but you better darn well be kind to everyone.

sixth grade camp Sean

Frenemies with Sean since 3K….

sixth grade camp canoeing

they paddled back safely.

I’m not sure why I work so hard on meals.  I don’t make something gourmet every night, but I try cook seasonally and thoughtfully.  I consider myself a moderately accomplished home cook.  My daughter requested that I start cooking more like camp, which I guess means heating up individual pizzas and making institutional mac and cheese.

 

Sixth grade girls are very into personal hygiene, and yet they kind of aren’t.  I had girls scanning their schedules as soon as we arrived, planning when they were going to shower.  They discussed which showers they were going to use, and planned showering dates with friends with the urgency of a debutante ball.  They compared notes on what they’d wear to and from the shower, and compared the scent of overwhelmingly fruity scented products in the impossibly steamy bathrooms.  So, yeah, they were into it. (Aside: I was reminded why I don’t love dorm style showering. I attended a residential college, so dorm showers were my lot for four straight years.  And I’ll still have an occasional nightmare about showering, ranging from arriving at the shower area without any products, to the general condition of the showers come Sunday evening after a day and half without janitorial attention).  But they don’t really have the details down. For example:  removing one’s wet shoes and socks before they are allowed to ferment on one’s feet over an entire day. They didn’t quite master that detail.  The smell that greeted me upon returning to the cabin that second night was just rank.  We immediately banned any and all footwear to the outdoors, and the girls attempted to mitigated with fruity scented products. It helped…a little. I can only imagine the situation in the boys’ cabins.

sixth grade camp shoes

Ewwwww

Sixth grade is a time of great leaps of maturation, both physically and otherwise.  

sixth-grade-camp-height-e1527621077513.jpg

I managed to capture this shot one night during game time–these are both sixth graders!  The range of physicality in the room was astonishing, from kids who look like they still need a booster seat to ride in the car safely to those that I wouldn’t bat an eye at if they showed up as my Uber driver.  Along with the size, boy does a lot of change happen during this year. I don’t even know how to describe or capture it exactly, but some invisible divide is crossed, imperceptibly for most of them. For example, back in October when parents were asked to volunteer to chaperone, I swear that my daughter gave me an enthusiastic “yesyesyes.”  However several weeks ago, I was met with mild eye rolling and “Okaaaaay.” Same kid. Same trip. Same mom. Six months. I can barely keep up with where she’s at mentally and emotionally. Parenting through tricky moments feels like a craps shoot–I never know who I’m going to get! Which reminds me to point out:  sixth grade teachers an amazing breed.  Those that have stayed with it are so nimble with these kids, they seem to be able to meet them wherever they’re at, sometimes this means addressing different audiences in the same actual audience simultaneously. It looks exhausting.

 

sixth-grade-camp-molnar.jpg

sixth grade camp Molnar 2

Mr. Molnar, the guy in the blue shirt, has this crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.

 

I have found my spirit animal and she wears a green khaki shirt.  One evening we had campfire time, which was led by a no-nonsense, extraordinarily loud woman with a practical gray haircut.  I’d put her in her early 60s. She’s been doing this for over 30 years, and she had it down. Sure the kids rolled their eyes at the overly dramatic enunciation of the campfire songs, but by golly they all learned the words!  And all but the most jaded were forced to laugh and participate in the end. She even taught me a few I didn’t know, which is amazing. Then she ran the most militarized s’mores situation I’ve ever witnessed. It took 10 minutes to debrief the kids on the exact steps necessary to accomplish getting s’mores into 85 kids without anyone being burned or impaled.  But again, by golly she did it. Afterward Natalie informed me that she knew that’s what I’m going to be like someday. Well, CLEARLY.

sixth grade camp smores'

Note:  all s’mores are to be cooked from A KNEELING POSITION.

 

The adults really can’t hang.  We need ice. We need more sleep.  We need ready access to toilet facilities.  We need to not be awoken late at night because our cabin is having a farting competition and then, shockingly, needs to be chaperoned to the bathrooms to poop.  We need sleep! It felt like how I used to feel after 36 hours of call during intern year, complete with interludes on a desperately uncomfortable mattress with half-sleep punctuated by periods of being jerked awake.  By the last morning we looked rough. The adults started to perk up, however, when the countdown to camp ending reached the minutes phase. I got home and slept for three hours. My daughter watched a little TV and launched into a Memorial Day Weekend of a full social calendar.  

muppet.gif

Another mom shared this accurate portrayal of the final morning’s mood amongst the parents

 

So, I was exhausted.  But I’m so glad that I got to go.  For one, I had a Big Emotional Moment with my daughter.  This girl is as even keel as they come. She doesn’t enter into a whole lot of negative drama, which is great.  But she doesn’t give me a whole lot of positive emotion either, aside from the automated “love you’s” that echo my own.  On the last day, she spontaneously gave me a little half hug and told me that “you’re not the worst mom here.” Seriously, cross-stitch that on a throw pillow, because it made it all worthwhile.  On a less personal note, I got a real sense of where my daughter’s at and the social milieu that awaits her when she enters middle school. I felt like I got to see the last glimpse of these kids, many of whom I’ve known since they were three, for the last time, at least as a group.  As they milled about in a scrum waiting for their buses to take them back for what will surely be the eight most useless days of school of their lives, I teared up. It’s the end of an era.

sixth grade camp selfie

She finally agreed to a selfie

sixth grade camp

Stepping up to the invisible divide.

Like A Book

things-that-annoy-mom.jpgNatalie forgot to make me a mother’s day card.  This wasn’t a big deal, though, because she made me a little sketch during church service.  Our church kindly provides little cardboard card stock slips that are meant to be used for newcomers’ to fill out.  I believe that the bulk actually are used by small, bored children.  I always keep pens in my purse, including some of those cool “four colors in one” pens that haven’t changed at all since I was a kid.  Between the card stock, the quad-color pen, and her own ingenuity, she came up with something far better than a standard card.  She made a visual representation of things that annoy me.   And holy cow, does my 11-year-old have me pegged.  Here’s what she came up with:

things-that-annoy-mom1.jpg

People who don’t know how to work four way stops.  Heading north out of our subdivision I hit two heavily trafficked four-ways in rapid succession.  And it’s rare that I exit them without muttering and cursing under my breath.  The most annoying to me are the sneaky people who get to the intersection before you, even though it happened three cars before you’re both to the front of your respective lines.  They keep track and assume that, once you’re both to the front, they get to go first. Now, if I happen to pull up to empty intersection concurrent with or a bit after someone who’s been in line for a few rounds?  Clearly they get precedence and can go out of the “my turn / your turn” order.  But those jackasses that attempt to sneak out out of turn because they happened to have been waiting in a longer line than me?  Nononono.  I hope you understand my explanation, because if you attempt to argue with me, it’s not going to go well.

 

Things that annoy mom

Chalk.  This isn’t so much annoyance as pure revulsion.  I know there was a time when I looooved to be called to the front to write on the black, slate chalkboards of St. Mary’s school, preferably with white, not yellow, chalk.  Something has changed, and now I hate thinking about it, seeing it, and I really hate touching it.  The thought of drawing with chalk sends me into apoplexy.

 

things-that-annoy-mom3.jpg

When the dog vomits up underwear.  I’ve shared this previously, but I can’t remember if I told you that he’s vomited up at least 6 pairs at this point.  I don’t think that this particular dislike is unique to me, but I like the drawing.

 

When the dog jumps on the bed.  Obi attended puppy training when he was about 3 months old, and we’ve sort of winged it since then.  We enrolled in a formal obedience class about a month ago, and the instructor is big into all of the environmental controls and cues that should be instituted to remind the dog who is the head of the pack.  One of these is keeping the dog off the bed.  Some of us are buying into this philosophy more than others, and it’s not so much the dog getting on the bed, but when it’s coupled with said non-adopter hanging out on the bed with the dog.

 

 

When the girls sleep on the floor next to the bed.  It’s not so much their being there.  I admit that I relish those nights when everyone goes to bed easily, in their own beds, on the first request, and sleeps there all night.  Those three nights were great.  But I accept that due to fear or a strange desire to hang out, they like to sleep in sleeping bags on the floor of our room on the weekends.  Fine.  But they shuffle directly next to the bed and squeeze in there in such a way that my nightly trip to the bathroom is way too tricky.  I don’t need a Double Dare Physical Challenge at 2 a.m.

 

Things that annoy mom

When the girls ask me about food.  This includes constantly begging to stop at Starbucks as soon as they enter the car, asking what’s for the next meal as soon as the previous one was finished, complaining about said meals, and requesting a different meal than what is already being cooked.  Stop talking to me about food until you’re asking “where can I take you for dinner, mom?”  This is one of the big benefits of cooking in a crock pot:  they can easily identify what’s for dinner early in the day and begin to complain about it in advance without needing my input.

 

Things that annoy mom

The never ending stream of Amazon boxes.  I have to admit, I am a fan of the Prime.  However, Jimmy has a problem.  I have opened entire shipping crates packed to accommodate a single bottle of salad dressing.  This doesn’t seem necessary.  Or he accidentally buys in bulk:  a case of 36 car-compatible tissue boxes.  Or he buys a giant inflatable yard Yoda.  The one that pushed me over the edge, though, was the time I opened a large box to discover a 2-foot high vinyl replica of a bust of Shakespeare in which the head could be raised to reveal a safe.  This is apparently a nod to something from the original Batman TV series.  To me, it was a crazy thing to arrive on a random September day.  The neighbors joke about us and are slightly concerned that the constant traffic is illegal in some way.  I always say, though, if this is his worst vice, I can live with it.  I just take every-other-day trips to the recycling center for all of the flattened boxes…

So, that was my mother’s day card, highlighting all of my best, most charming traits.  Once I realized what she was doing, I asked that she draw just as many items that make me happy as she had items that irritate me.  I hoped that my daughter’s image of me was more than a summation of a list of things that rub me the wrong way.   I hoped she’d come up with all sorts of sweet things  like “being with me” and “warm hugs.”  As we’ve already seen, she knows me far too well.  I’m apparently quite bitter and jaded, because she barely came up with the requisite number, but they’re pretty spot on, and I’ll take what I can get.

“Things that don’t annoy mom:”

  • The Great British Baking Show
  • Laughing
  • Flowers
  • Family Tree / Genealogy
  • FB 24 / 7 (soooo not true)
  • Piano
  • Korean Soap Operas
  • Cooking
  • My Cup of Coffee

 

things mom likes

Just Not One of Those Moms

I like having the house all to myself.  It soothes me to get it straightened up and, for some hours of the day, to know that the state of order won’t be constantly eroded.  I wasn’t home alone this past weekend.  And I hit a mothering breaking point.  It kind of embarrasses me, but I’m hoping that some commiseration and like-mindedness will improve my sense of self worth.  You see, unlike the mothers in those commercials for paper towels, I just can’t handle out of control messes–AT ALL. 

 

paper towel ad

 

You know the ads.  The kids are baking and, OOPS!, they spill a bag of flour all over.  Hahaha, no problem!  Let’s dab it on eachother’s noses and throw in some eggs for good measure!  I have some awesome paper towels that will make it all better instantly!  Oh you kids, nothing you do can make me lose my temper! 

I hate that prototype.

I know that patience is a virtue and I try, really I do.  I’m patient about other things–listening to music lessons, reading long books.  That’s really about it, I guess.  But something about in-your-face messes just gets to me.  This is why I often suggest that to keep mom in a good mood, having the area just inside the garage door neat and tidy will go a long way.  Create a jumbled heap of shoes and bags and coats and papers and rocks for me to step over–I’m going to be surly.  I just am.   So to actually stand by and WATCH such a gory mess accumulate? Not in my skill set.   

Now, baking with the girls?  Love it.  I control the counter top and we stay ahead of the mess.   But lately they’ve wanted to bake all on their own.  Again, I know in my brain that this is a good thing, but my symmetry-loving, clear-countertop-relishing gut refuses to fall in line.  This weekend’s bake-a-thon was extra special as the baking happened while I was attempting to cook some dishes to take to a neighbors informal pot luck later that night.  Where’s my counter space, huh? To gild the guilt lily, it actually involved a moment that should have made me proud. Natalie invited the five-year-old neighbor to come and bake with her, a lovely, heart warming, mature gesture.  But.  Not only did Natalie have to get the baking completed from start to finish, but she had to shepherd a preschooler at the same time.  

Natalie is an enthusiastic, exuberant, terribly unfocused baker. I frequently find myself intervening before a teaspoon of baking soda becomes a tablespoon, or she forgets something like flour altogether. And the mess, oh sweet Jesus the mess. There is no attempt to keep one’s work space clean as is extolled on those TV cooking competitions.  Lids are left off of all ingredients, measurements routinely overflow and pool around the mixer. Eggshells drip their contents over the counter and onto the floor, where they are mashed into a slurry along with spilled dry ingredients and then crushed underfoot and spread throughout the kitchen and the rest of the house. But she got the job done, and sort of even cleaned up the dishes after herself.  

That’s when Evie announced that she too wanted to bake something. I was already at the end of my proverbial rope, so she really bore the brunt of frustrated mommy.  Oh well, she got her No Talent Cake (actual name as written on the recipe from my mother.  Self esteem issues anyone?) in the oven, and I hightailed it out to take a drive to the grocery store.  My car was an oasis of calm, and I left vague yet threatening instructions about getting the kitchen back in order before I got back. Those poor kids. But I just can’t believe that every other house is inoculated against the panic that child-led cooking brings about, just because they own brand name paper towels. It can’t just be me, can it????

If I hadn’t been me

The other day, my 8 year old was having anxiety about who she would be if she’d never been born.  She’s never been one to present me with easy “worries before bed” topics.  One summer when she was around four, every night she worried about dynamite blowing up the house.  I could only calm her down with the white lie that dynamite ONLY works on boulders, such as in train track construction.  As she’s gotten older, things have become a bit more nuanced, but still quite challenging.  So I wasn’t exactly surprised by the nature of this most recent concern.  And strangely, I knew just how to relate–because as a kid, I had the exact same preoccupation:  if I wasn’t me, then who would I be?

I wonder if there’s a name for this particular obsession?  It gets to the heart of what it means to be human, what makes one unique in the cosmos, and the fleeting and illusory nature of consciousness.  Big thoughts to be having as an 8 year old.  While I remember having them at that age as well, for me the question didn’t exactly come out of the blue.  Rather it came from a book by Dr. Seuss that my Grandma Bier had, a big, hard covered picture book about a magical land that you go to on your birthday.  

happy birthday to you

Disturbing Dr. Seuss book

The book is probably intended to make kids giddy with with wild fantastical nature of a land all for you, but it mostly stressed me out.  I didn’t ever want to be whisked away from my bed by an odd, slightly bird looking yellow man only to go to a land of  very circuitously constructed aqueducts.  There was a line in the book something like “if you hadn’t been you, what would you be?…..You might be a bag of old dusty potatoes.”  Now that shook me up.  First, if I could be a bag of potatoes, that indicated that potatoes might be sentient, and I couldn’t even beginning to wrap my head around that.  Also, the idea that me-ness might be transmutable? No thank you, Dr. Seuss.  

potatoes

Imagine this, but hung in an unheated laundry room and you’ll get the general idea.

When I was little, the potatoes were hung in one of those wire baskets in the laundry room,  an unheated lean-to attached to the north side of the kitchen.  The basket also served as an improvised hanging area for dad’s umpiring uniform shirts.  Those potatoes led a fairly forlorn existence, and every time I caught sight of them, I thought of that stupid book.  What if I were the potatoes?

So I knew we were in trouble when my daughter came to me with a particularly disturbing book to read last night:  Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.

sylvester

Sylvester and the very concerning pebble.

In this shockingly award winning book, a donkey named Sylvester discovers a pebble that grants his wishes, and he accidentally wishes to become a rock.  Then he’s a sentient rock for OVER a YEAR until he luckily is turned back by a series of deus ex machina style plot twists.  He’s a rock out being snowed on day in day out while his parents cry at home.  GOOD LORD HOW WAS I READING THIS TO HER?  I tried to focus a lot on the more ridiculous aspects of the book, so that she wouldn’t realize just how disturbing the notion that you (or in this case, a donkey) could just turn into a rock version of themselves.  It just makes the whole potato proposition all  the more probable.

There’s a couple of lessons to be learned here.  One, children’s books can really freak people out, so let’s treat lightly, OK.  Two, treat your potatoes well.  And three, welcome to the world of lifelong existential angst, oh daughter of mine!