[The following transcript was edited and approved by my husband.]
Me: “Guys, you have to be quiet this morning, Daddy’s on a call to Tokyo in the office.”
Baxter: “Wow, hope he doesn’t get interrupted by Godzilla!”
Me, laughing and thinking to myself, Gee, I really don’t know anything about Godzilla, do I? And how does he??
Me: “You should’ve heard Baxter when I told him you were on a call with Tokyo!”
Matt: “Why? What’d he say?”
Me: “He said, ‘Hope he doesn’t get interrupted by King Kong!’”
Matt, perplexed: “That’s strange…”
Me: “Oh. There’s nothing in the King Kong story about Hong Kong? Ooooh, wait. I see. He was just making a King Kong/Hong Kong rhyming connection, I guess. Funny.”
Matt, looking at me quizzically: “Except that Hong Kong’s in China and Tokyo’s in Japan…”
Me, frustrated: “What does that have to do with this?”
Matt: “Only that Tokyo is where I was calling.”
Me: “Oh, so I guess he didn’t say King Kong because he was rhyming.”
Matt: “Maybe he meant Godzilla?”
Me: “Yes! That’s what he said. Of course.”
Matt: “So why did he say Godzilla, if you told him I was calling Hong Kong?”
Me: “No, no, no. I did tell him you were calling Tokyo! I guess I must’ve confused Godzilla with King Kong.”
[And then I went to work and attempted to assist young people with communication challenges. Oh. my. God.]
I. Time is a gift. Just ask my 4-year old. It’s all he wants.
He’s not interested in a nice vacation or a fancy car, just time with me.
Time to play with trains, cars, and small trucks. To sit on the floor and chat as we run miniature vehicles over tracks, bridges, and construction sites pieced together with tissue boxes and blankets. Or maybe to perch on small stools at a miniature table surrounded by construction paper, Scotch tape, string, and bits of colorful ribbons, wrapping up those small vehicles and giving them to each other as gifts.
“Mommy, can you just try to forget what I put in here?” he asks as he awkwardly folds light blue paper over the Little People bus driver right in front of me and pulls out eleven inches of tape, truly believing that an affirmative answer indicates a mother’s memory immediately erased.
“Yes, I can. I have no idea what’s in there,” I pretend, amused by his satisfied smile. I wait as he winds the tape around the package and watch him hide the bundle under the bookcase with the other surprises. Later, he tells me, we will have a party to celebrate this, my twenty-first birthday.
It will be my best birthday yet.
II. I light three candles at church, creating a glow that sends love and peace across the country to a place where a family grieves one of life’s worst losses, the death of a young mother. The first candle is carefully lit for my friend, the second for the beloved cousin she lost to Leukemia a few days ago, and the third for a 3-year old girl suddenly left without a mother.
It is difficult to stop lighting those candles. What about that woman’s grieving husband? Her parents? Her sister? Sometimes there are simply too many candles to light.
It is my worst nightmare, this idea of dying and leaving young children behind. Growing up, I knew six young people from three different families who were orphaned when their parents died. One of them, a 6-year old boy, lived with my family between the deaths of his father and mother. He was separated from his 2-year old brother, who lived with relatives during that period. I also knew two families who had lost their fathers in car accidents. Losing my parents was a regular source of worry in my teen years, and this was transformed into a heightened sense of my own mortality after I had children. I have probably never admitted to anyone that I often catch myself assuming that I will die young. This is true, despite the fact that both sides of my family have a strong history of longevity. I take photos, capture special moments on video, and write about my experiences with my boys to preserve as much as I can. To leave a trail, I suppose, in case I am suddenly gone when my children are too young to fully remember me. Perhaps fearing that I can be forgotten as quickly as a hastily wrapped Little People figure in construction paper and tape.
I think about the loss of this young mother and feel the sadness wrapped around me like a very heavy blanket.
III. “Mommy, can we make Halloween cookies?” he asks after church. I nod. “Yes, we can. Do you want to help me make the dough while your brother is at soccer?” I ask. He does.
He measures, counts, and tries to read the list of ingredients with me. This boy who wants to be a baker when he grows up cracks eggs like a pro and fishes out the bits of shell that inevitably make it into the bowl when he is put in charge. He is proud of his work.
After adding the eggs and vanilla to the shiny aluminum bowl of the new Kitchen Aid, I tell him he can control the mixer. “What number, Mommy?” he asks. Consulting the manual’s description of each speed, I instruct, “Number 4, please.” He gradually moves the lever up from 1 to 2, and then pauses. Looking at me with dark brown eyes I know well from my own mirror, he asks tentatively, “Can we just leave it at 2 this time?” I consider for a moment that mixing the dough on a slower speed would stretch out this special time together, and that on some level this is what he is asking for, and in fact is all he ever wants from me.
“Of course,” I tell him, “that’s fine,” and smile down into those eyes. “Thank you, Mommy,” he says softly, and reaches out his little arm, linking it with mine, drawing me closer. “I love you, Sweetie,” I tell him, and kiss his forehead. “I love you, too,” he replies, folding himself into my arms to be held.
The time we have together now is really all that matters. How clearly I can see that today.
1. He starts to roll his eyes at you. With good-natured dramatic effect, but still.
2. He listens to you talk in a strange accent and says tentatively, surprised at his own reaction, “That’s actually kind of annoying, Mommy!”
3. Going into a store to buy clothes doesn’t provoke a freak-out. No, in fact, the older child will enjoy choosing his own clothes and be willing to try them on. He will also appreciate the music in the changing room and show off his air guitar skills for the mirror in his Old Navy jeans and t-shirt. He will later express amazement that he “could walk into a store and just buy clothes” – without the help of the Internet and UPS.
4. He cuddles up with you on the big bed and says, “Mommy, I saw that you filled out the Picture Day form already. You checked off a gray background for me. I was thinking I might like to try green…” You try not to look at him as if he’s from another planet and say, “Of course, honey, whatever you want! You’ve never seemed interested in that before, so it didn’t occur to me to ask you.” To which he responds, “I guess I never noticed it.” Umm, yeah. Along with about a million other things that you suddenly care about.
5. He pores over the electoral map with the intensity he has previously reserved for dinosaurs, Charlie Brown fact books, and Pokemon. As if his life depends on it. And then asks 3,254 questions about it, understanding it better than his mother does within about half an hour.
6. He wakes up and asks how the debate went and what they talked about. He loves hearing his parents riff about Joe the Plumber, and then listens with amazement at the dinner table to tales of “Joe” being “Samuel” and not a licensed plumber. From then on, he refers to him as “Samuel” when talking about him, making us laugh uproariously.
7. And, just because it just has to be said again: he loves to iron.
I need to give a shout-out here to a couple of my favorite Wonderfriends, because really cool sh*t seems to keep showing up in the mail for me these days.
First of all, there is Kristen, who writes at from here to there and back. Kristen, whom I’ve met in person a few times now and love as much as I knew I would from reading her blog, was kind enough to mail Baxter a handful of Harry Potter forehead lightning bolt tattoos for his Halloween costume. Her son, GP, is also dressing up as Harry Potter this year and had some extras. Here they are:
And then there’s the similarly thoughtful HeatherK, whose eponymous blog is also lovely and features some gorgeous photographs of her three children. I have not met her yet, but hope to someday. HeatherK saw the post last week about my boys learning to iron – and knew that we are huge Obama fans – and sent my kids a pair of white t-shirts and iron-on Obama logos. Those arrived today and the boys can’t wait to get back to the iron. They’ll wear those shirts with pride. Here they are:
Thank you, Kristen and Heather.
And seriously. Wonderfriends?
From the bottom of my heart: you are awesome.
In accordance with his recent burst in maturity, 7-year old Baxter asked for an allowance last week. This was a topic Matt and I had discussed a bit in the past, but had come to no conclusion.
We knew that we wanted to use the “thirds” philosophy of children’s allowances, in which they are asked to save 1/3, give away 1/3, and spend 1/3 of what they are given. So in order to keep the weekly amount small but easily divisible by 3, we settled pretty quickly on $3 a week.
There goes my Pumpkin Spice Latte. Damn kids. That shouldn’t have too much of an impact on the budget.
Baxter was thrilled, and immediately asked for a notebook to write “notes about money”, which is shown in the photograph above. He plans to send his “give away” money to Obama for now, but thinks that most weeks he’ll put it in the children’s collection plate at church, and is saving those meager weekly funds for “invention supplies”, a Pokemon t-shirt, and a Webkinz (because God knows we need more stuffed animals). I’ve been trying to tell him that his first $1 could buy him an entire U.S. bank right now, but he’s surprisingly disinterested.
The part that was trickier for us to decide upon was whether to tie his allowance to “chores” around the house. This is what I grew up with, and I have a hard time imagining him getting out of bed to do what he’s supposed to do as a teenager without the carrot of an allowance dangling in front of his nose. However, we are going along with what we believe philosophically, and that is that children help out around the house because they are part of a family. We do our part, and so do they. The allowance is not related to this, but rather is about learning to manage money and giving them a sense of independence.
I think we’ll probably do well enough with this, given that I’ve already had plenty of conversations with the boys about the fact that in a family everyone does things to help each other out. I’ve pointed out that if they are going out of their way to help each other and their parents, then others in the family will be more likely to help them when they need it. I’ve acted out the correlate of this a couple of times, pretending to mull over a request quietly, “Hmm, I remember when I asked him to pick up his clothes and put them in the hamper earlier and he made a really big deal about it, stomping around and yelling. I’m not sure if I want to go out of my way to go get the play doh out of the closet right now when I’m busy making dinner…maybe we’re not the kind of family who helps each other out?” It seems to have worked, because the boys really do what we ask them to do pretty quickly the majority of the time, just as we do for them.
I guess what I’m not sure about is how it’ll go when we hit adolescence, but for now it ought to work pretty well.
How are you handling the allowance issue with your kids, now or in the future?
Earlier today I was pondering the significance of the dip in my blogging frequency of late, which led me to think too about the general dearth of my own posts that feel substantive to me. My automatic answer to myself was, “I’ve been too busy,” but that’s not actually the way it works for me. In fact, I write a heck of a lot more often when I am overly busy and stressed out. It’s how I process things and deal with stress; in fact, it works very well.
No, what I came to is that I am writing less because things are okay. Good, even. As I pointed out in this post, everything is moving ahead in the right direction. I am getting work done and not procrastinating as much because I am able to focus. Sure, there is an incredibly important national election going on right now and the economy is in the toilet – I am following these things carefully – but in terms of my day-to-day life and the things that have been stressing me out for a couple of years, it’s settling down.
Having said that, this evening found me at a council meeting for an organization Matt and I have chosen to be part of for the past year and a half. It happens to be an organization that suddenly finds itself in a great deal of upheaval and is struggling to make major changes. At the beginning of our meeting the five of us around the table were asked to talk about how we deal with change and transitions, both in our personal lives and as it pertains to this organization.
I had a real a-ha! moment as I thought about the questions. My first internal reaction to the topic was, “Change? I love change. I crave change and seek it out…it’s not something I worry about how to deal with.” And that’s true. You don’t move as many times as Matt and I have, and take the kinds of professional risks and challenges I’ve taken if you dislike change. It energizes me in a huge way, even as I appreciate being settled in my own home at last, and hope to stay here for a good many years. But for the most part, the big changes in my life (deciding when to have my babies, where and when to move, how to create a good work life for myself) have been driven by me (or my husband and me) – not from an outside party.
There is a reason I work for myself, Wonderfriends. This is no coincidence. I have absolutely no tolerance for bullshit, and that includes administrators handing down edicts about what I can or cannot do when it comes to my work, particularly when such decisions are based on tight finances and not what is best for a child but we aren’t allowed to say so. I know excellent therapists who can handle this, and let me tell you, it’s a lucky thing, because otherwise our schools and hospitals would be without good people.
But I can’t deal with it. And you know what? If you look at my nuclear family, we’re all that way. Right now, three out of four Sadlers are running our own businesses, and my mother ran her own business when I was growing up. (Here is my Dad’s company and here is my brother’s.) And, by the way, there are some major similarities in the work we do which I bet you’ll be able to spot.
However, the point is that I’m finding it very difficult to patiently work through the process of change in this organization. To be honest, more often than not these days I am entertaining thoughts of jumping ship and looking for a substitute. I’ve been counseling myself to slow down and be patient and understanding, telling myself that like any relationship that matters to me, it’s important to work through the tough times and have some faith that things will improve. But it wasn’t until tonight that I understood why those particular changes have been hard for me when I really don’t fit the “No one likes change” generalization that gets tossed around.
I don’t need to be in charge everywhere. I am grateful that I’m not. No, what I need, when change in something that really matters to me is initiated by someone else, is a lot of clarity. I need explanations and warning and time to ask questions and think about it to be sure I’m on board. Just like at work, I cannot tolerate being handed some new decision that feels illogical or as if it is hiding another motive.
This is an important thing to realize about myself because if I know it, I can ask for it and look for it in those organizations I join and in which I take roles of leadership. It gives me new insight about my own needs and tendencies, and I am able to see why I am so focused, on track, and more content this fall. I’m certain that it’s because I have some big changes in place this fall and am working towards much bigger ones in the coming year.
And I resolve to write about whatever I’m pondering, even when things are going well.
Watch out, little ladies, here come the Gordon boys…they iron, they go to the grocery store, and after unloading the food they start cookin’ up some tacos with a fake Chicago accent. In other words, they are winning big points around here and they’re a damn good catch (sorry, the tallest one is spoken for).
1. Great teachers for both of my boys. Their teachers get them and respect them. When I had my parent conference with Lyle’s preschool teachers yesterday, they made me feel so at ease with his development and readiness for school next year that I wanted to kiss them. I don’t think I realized how worried I was about how young he’ll be when he heads into kindergarten, making the cut-off by a mere 3 days. Oh, and I know my Wonderfriends would snicker to hear that they noted how quiet he is at school, and said the best adjective to describe him would be “composed”. You can be sure I’ll be sending them some home videos.
2. Routine. Blissful routine. In a way, it doesn’t matter that your life is a little bit too hairy if, at least most of the time, you have a weekly routine to follow. Getting it all started is overwhelming, but after a couple weeks of rushing from Point A to Point B every Wednesday night it does go more smoothly. I always need to remember that.
3. Giving the nanny access to the measuring spoons. By a stroke of ill fate, we ended up this year with 5 hours a week when we are paying a nanny to be at our house and sending Lyle to preschool. Although at first this seemed like nothing short of the financial kiss of death, we eventually embraced the fact that we could ask her to do some Really Helpful Things during this time. This week, I finally sat down ahead of schedule to choose recipes and buy ingredients so that she could make a few dinners for us. It would be difficult to describe how wonderful this was. Not only did we have three fabulous meals, but the leftovers were much appreciated at lunchtime. In the end, what we’ll save by not ordering pizza will probably make up for the overlap in paid childcare. (So, hey, Niksmom, send over that salmon recipe you gave Lori, will ya?!)
4. Maturation. Not mine, mind you, but the boys’. They are growing up before my eyes. The little tykes want to help with everything. In the past couple of days Baxter has expressed an interest in cooking on his own (we’ll start with eggs this weekend) and has begged to iron for me. (I took out the iron to press a pair of pants before my meeting last night and he was fascinated – he only sees it twice a year!) I’m going to give him a pile of cloth napkins and placemats this weekend and let him go to town. And Lyle? He is demonstrating for the first time that he is capable of spending an hour entertaining himself in “quiet time” when asked, and is sometimes apologizing to me that he’d rather play with Baxter than with me. To which I hold myself back from replying, “It’s about damn time!”
5. The Presidential Campaign. I’m loving it. I’m especially loving this. And I’m really, truly loving that the experts seem to be saying that Obama/Biden are most likely going to win at this point. Only twice now have I let myself really imagine this happening and how I’d feel, and each time I have teared up. In a big way. I am grateful that Election Day is not a work day for me because I can already tell you that if we elect Obama and Biden, I’ll be weeping all day. And probably for days afterward.
6. My work. The preschool is going amazingly well and my new full-time employee is working out as beautifully as I expected. Also, the opportunity to do another SCERTS lecture last night – local this time! – was fantastic. Oh, and I have an accountant who knows what she is doing and is helping me immensely.