Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Yummy Bread and Poopy Doops and Chicken Crackers

That's a seriously gross title.

Anyway, we had company a few weeks ago--my cousin, his wife, and their nine-month-old girl, Avery. And until you have people living in your house with you, you don't realize how strange your life looks to someone who's not dealing with the minutia of it. Watching our family through our beloved company's eyes made me realize: We say some weird stuff.

And I think it's mostly Hadley's fault.

I'm very sure that before Jason and I had Hadley, we didn't have our own secret language. But now, we have a whole new lexicon. I have no idea whence it came, but it's robust. And in case you come to our house and would like to translate for yourself, here's a quick dictionary:

Chicken Crackers: Homemade chicken patties. Etymology: Hadley is a typical toddler. (Read: picky eater) She loves crackers and regards chicken with much skepticism. So when Jason tried a new recipe of chicken patties with apple, onions, breadcrumbs, and a few mild spices, she turned up her nose when we said it was chicken. Then I said, "Oh! I think they're chicken crackers!" Viola. She ate them all.

Yummy Bread: Banana bread. Hadley thought we meant we were going to put bananas on her bread when we mentioned "banana bread." Chaos ensued when she couldn't actually see the bananas.

Caterpillars: Peas on a toothpick. Apparently, it's far more fun to eat caterpillars than it is to eat peas.

Poopy Doops: Exactly what you think they are, but less gross-sounding than the real thing.

Bunny Bear, Bah-Bah, and Lovie: The bedtime trifecta. When you become a parent, you learn quickly that you have to give names to things you'll refer to frequently--for the sake of your sanity and your spouse's sanity. (Otherwise, your conversations go like this:

Me: Where's that bear?
Jason: Which bear?
Me: The pink one.
Jason: Which pink one?
Me: The fluffy pink one, with the gingham ears?
Jason: What's gingham?
Me: Nevermind. I just need that bear!
Jason: Which bear?)

Bunny Bear is a bear dressed as a bunny. (No points for creativity, I know.) Lovie is a small square of pink fleece. Bah-Bah--named by Hadley, actually--is a blanket with a lamb's head on it. (Less weird than it sounds.)

Tubby: A bath, made to sound much more fun than "bath."

Dress: Anything that isn't shorts or pants. Skirts, long shirts, or actual dresses fit into this category.

Little house: A fort made from couch pillows. Sample usage:

Hadley: Let's go to my little house.
Me: [pulling pillows off the couch] Okay, can I visit?
Hadley: Sure! But you have to ding-dong first.

Ding-dong: Noun: Doorbell. Verb: Ring the doorbell. Sample:
Hadley: I can ding-dong at Mumsie's door?

Cozy pants: Any variety of long cotton pants that Hadley prefers to wear during her nap. Derivative: Cozy shorts, less popular than cozy pants but occasionally acceptable on hot days.

Naked baby: Adjective: A state of undress. Usage note: Anyone can be naked baby, regardless of age. If Hadley walks into my room while I'm changing clothes, she says, "Oh, Mommy! You naked baby." When applied to a toddler, "naked baby" can refer to a completely naked child or a child running around in nothing but her diaper.

Happy birthday: any individual's date of birth. Usage: "Mommy, when's your happy birthday?" Note: I really like this one. It presumes birthdays are always happy, which they should be.

Moves: idiosyncratic movements. Sample usage: Jason has two dance moves he uses all the time when we have dance parties in the living room. Hadley mimics them and then says, "Those are Daddy's moves." I make one particular silly face at Hadley. Jason tried to mimic it the other day, and Hadley said, "Daddy, those are Mommy's moves."

So there you have it: The incomplete guide to figuring out what in the world we're talking about at our house. I know the day is coming when Hadley corrects me: "No, Mommy. It's a bath." So for now, I'm going to enjoy the made-up language of love Hadley has given us.

Five Things You Should Know About Toddlers

5. They learn so fast. Case in point: Hadley beat me to "listening" speech I usually give when she's teetering on the edge of disobedience:

"It's time to listen. Mommy not going to ask me again. If I no listen, I go to timeout. Make good choice."

4. Just because they learn it, doesn't mean they'll apply it.

She went to timeout.

3. The first time they embarrass you in public, it's accidental.

"Mommy! That man have a baby in his tummy!" in church. During prayer. In the stage whisper that's no whisper at all.

2. The second time they embarrass you in public, it's because they saw your reaction, and they liked it.

"That guy have a baby in his tummy? And that guy? And that lady have a BIG baby in her tummy!" At the pool. While pointing and yelling. Awesome.

1. You've never felt so humble as you do the minute you realize your two-year-old is out-smarting you.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pride Comes Before the Fall (Asleep)

I think there's a secret force in the world destined to keep mamas humble. It goes by many names: the common cold, picky eating, middle-of-the-Gap disobedience, and--my personal favorite--explosive diapers in public places.

It strikes me when I'm feeling most proud of my mothering: when Hadley is finally eating green vegetables, when I give other moms tips on helping their kids sleep through the night, when I cruise the aisles of Whole Foods with a happy, chatty kid who wants to hold the broccoli. (Certainly there is a nutritive osmosis by which the broccoli actually seeps into her body, right?)

Just when I think I've figured it out, something happens.

This week, "something" is a nap strike.

I'm taking it personally. Silly, right? But I love nap time. I love the sudden quiet of our house and the knowledge that I get to do whatever I want for two whole hours! Exciting babe that I am, that usually involves cleaning, laundry, bill-paying, and writing. But it's MY time...and if I wanted it to include a private karaoke session with the entire "Thriller" album, it could. Because I know all of the words. (When Hadley is 14, she's going to think I'm so cool that she'll let me drop her off only a block from the movie theater.)

And it's just not the same when Hadley is not sleeping, particularly because nap strike sounds like she's working very hard to keep herself awake. It's hard for me to relax while she puts on a tiny one-woman Broadway show. She sings all of the tunes she knows at the top of her lungs, pausing in between to ask Bunny Bear (her sleeping companion), "You like it? You like it? What I should sing next?" Girlfriend is taking requests.

Then she builds a fort with her blanket and tiny pillow, practices her baby yoga moves, or steamrolls Bunny Bear. (I hear her say, "Steamroller!" and then she giggles.)

After about two hours, she hollers for me and when I walk into her room, she says, with her biggest, most charming grin, "I waked up!"

"You didn't sleep," I say.

"But I try hard!" She pretends to be earnest.

I know what's coming: 5:00 meltdown because we can't find the Little People princess or the marker cap doesn't go back on right away or we didn't go swimming today! And before I can wish for a fairy god-nanny, Hadley falls to her knees, hangs her head, and cries big, no-nap tears.

It does no good to say what I want to say, which is: "Hey, kiddo. This is what happens when you don't nap. You feel lousy. I feel lousy. And when Daddy walks in the door in a few minutes, I'm going to give him the evil eye because he's 7.3 seconds late getting here."

Frustration makes me a street philosopher, so here's what I've decided: Parenting guarantees nothing. Just because your kid ate peas yesterday does not mean she'll eat them today. In fact, there's a good chance she'll put them in her pockets and you'll find them gummy and soggy when you pull the wet laundry out the of washer next Tuesday. (Okay, maybe that's just my kid.)

But just like life doesn't guarantee the simple things, it doesn't guarantee the big things either. Nobody promises me she'll do and learn all of the things I hope she does; I don't get to presume she'll always be healthy or happy; there's no assurance that tomorrow, my biggest worry will be whether she will sleep in the afternoon.

So if the nap strike has taught me anything, it's the futility of trying to control the things I cannot. Hadley is her own person, alive and exposed in the world. I cannot make her do everything (or sometimes, anything) I want, nor should I. And more frighteningly, I cannot make the world the kind of place it ought to be, for her or the billions of kids who wander its edges. And most of their parents would be so happy to trade worries with me for a day.

It's all so...humbling. (If I had a nickel for every time I thought that since Hadley was born, girlfriend could go to any college she wanted.)

I'm going to remember the goodness of this life we live the next time Hadley's one-woman show fills our house with song at 2:00 p.m. Maybe I'll try sitting back and listening to the sounds of a joyful, satisfied child.

Or maybe I'll put on my own show. Where did I put that "Thriller" CD?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

And Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

In the last week, two people (bless you!) have asked me about this little blog of mine. And because my ego is easily stroked, and because I miss having a place to share my ruminations about motherhood, and because I'm relatively lousy about filling out Hadley's baby book--I'm back. At least I'll have a few blog posts to share with her when she's 12 and curious about her younger self.

Also, for this fleeting hour, the laundry is done, the kitchen is clean, the toddler is asleep, and I don't have a deadline tomorrow. I can't promise such a moment will ever come again, so I must relish it.

And now, with that preamble aside, I'm not entirely sure where to restart.

With Hadley, I suppose. But how to capture her? She's not a baby anymore. She was an infant wrapped in rolls of chubby flesh; now she's tall and almost thin, as her body burns off those pudgy wrinkles to lengthen her arms and legs. She was a snuggler; now she can barely sit still--unless we're reading books. She was so little and helpless and dependent on me; now "I do it myself" is one of her favorite phrases (second only to "I have a treat?").

There is so much she knows how to do that I don't remember teaching her. She's a whiz at letters and colors and shapes--and I suppose we taught her those things, though I don't remember deciding to--but the stuff that's most amazing to me is less obvious. For example, she pretends. Lately, she has been entertaining the friends from her favorite TV show, "Caillou." Caillou is a four-year-old who has a cat named Gilbert and friends Leo, Clementine, Jason, and Jeffrey.

We spend a lot of time persuading imaginary Clementine or Leo to come out of the kitchen and play in the living room. Sometimes Hadley has to go pick them up: She cups them in her hands (apparently they are quite small) and speaks to them gently: "It's okay. I got you, Leo. I got you. You okay." We must feed them breakfast all the time, and then they have to go to bed. Then one of them needs water or Cheerios or paint. They're a high-maintenance crew.

If I had imaginary friends, they would serve me chocolate-covered strawberries and rub my feet. But that's another story.

We pretend we're at the doctor's office, and when it's Hadley's turn to be the doctor, she listens to my heart, gives me a shot (always), and pronounces me healthy. Then she whispers conspiratorially, "Be patient! You get a lollipop." We pretend we're going to sleep, and she pulls a blanket up over my shoulders and says, "Sleep tight!" We pretend we're owls and we must run around the house, flapping our wings and yelling, "Whoo, whoo!" If you happen to be here for this event, please note in advance that we are owls, not birds. Hadley gets very cross if you don't get that part exactly right.

I wonder what she thinks owls are.

I love the way she orders her world. I wish I could remember thinking in the wide-open realms of early childhood. Owls don't have to be birds. Leo can be six inches tall. The doctor's office can be a complicated vehicle for procuring a lollipop. How will we preserve this sense of possibility as she learns about the world? There are so many rules, so many assumptions, and I wish we could somehow make her aware of them without asking her to swallow them all.

I want her to have a playful childhood. If she's half me (and Jason suspects she's more like 90 percent me), she'll learn life's rules carefully. She'll abide by them, then she'll cling to them because she'll find some satisfaction in meeting them, knowing where to draw the lines and what's expected of her. She'll like benchmarks and gold stars and knowing that you should paint the sky blue when it's easel time because, after all, the sky is blue.

Except when it's pink and purple.

I want her to remember the pink-and-purple sky, the days we eat breakfast for dinner, the joy that comes from having 6-inch-tall imaginary friends, the magic of not having to categorize all things. Sometimes, owls are just owls, right?

And I feel like now is the time to protect that freedom. She is watching and learning what we say and do. She's thinking about it and she's using it to make sense of her world. Of course, I have no idea how to do that, except for playing along when we pretend and not insisting on "right" answers. My hunch is that she will learn those soon enough. I've often had more right answers that I can use, but I sometimes lack for the freedom of thought that gives clever, creative folks the not-as-right-but-really-cool answers.

Hadley is reminding me how to do that. It's an unexpected gift of parenthood, this freedom to play and ignore the world's rules for a while.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to tend to Leo and Clementine. They want to paint the sky purple.