Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Ramblings from my attic #96

Expecto Patronum!

We’ve all been there (at least the mortal and imperfect among us). “I want that toy.” “No, we’re here to buy groceries, not toys.” “I WANT THAT TOY!” “No.” “I HATE YOU!”

Vesuvius erupts. You steel yourself to the disapproving glances of the uninitiated and the smug and manage to hold your shrieking tyke down in the child seat of the cart with one arm, unload and pay for your groceries with the other, then flee the store. The shrieking tyke is usually two, weighs 30 pounds or less, and is still gullible to the cheap tricks of distraction.

I have witnessed tantrums. I’ve thrown tantrums. I’ve caused tantrums. Through the wonders of age, wisdom, modern chemistry, and an elder child who has so far survived my parenting, I have found in recent weeks that I have the ability to withstand my six year old’s daily mercurial meltdowns without causing her (or allowing her to inflict on me) bodily harm. But a picnic it ain’t! Fifty pounds or more of raging illogic with teeth is a lot to try to fold into your arms. I have high hopes that consistency, consequences and more sleep will get her back on track.

Meanwhile, I fantasize that in the midst of her meltdowns she has become a Dementor, and all I need to do is master that spectacular spell of Harry’s, “Expecto Patronum!” My own patronus will chase away the soul-sucking dementor and all will be safe and calm at my castle again.*

But reality bites. And kicks and spits and screams. As I piloted the van home from soccer last night with Brooke beside me in the front seat, Lindsay buckled in but raging like a rodeo bull in the middle bench, and two of Brooke’s teammates in the way-back, I wondered what the older kids were thinking. Size one pink suede boots were banging against the back of my seat. Her screams were ear splitting; her wrath tangible. Pulling over was not an option in 7:15pm rush hour traffic on 495 or 66. Out of tricks, I slipped into a numb zone of not reacting. I concentrated on driving and imagined with a sigh that the older kids thought me a failure, a mom at her most lame.

Then Brooke reached for my hand. “Mom,” she whispered. “I’m so proud of you. I don’t think I could stay as calm as you. You’re doing a great job.”

We smiled at each other in the dim light and our hands stayed linked.

* [Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling]

Ramblings from my attic #97

From the mouth of babes - Lindsay to me as she sat at the computer reading historical blurbs from the American Girl web site: “Mom, we got our independence in 1776. That’s close to when you were born!”

I’m a silence hypocrite. While I often inflict my un-modulated babbling on my family and the world at large, I increasingly cannot tolerate it from them. While some need the whirr of a fan, the distraction of a TV or radio to silence those nagging voices from within; I wish to hear them. I need to hear them.

As a teenager in Richmond, I went to sleep with the radio on, usually tuned to WRNL or WLEE, to drown out my bewildering thoughts. As a college student alcohol accomplished the same thing…so I’m lucky to be alive to have any thoughts at all. I understand the need to shut down.

Life now seems so hectic, yet so vital, that I need quiet to have any thoughts at all. Sometimes I wonder if my wiring has gone haywire. Is my brain so disorganized now that I require silence to think when I used to write on deadline in the most chaotic environments – fires, city council meetings, racetracks? My favorite places to scribble poetry in younger days were crowded doctors’ offices or city buses, absorbing energy from the masses. It’s true that writing focuses my thoughts. I imagine words careening madly around my brain until captured and funneled into straight lines down the interior of my arms through my fingers into the pen or keyboard.

I feel truckloads of guilt when I find myself commanding silence from my little one. I mercifully am able to choke back the damning words, “Do you EVER stop talking?” A friend reminisces about quietly reaching over to her youngster and placing a hand gently over her daughter’s little mouth to gain a moment of peace. My family labeled me “Chatty Cathy,” a label that stung later when I struggled with shyness; and I remember Brooke bursting into tears as her second grade teacher affectionately called her “Babbling Brooke.” But it is silence I crave.

After some blissfully quiet and companionable time with my book club at a friend’s farm last weekend, my thoughts keep circulating around the concept of fear. I turn off the radio now and try to pin down this new obsession of my inner voice.

Are we afraid of, embarrassed by fear? Fear is a necessary element of survival. In balance it lends caution to our passionate, curious selves. Childhood fear of the dark, adolescent fear of embarrassment, young adult fear of failure and loneliness – all propelled me forward in their own way. My risk-taking thirty-something self all too quickly confronted mortality upon giving birth. Suddenly, my being here on the earth, in one piece, had significance. I had children to raise. My health suddenly had value.

It’s strange to think of motherhood shadowed by the grim reaper, but for many women, I think there is a bit of a specter lurking in the shadows. Fear of disserting our children through untimely death becomes a fear that leads to positive measures. Survival through preventive medicine: mammograms, skin checks with dermatologists, chlorestoral testing, better diets, and attention to mental health. But I think sometimes we are afraid to admit fear. We are strong, resilient, the rocks of our families and friends. It takes guts to admit that something scary has us by the throat. To admit we’re vulnerable and need help. Our adult fears are often quite rational…unlike the invisible monsters under the bed. And it is these rational fears, amplified by all too much information from the medical community and our own genetic pre-dispositions that conspire to immobilize us. That’s where we must help each other. Help track down constructive information. Hold hands. Reassure ourselves that living each day to its fullest means sometimes acknowledging fear and sometimes kicking it into a box and claiming every grand and humbling moment of life.

Ramblings from my attic #98

A Crying Name

Sweaty and flushed, hair wisping around her face more out of the pony tail than in, she started to pad towards me. Her dance instructor reached out and enclosed her in strong arms; Suzanne’s blonde head bending down to rest on Lindsay’s. I could not hear their whispered words, but wondered why Lindsay had been singled out for comforting hugs. Had something happened during class? I helped her on with her shoes and led her out into the hallway.

“Is everything OK?” I asked.

“I was sad during class, so Miss Suzanne was worried about me” she answered, eyes watering and downcast.

“What were you sad about?”

“I told her I was sad because I missed Aunt Betty,” she sighed, squeezing a tear or two out from beneath dramatically opening and closing long lashes. I managed to keep a straight face, though I wanted desperately to laugh.

I’m not heartless, mind you. And I do cry for Aunt Betty, an Aunt I was very close to and whose hand I held as she lay dying. Aunt Betty died at age 87, several years ago. I have vivid memories of her memorial service when Lindsay, age 3, stood at the front of the church pulling the skirt of her dress over her face, letting it drop, pulling it up, letting it drop so that the gathered seniors of Pleasant Hill Retirement Community repeatedly got a nice view of her pink and white panties.

She didn’t cry when Aunt Betty died…she wasn’t old enough to understand the loss. Any first-hand memory Lindsay may have had of Aunt Betty has been supplanted by the image immortalized in a favorite picture. She and her Great Aunt are tossing a big green ball back and forth. They are in Aunt Betty’s Tennessee living room full of vinyl recliners and nick knacks. Aunt Betty is ensconced in her favorite chair, beaming; tickled pink to be playing with my little girl in overalls and pigtails.

“I miss Aunt Betty” is Lindsay code for unexplained sadness...an excuse for a good cry. I chortle to myself when I get the “Aunt Betty” explanation out of the blue from a child prone to high drama. But it makes sense that she has connected grief over the loss of a loved one with socially acceptable crying. She knows she’ll get hugs and comforting if she invokes the “Aunt Betty.” I picture Lindsay years from now. The tears start falling and her boyfriend asks, “What’s wrong, honey?”

“I miss Aunt Betty.”

Ramblings from my attic #99

Trash Talk

My friend Elise: tenacious staff director of a hard-hitting investigative committee by day; trash scavenger by night. She recently spearheaded the money laundering investigation that brought Riggs bank to its knees and simultaneously unveiled further evidence of the corruption of former Chilean dictator Pinochet which the Chilean government is using to bring him to trial.

Our crack-of-dawn talk-and-walks go something like this…

E – “We subpoenaed Enron executives yesterday.”
Me –“I drove in a soccer carpool.”
E – “I brokered a compromise amendment to the Intelligence bill”
Me – “I kept my kids from killing each other.”

But this particular morning after she had related the investigative successes of the day before, she said,”Lori, here’s the best story of all!”

Turns out she had taken her kids out for a bite to eat at Cowboy Café and after settling them into homework back home, her fourth grader came wailing those dreaded words: “Mom, I left my retainer in a napkin at the restaurant!”

Knowing time was of the essence in matters of table trash, she didn’t even pause to scream. On with her coat, into her car, and out to Lee Highway she raced. A waiter led her to the back kitchen where the trash had already been dumped. Bemused kitchen help listened to her tale, and pointed her to the trash bins. “I hung my coat on a hook on the back door and dug into a tall trash can up to my elbows,” she related. Soggy hamburger remains; ketchup stained napkins; well, you can imagine. Minutes passed. No luck.

Not to be outdone by mere trash, Elise kept searching until EUREKA, she felt the retainer. As she held it up, the kitchen staff all cheered! Back home and victorious, she marched in her front door hands over her head a la Rocky, shouting “Who’s the greatest,” and her kids shouted back, “You, Mom!” Now that’s success.