Friday, May 7, 2010

Word to your Mother

Have you bought your flowers yet? It is this Sunday.

Mother’s Day, obviously, has some new meaning to Leanne, and to me, now that we are parents. Sure, Leanne was a mother last Mother’s Day too, but there is something about having done this for a year now that makes our parental status more official.

(Fair warning: I'm about to become sappy and sentimental)

You learn things as parents. You become part of a club. It is like getting married or going to college or anything else that someone does that you can’t really explain to people who haven’t done it. I have this shared experience with legions of the living and the dead. Everyone who has held a child knows how I feel when I hold my daughter. My father. My grandfathers. They did the same things I did. I watch Leanne do the simple things that a mother does – hold Olive just a little closer when she cries, brush her hair away from her face, tickle her feet, giggle at her half toothless grin – and I know that my mother and my grandmothers and her mother and her grandmothers did the same thing. The pit in your stomach as you cradle a sick child, rocking her back to sleep. The comfort you get from leaving the bedroom door open a crack to hear her breath, in and out, after she finally gets to sleep. I’m not the only one to have felt like this.

My mother and father raised four kids. Having just one child in my life makes me realize that no gift I could ever give my mom, no flowers or trips to brunch, would make up for those gifts she has given me. It also makes me wonder how, for 18 years, she successfully restrained herself from smacking me from here to Tuesday.

This is someone who would wake up in the middle of the night to hold me and rock me and sing me a song, even when all she wanted was a just a little more sleep. She giggled at my crooked smile. She wiped the hair away from my eyes.

She held my hands as I learned to walk and made sure that my food wasn’t too hot. The little things DO matter, you know. She got me to school every day and didn’t let me settle for what she and I both knew was well enough, because I COULD do better than that. She kissed my bruises and bandaged my cuts – and my ego.

She got me to practice on time…and then stayed for the scrimmage…and then washed my uniform…and then folded it. Then she yelled at me when I didn’t put it away.

She let me make my own mistakes even though, I know now, not being able to break your child’s fall is like being in free fall yourself. Letting kids help themselves renders you helpless. She didn’t let me stay out let and get into nothing but trouble, even though it broke her heart to hear me say that someone else’s mom was cooler or better.

I do these things, or will do these things, for Olive. And just the same, she really won’t appreciate the love, the sacrifice, the pain, and the joy that go into them. I now know what my mom meant when she would explain her actions to me by saying, “You’ll understand someday.” Mom, I’m getting there.

Now, when Olive does something particularly cute, Leanne and I look at each other and say “Aww, someday she is going to say, ‘I hate you, mom and dad.’”

It is our way of forcing ourselves to realize that it won’t always be this easy and that big challenges lie ahead. We also joke about it because at one point or another we both thought it or said it to our own parents, without really knowing what we were saying – and now we can’t imagine how we could have been so stupid.

All those wet towels on the floor. All those dishes left in TV room after a snack cause mom will get them later. All those useless arguments. All those times I put my parents through the wringer for reasons I can’t remember and probably didn’t even understand at the time. All those nights I ignored my curfew thinking that 15 minutes wasn’t a big deal. All those years I just didn’t know how much someone can love someone else. I cringe. I cringe at what I didn’t know.

When you become a parent you know.

You know how much you put in to trying to do this parenting thing right, and how much you have invested in your kids. It makes you want to spend equal time thanking and apologizing the people that raised you and somehow did do it right.

So to Leanne, to my mom, and to all the mothers – Thank you. And I’m sorry.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Again? Really?

If Olive were born in, say, 1809 instead of 2009, and if she had somehow grown up to become someone famous, and if I were writing a biography of her, somewhere in the first few pages of that biography would be this line:

“Olive Candura was a sickly child…”

Two hundred years ago she would have been that kid that got scarlet fever or had asthma so bad that the family was forced to move to where the air was better, like Vermont.

But she wasn’t born 200 years ago, she was born last year, and we have vaccines and soap and Purell and stuff like that (The Velveteen Rabbit taught society valuable lessons about both love AND infectious diseases). So what it really boils down to is that Olive has another ear infection. I think that makes for four ear infections THIS YEAR. She has also had pink eye twice and has had a cough so bad that she required an inhaler. And that says nothing of the colds, sniffles, and the teething. Oh God, the teething.

I don’t think it is a good sign when your 1.083 year old daughter, upon seeing you pull out the dropper of infant Tylenol, opens her mouth and strains her neck like a baby bird fighting for food. I think she may be getting a little too used to this medication thing.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fun with Chasing

There is oil washing ashore in Louisiana, Tennessee is under water, Boston had no clean water, and the Red Sox are three games under .500 – but there are still good things in the world.

One of those good things is the ability to make a child giggle uncontrollably by sneaking up behind her and snatching her into your arms. Too much.

No Pressure...

My wife, Leanne, is a little competitive. She always wins at Monopoly. Playing Scrabble with her makes my hair fall out (literally, tiles will be covered in little strands of hair, their lifespan cut short by the stress of not being able to form a word longer than four letters). She rarely backs down from a challenge and hates it when other people are doing things that she can’t do. It is one of the things I love about her. Her competitiveness really comes out when she sees someone else doing something that she hasn’t done and knows she can.

This is not good news for our daughter.

As a parent, it is hard to check yourself from comparing your kid to all the other kids or to what the books tell you your child should be doing. Walking, talking, crawling, eating the right foods, making the right gestures, they all need to be done on a very strict timetable. Put enough pressure on yourself and your kid and they are going to end up one of those kids that cries when they get an A- and then an adult with massive performance anxiety. We know this and Leanne and I both try to keep ourselves from getting too carried away, but, it isn't hard to lose yourself. And remember, Leanne is a little competitive. I mean, she read somewhere that you can start toilet training after 12 months – the next day Olive had a little toilet in her bedroom.

The other day Leanne was at the playground with Olive and there happened to be two other moms there with their little girls. Both girls were within a month of Olive’s age, but they were doing things that Olive hasn’t even attempted. They were shooting down the slide on the tummy, getting to the bottom and heading for another run. They were climbing up steps. They were, in almost every way, dominating the playground. These kids were the Lance Armstrong and Tom Brady of playgrounds and Olive was just sort of standing and watching, every once and a while pausing to try and eat some woodchips.

Leanne got home and told me the story. The other kids were doing so much more than Olive. Their moms were letting them go down the twisty slide, by themselves! Leanne then promptly looked at our daughter and said, “Olive, we have some work to do. Let’s get practicing.”

God help us when Olive starts playing sports.