Hand Sanitizer and Other Imperfect Tricks

The well pump had failed in the middle of the afternoon. Hours later we still hadn’t made it to the store to buy water, so take-out seemed like a sensible dinner plan. We stopped at the lone restaurant between guitar lessons and our house and placed an order.

The restaurant was not a fast-food restaurant, in name or in fact, so we lingered long in the not-spacious waiting area. As we waited, Sonny and Ace ran their hands over every possible surface:  the candy machine, the counter, the door, the menu rack. The walls. The floor. They stopped when I asked them, but then, bored, would find something else to touch.

Everything seems grimier when you know you can’t turn on the water and scrub something, or someone, down. I quickly became squicked out.

To distract myself, I thought about the local schools that had already canceled the next day’s classes due to illness: strep and gastrointestinal wretchedness, mainly. I thought about the strep and gastrointestinal-wretchedness germs hunkering on the candy machine, the counter, the door, the menu rack. The walls. The floor. The obvious solution—packing Sonny and Ace off into the restroom to wash their hands—was not a viable one, as apparently restrooms aren’t a guaranteed amenity in restaurants whose services are limited to carry-out and delivery.

The other obvious solution—stopping to buy water on the way home instead of waiting until later in the evening—would have worked had I  been willing for the food to get cold and were we not all in the process of rapidly evolving from hungry to hangry. Besides, I had a plan.

When we got home, I stood between my sons and their supper and brandished the hand sanitizer.

“You need to use this before you touch your food,” I said.

They were hungry enough that you’d think they wouldn’t have objected. You’d be wrong.

“Hand sanitizer doesn’t work so well, Mom,” Sonny said. “It doesn’t get dirt off, and it doesn’t even kill all viruses.”

“And? AND! It kills the good germs along with the bad,” Ace said, tucking his hands behind his back for safekeeping.

They spoke the truth. I knew they spoke the truth. (But where did they learn these things? Not from me.) But I was still squicked out, and they were hungry, and I was in charge of the food, and we hadn’t yet gone out to buy water, and hand sanitizer was all we had. So they used the hand sanitizer. Sorry, good germs.

The next morning neither child wanted to get up. When they got up, they did not want to move along as befits a school day. They laughed and consulted and sat on the vent to read, but they did ready themselves for school. After asking nicely once or twice—okay, probably just once—I dipped into my bag of tricks and pulled out Nagging and The Raising of the Voice. Go get your socks, why is your lunchbox still in the van, why are you playing in there when you should be eating in here, why haven’t you brushed your teeth? And through the nagging and raised voice nagged another voice, in my head:

“Nagging and raising your voice don’t work so well. They don’t inspire anyone to do better. And? They backfire, both short-term and long-term, and they are antithetical to what should be modeled to kids. AND? They suppress good moods and exacerbate already-bad ones.”

That voice whispered the truth. I knew it whispered the truth. But time was marching on, and the kids weren’t, and I was crabby about various things, such as the defunct well, so I nagged and raised my voice. Sorry, good moods.

Two days after the hand sanitizer, Ace woke up hacking and feverish. Did he get sick from a candy-machine germ or from a kid at school? I don’t know. Would soap and water have killed off that germ better than the hand sanitizer had? I don’t know. Did the hand sanitizer keep Sonny from getting sick? I don’t know.

About 20 minutes after the nagging commenced, we were on the road to school. Would my kids move more promptly in the future after this morning of nagging? I don’t know. Would we have been more punctual had I shown more patience instead of nagging? I don’t know. Would gentleness instead of The Raising of the Voice have effected more cheerfulness on the way to school and throughout the day? I don’t know.

A lot of things have drawbacks. Hand sanitizer. Nagging. Life in general.

But sometimes we just do our best and try again next time.

You too?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Who Were Those Caped Boys?

A few years ago Sonny and Ace received superhero capes for Christmas. Red, blue, and yellow capes, one with an S and one with an A: Super Sonny and Super Ace. They zoomed around the house in them, a preschooler and a toddler, valiantly coming to the aid of stuffed animals, each other, frogs, their parents. Grapes. Pencils. They rescued anything that needed rescuing.

Cape-wearing waxed and waned at our house and then went dormant a time. But then Ace took up the A cape again. He wore it everywhere, usually with his trademark rain boots. Story Hour at church. The grocery store. The apple orchard. Relatives’ houses. Bed.

The bathtub.

Everywhere.

People notice capes, as it turns out. Observers often smiled or even commented, which seemed to mystify Ace a little. He didn’t wear it for attention; he wore it because it was his cape. It was part of him, like his hair. Of course he was wearing it; why wouldn’t he?

Two years ago Ace faced screening for Young 5s; he felt nervous about what this process would require of him. He did not want to go. He dragged his rain-booted feet. Finally (finally!) we were out the door, but then he turned and ran back in—only to reappear sporting the cape, which seemed to shore him up. Thank you, cape!

He continued to wear the cape to the grocery store, to relatives’ houses, to the apple orchard.

Everywhere.

Last spring he had an early soccer game. Too early for his liking. He wore his cape over his gold AYSO uniform in the car, having agreed to doff it when we reached the soccer field. But when it was time for the game to start, he didn’t want to play. He hunkered down on the tired grass and shut down, cloaked in red and blue felt. But his coach, who was a wise coach, knew that soccer games for five-year-olds are more about the five-year-olds than about soccer. He hunkered down in front of Ace, getting eye to eye.

“Don’t you want to play today?” he asked.

Ace shook his head.

“Will you play if you can wear your cape?” he asked.

Ace nodded.

“You can wear your cape,” he said, and glanced over at J and me. “He’s five,” he stated. “He can wear it if it helps.”

So Ace played, slightly out of uniform—or not, depending how you look at it..

He wore the cape the rest of the day.

And he continued to wear it, though less and less. Meanwhile, Sonny’s cape hung, untouched, next to the bathrobe on its hook in the bedroom.

This past winter, Ace hopped out of the vehicle onto the grocery store parking lot on Saturday morning and hesitated. He glanced around.

“Just a second,” he said. He tore off his cape and laid it on his booster seat before pulling the door shut.

There is probably a word for the thing my heart did then, but I’m not sure what it is.

After our shopping trip he put the cape back before buckling up for the drive home, and he wore it the rest of the day. And he continued to wear it, though less and less.

This spring Sonny and Ace’s school had superhero day. Sonny thought he might dress as Batman. Ace had a harder time deciding. He has a Laval costume, but evidently Chima are not superheroes, and apparently it was rather ridiculous of me to even suggest it. His ninja costume might work, he conceded; ninjas aren’t exactly superheroes, but they are close enough.

Then I suggested his A cape.

“No,” he said. “I don’t want to wear that cape anymore.”

There is probably a word for the thing my heart did then, but I’m not sure what it is.

He decided to wear the Spiderman costume from the bin in the basement.

The next morning Sonny reconsidered his Batman choice. “I’ve dressed as Batman enough times already. Maybe I’ll just wear my S cape instead,” he said, running upstairs to retrieve it. He came back down and stuffed it into his backpack between his lunch and his homework folder. “I love this cape,” he said. Ace nodded, understanding.

There is probably a word to describe where my heart went then. I’m not sure what it is, but I know my heart traveled there by cape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have You Been Half Asleep, and Have You Heard Voices?

Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices? I’ve heard them calling my name.“The Rainbow Connection”

Why yes, Kermit. I have. (Or, if not half asleep, then fully asleep.) To wit:

“Mom! Mom! I think I’m going to throw up!” (And it was so.)

“Mom! I heard a noise that sounded like a villain. It sounded like ‘Mwa ha hahahaha!’ Can you check the closet?”

“Mom. Mom? Did they really catch all those guys who bombed Paris?”

“Mom! It’ snowing! Look out the window! Is that enough for a snow day?”

“Mom, have you seen my library book? Tomorrow is library day.”

“Mom? This little piece of skin feels loose. It didn’t feel loose before.”

But usually the voice calling my name at all hours of the night is my own.

“Laura. You could read one more chapter of that book, and then you would fall asleep.” (Delusion lives on.)

“Know what, Laura? They may have caught the guys who bombed Paris, but what about the next such guys?”

“Are we becoming one of those over-scheduled families that I vowed we’d never become?”

“Why did you Google that symptom? Why why whywhywhy?”

“Would Sonny and Ace tell J and me if someone were hurting them?”

“I should have done that differently.”

“Your list of resolutions for 2016 is stagnating. Get a move on.”

“Eep. The Tooth Fairy. She’s supposed to come tonight. Please let there be a dollar up here somewhere so I don’t have to go downstairs. Is that a dollar on my dresser? No, that’s a receipt. Sigh.”

“Know what? You aren’t very patient.”

“Know what? You need to be more organized.”

“Know what? Now that there are only seven more minutes until the alarm goes off, you’ll probably finally fall asleep.” (And it was so.)

What voices keep you up at night?

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
Whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm,
Be there at our sleeping, and give us, we pray,
Your peace in our hearts, Lord,
At the end of the day. – “Lord of All Hopefulness”

 

Shelving the Elf

“I know what I really want for Christmas.
I want my childhood back.” –Robert Fulghum

. . . . .

“Mom,” Sonny asked the other day, for the third year running. “Why don’t we have an Elf on the Shelf?”

“Oh, we just don’t,” I answered. I’m not opposed to Elf on the Shelf; in fact, it looks like a fun tradition. Whether or not it would serve its purpose as being a Santa spy, we’d all enjoy its creative poses. But the truth is that I don’t need one more thing to remember each evening, especially in December. The Elf would probably forget to relocate and would languish for days in one place and J and I would have to make excuses for his slothfulness. Who needs that? We already have to do that for the Tooth Fairy.

Part of me worries that the want of Elf on the Shelf will develop one of those small, secret resentments that kids harbor into adulthood—the kind that convince them that their childhood was incomplete. But the other part of me seeks comfort in the fact that those of us who grew up before Elf on the Shelf was a Thing turned out just fine (or, if we didn’t, it wasn’t because we didn’t have Elf on the Shelf). I wonder how Elf on the Shelf would have even ranked among my general memories of childhood Christmastimes.

The kitchen smelling of tangerines and wood smoke and cinnamon and butter cookies.

Church Christmas programs: Snaking our way up the narrow, chilly stairwells and into the sanctuary that smelled like old wood and furniture polish, the wave of relief after I’d recited my “line” and now it was Jodi’s or Amy’s turn or Michelle’s turn, the individual boxes of Bridge Mix distributed afterward.

Dividing said Bridge Mix into equal piles, one pile for each day until Christmas, and then eventually breaking down and pilfering the larger pieces (those with caramel and fruit and malted milk filling) from the piles so that by Christmas Eve there remained only one scanty collection of wrinkled little chocolates harboring raisins or peanuts.

Going to my grandparents’ house during our no-TV years to watch Charlie Brown Christmas and Frosty the Snowman.

Collaborating with my sisters to make Christmas presents for each other.

Visits from my long-distance grandparents. Grandma brought everyone their own Cool-Whip container full of homemade caramel corn. She and Grandpa would sit quietly, watching the action and smiling at all their offspring.

Singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” complete with motions (don’t ask), at my uncle and aunt’s house on Christmas Eve. Then singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night” with my uncle holding out the phone receiver so my grandparents, if they weren’t visiting that year, could hear us three states away.

My mom waking us up on Christmas morning by playing “O Come All Ye Faithful” on the piano, and my dad singing along.

Walnut Whirl coffee cake for Christmas breakfast. That stuff is good.

Spending Christmas Day at my local grandparents’ house, the kids’ table rocking with laughter and mashed potatoes and Jello and turkey, and afterward the whole clan packed into what was, now that I think about it, a not very large living room for the afternoon.

The aroma of blue spruce and candles.

My grandparents’ tree adorned with a combination of big old-fashioned Christmas lights (the kind that burned you if you touched them), newer small ones (safe to touch), and a variety of ornaments of all ages—including an elf fashioned from a roll of Life-Savers that was eventually chewed open by an enterprising grandchild. Once, while decorating, my grandma asked my grandpa to put the angel on top of the tree. “Oh Marian,” he said. “I can’t lift you up that high.”

(Okay. Like Robert Fulghum, I kind of want my childhood back now.)

If Elf on the Shelf—or cookie-making, or carol singing, or tree decorating, or visiting Santa—is fun, why not do it, and enjoy? If not, don’t. Or if you forget or don’t have time, no worries. There will be something else—probably something you are not even orchestrating—that you will find yourself enjoying instead. There will be other things that your children will think on fondly someday when they want their childhood back at Christmas.

As Sonny was drawing the picture for this blog post, he suggested again that we get Elf on the Shelf. “We should get one. Why don’t we have one?”

“Well,” I said. “I don’t think we really need one right now. We can have Christmas without it.”

And we watched this together, because that’s what Christmas is all about.

Merry Christmas, all!

 

Best-Laid Plans for This School Year: Only Slightly Awry (So Far)

One day early last spring I waited for Sonny to jump out of my vehicle in the drop-off line. He hesitated. “Mom,” he said. “Are you sure that today is Pajama Day?”

“Yes!” I said, feigning certainty, because suddenly I was not sure—not at all sure—that that day was Pajama Day; why hadn’t I written it down? Was I sealing my place in the Annals of Incompetent Parenting by sending my kid to school in printed fleece and bright waffle weave on Not Pajama Day? As I watched him trot into school clutching his stuffed animal and pillow (recommended accessories for Pajama Day), I prayed that I would not very soon receive a phone call from an irate first grader requesting street clothes.

I lucked out. No phone call. It was, in fact, Pajama Day.

Thankful to have dodged a bullet, I vowed to be more organized. Maybe I’d start keeping one of those acclaimed master calendars.

A few weeks later my cell phone went missing. I’d had it earlier in the morning and hadn’t gone anywhere where I could have lost it. I called it a few times from the land line, hoping to track it by its ring, but no luck. Eventually a Facebook message arrived from someone at school. “Your phone is in Ace’s lunchbox.”

Well, that wasn’t embarrassing in the least. (PSA: When you are hastily packing your kids’ lunches, do not pick up your phone—or anything else of importance, presumably—while doing so, lest you drop your phone into the lunchbox along with the apple that you are holding in the same hand. In my defense, it was 6:30ish o’clock and two kids were holding separate conversations with me at the same time.)

And I vowed again to be more organized.

These were not necessarily isolated incidents. But the 2015-2016 school year would go more smoothly—I was sure of that.

Fast-forward to July, Sonny’s and Ace’s school supply lists, which had arrived in the mail a month earlier, were waiting for attention on my desk. Recalling my earnest vows, I decided to shop early this year. Why wait until two days before school started? Why risk having to (again) make an eleventh-hour stop at an office supply store to hunt down that one elusive supply that Target didn’t have on hand? I stuffed them in my purse, and we headed to WalMart, feeling much affinity with those people who finish their Christmas shopping before Halloween.

Crayons: Check!

Twelve pencils (sharpened): Check!

Dry-erase markers (at least three): Check!

Water bottle (leak-proof): Check!

Pencil box: Check!

And so on. Until . . .

Yellow plastic two-pocket folder: WalMart didn’t have those. Red, green, or blue plastic folders—yes. Yellow paper folders—yes. But not yellow plastic. Oh well. We had plenty of time to avoid a last-minute stop at the store on the way to school.

At home I went to sort the supplies into separate bags for Sonny and Ace. Evidently the school supply lists had been left at the store, however. Which kid’s list included Kleenex? Which included fat markers? Child-sized scissors (labeled with initials)? Finally I consulted a friend, who directed me to the supply lists buried deeply on the school’s web site.

I sorted the supplies accordingly, well before the deadline, just like Organized People would. And couple weeks later, when we found ourselves in the vicinity of Staples, we ran popped in and purchased a yellow plastic two-pocket folder. School shopping: Complete, weeks ahead of time!

Since we will be unable to attend the school open house this year, we arranged to drop off the supplies last week. When it was time to leave I quickly checked the supply bags against the lists one more time. Everything was accounted for, except the yellow plastic folder.

“Sonny? Where is that yellow folder for school?”

He had no idea.

I had no idea.

We headed out with our incomplete stockpile and stopped at two stores before finding a yellow plastic two-pocket folder.

School starts the day after Labor Day. Despite my vows, this year will probably go much like other years—which means we will make it through despite inevitable kerfluffles. But I’m writing down Pajama Day this year, just in case, and keeping my phone away from lunch-packing. And next time I see yellow plastic two-pocket folders in a store, I’m stocking up. They can be hard to come by.

Overlooking Alligators: On Keeping Your Kidness

“Ah, that thou couldst know thy joy,

Ere it passes, barefoot boy!”

“The Barefoot Boy” by John Greenleaf Whittier

Last year I chaperoned Sonny’s field trip to a wild animal safari park. We had lunch near the alligator pond, which of course was more attractive than lunch. Young would-be picnickers kept abandoning their lunches to take another quick peek. At one point audible excitement rose up from the pond’s bridge. “Look! Look!” Sonny and a few of his friends were leaning over the bridge rail, gesturing wildly. I joined them, wondering what the alligators were up to.

“Look! Minnows!”

Minnows? Minnows?

Leave it to kids. Overlooking alligators, beguiled by minnows.

I reported back to my fellow chaperones, who, after they stopped laughing and shaking their heads, began batting around similar stories.

Of the child at the zoo who wanted only to feed the ducks in the pond near the parking lot.

Of the child at the world-renowned botanical gardens who declared the dandelions her favorite flower of the whole day.

Of the child who dined with extended family at an upscale restaurant and rejected its gourmet offerings to ask for toast and celery.

They’ll sort things out eventually, we agreed. Meanwhile: unsophisticated kids, indifferent to life’s finer things, oblivious to natural hierarchy inherent in food and other entertainments. Little philistines.

Or are they?

– – –

Last week Ace asked a burning question: “What age do you become a grown-up?”

Age 18, officially, I told him. But it’s not as simple as that, of course. We discussed that people become grown-ups gradually. When you begin watching out for younger kids, when you help others, when you take responsibility, when you do things for yourself when you can—then you are slowly becoming a grown-up, even if you are still quite young.

Ace understood. “I’m working on becoming a grown-up by learning to drive already. I can’t steer yet, but I’m learning traffic rules so when I learn to steer, I’ll know what to do.”

Works for me.

Sonny had a question: “If you become a grown-up a little at a time, do you lose your kidness a little at a time, too?”

Yes. You can lose your kidness. You do this when you accept the arbitrariness of Butter Poached Lobster with Lemon Risotto being inherently superior to toast and celery. You discount the fact that the yellow of dandelions is just as brilliant as that of orchids. You take off your superhero cape before exiting the car instead of wearing it into the store. (Sniff!) You neglect to draw or paint, even though you’ve always loved drawing and painting, and you no longer lie on your back to watch clouds because you are too sophisticated for that, and besides, the neighbors might see you. When you invite people to your home, you worry about agenda and perfection of food and décor instead of enjoying one another’s company.

Maybe marveling at minnows in the alligator pond isn’t so ridiculous after all. Maybe it’s simply a show of childhood joy, and I don’t know about you, but I’d like some of that back.

I asked Sonny and Ace what they thought that people need to do to keep their kidness. Ideas flowed:

  1. Watch Wild Kratts.
  2. Build a snowman.
  3. Dig in the dirt.
  4. Go outside and run.
  5. Collect a pile of stuff and build something with it.
  6. Make a nest of blankets and pillows and read in it.
  7. Laugh at funny things.
  8. Make friends with bugs.
  9. Practice ninja moves.

Maybe digging in the dirt and befriending beetles isn’t at all your idea of any kind of joy, the childhood variety or otherwise. But what gave you joy as a child? Those things would probably give you joy now. Go and do them.

How have you kept your kidness?

Beware Daylight Saving Time Monday

According to a 2014 study, heart attacks increase on the first Monday of Daylight Saving Time. Specifically, they increase 24 percent compared with the daily average for the surrounding weeks.

Anything else that contributed to a 24-percent increase in heart attacks would be banned. Wouldn’t it? At the very least, this warrants a warning label.

And, while we’re slapping labels on Daylight Saving Time Monday, here are a few more that apply.

Warning: Drowsiness will almost certainly occur throughout the day, as may random tetchiness.

Warning: Complaints that it is not yet time to get up will be greater both in number and in volume than on other days.

Warning: Enticing children from their beds will demand extra effort. Bribery may alleviate this challenge.

Warning: Attempts of breakfast will prove fruitless, because who is hungry when, according to one’s body, it is not yet 6:00 in the morning? Nobody. Bribery will not alleviate this challenge.

Warning: You will abandon any ideals of your children consuming even a few bites of the most important meal of the day.

Warning: Unbreakfasted children will likely experience sudden-onset hunger on the way to school.

Warning: The light that you enjoyed last week on your morning commute will be no more, and you will drive once again in darkness. Resentment will ensue.

Warning: You may experience cynicism over the misnomer that is Daylight Saving Time. You may dedicate time to privately and more accurately renaming the phenomenon: “Daylight Reshuffling Time.” “Sleep Thief.” “Let’s-Change-Our-Clocks-to-Give-Ourselves-the-Illusion-of-Control-Over-the-Sun-and-Over-Time Day.”

Warning: Bedtime will involve a mutinous onslaught of protests regarding retiring for the night before it is yet dark.

Warning: Nobody with whom you converse about the subject will be able to explain the rationale behind Daylight Saving Time to your satisfaction. Suspicion will rest heavily upon you.

May tomorrow be less tetchy than today. Sleep well–even if it is not yet dark.