11

When Life Gives You Lemons

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“Lemonade for sale. Sweet lemonade and bubbly water only zero cents!”

From our second floor bedroom, I heard Nick outside hawking drinks to the throngs of people he imagined needed refreshments during a 56 degree “heat spell”. He had dragged the kids’ craft table onto the front porch where he now sat, eagerly scanning the sidewalk for potential customers.

Never mind that it was drizzling…
Or that no one really walks down our street in the middle of the afternoon…
Or that people don’t really want to open a gate, walk past a barking dog and up a set of stairs to get a drink.

“Whatcha doing, bud,” I had asked earlier when he was climbing onto the counter to get the plastic, smiley face cups

“I’m going to sell drinks for free.”

“Okay…” I responded, slightly irritated. Nick was my BIG IDEAS boy, and he could latch onto the most ill-conceived ones with the conviction of the newly converted.

“You know, we have some nice paper cups…”

“I don’t need them,” he snapped.

“Alright…” I said, biting the inside of my cheek so I didn’t snap back. We had just returned from a very long day at the zoo. His little brother was passed out on the couch, and Nick, while too old for a nap, clearly needed some downtime.

“Do you want me to help you make some lemonade?”

“I already know how to do it,” he muttered, grabbing the bottle of lemon juice concentrate from the fridge.

“You probably need some sug– “

I didn’t get to finish my sentence.

“STOP TELLING ME WHAT TO DO! I’M 8 NOW!”

Yes, by a whopping 24 hours, genius, I thought, then mentally flogged the sarcastic wench who occasionally – ok, regularly – took up residence whenever I was tired. We had overstayed our welcome at the zoo by an hour, and the “one more animal” that we just had to see had been the one more thing to send all of us over the edge. Our long walk back to the car – weary mom with two crying kids – garnered sympathetic nods from grandparents and one furtive prayer from a fellow mom. (“There but for the grace of God…)

I needed to redirect myself and without a word (aloud) I harrumphed my way upstairs. After all, I had better things to do – like fold laundry. So there!

Now, 30 minutes later, Nick was still outside, inviting skeptical passersby to have “a nice tall glass of something nice to drink.” Contrary to the snotty – and yes, overtired – boy who had given me such brusque answers, this was the per-pubecent soprano of an angel, so sweet, so vulnerable.

I went downstairs, then opened the front screen slightly, not wanting to, you know, scare off any potential customers.

“How’s it going, bud?”

He hung his head, shaking it slightly. “Not so good. No one is thirsty today.”

“Well,” I tut-tutted, ready to run through the list of things he had done wrong this afternoon, and how, if he had just listened to me, there would be throngs of people lined up.

But then I didn’t.

I could be right, or I could be supportive.

But I couldn’t be both.

“You know, I had a lot of laundry to put away so I am really thirsty right now. Do you have time to make me a special drink?”

He gasped as lifted his head. “Sure,” he said excitedly, eagerly mixing soda water, lemon juice, and a splash of Gatorade. Not my concoction of choice, but one I gulped back with gusto.

“Excellent, sir! Might I have another?”

A groggy voice piped up behind me. “Nick, can I have one too?”

“You bet, Gabe!” Then Nick the mixologist whipped up two more of his signature cocktail.

He poured himself a third and the three of us cheered with our cups.

“Here’s to family!”

“Hey, Nick,” I exclaimed, widening my eyes as if our toast had just inspired a simply brilliant idea.

“What if when it gets warmer we all help out selling drinks? You could man the table. I could do the mixes. Maybe Gabe and Olivia could invite people over. Mommy could be in charge of refills. We’d be like a team.”

“Really?”

“You bet!”

We high-fived one another, then Nick shivered as the wind picked up, the rain blowing sideways onto our burgeoning business.

“I think it’s time to go inside,” Nick suggested. He gathered the cups while Gabe picked up the now-empty bottles.  As I carried the table inside, Nick hugged my enthusiastically, his face beaming.

“I can’t wait till summer, Nana.”

“How come?”

“Because then I’ll be able to sell A LOT of drinks for free!*”

(*Right. So the concept of getting money in exchange for services is something we’re still working on. Hopefully, we’ll have it mastered before the warm weather comes!)

3

I Speak Fluent Whinese. You?

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I’ve always wanted the kids to be fluent in another language.

Nick, thanks to his grandmother’s fluency, has shown a certain flair for Spanish. Olivia, thanks to my fluency – and perhaps her fashion sense – has shown an interest in French.

Then there’s Gabe, who is fluent in Whinese. In fact, he knows several dialects.

Cantian

Our middle child has made it abundantly clear that he is not a morning person. While his sister is screaming for oatmeal at 5:30am, Gabe is sleepwalking his way – 2 hours later – thru getting dressed, hitting the toilet, and sliding his way down the stairs for breakfast. Once there, he is all limp bones and floppy muscles, sometimes too weak to even drag himself onto the chair.  Instead he’ll lay down on the floor, 2 fingers in his mouth, his other hand clutching a snuggie as he communes with the dog (also, on the floor).

“Gabe, can you come to the table to eat? You’re going to be hungry later.”

It’s 8am and he’s had a full 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep, but somehow, the task of lifting his featherweight body off the floor is simply too much.

“I caaaaaaan’t,” he whimpers, as he “tries” and fails to lift his head from the hardwood floor.

“Here, let me help you,” I chirp, channeling any 50’s era mom I can summon as I unceremoniously plop his sack-of-potatoes body next to his brother.

“Gabe, can you pass the brown sugar?” Nick points to the bag located 2 centimeters in front of Gabe’s plate.

Gabe raises a limp hand to his chest.

“I caaaaaaaan’t,” he mews, and Nick harrumphs impatiently, eschewing the table manners we’re trying to instill and reaches across his brother – barely brushing Gabe’s arm – to get the sugar himself.

“It’s right THERE, Gabe” – to which Gabe responds with his second favorite dialect:

Tattlean

Gabe miraculously finds his voice, and his muscle tone. He wrests 2 fingers from his mouth and stabs the air indignantly.

“Nick PUSHED ME!”

Nick raises his voice to match his brother’s.  While it’s not quite a shouting match, we’re clearly on the express train to Yellsville.

“NO, I did NOT.”

“Stop YELLING AT ME!”

I DID NOT YELL!

And here we are.

Olivia thinks to whole thing is a hoot and starts chiming in with a mix-list of loud – and random – words. “MORE….YEAH….OWIE….OATMEAL…” which launches Gabe into his 3rd dialect:

Munchausenese

“I don’t feel good.”

Gabe’s ability to switch from Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell to Greta Garbo’s Camille is astounding. And my dear, sweet boy will now lay that precious head on his plate, just barely avoiding the food on it in 3…2…OK, his nose is actually touching his eggs.

“I have a tummy ache.”

“Uh huh.” I try very hard to keep the eye-rolling out of my voice.

Nick, however, does not.

“He’s just faking it so he doesn’t have to eat!”

“I’m going to throw up.” Kid, if you can make yourself do that by sheer will alone, I’ve got a Vine with your face on it. But until then, I’ll just acknowledge –  but not encourage – your “illness.”

“Why don’t we pack up your breakfast and save it for later.”

“But I need to eat!”

I’m about to point out the error of his thinking, when Lori raises her eyebrows asking if I’m really going to argue logic with a 3-year-old.

“Ok, Gabe. You do what you need to do.”

And that, ladies and gentleman, is how I throw the whining elephant…until he starts up again when we get to the car. (“I caaaaaaan’t buckle my seat belt!  Nick is looooking at me!  I hurt my fingeeerrrrrr!”)

I feel for Gabe.
I really do.

In fact, I feel for all of our kids. They have to compete with each other, our dog, our business, our aging parents, this 100-year-old house…

It’s no surprise they each have “the thing” they save just for home, just for us.

For Nick, it’s arguing.
In class, he’s the resident diplomat, protector of geeky kids…and ladybugs.

For Olivia, it’s hitting.
In daycare, she’s the free hugs gal, greeting everyone – including other parents at drop-off – with a squeeze.

And for Gabe, it’s whining.
In preschool, he’s the teacher’s right-hand man, setting the table, cleaning up spills, consoling other kids…with nary a complaint.

But it’s different at home. And there are times when I question our desire to add more to the mix, when our dispersed attention seems to bring out the worst – not the best – in our children. As a former adoption counselor put it, perhaps we were being “too greedy” in our quest for expansion.

But then I see our 3 musketeers…

Nick, laying out coats and backpacks for his siblings.
Gabe placing pairs of shoes for each of us by the door.
Olivia, carrying cups from the table to the sink.

And I think Yes! Yes! A 100 times Yes!

Let our presence fill every inch of this forever fixing-up home.
Let our lives overflow with our children’s highs and lows.
Let our hearts be humbled by the privilege of raising these complex individuals.

Because our table will always have room for one more.

0

Gabe = Big Boy

The terrible two’s are a myth.

I’m more apt to call them the testimonial two’s. Gabe has discovered the concept of “I” and isn’t planning to let it go.  This will serve him well as he starts to step out of his big brother’s shadow and into his own sense of self.

Of course, during this time, he will be cute, adorable, and somewhat malleable.  We will be lulled into thinking that our boy is the miracle child who has skipped the terrible two’s…until we remember that we thought the same of Nick until the day after his third birthday.

Then all hell broke loose.

The newly discovered “I” transformed into the great-and-powerful EGO who relished the power of NO! and limp-bone tantrums. This means that some time in February, our house will be taken over by a screaming howler monkey and we will count the days until the promised land of 4…no wait…5…uh, guess it’s 6…?

Why does the promised land keep relocating?

Like Carol Burnett, we’ll be glad we had this time together – at two – as we watch his burgeoning independence grow.  We’ll smile indulgently as he concentrates on buckling his own seat belt while our backs are soaked with rain.

“Almost got it, sweetie?  Nana’s getting a little wet…OK, let’s try again…you have to push the button harder.”

And hold our breath as he navigates the back stairwell without us spotting him.

“The railing, Gabe.  No, don’t turn around to look at me.  Look at the railing.  Now use it.”

His latest quest for independence?  Pouring his own milk.

As a self-avowed neat freak – I believe in owning my neuroses – this is the one I have struggled with the most.  “Art” in our family, is done in a clearly defined space – with a drop cloth…and washable paints…in old shirts with holes.

Yup, a controlled environment where free creative expression can run wild…for a reasonable amount of time.

Thank goodness our artist friend, Jill, has invited Gabe to paint at her studio, where every surface is a potential canvas and every medium fair game – charcoal, pencils, body paint – whatever you need for as long as you like.  It really does take a village – even when the villagers are convinced you need to take the pipe out of your bum.

This morning, as I started to pour his milk, Gabe objected.

“I do it.”

I immediately started with my own objection.  “Well, hon, it’s heavy, which can be tricky.  So I think – “

Gabe stilled my arm with his tiny hand and pinned me with a steady, unblinking gaze.

“I big boy.”

Yes, that’s what we tell him, when he goes potty in the toilet instead of his pullup, or brushes his teeth instead of his arm.

“Who’s a big boy?!  Gabe is!!”

So I held my breath as his shaky hands balanced the full carton of almond milk.  He wouldn’t let me spot him, or hold the bowl closer to the carton’s spout.

Does he know when to stop pouring….oh man, I soooo don’t want to clean this up.  Do I just take it from him…?

If he were on The Price Is Right, he would have spun the wheel, because while Gabe came perilously close, he did not go over.

“Good job, Gabe!”

He lifted his spoon and smiled.

“I big boy.”

4

Scout’s Honor

This weekend, we discovered Gabe’s strawberry allergy. One moment, he was happily chomping on a strawberry popsicle. The next moment, it looked like someone had pressed his face into a Berber carpet. (Hey, they actually use real strawberries.  Huzzah!)

Luckily, I’m a worrywart, so I always have children’s Benadryl on hand.

Yesterday morning we offered him almond-buttered toast; he insistently pointed to the strawberry jelly with an emphatic, “I want dat!”

Not going to happen, kiddo.  Back and forth we went until Lori decided to add some explanation, even though we were unsure whether it would make sense to his two-year-old brain. “If you eat this,” she said, picking up the jar, “you will get yucky bumps on your face. Remember?” She touched his cheek to reinforce the point. “Itchy. Owie.”

“Itchy. Owie,” he repeated, before covering her hand with his own then finally accepting the toast – sans jelly.

That afternoon, when I picked Nick up from school, he ran to me, face radiating with joy, emphatically waving a flyer. “It’s a club! Just for boys! They do fun things! I want to go!”

“That’s awesome, kiddo! I bet – “ My heart sank when I saw the logo.

The Boy Scouts.

Great, we’re going to have that conversation.

“I bet,” I began again, as we drove home, “that it does look like a lot of fun, but here’s the thing – they don’t like families that have 2 mommies or 2 daddies. And I know it’s not fair, and it doesn’t feel good, but that’s just the way they think. It doesn’t make it right.”

“Oh.” I could see the spark fading from his eyes…then, an idea forming.

“What if only you or Mommy takes me, but not both of you and I tell them I have a daddy.”

“But you don’t have a daddy. You have 2 mommies, just like…” and I listed the same-sex families we had purposely surrounded ourselves with, knowing that the children of these relationships would need to see themselves reflected in others. “Oh, and don’t forget Joshua – he’s got 2 mommies and a daddy – how cool is that? And Elise, she has 1 mommy. And Kevin, he has 1 mommy and 1 daddy. See? There are lots of ways to make a family.”

Nick was silent, staring out the window, no doubt, still processing.

“Sweetie, if we told them that you had a daddy, that would be lying. Would that feel good?”

“No,” he sighed. “I just really wanted to go fishing.”

“Hey! We can all go fishing as a family, or maybe you and mommy can go?” But not on a boat that moves, ’cause your momma will turn all shades green…hmm, teaching moment! Link back to something he already knows…

“Hey Nick, do you remember Martin Luther King, Jr.?”

“Yes.”

“And how he had a special day and wrote lots of letters and talked to lots of people?”

I saw him scrunching up his face, trying to reach back to January.  “And he said we all have to love each other?”

“That’s right. Did you know that some people didn’t like him because of the color of his skin? It was brown like yours and mine. Did you know some people didn’t like people who were Chinese like Mommy – ”

“Nana,” Nick interrupted with his half-scolding-Barry-White-deep voice, which meant he was about to lay down some serious learning. “There is no brown skin or white skin. That’s just the ladder inside us that makes it that color.” Hurray for introducing DNA and the concept of pigmentation early!

“That’s exactly right.” My little six-year-old genius, so wise beyond his –

“Wait, are there any orange people?” And we’re back.

“Hmmm, I haven’t seen any, but if I did, I bet I would be nice to them.”

“Yeah, me too.”

That night, for story time, Nick reached for a book we hadn’t read in weeks – Leo Lionni’s Little Yellow and Little Blue. Maybe he just likes color theory, or maybe our mini lesson in prejudice stuck.

Whatever the reason, it didn’t matter.

We created this family – 2 moms, 3 kids and a dog – through love. And try as we might to protect these wonderful kids from the evil strawberries and outdated prejudices in the world, we can’t.

All we can do is explain what we know, and love them the best that we can.

0

The Tin Man Cometh

Last October, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).  So basically my knees are shot.

This came on the heels of a wicked case of shingles, which came on the heels of a failed adoption in which we had an infant boy for 3 days until the birth mother changed her mind.

We joked – because gallows humor is the only way we could navigate the ups and downs of the adoption process – that her deception had literally brought a pox upon her house.   She had lied to her family about not being pregnant; lied to us about having her family’s support; and lied to herself about wanting to follow thru with an adoption plan.

Sigh.

On my more enlightened days, I am happy that we were able to serve as the means through which she could discover how much she wanted to keep her son.   But bodhisattva is just a place I visit, rather than stay,  and the experience left its mark on our entire family, including this 40 – cough-cough-nevermind-what’s-after – body.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say the RA was stress-induced.

I went into treatment thinking I could rid myself of the disease.  But after several months, we have reached a détente.  I am, in fact, quite grateful for the changes it has inspired.

I now swim 3 times a week where I am regularly lapped by the entire cast of Cocoon.  I follow a strict (ish) gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free diet.  And I listen very closely to my body’s early warning system.  Lord knows, she can be a real bitch when she’s ignored.  I fear one day she’ll show up in the kitchen with a half-boiled rabbit in the pot, then I realize that I’m talking about myself and that scenario would be myself seeing myself, which is all kinds of crazy – especially since it involves me in a kitchen, which is a room I only frequent on my way to the back door.

(Fortunately, Lori cooks.)

As I told a good friend a few weeks ago, everyone has their baggage.  You can either struggle with the load or drag it gracefully beside you.

I’m going for the dignified limp.

0

A Taste of Things to Come

Future calling for the chillens?
Or pipe dream for the ‘rents?

Lori comes from a family of foodies.  They email each other pictures of what they made for dinner, text each other recipe ideas, and call each other to talk about what restaurants they either have been or plan to go to.  On our last trip to visit her sister in DC, I asked Lori who was picking us up from the airport.

“Huh, I have no idea.”
“Haven’t you been emailing back and forth with your sister?”
“Yes, but that was to figure out the menu for the week.  I told her lobsters didn’t feel like a Wednesday meal.”

She seizes every opportunity to involve the kids in every aspect of food – not just cooking, though Nick and Gabe make amazing gluten-free pancakes (Gabe stirs the eggs; Nick flips the stack; Olivia watches from her high chair, banging the wooden spoon on her tray) – but also growing and buying it.  She’s that mom in the grocery store who has her kids  squeeze the avocados, sniff the peaches, and read the ingredient labels.  Plus she has carved precious space from her beloved vegetable patch to make a raised box just for the kids.  It’s pretty awesome to see them casually walk past it and pluck a stalk of broccoli off and start chomping, or grab some chives to gnaw on during the ride to school.  It is one of the many reasons we don’t use pesticides.   (“Don’t eat that hon, Mommy has to wash off all of the carcinogenic chemicals. Just temper that impulse you had to eat something healthy.”)

My side of the family is a bunch of word geeks.  My mom emails the Washington Post Mensa Invitational (which is apparently, an urban myth that nevertheless has me howling).   And we trade bad jokes:

“Where do crazy rugs go?  A loomey bin.”

“Did you hear the one about the dyslexic atheist insomniac?  He stayed up wondering if there was a Dog.” Rim shot!

I seize any opportunity to cultivate the same love of language that I have.   So for Nick, that means expanding his vocabulary (“Specificity in language, Nicholas.  Now go get your shoes.”  “You mean, sandals, Nana?”  “Uh, yeah.”)  For Gabe it means actually using his vocabulary (“No, I don’t know what point/grunt/cry means, sweetie.  I guess you’ll have to say it.”).  And for Olivia, it means mimicking her vocabulary (“Da…da…da…squawk…squeal…Da…da…da”)

After we dropped Gabe and Olivia off this morning, Nick and I were walking thru the uneven parking lot when he spotted a puddle with hills of asphalt poking thru the surface.

“Hey!  That looks like a bunch of islands!”

“It sure does.”  Alert!  Alert!  Teaching moment.  “That’s an archipelago.”  Then I did my crazy mom dance – anything for learning.  “A group of islands, doncha know, is an archipelago!”   We sang our little ditty all the way to school, in various musical styles of course – rap, country, new age, opera, grunge rock, metal…yup, we hit ’em all.

But I’m still not sure if archipelago will make it to our usual post-dinner activity where we go around the table making up sentences.

Nick: The
Lori: cat
Nadine: went
Nick: up
Lori: the
Nadine: tree

Nick: No! The cat didn’t go in the tree.  It went in the alley to find its babies.  Then in found a dog who chased it…

OK, so…we’re still working on the “yes, and” part of the game where we make a story from scratch.  At least we have the storytelling part down.

Food and language are clearly a part of how Lori and I express ourselves to our children.  But are we raising a family of future food writers?  Or will they rebel and become illiterate junk foodies?

Only time will tell.