6

Outside the Comfort Zone? No Thanks.

Yeah...we're not exactly best friends...

This is not my BFF. Not even close.

Last Saturday morning, Lori had the brilliant idea that the entire family should go fishing. At a park district a few miles from our house, grizzled – but not grumpy – old men teach newbies how to reel ‘em in and throw ‘em back.

It sounded great…’til Lori dropped the bombshell that we should divide and conquer. She would entertain Olivia at the playground while I took the boys to the pond.

I almost hit the curb as I muttered a four-letter F word – it was not “FINE” – before plastering a smile on my face as I pulled into the parking lot.

“It’ll be good for you,” she encouraged. “They don’t get to spend a lot of time with you outside.”

You see, I don’t do the outdoors.

I love reading about nature. Look me up any weekend and you’ll find my nose buried in the writings of Mary Oliver, John Muir, and Wendell Berry.

But to actually be in nature?

It takes a certain amount of planning for, psyching up, and then soldiering through to get me to do it.

A playground I can handle because there’s a rubber pad surrounded by concrete and only a smattering of trees in the distance. But a pond has, like, water and amphibians, not to mention fish and bugs. It is the perfect storm for my hyperactive immune system and longstanding neuroses. In fact, my allergist once remarked that she was surprised I ever stepped outside since I reacted to every kind of plant, tree and nut known to man. When a college crush once made the mistake of inviting me to a forest preserve for a seductive picnic, it ended early when I leaped from the picnic blanket, eyes already bloodshot from pollen – and upset the glasses of chardonnay and plates of chocolate-dipped strawberries – because I because I thought an ant was climbing up my leg.

It was a leaf.
She never called me again.

Maybe if I hadn’t almost drowned in a pond when I was a kid, or endured attacks from ginormous mosquitoes during our annual trips to Trinidad, I would have a better relationship with Mother Nature. But unlike Lori, who can spend hours tending to the garden or sleeping in our hammock, my happy time is in the library, surrounded by dead things that inspire ideas, not living things that can bite.

Nevertheless, the day was not about me. It was about raising the kids with a deep appreciation for the wondrous world that surrounds them, even if I couldn’t appreciate it myself.

“’C’mon gang,” I chirped as we made our way through the bushes. I could hear Olivia’s protests at being separated from her usual playtime buddy – moi – but they faded as we drew closer to the pond.

“Alrighty! Let’s get some stuff to put on the thingy – “
“Bait, Nana,” Nick supplied. “And we need a worm.”

“Right! Let’s do this!” Nick and Gabe both shot me a look suggesting I take it down a few notches. I shrugged, then signed us up for a small styrofoam container and 2 fishing poles.

“You have to cut it up into little pieces,” Nick said, as he examined the squirming mass inside the box.
“Uh…”
“You going to smash them, Nana,” Gabe inquired.
“Uh…”
“Can you just finish so we can get some fish,” Nick pleaded. “Last time with Mommy I caught 10.”
“Yeah,” Gabe added. “And I got 10 too”

“Really?” I tried to imagine casting the reel 10 times considering the hook – sans worm – was now hooked in my dreadlocks.

“Let’s see if we can get 11,” I encouraged, when we finally got our lines into the water.

Then we waited.
And waited.
And freaking waited.

“How long does it usually take, Nick?”

He shrugged, fidgeting a bit in his seat. “It’s faster with Mommy.” He stood up and peered over the railing. “I bet I could just grab one.” He stared to climb over the railing to reach the smaller fish at the pond’s edge.

“Do you do that with Mommy?”
“No.”
“Then don’t do it with me.”

My tone was harsher than I expected, but I was now hot, irritated, and ready to move on. Gabe decided that it would be a good time to practice gymnastics and started a parallel bars routine right next to his brother.

“Could you guys just – “

SMACK.

That would be Gabe’s head colliding with Nick’s elbow.

I raised my voice to cut through their crying. “SEE! This is what happens when – “

My thoughts were interrupted by the plaintive wail of my daughter, coming down the path in Lori’s football hold.

“We have to switch,” she announced, thrusting Olivia into my arms. “The parents are all crazy over there. And she does not want to do anything except spit on the ground and scowl.”

I soothed Olivia in my arms. “Well, she’s wet for one. And probably noshy since it’s 11…”

“There’s snacks in the car,” she answered sharply.

“Then I guess you’ll find us there,” I snapped in reply. I spun on my heel, leaving her to deal with the now whimpering boys. Sparing a glance over my shoulder, I saw her gather the boys into her arms, kissing each on the forehead, before resetting their rods and settling in. It looked so idyllic when she was doing it…

Safely ensconced in the air-conditioned car, I changed Olivia and dug out the snacks. We munched happily on granola as we head bobbed to Elmo, everything perfect in our hermetically sealed retreat. Twenty minutes later, the side door flew open and two enthusiastic boys bounded into the car.

“I caught 5 fish,” Nick beamed. “And Gabe caught 2!”

I smiled, genuinely happy for them. Then Lori leaned into the car and placed a gentle peck on my cheek.

“Better?”
I nodded.
“Better?”
She smiled.

As parents, we find happiness in radically different ways. I find mine when I compare notes with other parents, watching our children climb man-made structures. Lori finds hers when she trades observations with our kids, watching them navigate the natural world.

We’re yin and yang, our children centered between us. We play to our strengths, and support each other in our weaknesses.

That being said, she has a lot of heavy lifting ahead as we set off for a 4-day camping trip this weekend.

Fingers crossed, it’s a walk in the…park?

0

Pride Is…

The 21st century Alt-American Family: Created by Love. Sustained by Love.

The 21st century Alt-American Family: Created by Love. Sustained by Love.

Pride is…

  • Sitting on the couch when you were 9 and asking why it’s such a big deal that some boys like boys and some girls like girls and your mom shrugging her shoulders and saying, “love is love.”
  • Watching highlights from the 1993 March on Washington with a group of college friends, noting that one of them has a really cute smile.
  • Scream-singing “Closer I Am To Fine” later than night at an Indigo Girls Concert and realizing that cute smile is directed at you.
  • Buying your first rainbow necklace at We’re Everywhere, convinced that hidden cameras would somehow alert your parents.
  • Buying your first mountain bike at Outspok’n, slapping a rainbow flag on the frame and riding along Belmont with that girl with the cute smile.
  • Directing your first play – a lesbian romantic comedy – because you saw it at Bailiwick and are inspired to recreate it in Chambana.
  • Buying a condo with cute-smile girl, then a house which you would later fill with children.
  • Hearing your first son answer the question “who’s the other lady” with “my other mom” without skipping a beat.
  • Watching your second son forgive as easily as he smiles, whether it’s an errant soccer ball or a bite from his sister. His smile is cute, just like his mom’s.
  • Noting that your daughter’s fierce ability to hold her own with 2 older brothers is both inspiring and terrifying when you consider what her teenage years will be like.
  • Being a part of this beautiful, wonderful, crazy family, created and sustained by love.

I am so grateful for the path that has led us this far, and exited for the journey ahead.

Happy Pride!

0

Happy Mother’s Day – From Huffington Post

"...the random kid at the neighborhood playground who responds to Nick's opening statement of "I have two moms" with "I have a pet hamster -- want to see it?"

“…the random kid at the neighborhood playground who responds to Nick’s opening statement of “I have two moms” with “I have a pet hamster — want to see it?”

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the families out there!

There are so many ways to make a family. Whether you’re a mom, a grandma, a step-mom or Mr. Mom, this is a day to celebrate all of the things you for the children who have chosen to be a part of your life.

I wrote a piece for The Huffington Post to celebrate our family. Read the entire article here.

0

What If? Why Not? And Other Popular Questions

“Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder”
The Dialogues of Plato — Theætetus
By Plato
Est. 400 B.C.

At a birthday party over the weekend, the issue of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and OTHER IMAGINARY CREATURES came up.

“Do you do Santa Claus?” a parent asked me.

“Yes,” I replied.  “But only because Lori threatened to leave me if I did otherwise.”

I went on to explain how I was going to tell the kids that while Santa Claus was completely made up, he represented all of the good feelings that come from spending time with people you love and giving them things that you think they would enjoy.  But no, a man in a red suit did not care if they were good or bad during the year because that’s something that should be self-regulated and not encouraged through bribery and Big Brother BS that encourages performance-for-pay behavior that research has shown does not motivate people for the more creative, conceptual tasks that I think are going to be vital in the long haul.

After a sufficiently awkward silence, the first parent picked up the dropped, and somewhat deflated, conversation ball.

“We kinda make it a big deal in our house.”  And by “big deal” she meant that Santa Claus wrote long letters to their children detailing all of the good things they had done over the year and how proud he was of them.

“Yeah, that kinda feels like lying to me.”

“Don’t think of it like that,” she said sweetly.  “Think of it as creating a sense of wonder.”

Interesting spin, which I considered for all of 5 seconds before returning to my original position.

“Yup.  Still feels like lying.”

And that sense of wonder she referred to?  We do that every day by witnessing the ordinary and stretching our imaginations to the extraordinary with questions like, “how” and “what if”.

What if there were aliens on other planets?  What do you think they would look like?

Nick: 4 eyes and very long arms…and no ears.
Me: How would they hear?
Nick: They have a lot of fingers, so they would put them all on your mouth.
Me:  Would they be nice or mean?
Nick: Nice, because they would invite us for ice cream in their spaceship.
Me: That sounds like fun.

What if we could breathe water?

Nick: That would be so cool.  We could talk to octopuses because we wouldn’t need a helmet.
Me: What language do octopi speak?
Nick: It’s a special sound, like dolphins, but it’s squishier…because they have those sucky things on their arms.
Me: I imagine we’d have to do something pretty special to our genes – you remember the twisty ladder that’s inside our cells?
Nick: Maybe we could mix up the ladders from fish with our ladders.
Me: A little Moreau, but yes, maybe one day.

What if we could build a real lightsaber?

Nick: The laser would go to infinity.
Me: That would be a problem.  How do you think we could fix that?
Nick: We could get something to make it come back….maybe a mirror?
Me: That’s one idea.  So how would we stop it from going to infinity behind us?
Nick: We could get another mirror, a glove mirror.  Or maybe get something to wrap it up in so it stays.
Me: Those are all really great ideas.  Maybe one day you can build your own light saber if you want.
Nick: Only if it’s purple.

The parent ended our birthday party conversation with the opinion that we only had a short period of time to enjoy this sense of wonder.  But I’d like to think that our children never lose it, that with their feet firmly planted in this shared consensus we call reality, and their hands stretched upwards towards the unknowable and the unknown, they will never stop asking questions.

Never stop wondering…

0

Here Comes Peter Cottontail…Eventually

Our Easter celebration was held this past Saturday with surprisingly minimal drama.  It was the perfect gathering. Our 3pm party began with the 3:45 arrival of our family, which is early by CPT* standards. (*colored people time)

Olivia was only dropped once by my sister – who is formally on notice that whatever she does in this house will be heightened and broadcast to a wider audience.  Fortunately, “dropped” is a much more dramatic way of describing the 1-inch forward-tuck-and-roll that Olivia did onto the carpet after she jerked out of my sister’s arms.

“I do know how to hold a baby,” she said, just moments before Olivia dove for her plastic keys.

Uh huh.

At dinner, Gabe turned his nose up at the lamb, but was quite happy to gorge himself on hummus and noodles.  And Nick thoroughly enjoyed his aunt’s gluten-free chocolate cake, until little bumps appeared on his arm and we realized that the cake had coconut flakes in it.  Thank goodness for Benadryl.

By 10pm, our guests had left, the kitchen was clear, and all 3 of our precious angles were passed out in bed.  I peeked my head into each bedroom, completely and utterly in love with each child.

By 7am Sunday morning, I was over it.

The angels from last night had been replaced with Contrary, Clingy and Cranky – 3 creatures from the netherworld who were hell-bent on making sure we didn’t make it to the 10am Easter Egg Hunt. No problem, though.  If we could get through breakfast without any major meltdowns, we would still be able to make it.

Too much to ask for.

Nick is in his omniscient phase, which means that when we remind him to feed the dog, he flops to the floor wailing, “I knoooooooooowwwwwww.” Gabe, in his near-permanent position on Lori’s hip, decides to throw his support behind Nick and join the crying  – which is contagious in our house.  And Olivia is just pissed because her milk isn’t warm enough.  (How many times do I have to tell you people, body temperature!  I don’t care if it is soy formula.  Just fix it Cut to: bottle propelled across kitchen floor.)

When a message from our neighbors reminds us of the 10am start, I snap into single-word drill sergeant mode.

“Nick. Dog.  Gabe. Enough. Olivia. Chill.”

Then I read the full text of the message.  “Easter Bunny visited. Lots of eggs. Kids thrilled.  You?”

Newsflash – Apparently, the Easter Bunny is on par with Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy.  I thought the Easter Bunny only visited malls, parks and schools.  But no, it made house calls too.  I glance at the clock, then to Lori.  “I gotta put S-G-G-E in the D-R-A-Y.”

She hasn’t had her coffee yet, so she greets me with a blank stare.  “I gotta see a man about a horse,” I add, then hightail – cottontail?! – it to the mudroom to look for plastic eggs and old Halloween candy.  Outside, I haphazardly scatter eggs in bushes, trees, in plain view – anywhere that doesn’t require that my arms unfold from my chest since it’s 40 degrees, I am still in my pj’s, and I don’t wear a bra to bed.

When I get back inside, Lori has the kids calmly eating breakfast.  At my raised eyebrow, she points at the bunny ears adorning each head.  “New Shiny Thing.  Very Effective.”

“Nice. Hey guys, I just saw the Easter Bunny leave.  I think there are eggs in the backyard.”  Calm goes out the window as Nick jumps up from the table, Gabe slides from his booster, narrowly missing hitting his head, and Olivia gives one of her periodic squawks.

“Couldn’t wait the 5 minutes from them to finish,” Lori observes dryly.  I have no time for a witty retort since Nick is already out the door with his basket grabbing every egg in sight while Gabe is still one-stepping it down the back stairs.

“Save some for your brother!!!!” I yell, then I remember Olivia.  “And sister.”

“I knoooooooowwwwwwwww.”

At final count, Nick has 25 eggs, Gabe 7, Olivia 1.

When we’re finally on our way at 9:55, after tearing thru 6-month-old candy – chocolate, ok; gum, not so much – I take a good look at our ragtag crew.  Nick’s legs are ash-white from the Lotion Boycott of 2012, Gabe’s uncombed fro holds bits of breakfast from the Spring Hair Wars, and Olivia has branded Lori’s and my shirts with yellowish-white streaks thanks to the Q2 Spit-Up-On-You Summit.

We don’t reach the Easter Egg Hunt until 10:15.

Fortunately, it starts at 10am…CPT*.