Monday, September 29, 2008

Obama Mama

A few days ago, Noah tagged along on an evening grocery store trip, just to talk to me. Let me relish in that statement for a moment: just. to. talk. Sigh. The transition back to school this year, after two blissful (at least that’s how I’m choosing to remember them) years of home education has been tough (on me). For Noah, there is this whole new world of kickball, a classroom with rats and a tarantula, and some kid who drinks milk through his nose at lunch.

But me.

Pitiful me has been walking around with tears always ready to break over the banks. Pitiful me has become the obnoxious presence in the principal’s office, “Do you need a healthy snack flyer?” “Do you really need to allow children to bring Game Boys on field trip bus rides? I mean, there are books to read, right?” “Could I offer you up some information on the latest in experiential education? You do know what that means…”

I will admit to being a bit of an, um, control freak (by this I mean totally neurotic to the point that most of my friends are wary to talk to me at the moment) about Noah’s return to school experience. I want him to love it. And yet, I think some part of me wants him to not love it, because I liked being his teacher, and I miss him. So I find myself in this constant tizzy of fear and frustration with the school system, even though Noah is perfectly happy just about anywhere, including his fourth grade classroom. He so detests shopping of any variety, however, that I assumed this trip to “talk” at the grocery store was to espouse protest about the nature of mindless homework and public school life. Imagine my surprise when he instead said:

“It’s politics, mom. The kids at school just do not have the same politics that I do. And I don’t know what to do about it. You talk to anyone who will listen about Obama and his good qualities. And I thought I could do that too. And then a lot of kids started saying crazy things, like he is a terrorist or stupid or a liar. A liar, mom. I just don’t know how to deal with it.”

Oh boy. I should pause here to say that having a mother who is a tried and true liberal, who makes “Bush is a total moron/war monger/children’s health care initiative slaughterer/red neck with poor grammar” common place dinner conversation does perhaps taint one’s abilities to NOT lean left or possess burgeoning interest in the political happenings on our planet. And Noah, being Noah, has been a Democrat sponge for as long as I can remember.
In 2006, he begged to go to Washington, DC, so he could see “where he would be” as president someday. During that trip, he created a plan to reduce homelessness (I’m serious) and decided all wars would be played with chess pieces, not people (Arlington cemetery did a number on him). In 2008, we returned to DC, per Noah’s request. He stood outside the white house and yelled at George W. about his many, many mistakes in office. I thought this was funny, until a family clad in matching flag leather jackets almost jumped us. And the morning coffee shop conversations went something like this:

Noah: “Mom, if Bush is so terrible, how did he get elected twice?”
Me: “There is this man named Karl Rove….”

The next day: “Mom, the democrats need a Karl Rove.”

Obama, for Noah, has been something of a dream come true. He has read biographies and memorized parts of his speeches. He has watched me be moved to tears as I talk about the hope of 2008, and he has cracked up at his little brother, dancing to the Yes We Can montage while wearing his “Barack and Roll” t-shirt. An outspoken nine year-old, Noah is always discussing politics with adults, listening with that true ear of a child, and responding with thoughtful comments, like “Yes, but McCain voted for the war, and for 90-percent of the other stuff George Bush wanted. Not to mention he is really old, and um, I wouldn’t want my mom running the country, even if she is a really nice person.”

I have vacillated on how much I should encourage this penchant for politics. On one hand, I believe it is important for my children to see to understand the importance of using our voices, to vote in ways that protect the greater good. On the other hand, I worry about moments like this one. I worry that political problems are too big, too deep, too, well, much for a child. As a member of Mothers Acting Up, I try to focus my energy in joy, even when it comes to the hard and sometimes heartbreaking work that goes with standing up for the world’s women and children. I try to hope for the dream of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals; I try not to get bogged down in the depressing reality of the Iraq War, the state of public education, health care, and anything else our cowboy president has blundered, or even the paralyzing fact that 11 million children in this world still die every year because of extreme poverty and easily preventable diseases. And yet, this election, I find myself struggling to not get on a soapbox. I struggle to be an understanding friend to those whose political views may differ from my own. My newest Pavlovian instinct is to vomit upon hearing the word “Palin.”

So I started to fill Noah’s steel trap memory with facts to be regurgitated when his playground banter turns political. As I’m loading him up with the Blueprint for Change, however, I notice his eyes looking down at the grocery store’s linoleum flooring. His lower lip is sucked in and his shuffling his feet.

“I-I-I just don’t want to have to argue with anybody. I just want to believe that the person who has the right heart, who is good and kind to win. I thought Obama is supposed to be the hope we can believe in, Mom.”

I stopped and dropped the box of Cliff Bars I’d been debating over into the grocery cart. My eyes met my sons, and I saw that image of oneness that is hard to describe, and harder to find as our children grow. It struck me that in this place of unbalance our country is in, how my desperation for change has put my son in a place far too old for his pure and waiting heart. I scooped him up in my arms, his legs so long now that his feet almost still touched the floor.

“I’m sorry,” I murmured, as he wiggled free, checking the aisle to make sure no one under 80 had seen.

“We just need to hope mom,” he said, patting my hand before he steered the cart back toward the cookies.

The words flowed off his tongue with ease and with honesty.

“Yes, yes. Hope,” I responded. “It is what this election is about above all else, and it is the place I need to operate from too. You should worry about things like kickball and leave this presidential pooh-bah to the grown ups.”

Noah nodded slowly, and then added with a (slightly wicked) grin, “Thanks….but by the way, where is my “Obama: I’d like a smart president this time” t-shirt?”

Monday, September 1, 2008

On his own time, or, the perils of poop

*While I want to write about our trip to the North Channel, and I will, I have been stuck in bed (for a week!!) with the crud, and so this is more along the lines of what I've been feeling:)

I have this reoccurring dream, where I am sitting on the floor between two enormously pooped-in diapers. It’s graphic: one has a tennis ball size poo, the other is oozing onto the carpet, a sweet orange breast milk river that toppled over its banks. I am trying to change both, fighting two sets of failing legs, attempting not to gag or get dung of either variety all over me. It’s a nightmare of, well, poopy proportions.

Oh, wait.

I’m not sleeping.

I have declared my house a full on poop wasteland folks. And I’m waving the white flag of defeat.

Once upon a time, Max was almost potty trained. And then came Lizzie. When we said hello to baby sister, we summarily said goodbye to the toilet. At first, I assumed it was just a phase.

“Leave him be,” became my mantra to all who antagonized my weeping puddle of a three year-old. With every, “Max, do you have to go pee-pee?” or “Max, why are you grunting? Let’s go potty,” came a shriek and banshee-worthy cry from the child who was already walking around yelling “I been dethroned! I been de-th-th-th-roooooooned!” It made sense to me, to Dr. Sears, to Peggy O’Mara, to just about everyone who knows anything about child rearing, that this was simply a little glitch in the giddy-up, an expression of a little boy who was searching for his new role in the family.

Of, course, Dr. Sears does not know Max.

Ah, Max. He is an incredible force of energy. His smile (that oh so devious and disarming smile) is enough to make every female from age three to 100 melt, myself included. I could write forever about the Maxism’s that I get to hear each day:

“Mama, I need my cape. You’re never fully dressed without a cape” (or Viking hat, or owl mask, or knight shield, depending on the day….and yes, we went through a watch Annie ten times a week phase, if the above phrase sounded vaguely familiar).

Me: “Max, come over here please.
Max: “Can’t mama. I’m heading to South America.
Me: “South America? What for?
Max: good tacos.

“I’m just saying mom, (palms held up in the air in that ‘well duh’ fashion) if I were an elephant, I would totally pick stuff up with my nose to eat it.”

Where Noah is my thinker, and Lizzie is my appendage, Max is this concoction of a shaken up pop bottle, a shot of nitrous, and a dose of radiant life rolled into one little toddler body. But he also has a huge helping of holy hell stubbornness in him ( I have no idea where that comes from) that adds the following phrases to his favorite vocabulary choices:
“Nope. I don’t think so. Well, thing is…. Not a good idea. I choose no way. Nuh-uh. NO. I don’t waaaaaaant to.”

And my personal favorite, “You can’t make me go!”

He grunts this, obviously, as he is squatting in some corner, butt high in the air, face red.

The anti-potty has become a sticking point. No negotiations (Max, if you go potty on the potty, you can buy all the glow in the dark underwear you want); no reward system (we tried that, and after five times and one Playmobile airplane, he looked at me and said, “I got my prize. Pull-ups, please”); or even sad reality checks (Max, you cannot go to preschool with Josie and Cal next week if you don’t pee and poop on the pot) have made a dent in our need to stock size 3-4 T training pants.

In fact, the more he hears anyone say “go on the potty,” the more he resists. We now are literally on the enema-a-week plan, which inevitably produces terds that have been known to require the toilet be plunged for over an hour. Okay, too much information. But still. For anyone who has been this road before, you know how hard it is to hear your child wake up and say, “uh-oh, it isn’t enema day, is it?”

Through a blur of tears, I looked at my pediatrician desperately a few weeks ago, recounting how “he doesn’t even care if he’s got dookie in his pants. How do you train someone to go on the toilet that looks at you with something that resembles a rabbit tail sticking out of his rear, and says with a smile, “oh, I’m fine.” I went on to blubber about how this whole thing must be my fault, “I should have given him more attention. When Liz was born, I went into the abyss of nursing and didn’t come out…I pushed him. He’s constantly constipating because I pushed or I didn’t protect him enough when everyone else pushed...”

“I’m a horrible mother and my son will never have a normal bowel movement because of me,” I found myself wailing.

My doctor responded with a chuckle and a shrug. “Do you see lots of kids in middle school or high school wearing diapers?”

I said, “well, no,” although I was secretly picturing Max at 16, coming home from soccer practice in a gigantic pull-up. Oh, God.

“He’ll go when he’s ready. On his own time. Don’t push and don’t fret, because after all, you can’t make him.”

Hmmm. I never thought pooping in your pants could become a source of parental zen-like philosophy. And I’ll be honest folks, when I’m elbow deep in two dirty diapers all I can think is, no matter how you slice it, this just stinks.

**let it be noted, I had to stop to change diapers four times while writing this post!