Minutes later, he is bathed and wrapped in a towel. Older kids are watching TV. Baby is contentedly meddling with a box of (child-proof!) vitamins on the carpet. The universe has afforded me a window, a magical porthole; I only have to get the delectable three year old to sleep in this opening and the rest will take care of itself. Easy. Smooth. Sweet.
“When’s the best time to have kids?”
“When they’re asleep!” someone once quipped.
The tongue in cheek here is not lost on young parents.
The daily din and hubbub with little ones is constant and we parents need a
break as much as they do.
there is something deeper in that hushed pause, something transcendent even, something deeply poetic —
the love that trickles in but
the love that spills
is not looking
is not finding or seeking
time is now
you’re the sister and I’m the mommy, pretend I’m the dog, pretend my name is Flora,
frolicks and revels in a world of pretend. As she plays “school” with her popsicle
sticks, I marvel at the fluidity with which she weaves in and out of an
assortment of characters.
her pretend play she is constantly taking on different roles, assuming
different selves. Intuitively, she internalizes the idea that the ‘self’ is
ever shifting, that it is but a mere snapshot of us in a given moment. Through her play,
Liliana’s ‘self’ is multifaceted; it is shaped by interactions. The vastly
different characters that she assumes, I realize, are not outside of her but
she plays pretend, Liliana is not stuck in being, but is always on the brink of
expansive in this idea of making “as if”. ‘If’
denotes a condition that spawns potential. When we make “as if” we are opening up a space that
encompasses and contains potential.
We rarely know where the bumbling path of “as if” will take us; but we
must brace ourselves for the ride. Because it WILL take us places. Funny
places, sobering places, earnest places, startling places: all of them, places
of discovery. Playing “as if” is very simply, a form of exploration. And the
streams of exploration feed into the sea of discovery.
the corner stool at the kitchen table and works on his math homework. He talks
through it aloud, including me in the problem solving process. I nod, throw in some
hmms for good measure, and let my mind wander to a different array of problems
that need solving (math was never my strong suit) – what are we doing for
dinner, when do I have to nurse Sophie again, how are we going to negotiate the
three pick-ups in three different locations tomorrow afternoon —
and I nod perfunctorily. I’m glad he’s getting it because I sure as hell ain’t.
Only moments later, he says “no that can’t be it,” and I let out a regretful “hmmm”
and purse my lips in a diffident gesture of helplessness. He goes on to
elucidate why that can’t be it and my perfunctory nods make a comeback.
have to keep trying over and over until you get it.”
into awareness: WAIT WHAT??
failed attempt — “fuck this shit, I suck at this, this is the stupidest suck that
ever did suck, I give up.”
growth mindset. According to Dweck, we can be placed on a continuum based on
our implicit views on ability; on one end lie those of us who believe our
success is based on innate ability (“fixed”), and on the other, those who believe
that success is a result of dogged persistent trial and error (“growth”).
solving a problem; he “plays” with different scenarios. He too is not stuck in
being, but teeters on the verge of becoming.
I watch my children play to learn, I realize that I need to learn to play, that
I need to un-“fix” and “grow” my mindset. I pretend I’m the sister and she’s
the mommy and I instantly get “schooled”:
I need your phone
Because I’m the Mommy.
wince, smile, accede, and lean further in: to a place where now, my daughter,
experiences a sense of command, and I, a sense of vulnerability. Our “as-if”
play opens a draft of delicate awareness.
such as Confucius, advocated living “as if”. Sociologists Puett and Gross-Loh
are reaffirming this ancient view, claiming that “by engaging in as-if rituals
– which are the very opposite of the sincere, authentic approach to ourselves –
we will develop into better human beings.” (Stop
trying to ‘find yourself’, The Guardian, May 8, 2016)
end of the day, I think, I’ve learned something. But the end of the day is not
that kids are wizards when it comes to timing; that that anticipated and dreaded
stretch we call “bed-time” which punctuates a long weary day is the muddied
place where children “wake-up”. That this, the point at which you, dear
parents, are longing for peace and aching for repose, a glass of wine, a pint
of ice cream, a mind-numbing sitcom on Netflix, for collapse on any level
surface, this — is when those wonder-filled creatures take it upon themselves
to pull you in, to stretch your day, to curtail your night, to ponder life’s mystifying
still so many bad people? Why do people want to be bad?”
first person get here if they weren’t in their mommy’s tummy?”
pretend like I know the answer. Not pretend like there is a singular answer.
But making “as if”. This game of pretend, like a child’s pretend play, is not
about deception, not about laying claim to, not about phoniness, but about
imagination, about make-believe, about drawing forth a wellspring of
possibility. Parenting is of course, a timeless game of improvisation.
reins; I drive the agenda.
winding and turning – becoming — a discussion on the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam (the injunction to repair
the world), compassion, and how little things measure up. How inviting one
person to play with you can save and change that person’s life. Cue in another
Jewish proverb: if you’ve saved one life, you’ve saved the world.
shifts, and becomes:
“do-over”, a second chance, and a third, and fourth, and fifth – to revise the
answer, to apologize, to breathe before you speak, to make “as if”.
respond, but also to question. For As If
is closely connected to What If. What if I were _____? Well, let’s make “as if”. There is a
generative relationship between questioning and learning, between playing and discovering.
dog, of baby. And I watch my children take on the roles of brother, of father,
of grandmother. As the boundaries become fluid, a rarefied reflection surfaces.
I glean their version of familial roles and discern both the apparent and the
suggestive: the What Is and the What If.
who we are when we note the not-so-good patterns we’ve fallen into and then
actively work to shift them (i.e. I should probably be less attached to my
phone) – “as if” we were different people
in that moment. In drawing on different sides of ourselves, we come
back slightly changed.
to allow for “growth”.
of characters, is that you’re a part of something that’s greater than the sum
of its parts. In playing “family”, I expand my sense of family.
family delineates all six of us (named). Plus a dog (un-named)!
visit, after I casually mention the usual maternal ailments: sleep-deprivation,
sleep deprivation. Sleep. Deprivation.
dangles, patiently, charitably. Here I was getting attention, not giving it,
and I wanted desperately to cling to this flash of unchecked vulnerability, to the specter of speaking, and being heard, with no interruptions. Of course
there is more. There is always more.
admit, calling to mind the flames that she fans:
and pounces (on baby). “Ooohh he has such a cute butt ah koochy koochy koochy”.
You have a cute butt. “Oh booty-butt booty butt booty-butt,” she chants
spiritedly, delivering light rhythmic smacks to baby’s behind. All this while I
am trying to nurse the sweet cherub.
reflexively displaced, would have characterized her great-granddaughter’s impassioned
style as ’בכל לבבשך’, a superb phrase that is loosely translated as “with ALL your heart,
with your entire being”. In Liliana’s case, it is with all [her] body. And volume.
And grit. And guts.
her spunk, her energy, her belly laugh are qualities I have long prized. But the
nature of her “bigger than life” temperament summarily transforms an embrace to
a smother, a pat to a thump. Meanwhile, my “bigger than life” fatigue teeters
on the verge of transforming a gentle plea into a spirited kick in her oh so cute
needs to be on stage, front and center; it’s not easy living with a mini-me.
the orchestra pit, with his dad. His mellow disposition jives elegantly with my
emotionally wrought one. And his sweet awkwardness with baby is nothing short
saying “these fucking kids are driving me crazy” on the phone one time, when I
was “single momming” it while simultaneously completing an intensive teacher
education study program. So now, there’s this.
smirk off of mine (her usage of the punctuating adjective is after all, on
point) and tell her, sternly, that that language is inappropriate. She then
affects a wounded pout and moans: “it’s all because of you”. I bite my tongue
and attempt a deep breath, knowing that the inevitable – the “remember what I
said?” cry is imminent. Liliana’s arsenal of cries is handily designed. And it
drives me fucking mad.
misplaced rubber band bracelet please me, somewhere deep inside; the pleasure principle,
I suppose, has something to do with gender-bending those stereotypes, with
raising and cultivating sensitive, emotionally literate boys. I shrug off
the speck of “reverse genderism” that drifts by and plow on, guilty pleasure
retained, in my decided social betterment.]
of tears and posits but one antidote: a big strapping hug. The kind that
requires mobility and free open arms: luxuries I rarely possess these days.
outstretched. My initial annoyance at being displaced is assuaged as I feel her
taut body soften in my arms. I linger a little, inhaling her warmth and
alleviating my guilt for wanting to thwack her only moments earlier.
it dreadfully as I sit nursing, wedged, repeatedly, in the same corner
of the couch, feeling blessed and stuck at once. But when my dear husband walks
in the door, the kids beat me to it. “ABA ABA ABA”, their frenzied yells
explode and pierce the air as their buoyant steps dash across the floor. I have
no chance. I affect a faint smile. On the inside, a tantrum is bubbling,
howling: “REMEMBER WHAT I SAID?”
they must be let out; they must be heard. But what they boast in intuition,
they lack in delicacy. Inner tantrums need to be translated into outer words;
in order to be understood and accepted, their expression must be tempered. Yet
we big people, trained in the path of mitigation, often temper our temper, to
the point of bottling it in. Neither
the tempestuous nor the temperate paths are altogether effective.
any age? Are we to be direct or delicate? Arouse emotion or appeal to reason? There
is a subtle line between letting out and holding in. Or holding out and letting
in. It’s hardly linear. Oftentimes, it’s as much about giving and believing
than it is about asking and wanting. Like pieces of a mobile, we are perched:
hovering on the brink of motion, pining to sway to the music. The thread that
connects us floats lightly. You move one piece and the assembled pieces, are in
turn, set in motion.
Tuesday or Thursday — I routinely braced myself for the looming bedtime frenzy.
Baby was awake and fussy, and kids were bouncing off the walls. I stammered
something about needing to go take care of baby, and Liliana suggested that I
take him with me to her bed. Visions of bed acrobatics, dramatic tears, and “booty
butt” slapping swirled in my head. But I released my breath and slowly climbed,
babe in arms, into her bed. I could feel my breath shortening as I let out the
typical bedtime commands: Head. On. Pillow. Now. After some shifting and
bounding, she moved her pillow to my end of the bed, and there, leaning against
the big yellow pouf, I sat, one hand stroking her hair, one cradling baby,
focusing desperately on my exhale. Moments later, Liliana turned to me with a
glimmer in her eye and whispered: “best night ever”. We hadn’t been doing
anything out of the ordinary, just sitting there: In the dark, in close
contact. I smiled and moved my hand to stroke her cheek.
balloons. She was poised to unleash
her latest concoction: “Best. Fucking. Ima. Ever!” The child for whom life is to be writ and lived LARGE needs a
plentiful supply of punctuation, and she had found a mark that was juicy and
Ima ever is something I can live with. Merrily.
relationships, can go from “fucking Ima” to “best fucking Ima” in a flash, is
reassuring. Of course the direction can also be reversed. But there is
something slippery and gooey and good about the mercurial space between the
two. Was it my hand on her head that changed her mood? Was it her words that
changed mine? Does the behavior affect the mood or does the mood affect the
behavior? Perhaps they are two sides of the same coin, as is the ear-splitting belly
laugh that refreshes me at turns, and that irks me at others. Relationships are
nuanced and complex. One of the few things that seem certain is that change is
bound to happen when you least expect it. Nothing is irreversible. Twists of
attitude, shifts of perspective — all are faces of the enduring coin.
words still trickling over me, I grasped something: her need for love and
attention was met. I know what it’s like when it’s not, and I know what it’s
like when it is. And when it is, there’s no denying it: best fucking feeling ever! Be it a vigorous embrace or a muted kiss
on the forehead.
knots, and note the babe’s bright open smile. “He loves me”, she pronounces,
“look, he’s smiling”. Yes he does, I accede. He is sporting a jovial smile
laughingly counters: “I’m not a baby”, as she folds into my arms. I smile.
Sometimes life’s horns are to be given, not taken. Flip it and reverse it! Let
her love life. I am living love.
my bedroom in the morning. Groggy and bleary-eyed, I mumble, “it’s still early,
maybe she’ll arrive later…”
restorative measures. Sticker charts are scattered on the dining room table,
and the pee-pee fairy has become a long-standing fixture. Having undergone
various permutations since her original thrust on dryness throughout the night,
(“bed” – as in “stay in it” – fairy, [fill in the blank] fairy), the fanciful
pixie of choice, who leaves a little something under the pillow, remains,
irrevocably, the pee-pee fairy.
bearing supernatural or magical powers. They are also capricious and
mischievous. On count of the latter, I stand guilty.
porous and flawed.
come in the afternoons and not in the mornings?
sleep in the morning, to gather her energies… she’s a little sleepy and mixed
take a picture of her?”
thinking, coupled with a twinkle in the eye and a diffident smile: “Ima, why
does the pee pee fairy only come when you’re at home?”
many days off?” Hers is a different kind of thinking; she is less concerned
with the conundrum of the thinly disguised fairy, and more with the sprite’s —
whomsoever she may be –unseemly neglect.
affiliation with the pee-pee-fairy: “you smiled so I know you’re joking.
Smiling means you’re joking!”
so familiar that it is laughable: “ Hey, what do you kids expect?” I lob
offhandedly, “you know the pee-pee fairy’s schedule…”
maintains her hold, her allure.
reason and faith fuels our fancy. In this space, the question of whether to believe
or not to believe is hushed, muted; what resonates in its place is a serene
acknowledgment: how nice it is to suspend our disbelief. Faith and logic, while differing, are
sometimes two sides of the same coin.
still more creases in its folds: it insinuates pleated pulls between us and the
universe… crinkled tugs between action and destiny.
how do wishes come true?”
what the nature of the wish is, is it something that you yourself can actualize
or something that relies on the grace of some entity, is it material or
spiritual, is it or…
something a long time ago on a shooting star, when we were in Hawaii, and it
still didn’t come.
have no agency in its potential actualization.
that they will happen? Between planning and letting be?
role of those amorphous fairies — to surreptitiously prepare measures and
serve up conditions – and then to flutter away and observe the magic.
the freedom to flutter away with them.
for now: because at this stage, life is about thinking big. And control.
to Liliana’s upcoming 5th birthday: “Well then you can’t come to my
birthday!” she storms off indignantly.
do what I want”, goes her logic, “then I won’t let you do what you want.” It’s
the kind of logic that’s not easy to dispute.
two, no three, things…”
resolute case of divergent (or shall we say selective) thinking: as she
clutches the thing she wants in the store, she declares that I said maybe and
that “maybe means maybe yes!” (To my retort that maybe also means maybe no, she
shakes her head firmly, narrowing her eyes and shaping her lips into her
and crinkles his nose in repugnance as if to say what a rip-off, a colossal
waste of money.]
and secretly desire to buy HIM everything, I gather my corrective energies and
prepare to stand my ground with her and block a barrage of vitriol.
sometimes feels thin. But it holds; it’s my
way of thinking big, my measure of control.
A lot. Mercifully, I’ve come to a point where I welcome it: with a grin.
to the release of emotional extremes. I do not wish to deny her anger, to deny
her spectrum of emotions.
words just roll off your skin like a gelatinous yolk; something to be said for
the sense of vindication in my role as mother — not as peer — vis-à-vis my
daughter that spreads over me. Mostly, there is something to be said for
knowing that “forever”, in the conception of a child, is ephemeral and
to me, wrapping her arms around me. The moment of “hating forever” has its
place, because it inevitably morphs into an eternity of loving “in the moment”.
moment is invariably symbiotic.
after reading the story, what feels better, to give or receive? “To hug Ima”,
Sebastian offered, and they each took their turn hugging me. I of course hugged
them back, radiating warmth. And thought: what an apt synthesis of the
giving-receiving conundrum: plainly you can’t give a hug without receiving one
and clutches me, before running back to perform daredevil acrobatics on the
flush-faced, and enfolds my leg gently. He unfolds an encoded I love you note
and goes on about shadow puppets, long-necked dinosaurs, mystery codes, and
injunctions for him and his sister to slow down, to not grow so fast have given
way to hushed marvels at the people they are becoming.
who must slow down; so that I can
appreciate the wondrous ways that they are growing up. It is I who must wander into fairyland, and have faith — that
everything is progressing logically — that the real is fantastic, and that the
fantastic is real.