Monday, March 29, 2010

Goodbye, Tissa.

Tissa is a local celebrity here on Old Barn Ct. If Finny is feeling a little tired, a little blue, a little bored with his mundane lifestyle of choo-choos and measuring cups, as soon as Tissa makes her appearance, gray skies clear up. If nightmares plague his sleep or a shiver wakes him from his slumber, all it takes is a little Tissa to immediately lull him back to sleep. If Catholic mass is feeling long and stiff and all together just too quiet and contemplative, all we need is our good friend Tissa to make the time pass a little bit faster.

So, when I tell you that Tissa doesn’t charge us a dime for her services and then when I tell you I let Tissa go last Friday, told her her services were no longer needed here, you might exclaim, “How on earth could you let such a good thing go?!”

My answer to you would be, “Excellent question.”

What, Jill, were things getting too easy for you around here? Was Finny sleeping too well these days? You missed the old days of terrible teething and hour long naps? Were you getting bored with your three hour chunk of time to yourself? Feeling disappointed when Finny would go to bed without so much as a whimper of protest?

No, it was none of these things. I got rid of Tissa because suddenly she had a name, this inexplicable name, Tissa. Up until this point, Tissa had simply been Finny’s generic old paci that he took at naps and at bed time, but suddenly, he began to call out for her at all hours of the day begging for Tissa, Tissa, Tissa! Nightly, we’d hear, around 4 a.m., Finny calling out, “Tissa, Tissa, Tissa!” I knew it could only mean one thing: addiction, dependence, attachment. I needed to put a stop to it.

So I sat down in front of the internet and read and read and read. There was story upon story about how parents got their babies and toddlers to part with their pacis. Some parents cut off the tips of the binkies so that they were no longer appealing. I only needed to read one story about how this is a choking hazard to convince me that this was not the approach for me. Some moms said take it before they’re one, some said take it when they’re two, three, four. Some said just throw it away. Some said talk about it. Tell them the Binkie fairy is coming. Some said it ruins their teeth. Some said it’s not a big deal. But many said when you make the decision to take it, one thing’s for sure, you’ve got to stick to it.

So, I did it. Last Friday morning when Finny woke up, I told him today we were going to say bye, bye to Tissa. “Tissa is going to be with the babies,” I said to my eighteen-month-old son, who looked back at me with his baby face and repeated, “Bah-bye Tissa. Baby. Tissa. Bah-bye.”

And then he clung to my side all morning and cried. So, we went to Target and I bought him three new trains, thinking a shiny new choo-choo in the Tissa cup would be enough to distract him from the fact that Tissa was no longer there. But at nap time, when I put him in his crib, he clung to his new choo-choo and shook the rails of his bed crying out, “Tissa, Tissa, Tissa!”

I closed the door and paced across the kitchen floor. I cleaned furiously hoping that by the time I turned off the vacuum, the crying would be over and he would be asleep. The crying continued. I went out on the deck with my book and a cup of coffee thinking by the time I finished a chapter and came back in, the crying would be over. The crying continued. Two hours passed and I wondered, at what point will the neighbors call Children’s Services? At two and a half hours, I could endure it no longer, and I went in and pulled my tired, frazzled, hoarse baby out of bed.

David called, “Maybe we shouldn’t take it now. Maybe it’s not the time.”

“No, I’m in it to win it,” I answered. “When you make the decision to take it, you’ve got to stick to it.”

So we went about our day drawing with chalk, blowing bubbles, and playing with choo-choos and all the while Finny participated in a sort of nap-starved daze.

All day long, he wouldn’t eat, he wouldn’t sleep, and he pooped five times, more than he’s ever pooped in a day in his life.

Finally, it was time for bed. He cried through his entire bath, a part of the day, he usually loves. And then, we sat in his rocker and we read books and he relaxed and he listened. But when I got to the part about saying our prayers, the part he knows comes right before bed, he burst into tears. But I was in it to win it, so I put him in bed and watched as he shook his crib rails, crying, dark circles framing his eyes. I walked out of the room strong, determined, in charge.

As I sat downstairs, listening to my tired baby cry, I got on the internet and looked up more stories. But this time, I noticed something else. I saw story upon story of people who took the Tissa without tears. Parents who said it was actually no big deal. Parents whose children were two and three years old. Old enough to understand, to talk it out.

And then, with a giant sigh, I let myself off the hook. If it felt so awful, if it felt so traumatic, if it felt like the wrong decision, why should I stick to it?

So I called up old Tissa, told her I’d made a mistake and begged her to come back. She agreed and the moment she hit Finny’s lips, he collapsed in his crib, eyes closed, sound asleep within no more than a second.

Maybe I’m a fool for trying to take it, maybe I’m a softy for giving it back, and maybe, just maybe, I did exactly what I was supposed to do in this challenging job of parenting: trial and error.

Welcome back, Tissa. We love you, we missed you, please stay a little longer.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My Rotting Brain

It is generally not okay to admit this because it makes people uncomfortable but I’m going to do it because hey, maybe there are others like me out there? So here it is: Lately, I find I am extraordinarily worried about what other people think of me. I think it is because I spend so much time with just Finny that I’m nervous that I’m forgetting how to interact properly and tactfully with other adults. I find myself having adult conversations and then over-analyzing them with thoughts like, “Was that offensive? Was that a weird thing to say? Do I sound like a moron?”

It’s dangerous to spend too much time by yourself or with someone who can’t talk or form advanced thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, I love more than anything in the whole world the time I get with my snuggly, lovely, smiley Finny. But I sometimes worry that while full-time motherhood is growing my heart, it also may be rotting my brain. And this line of thinking always leads me to wonder what it is I’m supposed to do with my life. I think this is why I love reading memoir and personal essays so much right now. I want to know what decisions other people make for their lives and how it serves them and would they do it again the same way. I want to ask working, writing moms how they do it. How do you find the discipline and time to write? How do you find the courage to publish? How do you get over the guilt of not making any money? How do you figure out how to make money? How do you do all this and still get plenty of sleep and still make Chicken Cacciatore in the Crockpot and still put together a fabulous scrapbook for your son and still once in a while clean the kitchen floor and learn how to landscape your garden and send a letter to HGTV to come design your living room and kitchen and sun porch? How do you do all this and still manage to sit on the back deck with a cup of coffee on a sunny day and read a book? Help me out here, Moms, because I’m having a hard time figuring out how to do it all and so most of the time I am so overwhelmed by the thought of doing it all that I just sit on the couch and eat thin mints. Then, when Finny gets up, I think, “Up so soon?” And I also think, “Thank God, I have to stop thinking about myself now and pour some juice and quack like a duck and watch Finny put everything he can find into the fish pitcher in the kitchen cabinet.”

It’s dangerous to admit that you feel a little self-conscious and inadequate sometimes, but maybe, just maybe someone else will read it and say, “Me too!” And if not, well then, it felt good to write it for myself because sometimes writing is the best and only thing I can do to exhale and start to think maybe I’m just a human being having a human moment and there’s nothing too terribly weird or offensive or wrong with me after all.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What's in a name, Shakespeare? A lot. A whole lot.

The evasive “Mama.” Just when I think I’m getting close to hearing this word, it sneaks down some back alley and all I get is some other inferior sounding thing.

When Finny was twelve months old he said something that resembled this word when he would sing the Patti Page “Mama Doll Song” with me and would echo “Mama” with “Baba.” It made me smile.

Well, “Baba” went away for a few months and for a long time I became “Dah-dah.” “Who am I, Finny?” David would ask. “Dah-dah!” he’d exclaim with gusto.

“Who am I, Finny?” I’d ask. “Dah-dah!” he’d exclaim with gusto. He might as well have said, “Chopped liver.”

Then, one day a couple months ago, I asked again, “Who am I, Finny?” And he answered, “Kiss!” I bear a slight, non-existent resemblance to Gene Simmons, but I think maybe it’s because I demand kisses so often that he started to think that was my name.

For a short while recently when I would ask, “Finny, what’s my name?” the answer, clear as day, was, “Bessy!” Not sure when or how I became a cow or how Bessy in any way resembles Mama, but at least I had a name distinct from “Dah-dah.”

And then, suddenly, last weekend, March 6, 2010 to be exact, it arrived like a package at the bottom of the stairs.

I was upstairs getting ready for our trip to Louisville and Finny was downstairs with David when he came looking for me. I was searching for more diapers when I heard it: “Ma-MA!” From the bottom of the stairs, “Ma-MA!” Like a seventeen month old Frenchman, “Ma-MA!” Again and again. He was calling to me. By name! “Ma-MA! Ma-MA! Ma-MA!”

I bolted to the top of the stairs like Juliet looking for her Romeo. “What did you say, Finny?”

“Ma-MA!” And I literally felt my heart melt all over my ribs and slide down my legs to my feet.

“Say it again! Say it again! Say it again!” I bolted down the stairs and scooped him up.


I ran into the kitchen. “David, did you hear it?!”

“Yeah, I heard it,” he laughed, “Finally, his hundredth word, after tree, Pop-pop, car, coat, girl, bawk-bawk, duck, dog, books, Jane...” David went on.

“Doesn’t matter. He said it. He called me by name.”

Sure, I remember where I was when I heard that Michael Jackson died. I remember very vividly the day the World Trade Center was attacked. I can tell you exactly how I watched the inauguration of our first black president. I can even strangely remember where I was when John Denver died. I remember these big, historical events pretty clearly along with a great many others who shared in these big national moments.

But the day I first heard my son speak my name, no one else will record this in the history books. There will be no newspaper clipping, no national headlines. This one is all up to me. So go ahead, ask me where I was the day I became the most important person on the planet. I’ll tell you: It was Saturday morning, March 6, 2010. I was at the top of the stairs. I was looking for diapers. My heart was in a puddle at me feet.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Love is patient. Love is kind.

Sunday was gorgeous, the first really pretty day in a long time. Sunday was so gorgeous, in fact, so unexpectedly beautiful, that David decided it would be the perfect day for running out of gas in the middle of I-71 North with a sleeping toddler in the backseat.

We were driving home from a visit with his parents in Louisville, timing it just right so that Finny would sleep the whole car ride home, when about an hour into our trip, he noticed he couldn’t accelerate up a slight hill. “Uh-oh, I think I’m out of gas,” he observed suddenly as he steered us off to the right shoulder.

“Nuh-uh,” I said, “You are not.”



This sort of thing--being stranded on the highway, hiking without a map, missing a train and having to spend the night in a convent—this sort of unexpected drama life sometimes throws our way as the result of human error or just plain bad luck, was at one time, sort of thrilling. In fact, I used to tell my old buddy, BethAnne, when we went hiking in the Polish mountains that I hoped we would see a bear. BethAnne, having a home in Alaska, promised me that we did not want to see a bear and reminded me that they weren’t as cuddly as they looked in cartoons, which she was certain must be my only point of reference. I would tell her I didn’t want the bear to see me. I just wanted to see him; that would be enough for a really great story.

But things have changed a bit. Now, the sight of a hot cup of coffee too near a table ledge or a plastic Kroger bag left lying on the floor will get my heart racing in a not-so-thrilling way. Anything that can even remotely suggest harm or death for Finny should quite simply be thrown to the gallows. That includes balloons, hot dogs, stairs, glass, and being stranded on I-71 North with an empty gas tank.

Sitting there in a motionless car while large trucks zoomed past us shaking my little Ford Escape, I watched intently out the back window so that I could spot any sleepy truck drivers veering off onto the shoulder. I knew we couldn’t steer out of the way if I saw something, but it brought me comfort to be on the lookout anyway. The only other thing that brought me comfort in this moment was the fact that it was David’s fault.

While I generally want David to succeed in everything he does, I find that as long as the consequences aren’t dire, it’s actually quite nice when he screws up from time to time. In First Corinthians, Paul says that Love “keeps no record of wrongs,” and I believe this wholeheartedly. But sometimes, well sometimes, if Love does accidentally forget to shred some of his mental notes, I suppose it’s okay to have one or two on hand as a gentle reminder that yes, dear, you too make mistakes.

So, I sat there, trying to decide whether to gloat or panic, as David mumbled, “Well, the sun is so bright today. I couldn’t even tell that the gas light was on. Stupid, Ford. Stupid, sun.”

“What about the needle next to the gas light?”

“Oh, who looks at that?”

Once we knew that AAA was on the way to help us with a tank of gas, we took Finny out of the car and climbed the hill beyond the guard rail so that we could wait safely away from the road. Looking around, seeing trees, fields and a pond, I asked, “What if someone is deer hunting here?”

“They don’t let people hunt deer this close to the highway and Finny has his orange shirt on so you can rest easy.”

And we did. It was a gorgeous day, after all. So on top of a grassy knoll, on the side of a major interstate, we had a family outing. We sang nursery rhymes, played Ring-Around-the Rosie and took some family photos with our gasless car.

And it was actually kind of fun, the kind of fun that comes with unexpected drama when you realize that everyone’s going to live and retain all their limbs.

But that’s between you and me. As far as David’s concerned, “Who doesn’t look at their gas gauge before getting on the highway? Seriously?”

The answer: A very loving, caring, humble and empathetic husband. That’s who.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Confessions of a Mad Housewife

I haven’t vacuumed or washed my floors in a week and a half. The floor of our bedroom is covered with dust bunnies and I just allow them to sit and mingle with one another. Our vanity mirror is covered with white spots from teeth-brushing and shaving and I haven’t washed it because I’m too lazy to walk downstairs to get the Windex and bring it back up. I’ve picked up the books on Finny’s bedroom floor and put them back on the shelf twice in the past 24 hours. I don’t plan to pick them up again, maybe ever. It might become a safety hazard with all those slippery books on the floor, but they end up back on the floor so quickly that I’m starting to wonder if I’m attempting to fight natural law, like teaching a cow to “Baaah,” which cows actually do from time to time around here when a certain one and a half year old is not fully focused.

It took me twenty minutes to completely pick up the entire family room yesterday afternoon. It had gone so long without a pick up that only two plastic shapes remained in the otherwise empty toy box. When I got home from teaching last night at 9:00 p.m., all toys, puzzle pieces, books and choo-choos had found their way back onto the rug. They’ve been there ever since. I’m not picking them up again either. Ever.

I’ve already put the Tupperware back into the cabinet four times today and it’s only 2:30 p.m. Now, every lid, every bowl, every plastic container we own is strewn across the kitchen floor and I can’t do it. I simply cannot bend over and pick them up again.

I put Finny down for a nap at 12:30 p.m. and took a shower. By the time I finished showering, put in some laundry, poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down to write, it was 1:45 p.m. And then, Finny woke up.

I tried the paci, but it didn’t work. I can hear him up there playing in his crib. I’m not ready to get him.

I shouldn’t complain. Yesterday, he napped for four hours and I got a ton of stuff done for my Thursday night class. But, today. Today was my day to write. Today was my day to read and relax and he didn’t even nap for two hours. And the Tupperware is everywhere. It’s taking over my world and I just can’t face it again, laughing and jeering at me from every corner of the room.

But I won’t complain because I shouldn’t complain because my life is really too great to complain. But, can I at least say that sometimes I would rather be at Happy Hour? That sometimes I wish I had a Fairy Godmother who would wave her wand and turn the Tupperware bowls into Martini glasses and my graphic Ts into satin tanks and who would then get on her hands and knees and wash the crusted macaroni, banana, and green beans off my kitchen floor? Or at least call one of her friends over to wash my floors so that she and I could sit on the couch and drink Cosmos together? Can I at least say that?