Thursday, October 22, 2009

Put "Triage" on my Tool Belt

I could cradle her, but it's a gamble.

I could lay down next to her on her bed where she has been spending the last lone hour and ask "Did you do any laughing at pre-school today?" But she would likely say "No!" - with an implied post script of "get out of here and leave me alone" attached.

I might ask if she wants to read a book with me, help me put away toys, go for a walk.

Caroline has a cup full of vitriol that she regularly splashes in my face. That cup runneth over and never seems to empty. I may think she has used it all up or slept it away, but she has hidden reserves.

Even now I bid her "Good morning" as she comes sleepily into the room, my arms out to pull her up on my lap.
Head down, she gives me a kind of "back off" grunt-whine and drop kicks her stuffed snowman at me.
Ahhh, a bright new day has dawned.

How do I make friends with a four-year-old-girl who just doesn't seem to like much of anything? Matt says she smiles for him. He says she is delightful and fun. Does he have a secret code word that liberates her inner angel? I am the Mom - I should have all the code words.

Here are the two abilities that comprise my mother-skills as developed with my first child:

That's it.

Jonah has never been too bothered that I have no imagination to make up games or stories, or magic spells to jolly him out of a scraped knee. If I should rest awhile from the banal duties of the house to spend time with a child, I will read to them. This I do with a complete lack of interest in or ability to make up games. Many thousands of people before me have published their magic words and pictures to be read to this very child of mine on this very couch with no effort at all from me. I spent all my effort long ago pushing the kid out of my body. Thereafter I take the easy road.

And talking. I can ask a hundred questions. I can respond to questions. This is actually a true skill. Matthew has helped me develop this over time. Matthew is better at it. But never mind.

So, there you go - reading and talking - my mothering prowess in all its grandeur.

Caroline laughs in the face of my mothering prowess. Well...really she whines, or growls, or screams in the face of my mothering prowess. Laughing would be altogether too jovial for her.

In light of this I am putting a new arrow in my quiver. I call it "Triage".

We have a dear old friend called Chuck. Once, Chuck came to our house delivering a box of food stuffs I had purchased through him. Considering Chuck is around 80 and recently had knee surgery I would normally have carried the box into the house myself. But I happened to be about nine months pregnant at the time and therefore helpless even in the eyes of the one-kneed-eighty-year-old. While coming in Chuck inevitably tripped and fell up three steps into our kitchen. He came away with a bloody shin, but alright overall.

Caroline was almost three at the time. And I'm sure she almost felt sorry for Chuck. But what she mostly felt was total fascination. "Was he bleeding, Mommy? Did he cry, Mommy? Can he still walk, Mommy?" In the first day of the accident I must have recounted the story of Chuck Falling on the Three Stairs at least two dozen times. Books? We don't need no stinking books. Chuck Falling on the Three Stairs became our bedtime story, our morning time story, our I'm bored story, our stop-the-fit-throwing story. Caroline is four and a half now and we still get serious mileage out of this story.

A month or two later another dear old friend had an accident. My sweet 86-year-old Reva decided she was going to walk to church on her own because her ride did not show up. She (purposefully I'm sure) forgot her cane. She always says she doesn't need "that silly old thing." A block away from her house she fell flat on her face. A neighbor called an ambulance, and despite our worst fears Reva came away with only two black eyes and a few sore spots.

Caroline could not get enough of it. We added Reva Fell on the Sidewalk to our repertoire of stories.

We now have a rather august collection of Triage stories.

Mom Split Her Chin Open at the Pool
Aubrey Slices Her Leg Open in the Garage

How Dad Got a Harry Potter Scar

The Horse Stepped on Mom's Foot or The Horse Stepped on Aubrey's Leg
Mom Burns Her Hands Cutting Chili Peppers
Nana Breaks Her Arm Falling off the Porch

Tickle Grandpa Nearly Cuts His Arm Off While Fishing

Granny Breaks Her Wrist Delivering Christmas Cookies

So long as people we know continue to hurt themselves I have found a way to get Caroline in my lap and....connect. I'm not sure yet what this reveals about Caroline. She is not laughing at people's pain. It's more like she is absorbed in the horror of it. She doesn't like her own blood, and she DOES NOT like stories about her own wounds. I suspect there is a little bit of entertainment in it. I can tell a pretty good story if it is true, I just can't make one up as I go. But I also suspect that knowing each of these stories ends with survival is a wee bit comforting for Caroline. She gets hurt A LOT. Knowing other people get hurt - with blood even- and move on to enjoy chocolate ice cream again is promising.

So, "Triage" because it's kind of like nurses getting together to have a "cold one" after work and swapping emergency room stories. And "Triage" because it is my own emergency room effort to create a relationship with Caroline.

Now the label on my mother-skills arsenal declares:

Who knows what Cecily might put in my box.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

His Imaginary,Telepathic, Pen-Pal

I miss Gavin-Height

He wasn't here for long and I would like to have known him better.

As a kid I had lots of friends; neighborhood friends, school friends, church friends...sibling friends -whose particular brand of friendship sometimes hovered dangerously close to fatal- but I do not remember ever having an imaginary friend.

When Jonah introduced us to Gavin-Height it was not the "Here is my new friend standing-beside-me-can't-you-see-him-Mom" variety of introduction. I really don't remember a specific declaration or "Nice to meet you" experience. Gavin-Height came slowly into existence. Like Pinocchio, he bandied about with a pseudo identity until one day - poof - he was a real boy, and we happily accepted him as such.

We never talked to Gavin-Height, only about him.
I never observed even Jonah talking to him.

How Jonah got his information I don't know. Jonah was four when this started. He would have understood validating the source of his knowledge about Gavin-Height with a claim such as "G-H sent me a letter, a postcard, an email, he called me, I saw him on the street..." But Jonah never revealed how he knew what he knew.

And this is what he knew:
Gavin-Height and Jonah were cousins
They were the same age
Gavin-Height had blue hair
Gavin-Height lived with his grandma
The grandma was not Jonah's grandma
Gavin-Height and his grandma traveled

Jonah and I went through a phase of reading about different countries. We built a repertoire of impressive facts we could cite about far off places that really existed. Someone might say "Wow, Jonah is so smart. I couldn't even tell you where Pakistan was on a map, much less what they like to eat."
But it's not about smart, is it? Jonah is curious. Jonah is willing to accept whatever attention his mother offers and if that comes in the form of reading a book about children in Sri Lanka he doesn't turn me away. Kids are pretty universally curious. Nothing is old hat. The world is new with every new mind that enters it. The complexities and beauties of life will settle upon them like raw wool with which their minds will spin radiant threads of knowledge. They will happily spill out all the silky ribbons of information flitting about in their heads to any willing audience. We adults might have turned off 'curious' or abandoned 'learn new things for the sake of it' in lieu of making dinner and earning a living. We forget that it is not "smart" to know that Pakistan is sandwiched between India and Afghanistan, it is "smart" to want to know.

I'm not sure that Gavin-Height was so much an imaginery friend as he was a kind of imaginary, telepathic pen-pal. He didn't eat dinner with us, he kept us abreast of his travels with grandma.

Jonah: "Mom, Gavin-Height is in China today."
Mom: "What's he doing there?"
Jonah: "He's going to school with Xui Li (pronounced shoe-lee)"
Mom: "What's his grandma doing while he's at school?"
Jonah: "She's fishing."

We met Xui Li and her parents in a book about life in China. In the book we went to school with her and saw pictures of many little Chinese children that all look very similar to our western eyes. Identical school uniforms did nothing to diminish the differentiation troubles we Occidentals have. We met Xui Li again through Gavin-Height and his wandering grandmother.

Over several months Gavin-Height carried us away to Israel, Paris, California, Iran, Maryland, Italy, and Idaho. His expeditions were both reactionary and innovative - his trail sometimes winding its way through books we had already traveled and sometimes breaking new ground requiring that we read to catch up with him.

One evening Jonah sat at the dining table coloring as I made a cake. I greased the two round cake pans then put flour in to coat the surface. Tapping it this way and that to ensure no spot was left uncovered. Jonah watched intently. I turned the pan over the sink and slapped the bottom a few times to get rid of the excess flour which came away in a white cloud sailing down to the drain.
"Do you know what that's called, Mom?"
"No, what?" I asked, not entirely sure what he was referring to.
"It's a 'Huff'.
"What is a 'huff' ? I wanted to make sure I understood.
"When the flower falls down like rain."
"Where did you learn that?"
"From Gavin-Height........he learned it from his grandma."

I think that was one of the last things we heard from Gavin-Height. Maybe he settled on a country he just couldn't bear to leave. Maybe he turned five and had to go to school. Maybe grandma ran out of money with which to bank roll the globe-trekking. Maybe Jonah didn't need him anymore. I think maybe I needed him to stay a while longer - I knewJonah just a bit more through him.

I like that he had blue hair. I wonder what they thought of that in Israel.