’tis a playing-day

Nugget's first day of school today. I stayed an hour trying to leave without crying (him--not me), eventually gave up and left to the sound of him screaming bloody murder. They called me 20 minutes later and I feared the worst but they were only calling to say he was fine.

They seem to really stress independence at his new school, either it's a Montessori thing or the teachers are lazy. I like it, but I'm worried about Nugget getting up to speed. For all my talk about stressing independent thinking, I guess I enable him a bit with things like cleaning up after himself. On the other hand, he appears to be the youngest kid at the school by quite a bit. The oldest is 5 and 3/4, as she solemnly told me, and seems very old indeed.

I am incredibly impressed by the kids, they were all so kind and polite. One asked Nugget if he could give him a hug, and when Nugget just turned his face away the kid gave him a kiss instead. So cute. The kids were asking whether Nugget talks yet and why he is so shy, but I guess he opened up a bit after I left. Funny how that works. He was never going to relax and enjoy it as long as I was there.

Last night I was as nervous as if it was my first day at a new school. Which I guess it is in a way. When I expressed surprise about that to Trent, he said of course, and he felt the same way when Nugget first started at his old school in Chicago. But for Trent there was guilt about taking Nugget to school, and I don't share that at all. I am quite comfortable that Nugget is better off going to a nice school with nice kids where they will teach him to be a good Communist and all that, instead of staying home in isolation with me and my amateur attempts at early childhood education, interspersed with ignoring him to sneak in some emails or cook dinner or whatever.

Mostly what I felt as I drove away was worry, because he was still so scared and upset when I left. It occurred to me that I never really experienced this at his old school because I didn't really ever do dropoff until he'd already been there a long time and I could feel confident that he would settle in and enjoy his day at school even if he cried when I left. It's the privilege of the working parent to be shielded from that sort of thing. But fortunately the new school called to tell me that he was making friends, so I need have no qualms on his account. Besides which I have the reassuring thought that he settled in just fine at his old school, and he will find his place again. For myself, it feels weird to be without him, a little empty and sad and scary. But also very freeing.

sweet villain!

Nugget has had two very bad and very public meltdowns in the last two days. Yesterday, in the airport on our way home from a visit to my mom, Nugget started to head into the men's room. "Be right back," he told me, holding up one finger. I reacted quickly, shouting no and grabbing him. Which caused him to shout "no!" back and start hitting me. He had a metal toy airplane in his hand, which he used to hit me in the face before throwing it across the broad and busy hall of the concourse. He continued screaming and hitting me in the face while someone kindly brought me the toy plane he'd thrown. All this took place right next to our gate, in full view of the planeful of people about to board the plane with us for a six-hour flight. In a nutshell, it sucked.

Today he lost it at Costco because I put the green beans in the cart myself instead of letting him do it. When the tantrum started, I told him we were going to have to leave the store, and when the tantrum didn't stop, I abandoned my cart and started to follow through on the threat, as the toddler manuals tell you to do. Then it occurred to me that this made no sense. We drove 15 miles to Costco, and I really needed to get my shopping done. Nugget couldn't care less whether we left or not--he was probably happier to go home. So why would I put myself out to punish him, when he didn't care? So I turned back--yes, I didn't follow through on my threat, bad mommy--and said good riddance to that little bit of parenting lore.

The rational parent in me isn't too concerned, and attributes these tantrums to yesterday's long day of travel and the transition from Eastern to Pacific time, aside from the usual mercurial willfulness of a toddler, with a genetically-fueled extra helping of stubbornness. But the human being in me was upset about being hit--in the face with a sharp-edged metal plane, no less--and yelled at by my son, in full view of many strangers. I was upset about it, and it was hard not to let that dictate my response to Nugget. It's hard to keep my focus on long-term parenting goals in the face of present discomfort, especially--as I wrote recently for Babble--when I can't be sure that the course I've mapped to those goals isn't completely misguided.

I don't put my faith in the old saw that if you love 'em, it'll sort itself out. There are plenty of parents who put their kids in therapy with only the best of loving intentions. Just look at Amy Chua. On the other hand, I seem to be blessed with a naturally good kid. As I tell him when I say good night, "you're the best." For now, he says it right back. "You the best too, mommy."



From Jill McCorkle's PS, in The Best American Short Stories 2011:
If I had your job [as a couples therapist] I might ask a person: If a nuclear disaster occurred, and you had to live out those final painful days just stretched out somewhere thinking about your life--This is who I am. This is what I love. This is what I believe--who would you want hearing your whispers?

From Kevin Moffett's Further Interpretations of Real Life Events, ibid.:
A story needs to sing like a wound.

From Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities
That honest tradesman's manner of receiving the look, did not inspire confidence; he changed the leg on which he rested, as often as if he had fifty of those limbs, and were trying them all; he examined his finger-nails with a very questionable closeness of attention; and whenever Mr. Lorry's eye caught his, he was taken with that peculiar kind of short cough requiring the hollow of a hand before it, which is seldom, if ever, known to be an infirmity attendant on perfect openness of character.



From Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities:
A WONDERFUL FACT to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life's end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?

He was a man of about sixty, handsomely dressed, haughty in manner, and with a face like a fine mask. A face of a transparent paleness; every feature in it clearly defined; one set expression on it. The nose, beautifully formed otherwise, was very slightly pinched at the top of each nostril. In those two compressions, or dints, the only little change that the face ever showed, resided. They persisted in changing colour sometimes, and they would be occasionally dilated and contracted by something like a faint pulsation; then, they gave a look of treachery, and cruelty, to the whole countenance. Examined with attention, its capacity of helping such a look was to be found in the line of the mouth, and the lines of the orbits of the eyes, being much too horizontal and thin; still, in the effect of the face made, it was a handsome face, and a remarkable one.


thou hast cleft my heart in twain

Nugget and I are spending a few weeks at my mom's beach house to get some quality time with "G-Ma." I've been taking advantage of the extra caregivers in the house to work on a brief that's due tomorrow. Last night I was up late working on it when I heard "Mommy!" wailed pitifully from upstairs. I ran up and gave Nugget the glass of water he wanted, got him back to sleep, and returned to my brief. It was a welcome interruption, and not just because I was procrastinating. There is something about that cry of mommy in the night that gives me a rush. Nugget has complete trust that if he calls out for me I will appear from somewhere and make things right. That should be terrifying, but somehow it's inspiring.

Update: Right after I posted this I thought I heard Nugget call me so I went running upstairs. When I got there he said, "No, not you. My calling G-Ma!" So much for my lofty musings.


what visions have I seen!

I have awesome dreams with some frequency. No, not that kind. These dreams are like a really good thriller/action movie, full of suspense and amazement. I'm not kidding, they are really good. Upon closer examination they might not make much sense, but there is more linear narrative than a David Lynch movie. If only, it has occurred to me, there were some way to record a dream. I could become a famous dream author, and all I would have to do is sleep.


every thing that grows/ Holds in perfection but a little moment

I don't know why they call it the terrible twos. The magic of this moment between babyhood and big kid takes my breath away every single day. I can still scoop him up and rest my lips on a fat baby-soft cheek, but when I say "I love you honey!" he can say "I love you honey!" right back and make me laugh. It's the best of all worlds.


Then the whining school-boy

We put down a deposit on a daycare slot for Nugget today, and I have mixed feelings about it.

The timing is exactly what I had originally projected: about 3 months of hanging out full-time before finding childcare here. I definitely feel the need for it. I have several projects in motion or on back burners right now and it has been really difficult to find time to work. I'm not the sort of parent who thinks she needs to be down on the floor playing with the kid every second, but even if I try to sneak in some time working while he's playing in the same room, it's hard to be very productive and thoughtful when you've got one eye and/or ear alert for the sounds (or silence) of distress (or trouble). So I do want this, and I think the timing is right.

But. I kind of feel like I'm getting a new boss after working independently for a while. Suddenly I might have to defend our decision not to push the potty-training yet, for example. We're not the only people responsible for Nugget now, and the newcomers have a thousand times more experience and education.

Worst of all, we are going to have a schedule imposed on us. Nugget will need to be at daycare in time for 8:30 am circle time because that's when the "jobs" for the morning get distributed. (It's a  Montessori school--they make it sound like a Protestant workhouse to disguise the fact that they're a bunch of communists.) At the moment we wake up at 8 and lay in bed for an hour watching Curious George and Cat in the Hat before going downstairs to eat a leisurely breakfast while watching Super Why and Dinosaur Train and Sid the Science Kid. (Shut up, it's not TV if it's on PBS. Also, Sid the Science Kid  is really f-ing good. I haven't absorbed this much science since "Chemistry to Biochemistry" ruined my college GPA.)

Despite the volume of TV-watching going on, I also freak out a little when I look at the hours for full-time daycare. Do I really want to give up all that time with him??!! And then my rational voice says: yes, you do. I need that time for my work, and I will still have plenty of time with Nugget. Quality time, because I won't be giving him my partial attention while I try to sneak in some emails, and because I won't be so drunk on the knowledge that we have all the time in the world together that I let us piss away 2.5 hours in our pajamas every morning.

So yes, some concerns and reservations about daycare, most of them irrational and/or indefensible.

Nugget has also displayed mixed feelings about going back to daycare. Sometimes when I talked to him about going to "school" he'd say "no, I want to stay here with you." Other times he'd talk about missing his teachers and friends at his old daycare in Chicago, or would point out the kids playing outside a daycare we frequently drive by and ask, "my go there?" But as time has gone by, he has seemed more and more ready to get back to school. When we visited daycare centers this week, he cried when we left. I thought that was a good sign.

We got incredibly lucky with the daycare we visited today. They just expanded from 12 to 15 kids, and we snatched up the last of the three new slots. Their new facility boasts an orchard of apple and cherry trees and they are planning to put in a garden with a pumpkin patch. It's like preschool heaven. No wonder Nugget didn't want to leave.

Of course, he also didn't want to leave the place we visited on Monday, which was filthy, was run by people without teeth, and only had "preschool" two days a week. What do the kids do the other three days they're there? It's "just daycare," I was told, like I asked a stupid question. Is it just because I'm a yuppie that I think daycare should have a curriculum? (Does anyone use the word "yuppie" anymore? What do you call  overprivileged, pretentious, and hypereducated people like me these days?)

Anyway, just 5 more days to call myself a SAHM. I'm not sure if that means we should spend less time in our pajamas, or more.


sound and fury

All through the years that everyone asks you what you're going to be when you grow up, I thought I was going to be an English professor. My last year of college, I took the GREs and read up on PhD programs. Then I realized that I like books too much to study them for a living. I didn't want to read from a critical distance. (I don't regret that I didn't pursue that path, but in writing that last sentence I just realized that I'm not sure I agree with my younger self on that point anymore. At least if I had been an English professor I would have gotten to read literature all the time; as a lawyer I never had time to read literature, and it hurt.)

Once I'd decided not to be a professor, I was at a loss. I actually used the phrase "existential crisis" to describe how I felt, without irony. The path to be an English professor was well-mapped, and there were reassuring plaudits at each stage: grades and test scores and recommendations and awards and other stamps of approval from comfortingly elite institutions. Leaving that path forced me to ask myself what I wanted out of my life, which is another way of saying, what is the meaning of life? It's a big question that most people can't answer, and confronting it directly feels empty, and lonely.

For lack of any other ideas about what to do with a BA in English, I went into book publishing, and a few years later ended up in law school. I'm eliding a lot here, but it's not my intent to tell the story of my life here.

The point is, the way I feel right now about my life and career feels very similar to how I felt when I graduated from college. The pretentious and melodramatic phrase "existential crisis" is once again inescapably apt.

At times it leads me to ask, "what have I done?" I left a job that I enjoyed and at which I was pretty good, and now I feel adrift. But I also know that my satisfyingly high-powered job did not shield me from existential crises. It kept me too busy to dwell on it much, but I still felt like I was wasting my life on something that did not in the end matter to me very much. Which is exactly why I left. That and the needs of my family. It's one thing to waste your life on something you don't care about; it's another to see your family making sacrifices so that you can do it.