Thursday, November 16, 2006
“Mom, the kids at school say there’s no such thing as Santa,” Tyler speaks into the silence of him drawing and me washing dishes.
“It’s really just you and Dad that put the presents there.” he says with certainty, shooting me a look out of the corner of his sky-blue eyes. I glance over my shoulder, Tyler head bent over to the left, hand busily moving over the paper while he draws.
“Yeah right,” I answer rolling my eyes and shaking my head, my usual response. I turn from the kitchen sink to face him, “Like I have the money to buy all that stuff and mysteriously sneak it in here Christmas Eve. Sure,” I snicker with my best ‘you’re crazy’ look over the top of my eyes and then return to the dishes.
Tyler’s foot taps on the chair and I see his reflection in the window, lips puckered and pulled to one side in contemplation. “You’re gonna have to tell me you know.” he announces to the back of me.
It was the second time recently that I had been commissioned with those words by my ten-year-old. The first time was in less familiar territory. Bounding off the bus in his usual reckless style, Tyler zipped in the door, flung his green back pack to the floor and a bubbled a rhythmic chant. “Put the quarter in the vending machine and out pops a baby…” the sing song tone carried the ‘naa naa na naa naa’ sound of teasing.
“What are you saying?” I asked, not liking the sound of it.
“Put the quarter in the vending machine?” Tyler looks at me eyebrows raised, one side of his face pulled into a dimple, “Out pops a baby?” his head bobbles back and forth, eyes wide. He looks at the ceiling in disbelief at my confusion, apparently expecting a different reaction.
“You know,” he sighs, “put the quarter in the vending machine…out pops a baby, get it?”
“Where did you hear that?” I stammered, feeling lips roll tight.
“On the bus.”
“Well don’t say that again and you know where babies come from.”
“Did you and Dad put the quarter in the vending machine?” he asks with the sound of the devil in his voice.
The time had come.
The big talk was looming.
I wasn’t ready.
I did not anticipate it to be this way. I had planned the dreaded task to be on my terms with a well rehearsed monologue and his father beside me. “Any questions?” we would ask after dropping the bomb, our sweet blue-eyed boy looking bewildered.
No, impromptu was not going to work for me. I reached in desperation for an adult way out of the confrontation. Smiling knowingly, I launched the perfect stall.
“It seems that kids are talking about some grown up things on your bus and the information they are giving you may be incorrect,” I hear myself say like a 1950’s librarian. “Your father and I will sit down and talk with you about grown up things together, but first, you need to show me that you are ready for grown up information.”
But how on earth do I discuss birds and bees and the facts of life with a child who still believes in Santa? I am certain it is clearly stated in the parenting book somewhere that these truths are to be revealed in alphabetical order, and that means Santa before sex! As long as he believed in the big guy, I was off the hook.
“Is there such thing as Santa?” he repeats as I stare stupidly at the dish in my hand, my stall tactic foiled. Until now, I have been safe with the ‘I don’t know about you but I still believe in Santa’ answer, but the alphabetical drum is beating and I must begin to march.
“You are asking me about more grown up information,” I lead into my next stall, “and I will talk with you about that tonight if you can show me that you are ready.”
Tyler twists his mouth while he thinks about this deal and goes back to his drawing. A couple more hours of innocence and I secretly hope he will forget by this evening.
After dinner, my son clutches my arm and marches me off to my office, silky blond strands shifting left and right as he walks with determination and plops himself on the white wicker love seat, arms crossed like ‘now I’ve got you.’ I wonder to myself why I haven’t prepared a lovely explanation, justifying why we have lied to him all of these years.
Door closed, air thick, he begins. “Look me in the eye,” he says “and answer me the truth!” My throat tightens as I stare back at my judge and jury, stomach flipping with anticipation. “Is there such thing as Santa?”
I muster up every ounce of mother strength inside; meet his steal blue eyes in a locked gaze and answer, “Santa is absolutely, positively REAL.”
Tyler’s nose crunches, eyebrows pull together as he jumps to his feet, hands thrown up and slapped back down at his sides. “How can you look right at me and LIE?” he says in horror, pacing.
I grab him by both shoulders and pull him square in front of me, eyes locked once more.
“Santa is kindness and love and the spirit of giving. He is a magic place that lives inside each one of us and comes to life in the feeling of warmth when we give to others and make them smile, and that is, without a doubt, very, very real.”
Tyler’s shoulders come lower, frustration easing out.
I look at him with a one sided smile. “There comes a time in a person’s life when he crosses over to the adult side of Santa and it then becomes his responsibility to keep that magic alive for all of the children in the world.”
Tyler’s eyes soften as I continue, “You are now part of making that magic and keeping the spirit of Santa alive and real for the younger children.”
“Kind of like an elf?” He asks, eyes twinkling.
“Exactly,” I answer, “Welcome to the other side.”
He breaths deep and sighs, “I promise I won’t tell Trevor,” he offers sliding his hands deep into his pockets and rocking back on his heels, very grown up looking. A dimpled grin spreads wide across his face, erasing the look of worry and betrayal. Lips roll together in the way of holding a secret and he leaves my office, spirit inflated with new magic.
I sit down feeling warm and relaxed. I worried so much about pulling the joy out of Christmas by facing this truth, but now the magic lives on; the loss of innocence replaced by the mature joy of giving. I don’t know if I can find the same ease for the next alphabetical truth, but this moment is a parenting gift and truly holds the magic that is Santa.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
“Mom, I need to talk to you,” my fifteen-year-old says as he steps into my office and closes the glass-paned door behind. I hear the white wooden chair being pulled out from the wall behind me and I disengage my thoughts from the report that stares out of my computer, grateful for the interruption. Swiveling my chair around, I see my son bent forward, elbows on the knees of his ripped jeans, hands clasped together in front of his chin. A face to face conversation approaching, I brace myself inside.
“Have you found anything of mine?” he asks through the long strands of hair hanging down across his face.
“Like what?” I ask, “Have you lost something?”
“Just anything. Have you found something that belongs to me? Like five things?”
Confused, intrigued and certain that this will require a parenting lecture that I’m not prepared for, I tell him to be straight and ask the question he came in with.
My jaw locked and then slowly fell open, eyes bulging. My head snaps upward as I open my mouth to speak. “You’re having SEX?”
His hands unclasped and gestured palms down in a way to indicate that I should control myself. “Relax Mom, no I’m not having sex.”
“Then what are you doing with five condoms?” I try to collect myself, remembering the importance of being approachable as a parent.
“Alright, you see, it’s hard for a fifteen year old to get a job. Lots of my friends have applied all over town and the all of the employers want you to be sixteen….”
“You have a job that requires CONDOMS?” I shriek in a voice that isn’t sure if it’s meant to be rage or hysteria.
“God Mom, calm down,” he collects himself upright in the chair. "See, I’ve started a business. Kids are too embarrassed to buy condoms for themselves, and I’m not, so I buy them, and then I sell them to kids for more than I paid and I make money.”
Oh, capitalism, I think. Supply and demand. Free market trade. Many a success story comes from entrepreneurs capable of recognizing a market demand and filling it. “You’re a CONDOM DEALER?” I yell.
“Geez Mom, calm down. It’s not illegal. I’m not selling drugs. Condoms are perfectly legal and besides, if a kid was going to have sex, you’d want them to be safe wouldn’t you? So it’s kind of a public service. For the good of the community.” he smiles a weak smile, head bent in that ‘come on, you understand don’t you’ way.
My head is spinning with a hundred remarks and I don’t know what it will spit out first. “Where exactly do you get the condoms?”
“CVS,” he answers and I wonder if the cashier is someone I know. Did you see Nancy’s son in again for condoms? That’s 20 this week! I feel compelled to find out who the cashier is so I can explain that my son is NOT having sex with every girl at school. No, he’s just the school’s CONDOM DEALER!!!!!
“You can probably get arrested!” I tell him, hoping to pull out something intelligent about wholesale/retail license laws.
“I’ve only sold one,” he treads lightly in self defense, “OK well if you find them…” he begins and decides it best to leave while I am speechless.
Salt bath, I think. A wise woman recently told me that a salt bath has a way of calming and washing negativity down the drain. I hate baths, but tonight might be my maiden voyage.
“Mom,” son number two approaches with a smile, “Are you in a good mood?” My twelve-year-old enters with a giddy face, saucer blue eyes twinkling mischievously.
“Probably not,” I answer just clearing the path to “NO” for the loaded question I am sure he holds. Hand slowly moves from behind his back triumphantly holding a role of toilet paper forward, grin spreading across his cheeks.
“It’s mischief night and all the kids in my school agreed to paper one tree,” a well practiced look of longing slips across his face. “Can I? Just one?”
“Absolutely not!” I bark and rattle off the description of vandalism.
“It’s just toilet paper,” he looks bewildered, “It’s not like egging a house or the bologna and mustard stuck to the car thing.”
I don’t even ask what the bologna and mustard thing is; don’t want to know. He continued to plead his case at dinner to his father and I, but we hold our ground.
“I’m the only one who won’t be going out.” he shakes his head, sad eyes blinking. I explain that other parents don’t condone this type of activity so he will certainly not be the only one. I should have then gone on to speak about standing on principal and doing what is right, but instead…
“No one will actually know if you did or didn’t go out,” comes out of my mouth, offering him a read between the lines face-saving solution.
His brows crunch, mouth turned down on the edges in disgust, “You want me to LIE about it?” he snorts righteously, “I would never LIE!”
Oh good, I think, at least half of his moral backbone is intact: Vandalism OK. Lying not OK.
I hear the Morton’s box calling me from the spice cabinet, Forget the Calgon, Take Me! Oh yes, a salt bath is looming.
Later on an errand into town, my eight-year-old remarks about a female couple that we saw walking on the sidewalk. “Mommy, are they in love?”
“Yes, I believe so.” I answer.
She is quiet for a bit.
“Is that strange for you?” I open the conversation, not sure I am up for any more this day.
“No,” my daughter says with ponder on her face, “Actually, I’m OK with that. God just made us each who we are, and He meant for us to be on this earth and be attracted to someone else to be together to raise a family. So it really doesn’t matter if a woman is attracted to a woman or a man to a man; if they’re in love, its how God made them.”
I am impressed by her open acceptance of what is clearly a foreign subject and before I can say anything, she continues, “And for me when I’m an adult, I think I’ll be attracted to men and women.”
Oh great honey, and maybe you can join a COMMUNE with free love and be a nudist!
How did I get here?
This is not my planet and these are not my people!
Where did the little tow-head, bowl cut, blue-eyed babies go and how did I end up with COMMUNE-LIVING, VANDALIZING, CONDOM DEALERS?
I wonder how cold the ocean actually is at the end of October. I will need much more than a bathtub of salt water to wash this day off!
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Autumn leaves have always held magic for me; a remarkable, delicate finger painting done by angels on nature’s grandest monuments. The trees tell a story of beginnings and endings and beginning again. Autumn’s colors and crisp breezes have always announced fresh starts to me: new teachers, new outfits, new notebooks and new relationships.
Autumn leaves mark the beginning of a season of sweaters and football games; fires in fireplaces inviting families to cluster with warm apple cider. The leaves appeal to almost every one of my senses. Breathtaking brilliance, orange and red, illuminates the tapestry of my neighborhood. I love the way they smell and the sound and feel of them crunching beneath my feet and swirling under the car; my very favorite time of year.
Ten years ago, I discovered a different view of autumn. As former condominium dwellers, Brad and I became homeowners and I was delighted when my new lawn was sprinkled with crunchy auburn and amber. I was soon to learn that homeownership was a right of passage into an annual game of chess with Mother Nature. The fall leaves are her invitation to the game.
As our new lawn was littered with my beloved autumn leaves, I became aware that as lovely as they looked, they indeed would have to be picked up and removed. Novice to the game, we watched our neighbors, young and old, begin to move their pawns.
The first decision is when to begin to play and then which techniques to employ.
Carlo, a 75 year-old man from Italy makes his first move in early October as the first ten or twenty leaves hit the ground. We chuckle fondly at the people we know, my father included, who think they can stay one step ahead of Mother Nature by dancing close beside her. This approach was much too aggressive for us. Silly to do the same job over and over again; cleverer to wait for them all to fall and clean up in one fell swoop. It seemed logical.
As our first autumn fell into full swing, we begin to feel the eyes of the elders in the neighborhood watching, wondering if we were aware of our responsibilities; no doubt worrying that we intended to turn our entire property into a compost pile. Perhaps waiting until the bitter end, though logical, was not socially acceptable.
We decide the time was right to begin and opted for the “family style” approach; playful quality time with our children, at one with nature. Whistle while you work. A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down. We would spend the weekend making light of the task; it would be fun! We prepared to make our first move. Mother Nature was ready.
Weekend after weekend she whipped up storms of monsoon proportion. Winds howled and rains pounded and I was certain I could see her laughing in the image I remember from the old margarine commercial; Don’t Fool with Mother Nature! We watched as layer upon layer of wet leaves added to our growing compost pile. The weekend family plan was not working out.
Determined not to be defeated, I decided to handle this woman to woman and on the first sunny day, I went head to head, equipped with the most sophisticated tool that homeowner lawn care had to offer… my very own leaf blower. In a matter of minutes, I acquired a knack for the “power tool” and immediately wondered what all the fuss was about. It was surely easier than vacuuming, absolutely more fun and it only had to be done once a year. Piece of cake!
The cake crumbled at the edges, however as I approached the southern boundary of our property. Until that moment, I felt relief knowing the elders watched with approval and I held my blower with confidence. Uncertainty crept in as I walked the property line, blowing my yard clean and leaving the leaves on their side. I looked at my feet and realized that the leaves I was blowing were from my obtrusive red maple whose leaves covered a large area of my neighbor’s front yard. Feeling responsible and neighborly, I backed myself, blower ready, into her yard to blow my leaves home where they belonged. Surly I was winning aged approval and when my leaves began to commingle with those from her trees, I retreated back into my own territory.
At days end, Trevor rubs the sleep off his three year old face and beams with delight as we venture out into my giant gathering of leaves. Tyler bounds off the school bus, wild energy racing through him as he tosses backpack and body into the crunchy blanket. The boys are more than eager to rake and in a short while, two amazing piles are the icing on the cake. Darkness approaches, husband arrives and satisfaction fills me.
“High winds and heavy rain by morning…” the weather man grins; Mother Nature’s messenger. “Check!” My husband and eldest son scramble for the leaf bags, racing into the dark to meet her challenge. Mission accomplished, they retreat into the warmth of the house, hot chocolate and homeownership duly admired.
Later, with little ones nestled under the covers, we retire to our bedroom exhausted; the good kind of spent that comes from hard work. The wind whistles as Mother Nature keeps her promise but, no worries, the leaves are done. One last glance outside to admire our efforts, I notice the wind is coming from the north and there, in our northern neighbor’s yard stands and enormous oak dwarfing my red maple. The oak had just dropped its leaves and one by one, they tumble to our yard.
Madness creeps into my head and I contemplate standing on the boundary with my blower, holding back the enemy at the front line. I wish for the rains to come to hold the crunchy little monsters in place, but dry and airy they tumble. Feeling defeated, I succumb to the tired in me and crawl into bed. My wish is granted during my slumber. The rains come, firmly embedding the layer of oak leaves in place; in my front yard. “Check Mate,” I hear her say.