Tinkerbell, NSYNC and other Magical Moments

A friend of mine returned to the office today after spending a week at Disney with her family.  Jodi has two beautiful daughters who are the perfect ages for a wonderland full of magical creatures.  She told me how they waited in line for an hour to see Tinkerbell and Periwinkle, the two fairies that appear in Disney’s latest movie.  I imagined standing in line with two antsy, excited little girls, surrounded by other antsy, excited children.  Somehow, the mental picture was rather unappealing. Indeed, just yesterday I was at the mall, doing some preliminary scouting for Christmas gifts.   There was a long line of families waiting to see Santa and I heard child after cranky child whining and crying because they were too tired, too impatient, too hungry or too indulged.  Standing in line for an hour for kid’s stuff does not in any way appeal to me.

Jodi broke my train of thought.  “The girls were really well behaved, and besides, seeing the looks on their faces when they finally caught a glimpse of Tinkerbell and Periwinkle made it all worth it,” she explained.

And then I remembered.

It was the late 90’s, and Abby was fifteen. She and her friends were huge fans of the boy band, NSYNC.  She  listened to NSYNC mix tapes.  She watched NSYNC videos.  She was glued to the TV set for NSYNC interviews and had NSYNC posters. There were times when I thought if I had to listen to “Tearin’ Up My Heart” one more time I would tear out my own heart.  But as every teen’s parent knows, if you share your kids’ music, they let you into their lives, so I listened to Justin, Chris, Lance, Joey and JC croon in perfectly choreographed harmony until they sang “Bye, Bye, Bye” and Abby moved on to more mature music.

In the midst of this musical obsession, Abby and her friend Elizabeth saved enough money to go to an NSYNC concert.  Abby asked her father to buy them tickets and after spending an hour on the phone and finding nothing available in New Hampshire or Massachusetts, he purchased two seats in Albany, New York- a three hour drive from our home.

The morning of the concert, snow fell so hard that school was canceled.  I considered canceling the trip to New York, but after taking one look at Abby’s crushed face, her dad insisted that we go.  We navigated the icy highway and arrived in Albany a couple of hours before the concert and found a parking spot directly across the street from the arena, in front of an Italian restaurant.  We ate a quick dinner and after instructions to stay together, with breathless goodbyes the girls sprinted across the street, while we sat in the car.

Our finances were limited and the night was cold, so we ran the car for short periods of time- just long enough to warm our fingers and toes.  Every hour we fed the parking meter a few quarters and once we took a short trip to the Italian restaurant for coffee and a bathroom break. We were cold.  We were tired.  We were bored.

But at eleven o’clock, the arena doors opened and the streets filled with teenage girls searching for their rides.  Amid the crowd were Abby and Elizabeth-faces flushed, feet barely skipping on the pavement, bubbling with excitement.  I had never seen my daughter so happy, and the look on her face warmed my soul and radiated to my frozen toes.

The three hour drive home passed quickly as Abby and Elizabeth chattered about the concert, and when we finally got home, I tucked my sleepy teenager into bed, knowing that sweet choruses of “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You” would drift through her head and fill her dreams. I climbed into bed, cuddling my icy feet against my already sleeping husband, a feeling of utter satisfaction lulling me to sleep.

That was more than ten years ago, but as I listened to Jodi speak about her little girls and the thrill of meeting Tinkerbell and Periwinkle, it became yesterday.  This is the stuff of perfect memories- the frustrations of standing in line, waiting on hold, or sitting in a frigid car melt with the sparkle of your child’s eye.  They are worth the effort.  Because acts of love are truly magic. 

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When You Say No Do You Mean Yes?

Have you ever met someone who cannot take no for an answer?  Recently this happened to me at work.  A gentleman made a request that I was unable to meet.  He had made this request a year ago and was given a polite “no.”  Last week, he called with the same request, and was again told no.  A day later, he called again, spoke to a different staff person, and was given the same answer.  Three days later, he spoke to yet another person, who inquired on his behalf.   My patience was wearing thin.  I wanted to ask him the proverbial, “What part of ‘no’ do you not understand?” 

I remembered an incident when my kids were young.  Their elementary school held an annual book fair, where the children displayed books they had written and illustrated.  For weeks Abby, who was in third grade, toiled over her book.  Her storyline was clear, her characters, all teenagers, drawn in colored pencil with intricate details like earrings and hair bows.

Pages 2 and 3 of Abby’s book. Yes. I still have it.

Gabriel was a first grader.  He had painstakingly scrawled the words and haphazardly colored everything in red, his favorite color.  Gabe hated to color- he thought it a waste of precious time that could be spent reading or doing arithmetic, or running around the playground.   The fact that his book was colored at all represented the importance of his work.

The book fair was to begin at seven o’clock in the evening.  I rushed home from work, changed from scrubs to a pair of jeans, and prepared a quick stir fry for dinner.  Stuffing rice and vegetables into his mouth, Gabe excitedly jabbered about his book and the surprise I would find when I read it.  Abby was equally cheery, finishing the food on her plate at record speed.  But Elizabeth ate little, pushing her food around her plate. 

At four years old, Elizabeth was chronically ill with a yet undiagnosed endocrine disorder.  Her cheeks, which had once been chubby and pink, were pale and drawn, and her clothes flapped around her skinny arms and legs like a little scarecrow.  Every day she was plagued with what she referred to as “a yucky belly,” and today was no exception.

Living with chronic illness takes its toll on all family members.  Parents weary of waiting on edge for another hospital visit, for more tests, for more medicine.  Siblings get tired of cancelling plans for a sister or brother who never seems to be better.   And for the sick child- for Elizabeth- it was the worst.  She tired easily.  She felt sick day after endless day.  She, whose nature cried out to be in constant motion and daredevil acts, was listless and fearful.

But part of living with chronic illness is trying to push forward and live life as usual as much as possible, and so we did.  Deciding that Elizabeth had eaten as much as her yucky belly could hold, I shoved her plate into the dishwasher and herded the kids into the car. 

We arrived at the school a little after seven.  My plan was to quickly visit Gabe’s and Abby’s classrooms, read their books, say hello to their teachers and rush home so I could get Elizabeth into bed.  We began in Gabe’s classroom and I searched for his book among the others.  Gabe and Abby asked if they could wander the halls with their friends.  I looked at Elizabeth, who was sitting on the floor by my feet, and knew we may have to make a quick exit.

“Sorry, you guys.  You need to stay with me tonight.  Lizza’s not feeling well.”

Abby and Gabe looked at their little sister, and solemnly nodded.

“You can walk around the room and look at the other books,” I offered.  “Just stay in here and don’t go into the hall.”

The pair grinned at me and amiably wandered from desk to desk, but the room was quickly filling with parents and children.  I hurriedly fanned through Gabe’s book and took Elizabeth by the hand to search for her siblings.  I found them standing with a girl from Abby’s class.  Her red curls bounced as she said to them,“ C’mon!  Let’s go see the sixth graders!”

Abby and Gabe turned to me, their big eyes silently begging for my consent.

“No- I need you to stay with me now.  The school’s getting crowded and I’m not sure how much longer Lizza’s going to last.  Gabriel, your book is wonderful!”  I added.

The red-headed girl interjected, “Please!  Can’t they come with me?”

“Sorry.”  I shook my head and we made our way to the second floor to find Abby’s classroom.

I quickly found Abby’s desk and thumbed through her book, complimenting her on how exciting her story was, and how wonderfully she illustrated it.

“Ask your mother if you can come now!”  It was the red-headed girl, hissing in Abby’s ear.

“No.”  I said firmly.  “They have to stay with me.”

By now I was practically dragging Elizabeth, who was getting paler by the minute, and was slumped against a nearby desk.  Sweat had gathered on my upper lip and I wondered if the older children would notice if I didn’t stop to chat to their teachers.

“Why not?  Can’t they come, pull-eeze?”  The red-headed girl begged again.  There were children running up and down the stairs, through the halls, and through the classrooms.  Teachers were helplessly watching their classrooms become shambles, and parents chatted among themselves, oblivious to the antics of their wild offspring.

Abby sighed and rolled her eyes.  She knew this would not go well.  I was hot.  I was worried about Elizabeth.  I was annoyed and I was..well, ready to blow my top.

I opened my mouth to answer, when Gabriel calmly piped up, “What you don’t know about my mother, is no means no.” 

It was as simple as that.  I smiled at my son, and he grinned back.  Gathering Elizabeth in my arms, I kissed her cheek, winked at Abby and said, “You’re right Gabe.  Thank you. And now, it’s time to go.”

Later that evening.

I have often remembered that night, how when we teach our kids that “no” means “maybe-if-you-tease-and-whine-enough-then-I’ll-change-my-mind” we do them a disservice. They need to understand that the world does not always revolve around them. They need to accept that not everything in life is meant to go their way.  They need to understand, that many times, no means no.

Now, if there was some way to teach this to the man from work, I’d be a happy woman.

Sick Daze

A friend of mine who has two small children was telling me about taking care of them when they were sick.

“I admit it.  I used the T.V. as a babysitter.”  He hung his head in embarrassment.

“Good grief,” I replied, “All good parents use T.V. as a babysitter. That’s how we survive sick kids.”

I thought about this later.  Although our conversation was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the truth of the matter is, as parents, we feel obligated to respond to our children’s needs in text book perfection, and when we don’t, we feel guilty about it.  I should know- the Queen of Guilt is also a quasi-expert on sick kids.

My children were germ magnets.  No matter how healthful their foods, how consistent their bedtimes, how sanitary their dwellings, I could not keep them from getting sick.  Whatever caused pooping, puking or rashes, my children were sure to catch the bug and share it with the entire household.  Ear infections, strep throat, asthma, croup and G.I. bugs were frequent visitors, punctuated by the less-frequent-but-more-powerful Chicken Pox, Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, Influenza, pneumonia, Scarlet Fever, Rotavirus and Mononucleosis.

Finally, realizing that my defensive actions were having little effect, I decided it was time to abandon the defense and work on the offense.  I devised the Momma G method of dealing with sick kids.

Please note- these are not doctor recommended or pediatrician approved.  I lay no claim to making your children get sick less or get better faster.  This is merely a survival toolkit designed to help mommies and daddies get through those long lonely nights when the only sound is their two-year-old retching on yet another set of sheets.

  1. If your child complains of a tummy ache, do not take her into your bed.  I made this mistake when Abby was eighteen months old and the pumpernickel bread she ate didn’t agree with her.  Use your imagination.
  2. Popsicles are the perfect food.  Pedialyte is doctor recommended, but it doesn’t help if your kid won’t drink it.  Sucking on a popsicle raises his blood sugar and allows him to replenish fluids a little at a time.  Besides, the other kids in the family can have one, so they feel a little more special and a little less neglected, since all your time is spent on the sick sibling.
  3. Make a nest.  When my kids were small and sick, I wanted them close to me so I could keep an eye on them.  I would build nests out of blankets and pillows in the living room and there they would reside until they were up and about.  Nests were only made on sick days, which made it special, and they were content to stay there while I did my household chores.  It also helped when there were more sick kids than there was space on the living room couch.
  4. How your child acts is more important than what his temperature is.  When we adults run a fever of 100, we huddle under the blankets and beg someone to put us out of our misery.  When kids run a fever of 100, they use their blankets as capes and jump off the couch, pretending to be Superman.  Conversely, when Gabe was three, he had his first bout with pneumonia.  He was fussy and clingy at breakfast, but had no fever.  By ten he was hanging onto me and crying, but still had no fever. By noon, he was having trouble breathing and wouldn’t let me put him down, but still had no fever.  At his two o’clock appointment with his pediatrician, we found that he had a severe pneumonia, but still had no fever.  I learned then that if your child acts really sick, he probably is really sick, no matter what the thermometer says.
  5. When your kid is sick, keep her home.  Because Elizabeth had underlying health issues, a simple twenty-four hour stomach bug would put her in the hospital for a few days, and on the couch for several more.  I found it infuriating to be at the church nursery and hear that the child she was playing with had been up barfing all night.
  6. The “getting better” period can be worse than the really sick time.  When kids are really sick, they lie around and rest.  When they are getting better, they whine. They whine because they want to go outside and play. They whine because there’s nothing good on T.V.  They whine because they don’t feel well enough to play and they’re bored with lying around.  The best cure for the whining is wine (not for them, for you.)
  7. Never underestimate the power of sticker books.  When I was a kid and sick, my mother stopped at Thorin’s Hardware Store and bought sticker books, Wolly Willy, and paper dolls.  They made a week in bed with the measles a lot more tolerable.  Although my kids never got measles, when they got sick, I made similar purchases- stickers, round tipped scissors and colored paper were a refreshing change from television when the children were confined to bed.  Besides, paper chains are much more entertaining than daytime dramas.
  8. Understand that hospitalizations impact the whole family.  When Elizabeth was a little girl, she was frequently hospitalized.  During those days when she was confined to bed, I was desperate to keep her entertained, so I allowed her to do things she ordinarily would not do, like paint in bed and dust herself, her teddy bear and me with baby powder.  Her siblings visited her and found their little sister languishing in a no-rules environment and decided that life was grossly unfair that she got to be sick and they did not.  When we returned home, there was always an adjustment period. Elizabeth whined when she no longer ruled the castle. The other kids accused me of favoring her and holding her to a different behavior standard than they were used to.   Let’s face it-hospitalizations create chaos.  Sleep deprived parents are torn between the kid on the ward and the kids at home.  Nobody feels special.  Sibling rivalry and jealousy abound.  Everyone’s tired of eating Cheerios for dinner.  You might as well recognize the elephant in the room, talk about it, and reassure yourself and everyone else that things will return to normal.  Eventually.

In the end, I did survive all the childhood illnesses my kids experienced.  Now that they are grown, they take care of themselves if they are sick.  My days of feverish babies and puking toddlers are behind me.  I have earned my retirement from the bedpan brigade.  And now I can rest in the realization that when I’m really old and feeble, payback’s going to be a … Well, let’s just say that sticker books aren’t going to do the trick.

How Momma G Let Go at the Perfect Wedding

In all my fantasies, I had always envisioned my daughter Abby to have the perfect wedding.  She, who lives by her check lists, didn’t miss a detail; a small intimate setting, muted colors of grey, mocha and ivory, hundreds of mason jars filled with candles.  She and her betrothed painstakingly chose music, lighting, and food for the brunch reception.  Everything was precisely planned. No component was overlooked.

And then the bride got sick.  The day before the wedding Abby became violently ill.  Too ill to attend the rehearsal.  Too ill to get out of bed.  She lay pale and shivering under her blankets, and I brought her medicine and ginger ale.  I tucked her in to keep her warm and several hours later, when she felt well enough to shower but was too weak to dry her hair, I did that for her too.

As Abby sat on her bed, I ruffled her long tresses and held the dryer, just as I had done a hundred times when she was a little girl.  Her hair is brown now, but when she was little, it was golden blond and hung to her waist.  It feels the same as it did then- soft and fine like a baby’s.  I closed my eyes and remembered the little girl with huge green eyes whose hair I washed and dried and braided to keep out of her face.  It seems as if I had shut my eyes for only a second and the little girl became a woman.  How I cherished the child she was and how I cherish the woman she has become.  I drank in the moment, glad to have one more opportunity to care for my firstborn.

As the dryer hummed, I remembered the days of Abby’s first summer.  How on a sweltering July afternoon when she and I both were irritable from the heat, I filled the tub with tepid water to cool us down.  She fussed and rooted and as we sat in the tub, I nursed her and marveled that our wet skin still smelled the same, even though her body was no longer connected to mine.  I swore that I would protect her forever and never let her go.

I remembered leaving my little girl in the arms of a kindergarten teacher, and how she cried when I left the classroom.  She never knew that I cried too- that I felt as if she was being yanked from my very heart by the passing years.  I remembered the day she moved into her college dorm, how her eyes filled with tears as I drove away, and the sobs that choked me as I drove back to New Hampshire.  And I remembered the mature young woman who left for India a few years ago, unafraid and determined to fight the trafficking of young children in a foreign land.  Since the moment she was born, the days were marked by separations, and yet we still were as one.

A couple of hours after her shower, still feverish,  my daughter declared herself well enough to go to the hotel where she and her sister would stay the night before the wedding.  And the next day, I rose early so I could go back to the hotel and help her  get ready for her morning nuptials. 

The hair dresser had already come and gone, her makeup was done and her veil in place.  She looked exquisite. An hour later she floated down the aisle on her brother’s arm to marry her beloved Johnny.  The music was perfect. The lighting was perfect.  Every detail was in place.  And once again, unable to hide the tears, I let her go.

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