Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hunter Gatherer

I have figured out why I like to shop. Why most women do. It is a timeless, ancient yearning within us that we can't help. We are gatherers. Our ancient foremothers wandered fields and forests looking for mushrooms, fruits, nuts and kindling. It is within our very DNA to be able to spend an entire day on a quest for just the right loincloth. As the items we seek no longer grow on trees, we have wisely adapted to gather within the confines of department stores and garage sales.

I also use this rationale to explain to my husband why I bring items home from junk piles at the curb. I have "gathered" an entire patio furniture ensemble. I thank my ancient ancestors for inventing and popularizing the concept of eclecticism. I need a bumpersticker..."Born to Gather". This innate drive to gather goes hand in hand with our instinct to nurture. Hence the long shopping sprees that end with cute rompers and sundresses in a size 3T.

Men are hunters. They are hardwired for speed, to chase the fast thing in front of them and overtake it. This not only clarifies why they detest shopping so much, but also explains their behavior on the freeway.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I took my eyes off of her for just a moment...

A few weeks ago I took my dad out to Sears to buy pants, toddler in tow. We were scoping out prices, sizes and trying to figure out the difference between regular, loose, and boot cut. My cell phone rang and I quickly chatted with my midwife, then excused myself to focus on the task at hand. Before signing off, I scanned around to look for my daughter.

"Tessa? Gotta go, Claudette. I don't see Tessa."

I poked my head in and out of curved spaces between round racks. As a veteran mother I didn't panic right off. Kids wander. You find them. It is a cycle that repeats itself dozens of times on every shopping trip if they are not in cart, stroller, sling or on a leash. It's going to be fine.


I kept my calm search up for a few more moments, but after almost a minute, the thought, THE thought, that horrible, sickening thought flitted through my brain. This is the men's department. This is where men come. Where is she? Why is it so quiet? What if a man...?

"Tessa!" Now I am beginning to sound firm, a little urgent maybe. "Tessa, this is mommy, where are you?" She knows it's mommy, idiot. You are scaring her. You are scaring me.

This happened once before, three years ago nearly to the day. Nine months pregnant, I was hobbling through Ross with tiny Ellie, my then 3 year old. She was microscopic for her age, 5th percentile, still in 12 month clothes. She kept hiding in the racks in a very one-sided game of Peek-a-boo while I rummaged for a gift. Then she was off, down the aisle, giggling. I guess we're playing tag now, I thought. I lumbered off and tried to catch her. I could see her tiny head bobbing down the row as I pursued her, and in a moment she reached the end. With one last glance and a triumphant chortle, she turned the corner and disappeared from view. It took me about 5 seconds to reach the end of the row, but when I turned expecting to see her, she was no where. I scanned, looked, retraced, and began to get nervous. The store was locked down, the shoppers were alerted over the PA, and in a few frantic minutes a woman appeared carrying her.

"I saw the purses move all by themselves, and when I looked behind them I found this tiny, little girl." I thanked, panted in relief, and held Ellie close. At that moment, Miss $7.50-an-hour in a blue vest steps up and lights into me. "You should really keep an eye on your child! They can disappear in a second!" Really? NO KIDDING! I wanted to yell, but I didn't have it in me. I HAD had my eye on her, but my elephant belly couldn't keep up with my eyes. Too spent to even respond, I thanked the purse lady and left the store giftless, and gifted. Blessed that my child was in my arms, frustrated she had run, furious at all the evil people that I imagined had taken her, kicking myself for not having forced her to ride in a shopping cart, I ran to my van. I was sobbing before I even got there, much to the surprise of the guy on his cell phone nearby. I buckled her in, climbed in the front seat and heaved, gasped, and almost threw up. Ellie remembers it as the day she made mama cry.

Now I was there again, searching aisles and between displays, only now there was here, this moment, this unreal moment.

I imagine there could and will be someone who will find this their perfect moment to judge and criticise me as a terrible mother, undeserving of the beautiful children I have and seem to loose so easily. You are right. I suck.

How tiny a toddler becomes when they can't be found. This time I didn't wait as ling as I had the first time. I looked above the racks and calmly called out to the small handful of other shoppers. "I have lost my 2 year old girl. She is wearing all pink. Will you please look around and see if you can see her?" I didn't wait for responses as I moved through the store. I ran down the main aisle calling her name. I called to a clerk, "My daughter is missing, she is two, wearing pink. Call security and do that Adam thing." I couldn't remember "Code Adam", but I knew I wanted the doors locked until she was found.

I began running up and down the aisles calling for her, and in that moment time dragged to almost a stop. I suddenly was outside of myself, watching myself run, hearing the sound of my feet in time to the strange background music from the 70's that randomness had selected for this moment. And I could see the faces of other shoppers. As I called out, I began to realize that no one was looking at me. A woman continued to thumb through a stack of polo shirts. I called out to her, "please won't you help my find my little girl?" She ignored me.

Another woman ran at me and yelled, almost angry with intensity, "Tell security right now!" "I did!" I answered back, and then she firmly teamed with me saying "I'm looking!" as she walked briskly away. OK, one person to help. Better than none.

Now, as much as I was looking for Tessa, I was aware of all of the other bystanders who were NOT. Maybe I would have to ask each one myself. I didn't want to waste the time in doing so, but the number of racks and aisle was so daunting, I decided I must. I ran up to a man and, touching his arm, begged "please help me find my little girl!" He looked at me strangely.

I thought I heard a casual page over the intercom that a child was missing. I began to move in slow motion and thoughts of "no, this isn't real. I will go home and she will be there." began to pop into my head. Everything my eyes touched became almost sparkly, colors vivid, sharp edges sharper... and bright, very, very bright. As I looked in one direction, I pictured her being swept out the door in the other direction. I began to ricochet around in an ineffective running wander. Shaking began to take over, and the reality of how much time was passing made my head a storm of the kind of what-ifs that make you retch.

I ran down the main aisle now, not sure what to do next, and looking up, saw a man walking toward me. In his arms I saw his child, and it was only after I saw her pink clothes and her red, teary eyes, that I knew it was her. Her beautiful, huge blue eyes that I thought I might never see again, looking at me. The abruptness of having her safe, of the evils I had imagined not being true, hit me like a wall of water and I nearly collapsed. The man handed her to me and I chanted "Oh, thank you, oh thank you."

I had enough clarity for a moment to ask him where he had found her, but he stared at me with a confused look that I registered. He didn't understand me. My brain processed his dark face, striped shirt and worn boots and realized the Mexican man in front of me had not understood me. He had not understood me then, or when I had asked him to help me. Not my words at least. I imagine that the frantic calls of a mother translate to any language. I repeated my inquiry in Spanish, "Donde?" In the rack, hiding, he told me.

My arms gobbled her up. I held her to me and she began to cry and melt into my chest. She gripped my neck and we cried, as I murmured to her all my love and relief. I kissed her head and felt her skin, and filled the empty whole in my heart that had already tried to form there with the realness of her. I sat down on a display table and held her to me as the security guard and sales clerk converged on us with simple smiles and "I'm glad she is OK". There seemed a sudden intimacy in the moment that they excused themselves from as the swiftly went back to their work. A call went out over a walky talky somewhere with a crackled "cancel, the child has been located". Then in seconds we were alone. The entire department, perhaps the entire store, seemed empty. The intensity had cleared the whole department. I didn't even try not to cry, and I sat on the table long enough to stop shaking a bit. The woman, the one who had actually helped, ran up and sighed one of those oh-what-a-relief sighs. When her eyes met mine they instantly filled with tears, and I thanked her. In that moment I think I was thanking her for seeing my fear, answering my grief with understanding, and for mothering the moment. I braced myself for a lecture, but none came.

Later that day, waves would hit, again and again, of the taste of that fear-followed-by-relief filled moment, and the imaginings of where we would be now if it had ended the other way. I have not lost it, either. In the weeks since, I have held her and been grateful over and over again.

When I asked Tessa if she remembers that day, she tells me that pants fell down and she tried on her tippy-toes to hang them back up. I think she hid when she couldn't reach the hanger, thinking she would be in trouble. When I asked her if she remembers mama crying she simply says, "No, you was happy you got me for you."

Indeed, I am.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mom's Toilet

"You can tell a woman by her toilet."

My mom said it when I was 15 as part of her cleanliness-is-next-to-Godliness speech. I knew what she meant, but in my mind's eye, all I could see was WOMAN=TOILET. I vowed in my head that I would never be defined by my toilet.

When I got married I went through a while of housewife hell, thinking that as a part-time employed, full-time student, I should have somehow received the miraculous gift of home organization along with the shinny ring and the new last name. When it didn't come, I became frantic. I began down a path that 14 years later I am still trying to veer off of. Some days I find myself on the frontage road way too close to that old, well worn road. I see the tread marks of heals and tennis shoes, and if I look close I think I can see my mother's foot prints there.

So I have decided to do house work on a system I have developed in my overcrowded head called "The Joy Factor System". I rank jobs, not by how long they take, what areas of the house they include, and not by who will notice. I rank them by how much lasting joy they bring. A level1 job like sweeping my kitchen floor might last a few hours, thus giving me only an hour or so of job satisfaction, while a level five, say, finally sorting out that last box from our move six years ago... well that has a bliss factor that is endless. I mean, I doubt one of my kids will likely pack that silly box back up for me to sort out again in a week, they are too busy in the kitchen at their daily "spill crunchy food" convention. I have decided to aim for 3's, 4's and 5's. I am letting the dishes go some days so that I can do the mending before the kids outgrow their torn school uniforms. And heck, with more school uniforms in the drawers, that is one more day I can squeak by without doing laundry!

I don't iron on Tuesdays or bathe the kids on Saturday nights. My sheets are neither matching, nor wrinkle free. I have never spent a whole day baking bread. I do sweep a lot, but mostly because I love my Filipino broom. And sometimes, for a brief, shining moment in time, my laundry is all done, joy factor level 1.

My toilet happens to be clean, but when I look down into the bowl I don't see the reflection of my own face.

Hello, five.

Your mess is better than my mess!

A friend stood in my room and glanced around while I rummaged for something in a laundry basket. "Excuse the mess" I dutifully said.

"Actually, it makes me feel better." was her only reply.

I began to ponder that. Why do we need to see someone else's mess to feel better about our own? Is there some primal need to level the playing field to the least common laundry pile? Then I wondered if there were possibly a gender component to this particular balancing act. Do men need to see their fellow fellows be brought down to feel better? Would a man care about a mess like a woman does, or would he more likely compare the size of the brown patches in his lawn to those of his neighbors? Are we keeping down with the Jones'?

I once read that the reason that people love celebrity gossip magazines is that we love to see celebs acting human; getting a speeding ticket, eating fast food too fast, losing their tempers... and not for the reason one would think. We want to see them botch up because if they do, then they are just like us, and if they are just like us, then that means we are just like them. When they screw up, somehow we rise to attain celebrity status.

Perhaps my messy bedroom is another story. I know how my friend feels because I have felt it every time I am in a house messier than mine. Somehow we feel better about ourselves when we see that everyone around us isn't perfect. Maybe we don't want friends that are perfect, because we won't feel like we are evolved enough to hang with someone who has it all figured out when we know we are a week behind on our laundry and our kids are on day two in their tidy widies.

But maybe there is a celebrity factor after all. Maybe, when we see her overflowing trash can we are able to tell ourselves, "Well, I think she's great, even though her kitchen is a train wreck in a tunnel. And if she can still be great despite her mess, maybe I am, too." I prefer this reasoning to the simpler and more mean spirited, "I'm better than you." explanation.

So maybe when we feel that spark of self confidence drift through us at the glimpse of an unmade bed, it is a silent compliment to our friends. If I feel better when I see your mess, it just means I (wanna be) like you!

A room of one's own

I always knew that mothering little ones would take up my time. I never quite understood what that really meant til they got here; it means no time alone in my head. Even if they are all asleep I am somehow thinking of them, aware of them the way you are aware of a faint headache even if it isn't demanding your attention. Wait, poor metaphor, I really don't think of them as a headache.

It started the moment that little stick that I peed on showed the purple line in the right window, and it hasn't stopped. Well, now they are too big to shove back in so that I can have an hour or so a day to myself, which for a while I tried to be okay with (besides, if I tried shoving them back in they would all start fighting over who got to sit where). So no complaints, after all, I signed on for this, right? I will get some time to my self in 18 years..., (no wait we had another one) so that's 18 more, (no wait...). Every mom probably learns that she needs time to herself at some point, and about four minutes later realizes that the only way she is going to get that is to hide in the garage.

I need a room of my own, a space that is mine that I can pile my thoughts into like the garage. I think at first I will just be opening the door and throwing them in. Maybe later I will try to sort them all out.

So here I am.