Six-Year-Old Cursing

Have I mentioned to you how much we love camp?

RR has been learning lots at camp. She is learning things mostly from the 8 and under set which gives a certain sort of spin that makes you wonder what’s going on in their little minds. Certainly they are importing parents, brothers, aunts, neighbors, sisters, friends thoughts and beliefs but in a distilled way that makes you wonder what was actually said on the other end of the line.

The first time she came home chattering about her newfound religious beliefs, Debra and I gave each other the side eye. What on earth was going on at definitely-not-church-affiliated camp? It was disconcerting to be participating in a sort of theological game of telephone where some child’s parents said one thing, that child told my child, and I was hearing some rendition that had been hybridized by two people who can’t tie their own shoes. We let it lie. On the whole, it’s harmless. In fact, it’s helpful. Better to start out knowing that everyone has beliefs and opinions and not everyone has to have the same ones.

On the other hand, the swearing I could do without. Surely RR’s school has prevented a fair amount of conversationally-transmitted blight and I have no doubt that the new school has just as low of a tolerance. But camp found us at dinner the other night and between bites she asked, “Mama, what’s the f-word?”

I don’t know how Debra’s mother handled this priceless piece of childhood, but mine was more than happy to tell me what words meant just so long as I a) didn’t use them and b) didn’t ask about the wrong ones. I’m in the words have power camp and if you really know what a curse word means, a female dog for instance, the power to hurt gets sidelined a bit. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt at all, but we have A LOT of words, and there’s no need to rely on a few ridiculous ones when you really want to let loose.

So I told her and she nodded. And I mentioned that it was fine to say it in her bedroom or to herself but that she couldn’t use it in public. Fortunately, she didn’t ask me what sex was because that’s a conversation not covered in What Makes A Baby and that’s as far as we’ve gotten. Then we moved on to the a-word and the b-word. We all had a good chuckle at the s-word since we covered that one extensively the time the bed broke. After that though, she asked what the c-word was and there’s something deeply wrong about saying the word cunt at the dinner table. That was about the time that Debra mentioned that under no circumstances was RR to be the one enlightening her friends. Tell them to go ask their mothers, she said.

The rest of the dinner was spent with RR muttering fuckfuckfuck quietly in between bits of broccoli.

We were not nearly as composed when she was talking to a toy in the backseat and she said shut up. We were on her so fast I think I saw her head spin. Not in our house, not in our car, not in a box, not with a fox. No ma’am. She said it one more time under her breath and I thought Debra would pull the car over and take her out by an ear. Thanks camp, for everything.

 

Welcome Fairies

RR loves a fairy. I suppose it’s only fair here to note that I still believe in fairies because life is magical and just because I haven’t seen them doesn’t mean they aren’t out there somewhere. That’s fine. You can still like me for my other qualities. Don’t let fairies come between us. Camp is teaching RR lots of things, things I wish they hadn’t, things I wish I’d thought to teach her first, and things I’m hope to hope Montessori knocks clean out of her.

Fairies though, that’s fine. And so when she came home from what must have been a particularly delightful art session (only so noted because it’s the only thing she’s ever talked about enjoying. once.), and said that all you have to do to get a fairy to move in is:
make a fairy a welcome mat
close your eyes
cross your fingers
say “I wish a fairy lived here” three timesI sincerely hope that such a pattern can’t be used on all magical things because I sort of superstitiously quiver to think you can just invite…things… in. Again, we can still be friends, you and I, even though I am admittedly a bit to the left of just-like-you.

And so RR rushed to make a welcome mat, and I’d like to say for the record that it was my wife who indulged her in this endeavor, did the requisite crossing and muttering, and dictated a note just to be perfectly clear to future fairy residents that they were quite welcome.

And so I drew her a tiny door. Because wouldn’t you?

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She was over-the-moon delighted. Since she hadn’t seen the fairy she commented that it must be coming at night and, since it was on the wall adjacent to the yard, it must be a Nocturnal Mushroom Fairy. No artistic rendering of the fairy is available at this time. And wouldn’t you know, a giant toadstool grew out of the yard not too many days after, just across from the tiny door where the tiny Nocturnal Mushroom Fairy comes and goes. I’ll let you imagine just what happened when RR saw that.

 

 

My Parents (Boundaries, Part 3)

My mom and dad decided to put their elderly farmhouse on the market. This is not as charming as it sounds, except when it is, which is only just as the sun sinks below the Blue Ridge, casting the crepe myrtles and blackberry bushes into shadow and when the breeze swirls the scent of freshly cut grass and young pine trees through the summer heat. The rest of the time, it has mice and the plumbing is sluggish. The pipes burst, the slate foundation leans, there is a bear in the woods.

I fully support this decision. My dad is having more trouble with stairs (and walking in general) and they have an hour drive just to have an appointment with the doctor. It never really made sense to buy the house but they did and there it is. I think it’s smart to downsize and to be closer to emergency care. I think they will be happier to spend less on gas and to be less dependent on their questionable car to take them back and forth. I think they will like plumbing. It’s nice.

It isn’t easy though. They want what they have always had* – a spacious house with a large yard. They want it to be one level and close to town. They would like to pay two pennies for this house. I’m a little surprised at their inability to truly downsize but I shouldn’t be, I guess. It’s exactly as they have approached my dad’s diagnosis on the whole: out of sync with reality.

My mother has been crying about money and moving which is really crying about my dad. I’m pretty sure that’s how you can class all the crying around here. And I reassured her that they wouldn’t be on the street. That if the house sold immediately (ha) and they hadn’t signed a lease, they could live temporarily with us. Can you imagine what my mother heard? I believe it was something along the lines of: You should move in with us right away. Debra and I will move into the unfinished basement so that you don’t have to use stairs. Live here forever.

My sisters will hopefully help to turn her away from this collision course she is on. But that seems flimsy, doesn’t it? How do you say no to a man with cancer and his bereaved wife?

 

 

*They have forgotten the tiny trailer in San Bernadino, the brick box in Benson, and all the times they moved in with my grandparents.

 

 

Retirement Planning (Boundaries, Part 2)

I’ll be honest, when we talked about the pros and cons of having a second child, one of the winningest points was that we’d have double the chances of having someone to care for us when we’re old. I know, right? How were we even allowed to have one kid? It’s true though, I have two sisters, Debra has one. When we have faced parental crises, we had someone else there to share the load. RR has no one. And, if she hates us, we will have no one, too.

This is no reason to have a child. And obviously, if you do go this route, there’s no guarantee it will work out. For example, our neighbor across the street is in her late seventies. She has two 40-something childless daughters. One is married and lives on an isolated farm in a tenant house a few hours away. The other has MS and a number of other health challenges, all of which keep her unable to fully care for herself. She and her two large dogs live with her mother. Neither daughter can help our neighbor on the spot and, as we’ve learned, that’s what neighbors are for anyway.

Over the years we have been the go-to for tricky lightbulb changes, Christmas tree assembly, garden help, and notably, grave-digging for one sweet cat. In the last two weeks, I’ve had to carry one of the dogs into the house from the car twice. The first time, Minnie (the dog) was soaked in blood from burst sutures and Jenny (the daughter) was having a full-blown anxiety attack. The second time was from another suture repair but it had the distinction of being at 10 at night and Minnie was only a little bloody. Jenny was nowhere to be seen.

Last Friday, our neighbor called frantically for help streaming the Olympics on her computer. You see, a large branch knocked her phone and power lines down and the cable apparently wasn’t resurrected when the lines were repaired. Helping the elderly use electronic devices is not my strong suit. However, Debra has begun to flatly refuse to help her and our neighbor was in tears so off I stamped. My heart breaks for her. Life has been rough lately and she doesn’t have any other family but her daughters.

I don’t want to help her. I don’t like that her house smells like cats. I don’t like washing blood off every time Minnie goes rogue. I don’t like answering my phone. I don’t like unexpected visits. I just want to be left in peace. I want to have boundaries. But I ALSO don’t want to be alone when I’m old. I don’t want no one to want to help me. I don’t want to be helpless. I don’t want to cry in front of the nice girl from across the street. I want my daughter to want to help me. And not to be so far away that she can’t.

And that’s the kicker. I don’t want to be the anchor that holds RR still. So I help my neighbor because I hope someday someone will help me. I don’t know if it works that way but I sure hope it does.

 

The Wolves at the Door (Boundaries, Part 1)

I think we can agree on a few things:

1. The Olympics don’t come all that often. I mean, every two years if you like both curling AND shot-put. And if you’re more of a trampoline fanatic, you have to wait the full four and that takes a lot of patience. We get how many summer olympics in our lives? 20? That’s not many if you’re a devout badminton enthusiast, that’s for sure.

2. Television reception and programming is a tricky thing. I mean, haven’t most of us waited for the cable guy at least once in our lives? And haven’t you also looked at the clock at 4:50 when he said he’d be by between noon and 5 and thought, well I could call, but I’m probably not getting to watch Game of Thrones tonight.

3. And isn’t it super hard to move? I mean you have to pack all of your things and say goodbye to all of your friends. Every day you wake up to new walls and different light. Things smell different. You don’t know the fastest way to the grocery store. You want things that are familiar, of course you do, even when you really wanted to do this, you still want something familiar.

3. Family is important. And sometimes they are also assholes.

Glad we’ve gotten all that straight. I feel like I’ve done you a disservice by not telling you more about my wife’s family, the wolves. There’s this Thanksgiving post, which offers up a glimpse. It doesn’t get to the heart though. The fact is, I was raised on an entirely different planet from these people. Her family would call mine (and have, no doubt) stiff, stuffy, and formal. Memorably, Debra’s mother referred to me as fancy. My family would say something shitty and self-congratulatory about grandfather’s good choices. Take mealtimes, for example. We used cloth napkins, silver, and place cards and not just on Sundays. One memorable Christmas, my mother once refused to allow a 2-liter bottle of soda in the kitchen and the aunt (married-in, of course) who brought it, drank it in the garage. If ketchup was served, it was transferred from the bottle to a charming bowl with miniature spoon before it was served. You’re getting the idea. Suffice to say, Debra’s family is about as far as you can get from my family.

Now, I recognize that, having just moved to town, Debra’s sister, niece, and nephew, are probably a little lonely and they certainly don’t have all of their stuff. The laundry in their complex is open odd hours and we have a washer and dryer just sitting in the basement. So it’s not so weird that they dropped by while we were at work to put the laundry in. But it IS weird when, at 9:30 at night, the basement door opens and the wolves come pouring in, make a ruckus in the hall (where your daughter sleeps with the door open), plop down on the couch and stay…until 11. Their cable isn’t hooked up, you see, and our TV sure is pretty. It was unsettling and worrying. Will this be a habit? I don’t WANT to have a boundaries conversation. But just coming in? At night? So loudly? So late? My wife cannot bring this up to her sister, because there’s only one way that would go: badly. Frankly, friends, I was thinking murderous thoughts.*

And so, because I can’t cry, I bring you this piece of humor which saved my evening via text from a friend and, if this goes on, my future co-parent.

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* Note to the police, this does not indicate a desire to kill my wife. If anything, it’s a desire to change the locks, draw the blinds, and hide from her family. I promise you, I’m a proper grieving widow.

Sneaking Out

Dear Sophie’s Mom,

I understand Sophie will be picking RR up at around 11pm to go on a Secret Mission. I’m sure little Sophie will be adorable in her tiny pedal car. I’ll be sure to pack some sort of Secret Mission snack. I believe the girls will be driving about three hours and RR will be sleeping in a trailer in the back while Sophie drives. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? I wonder if you might send Sophie with a tarp to cover RR since it hasn’t stopped raining all day. Also, the directions to our home have been inscribed in RR’s Tiny Book of Secrets and so I’m not sure if Sophie will be able to find us before daybreak. I’ve included it here, just in case it helps.

From one mom to another, I’m sure you had a good chuckle when your daughter announced that she was going to sleep at 7pm, in her clothes, so that she was “ready to sneak out at night for the Secret Mission.” Adorable, wasn’t it? Oh and I’d almost forgotten, since the girls are sneaking out and driving three hours to see Tyler, that scamp from Cabin 4, would you remind them no smoking, no drinking, and no sex for the next decade at least? Thank you so much. I’m sure Sophie will see RR waiting for her on the curb. At night. In the dark. To sleep in a trailer. For the Secret Mission. Please send the tarp.

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The real question – had Debra and I not faked a call from The Real Sophie’s Mom, would our daughter have crept out in the night to the street? I was willing to bet on her sleeping too soundly or being too nervous to try but Debra faded to a remarkable shade of pale pea green at the mere thought.

I admit to a teensy tiny worry though, as I hear her in her bedroom, an hour after I left the room, singing and chatting animatedly and shuffling around making noises that some might say sound very Secret Missiony indeed. Send a tarp.

 

Ways Cancer Doesn’t Suck: Sandwich Edition

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My mom offered to buy me a sandwich today before we head to my dad’s appointment at the cancer center. She even asked if I wanted mayo! This is a pleasant change of pace and especially welcome since I didn’t have anything in the house to pack for lunch today. And, given I have two lunches out with colleagues this week and a dinner out with a candidate for a position for which I’m hiring (this is six now – it’s very Mary Poppins around here), I would rather have skipped lunch than had something out.

That’s all I can turn up today.

Because there is an appointment. And because my dad fell three times last week. And because he didn’t remember the last one even though he has two black eyes from where he must have fallen onto his face, smashed his glasses, and was carrying a nail gun with an unknown purpose. Maybe it’s a stroke. Maybe it’s the tumor. But something is making him forget what he was saying, use the wrong words, and have an unsettling greyish pallor.

Perhaps this text exchange with my sister will make you smile in that gallows humor sort of way the way I did.

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  1. From mom to family – picture of she and my dad with no beard.
  2. From sister to family – I don’t condone her use of ‘daddy’ #shes36
  3. From mom to family – inclusion of winky face to show this slippage is not a big deal.

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  1. Recently I mimed calling RR on the phone. I used the classic pinky and thumb to ear. She picked up and used a flat hand. I hung up with a setting down motion. She turned her palm and thumbed an invisible button. #old #agegap #weshouldbuyaphone #shecantcall911 #parentingfail #seriouslyold
  2. Left in because, come on! It’s a great joke! For those too young (#getoffmylawn) or out of the country, Miss Cleo was a famous television psychic in the 90s.
  3. Me to my sister in response to Text Thread 1.
  4. My sister to me. She is the best. And, I never would have had such a chuckle if it hadn’t been for the cancer so I guess that’s another silver lining?

 

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