Andrew Jackson’s Hands

We took RR to DC to visit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Portrait Gallery to visit the Obama paintings. I was particularly excited for the latter because they are so visually interesting and well, I miss seeing that man’s face. Also, RR has never been to an art museum before and I thought that there was a good chance she’d enjoy it given the kinds of lessons she’s had at school and her general overwhelming appreciation for art.

I had no idea.

No idea that RR would find the Natural History Museum only mildly interesting (except for the Aye Aye skeleton which she knew all about…for some reason…). Though given her feelings about zoos, I shouldn’t have been too surprised.

No idea that neither dinosaurs nor diamonds would be considered “big enough”

No idea that the Portrait Gallery at dinner time after a three hour drive and two hours looking at an Aye Aye and judging dinos would be so fascinating.

No idea that a room filled with nearly all white men wearing similar suits, sitting in the same pose, painted in the same style would be the hands down most compelling thing that has happened in recent memory.

And especially no idea that Andrew Jackson and Andrew Jackson’s hands, in particular, would be the highlight of her day and would involve an intense session of investigation and examination filled with pacing and muttering and attempted caressing of the texture of the oil paint.

Who knew.

 

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RR and the Earrings

It turns out that third grade math facts are RR’s latest challenge. I don’t quite understand a “math fact” and I’m told this is the way of it these days. All the parents are out of the loop. I don’t think that’s it, at least in the Montessori context. From what I’ve gleaned from our parent-teacher conference and RR herself, math facts are the sight words of the numbers world. I didn’t ask for further clarification since I was pretty sure that this would be the teacher’s lightbulb moment. Aha, so this is why RR can’t put two and two together!

Things RR can do are many and significant. She is an excellent speller, a great reader, she is kind to the other children, her art skills are first-rate, she is a leader and a teacher herself. She’s also super good at using her graph paper to draw pixelated My Little Ponies and using the empty spaces in zeros to build her own tiny artistic snow globes. The Montessori works for manipulating numbers make sense but she doesn’t make the leap from those to basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It doesn’t help that I’m no math pro myself, including the rarified air of single digit addition.

In addition to RR’s general eschewing of numbers as a thing that are a reality, she is also hugely indifferent to money. We’ve tried tying the cost of things she wants to the concept of saving and spending. We’ve tried handing her coins, letting her pay at a register, and counting change. It appears the only thing she has any investment in are pencils, markers, and paper and it feels wrong to charge her for use of those things.

The school has a tiny shop, Maria’s, where the kids can purchase snacks during the day. The kids leave class with a buddy, traverse the open campus, make their purchases, and meander back to class. While an account is an option, we’ve never given RR one in part because she doesn’t want anything and in part because math! money! skills! We have given her a dollar here and there only to find out she never spends it. In fact, she usually has no idea where it is until we go through her change purse only to find out she never remembered she had the dollar in the first place. She’s basically been on the same dollar for two years now.

The other day we set her on a mission. Go, we said. Go to Maria’s and buy something with these two dollars. Don’t forget to tell us what you spent and how much you had left! So she went. She bought:

  • One (1) Gin Gin, a small, single, piece of hard ginger candy: possibly for $50 or for five cents. Very difficult to say and the witness (RR) was unreliable. Candy uneaten, possibly given away.
  • One pair of earrings made of pull tabs from coke cans: cost undisclosed.
  • Gave fifteen cents to a younger friend, purpose unexplained.

You guys. We gave her money to spend all for herself and she used it to buy me a gift and delight her friends. She excited to bursting when she handed me the earrings and I put them on. Also, she learned nothing of math. This is my child. Competent, wonderful, and thoughtful. But really, really, shitty at math.

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Marriage is Hard

Believe me, when my wife read that title she was a bit put out. Well, I assume. It’s not as though this is new information though.

You see, the truth is hard. She knows it. I know it. You know it, dear reader. My wife and have a strong relationship. I often feel lucky knowing how in love she is with me and I with her. Not that love is the sole indicator of strength. It’s commonalities, compassion, shared experiences. We’ve known each other since 1998. Did you see that? Twenty years. We’ve been married less than that, of course. It took us awhile to untangle the small knots and webs tying us to everything but each other. I was elated when we moved in together and over the moon when we got married. We have so much fun together and always have. We adventure, she and I, and it’s delightful.

Now I’m not blaming our daughter. Or where we live. Or what we do. But somewhere, somehow, in the last several years the solid foundation we put up at the beginning began to get in our way. It became hard to do the things we used to love to do and then we started to bicker. I assume every couple argues now and again. We have a particularly famous disagreement titled Why Did You Drive This Direction? and are long time participants in the How Do You Not Remember That? siege. I’m a fan of the Exasperated Sigh and she is well acquainted with Hot Face resulting from sudden (and fleeting) anger.

We’re not supposed to use that word, right? Angry? It’s not a word that you want to hitch to a happy marriage. I think that’s unreasonable, by the way. Everyone gets angry. It’s how you handle it that makes, or breaks, the marriage. It isn’t breaking ours. The resentment, the lack of communication, the disconnects – that’s what’s corroding all those careful, pretty, connections between us.

Neither one of us are interested in letting go, giving up, or walking out. Instead we headed to a counselor’s couch to talk about really super awkward things, like sex. You guys, this shit is not easy. I don’t have a roadmap. I never watched my own parents go through this. The only outcome I’m interested in is the one that keeps our bond as strong as it ever was. Is there any point then in counseling, if neither of us are giving up no matter what?

Something seems to be working. It’s hard, feeling like there’s no one to talk to. I thought I’d tell you though, I think it’s working. I think it’ll be just fine.

 

Silver Linings: Dad’s Dead But Now He’s Not a Jerk

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My dad has been on my mind lately. He loved this song. Or, this was his favorite weather. Worse, dad would have laughed so hard at that one. It goes on, as you can imagine. Happy memories all. I have to reach, now, to grab the things that bothered me. The days when he vehemently disagreed with my political lean and railed about the president are gone. I’d like to think that he wouldn’t have cared for this particular president either. I’ve recast him as an equal opportunity critic. His racist and sexist jokes would have been particularly tone deaf these days (not that they were ever acceptable). I’ve rewritten his jokes to tell me more about the men he worked with, the soldiers, fellow mechanics, and snow plow drivers. His blue collar, boot-strap life didn’t understand the rarefied air of diplomacy or academia.

I rub like smooth rocks all the things I learned in his final year, months, days. I learned that he was soft inside. As gentle as his hands were rough. I’ve thought about the jellybeans he munched the final week. My efforts to find a favorite candy bar. The conversation the nurse and I had about getting him out to smoke one last time. It took me several precious days to figure out that was what he was waiting for. For my brother-in-law, the rough and rugged one whose insides reflect my dad’s outside, to bring him those special small cigars. By the time I solved the puzzle, he couldn’t have gotten into the wheelchair.

But that’s not what I’m thinking about when my breath hitches on the way to work. Or as I sit here typing, crying, for the first time in awhile. I’m thinking about how he chuckled when he found a fun new Halloween toy and the time he spent rigging a loudspeaker and mic to frighten 1980s trick-or-treaters. I’m thinking about eating pie with him in the back bedroom a couple of Thanksgivings ago, how he happily twitched his feet like his father, savored his pie like his mother, and hid from guests like his daughter. I’m thinking about how he would have tsked at the leaves for not changing on schedule and how he’d deeply enjoy the extra time watching the game instead of raking.

So yes, I’m crying. I wish I wasn’t. But I’m happy because all the sour, sticky, smudged parts of him have been buffed shiny and clean. I miss him terribly but I’ll take what I can get.

Right Now

RR started the third grade last week. I thought about getting myself a walker and and AARP subscription and then she flashed me and waggled her butt and I figured we had a few years left. She’s more though, in every way. Longer legs, stronger arms, she eats more, she tells more jokes, she has more friends, she says she’s doing geometry, I see her reading books with words like persnickety. I love this new bigness and the unexpected developments it brought along. She rides roller coasters now, fast ones, grown-up ones, and she greets the terror with laughter. Which goes a long way toward describing RR generally.

She’s not fearless but she is right in the center of any given moment. When she gets off the roller coaster she’s laughing, not because she wasn’t scared in the middle, but because that moment passed and now it’s all bright sunshine and smiling faces and the thrill of having done something daring. She she does it again and again because the fear, it happens, but she lands on exhilaration every time and that’s enough. She has always been this way.

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This picture of her four-year-old self shows perfectly how she sinks down deep into every experience. Here, she’s picking raspberries under the jasmine and a particularly spindly tomato plant. I can almost hear her softly humming. I know none of the raspberries made it into the house that day. She’s our garden fairy. She’s of the moment. There are times when I think she can’t possibly last and we can’t possibly keep her.

That got more grim than I expected. And after that adorable picture, too! This has been motherhood for me this year. Constant U turns back from anxiety and what if into the here and now. Start again. And again. It’s not too bad. It reminds me to stay right there with RR, in that moment with her, relishing every last second. But, since it seems sort of contradictory to say all that and not do it, here’s eight.

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Down With This Particular Sunscreen

I’ve never been so happy to have sent RR to what some of our friends lovingly refer to as “the chicken school”. And while they do tend the chickens, they also tend a garden, act as custodians to the local wildlife, make herbal teas, read, keep a fish pond to grow fish to eat, do complex math, paint, and play. Apparently I need to add activism to the list because the sunscreen petition I signed this week was a work of art.

Because you’d have to be a dedicated zoomer, here is the text of the three foot long petition, spelling uncorrected:

CHANGE THE SUNSCREEN:
a teacher sined it.
it is slimy
it makes us sweat
it is icky. WE hate it.
it smells.
got a sunburn with it once.
it stings on scratches.
it swelled up a mosquito bite [Inset: “this did happen” with drawing of wound for proof.]
you haft to take off the top to get it on you then it spills on the floor you can’t get it up you can slip and get hurt.
it is easy to get it in your eyes.
[Inset: A picture of the sun. Written on the sun it says “ha ha I will burn you” Under the sun it says “because the sunscreen does not (underlined) work”]
it soaks into your skin.
your eyes water a lot when you put it on your face.
[Inset: Picture of a beetle saying “OW”]
when you want to play on the monkey bars your hands will slip and you will fall and get hurt.
does not (underlined, emphatically) work [Inset: picture of a head/face with red cheeks, forehead, and nose.]
we hate it
WE HATE (underlined) THE SUNSCREEN
it is only 30 percent other sunscreens are way more than 30!
it says “fragrance free” but it has a strong fragrance.
it burns our face [Inset: sad smiley face]
it spills a lot (underlined in bold)
we want a CHANGE (in orange marker)

This is all accompanied by a well-done doodle of Wilma Flintstone proclaiming “I hate Terra Sport” and a page of glorious signatures which I haven’t included although I very much wanted to. Some of the signatories include “parent of X” and “x, the Boss”, “teacher X”, “X the dad of X”, tiny writing, big writing, first names, both names, cursive and not, and one parenthesis after a teachers name in which is scrawled “(As long as it doesn’t have chemicals)”.

I proudly added my signature to the thirty other names. RR has complained before that it stings but it’s sunscreen, I trust the school, and I realize it’s practically impossible to keep 30 sunscreens separate. I’m going to tuck this memory away for the next time she brings home a sheaf of beautiful drawings but blanks when I ask her what 2 x 5 is.

And You Get A Trophy, And You Get a Trophy…

I have opinions about participation trophies. Not that I’d begrudge a kid a little trophy for showing up, I just haven’t particularly supported that approach as a way to motivate or reward them. You know the arguments – hard work is the reward, they won’t value real trophies, it dilutes the work of the kids who deserved them, etc. As with everything parenting though, everyone has an opinion and everyone is right.

RR received a trophy for swimming this summer. She had just barely graduated past Flailing and Sinking when we signed her up. We didn’t put sign her up for meets at the start since it wasn’t at all clear she’d survive the experience. Thank goodness for lifeguards. I was also concerned that swimming would go the way of soccer where we spent most of our time watching her pick flowers and pass the ball to friends who hadn’t had a turn yet, her team or not. Or perhaps ballet, where she spent her time gazing in the mirror. I wasn’t at all confident this would be a success.

But she liked it. RR, who spends a lot of time being neutral about things, actually liked swimming. So we signed her up for swim meets. And she liked those too, once she got over the disappointment of it not being a swim meat.

RR: Mama, what kind of meat will it be?
Me: A swimming compitition, where you race the people next to you.
RR: Yes, but what kind of meat will they put in the pool? Pork? I’m hoping for pork.
Me: …

She wasn’t good at swimming and she didn’t win a thing. In fact, she mostly kept other little girls from coming in last. But she went to practice everyday. She tried hard. She coped with the weekly disappointment of not getting a ribbon and of not coming close to winning, even in the slowest heats. She has even been enthusiastic about the idea of continuing over the winter.

This weekend we had the awards ceremony for the close of the season. The look on RR’s face when they called her up was priceless. She was amazed and shocked and grateful and overwhelmed. She kept holding it above her head as all the kids came to the front, bouncing with excitement. She high-fived her friends (RR has friends!). She was breathless when she came to the back to show us. I had no idea that a participation trophy could make such a big impact on a tiny person. She was so proud of herself and it was clear – that little gold swimmer packed more motivation to try harder and get better and go faster than anything anyone could have said to her.

So here’s to yet another milestone: participation on a team and motivation to do it again.