Sunday, July 25, 2010

note to the abandoned (a Wish and a sidestep)

Okay, so it's slightly evil to do this while building narrative momentum - I did, after all, just say the words "Eldest" and Wish" in the same sentence - but the Eldest's Wish needs to wait while I settle something.

There are two misconceptions that you might have at this moment:
1. that the Eldest is terminally ill
2. that this is the most extraordinary gift that we could possibly be given, and that bubbling clouds of delight are whisking us far, far up beyond the mundane.

Well, 1. most certainly, he is NOT - and we're grateful for that. The Make-A-Wish foundation grants Wishes to children who are terminally ill, as well as to children with certain life-threatening conditions. The Eldest was such a child some years ago, but he is nothing of the sort now. And 2., well, look at the superlatives. Consider the tone that goes with them. Nod slowly as you realize that, in fact, this Wish makes me deeply uncomfortable.

There is something both humbling and deeply invasive about having a child with a chronic illness, and watching healthcare professionals gather, ready to offer you their time and help. The family home shifts towards being a place of socially constructed pretenses of privacy, whose social patterns are known all too well to those who support it. So, fine. There are other people involved. It was the loss of independence was harder to adjust to, and the ongoing sense of social obligation.

It's not like I can go to an infusion nurse's home and pop an IV into her kid, or cook her dinner. (Although I did try to feed them at every opportunity, and they were very tolerant of my efforts. Oddly, the nurses had always "just eaten something, oh, not fifteen minutes before I arrived." Um, right.) I know that they get paid for their work, and that it is work, and not a personal favor. But their job is inside the family sphere and part of something so very intimate and central to the heart of me - of us - to the point where I can't always treat them as professionals. We force, ask, push, hope them into becoming people, and then relax a bit.

You can have a social exchange, or build a relationship of mutual caring with people. Use it to discharge debt to the point necessary. You can't do either, really, with a professional maintaining an appropriate emotional distance.

And a Wish is a gift bigger than anything we've seen yet, and given by people that don't have a relationship with either the Eldest or me. Yes, there's someone being paid somewhere, but we see the volunteers, the people giving of their time and representing those who gave of their wallet. It's the waving of a wand, held by people we don't know and who are careful to stay remote, and who will happily vanish, post-wave.

And it's just too damned big.

I just can't get comfortable with the idea. After all, look at my kid - he's the kid who throws rocks into the river, irritating painters who've driven wayyyy up to a scenic view.
He's the clown that mugs for the camera with his robotic Lego-thing.
And he's the quiet kid, relaxing post-swim with a book while the light falls just so.
He just doesn't need this. His life is full, rich with pleasures and replete with met needs. It's not uncomplicated, I'll grant you - but he doesn't need a magic wand. Nor can does he need a reward for the twisted, edged complexities of his early years - the kid doesn't remember them, and the Man and I flinch at the idea of a door prize.

Congratulations, your kid got knocked around, so he gets this.
Congratulations, you were battered while your kid was sick, so he gets this.

It's unnerving to have the societal powers-that-be offer this as a palliative, whether to their sense of justice or to my own. It's unsettling to have a wand waved to lift the Eldest out of his world, and into a fantastic place where Wishes are granted. Or, perhaps, to argue that he lives in this place, regardless of my stubborn hymns to ordinariness. And it seems ungrateful to be shifting in my seat when the fairy godmother(s) come to call. Or, hell, asking her to produce some ID.

But I am, regardless. I have a wonderful, vibrant son. He is enough, and beyond enough - and replete with our good fortune, the Man and I should gracefully decline the Wish.

But this is not our Wish - it's his. Which might just be why it is going to come true. And it might also be why at some point a mosaic of joy, gratitude and yes, tears, is going to sweep up behind me and smack me on the nose. Because maybe, at heart, my mutterings about not being deserving, not needing or wanting to ameliorate another's sense of guilt/need to act/memory - maybe? Maybe that's all just me, trying to insist that the past stay in the past.

And hoping that this Wish doesn't carry with it too great a burden of memory.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

note to the abandoned (part three): coalescing Wishes

If I were you, reading this, I would now want to know two things: what did the kid Wish for, and why? And if you let me push the bounds of reader response theory that far, then I know some people who want to talk to you, but as for me? I'll just say, good questions, and thank you so much for politely playing along.

What did he Wish for? Well, for one thing, it wasn't Disney.

Disney is, I am told, the Wish most wished, although I do rather think that Erik Martin may inspire a new standard of Wish - and should. Still, Disney (ahem) somehow (insert innocently wide eyes - um, wider - okay, could we stop giggling? Flings up hands, stomps off) eluded the Eldest, who pursued a Wish that began years ago.

I'd like to go and swim at the Great Barrier Reef, he told us, and the adults stopped being polite to each other, and whipped heads around. Listened to the five-year old kid talking about reefs and fish and fragile ecosystems. It's beautiful. I want to go there before it's gone.

There was a long, painful pause. It's too far away, a volunteer told me, and couldn't quite meet the kid's eyes. We can't send you that far. We talked quietly a bit, and I realized that they really couldn't, even if the Man and I managed to get ourselves out to the Reef itself. Sighed. Turned back to the kid.

Do you have another Wish?

He floundered a bit, suggesting a bike? With two wheels?
Love, I'll find a nice used one for you, just down the block - is there something really special that you might like to see, or, do - something that Daddy and I might not be able to do for you? another Wish?
It turns out that it's hard to come up with a Wish. A wish? Sure, no problem - wish for Pokemon cards, a book, a break from your annoying little brother. But a Wish is bigger, and supposed to be out of reach, hovering on the edge of impossible. Thus Erik Martin, who surely knows that sometimes human effort and the delight of play is a thing to be loved, when reality just does not have what you truly want. He did not, after all, ask to have a cure for cancer - these kids are sufficiently wise. Even when a magic wand is on offer.

The Eldest thought. Can I have an apple?

The volunteers considered this. It's unusual to have a request for a computer for a child this age, they said, slowly.

Now? Because I'm hungry. And while the adults looked confused, then bemused, he fetched. Bit. And chewed.

I swear, that was not me giggling behind the ottoman.

Over the next few years, something began to coalesce, then evolve - and occasionally, subduct. My sons became enamored of rocks, partly as solid and splendidly dirty objects to shove into one's pockets, and partly as bearers of potential treasure. Diamonds, see? Look! And I think that's silver. Oh - and that one over there, do you see it? Look!

Rocks clunk around in my washing machine, line up on the windowsills and are given to me as small, medium and alarmingly large, inarguably precious gifts. It was inevitable, then, that the Man would jump into minerology and geology, inescapable that our Father's Day gift would be a book of elements. Complete with excellent photos of rocks.

I want to climb a mountain, he told us. The adults considered the six-year-old. Which mountain? they asked, and he shrugged.

The mountain is in Hawaii, he told me. I blinked at the seven-year-old. It is? Mountain? Oh, I said, remembering. That mountain. But the Foundation blinked harder. But why must the mountain be in Hawaii? they asked, reasonably. And I didn't know.

I want to climb a volcano and find some igneous rocks, the Eldest told us, gently touching a precious stone or two. And find some endangered species. Listening, memory struck me, and I nodded. Hawaii has some of those, I told him. The most in the world.

The Eldest threw his shoulders back, and lifted his chin. Then we must go there, and save some, he told me. I applauded, and wished the magic wand wielders the very, very best of luck.

Because this kid is unlikely to accept costumes.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

a note to the abandoned (part 1)

shhhhh. Keep it down - nobody knows I'm here. They all think I'm off advocating for something, somewhere.

Dear blog,

did you miss me? I've missed you. There's so much that I've wanted to tell you about the past year, and it slid right by. I read something months ago about how the primary cause of blog abandonment was lack of time, and I smirked. Swore that an added hour of driving in my day was going to do no such thing. Nope.

It did, rather, didn't it? My poor blog, home to fragments of posts, whose missing bits are doing their best to tunnel their way out. If they switched to pickaxes, or a nice adze and dropped the electrons, I think they'd have more luck - and you, more posts. But I know that you won't mind a months-long blitz post on one, slim subject. Anthropomorphism is nice that way.

(Because I said so, that's why. And don't you wave Pirandello at me, hey?)

Now, where was I before the coloratura started up?

Right. There.

At some point in the past year, the Eldest turned 8. I find this thought somewhat hard to grasp, but he really is eight, and often, lately, shows a startling, lovely maturity. But on the day that he turned eight, he celebrated by swinging on the towel bar one too many times.

Creeeeaaaaunch, went the towel bar and the drywall in a lovely, delicate harmony.
Oooooooowwwwaaaaaaaiiiiiih! wailed the Eldest, dumped ceremoniously on his birthday ass.
Ahem, said the mama, and underlined the point. With a moderately straight face.

One might have thought that the Eldest's verve would be dampened by this, or that his newly eight-year-old sense of competency might have been shaken. Fifteen minutes later, one might have found that theory put to the test.

Oooops, said the Toddles, cheerfully. And bent over the clogged toilet bowl, the better to admire its contents. The Eldest joined him, and they considered specifics. Mooooo-om? called the Eldest, and explained the situation. The mama blinked, groaned and wrapped her fingers around a mug. Dropped the spatula into it. Just wait a minute, she told him, and reached to turn off the flame under her pot. I'll be right there.

The Eldest ran upstairs as the mama muttered to herself about small boys who will insist on using two and three tissues per wipe. Don't worry, Mum -I've taken care of it! floated back down the stairs. She blinked, and lifted her face in sudden alarm. Oh - honey - no! Wait for me, I'm on my way....

There was a pause.

There was an ominous sploooooooosh. And another, followed by a shpwhooooooor-splat-whshhhhhrrrr of overflow.

There were small boy voices, panicking. And there was much cleaning of floors and children.

After such a beginning, one might think that the Eldest's newly eight-year-old sense of competency might have been shaken. Oh, but wait - I already said that. And it wasn't the first time, was it? Yes, well, take that as a harbinger of things to come.

Oh, blog, this was the year of the jokester, in which the Eldest edged, then barged, then attempted to annex the wrong side of the line between funny and hurtful comments. He simply didn't see the line, sometimes, or the line paled in comparison to his comrades' snickers, or the line, he argued, was in the wrong place. If I don't mean to hurt someone's feelings, then why are they choosing to be hurt by X? he'd argue, and I was fairly certain that reader response lit theory wasn't going to clarify the situation.

(But Mr. Fish, my son shouldn't be kicked out of the room - there really IS a text in this class. I know, because he told me so himself.)

Meetings with teachers, talking about his disruptive behavior. Puzzling together over the patterns of his behavior, trying to stitch together a plan. Or at least a shared wry affection for the wee beastie. Watching sudden explosions at home, losing patience - and then, at last, preemptively losing patience. And hating myself for it.

And then the asthma diagnosis, which cravenly, I hope will explain far more than it should, and extract my lovely boy from the frustrating/lovely/infuriating/marvellous/aaaaaaugh that he is. Which it won't, of course.

And, and, and. It's been a very full chunk of year thus far, but alas, neither the Eldest nor I appear to be excessively daunted. Although my sense of competency has a few new dings and scrapes, I'll admit, and the kids have possibly maybe perhaps learned a few new words, which might oh concieveably be related to the Man's introduction of a cuss jar. Um. Still, he is marching onwards, a by-turns thoughtful, loving child with earnest eyes, and an uproariously charging rhino. Who giggles. I know that you boys will learn that you are living in a world with other people, and that you need to be mindful of the ways that your actions can affect those others, I sighed recently. You have the capacity to learn this, and to grow into wonderful mensches. I just wish you'd do it a little faster. There was silence from the back seat that morning. Yep, said the Eldest, thoughtfully. It's like that.

I sat there, torn between laughter, appreciation, and flinging my hands up. But then again, I'd spent much of the past seven months that way. And the kid was right, as it happens. Eight, as I'm learning, comes with a startling ability to phrase thoughts just so, splintered by a sweet worry that silences him, in case he might speak awry.

This past week, I've been inclined to think that he might worry less about saying the wrong thing, as we scurry around, preparing to pack goodness knows what in our bags, so as to go off and do something, somewhere. Because years ago, someone decided to point a magic wand our way. And shortly before his eight birthday, the Eldest finally found the right words to invoke it. And lo, he has made a Wish.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

temporarily backing off on Holland

I have often been tempted to buy a t-shirt that says fuck Holland. I hate that essay, as much as I might love those who've sent it to me. Jill Cornfield's response leaves me thoughtful, but without feeling as though the cheerful, adaptive temperament of the newly Hollanded has been given a swift, vicious kick in the ass. Although I'll admit that Cathy Marciniak comes damned close.

Thus the t-shirt. I'd get a stack, hand them out to friends, and we'd horrify the playground public, preferably while our kids do deeply Wrong Parenting things like climbing trees, or playing Redcoats vs. Colonial Militia.

bang! bang!
(pause, filled by nearby gasping about violence in play/kids running with big sticks)
hold on - I have to reload. I don't have a repeating rifle, you know.
(considering pause)
Oh, dang. My finger slipped on the trigger. Guess we have to have a running battle now...good thing my mom brought the really BIG medical kit today. (smirk)

It occurs to me that if I were in Holland, I'd be on vacation. And then - wait for it - I could go home. At home, presumably I would understand the language, the culture, and I wouldn't need to have meetings in which I explained us to others, or others explained us to me. At home, we'd be the norm, and an unthinking norm at that. No, wait - we are the norm at home. And there is no Holland, for us to either visit or leave.

More to the point, I reserve the right to bitch - not that our situation is remotely dire, nor is it tragic. But hey, bitchiness is all about the right to bear emotional arms, in case a target presents itself. I'm subtly modeling this with our virtual paintball cannon, mounted on the top of our little car, which the children use to express our, um, displeasure at the idiot who slammed on her brakes in the middle of a three lane merge on Rt 95 today. Twice.

Sploosh! yelled the Toddles. I got her with bright yellow.
Hmmm, said the Eldest. I wonder if we could use a robotic device to fill her car with bubbles? Maybe by drilling a small hole into the roof of her car, after sploooshing her with bubble stuff - and oh - programming a robot to blow air into bubble liquid?

Sometimes, you just have to do it.

So, fuck Holland. I can see it now, in a nice thick cotton, non-blinding white with a slim, but discreetly rounded lower-case font. Dark green, I think, with an ironic, minimalist tulip somewhere.

But given the timing, I think I won't. Not until after the Spain-Netherlands match, anyway.