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Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Terrific Twos

Miss Ellie Yeh is turning TWO in a couple weeks.  TWO!  I’m frantically ordering Daniel Tiger dessert plates and cake toppers and figuring out where to find balloons and debating making the cake or buying it and suddenly I stop and I realize…she’s a toddler.  Officially not a ‘baby’ anymore.  I want to laugh.  I want to cry.

Two thoughts rush to the forefront:

1) Yippie she’s a happy healthy toddler!  
2)  Really?  She’s not a baby anymore?  That was over fast….So, so so fast.  

I struggled so much when she was a baby - from trying to nurse, being in Virginia without my family and friends, coping with feeling alone, isolated, totally bewildered and absolutely lost 99% of the time.  I had to stop looking too far ahead and just focus on getting through one day at a time.  Because she was a preemie I had to wake her up and feed her every two hours 24 hours a day.  Yes, even at night.  Because she was born a month early she didn’t take to nursing quickly.  She would take about 45 minutes each session.  So when it takes 45 minutes and you feed her every two hours, you get about an hour in between to eat yourself, shower if you can, and sleep if you dare.

After the first three or four months when I was allowed to let her sleep for 4-5 hours at a time I felt like a new woman.  Sleep deprivation can do strange things to a person.  Bill didn’t get up with her through the week because of work.  On the weekends he would try but what she really wanted when she woke up was to eat so…sometimes I would pump but usually it would be me getting up then too.  

Maybe next time I can buy Bill those portable boobs that are filled with milk like Robert Deniro did in the Fockers movie.  THAT would be a pretty picture for my blog page.

Anyway, I would wake up each day and check on her and be amazed at her healthy, chubby cheeks, her long black eyelashes, her tiny curled fist.  And I thought, against all odds I am not TOTALLY screwing this all up.  And I was proud of her, and proud of myself.

I learned two things in the last two years:

  1. I’m much stronger than I thought I was

I read so, so many books.  I took a little from each one and meshed them together.  There IS no right way to raise a child when done in love.  If you are truly in love with your child, everything else takes care of itself.

Some people have asked me what my favorite age so far is, and my answer is, the one she’s in now!  

Each milestone she reaches I think, no, THIS is my favorite stage.  I probably won’t still be thinking that when she’s borrowing my car and not putting gas in and leaving sticky ice cream bowls all over the living room floor but really, I think I’ll just be grateful this wonderful soul has made her way into my life.  She is a light and a joy and darn it if I don’t think she’s the most perfect creature on the planet.  I can’t help it.  My biggest parenting danger will be spoiling her.  

Wish me luck!

Lastly, here is a quote from a friend I used to work with - she posted it on Facebook a couple weeks ago about a friend’s teenage daughter.  I’m not there yet but I hope I can remember this quote when I am.

“My advice hasn’t changed since (my) first (parenting) go round.  Back away.  You can’t fix her because she isn’t broken.  Keep calm and parent on.  This too shall pass!!  (Jeanie G - a wise, wise woman).

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Daddy Muddling Part One

 If you’re totally exhausted at the end of the day and you don’t know how you’re possibly going to get through another one, you’re probably a good parent.”

I’m not sure who wrote it but it was exactly what I needed to hear this week.  Ellie is a beautiful, wonderful, charming whirlwind of a toddler who loves to have me chase her down whenever she needs a nap, or a change, or a face wash, or to get dressed, or really anything I need her for.  She runs, grinning, her giggles floating back to me as I run her down and scoop her up.

I’ve often thought it would be funny to have a video camera set up 24 hours a day and then I’d just watch my whole day on fast forward.  Bill would be tired just looking at it!  Ah the eternal desire for appreciation or even understanding.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a clue what I do all day and probably never will.  (Well, hopefully I mean if he does it means I’ve kicked the bucket and Ellie-duty has fallen to him alone.  Shudder.  Shudder.  Shudder.) 

It’s not that Bill would be a bad parent - on the contrary he’s quite loving and affectionate.  He just wouldn’t do anything RIGHT.  The putting on of pajama’s requires a ritual no less complicated than the changing of the guard in the Royal Castle.  The awakening process likewise has it’s routine that must be followed precisely or chaos ensues.

Besides my own petty neuroticisms there’s the plain fact that at this age, almost two, he doesn’t understand her AT ALL.  He can’t intuitively navigate what seems clear to me.  I’ve heard one of his friends with three kids tell him, this time is for mommy.  When they get older, then it’s time for daddy.  It certainly seems to be the case for poor Bill.


BILL: (Calmly) Ellie, stop crying please.
ME:  (Stating the obvious) That’s not going to work.  She’s not a co-worker having some inappropriate emotional time at the office.  She’s a toddler.  She just needs a snack, she’s hungry.


BILL: (Sternly) Ellie, you need to eat this now.
ME:  (Stating the obvious) That’s not going to work.  You need to bribe her with the hash brown, THEN she’ll eat her broccoli.

7:52pm SATURDAY:

BILL: Why is she crying again?
Me: Because it’s almost bedtime and she’s tired.

Why I need to explain this at all mystifies me.  Doesn’t he sense from her reactions what’s wrong?

Ellie is pre-verbal.  Actually she’s says and repeats probably hundreds of words now but her usage is sporadic and when she’s upset it kind of all goes out the window.

Ellie must be read like a book of braille.  She can’t TELL you what she wants in the language you’re used to.  You have to intuit, FEEL what she’s feeling and figure out what she needs.

I think this is where Bill gets stumped.  You need lots of EMPATHY to connect to a child.  Bill is funny, and adventurous, kind and hardworking.  He is smart, well-read, his opinions on most things well thought out and reasoned.  But ask him to reach into the space where you are and understand, or guess how you feel based on body language and behavior alone and he’s blind. 

I think empathy is something that needs to be taught, from way young young and if you aren’t instructed in it’s ways it will impact you forever.  He simply can’t read body language.  He doesn’t even SEE the subtle looks, understand the body language of two people talking to know they’re arguing, or whispering sweet nothings.  Think how much he misses!

Think how much drama he misses!  And how much fun?  One thing is for sure, he isn’t a gossip.  He is exactly who he portrays himself to be.  He is guileless and straightforward.

My guess is that empathy wasn’t considered a particularly important skill for Bill to have as a child.  Study.  Work hard.  Head down.  Those qualities were held high and all else, creativity, intuition, compassion, interconnectedness, self awareness, self acceptance were not.

Fortunately I think empathy CAN be taught.  I know this because Ellie has a new book called ‘Sad’ where the bunny on the front is crying.  It’s supposed to teach them it’s ok to feel sad and what they can do to feel better.  Her response to the bunny is ‘Ohh, ohhhh’ and she has a little pout where you can see she is EMPATHIZING with the sad bunny.

BILL: She sure is empathetic.
ME: (I KNOW.  I encourage it.  Wait, he can identify empathy when he see’s it.  Good start!  Promising start!)  Ah huh.
BILL:  (Stating the obvious) She didn’t get that from ME!
ME: (Smiling sympathetically.  EMPATHETICALLY, and pat, pat, pat on the shoulder).

We’ll get there Spock, I mean Bill, we’ll get there.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Sociopath Next Door

Have you ever seen a deadly animal in the wild, in real life?  A bear on the trail ahead of you, or a snake suddenly popping out, or a moose so close you can see the hairs on his massive (wickedly pointy) antlers?

It’s like someone douses your heart in ice water and you freeze with the sudden and inescapable realization that you are in the presence of a deadly predator.  

If you’re lucky, that’s the feeling you get when you encounter a sociopath.

If you’re NOT lucky, you only see in retrospect, after she or he has gotten that promotion or that raise by lying, or cheating, or using some other devious means to get what he/she wants.  Unfortunately, sometimes they’re quite charming on the surface.  It is merely a mask they wear.

I used to have compassion for these people.  I’ve met one or two.  They always seem to be recovering from some major set-back or another.  Close friends and relatives often hate them for reasons that aren’t clear.  But compassion will tug you down into their vortex of bitterness and mindless rage.  They lie.  They spin the truth.  They will hurt you…just because it’s in their power.  There’s more of them out there than you think - and they don’t all kill people.  

They will destroy you if you are in their way, but they don’t always leave body counts.  A high percentage of CEO’s fit this profile.  

I digress.  This is a story about MY sociopath.  Charming would not be a word I would use to describe anything about her, except maybe her tiny, tiny feet.

My sociopath is about four feet, 10 inches and weighs probably a buck fifty.  I judge her age to be somewhere around 19 and 24.  A tiny slip of a girl.  She’s pretty in a rough-girl kind of way.  I can’t explain it exactly but something about her eyes or the set of her mouth screams don’t mess with me.  She makes the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  

Her boyfriend (Husband?) was there last week with her at a class I take with Ellie.  When I first saw him I physically hesitated.  

He had the hulking look of a bodyguard for hire.  You know the type.  Bulging muscles and a blank stare.

White V neck T-shit, baggy black cargo shorts, black hat sitting low on his forehead.  Tattoo’s from shoulder to wrist, from neck to….well I’m not sure where to but probably everywhere.  He was carrying a ‘man purse’ that I’m fairly confident had a gun inside.  This isn’t TOTAL hooey - even sweet old ladies carry guns around here, we live in Texas.

I took all this in, chided myself for my prejudices and preconceptions and smiled, put my sweater down on the floor near him.  He wasn’t going to find a close minded judgey person here.  (Well, he was, but not from me).  Anyway, I don’t know if that was what tipped her off in my direction or not.  

She seemed jealous, possessive of her thug-mate-for-life.  Uh oh.  I had caught the attention of the creepiest mother in here.  Literally.  Her son is Ellie’s age.  The fact she reacted this way to ME (keeping an eye on me when she wasn’t right with her beefy boyfriend, glaring at me even when she was) made me almost laugh out loud at the sheer ridiculousness.

I mean, I was wearing clean clothes that day and my teeth were brushed but that was about it.  I thought, lady, even if I WANTED the hassle of another man in my life I sure wouldn’t find it here in my almost-pajama’s in last year’s stretched out sports bra helping Ellie off the hanging bars.

At the end of class the ONLY open space to sit down was on the other side of her man-meat.  I almost didn’t sit down, then I figured being the only one standing when there was a space open might draw undue attention to me.  She was not pleased.

I digress.

Her son was at the bars and crying.  Her boyfriend/husband went over to help him.  I turned to her and said, “Awww, he didn’t even ask for mom and dad he just stood there crying forlornly until someone helped him.  So cute.”  He was like a tiny puppy yowling at the front door for food.  It WAS cute.

Why I said ANYTHING to the only person in the last five years to set my ‘sociopath, RUN NOW’ alarms ringing I don’t know.  I may have a flair for creative self-destruction I’ll have to examine more deeply at a later time.

I’ve never looked at a Cobra directly in the eyes but I have to imagine it was something like the cold and unblinking glare she set on me.  There was nothing but cruel calculation in her eyes.  I had to wonder if she was already three steps ahead of me and debating which of my tires to slash.  Front, back, or all four?

She ended up staring at me with a sneer and not saying anything at all.  Cue me, backing slowly away…inappropriate responses to normal conversations are often a sign you’re dealing with a sociopath.  (They laugh when others cry, they’re amused when others are frightened).  They aren’t capable of empathy and they never feel remorse.  They rarely feel fear.  They DO need to win.  

Anyway, I’m safe at home.  No tires slashed.

You tell me, is that too much from a few quick encounters over the course of the last two months?  Maybe. Usually if I sit down and really examine what my instincts are telling me I find a logical reason, something that tipped me off that makes sense after the fact but that happened too quickly for me to absorb consciously at the time.

Anyway, my instincts may be off.  She may be just a run-of-the-mill Mean Girl.  There are plenty of those around.  I figure if that’s the case I’ll be better off avoiding her anyway.

For the rest of you out there - trust your instincts.  And if you’re in competition with someone you think may be a sociopath…pray.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Winning the Nobel Peace Prize and other Silly Dreams

There’s a $10,000 poetry prize with Rattle magazine, deadline July 15th.  

I’ve borrowed a bunch of poetry books and I’m figuring I’ll just read ‘the best’ for awhile, then write my own.  Easy ten grand right?  

As the books gather dust on my nightstand, guess what I’ve discovered is more fun than researching and writing my own poem?  Imagining what I’d do with the ten grand I’d win!  

Wheeeee!  I've already clarified with Bill that when I go back to work it’s ‘our’ money but if I win money in writing prizes, that’s ALL MINE.  

It’s good to set clear intentions.  That way everyone is unsurprised when the truckload of special Swiss chocolate gets delivered in a dump trunk to my front door - I’ve got the bill for that and there’s no complaints.

What would YOU do with ten grand?  

I have so many plans for the house I’m waiting on.  A HUGE back porch with a water feature and cozy benches and lots of flowers.  A fancy fire-pit with outdoor kitchen and lounge area.  A greenhouse.  A HOT TUB.  Maybe a trampoline for Ellie, or a fenced play area in the back.

New family room furniture.  New living room furniture.  New kitchen furniture.  New bedroom furniture for Ellie.  A media room upstairs.  A new car for me.  That 1997 Toyota FourRunner is a reliable vehicle but man I’d like an upgrade!  And a 2 week vacation to Costa Rica.  With mom and dad to come with us to babysit for us, hee hee.

I think I need to win that poetry prize for the next five years…

It’s good to make plans.  It’s good to dream.  It’s good to imagine a cozier home, a nice vacation, a more comfy life.  

It’s also good to DO.  To DO something to get that more comfy life.  Dreaming is no problem for me.  There’s nothing I enjoy more than lazing around with a cup of hot tea and a chocolate cupcake and imagine what I’d do if I had the money.  

The gleam of fantasy is irresistible for me.

Especially since, sooner or later, a fair bit of my ‘dreams’ come true.  Ellie was a fantasy once, a dream I never thought I’d see in 'real' life.  So is a vegetable garden.  And a husband who builds me whatever I want.

If you can’t dream it first, how do you know what you really want?  

So.  Dreaming I got down.  Me and day dreaming, we are OLD friends.  But.  Every now and again you need to put the wheels down and steer yourself toward what you want.  I want to win that poetry prize.

Here for your amusement is my very first attempt:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
This is really hard
What am I going to do
Some guy named Ned
because it rhymes with red

This poem is poo
or more like lard
because it’s icky and rhymes with hard
this sounded better in my head

roses are red
violets are…actually purple
my poetry prize dream is dead
i’m going to eat some maple syruple.

NOTHING rhymes with purple.
This poem is really horriurple.
I’m just going to end it
so much for Angela’s prize winning lit.

TA DA…..!

Mental note, new dream could include buying lotto ticket, or more practically, winning the Nobel Peace Prize for my work in backyard tadpole conservation.  Wish me luck!!