The Real Weekends of Curious George

Cole was student of the week this past week.  That's a pretty big deal.  It means pictures of the family on the bulletin board in the classroom, special show-and-tells, reading his favorite book in class, eating his favorite food, wearing his favorite clothes.

It meant that I somehow had to manage preparing more to get him out the door each day this week.

But come on.  It's for my kid, right?  You should have seen how  proud he was to show me the "Student of the Week" instruction booklet (uh huh, a booklet).  So I shut my mouth and did it.  Happily.  Packed the special snack.  The show-and-tell. Wandered through Wal-Mart at 9:30 p.m. looking for an ink cartridge for my circa 2002 printer so he'd have pictures of the family to show his class.

I may or may not have given him pictures of me pre-babies.  I didn't see any rules about that in the instruction booklet. 

We made it to Friday and I finally sighed a breath of relief.  His special week was over.  Until he pulled George out of his bag.  George.  And his special journal.

The last culminating project for the Student of the Week is to take a stuffed Curious George home for the weekend, take pictures of your adventures with your new friend, and journal about it. 

Cole was psyched.  He has about 700 stuffed animals.  None of them, not the entire sum of his and Tilly's combined, equaled the amount of psyche he had for George.  

George? Was apparently a big deal.

I panicked.  I hadn't thought about the weekend.  Bill was working and I hadn't done laundry in weeks.  The sink was full of dishes and the dust bunnies were acting out scenes from West Side Story in opposites corners of the room.  My weekend was pretty much booked.

Plus, Tilly was picking her nose.  And you know how long that can last her.

But I can't just have a normal, boring, chore-filled weekend.  Not when we had George.  Not when I had to take pictures!  Wouldn't that be just how I'd do it?  Three pages of the George journal filled up with:

. . .and then mom gave us the clicker and said , "anything on Netflix for Kids is okay." And George looked at me and asked, "Man, does your mom wear the same yoga pants all weekend?" The end.

Plus? Let's not forget my recent volunteer debacle at Fright Night '13.  Had I told you about that, yet?  Oh my. . .for another day.  Another day.

Point is. . .I had some serious redeeming to do.

So I put them to bed early and planned our day.  First event, a special breakfast where everyone wears cute little aprons and helps mommy make pancakes.  They'll believe that, right?   Then, birthday present shopping at Target.  Target is one gigantic photo opp.  Then? The movies!

And it was only 11:00 a.m.

After the movie ended, I asked the kids if they'd like to go bowling.  The literally fell to the floor and asked for a nap. 

I didn't take a picture of that.

While they slept, I looked at that smug smile George was giving me and as I got angrier and angrier, I thought of all the housework still left to do but that probably wouldn't be done because I was too tired from our marathon fun day.

Then it hit me.

What if I did take pictures of George having my typical weekend? Wouldn't that be the best George journal entry?

Like, say. . .if George was organizing the Tupperware on Friday night?

Or folding the laundry?

How about George, trying to relax with a book and cup of tea while two kids bicker in front of him incessantly?

What about George, close to losing it, trying to figure out what the hell happened to all of the matching socks?!?

Better yet?  George, smelling leftovers to see if they're still okay to eat.  Even curious little monkeys love that one!

The weekend's not over yet!

George gets to clean the toilet. . .

And then spend a couple of hours cooking a meal no one will eat. . .

He'll try stuffing himself into a dress he hasn't worn in ages to see if he can wear it to work tomorrow. .


And break up another fight because the kids NEVER SEEM TO QUIT!
Not only would that make for excellent drama, but would teach the children reality, instead of the $100+ weekend we just had so I could go somewhere to take his picture. 
Seriously, people.  This parenting a school-aged-child thing is killing me.  And we're only in kindergarten.  Wait until I'm helping with science projects.  Or soccer tryouts.  Prom night.  Good grief.


The Very Last Time

He turned, and looked out the window, his deep blue eyes reflecting the light like stars.  One hand across his mouth, as if to be holding in the very thing he needed so desperately to let go. . .the other wrapped around his body and hugged his opposite arm.  Held in a self-embrace like this for awhile.  Trying to console himself.  Trying to ease the pain.

But nothing could.  Not now.  Maybe not ever.

He tried to speak.  Mouth opened. A rush of hot air escaped; nothing more.  He started to turn back away from the window and towards the room.  Stopped himself.  Sighed and faced the window once more.

Rain drops ran down the pane and paused for a moment.  Then ran down again.  He watched them in silence.  I wondered what he could see past the streaks.  An empty backyard.  Wet and cold but still green.  Newly fallen leaves started to make spots of yellow and brown on the green grass.  Toys left to fend for themselves.  Life turning.  Green. . .but browning.  Fall coming.  Life changing. . .

. . .like his.  He understood now.  Things would be different.

He released himself from his own embrace and moved his hand to the back of his neck.  Like you might rub the tension out of your neck after a long, hard day. . .he did the same.  Thinking?  Planning?  He rubbed hard.  His neck, red under the pressure.  Scratched his head.  Put both arms down and turned slowly from the window. . .

"It's. . .just. . .that. . ."

I leapt from my seat across the room and landed at his feet. I knelt. . .grabbed his waist, trying to see his face . . .

"Yes?  Please. . .you can talk to me." 

His eyes turned glassy.  A ridge of tears swelled like a wall that threatened to break.  He sharply pulled back from my embrace and back to the window.  The rain continued to fall.  He swallowed hard.  Put both hands on the sill and leaned in.

His hands are so tiny, I thought.  And dirty.  

Why are they always so dirty? 

I was still kneeling on the floor, behind him.  Broken.  Defeated. I felt the sting of my own tears starting to work into my eyes.  I sat back.  Regained my composure.  Shut my eyes for a moment to stop the tears from welling up.  It worked.  For now.  I breathed deeply and started over.

"You can talk to me.  It's okay."

As if in slow motion, he turned to me, opened his mouth wide and enraged he yelled,

"It's not okay.  It's just. . .not. . .okay!" 

His two dirty hands made tiny tight fists.  He pointed them down to the ground.  Planted both feet firmly in place.  His body was positioned to make a stand.  To show me he meant business.  This was serious.  More serious then I had ever imagined.

He took a deep breath to yell again and stopped flat.  He turned away but turned right back.  Visibly at war with himself.  Thoughts rushed through his mind faster than his mouth could keep up.  His face writhed with the struggle.  Mouth opened.  Closed.  Fists pumped up, down.  Feet shifted and his body positioned to flee and then faced me again to fight.

I watched with equal parts horror and desperation.  I was so guilty.  Nothing I could say could take away his pain.  No way I could make this better.  Wished I could be one of those rain drops and melt away into the dark green world outside.

But I was here.  He was here.  And this had to be settled.

His frustration mounted and he ran to his room, jumped high, flung his body on the bed and covered his head with a pillow.  I had to end this.  For him.  For all of us.  It was time to dig deep.  Stood at his doorway for what felt like an eternity while I weighed my options.

Could I live with the decision I was about to make?  What was the point of it all if I was just going to fold the first time things got rough?  Or was this sacrifice? The kind of thing you read about in history.  The stuff heroes are made of.  Too late to think about it.  Time to act. 

It was as if I floated above myself, watching the scene unfold from 10 feet in the air.  I approached his bed, slowly. . .cautiously.  Stepped over Imaginext castles and Matchbox cars.

Did he put those there to slow me?

I sat on the edge of the bed, lowered myself so that my weight could hardly be felt.  He knew I was there.  The pillow moved and an ear positioned itself carefully on the edge.

I leaned over his body and whispered . . .

". . .how about a Lunchable?  The kind with the ham and cheese and a CapriSun?"

He hopped up and jumped off his bed as if nothing had happened. Patted me on the back as he ran by me and yelled behind him, "Oh, great! Thanks mom!"

Within seconds he was in his sister's room, playing happily. 

I sat by myself on the bed for a minute and let out a long, slow breath.  It was over.

I emerged from the room battled and broken, but okay.  I won't be so foolish again, I promised myself.

That would be the last time I forgot to sign him up for hot dog day at school, by God.

The very. . .last. . time.


Kindergarten Makes Me Throw Up In My Mouth A Little

Oh, you guys.

It's been forever.  All of the excuses or just move on?

Let's just move on.

The point is that you love to hear when I'm struggling, and trust me. . .I'm struggling.

It's the week before Cole's first day at Kindergarten.  Just saying "kindergarten" made me throw up in my mouth a little.  Not because it's kindergarten and that's so cute and he's getting so big and before you know it we'll be dancing to "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life". . .

. . .although I hope we don't dance to "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" because that's what me and my dad danced to and it was super cheesy back then and I have to believe my son will have better taste than that. . .

. . . but I'm struggling because I don't know kindergarten.

You know what I mean, right?  Like know it?  Know where you put your boots? Your lunchbox? To know which are the nice parents and the strange parents and the parents that will never invite you to their kid's birthday party but that's okay because who really wants to go to that Jump All Day While Screaming Place And Chase After Your Kid with Hand Sanitizer Because We've Been Healthy for 7 Whole Days, place anyway?

I don't know it. 

I've complicated the know, too.  We've decided to send him to private school.  The kind with uniforms.  And traditions.  And things that everyone else seems to know that I don't.

The kind of school that has a special way you're supposed to drop off, and pick up.  The kind of place where you have to know about the 9 and 3/4 platform already.  Think Mr. Mom.

And socks.

They have special rules about socks.  I'm not even sure if it's a color or size rule.  I'm starting to sweat just thinking about it.  They have rules about shorts.  About hair.  About crayons. 

About CRAYONS, people. 

See? I know daycare.  I know that devil.  I know that kids show up smelly and sticky and stinky and that's okay.  Parents rush in and rush out and drop off diapers and blow kisses from car windows.  I know that place.  I'm comfortable in that place.

I don't sweat like a pig in that place.

In this new place?  I have to ask friends to come with me to the used uniform sale because I'm so nervous.  I read and re-read the parent handbook. . .from last year because I don't even have this year's edition yet. 

I hope they don't make too many edits.  I almost have 2011 - 2012 memorized.

This new place has big door and echo-ey halls and scary old ladies at the front desk.  Okay, that's not true.  That was just for dramatics.  They're old.  But adorable.  Stinking adorable.  But they don't take no lip.  That's for sure.

Especially not from some newbie.

I've been enjoying this "Orange is the New Black" show lately.  It's on Netflix.  Watch it.  This really sweet and innocent thirty-something ends up in prison.  Trying not to get hurt. Trying to navigate the system.  Learn the code. Stay alive inside. 

This feels kind of like that.

What if his shorts are too grey?  Too long?  Too short?  What if he doesn't write as well as the other kids?  Speaks as well?  Eats as well? Sits quietly in a chair as well?

At the used uniform sale, the headmaster greeted me by name on my way in. "Hello, Erika. So nice to see you today." 

I don't know how to pronounce her last name and I'm too embarrassed to ask:  "Oh, hi. . .you.  Good to see you."

(*facepalm*  idiot.  total idiot.  hi...you?!?  brilliant, Erika.  seriously brilliant.)

Then? Almost immediately after I run into a woman that I knew from high school.  . .

"Hey Erika.  Great to see you!  Do you have kids that go here?"

I can't remember her name and I'm too embarrassed to ask: "Oh, hi . . .you. Yeah, a little tiny boy."

(a little tiny boy?!? what kind of answer is that?  like he's so small he fits in your pocket? so little and tiny that he lives in a fairy house in the backyard under a tree? and on top of this you couldn't spare his name? would it have killed you to ask for hers? could have been your only chance for a kindergarten friend and you blew it.)

He needs to wear a tie.  I got him one today.  It's 18 inches long.

Do you realize how long that is on a 5 year old?  I got Cole a 6th grader-sized tie.

It's like I'm intentionally trying to make him the misfit.  The kid who's mom blindly grabbed whatever she could at the used uniform sale.  Clawed wildly with eyes closed.  Stuffed it into a bag.  Paid whatever they told her it would be without question, and ran like hell.

That actually sounds pretty accurate.

I feel so silly.  I'm a confident person in other areas of my life.  I handle myself well, professionally.  Personally, I have good, close friends.  A healthy marriage.  Good kids.  When I get into a pickle, I can usually squeeze back out.  Rely on my wit.  My sense of humor.  I'm generally a pretty smart gal. But when I get within a quarter mile of this school, I turn to jelly.

I just don't know it.  And it's terrifying. 

I try to relate it to something I've felt as a parent before.  I can recall nothing similar. 

One time I went to a funeral in jeans.  In my defense, I didn't realize I was going to a funeral when I got dressed that morning.  Joke was on me.  The thought of kindergarten feels kind of like that.  Like everyone knows I don't know what I'm doing.  And it's so obvious that I can't hide it...like a gigantic pair of jeans at a funeral.

But am I supposed to?  Isn't every. stinking. milestone. that happens with these kids the first time I do it at all?  Why is this any different? I didn't sit here and try to reason my reaction the first time a kid pooped all the way to his neck. The first time they called someone "fluffy middle" or "smooth head" in the grocery line.  The first time I took them to church.  The first time we went to the mall by ourselves.  The first time we left the house in underwear.

These are all reasons to sweat, my friends.  To exhibit a visceral reaction to the situation. And I was fine. 

Kindergarten, though. . .has me shaking.  And I figure, if there's one group of people who would be sympathetic to my needs at this moment, it would be you.  To give me advice.  Support.  Kind words of encouragement.  Or to tell me to shut up and take pictures.

Gosh. . .I hope Cole handles this kindergarten thing better than I am. ;-)


Where I Say Penis 40 Times on the Morning Commute

This is a true story.

The only reason I'm telling you is because Bill said I had to.  I was whining to him that I was terrible mother, feeling sorry for myself and sorry for my children that luck drew them this cruel card.  He laughed his a$$ off and told me I had to write this down for you.

Because it's real life.

This is the story of the morning I said the word penis 40 times parked in the car, on the side of the road, in front of a bus stop.  Enjoy.

It was Valentine's Day.  About 8:43 a.m.  Just late enough to make a difference.  The morning had been tough, but not impossible.  A bit of prodding to eat breakfast, to brush well, to find shoes that matched and to hurry out the door.  

I got the kids in the car.  Remembered the lunches.  Remembered my keys.  Things were looking up.  I turned out of the driveway, and on to the main drag.  A busy street that wasn't plowed well at the time after a big snow.  It was then it all started.

"Mom.. . I need some help."

"Yes Cole. What do you need?"

"My penis.  My penis is wrong."

"Wrong? What do you mean, wrong?"

"Up.  You know.  Up in my pants.  Up in the car seat."

Cole is still in a 5-point car seat and sometimes the buckle in between his legs catches him just the right (or wrong) way.  It's not so much a matter of his penis being uncomfortable as it is the pressure of his pants against his buckle. . .but nonetheless, it was wrong.

"Well fix it.  I can't pull over until we get to school."

"But my penis mom! My penis is up!"

I'm annoyed.  We had just had a ton of snow and around here, that has major implications for things like driving and parking when you show up late for work.  And I have about 3.5 minutes of leeway here, people.  Certainly not enough time to be fixing penises.  

"Cole. Fix your own penis. That's final," I say in my this-is-final-and-every-other-mom-cliche-voice.

Till starts in . . .

"Yeah Cole. You have to fix your oooowwwnnnn penis.  This isn't a car for everybody to fix everybody's penis, you know."

"Thank you Tilly. That'll be enough."

"Even my princess? They fix penis.  They fix their own penis and go to the ball, silly."

"ENOUGH Tilly."

 "I just can't mom.  I just can't fix my own penis.  I can't even get at it."

In one hand he's holding a paper bag full of valentines cards for his friends.  He practically slept with that bag he was so excited to give them away this morning.  In the other was a stuffed sea turtle.  A story for another day.

"You're just going to have to put something down and fix your own penis, Cole."

Now Cole gets angry.. .

"No MOM. I won't. I can't fix my own penis. It's up and my penis won't come down and you have to fix it!"

This is where I start to lose it.  I have to pull over.  I'm late yet another day and I have to pull over on the side of an un-plowed, un-safe road.  Which, just to help set the scene, is a super busy, one lane road that about 4 gazillion people drive on each morning and who, quite frankly,  are super-jerks who won't let you merge back on for anything.  And I don't want to do it.

I pull over.  In front of a bus stop.  Don't think I realized that at the time.

"Fine Cole.   If you can't take care of your own penis, then fine."

Crazy, crazy stuff starts to come out of my mouth.  Crazy stuff about taking responsibility for one's penis.  Checking a penis to make sure it's in the right spot so that your mom isn't late for work.  Asking Cole how he thinks he's going to manage with a big-boy penis if we're having trouble with this one.

Tilly is practically repeating everything I say.  Crossing her arms and nodding her head in approval of my ranting.

"Yes, Cole.  Gotta handle your penis. It's the only way."

"Your penis makes mom have a tough job.  I don't have a penis.  So I'm a good girl."

I'm grabbing frantically, angrily behind me. . . clawing at anything that feels like a penis.  He sits right behind the driver's seat and remember. . .this is a busy street with no breakdown lane.  Cars and vans and milk trucks [okay, that's dramatic...are there even milk trucks anymore?] are whizzing by my car, shaking it from side to side.  I'm not opening the door and I'm not getting out.  The only thing that makes sense at this point is to get super angry at Cole's penis for putting us in this position while contorting my body (still in a seat belt) to reach directly behind me and into Cole's pants.

It doesn't work.  I pull something in my neck and the pain, hot and intense, travels literally from the back of my right ear all the way down to my hip.  And that's when I get madder than I can remember being in a long, long time.

"COLE. This. Is. RIDICULOUS. There are so many moms who don't have to pull over to tuck in little boy penises that aren't even big enough to be up anyway!  Why can't you handle your own penis?  It's your penis! Won't there be one morning before you are 18 where I get to work on time and without a stress headache?!?!"

I know it was the pain talking.  The pain, and the thought of walking in the slush for two blocks after I finally found a parking spot at work.  I was wearing nice shoes. . .not remotely appropriate for the weather and they were as good as ruined at the rate we were going.

And I lost it.  You know? The way you just lose it sometimes?  Right? . .tell me you lose it sometimes.

Except this time was over a penis.  A five year old, defenseless penis.  Not my best moment.

I unbuckled my seat belt, threw one leg over the console and started to fish in Cole's pants.  His penis, by the way, was not up but merely tucked inside the flap of his undies.  I fixed it.  All the while saying crazy, angry things like. . .

"Other moms don't do this with their mornings. Their boys tuck in their penises before they leave the house."

"I tuck in my penis, mom."

"Yes, thank you Tilly.  Mind your business."

I finally looked up at Cole and his pupils were wide.  Big, slow, soap-opera worthy tears started pooling in the corners of his eyes and rolling down his face and that's when I realized I was a serious contender for the worst parent of the year award.

"Mom. I'm so sorry.  I just don't know what my penis thinks sometimes.  I just can't help it. It does what it wants, usually."

[enter joke here about figuring that out early. . .arf, arf.]

You know those times where apologizing won't ever be enough?  Those memories that you have when you know something had changed? That life changed? A corner was turned, a life moment reached that you will forever share with your therapist as, "the day you knew. . ."  This was certainly going be Cole's.

"Oh gosh buddy.  Mommy's sorry.  Mom is so, so sorry.  Sometimes moms get so mad and they say silly things.  Your penis is great.  There's nothing wrong with you or your penis.  Mom loves Cole and his penis."

"And Tilly loves Cole's penis."

"Yes, thank you Tilly. That is nice."

Cole wipes away tears and asks for a tissue.  "It's okay mom.  Everyone makes mistakes, right?"

"Oh yes, Cole.  Everyone makes mistakes."

At this point I'm fully in the backseat, jammed between two car seats with my hand still in Cole's pants.  We hug.  I wipe tears. I say sorry again.  And I look up.  Faces. . .in the windows?

. . . there's about 5 people waiting for the bus right on the side of my car that must have been watching this THE ENTIRE TIME.

Effin-a.  Why me?  Why is the day I finally break in front of a bus stop and over a penis?

I smile nervously.  Put up one hand in a half-wave sort of way and mouth 'good morning.'  Get back into the driver's seat.  Slap both kids a high-five and off we go.

It's  9:05 a.m. 

I'm not only the worst parent on the planet, but have probably just given my child some sort of serious psychological penis issue. . .AND I'm late (again) for work.

I drop the kids off at school and hope they won't say a thing about our drive in.  Tilly runs into her teacher's arms and as they watch me walk down the hallway to leave...  I hear Till say . . .

"Mom doesn't get that angry at my penis. I always tuck it in."

Oh shit.