Hangin’ on the Telephone

Here’s a scenario from a typical afternoon at our house: The children are playing.  They grab a snack.  They might run upstairs to get a toy.  They may decide to watch a DVD.  I am here–in the very room they’re inhabiting, or perhaps in the adjacent room.  I might be writing or doing the fourth load of laundry of the day.  I could be making dinner.  The point of all this, of course, is that I am largely unnoticed by the young men with whom I share this space. 

Until the phone rings . . .

The minute I say hello, the energy shifts: I am suddenly in demand–the most popular girl in the place.  Children that were thirty-six seconds before happily and somewhat silently ensconced in an art project or reading a book are now full-on wrestling, suddenly looking for the scissors, or depositing laundry into the trashcan.  It is audible mayhem, and it’s a phenomenon unlike any other.  

I used to be better on the phone, and even enjoyed the occasional leisurely conversation; but lately, given the demands for attention that ringing bell elicits, I have been avoiding it–not answering it, only returning calls if I have a moment alone. 

Some have advised me to tell the boys that when the phone rings they need to adhere to certain boundaries–which I have done and do, and sometimes it works.  But I truly have to reserve that for the times I have no choice but to be on the phone.  Informal chit-chat is no longer a possibility.  Relaxed conversation is anything but relaxed when you have one child needing a diaper change and the other two declaring each other arch-nemeses.  It’s not even that I can’t give my full attention to the person on the other end of the line; oftentimes I can’t even hear them. 

So, when you call, please don’t be offended when I don’t answer.  I can’t.  I’ll try to call you back, if I can; otherwise, I promise to email once everyone is in bed–that is, if I don’t follow my children there . . . but my new proclivity for an eight o’clock bedtime for myself is a story for another day.

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About as Real as It Gets

We went to see Kung Fu Panda 2 today.  It was part of a very special start-of-summer day Oscar, Edgar, and I had planned.  Little did I know that a day that started out blissfully giddy would end in confusion and distress.

The film, if you haven’t seen it, features Po, the titular character, whose father is Ping, a very silly goose.  Ping tells Po as much of his adoption story as he knows and admits that he should have shared this information with his son years ago.  Po is then essentially immobilized until he allows himself to access the memories of his infancy.  He confides in his friend that he is not able to proceed because he learned his father (Ping) is “not [his] real father.”

And there it was . . . a single word that hacks at the innards of at least this adoptive parent.  REAL.

The movie continued, and there were several touching scenes–including one featuring the bravery and selflessness of Po’s birthmother–but yet this word continued to ring in my ears.  I said nothing to my sons, who appeared to be engrossed in the film’s action and imagery. 

As we left the theater, I asked them how they enjoyed the movie.  Edgar was too busy moving through the hallway using kung fu moves that would have made Po and his colleagues proud.  Oscar, however, had his head down.  I asked him what he was thinking.  He said he didn’t want to talk about it.  I said to him, “When you’re ready . . .”

As we walked to the car, he said, “Is Po’s real father going to come back for him in the next movie?”  (This was a reference to the final scene when a panda we assume is Po’s biological father is startled out of a meditative state and announces that his “son is alive.”)  I asked Oscar who Po’s real father was, in his opinion.  He said, “Well, not that silly goose, I guess.  The panda at the end, right?” 

I then asked him who his real parents are?  He said, “You and Daddy.”  I responded by comparing Po’s situation to his, to which he said, “This is so confusing–and sad.” 

We rode home listening to music and talking about what we were going to do the rest of the afternoon; but when we went to pick up August, it was clear that both Oscar and I needed to talk.  We told our friend and August’s daycare provider a little about the film–with me talking and Oscar whispering in my ear what he wanted me to say.  When he whispered to me, “Tell her how Po says his father wasn’t his real father and how your real mother and father are the ones who are there for you.”  So I did–or at least I tried since the tears that were percolating behind my sunglasses had me a little distracted.  And as much as this was one of those “teachable moments,” it was most assuredly, too, a feeling moment.  More discussion, though, will surely follow. 

Angelina Jolie, who provides one of the voices in the film and is herself an adoptive parent, has said regarding her children’s response, “It seems that the children handled the show well and there wasn’t a need to further discuss the movie. But that’s because we talk about those issues at my house all the time, very openly. We’ve had those discussions so often, they’re such happy, wonderful discussions.”

To Ms. Jolie I would say we talk about these issues all the time, too, very openly.  And, yes, here often they’re happy, wonderful discussions as well.  So I don’t think that’s the reason there wasn’t a need for you and your children to further discuss the movie.  I won’t provide any superficial conjecture here as to what the reasons might actually be, but I will say that my son–at least my oldest–will need to discuss it further becuase this film that you have contributed to has left my son sad.  And you can bet–as his real mother–that I will be there for him in every way feasible as he works through his questions.  Because the reality is that in adoption stories not every detail is happy and wonderful.  Sometimes the story is sad and confusing and distressing. 

But that’s where the real parents come in . . . and thank goodness (and not Hollywood) for that.

Not Even Remotely Terrible

Happy Birthday, August!

Today you turn two–and, inevitably, over the next year, you will note the word “terrible” bandied about as the words “two” and “terrible” often go hand-in-hand.

However, should you hear that word at any juncture over the next 365 days, you can respond by saying that the word “terrible” and your two should not even keep company in the same 800-page novel–let alone sentence.

You are, by far, one of the most precocious and intuitive two-year-olds I have ever met.  Yes, you speak well, eat well, sleep well and are a force in every sense of the word–but you also have an aspect of self-awareness that belies your young years.   You can hold your own in any setting, and you attract the attention of the world with a flash of that enveloping, infectious smile. 

If anyone can redefine what it means to be two, it’s you, my love.  Enjoy this year of being anything but terrible!

Class of 2022

When Oscar was born, one of the congratulatory cards we received shared with us–brand-new parents that we were–what exactly college expenses would look like in 2022 when our child graduates from high school.  The card was supposed to be funny, of course; but given the startling dollar amount, it mostly inspired the need for an immediate Excedrin.

Since then we have given a lot of thought to financing the boys’ educations and have made the best plans we can.  However, what I really haven’t spent a lot of time contemplating is their actual high school graduation days. 

Until today . . .

This afternoon Middletown High School’s Class of 2011 graduated; and this morning Oscar asked me if he could accompany me.  He was quite serious about it; and because there was no doubt in my mind that he could handle it, I agreed.   He even wanted to come up on stage to help me hand one of my students her diploma.  He seemed ready.

So, we lined up with the teachers, marched through the halls of the high school, and passed through the throngs.  Then we took our seats.  And over the course of the hour, as I listened to the speeches and looked to my right at the sweet soon-to-be seven-year-old boy by my side, it dawned on me that there will come a day–a spring day in June in 2022–when I will be sitting with the parents listening to the speakers as Oscar graduates from high school. 

There were many words today that struck me in ways they otherwise have not and would not had Oscar not been by my side; and as often as I envisioned him sitting in his future cap and gown, imagining what his name would look like in the program, on his diploma, I mostly found myself grateful–for the fact that he was by my side, that he wanted to be there, and that we still have 11 years–not just to save the many dollars Hallmark anticipated we will need to help him on the next leg of his educational journey but to savor this childhood, to celebrate the young boy he is today–to live in the present.

Congratulations to the Class of 2011–and, thank you, Oscar, for being with me today and for being one of the wisest teachers I have ever had.

Return to Sender

This afternoon I opened an unfortunate email that is prompting me to comment here in this space.  The email was sent from a family member, who had sent it to other family members as well, and the contents essentially amounted to what was supposed to be a joke–except it wasn’t funny.  It related a story that was intended to elicit a chuckle from those who maintain negative stereotypes about people of Mexican origin, the Muslim faith, and those whose United States citizenship may still be in process.

Normally I don’t read emails that are merely “forwarded,” but today I did.  And though on one level I am sorry I did, on another I am not.  My youngest son is of Mexican origin, and perhaps the occasional reminder that some in the world–and apparently even some in his own family–hold his ethnicity in a less-than-respected regard is needed.  

I know when things such as this happen, people will often respond with I didn’t know, or I didn’t mean anything by it, or It was supposed to be a joke.  To each of those, I would counter, it’s immaterial.  August is going to one day soon be old enough to have his own email account, and he, too, will be the recipient of these types of communications.  The senders may not know his ethnicity, may not have meant anything by it, or may have thought they were being funny–but at the end of the day, what does it matter?   A beautiful child whose biological father is of Mexican descent is going to be affected–deeply. 

August, I have said (and written) before that I cannot shield you from people’s hurtful attitudes and hateful language, but I promise you that as much as your father and I will raise you to embrace your background and cherish your ethnicity we will also arm you with the verbiage you will need to confront the negative stereotypes when you need to.   Emails such as these say more about those who send them and who refuse to contradict them than they do about you.    Be strong, my beauty . . . The world so obviously needs you.

Continue to Entertain Your Child?

Lest anyone worry that as the third child August gets anything less than his fair share of time, attention, or (heaven forbid!) food, this morning I decided to peruse a respected child development website to check on how our youngest lad is faring. 

I was reading the section on language milestones in the 24th month when I came across a litany of ideas of how parents can “continue to entertain [their] child.”  It then delineated crafts and projects that have the potential to exhaust most of the 24 hours in the day–all in the name of stimulating (read: being a good parent to) your child.

And that’s about when I decided to stop reading and start writing.  It strikes me as remarkable that as parents we are being told by so-called authorities to “entertain” our children.  The very word renders parenthood into some kind of performance where the child sits back and has to do nothing more than enjoy the show.  As an adult I do not expect anyone to entertain me (I have my piles of laundry for that); so why are we expected to entertain our children?  For what are we setting them up?  Will they become students who sit in a class later on and term it “boring” because their teacher is not entertaining them?  Will they sit passively as adults waiting for something to happen?  Will they turn to unhealthy methods of “entertainment” when the show of childhood is over?

It’s hard to say.  But what I do know is that children–from the time they are born–are inherently wired to know what they need and how to communicate those needs.  An infant knows when it is time to eat; a toddler knows when it is time to talk; a school-age child knows when it is time to read.  And I think we do a disservice to children when we allow ourselves to believe that we have to put on a juggling act (or run an arts-and-crafts center) in the name of keeping them entertained.  Sure, the supplies should be available to them–lots of markers and paper and tape–but let them take the lead.  Let them decide what they want to do.  They are already wired to know–so let them do it.  Banish the word “bored” and all its forms and let children actively entertain themselves.  It allows you to catch up on that entertaining pile of laundry, yes; but, more importantly, it sets the stage for the lifelong skills of finding stimulation and feeling wonder no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

In the meantime, in case you were wondering, August is doing just fine . . . and then some–even without our stopping everything to entertain him.  Go figure.

Heart Strings

When Don and I met in 1985 he was in a band.  But sometime after 1988, with the exception of post-secondary graduation requirements for his degrees in music, he opted not to take the stage.  He has always played–and even recorded–but as far as performing live before an audience . . . not his gig. 

Until now . . .

It took a budding six-year-old violinist and his wonderful teacher to coax this incredibly talented guitarist back to playing in public.

They played “Shortnin’ Bread” and did a little fist bump at the end.  And all I could think about is the profound effect and influence our children have on us.  All my begging over the last twenty-plus years to share his musical gift with the world have not yielded any appreciable results.  But Oscar simply asking his father to be his accompanist at his recital . . . that’s what did it. 

Well-done, Oscar–and welcome back, Donald Farias.  You’re both exactly where you’re supposed to be.