Monday, June 29, 2009

The Bookshelves

While N was in Boston, I decided to do something about the books in his room. It was a supposedly simple project that has turned into a tear-inducing angst-fest, of proportions even I would never have imagined.

(Yes, my dear girlfriends, I am still obsessing about this. Having spent several hours listening to me go back and forth on this exact subject last night in the park, you are more than welcome to stop reading right here, right now. Because the angst may keep on coming, but it doesn't actually CHANGE.)

Dealing with the books in his room was a Good Idea. There were too many of them, for one thing. They were piled on the floor and on the desk, and on top of the bookshelves, and on top of each other. I'd say half of them are books N hasn't looked at ever or touched in several years. Some of them were misguided gifts from far-away relatives who don't really know what he would like or read. And so I decided to go through them, get rid of the never-read ones, make some space for new books, including the ones I know are coming in an Amazon box from my stepdad, who wanted to send N a special end-of-the-year present.

(Someday, a post about my amazing stepfather, who was...don't get me wrong...the rock of my childhood, the source of any sort of male-based stability my life had, but not the world's most demonstrative or emotionally open person. And how his grandchildren turned him into someone who PLAYS and HUGS and is more than a little gooey in the center and who sends presents without my mother even knowing he's doing it, half the time. And how awesome that is.)

Back to the book dilemma. At first, it was going to be simple. But when I started pulling the "he'll never notice they're gone" books off the shelves, I knew it was about to get more complicated. Looking at what remained, I was forced to face the fact that a large majority of the books on his shelves are...well...'wrong' in some way.

There was the top shelf, for instance, which was an entire collection of board books. You know, Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Moo, Baa, Lalala. Eeesh. He's eight years old. Those should probably go away, I thought. He'll be upset if he notices, but he probably won't, and...well, I'm not going to get rid of them. I'm going top put them in the garage for the future. Considering the number of times we read Brown Bear, Brown Bear to both kids, I can't just give it away.

Removing the board books became a slippery slope, though. Because if the board book of Go Dog, Go is too young for him, is the actual book a no-go, too? What about the rest of Seuss? I just couldn't do it; he loves those books, up to and including Are You My Mother?, and I love them, too.

And that led to me consider all the other baby-ish books on his shelves. It was easy to decide to get rid of anything Barney or Teletubbies, because he left those in the dust long ago. He hasn't watched Sesame Street in several years; if I asked him, he'd want to keep those books, but if I don't ask him, he probably won't notice their absence. But what about Dora the Explorer? Clifford? Blue's Clues? He still watches Blues Clues when he can, and he LOVES Clifford. What about his collection of Curious George books, all of which he looks at regularly? What about all those wonderful old picture books, like Make Way for Ducklings or Ferdinand or Where the Wild Things Are?

So here's the thing: If it were up to N, he'd never give away ANY books. But if I could get him to give some up, it would only be a very few of the board books. He would never want to give away Blue's Clues books. Or at least not now. Which should have made the decision simple, right? Except that I had this vision of him having a friend over, and his friend seeing those books on the shelf...Barney, say, or Dora Loves Boots...and taking that information with him, using it against N at school, where I'd hazard a guess that the majority of third-grade boys don't spend a lot of time considering who Dora loves. It worries me, what might happen then. And so I decided I needed to intervene on N's behalf. But how far to go? What rules to use? It was so very hard.

In the end, I made piles. I kept about half the books on his shelves. Curious George is still there, for instance, as are Dr. Seuss and Ferdinand. Plus, of course, many age-appropriate Spongebob books. (Gag.) Of the other half, I put about 40 percent of those in a pile to give away. The other 60 percent went into piles to be taken to the garage. Moo, Baa, Lalala was in those piles, as were Barney and Dora and Blue. In some cases, that was because I'm not willing to give away the books that defined my kids' infancies; in others, it was so that if and when N asks me about where they went, I can show him that I didn't throw them away. I can tell him that I was making room on his shelves for new books that are coming in all the time...and that's true, though he might wonder if he really needs two completely empty shelves for that purpose. But as long as I can go and get him any of the likely-to-be-missed books he asks for, I think it's a decent compromise.

Except. Except I'm not entirely sure I really buy my own argument. Don't we all spend a lot of time bemoaning how our kids have no time to be kids any more? How they all grow up too quickly? Granted, hypermaturity is not N's problem, and likely never will be. But what am I saying by deciding for him that he should be done with Blue? That it's wrong for him to like what he likes? That his favorite books are embarrassing? And considering the amount of time I spend worrying about some of his not-so-babyish interests--including his never-faltering obsession with talking about guns and shooting bad guys--do I really want to take away the interests that have nothing whatsoever to do with flying bullets?

And so, instead, I'm trying to focus on what my friend Ambre was saying, that I need to make sure he's surrounded with books that are at or above his current reading level, so that he doesn't always fall back on books with three and four words per page. I tried to keep that idea in mind when I was doing the culling, but--truth be told--my prejudices came out in the end. Some of my babyish faves remain (I mean, how can you toss Danny and the Dinosaur?) and, I'll admit, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles books--definitely above his reading level and an appropriate challenge in some ways--made their stealthy way over to the "donate" pile.

He arrives home in a couple of hours. I'm a little afraid of how he's going to react. My fingers are crossed he'll be too happy to be home to feel upset or hurt. That he'll mostly be happy to see that the library book we were in the midst of when he left--Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid--is at his bedside, ready for us to dive back in. That the books from my stepdad will arrive in the next couple of days, and we'll have those to distract him from what isn't on the shelves. But we'll see. We'll see. We'll see if he notices. And we'll see if I cave.

Anything could happen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

California Born and Bred

N is in Boston for a week with his beloved Uncle Stevie. He's breaking my heart with the bedtime homesickness phone calls, but that's beside the point. He's having a good time, even if he refuses to admit it when he's feeling sad.

Earlier, Steve emailed me to say that while they were out and about a bit, N overheard his first conversation between two true Bostonites. He listened for a while, Steve said, and then looked up at his uncle and asked, "Can those people understand English, too?"

I haven't stopped laughing yet.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What I've Helped Create

[First day of kindergarten, September 2002]

I was fine, dammit, FINE...right up until the "promotion" ceremony was over, and the kids were all waiting for us over by the refreshment table, and Baroy and I were walking toward her. Right up until then. And then I could see her face, and it was tear-stained, and one of my knees buckled, just a little, and I panicked, and turned around to face Baroy, a step behind me, and I went from FINE to SOBS. Had to stop walking for a couple of seconds, let them come, let them go, before I could turn around and face her. And then the two of us were giggling over what silly people we were, sobbing about a sixth grade promotion, hers, though mine too, really.

The thing is, I don't cry. I don't. At my wedding, I beamed, and I grinned, but I didn't cry. We don't cry on my side of the family, not happy tears. Not usually. At my wedding, as Baroy and his mother danced together, sobbing the entire time, my mother leaned over to me and said, "Oy. The Coconuts are crying. AGAIN." And I, too, rolled my eyes. Drama queens. All of 'em.

And yet, here I was. It was surreal, really. Baroy was appropriately misty, but I...I was a mess. The end of an era, and all that. Maybe. Pride. Well, sure. But...and this is going to sound wrong at first, so bear with me...all she did was graduate. No special academic honors, no award-type spotlight on her. She's not that kind of student. But there she was, beaming. And there I was, thinking, just look at my girl. So grown up. And I helped.

I'm just so proud of her for being just her. Amazing how that works. I've spent most of my life in pursuit of honors and awards to show people, because pride has always seemed to me to be something you had to earn with tangible achievements. No, Mom, that's not the message you gave me. It's what I told myself. And sometimes it's hard--for both of us, I think--to watch all her friends be lauded and feted and honored and made much of. I know sometimes she wishes for that recognition. I know sometimes she feels not-special, and I know that hurts her, because she tells me about it. And then it hurts me.

But then there are times like last Friday. After the promotion, after the tears and the giggling, after the photos and the hugging of friends, a woman we've known for the past three years pulled us aside. She's the 30-something-year-old sister of a boy who was in Em's fourth, fifth and sixth grade classes, a boy Em adores, an autistic boy. This woman acts as the boy's one-on-one aide, and she and Em have become fast friends. When she pulled us aside, she had tears in her eyes.

"I got an email from Em this morning," she said. "She told me she's worried about how A is going to do in middle school next year, since I won't be able to be there all the time any more. She said she's afraid he's going to be picked on and bullied. She wanted to know if it was OK if she kept on eye on him, if it was OK if she emailed me if there was anything she saw that was worrisome."

She stopped. "I don't have to tell you what that means to me," she said at last.

"No, you don't," I said, and hugged her.

"She's so special. Such a godsend. You know that."

"I do," I said. And the tears sprang back into my eyes.

I do.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I Was Waiting for the Medal

This is going to be old news to most of you, but...what the hell. It's another bragging op. I can't let it pass.

Back on Memorial Day, Baroy ran in a 5K sponsored by the town just east of ours. The stars aligned in ways previously unheard of, and N not only agreed to a sleepover at a friend's house the night before, but actually STAYED at that sleepover. Since Em and the friend who slept over at our house are old enough to stay alone for an hour or two during the day, I went with Baroy to the race, and did the 5K walk.

I didn't start out meaning to actually race. I was just going to take a walk, is all. I was going to spend the morning doing an activity with my husband, though at a muchMUCHmuch slower pace. I was mildly excited about it. It would be fun. I'd get in a 3-mile walk, listen to the audiobook on my iPod (The Red Tent, which I'd read in actual book form once before), and check out all the what-I-consider-mansions along the route.

But then my competitive streak kicked in. I like to say I'm not competitive, but I lie. I am. I just don't admit it in situations where I have no chance of winning. Like in anything even vaguely athletic. Like even in a walking race.

Still, it was hard not to get a little into it. I mean, there I was, Crazy Walking Lady, and there were all these people just strolling along, ahead of me. Uhnuhn. Not OK.

First I passed the ladies walking their dogs. Then there was the couple holding hands and talking about the various tree species we were passing. And then there was the couldn't-have-been-a-day-under-80 guy. If I couldn't beat him...

So, yeah. I put a little more effort in than I'd thought I would. But there were dozens upon dozens of people ahead of me, and I couldn't catch them all. So when I crossed the finish line, and the lady noting my time and bib number said, "Did you walk the whole thing?" I didn't think twice about it. In fact, once I'd found Baroy (who'd finished his run a good 20 minutes before I'd come in), and gone to all the booths to pick up free coffee samples, a banana, and a bagel, we headed home.

It was fun, though. It was a good morning.

The next day, back at the office, my phone rang, and it was Baroy.

"We should have stayed," he said, sounding exciting, and laughing at the same time.

"Stayed? Where? When?"

"At the race. After the race. Because apparently, there was a medal. For you. Being that, you know, you came in third among all the female walkers."

"But...but...What about all those people in front of me?"

"Must have been runners who got tired and walked. Because I'm looking at the official race results, and your name is right there."

Me. My name. At the top of a list of race results. A race I won. (If you count third place as winning, that is. Which I do. Because damn. Who'd'a thunk? Me. With a medal. For a sorta sport.)

It's been three weeks now, and I still chuckle every time I think about it. And I chuckled again, yesterday, when the medal Baroy had arranged to have mailed to me arrived...along with a $50 gift certificate to my favorite local restaurant.

I am athlete. Hear me roar.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Never What I Expect

Baroy was in the family room, listening to something on his computer. It was loud; I could hear it from where I lay, in N's room, while N tried to fall asleep. So I asked N to go and ask his daddy to please turn down the computer volume.

I need to digress, now. The front of our house has a living room and Em's room, with a pocket door between the two. N's room is toward the back of the house, down a hallway from Em's. There is another pocket door between his room and the kitchen. The kitchen is the only way into the family room--which was built onto the very back of the house some decades ago, and which is where Baroy was sitting.

In other words, the obvious way into the family room would have been for N to go through the pocket door right outside his room, go through the kitchen, and be in the family room. It's a small house. Maybe 15 or 20 steps for a little guy.

But, instead, he got up, went down the hall to the pocket door outside Em's room, then into the living room, through the not-really-a-separate dining room, through the kitchen, and into the family room. The longest possible route.

He does this all the time. ALL the time. He's been doing it for years. He and I will both be going into his room, and I'll cut through the kitchen, while he'll go all the way around through the living room. I'll say something like, "It'd be quicker is you just go through the kitchen," and he'll get embarrassed and defensive and say, "I just like this way better."

I didn't push it; if he wants to walk the long way around, it's not hurting anyone. Besides, I've always assumed he was covering up for something, that this was a symptom of some kind of developmental disorder. That it was something semi-grave. Something significant that sheds light on why he has trouble learning some things, at some times. In fact, as I lay there watching him go, I thought to myself, "I need to talk to H [his occupational therapist] about this. I wonder if it's an indication of some kind of spatial relationship problem. Maybe he literally can't figure out the shortest distance between two points. Maybe..."

I don't know what made me decide to just ask him straight out, when he came back into the room, why he always goes through the living room, and not through the kitchen, when that would be so much shorter.

"It's the magnet," he said.

"The what?"

"The Wizard of Oz magnet. The one on the refrigerator. It scares me. I just don't like to walk past it."

"Oh," I said. It took me a second to understand what he was saying...that he was talking about something so simple, yet so unexpected. "So, if we took that magnet off the fridge...?"

"Then I probably wouldn't be scared any more."

"Well, that's an easy fix. I'll do it in the morning."

He smiled happily, went off to sleep, and...after taking a couple of photos...I removed the offending magnet. We'll see if it helps.

But here's the thing. Ignoring the fact that it's remarkable that that one magnet is even noticeable to him in the ridiculous homage to clutter that is our fridge front...Ignoring the fact that Dorothy asleep in the poppies is a weird thing to be freaked out about...I just didn't see that one coming. At all. I could have guessed from now until next Sunday as to what was going on here, and I would have talked about neural pathways and quirkiness and processing disorders, but I would never, NEVER, have considered something as simple as a scary fridge magnet.

I should expect it by now, but I don't. It really is NEVER what I expect.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

You Never Know

Baroy started running four or five years ago, a year or so before his 50th birthday, and has since run three marathons, a handfull of half-marathons, and more 5Ks than you can shake a sneaker at. Being an obsessive-compulsive (though he refuses to admit it), he does all of his training runs on the same route, going up and down the main drag of our neighborhood, a minimum of five times a week.

How he manages to deny the obsessiveness of his running if beyond me. Although he is literally impossible to deal with if he misses a run, that's not the most obvious obsessive characteristic. That honor goes to the fact that he not only refuses to run a different route EVER unless he's in a race, but also that he will only run on the north side of the street, never on the south. I mean, come ON. I may be the obsessive pot, but I am TOTALLY comfortable in calling this kettle compulsive.

But, as usual, I digress.

Because of the consistency of his running habits, he's probably even more recognizable as Crazy Running Guy than I am as Crazy Walking Lady. You never know where you'll find me wandering, but you could set your watch by Baroy. Our friends constantly comment on where and when they saw him; he rarely makes it through a run without someone beeping and waving at him as he goes. There are other runners who he's come to 'know' through their passing one another on a regular basis. And then there are strangers who know him just from seeing him so often.

All of which is background to a story Baroy put on Facebook this afternoon, which literally brought tears to my eyes. Apparently, Baroy was walking out of the local hardware store with N when a guy stopped him and said, "You don't know me, but because of you, I lost 10 pounds."

Baroy looked confused. The guy explained. "You're the guy I always see running on Local Main Drag, and it made me decide to start running and riding my bike again. I've lost 10 pounds, and it's all because of you. Thanks, man." He then shook Baroy's hand, and walked away.

Is that not the coolest thing? It just goes to show you...You never know who you're going to touch, and how, just by being you and doing what you do.

That story totally gave me shivers of pride. But N's response? He looked up at Baroy and said, simply, "That was weird, Dad."

There's nothing like a kid to bring you back down to earth, huh?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Advertising Industry is Trying to Kill Me

1. Baroy and N are watching AMC. A commercial for Extenze comes on. (The fact that AMC thinks commercials for Extenze are appropriate for the 8:30 viewing audience...I can't. I just can't.)

N turns to Baroy: Daddy, I should get some of those. They make you grow bigger!

Baroy leaves the room so that the sound of his choking laughter doesn't upset N.

2. N is in the other room. Em hears him saying, "hot, hot, hot," over and over. She calls in to him.

Em: What's hot?

N, coming into the room where we are, carrying a Sears circular from the newspaper with photos of ladies in swimwear: These girls. I want to marry them! They're so hot, dude.

Eight. Eight years old.

Oy vey.