Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers - Part Two

I've written before about how, as the mother of three children four and under, I must often rely on the kindness of strangers. I hand my baby to women sitting near me in restaurants when the two-year-old needs a diaper change. I ask random teens milling around the playground to keep an eye on my four-year-old when I need to give chase to one of his younger siblings. I borrow wipes from other Moms when my three kids tap out my supply with their relentlessly filthy ways.

Yesterday, Snood and I were returning from a mom-and-son trip to Chicago. We had a noon flight, so we arrived at Midway airport around 10am. We picked up some lunch, brought it to our gate, and set up a little picnic on the floor as we waited to board.

As we looked out at the planes coming and going, we marveled (as people who live in LA's weather-free climate tend to do) at the impressive rainstorm that had commenced outside. It wasn't until I saw lightning strike the control tower that it occurred to me that "exciting weather" is not really what one is looking for when one is at the airport.

At 11:30 an announcement came over the loudspeaker that our plane had been diverted to St. Louis on account of the storm. Our flight would now be leaving at 2:25 which meant we had nearly three extra hours to kill.

Luckily the Southwest terminal is chock full of people movers, which we availed ourselves of for the better part of an hour. Then we hit up Ben and Jerry's for some emergency ice cream, and before we knew it, it was time to head back to our gate.

We arrived back only to discover that the flight was delayed again. 

Back to the people movers!

This time we saw plenty of other folks from our gate with young kids of their own. We gave each other knowing looks and exchanged groans in acknowledgement of our shared fate as we slid by each other slowly in opposite directions.

By 3:30pm the people movers had nothing left to give. We slumped back to our gate and learned that our flight was delayed yet another two hours. Everywhere you looked, the three dozen or so kids waiting for their flights were squirming in their seats, chasing each other around the garbage cans, and generally going stir crazy.

And then something awesome happened.

Other passengers -- the ones without kids -- started leaning a hand. I noticed one older couple playing peek-a-boo with a pair of toddlers near the snack stand. Folks began digging in their bags for snacks and toys they might offer to the children of people sitting near them. A mother of some older kids actually purchased a small Chicago Bulls net that stuck to the window and organized an impromptu basketball game using balled up bits of newspaper.

At some point Snoodie tired of the basketball game and began yelling loudly,

"I don't like this aiport anymore! I want to go home!"

A young man (I mean, this kid could not have been older than 21) waved me over. He asked if it would be OK if Snoodie watched "Thomas and Friends" on his computer. 

"Do you like trains? he asked.

Snoodie's face lit up.

"I LOVE TRAINS!!!!" he answered.

The kid handed over his laptop complete with fancy headphones and let Snoodie watch episode after episode until the plane was ready to board.

You know the story of the Loaves and the Fishes? I always thought of it as one of the "magic trick" stories from the Bible. In it, Jesus has been talking to a large crowd when it gets late and people need food. None is apparently available until a young boy brings up his five loaves and two fishes and offers them to share, at which point Jesus transforms them into enough food to feed the crowd with several baskets left over. 

But recently I heard a different interpretation of the story, which suggested that everyone in the crowd had probably brought enough food for themselves, and that when they saw the little boy offer everything he had, they were all inspired to share what they had brought with people around them. 

Seven hours after we had arrived at the airport we got on the plane. As I looked around the terminal and saw everyone waving goodbye to the kids they had befriended during the wait, I thought of that version of the story.

And I thought it seemed about right.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Tale of Two Playgrounds

In my neighborhood there are two playgrounds.

We live in Los Angeles, and as often happens in major metropolitan areas, our neighborhood varies quite a bit from block to block. 

We live on the East side of a major North/South Boulevard. On the far side of the street (let's call it "Side A") there are tree-lined streets and multi-level homes. On our side (for sake of simplicity, "Side B") the houses are more modest and the population is more economically and racially diverse.

On each side of the street there is a playground.

The playground on Side A is gated. The grass is well maintained and the swings, slides, and bouncy bridges are all pristine. There is a soft bed of sand under the equipment lest the little ones tumble. As playgrounds go, its pretty darn lovely.

Except for the fact that it is populated by some SERIOUSLY uptight Mommys. So much so that friends and I have dubbed it "PLAYGROUND OF 1,000 JUDGMENTS . It's the kind of place where when one kid throws sand half a dozen women converge, shrieking in unison:

"No sand throwing! NO SAND THROWING!!!"

Which, I mean, fine. In general I'm totally down with a "no sand throwing" policy. But at this playground it all gets a little INTENSEChildren (and their parents) are closely monitored for any sort of aberrant behavior, which is met with much whispering and dirty looks in mild cases, and physical intervention if you do something extreme, like, say, letting your child risk falling by climbing on the jungle gym unsupervised. Children running up the slide are greeted with gasps of horror. Any form of pushing, intentional or otherwise, causes widespread panic. And I'm not even going to go into what happens should there be biting.

I remember one day when Snoodie was about two-years-old. He arrived home from the playground on "Side A" with my husband, drenched head to toe and covered in mud.

They were laughing after a morning of jumping in puddles at the playground. I exclaimed in genuine alarm:

"You let our son jump in muddy puddles at Playground of a Thousand Judgments??? Did people's heads explode?"

David thought about it and said that in retrospect, the other mothers did seem a little upset. Now that I mentioned it, he noticed several of them clutching their children close while glaring at him. In fact, he recalled that one lady said in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear:

"Jasper, I don't care what THAT Daddy does, WE don't jump in dirty puddles!"

On our side of the street the playground is a little different. It's not really as nice as the playground on Side A. The equipment is sort of beat up. They don't have any baby swings.  The place tends to get overrun in the afternoons by teenagers from the local high school who hang out being very, you know, teenager-y.

This means there is some occasional swearing, some very intense making out, and some cigarette smoking, which occasionally wafts  towards the frolicking toddlers. There is a staggeringly steep slide that I feel sure could never have been approved by city engineers.

Also, there are usually curse words and the occasional bits of graffiti carved onto the play structure. So, some serious downsides. 

But on the upside, the place is kind of a free for all. And I mean that in a good way. The parents tend to hang farther back, which means that the kids get to interact without a lot of input from the adults. Kids steal each others' toys and there are occasional tears. There is some pushing and shoving when the slide gets crowded and often the bigger, tougher kids get more turns than the little ones. If things get too rough the parents break it up, but they tend to intervene A LOT later than the parents on "Side A"

Rather than sitting at attention, vigilant for any playground missteps by my children, I sit at a distance on a blanket with the baby, chilling out and relaxing, safe in the knowledge that if there is trouble someone will come to me crying and we'll work it out then.

We go to both playgrounds. My kids like them both and variety is always nice. My husband, who is more immune to the judgments of glaring Moms than I am, has no trouble letting the kids run wild at the playground on "Side A," but I find that I have enough stress in my life. So as I pack my kids into the red wagon I find myself more often heading North and staying on our side of the street, where the children run free.

At the end of the day - I'm just a "Side B" kind of a Mom. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Power of Two

Of late my husband and I have been delighting in watching our sons' growing relationship. They have finally begun taking joy in each other's company, now playing together regularly and occasionally even tackling tasks together.

A few nights ago my husband and I were sitting down to a late dinner and reminiscing about how far we had come. Our oldest had just turned four with his brother 19-months younger, and I'd been arguing for some time that having kids so close together would eventually pay dividends. As we listened to them frolicking behind their closed bedroom door, it seemed that I had been right. 

So David and I lingered over our meals, delighting in the payoff for the years we'd spent keeping the two of them from doing each other great bodily harm. 

In their earliest days, the relationship between our sons went something like this:


I mean, this happened like 1,000 times a day.

But as we sat listening to our guys giggling together in their room, we felt like we were seeing -- for the first time -- the light at the end of the tunnel. 

We finished our meal, cleared the dishes, and realized that we should probably shoo the boys back into their beds as it was getting late.

We opened the door...

...and realized exactly how wrong we had been.

What we'd heard through the door as good-tempered merriment was in fact a duel-pronged campaign of room-destroying terror. 

It seemed to have started with some sort of baby powder fight. The air was thick with white clouds and every surface in the room was covered with the stuff. This apparently then whipped them into a clothes-throwing frenzy. The drawers of three dressers were opened and the contents scattered in all directions. Next there seemed to have been some sort of babywipes-tossing competition. 

At some point a crayon was found.

Actual footage from the crime scene

Suffice it to say the room was trashed. The gleeful laughter was not, as we thought, the happy sounds of two young brothers enjoying the wonder of each other's newfound company. 

Instead it was the sound of them working together to destroy us.

A new chapter begins...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Off the Rails

One ongoing problem I have as a parent is an underdeveloped ability to recognize when things are going permanently and irrevocably into the crapper.

While I don't really consider myself an optimist, I find that as a Mom I possess an astounding ability to expect a positive outcome even when it involves blinding myself to some very obvious realities.

Take, for example, last Monday.

The plan was simple: My oldest was in pre-school, so I took my two-year-old son and 9-month-old daughter to try out a music class. We are actually music class veterans, but last semester my two-year-old had a bit of a "rough time" in class. Instead of participating in the music-making, he would spend class time dancing in front of the mirror like a possessed monkey, after which he'd move on to stealing other children's shaker eggs and hurling them about in all directions before occasionally running into the bathroom for some rhythmic toilet flushing.

He was such a music-room menace that I had chosen to forgo class this semester in favor of something more appropriate to his needs, like, say, toddler alligator wrestling. But then I heard they were offering a test-class and I decided we would check it out on the off chance that my son had experienced a change of heart.

We arrived and things got off to a good start. My son seemed elated to see his old teacher, and the fact that my baby was sitting up meant that she was able to participate without the constant threat of being trod upon by one of her marching classmates.

I had a glimmer that this was all going to work out. 

And that glimmer was the beginning of the end. For almost immediately after said glimmer appeared I realized that my baby stank of poo. Rather than try to hump down the hall to the bathroom I opted to discretely change her in one corner of the room, safely hidden behind a pile of tambourines. As my happy two-year-old was rockin', rockin' in the middle of a circle of new friends, I opened my daughter's diaper to realize that I had A BIG PROBLEM.

The moment I saw the DEFCON 5 diaper disaster in my chid's pants I should have admitted defeat, dragged her stank butt to the car, and headed home.

But no, my music class menace son was having a ball! He was playing the triangle like an angel! He was dancing with whimsy! I couldn't leave.

And so I decided to stay and fight, armed with the only weapon in my arsenal - a 1/2 pack of slightly dried out wipes. I was massively outgunned. There was poop everywhere. The neck was involved. One wrist was affected.

The class was becoming distracted by my grunts of frustration and concern as they tried to enjoy a rousing round of "Jumpin' Josie". At some point I realized that I did not have a spare outfit, but still I pressed on. In my desperation I thought perhaps I could create some sort of protective layer out of wipes between my daughter's back and the most profoundly affected areas of her clothing. I was way past the point of reason.

I finally accepted that my daughter's clothing was a lost cause at which point I reached into the diaper bag only to discover that I had only brought Size 5s. Which meant that I now had in my possession about four dozen hideously grotesque wipes, one disastrous diaper, a two-piece garment full of yuck, and a completely nude baby clad only in a diaper that came up to her neck.

At which point I admitted defeat.

I stuffed my now screaming baby into her car seat before grabbing my dancing son by the arm, dragging them both towards the door as my son screamed, 


and my daughter wailed in stinky frustration.

As we limped out the door leaving a fetid trail in our wake, the music teacher looked up at me with a wan smile and said,

"Come back anytime!"

Not totally sure she meant it.