Celestia…

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I took the kids to Seward Street slides. They grabbed cardboard pieces and began flinging themselves down cement slides so long and so fast that they have been ruined for the plebeian plastic imposters at every park thereafter. Soon after, a hispanic family showed up. The mother was large and so was her brood. Five smaller children began tearing up the side of the hill and one teenager remained standing undecided by her mother.

I had her pegged at about sixteen, her body the attractive, younger, full-figured version of her mother’s. She was cute, her makeup done even for a summer day at home, and was wearing her best white sneakers. They were having a back-and-forth. Her mother was begging her, please, please, go down the slides. The girl looked torn, a piece of cardboard in one hand, her phone in the other. She equivocated in posture and gaze, her back against the brick wall of the neighboring building. The mother gave up and sat on the bench. The girl, so insistent to her mother, took a few more moments to decide for herself before abandoning the cardboard and sitting on the opposite end of the bench.

She turned her phone over in her hand but didn’t open it, or she’d open it and close it, swipe it open and click it off. Look at it for a moment and then valiantly look around. It was itchy in her hand. And there was nothing for her here. To my chagrin, though without judgement because, hey, I mean, you know me, the mother sat looking at her phone, back to the girl.

I was pretty sure I had these guys figured out after two minutes. Barbara’s gigantic brain classifying people by phenotype and boxing them up with other known specimens.

I had the thought that I should talk to this girl, if it was an adult, another parent, I would talk to her. I only felt hesitation because I didn’t want to be the weirdo creeping on a kid. I mean, what on earth am I going to ask her that isn’t creepy? How old are you? What grade are you in? Where do you go to school? Creep-o.

I went over and sat on the next bench. “Hi,” I said, “My name’s Barbara. What’s your name?” (I have found there is no better way to dive into conversation then ape the simple strategy of my three-year-old.)

“Celestia.” The girl turned her body toward me and smiled over braces. This was not a girl so paralyzed by technology that she couldn’t process in-person interactions, classification shattered.

“You look like you’re bored out of your gourd.”

She laughed, (because “bored out of your gourd” is funny in an ageless sort of way.) “No, I just…” trailing off.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Thirteen,” she said.

“13?!” I said.

She smiled, pleased. I had definitely pegged her as older. She was proud, but, ouch, I thought. She had a woman’s body and five years to go.

“How do you like being 13?” I asked.

“Good.” with a one-shoulder shrug.

“It’s kinda hard, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, I remember. It was like sometimes I felt like an adult and the other half of the time I felt like a kid still.”

“Yeah.”

“So, Celestia,” I said, “What do you like to do?”

“I play soccer and baseball.” Classification shattered again, my internal surprise revealing the surety with which I had made my judgements.

We went on to talk for about fifteen minutes. We discussed sports for a bit (I was the limiting reactant in that conversation) and then books. We shared our passion for Young Adult science fiction. I told her she needed to finish the Hunger Games trilogy. She told me not to bother with Allegiant. She wrote, she said, science fiction stories mostly but she also journaled every day.

“That’s so helpful,” I said, “being able to process things like that. Keep doing that.”

We ended our conversation soon after. She smiled big the whole time we talked; the Mom never looked up from her phone, even when I asked the creepy questions. (But let’s not judge, people. I mean, she had six kids for the interminable length of a summer day!) Mom gathered her kids shortly after. Celestia looked back over her shoulder and waved.

“It was nice talking to you,” she said.

Teenagers. I was one. I will have them. At some point, I will probably be the mom in the park trying to ignore them. Teenagers are people, too, folks. Talk to one today, remember, and say a sweet prayer of praise that you no longer live in that particular limbo.

 

Dominic…

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I was having an unprecedented moment alone in a cafe. I had a book open and a cappuccino by my right hand. A special needs man walked in. I’ll call him a boy for the purposes of this post because I never caught his name, but he was early to mid twenties, white, in a sweater a mother might select, with hair parted on the side like a young boy’s. His care giver, I assumed she was, was a petite middle-aged hispanic woman, almost two heads shorter, her hands folded in front of her at the wrists, a black purse hanging from a forearm. They talked over the breakfast menu like conspiring thieves. She didn’t feel the necessity of eye contact but whispered back over her shoulder. The young man was excited and loud. His voice echoed through the whole cafe, “Think there’ll be berries on mine, Denise? Think there’ll be berries?”

She moved this way to see the menu and he followed by a step to maintain distance. They ordered. Setting her purse on a chair she told him she’d be right back and headed to the restroom. He sat, his leg bouncing, glancing at the bathroom, setting and resetting the silverware. A server came over, a big hispanic man, tattooed to his neck, and looking every inch like an ex-con (because this suburban white girl has been told what ex-cons look like).

“Hey, man,” the server said followed by some subdued conversation.

“Hi, Dominic,” the kid gave him a high-five, loudly again, “Hi, Dominic. Where’s Denise? Where did Denise go, Dominic?” hand now bouncing off his leg which was bouncing off the floor.

“She’s just in the bathroom, man. No worries. Here she is.”

“Denise! It’s Dominic. It’s Dominic, Denise!”

Denise smiled and offered her hand primly. Dominic shook it, placing his other hand on her shoulder as if to stabilize her against the enthusiasm of his shake. And he returned to work.

I heard the young man telling Denise how the guys had made him his own custom smoothie. “My own smoothie, Denise!” How they had promised he would get Nutella and raspberries on his crepe. “Nutella AND berries, Denise!” They must come here all the time, I thought. I looked around at these fine people who took such care of this young man.

Everyone who worked at this cafe was apparently a relative of Dominic’s, face or knuckle tattoos not a preclusion from employment, biceps-the-size-of-my-torso a must. All of them were beaming over register and hot food line at this kid.

Their food arrived shortly after.

“Try this, Denise, You’ve got to try this!” Denise ate bites off of his fork and made faces of approbation, content to let his volume speak for both of them. Dominic came to check on their breakfast.

“It is so good, Dominic! Look, they gave me Nutella and raspberries, Dominic!”

Dominic came back at the end to take their plates. I watched Denise insist on her young man getting a picture with Dominic. Her only moment of command, “Stand there.” The boy posed proudly, Dominic smiled, chest out, chin up, with an arm around him.

They left and about ten minutes later. I was done and putting my book away in my purse.

“Are you done with this?” a voice.

I looked up and smiled. “Thank you, Dominic,” I said.

He was surprised I knew his name. I thought how wonderful it would be to be known by name for something kind. I motioned by way of explanation to the empty table where Denise and the boy had sat a moment before and smiled my gratitude for the scene.
He laughed when he got it.

“Do they come in all the time?” I asked as Dominic took my tiny espresso cup in his giant hands.

He looked surprised again. “Oh, no, that was the first time. I’ve never seen them before.”

My Fault…

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I thought I could go back to bed and lie there for a bit without incident. So, technically, I suppose it was my fault. But I heard everyone helping each other get breakfast. It sounded peaceable.

So, forty glorious minutes later I walk out. The weather’s perfect. It’s sunny. Even the introvert in me is charmed.

“Let’s go to the park,” I say, “Shoes on.”

At this moment in the hallway the little guy passes me holding a spoonful of milky cereal in front of his belly and marching into his bedroom. Curious, I follow him. Then I watch as he stops, calculates, throws said cereal onto the carpet, touches one foot on top of it delicately as if to evaluate his success and turns, I’m assuming, in order to get more.

Well, I stop that nonsense and on the way to the kitchen with the spoon I notice several other arrangements of cereal on the floor and realize this is an installation piece, probably entitled “Scourge of My Mother”. There is also one very wet towel lying in a square on the floor.

“Hey guys? What’s with the wet towel? Did he have an accident?”

“No, Mom, he spilled a cup of milk,” said the eldest.

“He did it on purpose. And it was my milk,” said the girl.

Mixed media.

(There are many moments like this when I’m glad I don’t have a nice place. I can’t stand how my kids treat my two-bedroom rental. What on earth would I do if they treated my dream-house this way?!)

I proceed into the kitchen. And the baby has tried to make a smoothie.

Here is a picture of that baby:

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I sigh and scrap my plans for the park. I place the baby in the tub (the only place he will remain contained) and wipe counters, do dishes, unload dishwasher so I can load dishes, start laundry from last night’s pee debacle(another long story), scrub and baking soda a square of carpet, sweep the kitchen, vacuum and four hours later it’s nap time and I’m sucking down coffee and eating some Go Diego Go cereal. For some subliminal reason I wanted some.

The first baby, that’s not anyone’s fault. You’re naive; you’ve never had a baby. You don’t know. The second one, well, that’s not technically your fault either. You and your husband have seven siblings between you. Let’s blame family culture. But three, well- the third one’s on you. You asked for three. This is on you.

Mr. Dinty Moore…

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The only reason we were in the grocery store on a Friday evening at four o’clock is because I signed up to bring a meal to a family in our church that had a new baby. I am not normally on the meals ministry because these days I can’t seem to make a meal larger than the appetites of the growing humans I’m responsible for.

Tonight was case in point because my tasty plans had fallen apart to the degree that two frozen lasagnas were cooking in my oven and I was at the grocery store on a Friday evening to buy bread and a ready salad.

By Friday evening my kids are tired after a week of school. Also, it is May, so my kids are also tired from a year of school. The little guy is potty training and missed his nap today and I am dragging them all through food-option-nirvana on empty bellies.

My daughter refuses to walk and is sitting in the cart pulling it around by reaching to whatever half-permanent object is closest. Every time I turn around the cart is five feet away. My little one is standing in the cart and eating grapes off the produce shelf. My seven-year-old has his nose buried in a book and is basically stopping wherever is most inconvenient for everyone else.

(“Put down your book!”)

As we make it to the checkout, things are devolving fast. The toddler has figured out how to lift the bottom of the cart and slide to the floor, which he is doing. My almost-six-year-old daughter is trying to read the US Weekly (“I want to read a magazine!”) which I am trying to distract her from.

(“Read this food magazine.”
“It’s boring!”)

I have fifteen items in a fifteen item express lane and three of my items are a twin loaf of bread, a bunch of bananas, and a bag of grapes. I am pushing it across the board.

The guy behind me strolls up, middle aged, glasses, with ten, I swear, microwavable ready-packs of Dinty Moore beef stew and about seven pounds of zucchini. I don’t know what the heck he’s got going on tonight but this bachelor sure as hell doesn’t have time for the circus I got going on right here.

My eldest has stopped reading his book long enough to make his sister dissolve into a puddle of indignant victimhood on the floor.

(“Just, stand over there and read your book!”)

My baby is back in the cart via “the new route” and is shaking the coin machine at the checkout.

At this point a fellow mother from school comes in (you know who you are). She’s alone, has her cart, takes one look at me, and laughs. That was the picture I was painting at that moment.

So, the middle-aged Chinese lady, that is my sympathetic cashier (“You very busy.”), scans my beer.

“You get some beer, I need to see ID.”

I, getting out my driver’s license and trying to placate Mr. Dinty Moore who is strangely unresponsive as my daughter wails at his feet, crack a joke, “And I earned every ounce.”

And this is why you should never EVER card a mother of three children. Because, people, my driver’s license had expired… on my birthday… in January.

(My eldest was loudly fascinated, “Mom, your ID expired?! What does that mean? It’s expired?! Can I see? So, you can’t get your beer?”
“Go read your book.”)

The Chinese lady grimaced as she slowly removed my beer from the belt. She regretted checking my ID now, thought it was going to be a great treat for everyone, and as much as it hurt me I could tell it stung her a little, too.

I don’t mind admitting that it’s a defeated Barbara who wrangled three kids into the car, without beer, and now thinking about DMV visits. (Argh!)

These days the toddler takes a while to get into his seat. He likes to play this really funny game where he jumps into the front seat right when I open the back door and jump back into the back seat when I open the front door. So, as badly as I wanted to be gone and home it took us several minutes before I could sit back in my seat.

Then, there was a knock on my window.

Who is it, but Mr. Dinty Moore himself and— he’s holding my beer.

“You bought me my beer!” I yell at the window. I rolled down the window.

I swear he said nothing, just smiled, handed me the beer, and walked away.

(“He bought your beer?! That guy bought your beer? Why did he do that?! You couldn’t buy beer because your ID had expired, right?”)

Well played Mr. Dinty Moore. May your meaty morsels be flavorful and your zucchini bread be moist. By blessing a mother with beer you have blessed us all.

Poop Part Two: Life of Poop…

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So, we are potty training the baby. I remember with my first child praying about the potty training. I remember strategizing and having interminable patience. I remember having the epiphanic moment at the grocery store, slowly scanning the produce department, “Every single one of these people was potty trained by someone.”

Somewhere in between one and three whatever novelty there was to potty training has worn off and I’m left most of the time thinking, “This should be done by now. How come he’s not already potty trained? Wait, who’s supposed to be potty training him?”

He’s doing really well and today was a no-diaper day. I got home from work and Dad and baby happily reported no accidents. So proud. And then Dad left.

And now it is my turn. It is bed time. I am tired. It is still light outside and there are complaints from all children that they have to go to bed while it’s light. I explain AGAIN about how the light gets longer but our daily hours don’t change for two more weeks, only two more weeks! “When school’s out it’s going to be different, but for now we still have to wake up at six-thirty.” And waking everyone up was a killer this morning.

I think I’ve got everyone down. Then I hear, “Poop coming, Mama.” I run to find a tiny well-contained turd on the floor and rush the boy to the toilet. One additional tiny turd plops in the pot. There is excessive wiping with a yard of toilet paper that has been squashed into a sphere the size of a golf ball. The pajama pants are poopy enough that they go in the laundry. The boy goes back to bed and I entertain with slightly less patience another complaint of going to bed in the light.

(“Poopy enough” is a term utilized by parents of multiple children to indicate the item’s position past a threshold marker on a long gradient scale that moves in correlation with the inconvenience of adding anything to the laundry pile.)

Two minutes later, “Poop coming, Momma.” I come in to find a larger, yet, still-contained turd on the floor. This one left a trail down the leg. I wipe the leg clean. One additional turd in the potty later followed by excessive wiping and yet another pair of pajama pants. The boy is back in bed.

And yet again, “Poop coming, Momma.” This time we make it with the turd still firmly clenched between his butt cheeks. Now we sit on the potty. One tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. Three minute hiatus. Another tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. Three minute hiatus.

“Are you all done? No more poop?”
“No. Poop still coming.”

Another tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. Some gets on his fingers, he wipes it off on his shirt. I realize we’ll need a new shirt. I wipe the fingers.

Another tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. He lifts up his penis to see the poop. He gets pee on his hand and wipes it down his leg. I realize he is now dirty enough for a bath.

(“Dirty enough” is a term utilized by parents of multiple children to indicate a child’s contamination level past a certain threshold point on a long gradient that moves in correlation to the parents willingness to snuggle said child.)

Another tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. I try to explain how to wait and wipe just once at the end. He doesn’t buy it. I eye the dwindling roll of toilet paper and tell myself to let it go. Take your victories, leave some battles for later. One square to get the drip of pee off the tip of his penis. We flush to make sure we don’t clog the toilet.

Forty-five minutes later AND a bath AND an entire roll of toilet paper, a fourth pair of pajama pants, a new shirt, kisses, hugs, and covers, and we are in bed again.

It is now dark. No one is complaining about going to bed. The girl is already asleep.

And I realize again that the two greatest things I may ever do in this world are teaching three human beings to read and teaching three human beings to poop on the potty.