I started this post a couple weeks ago and my intentions were to discuss the ways in which I think I’ve grown as a person, a mother and a journalist. I also intended to discuss the ways in which I think Joe has grown as a person, a father and a journalist. I thought this would be semi-interesting to at least four people.
I intended to share some of my brilliant and ghastly time management strategies, as well as some of my brilliant and ghastly potty training strategies.
I thought I’d tell you that Henry regularly uses the toilet, but since he also regularly bites other humans, throws close-fisted punches and flings chewed food on myself and the dog I wouldn’t say he’s 100 percent housebroken yet.
I thought I’d tell you we got a new dog.
Folding him into our life has helped fill a void and mend an ache. After months of huffing Cubbie’s favorite blanket in an attempt to bring him back, I washed it today for the first time with a load of sheets.
I thought I’d tell you that after a year of hustling as a freelancer, work is starting to happen with as much surprising regularity as Henry’s good potty days. This month I filled my calendar with so many projects and assignments I had to turn down work.
I thought I’d tell you all how amazing it is to walk outside and see my breath. In Florida, low temps are a novelty. Even the cold days are golden with sunshine. This combination of cold and light makes me feel like I’ve been dipped in peppermint and injected with adrenaline.
I thought I’d launch into a spiel about how without the cold one day bleeds into the next and life goes on in one long monotonous stretch of temperate sameness.
“For how can one know color in perpetual green, and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?” John Steinbeck said this in one of the best little books on earth, Travels with Charley.
I thought I’d explain how the cold has a way of making me feel like my slate is clean, my step has spring and my head is clear. When you spend nine months of the year sweating you develop an interesting relationship with cold weather. This relationship irritates northerners. Floridians are not allowed to like or dislike cold weather at any time. By default of the equator, a Floridian is never allowed to use the word cold to describe anything for fear of sounding like a pussy to people from say, Buffalo.
I was going to tell you that Henry now speaks in elaborate declarative sentences, but still refers to himself in the third person. Just this morning I overheard him tell the dog, “Want to come play in Henry’s room? Come here. Follow Henry. My room is pretty cool.”
When he’s not not reciting Shakespeare, he’s cursing. Last month when we purchased a new vacuum after our old one bit the dust (pun), Henry told a woman in the Big Lots appliances department that, “our friggen vacuum is busted.”
I thought I’d tell you that for Christmas Joe gave me a new computer and an anxiety attack. (Was this a reward for having weathered an emotionally and financially stressful year? Last Christmas I got a sweater, a planner and homemade massage gift certificates.)
I thought I’d tell you that my favorite (quiet) grocery store is being torn down, so rather than shop at the next nearest madhouse I decided to grow all my food organically in my container garden. Since all I’ve harvested so far are three tomatoes, two peppers and a head of lettuce, my anti-grocery shopping strategy has morphed into a pro-pizza ordering and leftover-Christmas-cookie-eating strategy.
I thought I’d tell you that I decided NOT to run next month’s Gasparilla Half Marathon because like all people who intend to do something then fail to follow through, I have very important excuses for not training, namely my pro-pizza ordering and leftover-Christmas-cookie-eating strategy.
I thought all of these things made for
marginally entertaining magnificently trite posts, so I just let January roll on without a post about growth, change and resolutions.
I get bored by posts that tell you how to or when to or why to do anything. How’s that old journalism adage go? Show, don’t tell. Suffice it to say, there’s been a lot of growth and change in this house; a lot of sticking to and breaking of resolutions, a lot of serious discussions (Baby No. 2?) and ridiculous discussions (How do you non-awkwardly show off a picture of your son to the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays?)
The growth that thrills me the most isn’t mine and isn’t Joe’s. It’s Henry’s.
Last night after pulling Henry out of the tub, I noticed his mouth was extra chapped from his nose to his chin, the cause of which I narrowed down to three probable causes: the cooler weather, Henry’s overabundence of drool and his nighttime pacifier habit.
“Your little face is so chapped,” I told him.
“What’s chapped?” he asked.
“It means it’s red and dry and a little raw from here to here.” I traced an outline around his lips.
“Doesn’t it hurt?” I asked.
“Henry hurt,” he repeated.
“I’ll put special ointment on it,” I said. “In the morning it should be better.”
“What’s ointment?” he asked.
“It heals you,” I replied. “Can I put it around your lips?”
“OK, that’s fine.”
He stepped into his pajamas and retrieved a pacifier from his top dresser drawer. I noticed his rash was in the exact same shape as his pacifier. I sighed. The binky was very likely the culprit or at least an accomplice, but I knew snatching it away would cause more grief than good. It is my son’s only vice. (Well, not his ONLY vice, but his only sleeping crutch.) I’d been trying for months to rid him of the habit, but all attempts have been met with resistance.
There’s a reason they call it taking candy from a baby because taking ANYTHING from a baby is EASY. Taking anything away from a two-and-a-half-year-old is downright criminal.
The worst thing about Henry’s nighttime binky habit is that he thinks he needs to sleep with at least three of them – one for his mouth and two to fiddle with in each of his hands. (He fiddles with binkies more than he sucks on them.)
“I think your binkers are hurting your face,” I said.
“Hurting Henry’s lips,” he said.
“Yes, if you want your face to heal tonight you’re going to have to sleep without them.”
His dry, red lips began to quiver.
“I want my binkers,” he cried.
“I know you do sweetheart, but your binkers are hurting you. It’s time to give them up. Remember how I told you binkers are for babies?”
“Well, binkers and big boys don’t go together.”
“I want my binkers mommy.”
“I know you do, but maybe you can sleep with something else? Something that will keep you company and not chap your lips.”
He narrowed his eyes distrustfully as I pulled out a laundry basket overflowing with plush critters.
“Why don’t you pick out a new stuffed animal to sleep with?” I rummaged to the bottom of the basket and pulled out a ratty old friend – my stuffed dog from childhood.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“That’s Duke,” I said.
“What’s Duke?” he asked.
“Duke was my sleeping buddy when I was little.”
“When you were a little baby?”
“When I was a little girl.”
“You want Henry to sleep with Duke?”
“I’ve been waiting a long time for you to sleep with Duke. I saved him for you.”
“No binkers. Just try it tonight and see how it goes. Duke is much better company, trust me.”
“OK, that’s fine.”
As he dutifully selected two books and crawled into bed with my old stuffed dog under his arm I burst with pride. Mommy success! Pacifier gone! Stuffed animal bequeathed! Child in bed!
Joe popped into the room midway through my victory dance and immediately scanned the room for Henry’s pacifier. I shook my head and mouthed the words, NO BINKY. He shot me a dubious look. We’ll see about that.
“Binkers hurting Henry’s face,” Henry said. “I’m sleeping with Duke tonight.”
“Oh I see,” Joe said, still dubious.
He tucked Henry into bed and kissed him goodnight. I read two books, then a third for good measure.
“Love you Henry,” I said.
“Love you mommy,” he said, clutching Duke.
“He’s the best,” I said. “You’ll love sleeping with him.”
“OK, that’s fine.”
I closed the door and tiptoed into the living room, where Joe sat on the couch in disbelief. No way were we off the hook that easy.
It took Henry five minutes to start crying, like real crying, like I’m-scared-and-alone-in-my-room crying.
“Mommy, mommy, mommy,” he cried. “I want my binkers. I want my binkers. I want my binkers.”
It broke my heart to hear it. What can I say? My son loves to sleep with pacifiers. It’s not like he’s sucking on them all day. It’s a sleeping aid, a security blanket, a creature comfort. And truthfully, his attachment is more my fault than his. I plugged his kisser with a binky every night from age six months on. For two years Joe and I have lorded over his pacifier like Frodo lording over the ring. We knew this day would come. Like The Ring, Henry’s binky would eventually have to be destroyed lest we all be corrupted by its power.
On the scale of childhood development issues pacifier-attachment is pretty minor. As humans we are creatures of habits, both good and bad. I have many bad habits, some of which I’ll probably never shake so who I am to rip away the one inanimate object that brings my son comfort?
I walked into Henry’s room. He was sitting up in bed with Duke on his lap.
“Mommy,” he said. “Will you rock me?”
His vulnerability turned me into an even bigger puddle of mush. My son needs me. WHAT? He wants to be rocked. WHAT? He was never the kind of kid who liked to be rocked, so I created a time in the day when rocking was an acceptable form of interaction. I did this mostly for me.
Every night I rock him briefly when he gets out of the tub. I wrap him in his towel and sing him Hooked on a Feeling by B.J. Thomas.
As he’s gotten older our rocking has evolved into a kind of hug/rock. I call it the pressure hug and I tell him to hug me until all his stress from the day is gone.
This is what he requested when his pacifier was taken away – rocking.
I picked him up, all 35 pounds of him and carried him to the couch in his bedroom. I told him he was a tough kid and it was OK to be attached to a binky, that attachments make us human. I told him to try at least one night without it so his chapped face could heal. I told him to hold onto Duke and imagine mommy as a little girl hugging the very same stuffed animal.
“Isn’t that cool?” I asked. “Duke was mine and now he’s yours.”
“Duke will keep me company,” he said.
“He’s great company,” I said.
As I sat there rocking him in the dark, his wet cheeks pressed against my face, the clock in his bedroom ticking off the same 30 minutes it ticked off when I used to nurse him in the night, I considered my role in his life and his in mine. I quit nursing him when he 10 months old and I cried because I feared I’d never feel that close to him again.
Last night I felt closer. Our bond is stronger and deeper by virtue of having clocked more time together.
Time is everything. Sometimes we wish for more of it so we can get done all the things we want to or need to get done. This is pointless. No matter the minute, we still get the same 60 ticks.
If I have just one resolution for 2014 it’s to better spend my time; my time working and my time with my family. It’s a simple goal and it covers a lot of bases.
Last night I would have rocked Henry forever. I could have sat all night on his couch, his vulnerabilities intertwined with mine, under the glow-in-the-dark stars we arranged in constellations on his ceiling, rocking to the tick-tock of his monkey clock.
It was Henry who finally asked to go to bed.
“I’m OK Mommy,” he said. “You can put me back now.”
“You sure?” I asked. “You’re not scared?”
“I’m not scared,” he said. “Duke will keep me company.”