Lights up on a 5-year-old boy in the backseat. His mother is driving. They are stopped at an intersection in their small town. 10:25am
“Why are all those people standing there with signs, saying things?”
His questions, though many and often complex, don’t usually render me speechless. But, sitting there at the red light with the window down, hearing the murmur of a repeated Hail Mary and seeing the one stoic-looking woman on the fray, holding her “I Support Planned Parenthood” sign, asking my own complex questions, I had no answer for him.
“I’ll tell you in a minute,” I said, buying a few minutes. This is a five-year-old who knows that a baby grows in a uterus and that Hitler killed a whole bunch of Jews. For better or worse, I don’t tend to mince words when he asks me questions. I give him bits at a time – only as much as he asks – but I don’t put him off and I don’t use euphemisms or half-truths.
“So, why did they hold those signs there?” he asked as we round the corner toward the next stoplight.
“Well, that’s a place where they provide medical care to women and some people don’t think that they should provide the kind of care they are providing.” I knew this wouldn’t sate him for long.
“I don’t know what you mean, Mama.”
“Well, that is a place that gives medical care — ”
“What is medical care?”
Maybe he just needed vocabulary clarification. Maybe he wasn’t going to actually make me explain abortion.
“It’s like a doctor’s office.”
“What kind of doctor’s office? Why would someone not want a woman to go to the doctor’s office?”
Ah, no such luck.
“Well, this is a place that helps women make choices about their bodies. They help them figure out how to get pregnant if they want to and how to not get pregnant if they don’t want to. And they help women not be pregnant anymore if they are pregnant and don’t want to be.”
“Why would someone not want to be pregnant?”
“Well, sometimes people make a mistake or they don’t think it’s the right time to have a baby. And this place helps them not be pregnant anymore. When I was pregnant with you, I wanted to be pregnant. It was not a mistake and Mommy and I felt like we were ready to raise a baby. But sometimes women get pregnant and they don’t want to be. And they don’t feel ready. So, they go to a place like this.”
“So, why don’t those people want you to go there?”
“Well, they think that women should not have the right to choose what they do with their bodies if they are pregnant. They are mad at the doctors who help these women make the choices. The sign the man was holding said, ‘Pro-Life’, which is what people call themselves when they think women should not get to make that choice. The opposite is ‘Pro-choice’ when you think women should be able to choose.”
“Oh,” he said. “I’m pro-choice.”
“Me too,” I said.
“It’s a good thing I am a boy, though, and I don’t need to worry about making a choice. Because boys don’t get pregnant.”
(In re-telling this story last night, a friend reminded me that this might be a good time to remind him that he does need to worry about getting someone else pregnant, but the conversation took a different turn.)
“Well, right. Most boys don’t get pregnant.”
“What do you mean?”
And thus a conversation ensued about transgendered people. And how some people’s body parts don’t match what they feel like and so even though a person might have a penis, she might feel like a girl. And even though a person might have a uterus, he might feel like a boy. And that boy might, when he is a man, decide to be pregnant or even get pregnant by mistake. And so, in that case, there could be a man who is pregnant. I told him then that he will come across people who tell him men can’t be pregnant.
“And you can tell them,” I offered, “that they can be. You can tell them what you know or believe.”
“Or,” he countered, “I can just let it be.”
“Right,” I said. “Or you can just let it be.”
“Hey! I know a song ‘Let it Be’! When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be!”
“Yep. That’s a Beatles song. You have that song on your bedtime mix. Do you know what it means? He is saying when you’re worried, God comes and talks to him and speaks words of wisdom and says, ‘Hey dude. Just chill. The answer will come.”
“Words of wisdom means words that are smart.”
“Do I know any other Beatles songs?”
“You do. You know ‘Octopus’ Garden’, ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’, ‘Hey Jude’, ‘Yellow Submarine’, ‘Beautiful Boy’, and probably a few others. The Beatles are a really great and well-known band. Most people know the Beatles and lots of people love them.”
“Do they still play on the radio?”
“Their music does, but the band isn’t together anymore. Most of them are dead now, actually. But their music is timeless. That means that people have loved it for a long time and people will continue to love it for a long time.”
“I think all music is timeless. That’s what music is. It’s timeless. We will always love it.”
Aaaaaaand scene. 10:35am.
I decided, a few weeks ago, to write a book. I decided that now that I’m 40 (well, nearly. In a month.) I should start doing the things I have always wanted to do so that I don’t reach 50 and have to have this same conversation with myself. Write a book. Top of the list. And if I can self-publish, even better. Because of the judging. And the waiting. And the angst. You know. So, I found a writers group, housed in a fairly well-known local writing community center — except — when I inquired about joining the group, I was told that they were currently “reviewing submissions” for a very few spots that very rarely open up and if I could send writing samples in the next few hours, they would add me to their list of considerations. I hadn’t anticipated this. I didn’t have a sample ready, I didn’t know what they were looking for, and I felt — all of a sudden — like I was hanging my hat on this one opportunity. Like it was this group that was going to be the ticket to writing a book, which was the one thing I was committing to do this year. I sent off two blog posts. (This one and this one, actually.)
Then I waited.
A week later, after more email refreshes than I care to admit, I was invited to join the group. Exhale.
There’s a weekly segment on Sirius Kids’ Place Live called “Story Pirates.” The Who is a story-lover. He prefers to listen to stories over almost anything else and he loves when Story Pirates pop up on the radio. The other day, Story Pirates announced that they were looking for story submissions for the month of March. They talked about the theme for the month, the types of stories they were looking for, and how to submit.
“Can I do that?” he asked.
This must be what it feels like when the child of a dancer asks to take dance class. Or the child of pianist asks to take lessons.
I took him to the library the next afternoon and we reviewed the guidelines for submission. I copied down every word he said, verbatim and delighted in watching his eyes dart back and forth as he constructed the next plot point. He had an actual storyline. He had planned it out. And then he “wrote” it down. My boy — the writer.
I submitted it online for him and when I told him that I had done so, he asked excitedly, “When do we get to hear it on the radio?” And then I had to break the news: it’s a waiting game now, champ. And even after we wait, there’s a chance (a good chance?) that they won’t choose your story. But you wrote it! And you sent it in! And now we wait.
And nobody knows what this feels like better than I.
“Where is That Smoke Coming From?”
-by The Who (shared with permission.)
“George, do you know where that smoke’s coming from?”
“No, I do not. Where?”
“Let’s go check it out!”
So, then, they were going to check it out when they saw a man. He said, “Where’s that smoke coming from?”
“We don’t know! It might be coming from a fireplace in a deep, dark house! Lets go see if it is!” And they invited him to join them.
So, they looked and they looked and they saw a woman. The woman said, “Where is that smoke coming from?”
They said, “Oh, we don’t know; we’re going to check it out.” They invited her to go.
So, they went and then they saw a womanish man. They said, “Where is that smoke coming from?” And then they all saw a man who was NOT saying, ‘where is that smoke coming from.’ He was saying, “Achoo! Achoo! Achoo! Achoo!” in a silly voice.
“What’s happening? Where’s that smoke coming from?” George said.
“I’m sick because I got piled in snow,” said Woo, the man that said “Achoo!” His hair looked small. “I got a humongous snowflake. One snowflake came from one cloud and it was SO, SO big that it was as big as the cloud! The snowflake made me sick!
They said, “Can we help you?”
He said, “Achoo! Yes!”
The smoke was the breath from his sneezes! They said, “We finally solved the mystery! Let’s bring him to the hospital.” They brought him to the hospital and they checked his ears and his eyes and his snow. All of the rest of them caught a cold, too, after they checked him out and guess what? All of THEIR sneezes made the whole entire world black because of all the smoke that THEY made!
So, everyone got out their flashlights and they got fans. They flew them as high as possible and blew away all the smoke. Now there is only white. White as the blue sky. And they all lived happily ever after.
The Who decided to play “baby” this morning. He climbed into my bed and snuggled with me, which he often does and then he was under the covers, pressing his feet into my squishy belly. When I remarked that it was like back when he was in my uterus kicking from the inside, he ran with the concept. He tucked himself into a ball and nestled up into my side, where he imagined a baby would gestate. He shifted his shoulder blades in exactly the way he used to when he was actually in there. And then, apparently miraculously “born”, he decided he was hungry. Lifted my shirt, searched for my nipple, and lay his mouth on it. He searched my face for permission after the fact.
It was momentary. It didn’t go on longer than a second and was just a small fraction of the morning’s play. I actually have no idea whether this is appropriate or not, but my instinct told me to allow it without any judgment — so I did. I’m sure there would be some who would take issue with it. I’m sure there are some mothers who wouldn’t feel comfortable with this type of play, and truthfully, had it gone on longer, I might have been among them. But I believe that children learn through their play. And I believe that bodies are not shameful. And I believe that exploration is part of the process. Will this change at some age? Probably. But I also believe that he naturally won’t want to explore in this way at some point.
So, anyway. That happened.
- It did not snow while we were in Boston. And it even went one better; it was downright sultry. (I mean, for Boston in February. I think we hit 59 degrees!)
- All of our flights were remarkably on schedule. There were zero hiccups at the airport — except for that one time where they swabbed my palms and shoes and The Who didn’t even seem to give a shit.
- We didn’t get to see Mr. & Mrs. Mallard because it rained on the one day we had free to go into the city.
- We did, however, get to see Roozle and her mommy! And: we got to go swimming with them in our hotel. In the hot tub (“Florida”) and the regular (“Popsicle”) pool.
- Bacon was offered on the breakfast buffet on our last day there. The Who, in his morning finery, tore through the lobby, yelling, “Mama! They have bacon! There’s bacon!” The early morning feasters got a nice little chuckle before work.
- I kept inviting women back to my hotel and they kept accepting.
- My besties indulged my desires and allowed me cheese and wine and American Idol and homemade Scattergories and whoopie pies.
- The Who saw monster trucks. He’s been counting down the days for months and is now counting down the days until the next one (which he believes will be next year. Perhaps his Uncle B should have some say in that, since I am decidedly *not* going to a Monster Truck Jam.
- It was weird being in Boston and not seeing my parents (who weren’t in town when we were there.) But, we did get to see a guy who looked a lot like my dad at the airport, prompting The Who to say, somewhat wistfully, “Grandpa sure does love me, doesn’t he?”
- We got to have brunch with family, including lots of Lego-playing with big cousin, L (who is nearly 21. Twenty. One.)
- I spent the last evening of our stay kneeling over the toilet bowl. That was pleasant.
- The Who learned a little about the Big Dig (what I could tell him, anyway, which mostly consisted of, “every time I thought I knew how to get somewhere, I found out that they had changed the road.”) He was fascinated by the concept of putting the highway underground, so we’ve now got this book waiting for us at our local library.
- It’s good to be home. It’s always good to go there and it’s always good to be home. We are lucky.
The Who, lately, has been big into, “tricked ya!” As in: “Mama, I don’t love you. … Tricked ya!” or “I want poop for dinner. … Tricked ya!” or, my personal favorite: “Ok, ok, ok. I won’t lick you. … Tricked ya!”
It’s the age, I think. I hear from other mothers of kids in his class that “tricked ya!” is going on in their houses, too. So, as unpleasant as it is (especially the “I won’t lick you this time” one) I understand that it’s a natural developmental thing. Probably something about humor (we’re big into jokes these days, too) mixed with pushing boundaries. He knows, of course, that he isn’t allowed to lie, so by “tricking,” he gets to veil his honesty experiments.
Promises, though, are a different story. Promises are sacred and that’s been a little bit of a hard lesson to learn. But, the rule is that promises never get broken. Period. And that’s why we don’t make them lightly. Well, I don’t, anyway. He is learning not to. I never promise anything that I am not absolutely positive I can deliver and I am trying to get him to see promises in the same way. Generally, with a reminder, he can do it.
“I’m not going to lick you. I promise!”
“Do you really promise? Because there is no breaking a promise.”
“Ok, I won’t lick you, but I don’t promise it.”
We all know where this leads, right?
If the promise is made, though, and broken, it’s a punishable offense in the form of an immediate cessation of whatever it is we’re doing. If he, in fact, confirms his promise, but then breaks it anyway, I stop playing. Or we leave where we are. Or a toy gets put away. There’s a zero-tolerance policy for broken promises when he has been given a reminder immediately prior.
To his credit, he rarely, if ever, makes the promise and breaks it. And, often, makes the promise and keeps it, which I think is important. I want him to have opportunities to build my trust and see what that looks like. And also to see what it looks like to have my trust and then take it for granted.
Of course, the concept, while understood, is not always crystal clear. Tonight, for example, when I told him that we ran out of time to roll and cut Valentine’s cookies, but that we would do them in the morning, he cried, “but you promised! You promised we would bake them today and you broke your promise!” The real truth is that I didn’t promise because I would never make a promise I wasn’t sure I could keep — and I reminded him of this. But we all remember what it feels like to want something so much that you’re sure the story was different. He was sure I promised. In his memory, it was a sure thing. And a sure thing is a promise.
It’s a work in progress: trust and accountability. How to earn it, how to maintain it, how to be sure that it’s held sacred and protected. For now, sure. I don’t want to be licked when someone promised I wouldn’t be. But for later, too. In fact, for later especially. When he promises not to get into a car with someone who’s been drinking. Or promises that he is where he says he will be. I’m hoping that working on this now isn’t just about baking cookies and wanting poop for dinner. Although, I mean, who wouldn’t want poop for dinner? I LOVE poop.
Listen, I know that complaining about snow days is old hat by now. But it’s seriously all I’ve got. Because it’s all there is. Because it’s all I do. And all I’ll ever do. Until Spring. Which is never coming.
A while back, we were really Jewing it up. In a flurry of autumn activity, we joined the synagogue, started going to Tot Shabbat on a regular basis and tried to attend as many “new member” events as possible. The Who’s enthusiasm for it made it easy and I was eager to get involved.
Winter hit, though. And although I’d like to blame our dwindling activity on the weather (because, Jesus. It’s been ridiculous up in here), it’s really birthday parties and play dates and other sundry activities that have crept in to take the place of all the davening. I mean, to be fair, it is “birthday party season” in The Who’s classroom — this concentrated several weeks from early December through March where this tight little group of kids all celebrate every other weekend, it seems. And Tot Shabbat is not all the time; it’s seemingly random Saturdays, occasionally cancelled by snow (at least this year.) So, I knew we’d come back around eventually.
Finally, today, The Who donned his new kippah and we hung out for a couple of hours in his Pre-K classroom (his preschool is in the synagogue and Tot Shabbat is held in his classroom) with some familiar faces, singing familiar songs to familiar tunes and it felt really good. I hadn’t realized just how much I enjoyed being a part of a synagogue. And having never really belonged to one as a kid, this is a pretty new experience for me.
I’m not 100% sold on this synagogue specifically, truth be told. It’s not the exact right fit for our family, but it hits a lot of the buttons: close to home, affordable, friendly, welcoming, and home to many of our friends. So, here we are.