Total Perspective Vortex
What really happened to Trillian? Theories abound, but you can see what she's really been up to on this blog. If you're looking for white mice, depressed robots, or the occasional Pan Galactic Gargleblaster you might be better served here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/hitchhikers/guide/.
Words are cool.
The English language is complex, stupid, illogical, confounding, brilliant, beautiful, and fascinating.
Every now and then a word presents itself that typifies all the maddeningly gorgeousness of language. They're the words that give you pause for thought. "Who came up with that word? That's an interesting string of letters." Their beauty doesn't lie in their definition (although that can play a role). It's also not in their onomatopoeia, though that, too, can play a role. Their beauty is in the way their letters combine - the visual poetry of words - and/or the way they sound when spoken. We talk a lot about music we like to hear and art we like to see, so let's all hail the unsung heroes of communication, poetry and life: Words.
Here are some I like. (Not because of their definition.)
Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Smart Girls
(A Trillian de-composition, to the tune of Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys)
Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
Don’t let them do puzzles and read lots of books
Make ‘em be strippers and dancers and such
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
They’ll never find men and they’re always alone
Even though men claim they want brains
Smart girls ain’t easy to love and they’re above playing games
And they’d rather read a book than subvert themselves
Kafka, Beethoven and foreign movies
And each night alone with her cat
And they won’t understand her and she won’t die young
She’ll probably just wither away
Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
Don’t let them do puzzles and read lots of books
Make ‘em be strippers and dancers and such
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
They’ll never find men and they’re always alone
Even though men claim they want brains
A smart girl loves creaky old libraries and lively debates
Exploring the world and art and witty reparteé
Men who don’t know her won’t like her and those who do
Sometimes won’t know how to take her
She’s rarely wrong but in desperation will play dumb
Because men hate that she’s always right
Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
Don’t let them do puzzles and read lots of books
Make ‘em be strippers and dancers and such
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
They’ll never find men and they’re always alone
Even though men claim they want brains
Life(?) of Trillian
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
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Tuesday, February 02, 2010
I’ve got a couple new skills to add to my resumé. Perhaps even a new career path.
You never know what life is going to present, or when, so embrace every experience.
Friends asked me if I would babysit their 2-and-11-month-year-old twins while they took their five-year-old to an out-of-town event for the weekend. Their nanny “doesn’t do” weekends.
I know. We should all be so lucky as to have the control over our employers to say, “I don’t do weekends” and still remain employed. I’ve never had a job that didn’t require occasional (or even frequent) working on weekends. I don’t mind it - occasionally. Quite honestly even if it’s not required (when I had a job, that is) I find myself at the very least thinking about a work project or client. I might not have been in the office or “officially” working, but my brain was working. I know, I know. Dedication, focus, loyalty…where did it get me? Unemployed, that’s where. Maybe my friends’ nanny has it right: Make it very clear that you refuse to work weekends, that you will not go above and beyond, and voila! respect. I dunno. Seems kind of rigid and selfish and not very committed to the job.
Anyway. My friends are all trying very hard to “find” jobs for me. They’re trying to keep me busy. Which is good. I appreciate their concern for me. Though there’s a fine line between “helping” me cope with my situation and “taking advantage” of me and my situation. People think unemployed people have absolutely nothing to do and therefore should be ready, willing and eager to do whatever anyone asks of them. If I hear “you’re not doing anything anyway…” one more time I’m going to lose my temper. True, I’m not going to work every day. However I am looking for a job every day. It does take time. A considerable amount of time, actually. A surprising amount of time. But when someone asks me to help them with something it’s difficult to say no because I am unemployed and technically, “not doing anything anyway…” I find myself defending myself which got old about the second week of unemployment.
The friends in question are stay-at-home moms who live in the suburbs. Because at this point all my female friends are stay-at-home moms who live in the suburbs. Because apparently I am the last remaining single woman my age who doesn’t have children and live in the suburbs. I used to use online dating sites to meet men. Then I switched to the “friends and activity” partners sites to find other single women to hang out with. Yes. I had to advertise for friends. And it has so far been an abysmal failure. Most of the women I’ve met are nice, professional people but they are just looking for “filler” until they meet a man to date. So I’ve got my married stay-at-home mom friends who live in the suburbs. And they’re all “excited” that I have “all this free time” now.
The thing is, I love kids. So, you know, it’s not that I don’t want to be around children. So I don’t “mind” that my friends are all stay-at-home-moms in the suburbs. Okay, I’m not crazy about the suburb part, but I know, I know, the schools are better, it’s safer for the kids to run and play and the property tax is cheaper, I know. I know why young parents who vowed they’d never leave the city pack up and move to a good school district where the same tax dollars that pay for a small condo in the city will get them a four bedroom house with a nice yard. It's easy to get there, you just take a left at the boulevard of broken dreams.
Since my friends started moving en masse to the suburbs I’ve learned to view my visits “out there” as adventures. I see myself as an alien explorer traveling though the Universe seeking new experiences and cultures in hopes of a higher level of enlightenment and understanding. I come, and go, in peace. It makes the whole thing a lot more bearable. The odd looks and questions about why I’m still single, why I live in a shoebox in the city and pay insane property taxes, why I don’t have children, and how I can stand living without a man are easier to handle diplomatically when I pretend that I’m not from this planet. In my head I’m from a distant planet where single professional women are lauded and held in high esteem and regard while the women who have no purpose other than to please men and breed are viewed as low-life drones who are pitied and ridiculed. This isn’t much of a stretch of my imagination because when I visit my stay-at-home-mom friends in the suburbs I am a stranger in a strange land where the women don't have careers and spend their time taking care of men and children.
And I relate better to the children than I do my friends.
So, okay. My friends’ nanny doesn’t do weekends (we’ll just let the fact that she’s a stay-at-home-mom and yet has a nanny slide for now, blog for another day). They heard about a weekend seminar with a kids karate guru so naturally they had to take their five-year-old to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Naturally. (Did you have any once in a lifetime opportunities when you were five years old? Yeah. Me either.) There were to be parents’ sessions, as well. Both parents were strongly encouraged to attend. Okay, so, mom, dad and young grasshopper all travel to learn from the masterful sensei. Just one snag. They also have 2-and-11-month-year-old twins. My friend’s parents are wintering in Bermuda. Her husband’s parents live 1,800 miles away. Their nanny doesn’t do weekends. What to do, what to do?
Call Trillian, that’s what! Trillian’s unemployed, she doesn’t have anything better to do with her time, she can schlep out on the train at the crack of dawn Friday morning, we’ll meet her at the station with the van packed, she can then drive us to the airport, drop us off, and then take the 2-and-11-month-year-old twins home and stay with them until Sunday night when she’ll pack up the 2-and-11-month-year-old twins in the van, pick us up at the airport and we’ll deposit her at the train station in time to make the last train into the city on Sunday night! It’s brilliant!!!
My friends are really good at sorting out logistics. Something happens to women when they’re pregnant. Something strange and mysterious. Women who, before they were married, couldn’t plan their own lives beyond a shoe sale at lunch on Wednesday and happy hour on Friday turn into tactical strategists devising Patton-esque plans intricate in detail and timing. The irony in this is that of my friends, I was the one who had goals and plans for attaining them. I was the one who was called upon to figure out logistics and details. I was the go-to friend for travel advice, ideas about “best” timing, navigating life (literally and metaphorically) and sorting out details. Now the women who couldn’t plan a piss-up in a brewery are precision strategists who always have a plan and ideas for me and my life. Especially now that I’m unemployed. They all know exactly what I should do and how I should do it. And yes, yes, sometimes they’re absolutely right. But a lot of the time it’s just about manipulating me and my time to suit their goals and plans. I know this. They know this. And I think they know I know they know. So in my mind that makes it “okay.” I can say no. And I often do say no. If I’m manipulated it’s because I allow myself to be manipulated. That’s how I reconcile it. And hey, these are my friends. All’s fair in friendship, right?
I thought about the 2-and-11-month-year-old twins. They’re pretty good kids. Seem to be well-behaved, almost potty trained, generally good nappers and eaters. Shouldn’t be too difficult to take care of them for a few days. And hey, it gets me out of my place and into a McMansion in the suburbs for a few days. I can drive around in a van and see how the other half lives. A real housewife of Lake County. So I agreed to my friend’s plan.
Friday morning, before sunrise, I was on a commuter train to the far flung suburbs. I was surprised I wasn’t the only person making the pre-dawn reverse commute. I have no idea what the other people on that train were going to do in the suburbs at the time of day but it appeared they were going to work or taking care of something important. My co-commuters didn’t appear to be casual riders heading out to visit friends or go shopping. They all seemed purpose driven. Which I guess by definition at 5 AM on a commuter train would be expected. You don’t get on a commuter train at 5 AM without a serious reason.
True to her word, my friend, her husband and their three kids were at the station waiting for me when the train arrived. I got in the back seat of the van and nearly got a contact-high from the smell of coffee. My friend and her husband had mega-venti-double-ultra-plus-espresso-all-the-caffiene-none-of-the-flavor coffee drinks. They were high as kites, revved up like 6-year-olds on Mountain Dew and Skittles. The five-year-old karate kid was also revved up like a deuce, possibly on Mountain Dew and Skittles. The 2-and-11-month-year-old twins were sleeping peacefully, cutely, amidst (and oblivious to) the high-watt caffeine induced energy in the van around them. They were my zen place in the intense with anticipation van on the way to the airport. The parents and karate kid were talking nonstop about the adventure that awaited them. The mother, my friend, barked out commands like an Army general. “Take this exit! It’s shorter this time of day!” “Practice your foot flexes and shoulder rolls! You want to stay limber while we travel so you’ll be ready for the session tonight. The level assignment is tonight, you want to be put in the right level!” “I told you to take that exit!!!!” We finally got to the airport and all the heightened anxiety and intensity that entails.
As they left me curbside she handed me a notebook. “Everything you need to know is in there. Phone numbers, meals…it’s all in there. Call if you need anything, we’ll see you at arrivals at 8:30 Sunday night. Oh, and by the way, a stray cat found her way to our yard day before yesterday, she looks like she’s *with child*(she said leaned forward and said “with child” to me like it was some insider secret), we’re taking her to the shelter Monday. Unless you want her. I wrote the shelter’s number in the book. Toodle ooo!!! See you Sunday!”
I got in the van and just sat there for a minute trying to unspin out of the whirlwind tornado that I just dropped off at O’Hare. I looked back at the 2-and-11-month-year-old twins. They were awake but sleepy-eyed and seemed pretty nonchalant for toddlers whose parents just left them in the hands of that weird unmarried childless woman who lives in the city. “Well kids, it’s just you, me and a pregnant cat. The world’s our oyster.”
I got back to their house which was no small feat considering McMansions all bear a striking resemblance to each other. Every time I visit one of my friends in McMansionville I always wonder what would happen if I went to the wrong house. My assumption is that the names are different but everything else is pretty much the same. I wonder if I would even notice the difference. I’m guessing the conversations would be the same, or similar, as would the food, furniture and entertainment. I know, I know. That’s really narrow-minded, cynical and ignorant of me. I’m painting them with a broad bush of generalizations, the same type of brush they use on me. They paint me with the “poor old single, childless, now jobless, Trillian. Pathetic and sad old spinster who leads a dull, boring, unfulfilled and lonely life.” Okay, yes, I am lonely but not the way they make it seem.
Anyway. It’s just that everything looks and feels the same in those suburbs. Naturally it makes me wonder if, since they all strive to live in the same kind of house, drive the same model of car, have the same kinds of kids in the same schools and activities, wear the same kinds of clothes, style their hair the same way, eat the same food, drink the same wine, watch the same television shows, read the same books, shop in the same stores that they all lead the same lives and if I would even notice if I walked into the wrong house. It’s the whole Stepford scenario. It kind of creeps me out and makes me sad, too.
My friends used to be so interesting and different and used their brains and unique talents. They were interesting...different...deep...funny. And now they’re living in cookie cutter boring, mediocrity where everything is all spelled out for them, they don’t have to think an original thought, they simply have to look around at their neighbors and do what they do. Deep down I know that’s not entirely true, but then again…none of my friends seems capable of original thought or humor, or if they are, they speak it in hushed, secretive tones to me. The conversations start like this, “Trillian, I can tell you this, you would understand, but don’t say anything, no one around here would get this…” The tone is hushed and whispered. It’s as if they’re afraid of being found out, that if anyone discovered that they actually had an original thought or idea or joke the villagers would be angry and come after them with pitchforks and flaming torches. What upsets and confuses me about all this is that my friends want this. They aspired to it, worked to achieve it and seem, for the most part, happy about it.
Oddly enough these are the times when I get the most clarity in my life. If falling in love, getting married and having children means moving to Generia and living happily there, then there is the reason why I’m not married and why I don’t have children. I don’t aspire to or even want to consider a life in Generia. Ahhhh, but here’s the scary part: My friends felt the same way, said the same thing, vowed it wouldn’t happen to them. But one by one it happened to all of them. Typically about the time the kids start school they cave into the practical matters of good schools, lower property tax, safe neighborhoods and convenience. They swear they have no broken dreams, their dreams just changed.
I ask myself this pointed question: If I really wanted it, truly wanted the husband and children, wouldn’t I be willing to make the concessions? "Change" my dreams? A discussion and sometimes an argument with myself ensues and ultimately I leave Generia thinking, “I’m not cut out for this. I’m lonely but I’d be really lonely in a place like this. At least in the city no one notices me. No one cares. It is dog eat dog in the city. I’m invisible in apathy. No one notices or cares about me. But out in Generia people only pretend to care, and the dog eat dog is otherwise known as keeping up appearances. And people are invisible in anonymity. Pick your poison.” I choose being invisible in apathy rather than anonymity.
And yes, yes, it’s so easy to dismiss it all with the same old clichés that have been used to describe the suburbs since the dawn of suburbia. There are many good qualities about the suburbs. I do understand why my friends moved there. Those good schools and lower property taxes, the nice, safe, comfortable homes, the convenient shopping and like-minded neighbors and yes, usually a pretty strong sense of community. All very good reasons to just do it, just up and move to the suburbs. If not for yourself, for the children. And if you don’t get caught up in keeping up then all is probably well.
So yeah. This was going to be a loooooong weekend. Me, the 2-and-11-month-year-old twins, a pregnant cat and my crisis of zeitgeist and existentialism. Niiiiiice.
I discovered the twins are very adept at maneuvering in and out of their car seats. Note to self: The boy child is quick with the restraining harness that is the only thing preventing him from being a projectile missile careening through the windshield. He’s the Houdini of the preschool set, no car seat can hold him. No mention was made of his deft handwork in The Notebook. Over the course of the weekend I discovered nothing useful was mentioned in the instruction manual. Phone numbers for doctors, sure, if the children needed a doctor, yes, those numbers would be useful. But the rest of it? Not so much. By noon on Saturday The Notebook was deemed useless, pointless and, at times, I eyed it suspiciously, as if it was part of a big joke perpetrated against me.
I was anxious to see and assess the pregnant stray cat. Just how pregnant was she, is she possibly someone’s pet who wandered off and what about food for her? She looked generally healthy, and yes, very pregnant. Little more than a kitten herself. Kittens having kittens. It’s a family problem and society’s burden. I felt the areas where they usually chip cats. I didn’t feel anything, but there was one tiny bump behind her neck which made me hope maybe it was an identity chip. I went online and found a vet located near the kids’ preschool. I called and made an appointment to have the cat checked for an ID chip. She was resting comfortably in a makeshift bed my friends made for her so all I had to do was worry about transporting her to the vet and hope she wasn’t as close to delivering her kittens as she appeared to be.
The children eyed me as I reviewed the cat. “What’s her name?” I asked.
“She doesn’t have a name. Daddy says we can’t name her because once something has a name it won’t leave,” the boy child said with an air of authority.
“Mommy says she’s going to have babies,” the girl child offered.
“It certainly looks that way,” I said.
We had two hours before it would be time to take them to their preschool. Two hours. Okay. What do 2-and-11-month-year-old kids do when they have a couple hours to kill before school? I thought maybe color or play with toys or have a snack or even catch some shut-eye. Yeah. Not so much. Maybe it was the novelty of having someone new, someone not Mommy or Nanny there. Maybe it was the reality of being left behind setting in. Maybe it was their normal routine being disturbed by the early morning airport trip. Maybe it was all the caffeine wafting around the enclosed space of the van. I’m not sure what it was, one or all or some or none of those things that had the 2-and-11-month-year-old twins agitated. But one thing I do know for certain: They can sense fear. Those kids wouldn’t even let me take off their jackets when we got in the house. They were off and running. And running. And running. And running. Insert every cliché movie scene you’ve ever seen about a guy or single woman stuck taking care of young toddlers. Frey. Melee. Fracas. Need I say more?
I decided to just join in. I mean, when in Rome, right? Yelling is stupid and pointless, trying to get them to behave like mature adults is ridiculous, and ultimatums are a waste of gray matter. These are 2-and-11-month-year-olds. Reason and logic do not apply. Fortunately I knew this going into it (no thanks to The Notebook, though) so just joining in the hijinx seemed like a natural solution. Funny thing about 2-and-11-month-year-olds. They get really flummoxed when a grown-up behaves the way they do. The fear they sensed in me turned to fear they felt for themselves. Three days with this lunatic? She’s taking care of us? The hunters become the hunted. Tiger, tiger, burning bright.
Within 20 minutes I was deemed “kooky” by the girl child. I was also found to be in violation of a house rule. I was given a time-out. I didn’t fit in the naughty chair so I had to sit on the floor next to the naughty chair. They discussed appropriate punishment and decided 10 minutes was a fair time out. The boy child set the timer. And the two 2-and-11-month-year-olds just stood there watching me, making sure I stayed in the naughty chair floor space. Kept ‘em quiet and entertained for 10 minutes. I know. It’s brilliant. Maybe they lost respect for me, the adult, but they’re 2-and-11-month-year-olds. How much respect do they have for any adult? And further, I’m the one with the car keys, money and food. If they want to go anywhere, obtain anything or eat, they’re gonna have to go through me to get it. Voila. Respect. Bwa ha ha ha. Exzcellllllent.
After my time out we dined on a snack of Cheerios and apple juice boxes and discussed the best way to transport the cat. The girl child suggested a Tupperware® container while the boy child felt his dump truck would be ideal because she could be pushed into the vet’s office, a sort of wheel chair, and when it was time for the exam she could be “dumped” out of the truck and onto the table. Gotta give him props for practicality and multipurposing. I thought that was quite an inspired idea. But instead we found a box and put a towel in it.
And off we went to school and the vet. I dropped the kids off at preschool. That was interesting. I was viewed suspiciously, not by the teacher or kids but by the other mothers. My friend pre-arranged my guardianship but I had to show proof of ID to drop off the kids. I dunno. This seemed a little weird to me. If I was going to harm or kidnap the kids would I drop them off at preschool? As I went through the ID ritual with the teacher the other mothers and nannies all craned their necks to try to get a glimpse of my ID or overhear the conversation between the teacher and me. When I got ready to leave one of the mothers, I presume the gang leader, approached me. “You’re Helena’s friend, right? I think we met at a barbecue a few years ago.” I didn’t recognize this woman, but then, she was indistinguishable from most of the women I’ve met at my friend’s parties. They all look the same to me. So I just smiled and nodded. “Yes, I think maybe we have met.” (“If you say so” strongly implied.)
“You live in the city, right? Creative something something or marketing or something, right?”
Wow. I obviously made more of an impression on her than she did on me. She was smiling and seemed all very pleasant and friendly but there was an accusatory tone and an eye of suspicion to her, like a detective probing a suspect.
“Erm, yeah, creative services manager, yeah. In the city. I live in the city.”
The woman was making me nervous.
“You’re taking care of the twins this weekend? Helena mentioned she and Jake were going to Karate-con. But she didn’t mention who was staying with the twins. I assumed she talked Marla (the nanny) into working the weekend.”
Seriously, this was turning into an interrogation. I did my mental imagery of me traveling through space on a universal mission of peace and enlightenment, far from my planet where single, professional childless women are the norm and women who do nothing but breed are outcasts to be used and pitied. “I’m a stranger in a strange land, be nice and try to fit in. Smile and nod politely. Don’t agitate the natives.”
“Nope, Marla’s off duty, it’s me and the twins hittin’ the town and lookin’ for trouble, har har.”
Mrs. Stepford Housewife of Lake County was not amused. Stay-at-home-moms are not known for their sense of humor when it comes to children. Or anything else, really. Humorless place, Generia. I forgot about that. Major slip-up on my part. My mind was racing to a scenario where a team of social workers from child protective services shows up at my friends’ house, surrounding it like a SWAT team with a bull horn, “We know you’re single and therefore cannot be trusted around children. Just send out the children and no one will get hurt.”
“Boss, boss, I just got information that there’s a pregnant cat in the house, too!”
“Okay, we know about the cat. Repeat, we know about the cat. Send out the children and the cat and no one gets hurt.”
About that time the boy child raced over, grabbed my leg in a sort of combo tackle-hold/hug/shove. “It’s time for you to go!”
He was right. The cat and I had some business to handle.
“Nice to see you again,” I said, all smiles and sincerity to the Stepford ring leader.
Turns out the cat wasn’t chipped. The vet surmised the kittens would arrive “any day.”
Great. I hoped “any day” was any day after Sunday. I love cats and this little one was already pulling on my heartstrings. Add a bunch of adorable kittens and I’d be one step closer to becoming the crazy woman with all the cats, feeding the cats instead of herself and on the verge of homelessness…the foreclosure people showing up and finding me and a bunch of cats...yeah. That cat was trouble. Real trouble.
I packed the cat back into the box and went to retrieve the kids from preschool.
Apparently it was a big day at preschool. Someone’s dad came to class and talked about trees. %$&*ing Avatar. Seriously. I swutting hate that movie more every day. The takeaway the 2-and-11-month-year-old twins got was that trees breathe. And that scared the bejeezus out of them. Way to go, mister. Even I know better than to try to introduce the concept of trees as living beings to pre-school aged kids. Wizard of Oz anyone? Freaky humanoid trees hurtling apples and insults? So now I had an unclaimed, unwed mother cat ready to pop out a litter of kittens and two 2-and-11-month-year-old kids freaked out about trees that breathe.
And there I was just a few hours prior making sweeping generalizations about bland generic life in the suburbs. Okay, Universe, I get it. Judge not lest ye be judged.
Got the cat and the kids home and we dined on a lunch of grilled cheese and something called “Broco Bites” allegedly comprised of broccoli and carrots shaped into “fun” shapes. Not surprisingly the kids didn’t go for the “fun” aspect of the Broco Bites. They weren’t fooled. They weren’t touching them. The Notebook said that’s what they were supposed to eat for lunch, though, and at that point I was still trying to use The Notebook as the instruction manual. However, I was starting to understand it wasn’t going to be as helpful as intended. I did score a coup, though. They both agreed that I make grilled cheese sandwiches better than their mother (the secret is a light spread of apple sauce and a tiny bit of mustard). Using that in I suggested that perhaps I make Broco Bites better than their mother. (heh heh heh) Shockingly, they fell for it. I got three bites of Broco Bite per child. They concluded that Broco Bites are yucky, no matter who makes them. I suggested ketchup. That got another bite, per child, of Broco Bite in them. I figured that was good enough. I heard Roger Daltry singing in my ear, “We won’t get fooled again…” and I had a vision of a toddler riot breaking out in the suburbs, kids slamming juice box shots, swinging Nerf bats and going all Gymboree in the streets. Four bites of Broco Bite, per child, seemed like enough to me.
Now for the hard part. Except I didn’t know it was the hard part at the time. The Notebook said they get to watch 30 minutes of Nickolodeon or a DVD of their choice after lunch. Naturally they couldn’t agree on what to watch. A heated debate and argument ensued. So I came up with the only fair solution: 30 minutes of Book TV, Discovery or the History channel. Unfortunately the book on Book TV was Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda and while I was pretty sure that would bore the kids to sleep I was concerned they might be astute enough pick up on the scarier aspects of Atomicism and the last thing I needed was to add to the breathing tree fear mongering. The Discovery channel was showing sharks. Ditto the fear mongering concern. Also unfortunately it was ammo day on the History channel. The history of rockets was far more exciting and interesting than I had in mind. This was supposed to be punishment for not cooperating on what to watch. Plus I wasn’t sure my friends would appreciate their toddlers learning the finite details about explosives. I rummaged through my friends’ DVD stockpile. I found one on knitting. I kid you not, a knitting DVD. I’m pretty sure there’s not a more boring DVD available. Even more boring that watching golf, watching a DVD of someone knit ranks as one of the most boring things a human can do. The kids thought so, too, but informed me their mother, my friend, watches it all the time. (Heh heh heh…useful information.Very useful information to store away for use at a later date. "I'll take barometers of broken dreams of suburban stay-at-home moms for $500, please Alex.") The boy child got antsy and whined a lot. The girl child fell asleep. Which was good because we were closing in on nap time.
Here’s the thing about 2-and-11-month-year-olds who are “pretty much” potty trained. “Pretty much” only applies to when they’re awake. And even then “pretty much” means keep your eye on them all the time and watch for tell-tale signs. Crossed legs, crotch grabbing, sudden and extreme quiet, going off and hiding behind things like plants and chairs. “Pretty much” potty trained also means “with assistance.” Again, not covered in the instruction manual. I guess I was just supposed to know, or assume, the finer points of almost-3-year-olds’ toilette needs.
The boy child silently watched me carry the sleeping girl child up to her room and put her down for a nap. He was yawning so I suggested that we read a book in his room, have some quiet time. Shockingly, he obliged. And fell asleep by the fourth page. Rock on!
Why do people make such a big deal about nap time? This is easy. Run around a lot, show a knitting DVD, read a book, voila! sleeping children.
I went down to check on the cat. All seemed well. I gave her more to eat. She seemed grateful and gave me a purring head butt. Ahhhhh. Domestic bliss. The kids were napping, the cat was purring, it was ammo day on the History channel...
45 minutes later the domestic bliss was shattered by a blood curdling screech from the girl child. Insert every babysitter alone with the kids slasher movie scene you’ve ever seen. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. Instead, every one of those movie scenes flashed before my eyes. Thanks, John Carpenter and Wes Craven, really, thank you. I raced upstairs (and yes, I honestly contemplated grabbing a knife from the kitchen) and found her sitting up in her bed, soaked from the waist down, tears streaming down her face.
Worse than any slasher movie gore scene. The little girl had…gasp…an accident.
The boy child was standing at her door observing my response to the liquid meltdown that occurred in his sister’s bed.
“You’re supposed to put a Pull-up on us before we go to sleep,” he said matter of factly. I think he even rolled his eyes at me. “I had a bit of a drip myself,” he said, grabbing at his crotch.
Okay, this was a glaring omission in The Notebook. But even so, if he knew this, if Pull-ups with bedtime is SOP why didn’t the boy child mention it when I put his sleeping sister down for her nap? Or when he was laying down for a nap? Now I had to clean up the girl child, change her clothes, change her bedding, do laundry and explain to my friend that I didn’t understand the Pull-up procedure part of “pretty much” potty trained.
And exactly what is a “bit of a drip” in 2-and-11-month-year-old boy terms? A full-on accident or truly just a little “bit of a drip?” I wasn’t exactly anxious to find out but once I had the girl calmed down and was cleaning her up I knew I had to bite the bullet and deal with it. “Okay, so, this ‘bit of a drip’ of yours. What’s the damage? Do we need to clean you up and change you, too?”
“Nah. I’m okay.”
My first reaction was to take that at face value. Good. He’s fine. But it soon became obvious he’s a) a guy and b) not a good judge of “okay” in terms of assessing the state of his underpants.
From there on out I took the safe route and instigated an all Pull-up, all the time rule. They hated this rule. “We’re not babies!” “We only need them at bed time!” “We’re big kids!” “Mommy doesn’t let us wear Pull-ups except in bed!” Yeah, yeah, tell it to someone who cares, someone who’s your mother or father or nanny.
I found discarded Pull-ups all over the house the duration of the weekend. They were relentless in their stubbornness over not wearing Pull-ups. Which meant the kids were sans underwear much of the time. But I was just as relentless in my dictatorial Pull-up regime. Fortunately Pull-ups are gender specific so when I found a discarded Pull-up I could ascertain to whom it belonged. Thank you, Pull-up people, for making life with bi-gender twins so much easier. I was slightly concerned my friends would return home and find spent Pull-ups hidden all over the house. But then, I figured that, too, is probably “normal.” These kids seemed too adept, too wise about Pull-ups for this to be their first foray into civil disobedience with Pull-ups.
Random sentence I never thought I’d hear myself say, “You cannot wear your sister’s tu-tu to Target without Pull-ups or underpants underneath it.” I’m not sure how to wash tu-tus and if he had an accident while wearing it I would have to throw it away. I also wasn’t sure he was supposed to be wearing the pink tu-tu. His sister said he could wear it (nice of her to share) but I had a hunch their father might not approve of his son wearing nothing but a pink tu-tu and a smile. The boy gave the girl a sort of conspiratorial look when he asked her if he could wear it to play dress-up. Something was definitely up with the tu-tu and pantsless boy. But I was not going to be the adult who says, “No, you cannot wear the tu-tu because you’re a boy and boys don’t wear tu-tus.” Their parents can be responsible for those therapy sessions, not me. The kids might have nightmares about breathing trees, but I was going to wake up in a cold sweat over layers of pink tulle soaked with urine.
I also discovered a direct correlation between juice box consumption and trips to the bathroom. I mean, duh, of course, but wow, the response is nearly immediate. I made the rookie mistake of giving them juice boxes for the road when I took them to Target for cat care supplies. Fortunately we were under the all Pull-up all the time regime at that point, but sheesh, it was an instant reaction. “I have to go potty! Now!” When a 2-and-11-month-year-old kid tells you they have to go potty now! What they mean is, “We're on the threshold of the urination event horizon. I’m going to pee in 30 seconds. If you can get me to a bathroom before then, rock on. If not, we’re all gonna suffer.”
I made another rookie mistake by trying to point out the virtue of being safe rather than sorry. “Aren’t you glad you were wearing a Pull-up? Not such a bad idea after all, is it?” Oh boy. Ohhhh boy. That’s the wrong thing to say to a 2-and-11-month-year old. 2-and-11-month-year-olds do not like logic and reason thrown in their faces. 2-and-11-month-year-olds vent their frustration with logic and reason by screaming.
The tragic part of this is that I get it. I’m down with scream therapy. How many times have you been so frustrated with people and/or a situation that you want to just scream into the Universe? We don’t go around screaming, generally, because we’re mature adults and we channel our frustration, anger and confusion into socially acceptable outlets like booze, drugs, food, indiscriminant sex, reckless driving, arguing, gossip, slander, and domestic violence. Yeah, screaming out in frustration is so juvenile.
I had to call upon the only experts I know with this. My parents. What did my parents do to diffuse frustration screaming? When I was little and feeling so frustrated I wanted to scream my parents threw philosophical reason at me. “Why are you so upset?” “I don’t want to go to bed.” “Will screaming make you feel better about having to go to bed?” “No.” “Will screaming change your bedtime?” “No.” “Will screaming make Mummy and Daddy proud of you?” “No.” “Will screaming solve anything at all?” “No. But it makes me feel better.” “Why does screaming make you feel better?” “I dunno.” “When you figure out why screaming makes you feel better then maybe we’ll let you scream.”
I never figured out why screaming made me feel better consequently it was never up for re-evaluation. But I spent a lot of sleepless nights contemplating why screaming made me feel better.
Fortunately I discovered the restorative and healing powers of rock and roll. Socially acceptable screaming. Rock on.
Ahhhhh. There we go! I knew if I thought it through something would come to me. Fortunately the van was mp3 equipped and I had my iPod with me.
“You wanna scream? Okay, fine, we’ll all scream!”
And so it came to pass that two 2-and-11-month-year-olds and I were rolling through suburban strip malland screaming and banging our heads to AC/DC. Hey, my friends asked me to stay with their kids. They knew what might happen. Besides, The Notebook didn’t say anything about what music the kids can or cannot listen to and I know for a fact that their father fancies himself as Jimmy Page and plays his guitar along to Led Zeppelin every chance he gets. I’ve seen it. I’ve heard it. It’s not pretty but it is pretty funny. (Speaking of broken dreams.) So it’s not as if these kids haven’t been exposed to questionable music choices for preschool aged children.
By the time bedtime rolled around on that first night we’d reached a place of understanding. There was a sort of unspoken détente between us. I broke another house rule and had to have another time out in the naughty chair space under the watchful eyes of my charges. (The cat consoled me by climbing into my lap and purring during my incarceration.) I let them have pizza and ice cream and juice boxes. (Always the juice boxes, infernal juice boxes.) We danced and jumped around the living room and made Barrel of Monkey chain necklaces (yes, I know, probably some child safety choking code infraction, insert replay of child protective services SWAT team) and we danced around some more. The girl child does a great Mick Jagger strut accentuated by her tu-tu, the boy child is quite possibly the next James Brown. Sated and sleepy, Pull-ups in place, I put them to bed with surprisingly little resistance.
Later, I went up to bed in the guest room. I’d just settled in and was counting sheep when I heard it. It started out a nearly indiscernible whimper and then crescendoed into an all out wail. “I wannnnntttttt Mommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmeeeeeeeeeeeeee” Uh oh. The Notebook didn’t mention anything about this, either. And the thing about twins is, when one wants something, the other automatically wants it, too. And so within seconds there came another wail from the other room, “I wannnnnnnttttt Mommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmeeeeeee” and not to be outdone, he wanted “Mommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” and “Dadddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.” Oh crap. I’m neither Mommy or Daddy and Mommy and Daddy are two time zones away hip deep in Karate-con.
Apparently the breathing trees were weighing heavy on their minds, especially the girl child. She described in vivid detail the dream she had about breathing trees. She demonstrated a gasping, choking, panting pantomime of a tree grabbing at her. Pretty disturbing stuff. I was even kind of scared after she told us about it.
Yadda yadda yadda I found myself sleeping on the floor with two 2-and-11-month-year-olds snuggled together in bed with various plush animals and the lights on. I slept with one eye open. First, out of concern for the children. If they cried I wanted to hear them. Second, out of concern of the children. What might they do with the adult asleep? Third, out of fear that a breathing tree would come gasping and panting its way up the stairs and grab us all and take us off to the forest. I dozed off for a few minutes and dreamed that I was Gulliver in Lilliput. I woke up, startled, thinking the kids were tying me down to the floor. Turned out the girl child had climbed out of bed and onto me. Her rabbit’s ears were tangled around my wrist.
Eventually I got some sleep, but as you can imagine not a lot and not restful. So you can probably imagine that I was not in a great mood Saturday morning. But boy the kids were. Up and at ‘em, bright eyed and bushy tailed, as if nothing untoward had happened during the night.
I made their breakfast following the guidelines in The Notebook. Scrambled eggs, strawberries, toast, and of course more infernal juice boxes. After breakfast the kids were playing a rousing game of Throw Toys at the Couch when a low, guttural noise came from the area of the cat bed.
Rules for Trillian’s Life: #1. If it can go wrong, it will do so when I’m the only one around to take responsibility for it.
Sure enough, the stray cat was convulsing and groaning and spasming and it wasn’t a hairball. It was a baby furball. Well. Eventually it was a baby furball.
At that point it was just a lot of groaning and licking and purring and yeowling. I tried to make a lot of noise to divert attention away from the cat. I wasn’t sure my friends would deem the miracle of kitten birth appropriate for 2-and-11-month-year-olds. Naturally The Notebook made to mention of it.
And just as naturally, the kids were very interested in what was going on in the cat bed. I kept trying to shoo them away, divert their attention, but the noise from the cat bed was too loud and too “exciting” to keep the kids away.
I thought, “Well, you know, miracle of life, this is a natural, normal, thing…they’ll either love it or be grossed out.”
The poor cat was clearly confused as to what the heck was happening to her. First time mother and all that. The two 2-and-11-month-year-old kids were alternately enthralled and bored.
This is a transcript of the actual conversation.
Boy child: “Why is the cat making that weird noise?”
Me: “Mrs. Cat is going to have her kittens. She’s in labor.” (I felt suddenly compelled to highlight that having babies out of wedlock is not in keeping with their parents’ social and religious standards and that this cat is perfectly respectable married woman. Mrs. Cat.)
Girl child: “What’s labor?”
Me: “It’s when a Mommy’s body prepares to have a baby.”
Girl child: “Is Mrs. Cat going to have to go to the hospital to have kittens?”
Me: “No, she’s going to have them right here.”
Stunned wide-eyed silence.
Girl child: “Where’s Mr. Cat? He should be here. His wife’s having a baby.”
Me: “Erm, Mr. Cat is away on a business trip.” (Okay, look, I was under a lot of pressure and trying to handle the situation as delicately as possible. These are not my children and I didn’t want to get into the whole “animals don’t get married and boy animals are only in it for the sex and leave the females to handle all the hard, messy work much like humans” discussion. I didn’t think through the whole Mrs. Cat thing and now it was snowballing. Telling them Mr. Cat was away on a business trip just seemed like the best way to handle this. Their dad travels for work, I knew they know what business trips are and that they could relate to a daddy having to go out of town for work. Don’t judge. Until you’re in the situation don’t judge me.)
Boy child: “A business trip doing what?”
Me: “He works in the mice control industry.”
Girl child: “Welllll, he shouldn’t leave Mrs. Cat alone at time like this!” For such a young child she’s got a well developed sense of fatherly duty. Methinks she’s heard her mother say a thing or two to her father about fatherly responsibility and duty. That or she’s a born suffragette.
Me: “Sometimes it can’t be helped. It pays better than the flea circus where he used to work. And I think Mrs. Cat can handle this.”
Boy child, standing up, hands on hips: “Mommies know how to have babies.” (said with an odd air of authority on the topic.)
Me: “True that.”
Girl child: “Boy, won’t Mr. Cat be surprised when he gets home!”
Me: “I’ll say! He’s in for a real surprise.”
We all sat around the cat bed stroking and talking to Mrs. Cat, trying to put her at ease and comfort her. The kids were amazingly sweet and gentle with her.
After about 45 minutes of her growling and licking herself she spasmed a big contraction, yowled and just like that, out plopped the first kitten. Nature kicked in and the confused and scared first time cat mother did what mother cats do. She licked off the sac and chewed off the umbilical cord and ate the placenta.
Okay. Now. For the uninitiated adult this is a disgusting, brutal, disgusting, appalling, disgusting, weird thing to witness. Any part of that process is bound to impress, revolt and shock the human observer.
But there I was with Mrs. Cat looking to me for support and two 2-and-11-month-year-old kids looking to me for explanation.
What surprised me was how calm the kids were. Maybe because they’ve never seen anything like this before and because they’re too young to have a clue as to what just happened. I was sure they’d be all, “Ewwwwww, gross! What’s she doing? What is that and why is she eating it?!!!” But when she licked off the sac and kitten #1 squirmed and kneaded its way to her belly the kids were just all, “Oooooo, it looks like that octopus at the aquarium! Is it because cats eat fish?”
Me: “No, it’s because the kitten is all wet. When it dries off you’ll see all the fur and it will look like a cat. Not an octopus. Good observation, though. It does look like an octopus.”
Boy child: “Is it a boy or a girl?”
Me: “I can’t tell, we’ll have to wait for Mrs. Cat to feel comfortable letting us have a good look at it.”
Girl child, squatting down low and leaning over Mrs. Cat and the new kitten: “Do boy cats have wieners?” Astonishingly, the boy child didn’t giggle at this. Both kids sat there intently looking at me for an answer.
Me: “Yes. Yes they do.”
Girl child: Going in closer to the newborn kitten, “Are they furry wieners?” Again, astonishingly, no giggles.
Me: “Uh, yeah, kind of.”
Girl child: Standing up, clap/rubbing her hands in satisfaction, making the official pronouncement, “That’s a boy,” pointing to the kitten’s back end. I assumed she was confusing the little tail for a, um, wiener, but I got a little closer for a look.
Me: “Oh, no, that’s the kitten’s tail.”
Girl child: “No, silly, there, look,” pointing between the back legs of the kitten. Sure enough, what appeared to be the tiny, um, “boy parts” of the cat were in full view.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Cat was convulsing and spasming and groaning again. Out shot kitten #2 who looked exactly like kitten #1.
Boy child: “Maybe this one’s a girl, twins like us!”
Me: “That’d be cool!” Mrs. Cat grabbed kitten #2, licked the sac off, chewed off the cord and ate the placenta and kitten #2 took its place next to its older brother furrowed deep into Mrs. Cat’s belly.
Boy child: “Mr. Cat really oughtta be here for this.”
Girl child: “It’s not every day a guy has twin babies!”
I try really hard not to anthropomorphize, but I swear, I swear Mrs. Cat shot me a knowing sarcastic look.
The really amazing part of this is that the kids didn’t find the whole sac/umbilical cord chewing/placenta eating part of the whole thing gross or weird. They just watched it all unfold speculating on the whereabouts and feelings of Mr. Cat. I suppose it’s because they’re too young to have a concept of what’s truly gross and what’s not. At this age poop is a subject of much fascination and importance to them, so umbilical cords and placentas? Yeah, not really that gross in comparison.
Mrs. Cat quickly popped out kitten #3. All seemed to be going well and she seemed to be far more confident about the whole thing. Kitten #4, same thing.
The kids were getting bored with it. Kind of like they were looking at their watches muttering under their breath to each other about wrapping it up because they had somewhere they had to be.
There was a lull in the action and Mrs. Cat seemed to be relaxing. I thought, “Show’s over, job done.” The kids resumed their game of Throw Toys into the Couch and I gave Mrs. Cat big bowls of food and water which she downed ravenously. I was feeling all proud of myself for handling the whole thing with such maturity and confidence when Mrs. Cat started yowling again. Only this time it sounded more intense, more pained, more urgent. Oh crimony, not another one! Even I was getting a bit sick of the whole thing and wished Mr. Cat was there to help his wife through this instead of me.
Mrs. Cat seemed anguished. She was licking and biting at herself and pushing her paws into her belly. I know that look. I get that look every 28 days. Cramps. She looks like she has really bad cramps. She looked up at me as if to say, “Help.”
Oh dear. Kittenbirth gone wrong. For the sake of everyone involved we cannot have an “it’s a cruel and violent world” reality check in the form of a kittenbirth gone wrong.
The kids came trotting back, wanting to see what was going on now.
Girl child: “Is there going to be another kitten?!”
Me: “Looks like maybe so.”
Boy child: “Why is Mrs. Cat all twisted up?”
He was right. Mrs. Cat had contorted herself into a really odd position. I attempted to straighten her out thinking maybe her contorted body was causing delivery trouble. In doing so it became obvious kitten #5 was stuck.
Oh crap. Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap.
I was going to have to go in. Crap. Crap. Crap. And me without my kitty forceps. Crap. Crap.
Mrs. Cat was really yowling now. Obviously she was in a lot of pain. Right then. For the sake of women of all species, I had to do it. I had to help Mrs. Cat and this kitten and that meant, you know, pulling it out. I was really afraid the kitten was already dead. It didn’t appear to be moving or pushing its way out. It was just stuck and still.
“Okay kids, I have to help Mrs. Cat, you two go in the other room and draw pictures of the kittens for Mr. Cat so he can see what the kittens looked like when they were born.”
Alrighty then, a new chapter to my life. Trillian: Cat Midwife.
I could see the kitten was not in head first position. I tried to remember what James Herriot did in All Creatures Great and Small. There was always some emergency breech animal birth out on the Dales. He always sorted out the mother and child…but how? What did he do? How did he handle the breech animal births? Think girl, think!!! Oh crap. Crap. Crap. Mrs. Cat why? Why?
Okay, wait that’s not fair. It’s not her fault. I called upon whatever Goddesses of cats and mothers I could think of, Norse, Greek, Hindu, Celtic, Egyptian, Wiccan…you name it, I tried to summon and invoke their help. I was suddenly exceptionally spiritual and well versed in female and cat goddesses. I didn’t realize I knew that much folklore. Huh.
I took a good look at the kitten, reached in there and got the best grip I could on the kitten, closed my eyes, gritted my teeth, said a prayer to the God (yes, really), apologized to Mrs. Cat, prayed again (yes, really) and pulled out the kitten. Mrs. Cat snatched it straight out of my hand and went to work on the sac, umbilical cord and placenta. The kitten didn’t appear to be moving. Oh crap. Crap. Crap. No. Crap. No. Please. No. Mrs. Cat was feverishly licking and biting and licking the kitten, clearly trying to get it to show some sign of life.
Trillian: Cat Midwife to the rescue. I started rubbing what I thought was the kitten’s heart area. Mrs. Cat was working on its face, feverishly licking and biting the little one’s eyes and mouth. We were quite a team, Mrs. Cat and I. She doing her part on the face, me giving heart stimulation massage. I was just about ready to admit defeat and wondering how the heck I would explain it to the kids and what I would do with a dead kitten, when, for the first time in my adult life, a prayer was answered. The kitten started squirming and pawing at its mother and wiggled its way to her belly beside its older siblings.
Mrs. Cat was exhausted. I was exhausted.
The 2-and-11-month-year-old twins, on the other hand, wanted lunch.
I felt a deep kinship with Mrs. Cat. She just went through a huge ordeal but her kids didn’t care about that - they wanted to eat and snuggle up to her. I’d just been through a huge ordeal but the kids I was babysitting didn’t care about that – they wanted lunch. Thankless job, this child rearing business.
After lunch I Pull-upped the kids and got them to take a nap while I did some online cat birthing research. I thought I’d find a ton of cat midwife services but surprisingly, no. I know a lot of fanatical cat people. I know how they are. Ahem. I thought for sure loads of people would be in the business of capitalizing on cat fanatics’ need to spoil and pamper their beloved pet cats during kittenbirth. Apparently there’s either not a market for cat midwifery or it’s a rich untapped source of business potential.
Hmmmm. A possible new career path?
I looked over at Mrs. Cat peacefully licking and sleeping with her kittens. Awwwww. Heck yeah, I want in on the ground floor of this burgeoning field. But then I remembered how, just a few hours earlier, she was anguished and pained and how close we came to losing that kitten. We were lucky. Really, really lucky and maybe, just maybe, God granted me a rare favor, for the children’s sake not mine, I presume. If that had gone badly, if the kitten and/or Mrs. Cat hadn’t survived I’d be online trying to find out what to do with a dead kitten. So, no. Cat Midwifery will have to be left to stronger willed cat lovers.
The kids awoke from their naps and rushed to see the kittens and Mrs. Cat.
Boy child: “Do they have to wear Pull-ups?”
Me: “That’s a good idea but no, Mrs. Cat will take care of that for a few days and then she’ll teach them how to use the litter box.”
Girl child: “I wish we could use the litter box.”
Ermm. Yeah. Um. Uh huh. Okay. Um. Yeah. Alrighty then, who wants to play Barrel of Monkeys?
Yeah! Barrel of Monkeys! Woo hoo!!!
Saturday night I ended up camping out on the floor. Again. And found myself going to check on Mrs. Cat and the kittens at regular intervals. Between the 2-and-11-month-year-olds’ antics and needs and Mrs. Cat and the kittens I was exhausted.
The whole thing was a good exercise for me. I haven’t spent that much alone time with young children since my nieces were little. Not that I don’t appreciate what my friends endure on a daily and nightly basis. I do understand the work and effort it takes to care for children. I really do get it.
But this adventure made me realize a few things. Motherhood is hard, really hard. Just ask Mrs. Cat. Not the physical labor – although that’s a lot of work – I mean the mental work, the worry. Little beings with little brains trying to sort out life and how it works looking to you for guidance…yeah…that’s a lot of work and a lot of stress. It’s really easy to second guess yourself. One situation handled wrong and your child could end up in therapy for years.
Mrs. Cats’ kittens had a lot of strikes against them. A stray cat mother, little more than a kitten herself, abandoned and pregnant in the middle of winter in sub-zero weather, and yet, there they were. Mrs. Cat found a safe, warm place to birth them and they’re all fine. Hopefully the shelter will find them good homes and they’ll grow up to be healthy, happy pet cats. Motherhood triumphed over huge odds.
My friends’ twins are struggling with potty training and frustrated with rules and scared about breathing trees and hate broccoli. That’s all very worrying and stressful in the moment. But I suspect somehow they’re going to grow up and be productive members of society in spite of all that. They’ll get the hang of going to the bathroom and learn to deal with the rest of it. I kind of doubt they’ll end up dead or in jail by age 20. I console myself with that. I don’t think three days in my care could screw them up too badly. (Unless the whole tu-tu thing rears its ugly head when the boy is a teenager.)
Is that the measure of success with parenthood? The kids are alive and not incarcerated. Success.
Getting back to nature, that’s the only measure for Mrs. Cat. Her kittens are alive and safe. The species will continue to evolve. Job done. She’s a successful mother.
I cleaned up the kids, cleaned up the house, fed Mrs. Cat and loaded the kids into the van one last time. Hopped up high on juice boxes and anticipation of seeing their parents and brother we rolled along screaming out Manta Ray and Satisfaction. By the time we got to the airport they were dozing. When I rolled up to the curb for their parents’ pick-up the boy child woke up. “hmmmmm, Mommy,” was all he said, then adjusted himself in his car seat and went back to sleep.
That’s it? “Hmmmm, Mommy?” She’s been gone for three days, he had to endure the legend of the breathing trees, Pull-ups and the birth of kittens in her absence and all the excitement he can muster is, “Hmmmm, Mommy?”
My friends got in the car, the karate kid and I climbed in the back of the van. And off we went, leaving the airport and heading to the train station. The girl child awoke and, without any pre-emption or greetings, said to her parents, “We had to give Aunt Trillian two time outs. She was naughty.”
You might think Mrs. Cat and the miracle of birth would trump my house rule infractions. You might think the fact that I saved them from the clenches of breathing trees in the night might earn a mention. You might think my superior way with grilled cheese would warrant some conversation. But no. First and foremost on her mind was a behavior report.
Up to that point I was kind of thinking, “Hey, maybe they’ll ask me to stay with the kids another weekend…we’re getting along great, now, maybe they’ll want me to stay with them again.” But now with that time out on my record my ability to properly care for the children is called into question.
Hopefully my friends will overlook the infractions and consider me when their nanny isn’t available. Kind of a turn of attitude for me. Not that I didn’t want to stay with their children. The children were never the issue. (Though had I known about the Pull-ups and tu-tu I might have given it more consideration.) It was the fact that staying with the kids meant staying in Generia.
Generia isn’t so bad, I guess. It’s just that I don’t fit in there. I’ve cultivated and embraced an invisible persona in the city. I like that no one notices me. It’s a lonely but painless existence and I like that. Well. I mean. It’s better than the alternative I was living. You know, the life I lived when I was trying to date and mate. I was lonely and pained – rejected and ridiculed and mocked and criticized and dismissed and on and on. Now that I’m officially invisible in the city (unemployment is a huge boost in that effort) I move around stealth, unnoticed. Recently I’ve even had a couple people nearly sit on me on the bus and train or bash into me in the grocery aisle. “Oh, oops, I didn’t see you there…” I’m 5’11” with huge boobs and a pronounced limp. Not bragging, just saying, that if I can become invisible, anyone can. I’ve adapted to living in the city – even if my way of adapting is by becoming invisible, it’s still adapting, still a valid coping technique. The problem is that the invisibility techniques I’ve refined don’t work in Generia. What makes me invisible in the city makes me stand out in Generia. So when I go there I have to either re-tool my invisible shield or subject myself to the comments people make that point out the obvious ways I am different than the inhabitants of Generia.
That’s what I dreaded. Nothing to do with the children.
But other than the run-in with the Stepford ring leader at the preschool, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time outside the house. There was that fateful trip to Target, but I suspect I just looked like a harried (if not inept) mother with two unruly toddlers. Nothing new there – it’s Target in Generia, harried mothers and unruly toddlers are the focus demographic.
So, you know, staying with children in the suburbs wasn’t so bad. And that makes me wonder if that’s how my friends cope. Maybe it really is all about the kids. Maybe the concessions they make in their lives, their lifestyle, are insignificant because they’re focused on the kids. And since they’re there they are doing their best to cultivate and embrace their own form of invisibility shield. Maybe that’s why they all live in the same kinds of houses, wear the same clothes, drive the same cars, style their hair the same, eat the same food, go to the same vacation destinations…they’re indistinct and invisible amongst each other. Which means, at the core, they have the same issues I do: Better to have no one notice you than to stand out and have to deal with being hurt, mocked, ridiculed, embarrassed and a million other things that wear down your self esteem and personal resolve.
And that’s really sad. Sad for me, yes, but even more sad for them, I think. I chose to live this way. The rejection took a serious, serious toll on me. The thing is, though, I’m okay with myself. My invisibility shield is “just” something I wear out in public. I’m still me, I’m still “okay” with who I am. I’m not striving to impress anyone or fit in with anyone. I choose to be invisible. Whereas the invisibility my friends and the other inhabitants of Generia have is a result of trying to fit in and be like everyone else.
One day soon the 2-and-11-month-year-olds are going to take a look around at their friends and want to fit in with them. It’s normal childhood development. Peer acceptance. And that’s great, it’s a good thing, a vital and normal stage in childhood. But what concerns me is that as they look around at their friends they’ll also look around at their parents’ friends and think that being like everyone else is normal adult behavior. The girl child is already tuning into this. She deemed me kooky. She picked up on the fact that even though I’m an adult I’m not like other adults she knows and deals with on a regular basis. So much for my invisible comfort zone. Kids. Pfft.
Sure, she also told me I make better grilled cheese sandwiches than her mother. My grilled cheese sandwiches are a little cavalier, a little, shall we say, kooky, what with the apple sauce and mustard. I was lucky the kids liked and accepted my grilled cheese sandwiches. Other kids wouldn’t. They’d be wary of it, deem it yucky. So either these kids are too young to judge or are, themselves, a little more willing to be kooky than their peers. I haven’t been around a 2-and-11-month-year-old boy who likes to go commando under his sister’s pink tu-tu so I’m not sure if this is a “normal” 2-and-11-month-year-old boy phase or if he's kooky. My hunch tells me it's a normal phase. But I know there are a lot of parents who would deem that behavior “kooky” and even suspect. And that makes me wonder if these willing-to-be-kooky kids trapped in Generia will soon bow to their social modicums and become as rigid and invisible in their generic surroundings and peer group.
The problem is that I can’t decide if that’s sad or not. I’m not sure which way I hope they go but for their sake I'm leaning toward genericism. Life is a heck of a lot easier when you fit in with the people around you. And how could I possibly advocate not caring about convention and peer groups when I’ve spent the last three years trying to become invisible because I can’t fit in or find acceptance (or even just one man and one decent job) and deal with the rejection and misapprehension? My theory, now, is that moving to the suburbs, becoming generic, is Darwinian. It’s a survival of the fittest tactic that ensures continuation of the species. You migrate with the herd or face certain death. I still don’t like it “out there” but I’m less puzzled and more respectful of my friends’ move to Generia. They’re evolving. And clearly I am not. Who’s got it right? The couple with the nice house, three kids, a weekend at Karate-con and money in the bank or the single woman past her sell-by date who's unemployed and considering a career in cat midwifery?