Painted Smiles and Iron Guts

25 08 2009

This morning, my classroom is buzzing with the taptaptaptapping of students’ fingers on keyboards. I thought I would miss the sound of pencils and pens scraping against paper, scratching out ideas and shaping words. The tapping has much more energy–it’s a sound you can almost ride, and I do. And I almost feel like I’m cheating in a way, drafting off these young minds punching keys with the conviction that they have something to say that matters.

Anyways, this morning we’re tapping about objects. The kids brought in autobiography boxes, which they construct from pictures, drawings, artifacts, newspaper clippings. One student brought in a box that lights up, another chose to adorn his with a plastic mound of spaghetti. They’re all shapes and sizes and they contain all kinds of magical talismans: wands, Eiffel Towers, rubber duckies, pom-poms, dog collars, movie tickets, pigs made out of yarn. So the prompt was to write about an object–tell the stories or ideas that your chosen object represents.

My object is a gummy worm. Last week, when I went to pick up Ruthie, she came charging towards me with a strange, lopsided gallop. Usually, I get knocked over with a hug, especially on days when she’s particularly good, but on this particular day, she ran towards me and took a knee. And then, my little buddy reached into her shoe, where she’d been “keeping it all day so it’d be safe.” There, in the toe of her baby blue croc, she had been hiding a plastic baggie containing a single yellow and red gummy worm. She proudly handed me the baggie, proclaiming, “I sabed it for you, Mommy! All day I sabed it for you! It’s a treat for you for being so good.” Her little eyebrows arched with the seriousness of what she was saying. Of course, I had no choice but to take the treat from her with a wide, affirming smile. “Go ahead, Mom, you can eat it.” So I did. It was very warm. I didn’t really think much about it until the teacher told me, with the worm half-eaten in my watery mouth, that she’d had it in her shoe since they received goody bags that morning. Mid-chew I realized that I was consuming a worm which had endured the playrgound, the toddlers’ bathroom, naptime, lunch, and all of the super-yuck places that toddlers put their feet. Then, having made the decision to not-think about where this worm had been, I swallowed. Hard. With my eyes shut.”Thank you, baby. That was, er, delicious.”

So much of parenting requires an iron gut and a painted smile. There are so many things you have to do has a parent: maintain a calm and even voice, place your screaming-squirming-kicking-thrashing toddler on her “angry spot” with a stoic face and a gentle grip, create a dinner out of nothing at the end of a 12-hour day. Being an adult is not so glamorous or powerful-feeling as I’d always thought it would be. I never thought I’d find myself standing, in a dress and heels, consuming candy from my child’s shoe.

Faking It

11 12 2007



Every year, my brother gets some variation of this present from my grandparents: Sports Illustrated subscription and individually wrapped free presents that come with it (i.e. clock radio, sweatshirt, t-shirt, pens, etc. with SI logo). I don’t think he really caught on until around the 7th grade or so. Now, when I see him open the gift from “Santa Kloss” (my mother’s maiden name), I have to look away. Philip will look off to the side real quick, open the gift, release a sound akin to that of a very petite dog, say “hu-huuuh, thanks,” with an especially deep voice, and then cough some as he gets up to hug Granpa who says something like, “Well, I know how much ya like yur sports,” with a proud smile at having accomplished the perfect gift. I have heard stories about “worse Christmas gifts ever” that are more singular than this, but the sight of a rather burly, rough-looking frat guy in a pink polo and pajama pants with a likely hangover and greasy hair acting like he’s excited about a black Sports Illustrated sweat shirt makes me lose it every time. He is such a classy faker.

This year’s holiday season has me thinking about how much we have to fake it this time of year. We grimace through close-talking aunts and bad casseroles, chit-chating with folks that we might see once a year (for some, that is rather too much), listening to Christmas music and wondering how hard we can hit the sauce without anyone really noticing. Once you have kids, it’s even worse. Everyone wants you to see “so-and-so” because “they never get to see her!” I’ve thought about just sending Ruthie by herself to some of these functions, since no one really cares if the parents come or not. Inviting the parents is a courtesy you pay them for having the child. What people ought to do is give you the night of instead of the complimentary invite. Ah, well. Maybe next year.
In Alabama, it is 78 degrees. I can walk outside right now, at dark, with a t-shirt on and it feels fine. Unfortunately, I’m fresh out of my holiday tank tops.