Monday, January 28, 2013

The Days These Days: Four and a Half

Another year, another blog post. How do I maintain this punishing schedule of constant updates? Yes. Well. Hello, there.

I realized the other day, after wondering to myself what had happened to my blog, that parenting used to be physically grueling. It's manual labor, caring for infants and toddlers, and so much of what you do is repetitive, exhausting, unrelenting, and tedious. There's profound sweetness and love in there too, of course, but it doesn't require that much of the talky/write-y parts of the brain. It's about half sheer physical work and half heady, all-consuming love. While I was doing that kind of parenting, my verbal brain was looking for an outlet. My dear stalwart husband got all the paranoid hypothetical questions about child development (or lack thereof), my cadre of mom-friends got all the commiserating about input and output (ahem), but I had all these sentences and paragraphs growing up in my brain that had nowhere else to go. When I sat down to write in those days, it was like turning on a tap. The water pressure was there, waiting. Or maybe it was more like weeding a garden. It was ready to be picked, to be yanked out and bagged up, to be said and spelled and written.

Parenting a four year old, though, exercises every bit of my verbal brain. Life is conversation, conjecture, evaluation, and an endless series of what-ifs. At the end of the day, when everyone but me is sleeping, what I most want is to Not Talk. To finally stop expressing myself. To absorb a little frivolous information from the internet, to read a tiny little bit of some neglected novel, to drink a whole cup of tea while it's still hot, and then to go to sleep. This is not a recipe for frequent blog updates.

So, in the interests of better-late-than-never, or maybe better-done-than-perfect, here's where we are these days.

4:00 The Dada of the House gets up and goes upstairs to his office. He does this so that he can get some work done at an hour when no one will call him, no one will have a dentist appointment, no client will have a crisis, and no one will need any forts built out of the couch cushions. He likes it, he says, and it works out really well. The hardest part, apparently, is going to bed early enough. The second hardest part is getting up at four AM. Other than that, it's great. I sleep through all this quite soundly.

5:15 Cleo wakes up. She has been instructed to snuggle with her guys (large rabbit, small rabbit, clown, giraffe, fox, turtle), close her eyes, and try to get back to sleep. This usually works.

5:45 Cleo wakes up again and plays quietly until it's officially morning at 6:30. Today it was explained to her that "playing quietly" (already established: not knocking down block towers or jumping off the bed) should not include a jaunty version of London Bridge is Falling Down over and over for forty minutes. The gleeful phrase "take the key and lock 'im up" is now seared into my subconscious. That will be what they find me humming in my wheelchair in the nursing home.

6:30 Cleo and Dada head downstairs for breakfast-- it's usually rice and eggs, oatmeal, or homemade granola these days. After a few rounds of domestic diplomacy, it was determined that he would handle breakfast, pack a school lunch when necessary, and generally do all AM feeding and cleaning while I would sleep in and stumble out of bed in time to heave myself and Cleo into the car for the trip to preschool. In exchange for this, I do both drop-off and pick-up every school day. We arrived at this arrangement after we realized that my idea of hell was packing school lunches twice a week and his idea of hell was driving to school and back, ever. A sweet deal for everyone, I think. But these things are always up for negotiation. Next year, School Bus. Gasp.

7:40 I get out of bed, dress with at least one eye open, and then we head to the car. Cleo runs laps around the car while I unlock my door, poke the main unlock button, close my door, and open her door. Between my slowness and her fleetness of foot, she generally manages three or four laps. She's been up for two hours. I've been up for two minutes. During the drive, we discuss traffic laws, whether or not anyone around us is speeding, which intersections are tricky intersections, the weather forecast, the chances they will play outside at school, whether today is Library, Music or Gym, and the state of the sky as we drive over the bridge. We often agree that it is beautiful.

8:00 We arrive at preschool along with everyone else, a small, dusty hatchback in a herd of glossy, muscular SUVs. I forfeit the game of slow-motion parking lot rugby, and park on the street. We walk in, and it melts my mother heart that Cleo still chooses to hold my hand and walk with me, rather than running ahead. She stows her gear (snow pants, boots, library book, lunch, sweater) and gallops off to play. Her world this year is more gendered than she's been used to, with The Girls and The Boys really dividing themselves into little gangs. We hear a few tiny little bits about how she's navigating this. "Cleo's the only girl who will play Star Wars!" and "Cleo's the funniest person I know!" and "I hate girls. Except Cleo." All quotes from boys in her class, reported by their parents. She's also starting to get more interested in clothes and "beautiful" things (where beautiful=pink or purple or embellished with flowers), but it's clear that she's investigating that almost anthropologically. If left to her own devices, she will pick very colorful clothes and toys, with no thought to matching or conventional girliness. When she's tuning in to other people and social environments, she will request or admire pink/purple/sparkly things. It's hard to know how to support both her individuality and her very human desire to fit in with what she sees around her. My main strategy is to not take her shopping with me if possible, so that I can buy colorful, fun clothes for her that don't strictly adhere to the conventional feminine aesthetic, and she can weigh in on what she wants to wear from those choices. And the less "Daddy's Little Princess" clothing she sees, the better. Oof. It's only eight AM, and we're already into gender roles and aesthetics.

Better done than perfect did I say? I'm going to wrap this up so it doesn't linger in "Drafts" for six months.

1:00 School Pick Up, come home, see Dada, snack.

2:00 Snack, a little playing, naptime. Yes! She is still napping. At an age when almost all of her age-mates have stopped napping, she still totally zonks out for a solid hour or two in the middle of the day. Occasionally I gripe about how this cramps our style socially, but Cleo's beloved babysitter, who has her finger on the pulse of four year olds across the city, advised that we keep it up as long as possible. Her tales of afternoon woe and malfeasance among the napless were sobering. So, yes, Cleo still naps. We will wean her off of it right before kindergarten next fall, if necessary.

5:00 I get home, Cleo's dear Dada goes back to his office to complete his fourteen hour workday (with "breaks" for meals and childcare). Man, I'm impressed with that guy. He always responds to my statements to that effect by saying that he's only trying to be the man I deserve. He's overshooting the mark by quite a bit, I think. Cleo and I have an hour and a half to make dinner, play, read books, and possibly enter into video negotiations. Two smiley faces on the chart equals two 12-minute episodes of Busytown Mysteries. The latest development: cleaning up the whole living room (toy central) completely independently without being asked earns an unprecedented three smiley faces.

6:30 Dinner. Cleo remains a good eater, especially if I've been a hardass and not let her snack on demand in the hour before we sit down. For support, I channel my dear grandmother, who would sweetly tell her four daughters that of course they could have a snack before dinner-- there are some lovely celery and carrot sticks all ready in the fridge. In Cleo's case, I give her a choice of apple slices or carrot sticks, which is usually met with a grumpy, "I changed my mind. I don't want a snack" and a little stomping, before she forgets why she was grumpy and goes back to skipping.

7:30 Bedtime routine: Dada brushes teeth, then I step in for pajamas, story, song, and negotiations. These usually end by 8:15 at the latest, and she chats and sings to herself for a little while before nodding off. She's been in a twin bed for a while now, and is all done with night time diapers, accidents, falling out of bed, and pacifiers (cold turkey, with notice, on her fourth birthday). The only thing that gets us up at night anymore is the very occasional bloody nose or throw up, and that could happen to anyone. It seemed to take forever while we were living through it, but now it feels like middle-of-the-night parenting was just another phase we got through.

10:50 (right now) Holy moley. It is late. Good night.