Sunday, March 29, 2015

Just eat the banana

Photo courtesy of Richard North/Flickr

I need a victory.

Something I can hoist myself up on and stand atop arms waving wildly like Rocky on the art museum steps.

Although preferably, no stairs. I don't have the stamina for stairs. But I would like the option to be victorious in a sweatsuit. I'm so tired of being cold.

At this point, I won't even be all that choosey about what that win entails. 

Last week at the grocery store, the cashier offered Lily a sticker. 

"I should probably get one for my sister, too," she told the woman after graciously accepting one for herself. My heart swelled. Granted, it was a small gesture. But a huge one for someone who spent a better part of the day locking her sister out of their shared bedroom, pulling her around by her jacket hood or shirt collar and generally asserting her dominance at every opportunity. 

But that small triumph has fizzled in the wake of their daily bickering.

A pair of eaglets hatched in a nest near where I live. It's unsettling to watch these small fuzzy bubbleheads tussle with each other over food -- barely able to hold up their heads and bodies -- but willing to kill the other for survival.  

Thank god I didn't birth raptors (though Lily is known among family and friends for her birdlike strut and propensity for squawking), but it is kind of creepy how eaglet-like they are toward one another.

Today was one of those days when the physiological affects of their unending demands and irrepressible lunacy was especially noticeable. I mean I could actually feel the blood in my body start to heat up and rise into my face while my teeth ground into each other and my muscles tensed.

For example, a conversation around 5 p.m.:

Jovie: Mom, I'm hungry.

Me: OK, well, we're eating dinner soon.

Jovie: I just want a banana.

Me: OK, you can have a banana. Just a minute.

Jovie: But I want the banana right now.

(Begins pushing chair to counter)

Me: OK, OK, I'll get it. 

(Hand Jovie a banana)

Jovie (after removing the peel and taking a small bite): Mom, I don't want this banana.

Me: But you just asked for the banana. You need to eat the banana.

Jovie: NO! I don't like it.

Me: Fine. Leave it on the counter.

Lily: Mom, I'm hungry.

Me: OK, well, we're eating dinner soon. 

Lily: I want a banana.

Me: OK, you can have Jovie's banana. It's on the counter. 

(Lily takes banana, commences eating it.)

Jovie: Mom! I want my BANANA!!

Me: But you just said you didn't want your banana. And now Lily is eating it.

Jovie: But I just want my banana. Right now.

Me (sighing): Fine. Here's another banana.

And here's the thing. I know they're little. Jovie's closing in on 3 and Lily's 4 and a 1/2 and I'm the 33-year-old asshole who just wants them to eat the goddamn banana and shut up about it already. Louis CK has already joked to great effect about this exact issue


"It's always your fault with a 3 year old. Always. Because they are what they are. They can't help it. Just tape the windows. It's a fucking hurricane." 

I can forgive Jovie for her belligerence and erratic behavior. Mostly. In the moment, I just want her to do the thing I need her to do without it involving a five-hour negotiation about why we have to put socks on with her shoes or why we have to brush her teeth and remove the crusted on coat of cream cheese and chocolate milk or why we have to take a nap (because if you don't take a nap, mommy might spend the rest of the afternoon curled up in the closet with the remaining cat, that's why). But I know that this is just another phase. 

It's harder sometimes with Lily though. Probably because she's given me glimpses that she can be a reasonable human person. Like, I'll ask to put her dishes in the sink and feed the dog and she'll do both tasks cheerfully and speedily without any resistance. And I'll start to think (foolishly) "Wow. She really is maturing." But then I'll suggest that it might be time for her to start wiping her own bottom after going No. 2 -- something she was perfectly fine handling before she started preschool -- and she'll erupt into torrential tears and frantic screaming, 'I can't! I can't! I CAN'T DO IT!!! WIPE ME MOM!!!" And I will, while simultaneously swallowing the odd mixture of rage and laughter that comes from watching a small child throw a tantrum while sitting, pants around her ankles, on the toilet. 

Reading that back right now, I'm even more convinced I'm an asshole. No pun intended.

This afternoon, I took the crew on a walk, thinking the fresh air would do everyone some good. By the third leg of the walk, both girls were out of the wagon, plodding along at a snail's pace. Which would've been fine if the dog hadn't been dragging me and the wagon didn't keep bumping into the backs of their feet. Neither wanted to get back in the wagon. Then Jovie would want someone to hold her hand, which I couldn't do because I had to pull the wagon and hold onto the dog, so I asked Lily if she'd hold her hand. Only Lily would use the opportunity to sprint down the sidewalk, which caused Jovie to fall down. Then Lily would plop down in the grass and not want to move. And Jovie would still be sad that there was no hand to hold. We inched along thusly. By the time we got to the park I was done. Lily, of course, wanted to go to the playground. In a rare showing of support for my sanity, I said no. This caused Lily to scream in agony. 

What a world! What a world. What a horrible, horrible mom! 

I just couldn't. I told her I didn't have the patience for the park today. I didn't tell her that what I wanted to do was go home and lock myself in the bedroom with a bottle of wine and the remainder of season one of "Big Love." 

We can't always get what we want.

She whimpered in the wagon the rest of the way home.

This is the part of motherhood that I hate. It's not the kids and all their shenanigans. They're just kids. They're my kids even. I love them. 

It's that I feel like I'm losing my sense of humor. Like I've forgotten how to go with the flow and instead am always swimming upstream. Everybody said being a parent is the hardest job you'll ever have. But (probably for good reason) nobody ever really goes into the details (or maybe I've just tuned them out). 

I think it's this. All the little silly nothings piling up while you shed layer after layer of the person you thought you were. 

On better days -- the not today days -- I'm grateful for the metamorphosis. I'm a better person for the girls. But so much of it hurts. Makes me feel ugly.

"You know what mom," Lily told me this afternoon. "You're driving me crazy."

Ditto kid.

Side note: In the midst of all the grass is greener-ing I was doing on Facebook, I spotted this great column. A great read for stressed out moms (which I suppose is redundant.)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Remembering Farmer Jim, esquire

Last August I received one of the hardest writing assignments of my short and rather undistinguished career. 

In May, my friend Jim was diagnosed with acute myeloid Leukemia. By August, it seemed he was having more bad days than good. His wife, Kristi, asked me if I could write the obit when the time came. 

"Of course." I told her. Because ... because, of course.

Then I promptly went about life. And Jim and Kristi went about their lives, though now with more intention. They went to more movies, spent long hours together binge-watching TV, visited New York City and saw shows and went sailing in Annapolis. 

"You should just write it now so it's ready when the time comes," people told me. But I couldn't. Because ... because, how?


(Here's a video we put together to celebrate Jim's birthday in February)

Jim and Kristi were among my first friends in York. In fact, I moved to York largely because it would give me the opportunity to live on their beautiful farm. 

Kristi is this sparking bolt of lightening, all energy and ideas and action. She's forever erecting and dismantling and planning and talking and laughing. And Jim's the clearing clouds after the storm, the calm the serenity the reflection. I don't ever think I've met a more balanced pair.

When describing my unique landlords to friends, I always characterized Jim as Farmer Hoggett from "Babe." That strong, steady, knowing voice in the midst of all the chaos. And on the farm, there's always chaos. Horses at your back door, turkeys chasing cars, dogs digging for varmints.

He handled all of it in step, with the eye of a poet. As I was scrolling through his Facebook page a while back, I found this:
"Last night, under a clear sky and a full harvest moon, our Iberia, Duchess of Blue Hound and milk cow extraordinaire, passed away suddenly, joining the other radiant stars and leaving us with glorious memories and a two-week old calf. Today was sadness and triumph, as Bibby the calf learned to drink from a bottle. Now to bed."
Have you ever read a nicer tribute to a cow?

Anyone who's been to Blue Hound can't help but come back. There's a magic to the place, created in no small part by Kristi's kinetic vision and Jim's graciousness. All are welcome, all are family. Just be kind to our animals and the land. 

Farmer Jim helps the girls
get a cow-back ride on Iberia.
Anytime I visited and Jim was around I'd be greeted with a huge smile and those sparkling blue eyes. Life was always good, according to Jim. Even when knee deep in mud with a sick cow, a wayward dog, or a fox sneaking in the chicken coop. 

He never failed to point out the great wealth that surrounded us if we just paused for a second.

Months ago while on the farm, I was down by the pond picking flowers for wedding bouquets. The night was serene, the sun just starting to set. Jim, who was often tired by then, wandered down the hill from the house. "Look between those bushes," he told me, seemingly out of nowhere. So I did, just in time to see a flock of docks landing on the water. The only sound you could hear was the whisper of their wings and the splash of the water. 

It was such a small, perfect moment. A gift.

I got a call Wednesday morning, Jim was gone. I knew even before I picked up the phone I think. Just that strange feeling you get. 

I guess you can't procrastinate forever. 

Here's what I wrote about Jim. It doesn't feel enough. Doesn't convey how highly I regard him and how much we'll all miss him. But I'm guessing no matter what I wrote, Jim would be encouraging. That's just the sort of person he was.

Here goes:

James “Jim” Frederick Maher died peacefully in the arms of his beloved wife, Kristi, at their home in Lewisberry on Thursday, March 12, 2015.

While, last year’s leukemia diagnosis wasn’t the best news, true to his optimism, sense of humor and unyielding pragmatism, Jim committed to living every dang day the best he could, right up to very the end. 

The product of a North-South marriage (his father, John Sloat Fassett Maher hailed from upstate New York while his mother, Eleanor Poindexter Maher was from Mississippi), Jim was born Feb. 2, 1949 in Hartford, Conn. His older brother Buck still hasn’t forgiven Jim for supplanting him as the baby of the family, though Jim would later get a taste of his own medicine when their little brother Tom arrived.

His childhood was split between Hartford, Mississippi and Tennessee, where he attended Christian Brothers High School in Memphis. 

Jim had a propensity for unique hobbies, which started early in life when he collected meat-eating plants as a kid. Throughout his life he was an actor, bathtub vintner, radio announcer, sailor, historian, poet, fisherman, cheese maker, farmer and yogi. 

A reader and a romantic, Jim’s love for J.R.R. Tolkien took him to Middle Earth itself (or at least on location in New Zealand where the movies were filmed). This trip was a bit more satisfying than his other literature-inspired adventure – a train ride across Europe on the Orient Express, which proved far more rustic and rather less elegant and mysterious than he’d envisioned.

While attending Duke University, he ran the college radio station, where he was known for playing good music (not that Top 40 stuff) and for creating a series of fake ads for Mr. Fix-It, a humble handyman who could tackle anything from open-heart surgery to disarming a nuclear bomb. 

His stage career peaked in college when he played Sir Toby Belch in “Twelfth Night.” It was widely rumored that he got the part because of his ability to belch on cue. Later in life he took on the roles of Santa Claus and William Penn to entertain and educate children.

Jim didn’t have much money while attending law school at Temple University, so he had to be creative with gift giving. He once gave his best friend Chris the deed to the Island of Manhattan as a birthday present. Said he got it off an old Indian, whom he figured had pretty good claims to the land; Chris’s wife, Stefani, got the deed for Western Europe. His friends  and family have always appreciated his generosity with laughter. 

Through his career, Jim practiced law in New York City, Wilmington, Del. And Harrisburg, Pa. 

It was in Delaware that he met and married Kristi, who, after seeing Jim run, confessed to have taken up jogging in order to land a date with him. Her persistence paid off (though she hung up her jogging shoes) and the couple wed in New Castle in 1991. This wasn’t the last time Jim found himself roped into one of Kristi’s schemes; her next big idea was moving to Pennsylvania to buy a 72-acre farm. Of course, Jim was happy to follow along, becoming one of those rare breeds of lawyer-farmers you never hear about. His sister Julie says he never wanted a routine sort of life anyway.

In 2013 he retired from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, trading in his suit and trademark bow ties for boots and a cowboy hat. At Blue Hound Farm he birthed calves and kids (goat kids, that is), tucked in turkeys, milked, mowed, mucked, and on occasion, corralled a wayward pig or two. 

There are numerous adjectives that apply to Jim – kind, patient, gracious, sweet, wise and sharp-witted are among them. Maybe the best description for him is gentleman, for he was one in ever sense of the word.

He is survived by his wife of 23 years, Kristi Dimond Maher; sister, Julianne Maher of Pittsburgh; brothers Michael Maher and his wife, Beatrice, of Holland, Mich.; Poindexter “Buck” Maher of New Zealand; and Oren “Thomas” Maher of Knoxville, Tenn.; uncle Theodore Davis of Virginia Beach, Va.; numerous nieces and nephews including Susan (his long-time roller coaster buddy) and Martin Maher of Pittsburgh; and the charter members of Birdy West: Chris, Scott and Warren. 

“It is a great mistake not to stop and enjoy the spring that surrounds us ever so briefly,” Jim wrote last April. He always had a way with words. He appreciated the quiet things – the warm sun on his face, a flock of ducks landing on the pond at dusk and a walk down the lane with his dogs – and he never failed to remind others to pause and admire the wonderful world around them. It is some comfort, then, that each night when we pause to look up at the twinkling stars, we’ll see Jim’s smiling eyes shining back down on us.

Jim donated his body to Hershey Medical Center. Plans for a life celebration are pending. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to www.pawoundedwarriors.org.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Why I want my kids to talk to strangers

Photo courtesy of Rachel Elaine/Flickr
The other day Brad took the girls to the pet store. While they were checking out various rodents, a woman came up behind them and began talking to the girls about what the rats.

"Don't talk to strangers," Lily whispered into her sister's ear. Neither acknowledged the woman.

Brad tells me this story and we giggle. I also roll my eyes.

Ever since we read "The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers" Lily is forever correcting me on my own devil-may-care attitude about people I don't know.

She doesn't like that I strike up conversations with people in checkout lines, parks and waiting rooms. She wonders why I say hi to people while out on walks or wave at the cars we pass in my neighborhood. 

"Who are you saying hi to, Mom?" she'll ask. 

"Just one of our neighbors," I respond.

"Who is it? What's their name?" she presses.

"I don't know." I admit.

"You shouldn't talk to strangers, Mom."

I sigh. She's fickle about rules. Like, she'll make allowances for hitting her sister ("But she said she wanted to play dollhouse with me and I just don't want her to play dollhouse with me!") or jumping on the couch ("I'm just dancing!") or splashing water out of the bathtub ("But Mom, Becky the turtle just needed to dive down really fast!"), but if she spots the smallest infraction on the stranger front, she's cuffing me faster than Lennie Briscoe can make a bad joke. 

"Looks like her mother never told her not to talk to strangers," he'd tell Det. Green while they stand over my body, which is lying in aisle nine of the grocery store. (In this episode, I've been canned to death with tomato soup by an angry 18 month old who'd finally cracked under the pressure of being told to, "say hi to the nice lady" one too many times).

Dun Dun!

Where were we?


Oh yes, Lily's fear of strangers. See, I want Lily to talk to strangers. 

I feel like I sound naive or idiotic or controversial for saying that. 

But I do.

I want her to say hi to people. To wave and be friendly. 

I tell her this. "Lily, it's OK to say hi to people when you're with me."

She's skeptical. 

Listen, I don't want to her to be chatting up strangers when I'm not around. I obviously, don't want her to take things from strangers or go anywhere with them. I know she's only 4. Maybe my expectations are too high. 

I tell her she doesn't have to have conversations with anyone, especially if she feels uncomfortable, but it's nice to say, "hello." I want to respect her feelings and intuition, while also fostering her sense of community. 

As I bemoan the state of the world -- all the hatred and misunderstanding -- I've come to realize one of the most important things I can do is to raise kind, empathetic children. This starts in our house as they battle over who gets sit in the pink chair. It starts in our neighborhood as we spend time getting to know our neighbors. And it starts in the grocery store, at the library and at the park when we see strangers and say, hello.

I know it's a small thing. Sometimes that's all a mom can tackle. OK most of the time.

So I celebrated yesterday when I read this column in the Washington Post. I'm not alone!

In it author Tracy Cutchlow starts by writing about recent stories of people calling 911 on parents who are allowing their older children a little independence. She suggests that rather than rushing to call CPS, we start having each other's back. Instead of saying "gotcha" to parents we think are falling short, we look out for their kids. This isn't about ignoring obvious signs of negligence or abuse.  It's about acknowledging that sometimes parenthood is chaotic and overwhelming and that there are a billion different perspectives on raising healthy, well-adjusted children.

Cutchlow offers suggestions for how we can reconstruct the village in which we raise our children.

That starts in our neighborhoods. Talking to other parents when we pick our kids up from school. Attending events in the community. Talking to the people we live near. Teaching our kids that if they're ever alone or scared, they can seek out another woman with children for help. And (my personal favorite) walking more so we can see our neighbors. 

I was reminded of how wonderful it is to have great neighbors this week. Winter Suckfest has put everyone in hibernation mode, but there's nothing like a good snowstorm to bring people out of their houses. 

Yesterday, our neighborhood gave the girls a couple of playmates. It gave me someone to enjoy a cup of coffee with. I exchanged recipes with my neighbor across the street, who also gave the girls a couple of stuffed animals she was trying to find new homes for. I shoveled the driveway, but another neighbor used a borrowed snowblower to clear where we'd been plowed in. 

We are lucky. But I attribute part of that luck to sitting on my front porch and saying "Hello."

We are not little islands in our houses. In our cars. At our desks. In lines or waiting rooms. 

We need each other. And it's better when we have each other's backs.

This is why I want my kids to talk to strangers.