Don’t You Hate it When You Pee on Your Hand?

Don’t look at me like that!

You know what I’m talking about. All of us girls have done it. We’ve just gone to the bathroom, we’re wrapping things up, and something happens. Something startles us and suddenly we realize that we weren’t quite done with the job we set out to do. There’s no shame.

This exact thing happened to me a few days ago. I was in my bathroom, finishing my business when I heard Zaffron scream. The kind of scream that makes a mother freeze, just for a moment, because the quality of the scream has an edge that puts it past typical (the shriek of a child discovering that the cat pooped in her bed AGAIN) and more toward terrible (the wail of a child that’s been hurt).

This scream was smack dab in the middle of the two and my body clenched and I peed on my hand. Then she started yelling for me and I could hear her running toward the bathroom. I  did my best to tidy up and rushed out to meet her. She was sobbing and I scooped her into my arms and pushed her face into my neck.

“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“I… I… I fell and I hit my head on the closet door.” She was sobbing.

“Oh, sweetie, show me where it hurts.”

“It… it… it… hurts here,” she said, pointing to a spot on the side of her head. Her sniveling broke my heart and I hugged her close.

I felt her head. It was it’s regular shape. No bump, no swelling.

I tried to make her smile. “Oh baby, Mommy was in the bathroom when I heard you scream. I got so scared I peed on myself! I think you’re going to be okay. Should we get you some ice just in case?”

“Yes, please. I think that ice is a good… wait!” She pushed away from me and looked me straight in the eye. Her sniffles vanished. “Did you wash your hands?”


You Gotta Respect the Whiners

This is my mom. Posing with Russell (on the left) and my brother-in-law, Leo. She raised a complainer (and two other daughters). I’m raising whiners.

My mother used to say that I was never happy unless I was complaining.  As a kid, I never understood what she was talking about. How could anyone think that my astute commentary on the current state of affairs, delivered with just the right dramatic effect for optimal communication, was complaining?

Flash forward 35 years later. With two daughters of my own, ages five and seven, I get it.

Here’s what’s getting to me lately: Whining.

Dramatic whining. Whining that covers multiple octaves and decibels. It’s maddening. It makes me want to pull my hair out. And it has my utmost respect.

These are my whiners. Mgazi and Zaffron. Of course, they are not whining at this particular moment, but just give it a minute.

Before I had children of my own, I used to watch my friends crumble under the pressure brought on by their own whining children. Normally intelligent, sophisticated people, crushed under the weight of another day of the repeated moans and groans of their children, were reduced to whining themselves in a pitiful attempt at discipline.  I’ll never forget the high-pitched, drawn-out cry of my girlfriend, Elizabeth, as she tried in vain to scold her daughter, Sienna, after a prolonged bout of whining. “Sienna, would you pleeee-eeee-eeee-se, just SHUT UP?”

Elizabeth was whining. And I tsk tsked at her weakness.

But, seven years later, I find myself shamefully doing the same damn thing.  In top whining form, my girls can have me shakily reaching for a bottle of merlot by 8:30 a.m. on any given Saturday. Whining leads to wining.

Which is why whining has my respect. It’s a powerful tool, Wielded correctly, it can bring an otherwise strong, self-assured adult to their knees. Pit a small scrawny four-year old against a six-foot tall, confident dad… no competition is most areas of conflict. Dad can and should win every time. But if that four-year old has a strong desire for what he or she wants, and an iota of sense, he or she will start whining. Game over.  If dad has had a long day, or maybe is lacking sleep, so sad — poor dad. He never stood a chance.

I think it’s called the Mother’s Curse. When your mother wishes upon you a child that is exactly like you, so that you may suffer as she did. Well, I’ve been cursed. I’m guessing many of us have. But I will never admit that to my mother. I won’t give her the satisfaction.

Strategically Ignoring My Children Since 2005…

It occurs to me that both of my girls, Mgazi, age 5 and Zaffron, age 7, ask me “why” multiple times a day. What I want to know is this:

Do I really have to answer?

I’ve been giving the whole matter some thought and I realize that my children’s questions usually fall under one of three categories.

Category 1: Technical questions. These are the ones that often stump me. “Why does ice melt?” Usually these questions are asked in the car, thereby thwarting a quick Google search. So, I answer the technical questions the same way each and every time without fail. “You know what, honey, that is a great question for your father.” Done.

Category 2: Abstract questions. “Why is the color orange called the color orange?” I answer abstract questions by throwing the question back at the inquiring child as though I think it’s important for her to come up with the answer on her own. “Hmmm… why do YOU think the color orange is called the color orange?” Of course, I’ve done this so many times that the children see through my ruse. After a typical toss-back, the child will reply, “I have no idea, Mom. That’s why I asked YOU!” There is a sigh and then a grumpy and defeated, “forget it.” The child is frustrated and I do feel a little guilty… for about 15 seconds.

Category 3: Must-Know questions. I look at questions from categories 1 and 2 as questions born from curiosity. If the child doesn’t get an answer, and let’s face it, she usually doesn’t if the question is posed to me, life will go on. Her education or mood may be slightly impacted but I’m pretty confident that there is no lasting damage. But Must-Know questions are a different matter altogether. These are the questions that just might play a role in helping my child “figure out” life. The ones where my answers or lack-thereof could influence how my kid views the world. I struggle to answer these questions. Mightily.

“Why does that little girl on the street not have a house?” or “Why does that person’s face not look pretty?” or “Why can’t you sing in a band if you’re dead?” The Must-Know questions always make me a little sad. Because I know that hard as I try, I won’t be able to give an adequate enough answer. “The little girl on the street doesn’t live in a house because her parents cannot afford to pay rent,” I’ll say. A second “why?” invariably comes back to me. “Well, it’s expensive to have a home, and some people don’t have jobs that pay enough to cover the costs of everything they need.” Pause. “Why?” It goes on and on. It’s heartbreaking. I can explain the simple economics or science but I don’t have a complete understanding of why the world is the way it is. It just is.

So, back to my original question. Do I have to answer each and every time my kid asks a question? Heck no. Depending on the circumstances, I’m perfectly happy to ignore, pass off, or half-answer a curiosity question. It’s a survival technique.

But the Must-Knows… yes. I have to do my best to answer those — especially when they center on values or ethics. Because if I don’t take the time to guide my children on the things that matter, I risk that they might ask someone else.

Mommy, Why Did You Crush My Fingers in the Car Door?

This photo has nothing to do with this post

So, I accidentally shut the car door on Mgazi’s fingers the other day. I am POSITIVE that she was more scared than hurt. Regardless, there was a lot of crying, comforting, and apologizing. She was crying. I was apologizing. She finally calmed down and said, “Mommy, I just don’t understand WHY you would do that to me.”

I said, “I didn’t do it on purpose, Gaz. It was an accident. I’m sorry.”

She replied, “It’s okay. I just wish I knew why you did that thing.”

“Mgazi, I just told you. It was an accident. I didn’t mean to shut the door on your hand. I am very very sorry.”

“It’s okay, Mommy. I love you.” She paused. “Can you just tell me why?”

I pretended not to hear her, turned up the car radio. Why wouldn’t she just let it go? Did she want a bigger/better apology? Was she angling for a “Mommy-is-feeling-guilty” ice cream cone? Or did she truly want to know WHY I slammed her fingers in the car door?

Hey Gaz, pick the answer that best fits the question.

A) Because Mommy is rushed and not paying attention.

B) Because you didn’t move your fingers fast enough.

C) Because Mommy has a little pent-up aggression quietly bubbling under her seemingly smooth surface… kidding!

The answer is actually D.

D) Because she did. She did and she’s really sorry.


I Kill Innocent Creatures — And Then They Cry.

The 53 stairs leading up to my house are a minefield of slimy, disgusting slugs. Every morning, without fail, I have to dodge, hop, skip, and weave my way down the stairs in an attempt to not step on one of the suckers. I always make sure I have some extra change on hand, though, just in case.  If I squish a slug, I can assure you I will not be the one who scrapes it off the bottom of my Cole Haan’s. Mgazi will do it. She’ll do almost anything for a quarter.

So far, in the ten years that I have lived in this house, in the thousands of times I have trekked up and down those incredibly annoying stairs, I have never ever stepped on a slug.

I did, however, manage to step on a snail.

Damn! Did I just make it down to the bottom of the stairs, all FIFTY-THREE stairs, violence-free, only to hear (and feel) the dainty shell of a snail crunch under my sneaker?

Please say it isn’t so.

Oh, it’s so. The children saw it all and they made sure I understood the full impact of my actions.

Zaffron: Mommy! What did you do?

Me: What? Nothing! Get in the car.

Mgazi [bending at the waist, inspecting the sidewalk]: Oh no, Zaffy. She is lying to you. Mommy killed a snail.

Tears immediately spring into Zaffy’s eyes. She’s by the car, with me. She can’t even see what Mgazi is looking at.

Zaffron: Mommy! How could you do that? He was just a baby!

Me: Oh for heaven’s sake… I just –I didn’t — for God’s sake, just get in the car. The snail is fine. He’s going to have to crawl away and find a new shell.

Mgazi [still peering at the glob on the concrete]: Nuh uh, Mommy. He’s killed. You killed him.

Me: Gazi, get in the car. Zaffy, you too.

Everyone climbs into the car and I think the episode is over because there is a short stretch of silence (if you don’t count Zaffy’s whimpering.) What was I thinking? There are never stretches of silence in my car. Short or otherwise.

Mgazi: Zaffy, you know that snail that Mommy killed? (Like Zaffy could have forgotten in the last two minutes.) He was crying too.

Zaffy [now wailing]: What? What?? Why? WHYYYYYY MOMMMMMMMMMMY?

Me: I’m sorry! I am so sorry. It was a total accident. I feel awful, Zaffy. Mgazi, you didn’t see the snail crying. Stop trying to rile your sister.

Mgazi: I did. I saw his eyes. And there were tears coming out of them.


Me: Mgazi, seriously. You need to stop talking. I’m not joking. Not another word.

And we returned to silence… except, of course, for the sound of my oldest child’s sniffling  grief.

Glass of white wineRecommended wine: Do you know what goes great with snails? A chablis — chalky, crisp, and flinty, with a hint of earthiness. Try the 2007 Christian Moreau Chablis. You should be able to get it for around $30.

Snail photo: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

It’s Vodka Not Vodika

This conversation took place in the car. Of course.

Girls in car

Look! I can drive, say cheese, and take a photo of all three of us at the same time! *Smile* Actually, we haven't even pulled away from the house yet.

Mgazi: How old do I have to be to chew gum?

Me: Thirteen

Mgazi: Awwwww. Why thirteen?

Me: Because I said thirteen and it sounds like a nice number. Would you prefer fourteen?

Zaffy: I want fifteen!

Me: Deal.

Mgazi: Yay! We can chew gum when we’re fifteen!

[48 seconds of silence. I know this because silence is such a precious commodity in our car that I have taken to subconsciously tracking how much of it I experience during any given ride. Let me tell you, it's not much.]

Mgazi: How old do I have to be to drink wine?

Me: Twenty-one.

Mgazi: Why twenty-one?

Me: Because twenty-one is the legal drinking age. If you drink any kind of alcohol before you are twenty-one, you are breaking the law. This will make the police officers mad. This will make your mommy mad.

Mgazi: How old do I have to be to drink soda?

Me: Twenty-one.

Mgazi: Why twenty-one?

Me: Because soda is bad for you. It’s only good when mixed with alcohol.