Tag: Raising a Boy

Rainbow Connection

There are eggs cooking in a pan.

Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side?

The notes drift into the kitchen and I feel them in my chest, know them by heart. There’s a special joy in unexpectedly hearing a song you love right when you need to hear it; a little gift from the universe. Serendipity. He heard it too and runs to me; his 6 year old hands outstretched, inviting me to dance. I move the half cooked eggs off the burner. Breakfast can wait, my dance partner can’t.

This is our song. The one I have sung to him nearly every night of his life.

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Riding the Carousel

He wanted to ride the carousel at the mall. He’s five now, so I got on with him intending only to help him find an animal and climb up. The carousel was old and small, and wobbled as everyone climbed aboard. I put him on top of a brown horse with a flowing mane and wild eyes — It was a good fit.

He grabbed onto the pole with both hands, leaned into it, trembled a bit and looked at me with worried eyes as he surveyed how high he was and felt the wobbling of the ride before it had even begun. He looked up and noticed that the pole was at its low point and asked me if it would go even higher.

He is awake now, this little boy. Aware. He struggles with the lankiness of his legs, tries to understand his changing body as he faces growth spurt after growth spurt in an unrelenting parade. He is no longer an over confident toddler who charges into battle, he sees the world around him and senses danger, feels overwhelmed by noises, is trying to find his place.

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The Vagina-Mommy Incident

The Vagina-Mommy Incident

** Update: The video of me reading this essay in the Listen to Your Mother Show – Austin is available here: http://avalovehanna.com/vagina-mommy-ltym/ **

Today, I went to use the restroom and through the cracked door I heard my 4 year old saying, “Hey, you’re going potty, but you don’t have a weenie.”

I froze, partially because of my son’s obvious lack of bathroom etiquette, and partially because I could sense there was something serious about this moment. My son was aware that we were different in a fundamental way and that was probably a big deal.

“Yes, you’re right,” I said slowly, trying to decide what to say next. I could hear the mixture of confusion and curiosity in his voice as he pondered the situation and I wanted to help him understand. So, in some delusional moment of over-confidence I decided:

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Batman, Dora, and Catching Cows: A Few Thoughts on Why I Love Being a Parent

One of the main perks of being a parent (aside from all the love and stuff) is getting a new holiday. In celebration of Mother’s Day on Sunday I thought I’d share my top 3 reasons why I love being a parent:

1. My life is ridiculous and surreal

• I get to start my day with whatever crazy thoughts are stored in a 5 year old’s brain. This morning the first words I heard as I was just waking up were, “Hey, we need that sausage ice tray!”
Let that color your day.

• I get to do what were once mundane tasks like grocery shopping accompanied by Batman.  

Hanging with Batman

Oh, and even though I’m dressed like a hobo and have no makeup on, I will be forced to smile and make conversation with every single person in the store as Batman attempts to “rescue” them.

• Lack of sleep causes awesome dreams when you finally get to rest. Like the one dream where I was panicking because my job was to catch cows, especially this one cow named Mrs. Miles Davis, and she kept getting away while I stopped to apply lemon flavored chapstick.  When I woke up panicked Paul gently reminded me that catching cows pretty much involved saying, “hey cow” and then putting your hand on it.

• I get to say things like, “Please stop karate chopping me in the head.” There is probably no other opportunity for that outside of parenting.

2. I am a member of an exclusive club

• We have rings (dark, purplish ones below our eyes). They help the members identify each other.

• I now have an opinion on the Diego vs. Dora debate, and will vehemently defend my stance in debates with other parents.  [Backpack is a chump, Rescue Pack FTW!]

Rescue Pack!

Oh, and I have my own set of adults-only answers that I mutter under my breath when Dora insists on asking me questions that she clearly already knows the answers to.

• People whom you may never had had anything in common with before will now become part of your tribe as you share stories from the front-lines of parenting.  “Why yes, random parent at the playground, that is a disgusting story. Here’s mine…”

3. It’s fun

• I get to play with toys, go neat places, and hang out with the fun guy at the party all day.

Sombrero FTW

• I get to watch a little person grow up right in front of my eyes. I get paid in hugs, kisses, and the assurance that I am doing everything I can to make him a healthy, happy person who can one day make the world a better place.

• I get reminded that life is short and full of excitement and adventure as I see things through his eyes. Sure, no one likes their job all the time, but I have to admit, this one is a pretty sweet gig.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Optimus Prime vs the English Major

It was 6:30 am. 6:30 in. the. morning. It was dark outside. Birds were sleeping. I should have been sleeping… instead I was sitting in bed trying to shake off the delirium from having been awoken suddenly in the middle of a dream and trying to comprehend why I was holding a half transformed Optimus Prime toy. A few inches from my face were the big bright wide awake eyes of my four year old.
“Do it mommy! Transform him back into a truck!”

“Huh? What?”

“I need him to be a truck again. I made him a robot, but now he wants to be a truck.”

“Okay. Yeah.”

Optimus Prime waiting to be turned back into a truck at 6 am

I’d been parenting for five years – I wasn’t fazed. Of course my four year old was awake and in my face. Of course I needed to transform this toy right now before the sun came up.

I turned the toy over in my hands. I remember Transformers, I love robots, I can totally do this. I looked Optimus over with my bleary sleep deprived eyes. Hmm. I moved limbs, twisted pieces different directions. He was definitely transforming into something… but he looked less like a truck and more like an unfortunate robot that had had a run-in with a truck.

Oh crap. This was freaking hard. Kai was watching my every move and I could tell he was beginning to suspect the obvious. I could not transform this toy.

For those of you who are unaware: transformers are hard… like ridiculously hard. They are a 3” child’s toy that comes with a full page of instructions. A FULL PAGE. When we bought Optimus the day before, Paul was home. I saw him and Kai playing with it without issue and so I made a terrible mistake, I didn’t read the instructions.

Now, it was Monday and Paul had gone into work early. I was on my own with Kai and Optimus-the mangled truck bot-Prime. I was starting to panic a little. Then, in a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life, Kai looked up at me and said encouragingly, “Come on. Daddy can do it.”

What he was actually saying is: Daddy can do it. Why can’t you?

It was then that I realized that my vast amounts of education and advanced degrees from prestigious universities meant nothing. Kai was unimpressed. Knowledge is relative it seems. I may have studied the Didascalicon, and the works of Rousseau and Woolf. I may have written papers on the importance of Mozart’s operas, or wowed literary scholars when I compared Voltaire’s Candide to the plot structure found in a work of Russian literature. It didn’t matter; I now lacked the one skill that my son found valuable: transforming Japanese auto-bots.

I sent Paul a quick text message: “Omg. I can’t transform Optimus. Kai thinks I’m stupid. Please help me” and waited for inevitable “What’s really happening?” response text. I then set out to find the instructions for Optimus’ transformation. If there’s one thing my degrees DID teach me, it was how to look up weird obscure stuff on the internet.

Parenting is teaching me that the world that I thought I knew pre-child, and the skills I had developed based on that idea are vastly different from the ones that are of actual value to me now. Maybe one day I will again spend my time with academics who care about my opinions on which translation of Beowulf is the best, but for now, I need to learn to integrate my education with my actual knowledge. Education is most valuable when it transforms us into something that helps us to advance ourselves and those around us.

Maybe I should have studied the Didascalicon a little more closely. Hugh of St Victor felt that it is the integration of the different areas of knowledge that leads to human perfection. This is where children are the perfect teachers. Everything is one. For Kai, transforming a robot is as important of a skill as feeding him, reading, or writing. He hasn’t applied preconceived values to knowledge. The knowledge that will help him in the present is the most valuable.

And that’s another thing I’m learning from Kai. He is always present. Right here, in this moment, nowhere else. He worries little about the past or the future, but what his feelings and needs are right now. And right now, he needed me to transform his robot.

With a little help from obsessive Transformer fan forums, phone coaching from Paul, and some patient encouragement from my son, I eventually transformed Optimus back into a truck. I won’t lie, when I slid that last piece into place and saw the tiny truck in my hand… it felt freaking awesome.

My son, whom I am tasked with teaching, is teaching me. I’m learning what’s really important, I’m learning to be present, and more importantly I’m learning how to transform myself into what he needs.

**UPDATE: This essay was featured in the family section on BlogHer.com!  http://www.blogher.com/optimus-prime-vs-english-major

Save the Limes!

Yesterday I was sitting in the living room eating a protein bar. Kai was eyeing it so I asked him if he would like one too. He’s five now, so of course his answer wasn’t just “yes,” instead he told me to wait there and he would go to the kitchen by himself and get his own snack.

Of course.

Because being five means that you do everything yourself even the things you shouldn’t attempt and of course all of the things that make his father and I think, oh my god why is he trying to do that himself doesn’t he know he’s only five??  Independence is awesome. Bull headed independence with no experience or wisdom to back it up is terrifying. Five might give me a heart attack.

Kai went into the kitchen without turning on the light and headed towards what I thought was the pantry. Instead, I heard him moving along the counter and then a rustling near the bread basket, followed by the sound of shattering glass.

Paul and I had the millisecond look of shared terror before we both instinctively screamed “don’t move! don’t move!” into the dark kitchen while leaping up because we heard movement and gave each other the even more terrified oh my god he’s totally moving isn’t he?  face.

Already my mother brain was imagining all of the worst possible scenarios: a shoe-less five year old covered in broken glass, a trip to the ER, stitches, etc. What I didn’t expect to see was my five year old racing out of the dark kitchen… clutching two limes.

Huh?

He was visibly freaked out and panting, clutching these two limes as those his life depended on it. As we neared him he said, “I saved the limes! I knew this would happen and so I saved the limes!!”

What. the… huh?

I checked him over and fortunately he was wearing shoes. Shoes! Hurray for shoes! I don’t know why he was still wearing them. We had been home for nearly 30 minutes, and normally his clothes explode off of him the second we walk in the door. It’s kind of amazing really. I will be just setting down my keys and somehow he’s in his underwear. For some reason, he was still fully dressed. No cuts, no glass on him, he was okay… but the deal with the limes? I don’t know.

I hugged him to me (still clutching those limes), calmed him down, and told him we didn’t care about the glass, only his safety. He looked into my eyes with all the sincerity in the world and in his proudest voice told me, “I’m so happy I saved those limes.”

I nodded knowingly.

Paul asked him, “why did you get the limes, did you want to eat a lime?”

“No,” he said very matter-of-factly, “I wanted a protein bar, I just saved the limes.”

Right. Yes. The limes needed saving and he saved them.

I hugged him again and reminded him that when a glass breaks he should stand still and never run over it. Then I got him his protein bar (out of the pantry, not the bread basket) and sat him out of the way while we cleaned up.

Paul was sweeping and caught my eye, “limes?” he whispered.

I shrugged and we laughed hysterically.

I still don’t know what the deal is or was with the limes, but they now have a place on honor on the kitchen counter. These aren’t just any limes, these limes were saved.

Five, it seems, is going to be full of over confidence, near misses, and downright weirdness. It feels like when Kai first learned to walk: he charged forward and I scrambled around him clearing the path. He got to do the walking, I got to race around him making sure he didn’t fall and keep him safe. This is five: a big giant baby charging forward and me scrambling just out of sight letting him think he’s doing it all by himself.

I’m still learning about the insanity that is five. In the meantime there is something I do know for sure: in this house, the limes will always be safe.

The Bathroom Cheerleader

I was packing for a family trip back to Houston. The commencement ceremony for my Master’s degree was the next morning and I had decided to participate. I was torn between feelings of both pride at my accomplishment and dread at wearing the regalia when I heard a faint cry from my son’s bathroom.

“Mommy…. Mommy, I need you.”

I dropped the gown and hood and ran into his bathroom to find him sitting on the toilet looking pale.

“What’s wrong baby? Are you ok?”

“No,” he replied breathily like a solider just off the front line, “I can’t get the poo poo to come out; I need you to cheer for me.”

What?? He wanted me to cheer for him… to poop??

I stood stunned for a second. I was upset that my son was in obvious physical distress, but I was also beginning to feel the creeping dread that every parent knows quite well: my child is going to ask me to do something weird and uncomfortable that I wouldn’t want my friends to know about…and because I’m a good parent, I’m gonna do it.

I stood there silently for a moment and then asked him in a weak voice, “cheer? For you to poo poo?”

“Yes,” he whispered, “you know, the potty cheer,” and he started to sing it.

The dread sharpened. I now knew exactly what he was asking of me… and it was not awesome.

The Potty Cheer

Potty training didn’t come easy in our house. There was no “training” per se. Kai simply refused to use the toilet. Refused.

The whole “let children advance at their own rate” thing that Paul and I had practiced rapidly became, “oh my god what If we screwed up, why didn’t we teach him how to use a toilet, we are the worst parents ever and will be changing diapers on a grown man.”

Kai was always a bright and articulate child, the kid who flew past milestones months early: crawling at 5 months, walking at 9 months, and running away from us by his 1st birthday.  So, as a sort of cosmic balance, he refused to use the toilet at all until he was 3.5 years old. There was no “potty training.” He wouldn’t use the potty, and then one day he used it perfectly.

During those last few non-toilet weeks, Paul and I went a little crazy. We are not bathroom people, we don’t like potty humor, but having a kid who won’t use the toilet will break down the best of us. We became simply ecstatic about the bathroom, going on and on about how great it was to use the toilet, and how fun it would be to use the restroom in public. See? Crazy people.

One day, we were watching a cartoon called “The Mighty Bee” which has a super-fast intro song that repeats the words, “Bee, Bee, Bee, Bee.”  Later that day, when Paul had somehow convinced Kai to actually sit on the toilet, he started singing, “Kai’s gonna use the potty, he’s gonna Pee, Pee, Pee, Pee.” And that, it seems, made a huge impact on Kai. He didn’t use the potty that day, but apparently held onto that song, and labeled it, The Potty Cheer.

So, here he was months later, requesting me to sing The Potty Cheer to help him. I was confused.

“Baby, isn’t that song about pee?”

“Yes,” he said, “but, I need you to sing it with poo.”

Right. Yes. Of Course. I need to sing about poo.

I sat down on the edge of the bathtub, ran my fingers through his hair, and gently sang to him, “Kai’s gonna use the potty, he’s gonna… poo, poo, poo, poo,” over and again until he felt better.

Nothing else mattered in that moment. I was about to have a Master’s degree conferred upon me the next day, I was being asked to submit applications for PhD programs, some of my work was being published… none of that mattered. Those things didn’t matter to Kai and they no longer mattered to me.

I was sitting on the edge of the bathtub singing to my little boy, cheering for him. He trusted me. He believed in me. He knew that I would help him feel better, that just the sound of my voice could fix his body. He knew it.

He didn’t think it or hope it, but he knew it –and that is powerful stuff – powerful, transformative stuff.

My son may have made me sing to him while he was on the toilet, but in return he makes me a better person. He makes me stronger, braver, more gentle, and yet, more fierce. When I am his mommy, I am not the awkward 30-something woman still trying to figure out adult life. I am not the scared and lost little girl I accuse myself of being all the time. I don’t need degrees or accolades to feel whole in his presence. He makes me whole through his trust and love… even when that trust equals bathroom singing.

I am his mommy, and I will sing at the top of my lungs in every bathroom in the world if he needs me to. I will sing songs about things that I would have sworn 5 years ago I would never sing about. I may feel silly or awkward later when I retell the story, but in that moment when he cries out, “Mommy, Mommy, I need you,” I will come running and I will cheer for him.

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