Sunday, November 1, 2009

Wake-up Call

I have not used an alarm clock for seven years.

Every morning at 5:45 a.m., I lay in bed, snuggled under the comforter with my husband Shannon, and hear the sound of two small feet padding up the hallway. The routine is always the same, and the sounds familiar.

First, our little son Ethan turns on the lights in the bathroom, slinging his “Duckie” blanket over his shoulder and peeing into the toilet. The door is never shut but sometimes his hands are washed.

Second, he comes into our bedroom and walks to my side of the bed. He grabs my hand or shoulder, whatever is sticking out from under the comforter and gives me a little shake. “Mommy, wake up. I’m hungry. Can you make me breakfast? I would like waffles with syrup and turkey sausages, and I want to watch Pokemon out front.”

Still surfacing from sleep, I make a few non-committal grunts. If I don’t move fast enough, he shakes again and starts the breakfast monologue over. From day to day, only the details of the monologue change from eating waffles and sausages to cereal and milk to oatmeal and juice, from watching Pokemon to Spongebob to Bakugan.

This routine started the day after we put him in his first big boy bed at two years old. At first, I didn’t mind. An early riser myself, I was still high on the joys of new motherhood. After six months of this morning routine, I was less thrilled and more irritated. No matter what he did the night before or what time zone we were in, Ethan would wake up 15 minutes before dawn.

My irritation extended to my husband who never seemed to hear Mommy’s little wake-up call or have a desire to pitch in to fix toaster waffles. Finally, Shannon came to my rescue, or perhaps he was tired of hearing my complaints, when he dug out my old Sony digital alarm clock. He always hated the noise it made, a shrill ear-piercing bleating, but it was perfect for Ethan with its big green glow-in-the-dark numbers. Plugging it in, Shannon placed it on the dresser across from the big boy bed and as I listened at the door, my husband explained to Ethan the numbers and how he was not to wake up Mommy before the number turned to 6:30.

The next morning at 5:45 little footsteps came down the hall. I held my breath and kept my eyes closed. He opened our bedroom door and approached my side of the bed, leaned in and whispered, “Mommy, I’ll be back at 6:30.” A partial victory.

The next Christmas Ethan was excited to get a new Spongebob alarm clock, bright yellow with Spongebob and Patrick on the face and two bells and a hammer at the top. I am not sure where his great-grandma found such an old-fashioned style clock or more importantly, whether she knew who Spongebob and Patrick were.
“How do you set the alarm?” Ethan asked. “Uh oh,” I thought.

This year I discovered how to get my Sunday mornings back at least - sleepovers. Ethan’s first sleepover came up unexpectedly, after we threw a party at our house. As our friends were leaving, they offered to take Ethan with them and their five-year-old son. I hesitated at first until my friend reminded me that I could sleep in on Sunday. “Great, I’ll pick him up tomorrow at noon.”

After saying good-bye to our friends and doing a half-hearted job of cleaning the kitchen, my husband and I snuggled in under the comforter. At 6:30 the following morning, I felt someone shaking my shoulder.

“What is that noise?” my husband mumbled. I heard a soft ringing somewhere in the house. Thinking it was an alarm system malfunction, I wandered into the hallway while my husband fell back asleep. Now I realized the insistent ringing was actually a dinging, and that it got louder as I reached Ethan’s room. There was the Spongebob alarm clock sitting in the middle of his floor, the little hammer furiously hitting the bells, piercing my sleepy haze.

I picked it up and switched it off, realizing Ethan wanted to make sure that Mom still got her wake-up call even when he is gone.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Flower And The Apple Hole

“Flower.” That’s what my brother’s baby book said was his first word. Even when I was six years old, I thought that was strange. Most kids say mama or dada or doggie; no kid ever says flower. I knew it was a lie, but at six, I didn’t understand the reason for the lie.

My mother was methodical about filling in my brother’s baby book. On the page of “firsts” – first smile, first tooth, first steps – was that strange first word “flower”. She explained at length that it was from the movie Bambi which they were watching at the time. I didn’t buy it.

Finally 30 years later, after a few glasses of wine, my mother came clean. Like many first-time moms, she was young and easily frustrated, and when frustrated, her favorite word was “shit”. So it wasn’t surprising when her baby’s first word was “shit”, not a good “first” for the baby book.

“Shit!” When that word came out of my sweet two-year-old son’s mouth, I laughed. It sounded so cute, and he used it just like I use it, when frustrated or when he drops something, so it was like holding up a little mirror. Thinking it over later, I realized that it wouldn’t sound so cute when he does it in public. We didn’t have long to find out.

Dropping off Ethan Monday morning at his day-care center run by the local Lutheran church, my husband was turning off the highway when suddenly, a large speeding truck cut us off and forced our Acura onto the gravel shoulder.

“Jesus F***ing Christ!” my husband yelled as we bounced over the gravel and he fought to keep the car out of the drainage ditch. After a few harrowing seconds and a few deep breaths to calm ourselves, we turned to find Ethan unhurt in the back seat, quiet with eyes as big as dinner plates. Minutes later, we walked into the day-care center and were greeted by the two older ladies that run the place. Ethan hadn’t said a word since the near-accident and ran to the ladies, proudly exclaimed, “Jesus F***ing Christ!”

I wanted to crawl in a hole. There must be a special place in hell for parents that allow their two-year old to say that in a church.

The church wasn’t the worst, which came two years later. My niece was graduating from Harvard, and our entire family came out to Boston. We rented a van to shuttle us around the city. Packed into the van late one evening, Ethan enjoyed being the center of attention as the only small child in a group of adults. In the front seat were my brother and Father Leo, a Catholic priest and my sister-in-law’s brother. Suddenly, Ethan pointed his finger at the van’s driver, Father Leo. “Hey…,” he shouted. “Hey you… Hey asshole.” My heart stopped and the van went dead silent. Father Leo turned around in the driver’s seat, “Is he talking to me?” I was speechless.

Luckily, everyone burst out laughing. Even Leo laughed. Ethan laughed but didn’t really understand why. Thinking about it the next day, I realized that he was mimicking me and the way I talk back to drivers on the road. How mortifying to hear your exact words and cadence repeated back, and to a priest no less. My little mirror didn’t look so great at that moment.

Sitting in that van, I thought my dead mother must be rolling over in her grave at the idea that her only grandson curses like a sailor but then I smiled to myself and thought about my oldest brother’s baby book.

Today, my husband and I try to watch our language more but let’s face reality - sometimes the words shit or asshole just pop out. Driving to Costco recently, my husband let loose with asshole on the highway.

“Daddy, you can’t say that!” my son giggled at him. “You can’t say (dramatic pause and in a quiet voice) asshole.”

“Well, what can I say?” said my husband. Half-listening, I chimed in with the first thing to cross my mind. “How about apple?”

My husband tried it out as we pulled in the parking lot. “Hey you, apple hole! Why don’t you move your fat apple?” Ethan broke into belly laughs in the back seat.

Twenty minutes later as we walked through the store aisles, my son still giggled. “Apple hole… That… was… awesome!” My husband and I smiled at each other. We won’t go to hell for that one, right?