29 November 2007

This Bathroom is Small

“This airplane is going to take off, and fly, and then we’ll see Papai!”

When you stop in Chicago, there are seven hours of flying time between Baltimore and Oakland. Seasoned adult travelers start to whine after the third hour of a lit seat belt sign. But it wasn’t so bad making the return without Augusto. Both kids slept for the first leg, we jumped in the galley during the stop, and we got creative for the final 5-hour haul. Videos, books, stacking snack boxes, passenger peek-a-boo. I briefly handed Otto over to Joe, an empathetic grandmother from the Sierra foothills who was willing to let him pull on her necklaces and jump on her lap.

The first time I flew with Stella, we were on our own. In a teary segment of the flight, an Asian woman reached out her arms, offering to walk 8-week-old Stella for a spell. I was a new mother facing a non-English speaking stranger at 30 thousand feet. I rejected her offer and managed alone. Months later I realized my missed opportunity. In Kenya, where I studied for a semester, people with seats on buses- white strangers included- are expected to hold a package or a child for standing passengers. This transfer happens without comment. The more responsibility I acquire- children, pets, increased work hours- the more I understand why it takes a village to raise a child. In our urban far-from-family world this means letting strangers open doors, carry groceries, or distract a toddler having a tantrum. It means accepting offers from neighbors who want to baby sit, and exchanging childcare with other families. And I also think it includes letting a complete stranger hold your baby when your arms are full.

So our flight was helped by Joe, the flight attendants who didn’t scold us when we just had to get up (despite the illuminated seat belt sign), the peek-a-boo passengers in seats 10 E and F, and by comic relief, of course.

“This bathroom is small.”

This understatement from Stella when the three of us entered the head. We all could stand in the triangular space between the toilet, counter and door, but we completely filled it. There was no pull down changing table, so I changed Otto’s poopy diaper with my butt on Stella’s head, sandwiched the kids between my knees when I sat to pee (and Otto toilet-papered the floor), and put Otto on my hip while Stella stood on the toilet to wash her hands.

“My pants are still down, Mama.”

It was hard to keep it all straight. But I must admit I felt a thrill when we exited, triumphant and surprising, like clowns from a car.

16 November 2007

What was I thinking?!

We now have two creatures in the house who want to chew, rip, and mess up everything from balls, to plants, to toilet paper. Just as I tear a throw pillow from Rex’s mouth, I turn to see Otto grabbing the phone. I pluck Otto from the phone corner, put him down, and find Rex chewing a hole in the rug. I give Rex a toy, then Otto pounces on the dog and I’m separating them again. Is this what it is like to have twins? And this ritual doesn’t even include Stella. Add her to the mix, and it involves a lot of whining and stomping for something she can’t have, such as chocolate at 8pm or messy painting as we’re about to leave the house. It’s background music for the dance.

Rex needs to be trained. He nibbles on pant legs and wrist bones when he wants to play. Any kid toy is his to eat, apparently. And he jumps, of course. Otto needs to be trained too, but it’s a longer process for which I have more patience. And Stella? She’s training me how to take ten deep breaths when we’re late for work, how to stop and see the spider webs. How to think it’s funny when Rex steals Otto’s food from the high chair.

I had a patient yesterday who was pregnant with baby number 4. Her other children are 5, 3, and under 1. She is happy, but her primary-caregiver husband is scared. So scared he barely spoke and just teared up a lot. I made my other patients wait 45 minutes while they tried to talk about the future, their options, and how they’ll afford 4 kids under 6. I know how stressed I can get with two kids on a bad night. And how adding Rex increases the stress on those bad nights. And to think of adding a baby 8 or 9 months from now? Forget it. I’d be terrified. Thank goodness for good birth control. I think that dad is probably getting his vasectomy as I type. His fear clings to me. I just hope she can carry them all.

08 November 2007

Premature Spring

I have a feeling of Spring in me. The change of light and season always brings it on, but having strangers fling about my deep junk drawer receipts and mini-light parts has really been a catalyst for change.

I have been tossing. Six cubic feet of clothes cycled though Tuesday night’s clothing exchange party, and I only picked out 5 “new” items for myself. Our laundry nook got a makeover. Three kitchen drawers are now liberated of extra ice cream scoops and specialty spatulas, and even better, they open and close without squeezing in a hand to free the item that is stuck on the underside of the counter. And I have plans for practically every secret storage spot in our house. The guys in masks uncovered our crap, littered it around for us to detest. They didn’t take much, but now I don’t want the stuff we have. I don’t mean I want to replace it. I just don’t want that much stuff anymore.

We did add a few things, though. The dead bolts we should have had long ago. And the dog. People keep asking if we rescued Rex (a.k.a Ruffles per Oakland Animal Services). This dog? Definitely not. He wasn’t on his way to death. Within five minutes of starting the adoption paperwork two other family units came to invite him home- and left in tears when they discovered they were too late. I nearly changed my mind when the first woman literally burst into sobs, saying, “Well, at least we know he’s going to a good home.” But I too had been awake all night fitting him into the fabric of our life. He was just our dog. It was clear. And we were right. He is one of us, even when he chews little bits of the carpet, lunges for a poopy diaper, or does some other disagreeable thing that makes us have a better idea of why someone would leave him at the night drop. He is one of us in all our broken, trial and error ways. We’re learning together how to sit and stay and shake and live with trust of the future. And even when we aren’t making philosophical leaps, Rex is just one more inspiration to clean up (or else he’ll eat it).