gillis and her big mouth

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Month: February, 2013

Short Mommy Blues

Sometime last week we were in the car together, and I hadn’t said a word to Gus when he erupted into tears and exclaimed that “Short mommies are bad,” that he no longer wanted a short mommy, he needed a tall mommy.  He was very upset. I was caught completely off guard by this statement. On a good day, with clogs on my feet and blow-dried hair, I might pass for five foot two. So of course I howled with laughter and could not stop laughing. I laughed so hard that I had to pull the car to the side of the road to dry my tears so I could see clearly. There was snorting involved. My laughter greatly disturbed Gus and he cried harder and harder until I was able to gain my composure and very gently explain to him that he was pretty well trapped in this terrible life with a short mommy, that I was unable to grow taller, but that I would still be an okay mommy for him just so long as no one took our step stool away. He began asking me about eating more protein as a way to grow so I could be “taller than Blake’s mommy” someday. I tried my best to explain that I would never be taller than Blake’s mommy and eventually he gave up trying to convince me that if I just wanted to be bigger, I could be. (It sort of reminded me of conversations well meaning adults have with kids where we try to motivate them to do better by telling them if they were just motivated they could do better. Maybe if we gave them more protein..?)

Today Gus told me that when he is older, he will be bigger, have a bigger penis, and be a tow truck man. This is old news, he has been talking about his magical growing penis and driving a tow truck as a future vocation for several months now. What he added to today’s chat as we drove home from the pediatrician’s office is that when he is a man, we will then have two daddies in the family. I asked a few probing questions about this fascinating and Oedipal future scenario and again, I nearly drove off the side of the road when he explained to me how he, his father, and I will all share one bedroom and there will be lots of night lights in it so no one gets scared. I confess- it scared the crap outta me. Until I remembered the phase his older sister went through when she told me for months that she was going to marry me when she grew up and no amount of telling her that I was already married – to her father – would convince her otherwise. Because I tend to see the glass as neither half full nor half empty but perhaps in need of cleaning, I find these preschool imaginings troubling before I can find them funny. I have to work through my adult horror at ideas that are actually quite lovely when taken in the spirit from whence they came. The idea that children try to picture their future selves in the present world, and they find ways to fit these adult selves in that make sense to them but not to us, is quite sweet. Unfortunately, I can’t sleep with a lot of night lights on, so for that reason, and a few other minor considerations, we won’t all share a room together in twenty years’ time.


It’s funny how we start to think of our work friends as family, or even part of the fabric of our lives after a while. Sometimes you don’t know just what someone means to you, or how their presence informs yours, until they are gone from your daily life.  I learned of the sudden death of a coworker yesterday. She died while vacationing in Jamaica and because it’s a school vacation week, the information made its way along an informal, jagged path of phone calls, texts, and facebook posts until finally the school administration issued a group email to all of us letting us know about our colleague’s passing. It’s terribly sad.

I’m still trying to process this loss. Laurie was one of the secretaries at our middle school. Before that, she worked in the resource room of the elementary school as an instructional aide. Today we would refer to that position as a paraprofessional, but Laurie wasn’t “para” anything, she was  quite full-blown. Laurie was a wise-cracking, call-it-what-it-is, no-nonsense type of gal. She was one of my first friends here in Berkshire county. We worked in the same resource room that first year and she gave me the lowdown on all things local. She listened to me grieve over recurrent lost pregnancies, took me out for drinks when I thought my marriage was ending, and gave me heartfelt, solid advice as a mother when things in my life took a more hopeful turn. Once Laurie even convinced me to go to a casino. On a bus. And she made it fun. Sort of. She funneled funny stories and emails to me on a regular basis and became a touchstone.

On most school days, Laurie was literally the first person I would see in the morning. I’d leave my slumbering family in the wee dark hours, drive to school, and enter the building where Laurie would already be stationed at the front desk at 6:30 am. Her voice was the first I’d hear saying, “Good mornin’ Gillis” and I’d mumble “mornin’ Laur” as I found my way to my classroom. Laurie was the person who made all of our copies, saw us sign in and out for appointments, gave students passes to and from classes, and took attendance. She knew everyone’s secrets. She gave everyone counsel. She complained about people in the building who took her services for granted, but never by name. I always assumed she wasn’t referring to me, but now that I think of it, I may have been one of the people who caused her grief on a daily basis with my disorganization and urgent requests for things. She didn’t express irritation with me when she had to call in to my classroom to find out who was out because, once again, I had forgotten to use the online attendance program. Now that I think of it, I was most certainly a pain in the ass for Laurie. But she had a gift for making us all feel that we were in on the joke with her, when perhaps we were, each of us, our own punchline.

Laurie’s life was short and parts of it were difficult. She often had responsibility piled upon her because she was a caring person who had trouble saying no to those in need. In recent years she had cared for her elderly, chronically ill mother and had very little respite from that role. After her mother died, she was looking forward to seeing her daughter marry and her son graduate high school in several years’ time. She was imagining making changes in her life and thinking about how she wanted to spend her “second act.” This trip to Jamaica was a long-awaited vacation and the horrible irony of her life ending just as she was contemplating new beginnings for herself strikes me as a cruel joke of the fates. I dread going back to school next week and encountering a hollow space where Laurie and her warm smile greeted me daily. I will miss her terribly.

Who Knew?

Apparently it makes no sense to ask a preschooler to earn daily stickers for listening and following directions in order to collect three (sadly we started with an overly ambitious five, but I digress) of these stickers to later cash in for a prize from the “prize box.” Who knew that three year olds had no concept of delaying minor gratification en route to acquiring a more major gratification somewhere down the road? Actually, it stands to reason that anyone with  a child psychology degree would know that this was a poor idea. And I’m fairly certain most preschool teachers could have warned us it wouldn’t work, although our son’s teachers didn’t when we told them about our plan to improve his school-related behavior issues. Maybe they needed a new, funny story to share during nap time, “remember Gus’ parents? How they thought they could get him to work towards a prize by racking up stickers for behaving appropriately? In preschool? Bwah ha ha ha! Wish I could been a fly on the wall for those tantrums!”

Those tantrums would not have disappointed, they were technicolor and could have captioned with Batmanesque onomatopoeia cut outs.

But we get it now. Now we do. And we’re here to tell you, you won’t be able to get your three year old to buy into a multi-step behavior program. It won’t work. Unless they are the type of kid who doesn’t need a behavior modification program in the first place. In which case, enjoy yourself now, and know that we’re not-so-secretly hoping you get yours when your kid’s a teenager. Don’t worry, our kid will be sitting right next to yours, hopefully on the bench in the office and not in the back of a cruiser…

Strap On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

I missed my daughter’s house league championship game this past weekend. I didn’t see her 4 baskets. And I missed the way she intentionally and aggressively caused an opponent to foul out of the game. I also missed all the high fives, the medals, and the photos. I didn’t sit in the stands and shout the usual cheers that always come out slightly off because I don’t fully understand the game. And I wasn’t there to console her on her team’s second place finish or to tell her how great it’s been to see the team finally come together during the season. And I’m fine with all of that. Strangely fine.

Instead I spent the weekend in New York laughing my ass off with two friends I’ve known since high school. This trip recharged my spirit in a way that I didn’t know it needed. I think I had given up on feeling this light, happy. My heart remains incredibly full from the laughter and loving acceptance that we shared. Lest it sound too much like a Hallmark moment spun out over three days, I should say that much of time was spent overeating, drinking too much and talking about the relative merits of a coffee table photo book of stranger’s crotch shots. And, no, I didn’t take any pictures of strangers’ crotches, but I will neither confirm nor deny that photos of that nature were snapped and swapped over the course of the weekend. When we get together, we are 16 again, minus the zits. Sure the hair is gray, or thin, and the waistlines are thicker (okay, maybe just mine, they’re both pretty fit), but we slip back into our roles.

There is something so delightful about someone else knowing all of the ugly bits of your life and still wanting to be a part of that life anyway. These two people know things about me that could keep me from running for public office. But they’d never divulge them, they just enjoy using them as horribly inappropriate punchlines. In fact, they’d work on my election campaign so they could come to the inauguration party and get any future parking tickets fixed. And vice-versa. Hell, I’d give them each a kidney, but not at the same time. Unless I was brain dead. Then I totally give them both of my kidneys at once.