Monday, March 19, 2012

Mischievous, Clever, Affectionate

When I enrolled Robinson in preschool for next school year, the application asked me to choose the three words that best describe him. I imagine this question is designed to tell the teachers and administrators of the preschool as much about the child as about the parent who fills out the application. I avoid words like "stubborn", which though not inaccurate, carry a negative connotation. I also avoid anything effusive that makes me seem like I lack self-awareness or that I have my head stuck up my kid's butt because I'm just so blindly in awe of this magnificent being I created. Nobody likes that mom, and by extension, that kid. I avoid words like "bright". Everyone thinks their kid is bright. Unless they think their kid is a dope. Then they describe him as "loving". See, I chose "affectionate". That way, when Robinson becomes so overcome with joy and excitement during dance time that he impulsively grabs the nearest child in what can only be described as a bear-hug-like embrace, as he has a history of doing, the teacher will not be surprised, she'll just think, "Ahhh, I get it." And "mischievous" and "clever" is meant to serve as a heads-up that Rob will try to circumvent her safety measures and find loopholes in her rules. At least I find him to be pretty crafty in that way. But totally in an adorable ragamuffin sort of way.

Robinson has a few words he can use. We call that his "vocabulary". Wanna know more? Read on.

Puppy: "Puppy" doesn't refer to actual puppies. It only refers to Jingle the Husky Pup Interactive Story Pup, a Christmas gift to Robinson from his Auntie Vickie. My mom reported to Vickie that Jingle Puppy is now always at Robinson's side and has become his favorite companion. Vickie's reaction was something like "It is?! Uh, I mean...It is!" Puppy becoming the Six to Rob's Blossom was a development nobody saw coming. You see, Jingle the Husky Pup Interactive Story Pup is intended only to be a companion to night time story books, and these night time story books have Christmas subject matter. So, he's really meant for story time only, and only during Christmas. I tried to pack him away after the holidays so that he would be fresh, exciting, and new next year, and Rob had none of it. He carries him everywhere. They have meals together. Rob likes to gnaw on his face. One morning, I picked Robinson up out of his crib before he had a chance to swipe Puppy, and the whole time I was changing Rob's diaper, he shook his head back and forth with his eyes shut tight, moaning "Pupppeeeee!" To those who respond, "Hmph, what's the big deal?" I would include the information that Puppy has a battery back in his tummy, a speaker in his skull, and if you press the button on his ear, a woman's voice purrs, "Jingle wants to read a story to you". He's so not machine washable, so not designed to live up to the wear and tear of an active toddler, and he's so not prepared to read a story on his own. I imagine this ending months from now, Velveteen Rabbit-style.
Bubble: "Bubble" refers to Bubble Guppies, Robinson's favorite children's TV program. He can't get enough of it, in fact, and when he wants to watch one of the episodes I have saved on my DVR, he walks around the house chanting "Bubble, bubble" until somebody turns it on for him.
Outside: A word he learned from Bubble Guppies, because they sing a song about going outside every episode, Robinson also happens to love going outside, and since he can say the word, he chants "ow-sad, ow-sad, ow-sad" and opens the back door, teeters over the threshold and steps into the yard. There's no stopping him. No, really. He can't be stopped. I've tried. He loves to just stomp around, barefoot in the grass. If it's wet grass because it's beginning to rain, even better. 

More: pronounced "moe", this word accompanies the gesture of thrusting a sippy cup into my lap, or my favorite, when Robinson picks up my left arm, removes whatever item is in my left hand (or he simply opens my fingers) then he places the cup in my hand. "Moe". I taught him to say that. It is so much nicer than listening to him cry and wail. I used to stare at him calmly, while he was mid-tantrum, and ask, "Do you want more milk? Is that why you're screaming? Just tell me you want more. It doesn't have to be this hard." He sniffled. His face relaxed and tear-free, he hands me his cup and says "Moe". Then I ask him to say "please". He furrows his brow and frowns at me, like he's thinking, "Well, do you want me to say 'more' or do you want me to say 'please'? Which is it? Make up your mind, woman!" I'm working on "please" and "thank you".

Penny: He loves The Big Bang Theory, and the beautiful Penny is a favorite character. If you don't watch the show, I'll tell you that there is a bit they do every week, where the obsessive-compulsive Sheldon knocks on her door, but his ritual goes like this: 
knock-knock-knock "Penny!"
knock-knock-knock "Penny!"
knock-knock-knock "Penny!"
So, one afternoon, while I was working on an art project that involves actual pennies, I pulled Robinson onto my lap to show him my progress and asked, "What do you think? See the pennies!" And Robinson smiled and knocked on the dining room table. Three times. Then he said, "Bea". I was a little taken aback, so I asked, "Penny?" Again, he smiled, knocked on the table three times and softly said "Bea." Now, if anybody knocks at the front door, he shouts "Bea!" If he sees a commercial for The Big Bang Theory on TV, he knocks on the nearest hard surface and shouts "Bea!" I'm telling you, if the actress Kaley Cuoco knocked on my front door, and Robinson answered to find the real Penny standing there, it would totally make his decade.

Mama: Ok, this seems obvious, but wait until you read more. Over the course of decorating the house, I have hung dozens of framed photos on the wall. As you might guess, I appear in many of the photos. Early on, Robinson began pointing at pictures of me, mostly in my wedding dress, and sweetly saying "Mama". I melted, Steve melted, we all clapped and cheered and had a big reaction. What lesson did Robinson take away from this? If you point at a picture and say "Mama", you get applause and kisses and cheers. So guess what happens to every picture Robinson sees? "Mama". Cardboard display of Rachael Ray in Walmart? "[pointing] Mama". Dakota Fanning on the cover of Cosmopolitan "[pointing] Mama". Ed Helms on The Hangover 2 DVD in the Walmart checkout aisle? "[pointing] Mama". I get a lot of strange looks from people. Every photographed image is "Mama", including images of Steve, much to his dismay. Also, anybody who is in a position to do something for Robinson, like give him candy, he calls "Mama". He just thinks "Mama" is an all-purpose word used to win friends and influence people. He isn't wrong. So what does he call me? He doesn't have to call me anything, because I never go away. He just hands me sippy cups and says "Moe". I very briefly believed that his name for me was "Moe". Sometimes, if he is in the playroom and I am in the kitchen, in a moment of desperation he will dramatically cry "Mahhhh-meeeee". That might be my name.

Other vocabulary words, shared without anecdotes:

bye (buh-bye, bye-bye, g'bye)

Oh, and this one time, I was feeding Robinson his breakfast at the kitchen table. He gazed out the window and saw our dog Libby walking in the backyard. It totally blew his mind that we were inside, on one side of the window, and she was on the other side. His eyes got huge, he pointed at her, grinning, and said "Uh-bee". I was dumbstruck. "Libby?! You said 'Libby'?!" He did, I swear, and I cannot get him to repeat it! Darn it!

Friday, March 16, 2012

An Open Letter to Celebrities Who Refer to Marriage as "Just a Piece of Paper"

This morning, I was reading an excerpt from a recent Jon Hamm interview with Elle UK (via Celebitchy), and in it he talks about a lot of things, like his 15-year relationship with Jennifer Westfeldt:

"Having a piece of paper serves to remind you of your commitment, but we do a pretty good job of reminding each other."

The statement isn't all that controversial or original. Celebrities in long-term relationships who choose not to marry are regularly faced with questions about why they aren't married, and the "it's just a piece of paper" argument is their go-to defense. I guess since my own wedding anniversary is this weekend, the comment hit a little close to home. I thought, A piece of paper? What, like the marriage license, or the marriage certificate, because I think the marriage license is on file in the county courthouse. I guess he means marriage certificate. I wonder where my marriage certificate is? Crap. I hope I didn't lose it in the move. No way. I put it somewhere safe, for sure. I think it's in my special "memory box" where I keep a lock of my son's hair and a poem my vet gave me when he put my dog to sleep about how I'll see my dog again at the Rainbow Bridge when I get to Heaven. Yeah, I'm sure that's where it is. Whew.
The blogger and her husband on their wedding day, signing the church marriage record.

Yeah, the piece of paper. That's totally why I got married.

During our six years of marriage, whenever we've had a dispute, one of us has waved that piece of paper to remind the other of our times. In fact, it's interviews like Jon Hamm's that serve to remind me that I even have a piece of paper. 

I guess The Hamm is marginalizing marriage as "a piece of paper", because if it were more meaningful than that, he should have done it already. I don't think that people who subscribe to that belief realize that it can be a little offensive to those of us who are married, and who consider marriage much more significant than the paper on which the legal record is printed. Then again, it's not the job of the unmarried to validate my life choice. Isn't it the role of the married people to make those who chose the "alternative lifestyle" of remaining unmarried to feel inadequate or like they need to explain themselves? No, but these sorts of magazine interviews, like Jon Hamm's in Elle UK, and countless others before it perpetuate this. 

I considered this further, while taking my son for a stroll through the neighborhood. What if Steve and I hadn't gotten married? I don't mean what if we hadn't stayed together. Ha. We were always going to be together. We're like Ross and Rachel. Hmm...comparing us to Ross and Rachel ages me a bit, yes? Friends ended eight years ago. What TV couple do youngsters reference nowadays when talking about a couple who breaks apart then reunites, because everyone knows they're meant to be together? I guess we're like Leonard and Penny.

So, if I were to postulate an alternate universe, wherein Steve and I share a home and a life and a child, everything that comes with being married, except we did not stand up in a chapel in a white dress and a tux in front of friends and family and make a solemn vow to God that we will stay together until we die, would our life in this alternate universe be any different from our real life, save for the legal document that serves as evidence that a wedding ceremony took place?

Well, for starters, I would have a bare wall where my wedding photos are hung...

But beyond that, what else? In most love stories, marriage is the grand finale. And they lived happily ever after. As a married couple. I mean, what if Ali and Noah never got married in The Notebook?
What if, instead of Noah's famous "So it's not gonna be easy" speech, he proposed an alternate lifestyle? It might have gone something like this:

Noah: I wanna cohabitate with you indefinitely. I don't know if that means we can file a joint tax return, or if we'll still have to file separately, but I wanna merge all of our assets. I'd even cosign on a loan with you. That's how serious I am. And maybe someday we'll have a baby. Your Memaw will disapprove of our child-out-of-wedlock, because it goes against her religious beliefs, but after awhile she'll only grumble about it at family get-togethers. And it's always going to be a pain in the ass when there's a new teacher at daycare, and you have to explain why you and our baby don't have the same last name so they don't think you're trying to kidnap your own child, but they'll get used to it. We'll have a joint checking account, and become so financially immeshed that even if we wanted to break up, years from now, it would take a team of skilled lawyers to sort out the tangled wreckage of what they'll call a "common-law marriage", despite the great lengths we will have gone to avoid such titles. Are we gonna fight? Sure. Ours is a stormy love. But we'll stay together forever, and not because of a piece of paper! Because we choose to stay together! Every day!

Isn't that the most romantic prose you've ever read? So, without the marriage certificate, would old-man Noah have gone to visit old-lady Ali in the long-term care facility every day as her health was failing? I hope so. Is "not needing a piece of paper" really the best reason cohabitating monogamous couples can offer for not marrying? Can they offer a reason that doesn't involve business or finance? I can't answer that, nor can I say whether the life and the relationship shared between two monogamous, cohabitating people is more or less satisfying or meaningful than that of a married couple*, so I asked myself why I think people get married. 

I think that the decision to marry is a sign of optimism. I think it is a bold declaration to the world, that you intend to make a permanent commitment. More than legal, it's formal; it's public. Also, it's pretty sweet and romantic. And for many, it's traditional, and has much to do with the couple's religious upbringing and beliefs.   To those who dismiss the institution of marriage as merely a piece of paper, I'll give them a pass. But those of us who are happy to be married, well, we know better, don't we?

*Blogger's Note: I can say that I've had a front row seat for the break-up of one of these unmarried, cohabitating couples, and it's every bit as messy and painful as a divorce. In fact, in a lot of ways it was worse, because dividing the assets and responsibilities was ambiguous, as there were no divorce proceedings to sort things out. Break-ups are hard for everybody. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Of Toddlers and Easter Books

I recently enjoyed a rare outing alone. I went to Barnes and Noble, where I picked up Mindy Kaling's new book and another Chuck Klosterman book. As I was standing in the long checkout line that snaked around partitions and tables of seasonal books targeting impulse buyers like myself, I began examining a table of children's books about Easter. Steve and I were just talking the other day about Robinson's Easter basket, and now that I'm shopping without Rob, this is the perfect opportunity to pick up something from the Easter Bunny! My train of thought during the three minutes spent perusing the table was something like this:

Let's see..."Guess How Much I Love You"...he already has that one. Ooh, a Berenstain Bears Easter book! I loved Berenstain Bears when I was little...this could start his own collection! Oh, I read online that Jan Berenstain died last week. That's so sad. Hmm...this is actually a pop-up book, and Robinson thinks the point of pop-up books is to rip the pop-ups out of the book. I don't like him to deface books. And if I buy him an "Easter" book, I'll want to only keep it on his bookshelf during Easter time, then I'll pack it away, and what's the fun in that? I know! I will pick a book that is Easter-ish, like this book about farm animals! Rob likes farm stuff. Maybe I'll make that the theme of his third birthday party. How is a farm Easter-ish? Why is it on the Easter book table? Oh, because farms have chicks, and chicks hatch from eggs. Easter. Eggs. Gotcha. Actually, that would be good for his Easter basket. Only, it's  a small board book, and he seems to gravitate towards larger books. Ugh, I'm feeling some Protestant guilt that none of the books I'm considering say anything about Jesus. I'm sending a wrong message that Easter is only about bunnies. Oh, but he's only one. What's wrong with a book about eggs? Hmm...come to think of it, Rob wouldn't like any of these books. I'll look elsewhere. None of these are right for Rob.

Lucky for me, the line advanced forward and I was free from the shackles of agonizing over which Easter-themed children's book to not buy for my nineteen month old. That's when the realization hit me, and I felt a huge grin across my face: My son has grown up and developed his own personality to the point where I can reasonably disqualify an entire table of perfectly good children's books. It's difficult to explain, but there is something so gratifying about bringing a tiny human into this world, and then watching him slowly evolve from helpless, expressionless, sleeping, eating, swaddled newborn, to the fully-formed toddler he is today. And Steve and I are the only people who could have glanced at that table of books and formed the same conclusion. It made me oddly giddy.