Thursday, August 27, 2015

daughter dates

For the past three years, we've spent Saturday mornings at a lovely little toddler music class, first with barely-toddling Lorelei and then eventually with both girls. We enjoyed it, but we're excited about trying something new now that our weekends are wide open spaces: daughter dates.

Jason and I have both been feeling a strong pull to each spend time with Lorelei and Phoebe individually, especially with all of the growing pains and challenges the girls have had this summer with turning two and four and with the stress of our move. One-on-one time felt like a way to help them feel special, so we decided to make weekends a two-fer, with one day spent together doing a family activity and one day spent separately, trading off the kid/parent pairings each week, and letting the kids (for the most part) choose what they'd like to do most.

Last weekend was our first time trying it. Lorelei and I spent the morning wandering around the New Orleans Museum of Art. It was her first time at an art museum, and we had fun walking from room to room until something caught our eye: "pick where you'd most like to travel" amongst the landscapes, choosing our favorite dresses from the gallery of portraits, standing reallyreallyclose and then f  a  r   a  w  a  y  from the Impressionist paintings, describing what the abstract paintings might be if we didn't read the placards. Her favorite gallery was the Louisiana Art wing, and she was enamored with the enormous "Battle Royale" painting by Alexis Rockman most of all.

Afterwards, we walked over to Carousel Gardens and went on a few rides that Phoebe is too little for. Lorelei asked to go on one ride all by herself, so I had the pleasure of leaning against the fence, watching her try to figure out how to make her little airplane go up and down and happily wave to me from high above.

Now that Lorelei is in preschool every morning, my time with her feels especially precious. I love taking both of our kids on adventures together and watching their sisterly friendship develop, but I'm already feeling selfishly protective of these twice-a-month dates with my big girl and getting a glimpse of what our mother-daughter lunches might look like ten or twenty or thirty years. The view from here suggests it's going to be pretty great.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

"come see, come see": on changing the story

Since we moved here to NOLA, I'm on constant alert for cockroaches. No, I'm never going to call them "palmetto bugs" - that's far too pretty a name, dreamed up by genteel Southerners, for something that strikes such fear and loathing in my cold, Yankee heart. Every time I see anything small or dark on the floor or catch a movement from the corner of my eye, my blood turns to ice and I can't breathe for a second. And with the exception of our first day moving in, I've seen a lot of pieces of leaves, Cheddar Bunnies, and bobby pins, but no impending plague.

My husband writes, at least some of the time, on the topic of priming and framing effects in his philosophical work - the things that set you up to view an event in a certain way or come to one decision rather than another simply due to the saliency of certain features or characteristics. I used to talk about this sort of thing with my high school students, too: a literary theory is a lens through which to view a story, a frame of reference that sharpens the details within it and blurs away whatever doesn't fit inside. Everyone told me the bugs down here were nightmarish. I'm already terrified of bugs. So I'm primed to scream and hit the ceiling any time I see a glimpse of anything strange on the carpet, whether it's a bug or not.

The other day just after a brief afternoon rain, I was rushing to get the girls into the car to race to the grocery store for dinner ingredients, something I should have been already cooking five minutes ago. They were dragging their feet and I wasn't even looking at them when I told them to hurry up, already. Finally, I turned back and saw the delay for what it really was: not a purposeful attempt to thwart my grocery trip, but a moment of excitement and joy that I was ignoring. "Come see, come see," they had been saying, though I hadn't heard them. "You almost missed it."

Our girly trio has been in a rough patch for some time because, due to the stress of our move and the nature of life with a toddler and a preschooler who are still learning the ropes of being human, we're often primed to see and think the worst of each other. "Don't be mad," Lorelei says to me several times a day (parroted, of course, by her adoring and highly imitative younger sister), even if what I've just said to her wasn't in an angry or frustrated tone at all. I assume any disobedience is an act of defiance, meant to push my buttons in all the right (wrong) ways. Lorelei flies into a rage if we so much as suggest that what she's doing - or, more often, about to do - is somehow against the rules of safety or propriety. Phoebe is stuck firmly in a stage of relishing the negative attention she gets for acting out, and certain routines and every day activities send her into epic tantrums simply out of habit.

I'm primed, too, whether from personality or habit of my own, to focus on all of the ugly. On the fights every day at lunch. On the screaming fits at bedtime. On the meltdowns in the museum gift shop (why, why, why must we always exit through the gauntlet of brightly colored stuffed toys and packages of candy when the kids are tired and hungry and in need of naps?). On the whining and the contrariness and the ungrateful shrugs and the daily declarations of "You're not nice, Mommy."

But have you noticed how these become inescapable? How the more my kids tell me not to be mad, the more mad I get? What about the students starting school this fall who, when previous teachers see their names on a fellow educator's roster, get immediately flagged as difficult, trouble, bad seeds? What about cops conditioned to see themselves as combat soldiers or teens to view all authority figures as evil and corrupt? I already know how this story ends, we say. I've read it before. We don't bother to crack the binding to even pretend like we're invested in finding out for ourselves. And we live up, or down, to those expectations because how could we not, when we're told so definitively who we are over and over again?

I'm tired of the sass talk and the tantrums and the general ugliness. But I'm trying, the only way I know how, to revise the narrative: to help them change their stories by changing my own. "Think of three good things that happened today before you go to sleep," my mom always said to me on nights when I wanted to wallow in my frustrations. I want to think of three, thirty, three hundred good things about those girls: the times when they follow a snail down the sidewalk, happy and curious and excited together.  And then maybe those palmetto bugs lurking in the corner will fade into the background. Or maybe - just maybe - they weren't even there to begin with.