Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Great Law of Change

Fall has always been my favorite season. I love the cool freshness of the air that brings to mind a satisfying bite into a crisp apple. I love its latent symbolism: the earth calls out for change in its loudest voice, through reddening leaves, cooling temperatures, and shortening days.

This year in our house, fall is anticipated with equal parts excitement and doom. Eleanor will start kindergarten in a few short weeks. She recently disclosed that she feels excited and nervous "all at the same time." Earlier in the summer, walking hand-in-hand on an errand, Eleanor told me, "If the school bus leaves without me, Mama, you can just look for me at the hydrant that's closest to the school." I explained that school buses don't leave until all of the students are aboard, that her teacher will make sure she gets on the right bus. She listened intently, then replied, "Yeah, but just in case, just remember, Mama, I'll be waiting for you at the hydrant."

That girl. She knows how to plan.

Then there's the bitter little taste of kindergarten social drama that I witnessed at the park yesterday. Eleanor made a new friend on Monday named Ria. Eleanor attended Children's Garden camp during the afternoon, along with Ria and several other heretofore undiscovered friends. After camp Eleanor spotted Ria at the park, and they played nicely together for an hour and a half.

Tuesday was a different story. After Children's Garden, Ria went to the park again. But this time she'd already arranged to meet her friend Natalie there for a playdate. Eleanor approached the two girls, ready to take part in whatever fun they had planned. She came to me later, choking back tears, saying, "they said I can't play with them." Determined, Eleanor approached them again. This time they filled up buckets with water and chased Eleanor away.

Eleanor asked me for help, saying she really wanted to play with Ria and Natalie. "Hmm. I wonder what ideas you have for solving this problem," I said. "What choices do you think you have?"

"I already tried to talk to them but every time I try to talk they try to dump water on me," Eleanor said. "That's true," I said, "but what else could you do?" I asked. Knowing I was fishing for the answer, "Go play with someone else," Eleanor cut to the chase: "But Mama, I really want to play with them." "Hmm," I said. Soon Ria and Natalie came close to me, saying "there's Eleanor" in their best "SEIZE HER" voices.

I decided it was time to intervene.

"Hi girls. Eleanor's been telling me that she'd really like to play with you," I said to them, "but I think maybe you've been too busy with your water to hear her words." Incensed, Natalie hissed at me, "Well, this is a club! And to be part of this club, she has to let us put water on her head!"

Really? Has it come to this already?, I thought, You're only five.

I turned to Eleanor. "I'm not sure I'd want to be part of a club like that," I said. Eleanor's brain came to the rescue. She addressed the girls, her hands on her hips and jutting-out jaw proclaiming her ferocity, "If that's the rule of your club, how come you aren't pouring water on eachother's heads?"

Aha! Take that!

As if someone had snapped a finger, the mean-girl spell was broken, and Natalie invited Eleanor to play. They sprinkled water on each other's heads to signify the new-found grace of their friendship. Later Natalie's mom approached me sheepishly. "Hi, are you Eleanor's mom? Natalie says she won't leave the park until she gets Eleanor's phone number so she can play with her again." Um, okay, so Natalie's in charge of you as well, I thought, I wonder if you've been inducted by water baptism, too.

Is this the oily social jungle gym that Eleanor will have to climb at kindergarten? What happened to the Peacefulness Corner at preschool, where kids went to solve their disputes, passing the talking stick back and forth, the beads of mutual respect collecting in the air?

Then there's this change: My Sylvia is turning 4. Oh four, how I love thee! Oh three, how you stink! In our prior experience, four brings about a huge change, turning an overgrown, whining toddler, into an independent, articulate preschooler.

Already I'm seeing the power of four in Sylvia.

The power of her concentration is growing like a Chia Pet on Miracle Grow. This week at the park we had the good fortune to happen upon a broken water main, which was spewing water like Old Faithful, flooding the grass of the park. (Oh, the thrill!) When the Parks Department Super Heroes arrived, wielding long metal tools and wearing official uniforms, the children of the park gathered on a nearby fence-ledge to watch the action.

Sylvia sat on that ledge for almost an hour. Just watching. Taking mental notes in case she's ever in charge of water-main repair. This from a girl who daily sinks her incisors into the word squirrely just to taste its flavor. I'll repeat: oh four, how I love thee!

Meanwhile, Eli is morphing from baby to toddler, as surely as the leaves turn color. He declares "OUTSIGH" (meaning outside, his most favorite place) as the first word of the morning, and as his last-word bedtime benediction. Despite the fact that he's still nursing (just twice a day-- at wake-up and tuck-in), we abandoned him, along with the girls, to the loving attention of my parents, while we ventured to Chicago to see some beloved friends. Gone four days, Eli rewarded our return with smiles and hugs, saying nonchalantly with his eyes, "Oh hi Mama, you're back!" That night, he settled in for nursing as if I'd never been gone at all.

I'm puzzled whether the addition of new tricks to his nursing repertoire signals impending weaning, or if it's part of his master baby-plan to keep it entertaining in order to do it forever. (Bwah ha ha haaaa! This boob is mine! All mine!!!) He flings the dangle on my necklace over my neck, momentarily pops off my breast, and asks--his palms facing up, the corners of his mouth upturned in the smile of an inside joke-- "where go?" Tonight he snuggled in with a toothbrush ferreted in one hand and a bubble wand in the other. He touched his wand to my mouth, cheeks, chin, and forehead, like a miniature professor mapping out Modern China with a laser pointer. He took breaks: gnawing on his toothbrush, then his bubble wand, then returning to me for more milk. All this while tucked safely in my lap, in the shrinking arms of my rocking chair, which can no longer contain the astonishing length of his legs.

Speaking of me lugging around an extra 30 pounds in case Eli needs more milk from me, I'm reconciling with my body after a substantial period of alienation. Inspired by Seattle Mamacita and Tricia, who recently completed a triathlon, and by Little Monkies, whose hot-stuff recently visited Seattle after shedding numerous pounds, I've made a deal with my body: I will exercise and feed it well, and it will shrink. I said, SHRINK! That's right, we have an agreement. A contract, some might say. (You shut up, growling stomach! I banish thee!)

Monday night, I reintroduced myself to the treadmill ("Hellooo, treadmill," I said, taking on the tone of Seinfeld greeting Newman). I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that I had to dust off the cobwebs, quite literally.

And what should a smart Mama do, in order to encourage herself to exercise? Well, I'm glad you asked. She must build in an incentive. To wit: instead of getting up early to run, or running after the kids are in bed, she must run sometime during the evening while the hubby is home, thus eaking out a few precious minutes of alone time whilst simultaneously improving her health. And if she has a little TV installed in the garage in order to get the evening's news while she runs, then she should consider it a three-for-one deal.

Ah, but these plans are always so much better in theory. The First Evening of the Plan, Eleanor hound-dogged me around the house as I got ready, watching wide-eyed as my muffins overflowed into the tin of my undersized sportsbra. She acted as if I were leaving for a months' vacation rather than a 30 minute jaunt to the garage.

She followed me to the garage door, begging to watch me run. (I mean, I'm sure it is a sight to behold, what with the 30 extra pounds flapping around like jello in an earthquake.) Banished, she settled herself into the branches of the tree outside the garage window, pressing her face up against the glass, periodically attempting muffled conversation. "ARE YOU STILL RUNNING, MAMA?" was all I could make out.

Tonight she asked me what she should do if she needed to tell me something while I was running. "Well, looks like you'll need to save it until I'm done," I told her. "But I won't be able to remember that long," she said, and I thought, right, because I'm running oh, sooo long on Day Two of the Plan. "Maybe you could write it down so you don't forget," I offered helpfully. "But I can't write very fast, and by the time I try to write it, I'll forget it," she said mournfully. "Hmm, maybe you should record it some other way," I suggested.

And so it was that today while I ran on the treadmill in the garage, receiving the days' news like a weary traveler slurping hot soup, Eleanor sat on the tree-branch outside the window, speaking into a miniature tape-recorder. Just so I wouldn't miss anything. (Reminding me of the employee's retort in the movie Office Space when he's accused of missing too much work: "Well I wouldn't say I've been missing it.")

This doesn't feel very much like alone time. It's more like Alone-Except-For-That-Pesky-Stalker-Time.

And so it is. While some things change this fall, it looks like a lot will stay the same.

We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature. --Edmud Burke


Jenn said...

The Mean Girls Club.

What I wish I could spare the A's from, but unsure of how to do it as I feel that sometimes, I'm still running from them as well.

Fall, also my favorite season.

And the treadmill? Go, woman go. I've taken to watching the Tigers while running now--yes, running, although when I started, it was more walking quickly and gasping.

You can do it!

Julie Pippert said...

Oooh good for you and loads of good luck on the new health and shrink regime. :)

Mean Girls. You know, I am so glad you walked up to intervene. I'm amazed that moms rarely do. Sometimes I feel like a freak because I will. Especially if it is my own kid...and I wonder why the mom of that child just sits to the side.

Mean Girl started this past year for us and it can be rough. Kindie starts in a few days here, and I have to say, I hear that is Big League compared. So I am quaking in my boots.

This post just nails it all.

jen said...

I've missed you. Lovely to find your writing today.

I see the Mean Girls Club in M's preschool already. it's horrifying. and i have no idea what to do except keep talking about it. Four? Sounds like a lovely change of pace.

I love Fall, too.

alicia said...

I'm so glad that Eleanor is smart enough to recognize the double-standard of the mean girls club. Her intelligence and strong sense of worth will serve her well in the days/months/years to come.

Good luck with the exercise and me-time routine. You certainly deserve a few minutes of time to yourself; even if it is to run off some extra weight.

I've also noticed the 4-year old benefits w/ Josie. She'll be 4 on Saturday and already exhibits a longer attention span, fewer whining/crying spells, and more independence. Change, we welcome thee!

Emily said...

Oh, goodness. This post just slayed me. Everything about it. Highlights:
-- I, too, love fall
-- Glad that you were able to help Eleanor turn two potential enemies into friends. Although the mean girls' club is daunting, it also has a fluid membership, and it is best not to solidify girls into two different camps.
-- "Taking mental notes in case she's ever in charge of water-main repair."
-- How much better is it to run when you would otherwise be taking care of the kids?! Brilliant!
-- "It's more like Alone-Except-For-That-Pesky-Stalker-Time."

Loved this post!! Missed you!

bubandpie said...

I've been worried, lately, about the culture of boys - their need to be rough and sporty and everything that my Bub isn't and that I don't really want him to be. So I read this post with a kind of "Oh yeah," feeling - girls are mean too. Sigh. How do we survive it?

Seattle Mamacita said...

there's so much meat in this post i can hardly pick one thing i want to comment on. by far I just love E's retort to the girls at the park, like your sis said she will more than fair well she is a thinker that girl

Little Monkies said...

I am SO with Mamacita...just can't tell you how lovely, lyrical and delicious this post was. I wanted to cry for E (oh, I remember those days all too well) and am so *awestruck* by the way you handled it. Smart mama, smart mama. You so rock. And she's gorgeous.

It was so good too see you, never enough time...I miss you SOOOOOOOOO.

bgirl said...

fabulous post on so many levels. as usual i make mental notes to self on how and what to say when one day faced with a similiar 'kid-club' situation.

oh eli..so yummy. the tug i felt, as you describe his legs too long for the constraints of the chair...oh i miss those days.

and finally...run ally run. you are my inspiration! so in harmony with you, i continue to run as well (sans the little tree stalker!)

run mama run!

Christy said...

I really can't believer little girls at times! But you have one smart kindergartener there, and kudos to you for saying something too. I dread having to send Lilly into a situation like this, but I have a couple more years to hang onto her first. By the sounds of it I have something fun called a three-year-old to get through first :)

Good luck with the running!

slouching mom said...

yay! a post from ally!

i love how your daughter handled those two girls. she is not only smart, but i think she's going to do just fine socially and emotionally.

that begs the question, of course, of why mean girls need to be so. honestly? the breathtaking cruelty of little girls towards one another makes me ever so glad i'm not raising a girl.

and good on you for intervening. more adults should do so.

i too like fall, until it slides into winter, and then it becomes dark and depressing, i find.

did i say yay, you're back! already?

Kyla said...

Oh...mean girls. I'm dreading that in KayTar's future. Boys are so different, and I'm glad my oldest is a boy...so I gradually get inducted into the parenting of a big kid without the Mean Girl Drama and all the other challenges of little girls.

Jen M. said...

Fall is my favorite, too. And her plan to meet you by the hydrant, just in case? Precious.

Lori said...

I too was excited to read something new from your camp! I love hearing about your kid's adventures, and how you roll with each one with such grace.

Personally, I am not afraid to admit I was not always a "nice girl" either. Most of the time, yes. But I had my lapses- as will most girls. All we can do is nurture their communication skills, model our own values, and pray!

Oh, The Joys said...

The mean girls... I'm so glad she busted their chops!

(And Little Monkies is one hottie hot mama!)

KC said...

Way to handle the mean girls. I heard it does start that early. And I will need to hold myself back from getting into fights with the mothers of the Mean.

kathy said...

Oh.... kindergarten approaches and so do all those social entanglements our kids need to learn about. I wish they didn't. I wish there weren't any mean girls (or boys, for that matter). But clubs and cliques and "You're not my friend!" are sure to rear their heads at recess, from time to time.

I'm glad you were there to intervene. I'm also glad that Eleanor was able to come up with the wonderful retort: "Why aren't you pouring water on each other's heads?" Because she has to learn to do it without you!

It sounds like she's able to do a lot of problem solving on her own. Having picked the FIRE HYDRANT as the place to meet if the bus leaves without her shows that she's thought through a potential problem all the way to a solution. You go, Eleanor!

Kindergarten is a great adventure. Fasten your seatbelt!

Nancy said...

That little girl drama is surprisingly intense. Sounds like you and Eleanor handled the situation with tremendous grace, though.

I'm curious -- would you be interested in having Eleanor play with Natalie despite what happened? The reason I ask is that my daughter's got a friend from day care that picks on her a lot. The mom has indicated an interest in a play date, and I'm just unsure about it. I want Mimi to learn to deal with the difficult parts of relationships -- but I don't necessarily want to force friendships with the "wrong" people.

Sorry to hijack your comments -- I just read this post the other day and have been mulling it over since then.

Bon said...

that Eleanor. so smart. and her mom, too.

i love the photos of your beautiful kids.

Ally said...

Nancy-- I think that I would allow Eleanor to have a playdate with Natalie, though I'd probably propose that the first one occur at my house so that I could listen in. I think that Emily was spot on in her comment to this post; that the Mean Girl Club is very fluid, and girls go in and out of it. I know that Eleanor is not always as kind or thoughtful or inclusive as I'd like her to be, and I'm sure that once in a while at the park she's perceived as the Mean One. So, I'm thinking maybe Natalie was just testing out her power here, seeing how far she could go. Just natural kid stuff (but still disturbing to witness first-hand). Overall, I think that Eleanor is strong enough to protect herself and probably wouldn't choose to keep playing with someone if they were consistently mean. Now, whether I trust/know Natalie's mother is a whole separate question... all of this answer assumes that she is safe, etc.