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.
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.
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 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.")