Lately, Clara thinks it’s funny when I tell her “no,” and I can’t shake the notion that parenting is a test with sheets of confusing questions I will some day take in defeated protest to the instructor and cry, “But I tried really hard.”
It is the worst kind of test—multiple choice, and here is a sample question:
1. The little baby is sitting in her high chair and has been eating her broccoli and chicken stir-fry diligently until, suddenly, she makes a move to stand up in her chair, a move her mother knows is dangerous. Her mother says, “No, Baby, sit down.” The baby thinks for a minute and then with a devious little baby smile, she stands anyway. Should the concerned, distraught, trying-ever-so-hard mother . . .
a. say “no” with more verbal ferocity to show what a strong authority figure she is
b. inquire instead. “All done?,” and remove the standing baby from the high chair
c. ask the baby’s father to take care of it.
Sometimes I think the best parents simply have the best ideas. When we were little, Sam and I kept slamming the doors on each other, and I’m pretty sure my mom and dad took the doors off their hinges for a day or so. Recently, I realized I didn’t have to sit in the parking lot for thirty minutes so Clara could finish a nap. I could–wait for it–wake her up and discover that she would sleep much more soundly in the afternoon without her half-hour catnaps. When I was teaching yoga the other day and Clara was doing her time in gym day care, I learned that she had been crying vigorously until the girl in charge had the brilliant idea to let her color with the big kids. Then, there was the time I bought real blueberries in lieu of Gerber’s less-real blueberry puffs . Sometimes, I keep myself up at night trying to have good ideas. Mostly, I wonder if “b” is the wrong answer.
The hardest part about staying at home with Clara is that when Aaron asks, “What did you do today?,” my answer is often “defined the limits of my own permissiveness,” “worked out that Clara will go to sleep if I say ‘Mama has to sleep now, too’,” or “figured out Clara likes Brussels sprouts but only if they’re quartered.” I have to be careful not to talk to strangers about whether Clara prefers her squash sweet or savory. The hardest part about being a mostly stay-at-home mom is talking about vegetables and naps and knowing that most people are listening just to be nice.
I’ve always believed in listening to how others listen; if no one cares, then something like Occam’s Razor might suggest there is a good chance it’s not worth caring about. Before my mom goes straight to the comment box to tell me I’m being hard on myself and what a visionary I truly am (love you, Mom), I should say I think a lot about the best ways to say “no,” how much Clara is eating, and how to organize my day to maximize her REMs. Even now, I type a few words, hold my breath, and lean toward Clara’s bedroom to see if I detect any noise. She’ll either wake up or she won’t, right? There is only so much thought capacity and only so many days in one summer. I would like to use less of both on spending three times as much time thinking about something than actually doing it.
Which is where husbands come in. I have no doubt that under Aaron’s careful negligence, our cabin would enter total disarray in less than twenty-four hours, and that Aaron desperately needs me to mind the supporting details and get the Father’s Day cards out on time. I like addressing envelopes, adjectives, calendars, tidying, and details. But the more supporting details there are in one’s life, the more she is in need of a main idea. And Aaron is an expert at main ideas.
The main idea of Alaska is adventure, so since Aaron has been off from school, we’ve worked in at least one minor adventure a day. Yesterday’s inaugural expedition was a kayak ride up the Swanson River.
This doesn’t mean I didn’t ask five times if Aaron was more scared of bears in Alaska or alligators in Florida, and if Clara and I would be better in the boat, the river, or the grass if the former should make an appearance. It also doesn’t mean we didn’t eat detail-oriented lunches or pack a well-supported diaper bag. And, for all the worried grandmas out there, we made sure that for this first outing, we chose the river equivalent of an aging Labrador retriever—slow-moving, non-threatening, transparent, what some might call shallow but what we like to think of as navigable.
So, if I’m going to be here, I may as well be here. This is some Alaska, and yes, I’m pretty sure we kayaked our pretty little selves right through those two rocks.
It would have been such a good picture! Oh well.