Monday, March 23, 2009

Willoughby's Plan for World Domination, age 1.

My son, Willoughby, has a plan. 
Apparently, he has heard the message of future scarcity loud and clear and in his chubby infant wisdom, he has developed a way to insure his future survival in the Land of Less-Than-Plenty.
Using the only powers of persuasion available to him (he cannot overcome his perpetual cuteness, after all.) - i.e. pooping - he has effectively disuaded a great number of childless friends and perhaps even the vast majority of Richmond from ever having children at all.
It all began one sunny Saturday in early March. Our family travelled to Richmond to see Dan Zanes in concert with a veritable caravan of friends in tow. Every cool person in Lowesville with kids was in attendance, I guarantee. 
Willoughby, unbeknownst to us, had been setting the stage for this performance by strategically not pooping for two days previous. A fact that I noticed, but did not find remarkable because he frequently does this sort of thing. Frankly, I always believed it to be involuntary biology. Even as a tiny, breastfed baby he would only poop once a day, sometimes even skip a day. 
This is why we christened his resulting overflowing diapers as "Poo-namis!". Even though David said we were going to hell for such a thing, I kept herding the children down that road because, really, when your baby lays down 47 cups of bright yellow poop in a diaper, you can do one of two things. You can lose your mind or you can just make the best of it by, in some small way, making it funny.
Needless to say, I really hadn't been paying attention to Willoughby's pooplessness. My attention had been focused much more on my recommitment to cloth diapers and my swearing off of any disposable diapering regalia, including the incredibly convenient "baby wipes". Earlier in the day, I packed up more Fuzzi Bunz than one baby really needs, 400 wash cloths and a wet bag to hold the soiled nappies and we were on our way. 
During the concert, Willoughby played his first card. He pooped. But a very manageable poop. Solid, well-formed. Easy to shake off in the toilet. No problem to clean up after. After this, whatever mindspace I'd been devoting to "Poop Watch" naturally shifted to other areas like holding W's hand for this 1,000th trip up and down the stairs and yelling at my two older children.
For Willoughby is a very beautiful child and also very good natured. You really don't look at him and expect that inside plots a true Machiavellian mind bent on gerrymandering the future population of the region in which he currently resides. He does not want you moderately affluent Richmondites, lured outside by the warmth of the coming spring, to reproduce yourselves. Those of you drawn to Careytown's shops and eateries; those of you who may raise future members of the House of Delegates, Senators or perhaps even Presidents; those of you witness to the biological spectacle that took place in the street on that day, I bet you are still rethinking that whole "having kids" thing.
Because when my child shits, oh, it is a mighty thing. 
First off, location. Pooping in a hard wooden highchair is a thing I can remember experiencing, but indulge yourself a moment and ponder it. Where does the poop go when your fanny is flush against a hard surface? Well, Mythbusters, it goes up the back and out the sides. Any pants-type item will disguise this migration, but upon removal, say it with me Careytown! "The Poop, she does fly!"
But once set free, it really just lies there on the sidewalk, doesn't it? Because it'd just be too convenient for the restaurant to have a changing table in the restroom and it'd have been too far-thinking for me to have brought along the aforementioned 400-plus washcloths as well. And in a pinch, any flat surface and cheap old restaurant paper towels will do, right?
Sort of.
A concrete bench in front of a vacant storefront (Thanks, Struggling Economy!) really isn't the best place to change a baby covered in shit and no, Sprite from the sippy cup isn't the best liquid with which to moisten cheap restaurant paper towels, either. But it was all going well-ish. I was certainly laughing.
Our friends were horrified. Score one for Willoughby. There's a couple that regardless of their future together (which we hope is long, as they are both lovely people), that I'm pretty sure W. cured of any baby mindedness. And when I needed more paper (More paper! More paper!) and had to run back into the restaurant for more cheap paper towels mid-change, Willoughby, pantsless, diaperless (but not sock- or shoeless), looked his Daddy in the eye and just pissed everywhere.
Because that's what you do when you're in Richmond on a spring day, when everyone is out shopping and enjoying the weather, and you're a year old and want to narrow down your future competition.

Monday, March 16, 2009

We are good. But we are not good enough.

I posted here awhile back about our intention to adopt our niece, Abigail. I spent a good chunk of last year trying to make myself relevant to her life, beginning with telling her my name. Where I started visiting her at social services, observed through a two-way mirror, we progressed to her having overnight visits at our house.
This was a big deal for our family. We are a tightknit group. We are all very much like each other and very, very different from everyone else. Some say that's snobbery. Notice, I didn't say we were better, just different. David and I talked to the children about what we were thinking. We all agreed it was the best thing to do. What better gifts can you bring to a child? 
Here we are. It's your family. Throwing it all out there because we want to pull you into us. We want...we choose you.
But after court dates and home studies and various other hoops, the greater court system of Lynchburg decided it was in Abby's best interest to stay with her maternal grandmother. And perhaps it is, after all.
I have been thinking on this really hard, like an ever-lasting gobstopper for the mind. And I am all the ways one would expect. I am disappointed. I am relieved. I am resigned. I am indignant.
Abby's grandmother is a nice lady. I don't doubt Abby will be happy and well-cared for. But I was ready to be her mother. And David was ready to be her father. And our children were ready to welcome her as their sibling, their familial peer.
I can't even begin to go into all the ways David feels about this. It would be insulting to him to try. So, I won't even attempt it. 
I guess it's not often that I really want something; that I really throw all caution and reason to the wind and say, "Yes. Here. Me, yes, I want that."
And I'm still sincerely trying to make sense of it, but I guess if nothing else, I can say of my family, we don't back down. When pressed, we don't flinch. My little band, we have hearts wide open and we'll always come through in a pinch.
Whether you need us or not.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Do I Look Fat In This? Wait! Don't Answer Because What I Mean Is, um, Do You Like Think I'm Worth It And Stuff?

So, I was reading my friend Scott's blog ( this morning and he raised an interesting question about honesty. Basically, how honest do you want people to be with you? Can you be honest and still be kind? Or does honesty inherently possess a brutality to it - a ruthlessness. Is being completely honest with a friend about something critical or unpleasant akin to jungle cat pouncing all fang and claw on a baby zebra? 
I got my first lessons in honesty from my mother. Before you get all, "Awwwwwwww..." and misty, let me say that my mother's definition of honesty has very little to do with truth and everything to do with her hyper-critical, completely off opinions about everyone and everything. Growing up with her was quite a bit like spending your formative years being informed of yourself by that kid in 3rd grade who absolutely lived to make you miserable.
When I was 9, I was in a dance review. I was really proud of myself in my sparkly suit and my big tuille hair bow and my tap shoes. I remember coming breathlessly off the stage all giddy, ready to just jump around and really be plain old happy with being me when my mother said, "When I looked at all those little girls up there, really, Jenny, you were the fattest one up there."
Boom. Right? Thud. From flying to flattened in two seconds.
Now, my mother was being "honest". She was sharing what she thought. 
It's just that what she thought was inappropriate and cruel. Without the ability to self-censor or realize how incredibly hurtful her thoughts and feelings were, she called herself possessing a unique virtue (and she still does). 
There are really beautiful pictures of me in that dance costume that I can't look at without wincing, feeling that echo punch in the gut. And although I know I was beautiful and lovely and deserved to be lovingly parented as much as the next kid, that horrible crash down is so much a part of who I am today. It's a large part of why I don't try so hard; why I don't want much; why I am unable to see myself as I really am; why I don't talk about how I feel; why I am so closed off; why my arms aren't as open as they should be.
To flip the coin, though, there are times when that level of honesty is good. When someone you love is trapped by a destructive relationship or drug abuse, when people are floundering, constantly choosing to do the wrong thing, a little ruthless honesty can be good. Everyone needs a good slap in the face once in awhile. But a loving slap. A "Hey-I-Really-Love-You-But-Have-You-Lost-Your-Damn-Mind" kick in the pants. Those people who can grab you up by the scruff of your neck when you're in the gutter peeing down your leg, those honest people, they are the ones that love you best. Because they are willing to piss you off to save you from yourself. They are willing to sacrifice their relationship with you so that you can improve yourself. But it's a fine line between lovingly packing a wollop and clubbing someone over the head. Very few people are willing to deal with the ramifications of that kind of honesty. 
But then, there's the honesty Scott was really getting at, I think. The honesty that kind of pops up unexpectedly; where you mistakenly open Pandora's Box without every realizing you had hold to the lid. When David and I were first together, I remember lying on the sofa talking to him on the phone and in my 17-year-old folly, I asked him, "What do you want?" thinking he'd say, "I want YOU, Jenny. I want to marry you and have 300 children and live my life for you and only you, you magnificence, you wonder, you essential beautiful joy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
What he said was, "What if I can't do this anymore? What if I need a break from this?"
Quite the anti-climax, there. Not exactly what I was after. And he didn't do anything wrong, even though it hurt like a bitch. He was just being honest. And he needed to be. What is a relationship if information like that isn't shared? Not hurled, but shared? If he had never uttered those words to me all those years ago, as much as it hurt, as much as I hated to hear them, would we be here today? Together?
Or would there have been some sprouting done by that acorn, ultimately breaking apart the sidewalk of our love? And at what point would that have happened? Before marriage? After? Before children? After? What would our lives be now if I'd never asked the question? Or if he  had chosen the safe answer?
The truth is not good or bad. It just is. And honesty is how we all relate to the neutral truth. I could have 100 different kinds of cancer and deny every one, but I'd still die. If I were honest with myself and others about them, it wouldn't change the outcome, but it would change me. And it would change those around me, maybe make life better by making it sadder. (Better Living Through Melancholia!) 
You really should never ask, "Do I look fat in this?" unless you're prepared for the answer to be, "Yes!". It's hard. It's so damn hard to extend yourself out there, blind to the opinions of others and yet, so very vulnerable to them. It's hard to struggle through your own feelings of inadequacy to muster up the courage to ask someone else, "Am I okay? Am I good enough? Do you think I'm pretty only skin-deep, because I know what's up inside and I'm pretty good in there? Do you like me? Do I please you? Will you love me? Could you? Just love me?" And I guess that's what we're all looking for; an honest answer to that question and also the reason the blanket notion of Jesus' love is so very appealing. Because, I tell you, it'd take the son of God to love some of those people out there.
But I don't mean you. Because you are okay. You are so beautiful. I do like you and you are pleasing in every way to me. How couldn't you be? I love you. I love you. I love you.
And I mean it.