Friday, January 28, 2011

Just Don't Land On Your Head.

Before I find myself in the semi-finals for the Bad Mother of the Year Award, let me be absolutely clear: My children use seatbelts, wear government-approved safety helmets when riding their bikes, and I do not allow them to climb 30-foot pine trees just to see the view from the top.

I am, of course, willfully ignoring the fact that my sister and I safely rode on the floor in the backseat of the family car from Sacramento to southern Oregon, using the seat as a table for our art supplies, all of which could have become fatal projectiles in the event of an accident. We routinely walked and rode “around the block” (which in our rural area was a two-mile trip) without helmets, cell phones, or cans of Mace. And while I was not technically allowed to climb that particular tree all the way to the top, I never once fell out of it.

After the obligatory new-mother panic, I found myself settling into a more easygoing approach to parenting. Part of it is because I realized that there’s no definitive rule book that enables you to protect your kid from everything – I dutifully strapped Peter into his carseat and held his hand when we crossed the street, and he managed to break his arm by falling less than three feet out of a swing in our own backyard.

It’s also partly because you just run out of energy after a while. When I’m at the park lying in the sun half-reading a book and half-not, and the kids are laughing and screeching on the jungle gym, my default answer to “MOM! Can we … ?” quickly fades from a snappy “Absolutely not!” to a sun-soused murmur of “OK, whatever, just don’t land on your head.”

One of the main reasons I’ve loosened up, though, is that I’m not exactly a Safety First girl myself when it comes to things I really, really want to do. Especially if I’m taking pictures with my beloved little camera, my approach to rules gets a little … flexible. A quick flip through my favorite pictures triggers a stream of memories: “I was holding onto a tree and trying not to fall into Mill Lake when I took that!” “Haha, I was TOTALLY trespassing when I took that shot – had to climb over two fences to get it.” “Oh man, I came SO close to sliding off that cliff. Good shot though, huh?” And when my daughter has watched me look both ways for cars and stand right on Highway 101 to get a better shot of the Coos Bay Bridge … well, “Don’t cross the street without a grown-up” loses a little of its punch.

So when Mary came home with a vague assignment from her middle school cooking class to “cook something”, I vetoed her hesitant suggestion of pancakes. I was planning on making clam chowder, and I figured she might as well learn how to do it right. I showed her how to peel a potato, handed her the vegetable peeler, and said, “Don’t peel your skin off. It hurts.” And she didn’t. I got out my cherished Wüsthof chef’s knife (which cost more than everything else in the silverware drawer and could take a finger off if you’re not careful), showed her how to dice a potato, and said, “Don’t cut the end of your finger off. It hurts. Your uncle did it once, so don’t do that.” And she didn’t.

Everything went fine until it was time to add the bowl full of diced potatoes to the merrily bubbling mess of scallions and melted butter in the stock pot. Mary wanted me to get a few pictures of her culinary adventure, so I talked her through the process of tipping the bowl of potatoes into the pot while I watched through the digital viewfinder. I snapped the picture just as she dropped the bowl and jerked her hand away from the hot butter, which I’d forgotten to remind her about.

She ran to the sink and put her burned finger under a stream of cold water while I rescued the potatoes. I said, not without a certain amount of sympathy, “Well, I guess part of being a good cook is learning how to treat a grease burn.” And in that moment, my daughter made me proud: Instead of whimpering and moaning, blaming me for her burned finger, or complaining about the mess, Mary sniffled back her tears and asked, “Did you get the shot?”

Rule book or not, I must be doing something right.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Painting the Bathroom (Attention Deficit Disorder Edition)

I love painting! In theory, anyway. Reality somehow ends up looking a little different from what I've envisioned.

I have a form of ADHD that is less common than the usual variety, and is significantly different in that it doesn't include hyperactivity. (There's some argument about whether it's actually part of ADHD or is a separate neurological issue, but that's another post for another day. Unless I forget. Which I probably will.) It does, however, include a chronic tendency to overestimate my own abilities to multi-task, to prioritize like a rational human being, and to determine exactly how many activities will actually fit into any given hour of the day.

So, in practical terms, this means I can wait until the end of my sentence before I say, "Oh look, a squirrel!" But then when I see the squirrel, I'm not only distracted, I'm temporarily derailed. I think, "Oh, he's so cute, running around on the tree out there. All the leaves are off the tree now! I should probably rake. Oh hey, I didn't cut back my roses last fall, darn it! I should go do that, and I know where the clippers are, they're right on the front porch because I was going to do it in November but then I got so tired that day and forgot about it." And then I will go out in the January cold and prune my rosebushes, and not remember what I was originally doing until hours - perhaps days - later.

Can you see how this might be somewhat incompatible with a project involving wet paint?

So, when I take on a project like changing the bathroom's ivory-and-more-ivory color scheme into a more updated soft beige with crisp white trim, I have to be PREPARED. Caffeine - check! Hershey bar - check! Paint - check! (Priorities, you know.) Paintbrushes, tape, newspaper, drop cloths, screwdriver, paint stirrer, rags, ladder - checkcheckcheck! Horrible old jeans and dark pink shirt that was so ugly that paint splotches improved it. Pandora on the iPad. Hallway light turned off so that I will not see squirrels or their non-rodent distractionary equivalent. (Did you know there is only one instance on Google of someone else coining the word "distractionary"? How can that BE? It's such an obvious word!) (Oh. Whoops. Case in point, there.)

Anyway, I'm ready to go. I have everything All Planned Out, so that I will stay on task and finish what I'm doing. The Beach Boys will sing, the sun will shine in the window (in January! in Oregon!), the tape will all go on straight, and my drop cloths will not get scrunched up under my ladder. I will work industriously, painting perfect lines with my beautifully steady hand, never dripping, never spilling, never smacking my hip on the corner of the bathroom counter and swearing loud enough that it echoes off the bare walls. Somewhere in this increasingly rosy picture, I've developed the ability to effortlessly paint around the tricky bits and reach all the awkward corners. It's not until I notice that my dream self looks suspiciously like Reese Witherspoon at her most adorable that I get the uneasy feeling that things might not quite turn out exactly like this image, at least not in every detail.

Four hours pass, in a decidedly un-dreamlike manner.

I do not look at all like Reese Witherspoon by now. (I didn't look a whole heck of a lot like her in the first place, but now I really don't.) I am hot, tired, cranky, and distinctly wobbly from the paint fumes. The awkward corners have been attempted, fudged, and abandoned. Pandora has forgotten what I told her, and she is playing Boston. (Not that I don't like Boston, I do, but it's not always the most restful music.) My drop cloths look like they've been attacked by a flock of incontinent seagulls, my paint-flecked hair is escaping from its hastily arranged bun, and the ladder is in the bathtub. Swearing? Don't ask.

However, I have mostly managed (we'll just ignore that isolated instance of FarmVille) to stay on task. It has taken much longer than I expected, but my poor focus-challenged brain has managed to stay pointed in the right direction for most of the afternoon, and I have actually accomplished quite a lot. And then my daughter comes home and it all goes to pieces.

I am standing on the bathroom counter, the ladder long abandoned because it's not tall enough. (Or I might just be too short, but I'm not willing to consider that possibility right now.) She's talking to me through the partly open door, and I am trying to reach the corner with the roller. And then, CRACK! The much-abused wooden edging around the countertop finally gives up the ghost, falling with a clatter to the floor. Startled, I step into a puddle of paint on the counter that I swear was not there a minute ago. I am still dangerously close to the edge of the countertop, which is now just that crucial bit narrower than it was. Still brandishing my paint-covered roller, I shuffle onto a free bit of counter. NOOOO! I just got more paint on the counter!

I need a wet rag, stat. I stand on my non-painty right foot and reach with my painty left foot to get the damp rag off of the ladder. I manage to wipe up the worst of the paint with the rag clenched in my toes, and drop the rag in the sink. When I realize that my paint roller is dripping, I finally have the presence of mind to put it back in the pan. By now I've put my left foot down onto a patch of newspapers, which promptly stick to the bottom of my foot.

I have to laugh ... I can't help it. I look like an escapee from a lunatic asylum (apparently one undergoing interior redecorating), my daughter is doubled over in a hysterical fit of laughter, and the bathroom looks like a particularly stylish bomb has gone off. And Pandora, in one glorious, serendipitous moment of electronic clarity, has decided on Queen for the soundtrack:

"Another One Bites the Dust."