pretzel bites.

pretzel bites.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

A Bit of Whimsy. A Bit of Change.

 A long time ago, or not so long ago but it feels like a long time ago, before we had children, my husband and I used to save our coins in a giant jar. It probably didn't actually have anything to do with not yet having children and more to do with actually having coins, but that's not the point. The point is that we both had coins, my husband and I, all the time, and they were annoying to have. We already had cellphones and therefore didn't make calls from payphones, so really we didn't ever need coins. So we could collect them in a giant jar and when the jar got full we would bring it to the bank and try to guess how much money was in there and we never guessed correctly but once I guessed pretty close, and when all those coins dropped down that noisy machine we'd get a receipt and we'd take the receipt to a bank teller and the bank teller would give us cash. So much cash! And then we'd go out to a restaurant for dinner and order drinks and appetizers and entrees and feel absolutely, filthy rich. Well, those days are over. Not because of the children, like I said, but because of the coins. Or lack thereof. 

I actually used to have cash in my wallet. In fact, I still carry a wallet that has a nice little area for cash to be all flattened if I was ever to have any, which, as I've said, I don't. But who even takes cash anymore? Bodegas and taxi cabs and artisans in booths at craft fairs take credit cards now and so many businesses have those little signs about being cash free to prevent robberies, I think. Now people just wave their magic phones in front of machines to pay for things! We used to pay babysitters in cash but then a few years ago they asked us to pay them on Venmo, which I avoided doing at first not because I was worried about internet privacy, but because it sounded like one of those things that would take me forever to set up and for which I'd forget my password a million times. But then I finally did it and now I really never have cash. Which is fine, except when it's not. 

Which is when my son comes home and proudly tells the story of how, when he was eating a sugar daddy given to him by the teacher of his superhero stream afterschool enrichment class, he felt a POP! and then his mouth filled with blood. Yes, the molar had been loose. But not THAT loose. 

And it's not fine when my daughter is casually eating strawberries while I'm reading to her one moment and then the next moment she's looking in the mirror and crying hysterically because she managed to not only lose her first tooth in a strawberry, but somehow, impressively, also managed to then swallow the tooth she lost in the strawberry. Yes, the tooth had been loose, but not THAT loose. 

And it's also not fine when my other daughter loses not one, not two, not three, but FOUR teeth after bouts of pillow fight couch jumping wrestling with my son. And, for the record, those teeth had been quite loose but my daughter was so terrified of losing them and so protective over them that I thought it would never actually happen. Silly me.

That's when it's not fine to have cash. That’s when it’s a good thing to live in a condo with neighbors who are our friends because sometimes, fairly late in the evening, when we are desperate, we can ask our neighbors if they have any dollar bills or even coins and sometimes, when we are lucky, they do. 

Why? Because of the tooth fairy, of course.

Now, as we don't celebrate Christmas or Easter, the tooth fairy is really the one magical creature we allow into our home and in whom our children believe. And boy, do they believe. Or at least my girls still do. My son seems to be in it for the payout at this point. But they all dutifully write the tooth fairy letters asking her questions about her name (Alessandra), her size (small, of course!), her home (see below), and her abilities (isn't flying into bedrooms in the dead of night and replacing teeth with money enough?!) and then outline and draw arrows to where they'd like her to reply on the page. They ask for things like gift cards (what on earth?) in exchange for their teeth, or for her to grant them special powers, like flight. For the record, I have gotten quite good at my tooth fairy handwriting.

The night the babysitter called me while I was at a work dinner to let me know my son had lost a tooth that was connected to his braces and therefore connected to his mouth even after it had fallen out (well, really he had pulled it out); the night I came home early from said work dinner to cut my son's tooth free with kitchen scissors because we don't have needle-nose pliers, and neither, I learned, do the neighbors who often have cash; the night I made my own finger bleed with said kitchen scissors--while incredibly, amazingly, impressively not cutting my son's mouth--my son wrote to the tooth fairy to ask her if she might pay him a little extra because she could maybe use the hardware of the brace on his tooth to create a door for her castle. Sheesh.

One of the things I learned in spring 2020 when my husband and I took turns trying not to pull our hair out or have nervous breakdowns as we sat with our children and their "packet work" (this, before their year of online school was up and running) is that there are a lot of different customs around teeth and what to do when they fall out. From all over the world! Some even dating back centuries! I cannot for the life of me remember which child had to read about these international lost-tooth traditions as I have blocked most of the details of that spring from my working memory--because, well, why wouldn't I?--but I do remember feeling ever so much more equipped to discuss this than I was to try to explain to my children why 6 and 3 makes 9. (It just does.) But I found it interesting. Baby teeth fall out, which is disgusting, and then people have to figure out what to do with them. And they've been trying to figure it out and tell their children stories or make meaning out of these weird tiny bones for a long, long time. 

My children spend a long time talking about their loose teeth, then they lose them (which often involves blood and sometimes involves tears, and in the case of the kitchen-scissor incident, involved my sweat and blood), then they're told to put them in little ziplock bags (we don't have any of those fancy lost tooth pillow doll things so a ziplock is the next best way to get easy access to the teeth since one child sleeps on a top bunk and another on a loft bed), then they put the bags under their pillows and go to sleep. Once they're asleep my husband and I frantically search the house for bills or change or text our neighbors to ask for cash before sneaking into our childrens' bedrooms while they sleep to trade the tooth for money. It's really strange, actually. But, as my children will tell you, the tooth fairy needs the teeth for her castle. Which is what my mom told my brothers and me. 

A note about the tooth fairy castle: it's conveniently located near us, right off 495, the Capital Beltway. Some people might know this structure as the Mormon church, and an old friend of mine might even have gotten married there in a double wedding ceremony, but I knew it as the tooth fairy castle when I was a child, and so now, too, do my children. It is... made of teeth.

Which, yes, is a lie. Sometimes it's okay to lie to my children. Which might be a lie I tell myself. And mostly, I think, I don't tell them outright lies, but sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, I avoid telling them whole truths when I don't think it's entirely necessary. Bit by bit, as they mature, the world will come into focus for them, and all of its impossible miseries and heartbreaks and injustices will sharpen in their eyes just as the wondrous, inexplicable, surprising beauty will. This is inevitable. It's happening already. And the stories my husband and I tell them will guide the contours of their focus; lies and truths, both. The safety and security of the home and the family we devote ourselves to creating for them is the bedrock from which we hope to launch them into the world, fully formed, reasonable people with healthy adult teeth.

And what's so wrong with a bit of whimsy–they're not gonna find much of it in the Torah. So we tell this strange, happy story about a little fairy who comes in the dead of night to take their baby teeth for herself in exchange for a dollar.  A fairy who pays them actual cash they can use as they please, which is to say, on overpriced, mediocre ice cream from the truck that mercilessly appears outside their school every single day. Soon enough they'll learn the horrors teeth can reap. One day the misery of modern dentistry, second only to the misery of pre-modern dentistry, which, yes, is all better than what was surely the misery of a world without dentistry, will become clear to them. Maybe it's a good thing, starting the whole tooth journey with this little fairy. Maybe one day, when they have children of their own, they'll think back on Alessandra while a drill carves out their deadened, rotted roots, and feel a sliver of joy. Or maybe, at the very least, they'll remember to get some cash on their way home.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Ice Cream: The Routine

 In its current iteration, according to my standard of measurement on any given day, my childrens' bedtime routine takes anywhere from six minutes to, oh, say, nine or so hours, depending on a variety of factors including, but not limited to, whether or not one can consider bedtime ever really actually over when a child who has thrown a fit over an evening snack, the order in which books are read, the level to which lights are dimmed, and the exact position of my body while I am singing lullabies, finds his or her way out of the bed I’ve so desperately tried to lure him or her into for so long–ends up sleeping, yes, right next to me in my not-quite-big-enough bed. 


This is, I'm both happy and devastated to report, a vast improvement to the bedtime situation in my home; the lowest periods, thankfully, are in my past. I hope. The evenings my then-toddler son would not stay in his bed unless I was sitting in his room until he fell asleep, or directly outside his door scream whispering "SHHHHHHHHHHHH" through gritted teeth until he fell asleep, were harder. And wasn't that multiple-years-long period during which songs from both The Little Mermaid and Frozen crept their way into the mandatory performance of lullabies more annoying than what currently happens, which is watching my youngest operatically mime singing the "normal" lullabies along with me into a pretend microphone? And certainly the time period during which I somehow wound up sleeping in a twin bed with at least two of my children was worse. Worse, even, than the time period during which I somehow wound up sleeping on a fold out couch with at least two of my children. 


I know how. Desperation. That's how. 


Now that my eldest child requires no more than a goodnight blessing and a hug before he reads himself to sleep--or rather, before he calls out "goodnight" to each individual member of our family until he gets an individual response from each one of us, before he then insists on my appearing outside of his bedroom multiple times to ask questions he has absolutely come up with on the spot--I can feel we're heading in the right direction. And now that my daughters (who share a room that is, though they are only six and seven years old, already entirely covered in clothing and other Important Things that cannot be cleaned up before bedtime) sometimes even like to brush my hair and put lotion on my feet as I read to them (sometimes really great books about adventurous children and sometimes astonishingly bad books about singing mice with school crushes); now that they even take turns reading to me and to each other before getting in bed and requesting kisses to be doled out in just such an order and arguing about which child will receive said kisses in just such an order, I can feel we are headed in the right direction. 


I think.


And I know this long, drawn out routine is all my fault. I know that. It's the result of some bad decisions my husband and I made a long time ago, when we were novice parents and sleep deprived and desperate. And perhaps we will always actually be novice parents who are frequently sleep deprived and often desperate. But I don't think that's why this routine persists. No, I think it's because during this long, drawn out period I have one goal, and one goal only, which has absolutely nothing in the world to do with making sure these wondrous creatures, my most beloved darling babes, drift off to sleep feeling secure, wrapped in my love, and fully ready for a restorative night. Rather, my goal, by the time a certain point in the evening rolls around and I have snuggled them and talked through the day with them and read to them and managed to stay awake all the while, is to tuck them in and say good night with a kiss and then, without fits or fanfare or questions about belly buttons, escape them for the comforts of my couch where my cherished blanket of the most perfect fabric and weight is waiting for me, where I know I will, when I am finally released to go sit with my husband with our cartons of ice cream, tiny spoons in hand, just be.


Which, of course, isn't as easy as it may sound.


Recently, a dear friend and old roommate reminded me that, when my husband and I first started dating, though I so fondly remember the excitement of our boozy, sweaty evenings of dancing at concerts, the lingering conversations we shared over curated meals in low lit restaurants, and the meandering bike adventures we took through Brooklyn, it was, in fact, our shared passion for ending the day with ice cream that was true backbone of our relationship. Or rather, perhaps a bit more romantically, it was who we became together when, at the end of the day, we sat there, cartons and spoons in hand, to just be. 


By now my husband and I have seemingly endless, intricate, individual relationship strands binding us together. Some of these are the kinds of thrilling, magnificent, emotional, magnetic, dramatically looping ties one imagines sharing with one's partner when one watches a certain number of romantic comedies in one's youth. And just as many of them are the kinds of banal, mundane, hum-drum knots that drag us from day to day. We are each-other's best friends and lovers and confidants and cheerleaders and sounding boards just as much as we are each-other's annoyances and exasperations and frustrations and yes, even the home of each-other's disappointments. And we choose this every single day. My husband is the one with whom I want to examine and question and explore life as we live it together. It is his incense I want to wrinkle my nose at unpleasantly and the existential questions he asks me at the most inopportune moments I want frazzling me while I cook dinner no one will eat. And it's all deeply good, but often it's hard and sometimes it's scary and a lot of the time I feel like a kid pretending I know what the hell I'm doing out here in my life as a wife and a mother who is in charge of making sure three human beings get enough sleep, to say nothing of how much sleep I’m getting or not! So by the time we find ourselves communing at the end of the day–mulling over what’s happened in the world and in our days, who we are and what we’re doing, who we want to be and what we want to be doing–we really must have ice cream in our hands.


Also, a lot of the time we just watch TV while we eat our ice cream. TV is really important to us, too. 


I hear there will come a time when I miss being asked, after I have already said goodnight for the fourth time, whether a person can reach their eyeball if they stick their finger far enough up their nose or whether lizards have nipples; I will reach a day when I miss being called back into a bedroom after I have left it for the fifth time, to be told that one child or the other has decided upon a blended future profession and can’t wait another moment to tell me (veterinarian and rockstar), and of course, that I'll long for my children to wake me twenty minutes after I have fallen asleep to tell me they just cannot possibly sleep without being able to look at my face. The people who tell me these things obviously have older children. They are the same people who smiled at me with pity and envy both as my toddler children tantrumed on the floor of the grocery store, while benignly, if not helpfully, reminding me to enjoy every minute because it all goes by so fast.


And it does. It goes by fast.


I trace the loops of my relationship with my husband, the arcs of our family's creation and movement forward, through the memories of the couches we sat on together eating ice cream. It was an old brown couch, purchased used and carried with difficulty up the slope in Brooklyn to my then-boyfriend's studio apartment where we ate Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Therapy together. A winning combination of textures. It was on a surprisingly comfortable futon-like thing we schlepped as fiancees in a rental car from the one Ikea in Israel to our apartment in Jerusalem exactly 67 steps up that we munched those decadent Magnum bars, the caramel dripping down our chins. It was on the dull brown couch we bought when we moved together back to Brooklyn, the one with the matching chair that made us feel so grown up, that we discovered what we called Shabbat ice cream, the astonishingly expensive and absolutely perfect Jeni's Darkest Chocolate, the expense of which was for special occasions only. That flavor saw me through my first two pregnancies and was our son's first taste of ice cream. He reached for the spoon over and over again. In our DC rowhouse rental on our mass of a gray couch we were introduced to Graeter's French Pot mint ice cream with that satiny chocolate ribbon, where we went from being a family of four to knowing we'd be a family of five. Now, in our DC condo, we have a blue, L-shaped couch and less and less time to sit on it, just the two of us, at the end of the day. In the morning our children wrestle on it, in the afternoon they read and draw. I'm always fixing the pillows and re-folding the blankets. I've traded chocolate for the joys of fruit ice creams. Jeni's is no longer a sacred expense and we routinely have the joyous Brambleberry Crisp in the freezer. Our children peek in the trash can some mornings and laugh with each-other when they see a finished carton. Recently, we discovered strawberry mochi ice cream, though have yet to identify a favorite brand; Trader Joe’s is in the running. On Fridays, our children stack all the cartons of ice cream we have on the counter and examine their options before choosing their two servings. On the best days, we have hot fudge to accompany their Shabbat treat. They eat it at the table or the counter; they're not old enough yet to be trusted with ice cream on the couch. 


One day we won't put our children to bed at all; maybe we'll even put ourselves to bed before they head to their rooms. It's hard to imagine and we have no idea what will be, what's to come. But I hope we'll understand it together, face it together, rejoice in it together, mourn it together, ice cream and tiny spoons in hand.