Empathy Arrives On A Wing With No Prayer

31 05 2011

A week and a half ago my husband and children discovered a robin’s nest in a tree on our street. Built relatively low and easily accesible, they have enjoyed checking on it every day except during tornado warnings (which have been way more frequent than you might imagine.)

I thought it was odd that the nest had FIVE eggs in it.  It seemed like the size of family that either doesn’t all survive or gets you a reality show.  Then they all hatched and I silently chided myself for being a pessimist.

A few days ago SAG admitted that on more than one occassion they have found a chick under the nest, and he has gently placed the discarded baby back in with its breatheren.  My response to his confession, “That’s mean.”  To me this felt like prolonging the inevitable.  To SAG it felt like the only humane thing to do.

Today when SAG arrived home from work, they all headed out on their nightly gator-ride and visit to the nest.  A few minutes later they all came back in the house.  PJ had a look on her face that I have NEVER seen before.  SAG explained that one of the chicks was lying under the nest and had not made it.  PJ climbed into my lap.

We cuddled and talked.  I explained that five babies was an awful lot for one mother bird to try to take care of especially with all the bad weather we have been having.  PJ said that the mother could build a bigger nest.  I said that even with a bigger nest it was hard to find worms to feed that many babies and again talked about the nasty weather.  PJ didn’t say anything else.  I tried to support and confirm her emotions.  (This is not neccessarily the type of thing that comes naturally for me.  I could distinctly hear a voice in my head coaching myself through it.)

When I was growing up and we found fledglings my dad would say things like, “you can put it in that box, but it isn’t going to live.”  My sister and I would build the bird a nest, it would die.  During my career in animal welfare, when I frequently devoted 60 or more hours a week to saving animals, I would think about my father and how his style of straight-forward realism mixed with his respect for nature and general compassion shaped me.

PJ maturing to the stage where she feels empathy is something that I have been waiting for (as have our pets and Little Dude.)  PJ is not a particularly cruel toddler, but the lack of empathy has been painfully (literally) obvious at times.  Just last week she laughed at her brother while he was crying and it was all I could do to keep myself from calling a child psychologist.  As a logical, educated adult I KNOW that a child’s brain has to reach a certain stage before empathy develops.  As a paranoid mother, I worry every time my young toddlers display what feels like pyschopathic behaviors.  Logic, emotion, logic, emotion, I ride this parenting teeter-totter all day long.

It is amazing that this incident happened tonight.  Just in the last couple of days when PJ said, “Sorry” to me following some inadvertant transgression, I noticed it felt different.  It seemed like she actually felt sorry instead of just saying the word because she knows it is the “right” thing to do in certain circumstances or because SAG and I insisted upon it.  I noted the change and wondered if she reached the developmental stage where she was beginning to feel empathy.

Tonight I got my answer.  Tonight I saw a look on her face I have never seen before. Tonight I saw what empathy looks like on my three-year-old.  And I remembered what I had forgotten.  Empathy, understanding another’s pain, means feeling pain. Damn.


Thursday Toddler Trick

26 05 2011

I am thinking of starting a new weekly feature:  Thursday Toddler Trick.  Each week I will highlight a new trick demonstrated by one of the toddlers currently occupying my home.  If possible, I may even offer photographic evidence.  However, frequently that would mean choosing between taking a photo that might amuse you, and letting my child continue to do something which defies the laws of physics, is illegal in most european nations, and is likely to result in a trip to the emergency room or the police station or the bank to withdrawal money to pay a professional repair person.

PJ’s Trick of the Week:

Reaching between her feet and pulling the release on her car-seat thereby allowing herself to adjust the five-point, safety-harness to the position she finds most comfortable (completely loose and completely useless).

First accomplished at the age of 3 years, 10 days.  

How many more years is she supposed to be “safely” strapped in a car-seat?

Little Dude’s Trick of the Week:

Balancing on the back of the couch which is not pushed up against the wall.  Which means he is balancing about three feet off the ground on something that is not quite three inches wide.  When he falls forward, he lands on the couch and laughs.  He hasn’t fallen backward, yet.  But I am pretty sure if he does, he won’t be laughing.

First accomplished at the age of 2 years, 1 month and 18 days.

Do you think it is appropriate to decorate our new home solely with bean-bag chairs?

Bite Size Bitterness

24 05 2011

I am eating cookies and drinking Bud1ight from a can (in bed) as I type this.

My laptop with the 12-month warranty died. We owned it for 12 months and three weeks.

I once read a comment on a blog that living with a toddler is like living with a drunk – brilliant! I would like to take this idea one or two steps further. Living with a 1-year-old is like living with a drunk. Living with a 2-year-old is like living with a victim of PTSD with anger management issues. Living with a 3-year-old is like living with someone who has PMS or possibly PMDD (medical jargon for wicked-bad PMS).

I wrote a really bad poem in my head about all the emotional issues going on in my family. I love you all too much to inflict it upon you.

The five robin’s eggs from my last post hatched. They are the most prehistoric, ugly-ass life forms I have ever seen. PJ keeps looking at the picture of them on my iPhone and saying, “Look, they’re sooo cute!” I cannot figure out how to get the picture into this post. That’s okay, it isn’t for the faint of heart.

I just finished reading “The Opposite of Fate, Memoires of a Writing Life” by Amy Tan. I could write four or five separate posts just about this book: racial stereotypes, evaluation of literature, parenting, fate/faith. Brilliant. And now because of Amy (Ms. Tan and I are on a first name basis these days) I am going to read “Jane Eyre” which I don’t think I have ever read. That is assuming I am not attacked by someone with PTSD or PMS.

Tomorrow, if I can just be 50% as good of a mother as I thought I was going to be before I had two children, I will be being 1,000 times better mother than I was this afternoon.

Sunday Snapshot

22 05 2011

SAG and the kids discovered this nest low in a bushy tree on our street. In this picture one of the eggs has a tiny hole in it. It is so tempting to go often and see what is happening. But we are trying to give Mama Robin a break.


18 05 2011

A sure sign that I am descending (or possibly ascending) into a mood is an increase in the number of superlatives that start floating around in my head.  When my self-talk devolves into always’ and nevers it doesn’t end well.  And if the superlatives start making it out of my mouth – well, woe is my family.  And now that I don’t swear all of the time, when I start releasing a tirade of zingers, well, it is another sign.

Yesterday evening was a superlative-laced curse-fest.  Part of my problem was the fact that I have had a few things on my plate so long that they had started to rot and stink.  One of those things was getting Little Dude his Social Security number.  The nine little digits that stand between us and our much anticipated adoption tax credit.

Yep, we have NEVER filed an extension in our lives.  The year the government is going to pay us the big bucks, we file an extension.  Consider it a loan, fine-white-gentleman of congress… you are doing such a GREAT job I wanted you to have a little of my money for some extra time.   Use it wisely, as you always do.  (Another sign of my mood – the percentage of my communication that is pure sarcasm.)

So, after a rough evening, I decided to start my morning at the Social Security office where I got to enjoy a moment with the fine civil servant at the customer-service window.

I had been warned by many that even when you show up with everything you need to get your foreign-born, adopted child a SSI number, the public servant whose salary you pay is likely to tell you that you have the wrong stuff.  Sure ‘nough, she started asking me for documents from Ethiopia that I did not bring with me because I did NOT NEED THEM.  So I whipped out the paper that I printed from the website and said, “Here is what I need to show you.”

And she said, “I will decide what you need to show me.”

And I said, “…….”

Yup, that is right, I said NOTHING.

Because I could see her ego was good’n’ hungry.   I knew I had walked in the door expecting a fight.  I knew she was happy to give me one.  And, ultimately, I knew in a superlative sort of way that I actually did NOT want one.

So, I, for once in my life, shut-the-hell-up.  And it worked.

She was able to type, type, type then go away and make copies.  Then come back and type, type, type some more.  When she came back and enough time had passed I was able to break the ice with a little, tiny, small talk (aimed at her ego of course.  Dale Carnegie would have been proud.)  Then she wanted to know stuff about Little Dude she didn’t need to (such as birth name, etc…)  I did my best to accommodate her because I am the MOST accommodating girl.

Then when she got to the part where she no longer had to concentrate, she wanted to know other stuff about Little Dude that she REALLY did not need to… such as why we adopted and if our other child was actually ours.  I kept tossing out the correct terminology and she kept coming back with terms like “real.”

And then she did that thing, that thing that I believe only southern women can do, possibly only black, southern women “Mmm..m..m..m..m…M!”

Do you know the thing of which I speak?  The first mmm is the longest, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th are a little-sing-songie, progressively louder and are accompanied by small shakes of the head.   Once or twice the string of Mmm’s were followed by “tsk”.  Yes, Ma’am, I am in the south now.

Although I have seen this expression before in movies I don’t think I have ever actually been on the receiving end of it.  Honestly, I have no idea what it meant.  I am pretty sure it was a superlative laced statement something like, “What were you thinking, silly-white-girl?  The world is a crazy place and you just got nominated for captain of the crazy team.”

I am pretty sure if it was a positive thing I would have gotten a “god bless you” or whatever the civil-servant-don’t -mention-god version of that currently is.  But I was not on the receiving end of any encouragement or words of wisdom.  Just, “Mmm, m(left), m(right), m(left), m(right), M(single nod)!”

I actually found this encounter interesting, entertaining and ultimately I triumphed without a fight.  After that I got a few errands done and even went for a short run.  All-in-all a very fine morning.

However, nap time was rough and post nap time has been apocalyptic (how is that for a superlative?).   SAG and the kids are outside playing, because they have seen the superlative show before and they want no part of it.

Recounting this morning in this post has  cheered me up.  I am not feeling the need for superlatives at the moment.  In fact, I think I will grab myself a beer, go outside and start practicing, “Mmmm, m, m, m, m, M!”

Not Another Th0mas K1nkade

16 05 2011

I like surprises.

I hate getting gifts.

When we went to open PJ’s birthday present from our friend Tammy, there were two packages in the box.  One for PJ and one with a card that said it was for the whole family.

PJ’s was this fabulous art that Tammy made to match PJ’s new big-girl bedding.

Technically I commissioned the piece (don’t I sound fancy?).  I sent Tammy pics of the bedding and she sent me a few pics as she was working on the painting.  I knew it was going to be great but…. LOVE IT.

The second piece of art was unexpected and was wrapped with this paper and ribbon.

I was pretty sure I could guess what the theme of the art was going to be.  Oh you crafty people, the extra touch really does make things special.

A surprise – yay.

A present – uh oh.  (My issues with presents are very complicated.  I touched on it here.  If you want me to tell you more, you will have to charge me $150 an hour and have a couch in your office.)

And then I opened it….

And then I cried.  (But not because I have issues.)

Thanks, Tammy.

Photo By The Hour

15 05 2011

Because I am a copycat…

Because all the cool girls are doing it….

Because yesterday was PJ’s birthday….

Because I now have a cheap camera I can keep in my pocket….

6:04 am

Normally SAG gets up first.  During the week PJ watches cartoons or looks at books while he showers and gets ready for the day.  I stay in bed with Little Dude who is turning into a night-owl (thank you).  However, usually one weekend day I hop out of bed when I hear PJ, letting SAG sleep in a bit.  Today was that day, so she and I are up at 6 am.

First order of the day, clean her glasses.

6:59 am

Enough cartoons, already!  I am filthy and PJ says she wants to shower with me.

7:59 am

PJ is dying to open her birthday presents.  I manage to put it off a few more minutes with our teeth brushing ritual.  Teeth brushing can be super fun. They love to dance while they brush.   Or it can be super stressful.   Little Dude usually tries to climb into the sink at least once.

8:22 am

We are waiting for Grandma to be able to join us by Skype.  In the meantime, the first birthday present we open is this custom piece of artwork that my friend Tammy made to match PJ’s new bedding.  PJ and Little Dude spend a few minutes matching the animals on the painting to the animals on her pillow.  This is an amazing gift.  I can’t wait to hang it in our new house.

8:56 am

Grandma’s on the computer joining in the fun.  PJ got the entire P1an T0ys farm.  Cheap mother triumph – I was able to buy each piece new for about 25% of normal retail.   We wanted to make sure the dolls we bought to go with it represented people of color.  In an interesting twist (probably a very sad commentary on our society – but one I was willing to take advantage of) we were able to buy the “asian” family and the “african-american” family on sale.  The farmers (pinkish) were also on sale.  For now we have 10 people living on one farm – I think it is what you would call a commune.

10:13 am

I tried to take a picture on the hour every hour.  So this Ansel Adams shot represents a LONG line we were standing in to enter our PBS Kids Day.  This is an awesome event, but the venue was WAY TOO SMALL this year.  The crowd was insane.  Parents were pushing and shoving in front of small children left and right.  But, in general, I saw very few meltdowns from the kids.  I think the environment was so intense that the kids were afraid to misbehave.

11:04 am

My previous career (public relations and management of non-profit humane societies) collides with my current career (stay-at-home-mother) when we visit the humane society booth.  There was a cute puppy sleeping in the pen.  I had no desire to adopt it.  Neither of my kids knew that was a possibility.  So it was a quick, pleasant visit with no whining (and no waiting in a huge line with rude adults).

11:19 am

Little Dude is afraid of the characters – even his favorite, Sid.  But, as a rule, we all love Sid.  Sid is the first cartoon I have been able to tolerate watching since I was a child.  Normally I hate anything animated, but Sid… trans-racial family, loves science, I have a crush on his teacher Suzi and on the way to school he sings, “I love my Mom.  She’s really cool.  But now it’s time for having fun in school.”

12:09 pm

Home from the event, Little Dude releases his balloon and watches it float to the ceiling.  I am starting to “prepare” lunch.  I made smoothies but we didn’t have bananas, so they tasted awful and were rejected by both of my over-stimulated children.

1:09 pm

We were not just out of bananas, but also the crucial soy milk that eases the kids into nap-time.  SAG drove and I hopped out of the car and ran into our grocery store to get the milk and some locally baked olive bread so I could make our lunch.  PJ fell asleep in the car right after I took this photo.  Once home, she never took a nap.

2:01 pm

Trying to get the kitchen cleaned up a little while listening to PJ NOT sleep.  This should be relaxing but feels like a race against the clock.  Little Dude is napping, SAG is out running an errand and I want to make us yummy olive bread, tomato, avocado, mozzarella melt sandwiches before either of the kids get up.

3:04 pm

Both kids are up.  PJ never slept but managed to stay in her room until she heard Little Dude get up.  They wanted a snack right away which is unusual.  PJ insisted that I “make circles” with the strawberries.

3:59 pm

Despite the cool temperatures, the kids and I have been out driving the gator… “Me Drive” is Little Dude’s favorite sentence.  When we came back to the house, SAG was changing the oil in his truck.

5:02 pm

Back inside the house, we spend some time playing with the new toys.

5:57 pm

Back to the grocery store.  This time it is just the girls and PJ gets to push the green cart.  We went for tofu.  I am not sure how the pretzels got into the cart. Oh well, I guess I will have to buy them and some dip as well.

7:12 pm

A slightly rough dinner time.  Neither SAG or I are paying enough attention to the kids so Little Dude decorates his hair with the “cheese” from his Mac and Cheese.

8:11 pm

We are behind schedule on bedtime.  Here we are in a “puppy-pile” reading bedtime stories in PJ’s room.

9:12 pm

Both kids are asleep.  SAG is cooking tofu burritos.  I am reading important literature, while cleaning the house and practicing classical music on my violin.

10:24 pm

Despite making great progress on my goal to read 43 books before my birthday, I decided reaching that goal was not worth sacrificing other important objectives such as exercising and moving to our new house.  Plus, we now have streaming netflix.  I  decided that watching documentaries is a little like reading books and takes significantly less time.  Tonight’s choice, “God Grew Tired of Us.”  Interestingly, I gained some insight into my new friend Sahmel who spent time in a refugee camp before coming here.

11:18 pm

Uploading photos for this post.  Everything takes longer on my laptop but I am getting used to it.  Plus SAG updated its software today so I thankfully don’t have to learn anything new!  Lazy? perhaps.  But I am on such a parenting learning curve every single day, I just don’t want to add learning new computer software to my list of daily frustrating experiences.

12:10 am

Still working on uploading, I am joined by our cat, Tinkerbell.  Honestly, I didn’t notice her until I went to take this picture.  I am impressed with her stealthness (is that a word?) since she is normally an in-your-face kind of cat.  A funny but offensive comedian is on the television in the background and SAG is sitting across the room doing something on his laptop.  I really need to go to bed.