By: Shannon Ralph
Was that a siren?
I’m hiding from the police. I expect them to knock on my door any minute now. See, I kind of did something bad this morning. I am not entirely sure it was illegal, but it was at least immoral and likely illegal. It could probably have been considered terroristic threatening without much stretching of the imagination. And that’s illegal, right?
Hence, my fear of sirens.
I threatened my son this morning. I did not threaten him with a loss of privileges like most parents do. I did not threaten to tell his other mom on him like many parents do. I did not threaten to send him to bed without dinner like some parents do. I think my exact words were…
Don’t make me throw you down these stairs, Nicholas.
Yes, I threatened to fling my youngest son down a flight of stairs this morning. Would I have actually done it? Unlikely. But did I seriously consider it in the heat of the moment? Absolutely.
Allow me to explain.
Nicholas slept upstairs in my bedroom last night, as usual. When the alarm went off this morning, I got up. Ruanita got up. Sophie and Lucas reluctantly got up. And Nicholas refused.
We went downstairs. The kids ate breakfast. I washed my hair. Ruanita fed the dog. Nicholas remained asleep upstairs.
I stood at the foot of the stairs yelling for him to come down, to no avail. Ruanita stood at the foot of stairs yelling louder than I did for him to come down, and he still did not come down.
I had taken the day off work to go car shopping with Ruanita. I was practically dragging her there kicking and screaming. It had taken every coercive drop of energy I could muster to convince her to go get a new car today. The kids had to go school. Today was my only shot at a new car. (And if the lousy $400 we got for our barely limping minivan on trade-in was any indication, we desperately needed a new car.) Unless he was missing a limb or there was blood seeping from a life-threatening head or trunk injury (extremity wounds would not have been serious enough), Nicholas had to go to school. It was not a day for pussy-footing around.
So I trudged upstairs with dripping hair to rouse my youngest son. I found him lying in the oversized chair in my bedroom, hiding under the covers. I pulled the covers off and asked him to kindly remove himself from the chair. He refused to open his eyes and did not budge.
I lifted him from the chair and stood him on the floor. His body went completely limp. When I tried to stand him again, he wiggled out of my grip and climbed back into the chair. We repeated this process three times until I finally realized (she can be taught!) that is was an exercise in futility.
Grumbling under my breath, I lifted Nicholas from the chair again, and this time carried him to the landing at the top of the stairs. Again, he went limp. Yet again he nimbly scrambled back to the chair.
Now, had I been a stronger person, I would have simply carried him down the stairs. I could not, however, because 1.) I have an extremely irrational but irrefutable fear of stairs, because 2.) I have bad knees and have convinced myself that they will certainly give out on me one day while walking down a giant flight of stairs and I will plummet to an untimely and ungraceful death. So carrying Nicholas down the stairs was out of the question.
I, however, like to consider myself smarter than the average first grader, so I once again carried him to the landing at the top of the steps. This time, however, I spread my arms and legs wide, blocking the doorway to the bedroom so Nicholas could not flee to the chair.
Realizing that he had been outsmarted by a greater intellect than his own, Nicholas wrapped his skinny arms around the stairway handrail and began to cry. Strangely, there were no actual tears involved in his cry. It merely included a rather odd-looking facial contortion and an ear-splitting wail.
It was at that moment—spread eagle in the doorway to my bedroom facing imminent defeat—that I made the barely conscious decision to resort to terroristic threatening.
Don’t make me throw you down these stairs, Nicholas.
Am I proud? No. Was it one of my finest mommy moments? No. Am I the owner of a shiny new Honda Pilot? Yes.
Was that a siren?
Today was going to be the day. After a dry spell lasting longer than she cared to think about, Shannon was finally going to get her some. It had been so long since she had seen the shape of her partner’s figure—unless one counted the body-hugging long underwear Ruanita often slept in on cold winter nights—that she could only vaguely recall the placement of all of the organs necessary for their morning plans. She would muddle through though.
Their love life had taken a turn for the worse in recent years as Shannon’s and Ruanita’s three children became fonder and fonder of sleeping in their moms’ bedroom. The well-meaning moms kicked the children out of their bed a year prior and forced them into sleeping bags on the bedroom floor. Try as they might, however, they could not get the children to vacate the room completely. Lovemaking in between the kids’ deviously spaced nighttime arrival in their bedroom was too stressful to be enjoyable. They stopped trying altogether.
Shannon and Ruanita worked somewhat opposite schedules. Shannon worked a normal Monday through Friday daytime schedule. Ruanita worked ten hours a day on Saturday, Sunday, Monday evening, and Tuesday evening. On Mondays and Tuesdays, Shannon was snoring soundly by the time Ruanita snuck into bed after midnight.
The previous Monday, Shannon and Ruanita had made optimistic plans to meet upstairs after Ruanita dropped the kids off as school. However, as is their usual luck, their daughter started throwing up Sunday evening and couldn’t go to school on Monday. Their efforts at intimacy were always being thwarted by some communicable disease or another.
Today, however, was going to be the day. THE day. Shannon was sure of it. No one was puking. No one was snotting or sneezing. No one was running a temperature above 100 degrees. All was well in the world and Shannon and Ruanita were finally going to get some alone time.
While Ruanita took the kids to school, Shannon showered. While Ruanita volunteered in their daughter’s 1st grade classroom as she did every Thursday morning, Shannon shaved the Yeti-like pelt that had grown on her legs during the long, cold Minnesota winter. As Ruanita stopped at Bruegger’s on the way home to pick up bagels—sustenance was of vital import in the long-awaited lovemaking session they had planned—Shannon spread copious amounts of lotion on her flaky elbows and crusty heels. Dry skin was yet another unwanted byproduct of turning 40.
As Shannon contemplated the other unfortunate changes turning 40 had brought about, there was a knock at the door.
Don’t open it, Shannon thought. Don’t do it. Ignore it. Whoever it is, they can come another day.
Shannon contemplated crawling behind the sofa to hide from the world until Ruanita got home, but her dog, Stella, had other plans. Stella was simply incapable of ignoring the knock at the door. She barked. She yelped. She growled. She jumped up on the blinds hanging from the widow beside the door. Shannon was certain Stella would pull them down.
I’ll just take a little peek, Shannon thought as she straightened the disorderly blinds. It’s probably just a solicitor looking for a donation for some noble cause or another. People were always knocking on Shannon’s door asking for donations.
Her elderly neighbor, Betty, stood on her front porch.
Betty was bent over in an osteoporotic slump on the front porch. It was cold outside. The porch was icy. Betty wrapped her coat around herself and knocked again, her purse dangling from her wool-clad elbow.
Against her will, Shannon opened the door. She had a thing about leaving poor old women out in the cold, unfortunate as it would prove to be.
“Hello, Betty,” she said.
“Oh. Hi, Shannon. I thought maybe you weren’t home.”
“No, I am here. What can I do for you?”
“I have a huge favor to ask you.”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“My car won’t start and I have a doctor appointment in twenty minutes in Richfield. My son’s out on the road and can’t take me. Is there any chance you can drive me?”
Damn. Damn. Dammit.
“It shouldn’t take long.” Betty flashed her most saccharine old-lady grin. “The doctor just needs to re-check a mole.”
Damn old lady moles. Damn.
“Umm…well, I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
“Is there any chance you can do what you are doing this afternoon instead?”
“Well, I don’t know. I suppose I could…”
“Oh, that’s good. So you can take me then?”
“Okay, sure. Let me run upstairs and get dressed.” Shannon gestured for Betty to sit on the couch and handed her the television remote. “Here, you can watch the Today show while I throw on some jeans.”
Shannon walked upstairs, closely followed by the dog. “This is all your fault.” She pointed at Stella, who wagged her tail in typically bewildered canine fashion.
As Shannon buttoned her blue jeans, she heard voices coming from downstairs. She walked out of the bedroom to find Ruanita standing at the bottom of the stairs.
“I can take her,” Ruanita said.
“Okay. I wasn’t sure when you were going to be home.”
“Not a problem. I’ll run her over there.” Ruanita smiled knowingly at Shannon. “I’ll be right back.”
Shannon watched as Ruanita helped Betty down the icy front steps. Certain Betty was going to fall and break a hip and, therefore, further thwart her efforts to get a little love in, Shannon reached out to help steady her neighbor on the steps. As she did so, Stella darted out the front door.
Ruanita looked up in confused agitation as a flash of brown fur ran past her and down the sidewalk. Shannon quickly slipped on a pair a boots and followed her outside—
—only to fall with a painful thud on her ass. The steps she had just warned Betty were too icy to navigate proved…well, too icy to navigate.
Ruanita was too busy chasing Stella down the street to notice Shannon’s fall. Shannon regained her composure and followed after Ruanita as Betty stood clutching her purse as if an escapee boxer was going to wrestle it from her wrinkled hands.
“Stella! Come back!” Stella was at the corner of the street when she turned and started racing toward Shannon at full speed.
“Grab her!” Ruanita yelled.
Stella ran toward Shannon, past Shannon, and across the street into Betty’s yard. That dog was stealthy.
As Ruanita helped Betty into her awaiting mini van—Betty was going to be late for her appointment, after all—Shannon chased the dog through Betty’s back yard, onto her ice-covered deck, off of her ice-covered deck, and into the alley behind the house. Her ass throbbed all the while from her fall on the steps. She saw a flash of brown scamper into the yard of the house behind Betty’s. Park Avenue sat beyond that, a busy street on a Thursday morning.
There was no use chasing a suddenly footloose and fancy free boxer on foot. Shannon wasn’t likely to outrun her geriatric neighbor, much less a happily scampering dog. She went home, waved goodbye to Ruanita and Betty, grabbed her car keys and set out in search of her dog.
How in the hell will I explain to the kids that Stella is gone? Shannon’s head was full of worries as she drove up and down the snowy streets of her neighborhood. What if I find she’s been hit by a car? What if I never get to snuggle her bristly fur or kiss her wrinkly little face again?
Shannon was almost in tears as she drove around for half an hour without so much as a glimpse of her dog. Finally, she gave up. Maybe some kind stranger would find Stella and call. Shannon’s phone number was on her collar, after all. And she was micro-chipped. Short of being struck by a car, she would find her way home. Wouldn’t she? Shannon wasn’t so sure.
All thoughts of the sexy morning she had planned dissipated. Instead, Shannon’s brain teemed with visions of a sad, dogless future.
As Shannon’s Toyota turned the corner onto the street she had lived on for seven relatively sexless years, she immediately saw a brown blur standing on the icy front steps of her house. As she approached the house, the blur bounded toward the car, bouncing happily. When she opened the car door, Stella jumped in her lap. The stupidest doggie grin Shannon had ever seen was plastered on her face. She cocked her furry head to the side and looked at Shannon as if to say, “Where in the hell have you been? It’s cold. Let’s go inside.”
Shannon went inside, put her exceedingly unattractive sweat pants back on over her freshly shaved legs and commenced to eat a bagel. Then another. She might as well drown her sorrows in asiago parmesan-crusted goodness, after all.
Betty’s “short” mole check ended up taking most of the morning. The compact window of opportunity had passed by the time Ruanita arrived home again. Shannon was on conference call, so Ruanita ate bagels and watched trash television until time to pick the kids up from school.
The second opportunity of the week came and went in mundane glory.
Like married couples the world over, Shannon and Ruanita were destined to live a sexless life–invariably thwarted by the very young, the very old, and the very hairy.
Moral of the story: Never, EVER, open the door.
By Shannon Ralph
I am a nag. I don’t want to be a nag, but I can’t seem to help myself. When Lucas was younger, I thought he could do no wrong. Of course, he had his naughty moments like all children. But for the most part, I thought everything he did and said was perfection incarnate right here on Earth. Right here in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
But now he is a tween. I mean, I didn’t google it or anything but I think four weeks shy of ten years old qualifies as a tween. And I find myself nagging him. Constantly. I ride him like a mechanical bull. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to be one of those moms. I really don’t like it when I nag him. I don’t like the message it sends him. But…Jesus freaking Christ, son. How do you manage to function in this world? How do you breathe and walk at the same time?
Case in point:
Recently, Lucas had a busy day. He performed a Christmas show at the Mall of America with the Metropolitan Boys Choir, followed by a second performance the same day at the Holidazzle Parade downtown. He was with the choir for eight hours straight. So it was certainly a busy day.
I dropped him off at 12:30. He had lost the buttons to his tuxedo jacket, so rather than just dropping him off, I went in with him so I could try to locate some buttons I could quickly sew on for him. The harried choir director waived me toward the wardrobe closet and said, “Just try to find him another jacket in the same size.” The tuxedo jackets did not appear to have sizes on them, so I shuffled through a sea of red jackets until I found one that looked relatively close in size to the jacket with the missing buttons. The other boys were dressing, so I asked Lucas to put on his tuxedo shirt so we could try on the jacket. I walked away for a moment to fill out Lucas’s wardrobe card showing that we had exchanged jackets.
When I turned back toward Lucas, I saw him struggling to get his tuxedo shirt on. He was trying to insert his enormous noggin into the neck of the tuxedo shirt while it remained fully buttoned. Fully. Buttoned. And he was still wearing the sweatshirt he walked in wearing. Not to mention a t-shirt underneath the sweatshirt (he had dressed in layers for the cold parade later that evening). I stood for a moment just watching him struggle. Studying him. Like one would study an endangered species in the wild. How could he possibly have thought that was going to work? Eventually I said, “Lucas…what in the world are you doing??” He responded with a confused, “Huh?”
That pretty much sums up Lucas these days.
Today, he came home from school and announced that his teacher said he has to bring his tennis shoes to school tomorrow. (For those of you from climates somewhat milder than the frozen tundra I live in, kids wear snow boots to school and change into their tennis shoes when they arrive. Every hallway in the school is lined with snow boots from November through April most years.) “Lucas,” I responded. “Your tennis shoes were in your backpack the entire day. You watched Mom put them in there this morning.”
And by the way, who in their right mind puts an opened and mostly full pudding cup back into their lunch box?? Every square inch of the inside of his lunch box was coated with vanilla pudding this evening. Seriously, Lucas?
He puts on clean underwear on top of his dirty underwear because he forgets to take them off. He puts school clothes on over his pajamas if we are not watching him. He throws our silverware in the garbage can when he cleans his plate. We own a whopping three butter knives now. He brings his homework home a crumpled mess shoved into the bottom of his backpack. That is, when he remembers to bring his homework home. His snow boots are never laced up. When he eats, he leaves a circle of crumbs on the floor. Everything I ask him to do must be repeated multiple times. And then again.
Maybe it’s just a tween thing. Maybe his little body is changing so rapidly that his intellect cannot keep up. His mind cannot focus. It brings me a tiny bit of comfort to tell myself that it is a phase and my son is not doomed to idiocy.
And I try not to nag him. I really do. I try to pick my battles. I try to let things slide. I swallow my sarcasm when I see him wandering around in a fog of confusion when he is supposed to be brushing his teeth. I literally bite my tongue when I see his crumpled school work. Ever fiber of my being wants to scream, “Do you have no pride in your work?!” I have made a conscious effort to stop counting how many times in a single day the monosyllabic “Huh?” comes out of his mouth.
I am really trying not to be a nagging mother. Honestly. I am trying hard.
But come on…the boy is killing me here.
By Shannon Ralph
Kids listen. Even when you don’t think they listen. Even when you are discussing things you’d rather them not hear. They appear to be focused on their video game. Or up to their elbows in Crayola crafts. Or books. Or toys. But they hear you.
All three of my kids were crammed into the back seat of our Toyota Camry. The Christmas carols were blaring on the radio. Sophie was singing along. Lucas and Nicholas were fully invested in a game of “I punch you. You punch me.” All was well in the world.
Then Lucas asked me a question.
Out of the blue, Lucas asked, “Mom, I’ve heard you talking about someone losing their mom. What is that about?”
I turned the radio down. I had just told Ruanita the evening before that we would have to tell the kids what was going on. As usual, they caught on. And in their typical modus operandi, they asked about it when Ruanita was nowhere in sight.
I paused for a moment to choose my words carefully.
“You know your friends Rex and Rory?” I asked.
“Yes,” all three kids replied in unison.
“Well, you know their mom, Lisa, too. You know she is sick, right?”
“Yea,” Lucas replied. “She has cancer.”
“That’s why she doesn’t have any hair,” Sophie chimed in.
“Right, she has cancer.” I went on to explain, “She’s really sick and her cancer has spread. She’s in the hospital right now.”
“The doctors have done everything they can to help her, but there is nothing else they can do. Her doctors say that she is going to die.”
“When?” Nicholas asked.
“Well,” I responded. “No one knows for sure, but the doctors think she only has one or two more days.”
“Before Christmas?” Lucas asked.
“Yea, honey. Before Christmas. Probably very soon.”
Ever the first-born, Lucas immediately began trying to figure out how the situation could be “fixed.” He launched into a diatribe about how cancer could be eliminated if scientists would simply employ the use of nanobots to attack the cancer cells. Yea…nanobots. He’s nine years old. He thinks science can fix everything.
Sophie was quiet for a moment. Then—in the tiniest voice I have ever heard come from her sassy little mouth—she said, “So Rex and Rory are losing their momma?” I assured her that she had nothing to worry about. I explained that neither of her mommies is sick. We are both healthy and plan on being here with her for many, many years to come. That seemed to appease her a bit, but I could see her little brain working. I could tell she was processing the fact that little kids can actually lose their mommies, a thought I am sure had not entered her mind until that day.
Nicholas said nothing. He was completely silent. Being the baby of the family—both in actual age and assigned family position—I don’t know if it was more than he could understand. Or that he didn’t know how to respond. Or perhaps, he was was just deferring to Sophie and Lucas, as is his usual custom. He’s only six years old. A friend losing his mommy is a pretty large concept for such a little boy.
My kids have known Rex and Rory for what seems like years and years. We’ve been to their birthday parties. They come to my kids’ parties. My sister, Jennifer, nannies for the boys. Their mom is one of her best friends.
And Lisa is dying. Right now. As I write this. The breast cancer she thought she had beaten came back with a vengeance and spread throughout her body.
We saw Lisa just a couple weeks ago at my nephew’s birthday party. She looked sick. She was hurting. Sophie stared at her bald head. She had probably become accustomed to the stares of little kids.
But she was still the same sassy Lisa. A smartass. With a wicked sense of humor. She curses like a sailor. The queen of the F-bomb. Even at a 10-year-old’s birthday party. And had she not been undergoing chemo, I have no doubt she would have had a cocktail in her hand. Lisa says what she thinks and is unapologetic about it. In my mind, she is the epitome of the badass momma. And I adore her.
Rex is eight years old. Rory is five. And they are losing their mom. The world is losing a phenomenal woman. Probably this week. Right before Christmas.
I am not sure I explained everything to my kids in the best possible way. The words just escaped me. I don’t want them to be scared. I don’t want them to be sad. But I am scared. And I am sad. And all I want in the world is to hold on to my babies and never let go.
I don’t have to leave my babies. At least not today. Or tomorrow.
Not all mommies are so lucky.
By Shannon Ralph
Yesterday, I experienced a great parenting “epic fail” moment. You know what I am talking about. You think you’re doing a good job. You think you are being a stellar parent. Your children are doing well in school. They are well-spoken. They are well-behaved (at least in public). They are well-educated on the ways of the world. All is well. Or so it seems. Then one of your darling children says something or does something that brings the entire house of “wellness” down on your head. Yesterday, the culprit was Lucas, my soon-to-be ten-year-old son.
We do not take our children to church. Part of it is that I was raised Catholic and Ruanita was raised Southern Baptist (more or less). As a same-sex couple with children, we’re not exactly thrilled by the stance of either of these churches on gay people and, more importantly, gay people raising children. So we made a decision long ago that our children would not be raised Catholic or Baptist. That leaves us numerous other choices, of course, but we’ve had difficulty finding a church with which we really “click.” I like the pageantry and ritual of the Catholic Church. It’s hard to find that same sense of tradition in the Protestant world. We have tried a couple of churches, but they didn’t have enough ritual for me and they weren’t Jesus-y enough to satisfy Ruanita’s Baptist leanings. So we do not currently take our kids to church.
That is not to say that we do not talk about God and Jesus. We try. We talk about how God made the entire world and how Jesus is his son. And that both love us and take care of us. We may not be religious, but we try to be spiritual. And we try to instill in our kids a strong sense of morality and compassion and respect for others.
Lucas has always been a science freak. He has loved science pretty much since birth. He has watched hundreds upon hundreds of hours of science documentaries in his short life. He checks out science-related books from the library. He gets science-y toys for Christmas every year. We have encouraged his love of science because 1.) It’s nice to see him so excited about something; 2.) I love science, too, and enjoy the discussions we have about it; and 3.) He has exactly zero athletic ability, he is not particularly artistic, and he can barely write a legible sentence…so science may just be his nitch in life.
So last night, I picked him up from a choir performance at 7:00 p.m. He had not eaten dinner yet, so we were in the car headed to McDonalds to get him something to eat when—somehow that I can’t really remember—our conversation turned to God. I should not have been surprised, but I was still taken aback when my son told me that he doesn’t believe in God. He went on to say that he “greatly respects people who do believe in God.” But he is not one of them. I asked him why, of course. He said that he doesn’t believe in God because there is no proof that God exists. He said that he believes in science and that science has produced no proof that God exists.
I was a bit flabbergasted and wasn’t sure what to say. I told him that I believe in God and that I think God made the entire universe. He replied, “No, the Big Bang made the universe.” I said that I believed God created each and every one of us. He replied, “No, our parents made us.” I asked him if he had considered that perhaps God created science. That God created all the atoms and molecules and elements that make up everything in the world and that God put them in motion and created all the rules and laws that are the fundamentals of science? That he created everything science has ever discovered and has yet to discover? I told him that he could believe in science and still believe in God. He, however, was not buying that argument. He said that could very well be, but there is no scientific evidence to suggest that God had a hand in making anything or that God exists. So until science proved otherwise, he was sticking with his belief that God isn’t real. And again, he reiterated that he respects people who do believe in God. I just sat there, unable to form an argument in my head that might sway my science-loving son. I heard Lucas ask shyly from the back seat, “Mom, are you mad at me?” Of course not. Of course I was not mad at him. I was actually rather impressed with him, if the truth be told.
So…I am raising a nine-year-old atheist. Nice, huh? I must admit that part of me is a little proud of him. He is a free thinker. A rational person. A kid who marches to his own drum. He doesn’t just accept the information he is fed. He thinks about things and comes to his own conclusion. He’s not just another lemming. He’s an individual. That’s the type of person we want our children to grow up to be, right?
At the same time, however, I worry about him. I believe in God. I believe in a higher power. I grew up saying prayers at bedtime. To this day, when I am scared or lonely or anxious or simply having trouble falling asleep, I will recite old Catholic prayers in my head. I don’t know that I am necessarily “praying,” but it calms me. Helps me feel a sense of peace. A sense of control when everything is out of control.
How scary a place will the world be for a little boy who doesn’t believe in a high power? How will he deal with all the ugliness in this world if he does not believe that there is a source of eternal good? What does he think about in bed when he is scared or lonely or anxious or can’t sleep?
I realize that he isn’t even ten yet and his belief in—or relationship with—God will change throughout his lifetime. But I had truly hoped I was doing a better job of instilling my beliefs in my children. But maybe that’s not what parenting is supposed to be about, after all. Maybe I shouldn’t want a son who just regurgitates the beliefs I’ve expressed. Maybe he’ll be better off if he comes to those beliefs on his own. Or doesn’t. As long as he is a compassionate, moral, kind person, I guess that’s all that really matters to me. And I believe he is. So maybe last night wasn’t an “epic fail” so much as just another curve in the parenting road.
Either way, I think Mommy needs a glass of wine.
By Shannon Ralph
My son Nicholas talks constantly. Incessantly. Yes, we all think that our kids talk a lot, but Nicholas is special. He has highly developed lungs that allow him to chatter for a good five minutes straight without ever stopping to inhale. He’s a miracle of evolution, really.
To make matters worse, 9 times out of 10, he is not in the same room with me when he is pontificating. He is yelling from the toilet. Or in bed, having been tucked in multiple times and threatened with bodily harm if he emerges from his room one more time. Or he may not even be on the same level of the house with me. He is storytelling from the basement playroom, as I rummage through the kitchen cabinets for anything with a measurable liquor content. (Why do we not keep hard liquor in our house?)
No one wants to ignore their own children. Yes, ignoring other people’s little monstrosities is perfectly acceptable and sometimes the only way to maintain positive social relationships with said monster’s discombobulated and utterly clueless parents. But our own children? The children we have been entrusted to love and nurture and raise to responsible adulthood? Completely ignoring them just seems somehow wrong. Somehow counterintuitive to our ultimate goal of mentally stable adult children capable of changing our diapers when we are old and wrinkled. Ignoring them completely just isn’t an option. At least not ignoring them in such a way that they know we are ignoring them.
As a means of precious self-preservation, I have developed a finely tuned system of completely ignoring Nicholas’s lengthy tales without him even recognizing that I have tuned him out. Because I am fond of you, my dear readers, I will share this system with you. Below you will find ten phrases that you can yell back to your lovely one pontificating loudly from the toilet. You can pretty much insert these phrases at any random point within your child’s lengthy anecdote and your child will think you are paying attention. Your child will think you appreciate their soliloquy. That you are hanging on every word of their interminable monologue. These phrases are magic, my friends. Parenting voodoo at its very best.
- That’s nifty! Or great! Or neat-o! Or spectacular! Really, you can insert any adjective and it may just work. That’s…hairy! Okay…maybe not any adjective, but it’s pretty flexible.
- Go on. A simple classic. It seems counterintuitive. But really, he’s going to keep talking regardless, so you might as well make him feel that you are enjoying his story.
- Go ask your other mother. If you are not in a lesbian relationship, this may not work well for you. Then again, it may just confuse your children long enough to render them momentarily speechless and thus attain your goal of golden silence after all. If you are lucky, they may spend the rest of the day searching for their birth mother.
- I think it’s broken. And if not, we’re out of batteries. Strangely applies to many situations. He doesn’t need to know that you removed the batteries exactly three days after he received his beloved…whatever.
- Uh-oh. That’s not good. This one has a 50/50 chance of being JUST what your kid wants to hear. There’s a pretty good chance he is complaining about some real or perceived wrong he experienced at the hands of his brother/sister/mom/teacher/librarian/pastor (just kidding…we don’t have a pastor, as we are raising our children heathen). This phrase shows that you are feeling his pain. That you understand his frustration. Of course, if he just told you that he was elected president of the 1st grade, this phrase may just ruin his fragile self-esteem and render him a shriveled up man-child for the remainder of his life. Use it judiciously.
- I haven’t seen it. There’s a fairly good chance your child is asking you what you did with his shoes. Or his stuffed dog. Or the sock he left on his bedroom floor yesterday. Or the piece of paper he scribbled on six days ago. Or the 795th piece of precious “artwork” he brought home from school this year. Or the library book that is three weeks overdue. Or the lollipop wrappers he freakishly hoards in his nightstand drawer.
- Okay, just wash your hands when you are done. Sage advice for any situation, really. He is asking to play with the glue? Just wash your hands when you are done. He is asking if he can feed the dog his Go-gurt? Just wash your hands when you are done. Can he cut his own hair? Just wash your hands when you are done. Can he douse himself in his sister’s stash of multicolored vials of glitter while simultaneously finger-painting on the new stainless steel fridge? Just wash your hands when you are done.
- I heard about that! Really, you didn’t. Or maybe you did. Maybe he is telling you the same story he told you yesterday. And last Wednesday. And three weeks ago last Thursday. It doesn’t matter. If it’s a new story, you will certainly hear about it again tomorrow. And if it is a previously disclosed gem, then you are being perfectly honest telling him that you heard about it. Regardless, he will think you are hanging on his every word.
- No way! Another classic. It conveys disbelief. It makes him think that his story is so freaking spectacular that there is no way it can possibly be true. Your child will swell with pride in the knowledge that he weaved a story so complex and intricate and emotionally wrought that he is rendered temporarily dumbfounded and can only respond with a monosyllabic “Way!”
- I can’t hear you. This is one of the most dangerous phrases in my arsenal. It can be your saving grace if your child isn’t really completely emotionally and psychologically committed to the story he is telling. A declaration of deafness can sometimes push a child to the point of simply giving up if he isn’t really devoted to his story. And come on…there is no way he can have real emotional investment is every single monotonous, mind-numbing, pedestrian saga he comes up with. Right? However—and this is the truly dangerous part—since you are not really listening to your child, it is difficult to gauge his excitement over what he is telling you. If it is a story that he feels in the deepest part of his little soul must be told, declaring that you do not hear him will only force him to raise his volume to accommodate your impairment. If you are not careful, he may very well end up sharing his story in its entirety with you and the immediate metro area. Use this phrase at your own risk.
There you have it. The secret—or at least one of the secrets—to my stellar parenting. You can thank me later for sharing these gems. If, however, one of you is awarded a mother (or father)-of-the-year award as a result of my sharing my parenting wisdom, I do expect a reasonable cut of your winnings.
By Shannon Ralph
Sometimes I wonder if my daughter was conceived, unbeknownst to me, via some advanced alien cloning procedure rather than your plain old everyday sperm meets egg scenario. She and I are so much alike that at times it gives me the spooks. Seriously. Hard core heebie-jeebies.
As my weird creepy clone daughter who mirrors every trait I possess, there are some places that we simply should not be allowed to go together. A few that come to mind immediately are book stores (just try to get us out of there), old-fashioned candy shops (just hook us up to white chocolate IVs and walk away), Michael’s (colored pencils and fancy papers in every hue found in nature…can you say heaven on earth?), and Claire’s (you may not guess it by my outer appearance, but I am a hard core, Hello-Kitty-nail-polish-loving, colored-extensions-adoring, bangly-bracelet-coveting girly girl at heart).
Last night, we ended up together at the worst possible place for me and my clone to congregate. We attended a Girl Scout field trip to the Humane Society of Golden Valley.
As you may or may not know, I am a serious dog person. I love dogs. I adore dogs. Every breed. Every size. Every color. I think dogs are without a doubt God’s noblest creation. I can handle the television commercials showing little children in third world countries with runny noses and bulging bellies. Yes, I want to help them. Yes, I feel for them, but I do not fall apart. Show me as ASPCA add, however, and I melt into a blubbering heap of…well…blubber…on my living room floor. Ruanita says that I stare at random dogs on the street with the same wide-eyed devotion that “normal” (her term, not mine) people reserve for newborn babies and creatures plucked from their own wombs. She thinks it is a sickness. I just think I am a dog person.
My daughter is also a dog person. And a cat person. And a rabbit person. And a gerbil person. And a ferret person. And apparently, a chinchilla person. Who knew? Dropping the two of us off in the middle of a Humane Society facility is really quite dangerous, to say the very least.
We showed up early, of course. About half an hour early to peruse the puppies and kitties on our own before the rest of our group arrived. We both immediately found a dog that, in no uncertain terms, belonged in our home. Then we found another. Then another. Then an extremely furry rabbit named Lionhead. If I am being honest, Sophie had to sell me on the rabbit a bit, but it’s not a huge leap from Fido to Peter Cottontail. I mean…they both have fur. Right?
I was particularly smitten with a one-year-old smallish yellow lab mix named Vixen. She had the sweetest brown eyes I have ever seen outside of my son Nicholas’s orbital sockets. And we had chemistry. Real chemistry. I mean, I could see it in her eyes. She was feeling it too. Unfortunately, we had to go meet up with the rest of our group in the midst of our love connection.
We toured the facility with our Girl Scout group. Both the clone and I were disappointed when we were advised that we could not stick our hands into the kennels to pet the animals. We followed the rules because, well, she and I are both rule followers. Another thing we have in common. We did circumvent the rules a bit, however, by staying after the group tour and petting the hell out of those puppies through the kennel wires.
Vixen remembered me. Even though a good hour and a half had passed since our last visit (a pretty dang long time in dog years), I could tell that she was still crushing hard on me. She wanted to take me home. Or rather, she wanted me to take her home. And I wanted to. I really wanted to take her home and introduce her to the family. I wanted nothing more than to give my boxer, Stella, a little sister. Everyone needs an obnoxious little sister to bug the shit out of them, right? Even a dog.
Unfortunately, despite our clonedom, Sophie is a six-year-old little girl and I am an adult. I had to be an adult. I had to tell Sophie no. I had to tell Vixen no. I had to explain that, while I would love nothing more than having another dog, her other mommy is not quite on board. Actually, that is an understatement. The exact wording she used was “f**k no,” if I recall correctly. And something about hell freezing over…but we’re in Minnesota, so she may have just been talking about the weather when I heard that. Regardless, she is not completely invested in the idea of getting another dog.
But we’re working on her. Sophie and I are working hard to bring her into the fold. I have tried appealing to her sense of family. (“Stella needs a sibling. Every child needs a sibling.”) I have tried appealing to her inner lazy ass. (“If we had two dogs, they would get a great deal of exercise by playing together in the back yard. You wouldn’t have to take Stella on so many marathon walks anymore.”) I have tried appealing to her narcoleptic nature. (“If Stella had another dog to cuddle up with at night, perhaps she would not try so hard to sneak into our bed. Maybe we’d get a good night’s sleep for a change.”) I have even tried appealing to her in that most sacred of places—her wallet. (“If you agree to adopt another dog, I will completely stop bugging you about getting cable. Expensive cable.”) To date, nothing has worked.
But the clone and I are not giving up. Two brains are better than one—especially two genetically identical brains—and we WILL come up with a way to rally her to our cause.
By Shannon Ralph
It can’t be easy being the son of hard-core lefty-leaning liberal lesbians. At least, this is the message that came through loud and clear from my soon-to-be ten-year-old son, Lucas, this weekend. He didn’t say it in so many words. But I got the distinct feeling that he was thinking it.
This weekend, my nephew had his 10th birthday party. The theme of the party was camouflage. All of the kids came dressed in camouflage. (All of the kids except mine, that is, because we discovered in preparing for the party that none of my children owns a single piece of camouflage clothing.) There were army men on top of the cupcakes. There were green balloons. There were camouflage plates and napkins. There were camouflage do-rags for all the kids to wear. It looked like Al Qaeda had set up a training camp in my sister’s living room. The kids all played “army” with guns and ammo and snipers and ambushes. Well, most of the kids anyway. Sophie, being the only girl at the party as usual, was completely unimpressed with the party theme and preferred to spend the afternoon attached to my hip. Nicholas spent most of the party playing on my sister’s iPad. He had little if any interest in the warfare going on around him. Lucas, however, was completely enthralled by the party. He waved toy guns around like a true rebel fighter. He did the G.I. Joe belly crawl down the hallway. He perfected the guttural war cry. He loved every minute of it.
My sister bought my nephew a real, live BB gun for his birthday. A Red Rider BB gun just like the one Ralphie begged for in “A Christmas Story”. I resisted the urge to tell him that he would shoot his eye out, but knowing my nephew, I secretly suspect that there is a real risk that he will eventually shoot someone’s eye out. Of course, he was beyond excited about his birthday present and all of the kids lined up to take a turn shooting his new gun (sans BB’s, of course).
I knew this party was going to be a tough one for me. Or a tough one for Lucas, I guess. Ruanita and I do not allow our kids to have toy guns. This is something we agreed to years ago before we even had children. I have no problem whatsoever with my sister buying a gun for her son and this blog is in no way meant to disparage her or her parenting or her son. Ruanita and I just have a different take on guns. A different opinion. An opinion that I tried to explain to Lucas in the car on the way home. The declarations of “unfairness” began the minute our butts touched the seats of the car. “Why can Jonah have a gun and I can’t?” “It’s not fair.” “They’re not real.” “Uncle Matt carries a gun.”
I explained to Lucas that guns hurt people. Every single day in this country, guns hurt people. They kill people. Guns are not toys. War is not a game. His uncle Matt carries a gun because he is a police officer sworn to protect people. Lucas, on the other hand, is just a boy who has no need for a weapon. I tried to explain that his aunt and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to toy guns. She is allowed to make decisions for her son. That is her job as his mom. Just like my job is to make decisions that I believe are correct for my children. Lucas is my priority, not his cousin Jonah. He is my responsibility and my child to raise and teach and mold. I explained that his mom and I do not believe in toy guns and that he will not be getting one. End of story. Needless to say, he was pretty upset and convinced that life just isn’t fair.
Here’s the thing though. I get it. Really. I do. I get that it may not be easy being the son of lefty liberal lesbians. As often as I say that gay and lesbian parents are just like every other parent out there, there is a hint of untruth in that statement. We are certainly like other parents in more ways than we are different. But there may just be a few ways in which we may not be exactly the same.
Ruanita and I refer to bodily parts by their actual names. Penises and vaginas instead of wee-wees and pee-pees. We sang our kids to sleep with Indigo Girls songs. We don’t allow our boys to become Boy Scouts like their friends. We struggle with explaining -to a couple of little boys who just want to go camping and learn to tie cool knots- about the injustice of an organization that doesn’t allow gay people to join. We don’t really watch football. Or baseball. We don’t play sports. We do watch college basketball and cheer excitedly for the Kentucky Wildcats, but we live in Minnesota. None of their friends cares about college basketball. We don’t hunt or fish. We aren’t exactly the “outdoorsy” type. We talk about feelings. A lot. We believe every conversation is a “teachable moment.” We buy our boys Legos so they can build something instead of guns so they can destroy something. We make Lucas go to choir rehearsal every single Saturday morning so he can grow to be a “well-rounded” man. We are smugly proud of ourselves when our son walks around Target singing the soprano section of ¡Cantar! louder than he realizes. We talk about politics. We explain the issues to our kids as best we can. We want them to be politically savvy. We stress in our house that girls can be scientists and mathematicians and doctors and lawyers. And boys can be caregivers. Boys can be gentle and loving. Boys can be kind and generous and sweet. Boys and girls can both be anything they want to be. There are no pre-conceived gender roles in our house.
Perhaps it is because every single child in a gay or lesbian family is meticulously planned. Desperately wanted. There are no accidents in a gay or lesbian family. Whether our families are created by artificial insemination or surrogacy or adoption, we go to great lengths (not to mention great expense) to bring our children into our families. As a result, we may be a bit hyper vigilant in our parenting practices. When something that is so very wanted for so very long finally materializes, we have a tendency to treat it with kid gloves. To over think this whole parenting thing. I admit at times to parenting in a more cerebral and less organic fashion. I should really think less and just “be” more.
Not only do gay and lesbian parents want to raise our children to be good people like all parents do, but we have the added burden of feeling that we must somehow “prove” that we can be good parents. To show the world that our children are just as smart. Just as kind. Just as moral. Just as “normal” as all the other children out there. It’s silly, really. Why do we have to prove anything to anyone? Who cares that we have spent out entire lives being told that the only real families—the only families who should be raising children—consist of one man and one woman? Why should we care when we know we are just as capable as straight people to raise children? Because the notion that we are not still exists. It’s still there. Whether I like to admit it or not, there is a desire deep down within me to prove my worth as a parent. And my children sometimes get caught in the crossfire of this internal struggle.
Will my son grow up to be a serial killer if I buy him a BB gun? No. Will my nephew grow up to kill innocent people just because he had a camouflage party for his 10th birthday? Certainly not. I am sure they will both grow up to be perfectly wonderful men. Boys will be boys, right? That’s what people say. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. It’s true that my son will find a way to fashion a gun out of sticks or toilet paper rolls or Legos. He will find a way to make a gun. It’s what boys do. As his mom, however, I do not have to arm him. I do not have to be a participant in his war-worshipping. I can show him another way. I think it is my responsibility to show him another way.
Whether he likes it or not.
By Shannon Ralph
When Lucas was one year old, I never thought I would enjoy another year of his life as much as I did that one. He was this angelic, chubby little blonde thing with dimples that just wouldn’t quit. And he was so happy. He just sat around and played with his matchbox cars repeating “Brrrrummm” over and over again. I adored him and was certain I would never enjoy him as much as I did at that very time.
Then he turned two. And he developed a sense of humor. And a streak of independence. And a sweetness that eclipsed everything he was at one year old. And I thought to myself, “This is it. He is perfection personified. I will never enjoy him as much as I do right now.”
Then he turned three. Frankly, three was not my favorite. He was a bit of a beast. But we survived and he turned four. Four was magical. He was this perfect little thing who believed completely in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and fairy dust and magic. He relished the things that the rest of us had grown too busy and beleaguered to even notice. A yellow leaf twirling in the wind. Ants slowly making their way across the sidewalk. Fat worms wriggling in the dirt, warmed by the summer sun. He could draw, cut, color, and paste for hours on end. He smelled amazing when he was freshly bathed and dressed in his cozy pajamas. Four years old had to be the perfect age.
Each year of Lucas’s life, I have thought, “This is it. He is perfection personified. I will never enjoy him as much as I do right now.” And each year I am surprised that he keeps getting better and better.
He is nine years old now. Almost ten. I never thought I would enjoy a nine-year-old boy (or a boy at all, for that matter). I could easily list the things about a nine-year-old boy that bug me. He leaves his dirty socks laying around everywhere. And his underwear. He tunes me out any time a screen of any sort is in front of him. He is sarcastic at times. His feet stink. He manipulates his brother who absolutely worships him. He is kind of lazy. Sort of obnoxious. Somewhat annoying. But tonight, out of the blue, I found myself thinking, “This is it. He is perfection personified. I will never enjoy him as much as I do right now.”
He was taking a shower at the time. At nine years old, Lucas is very a much a little boy who wants very much to be a big man. He wants to shower himself. He doesn’t need to his mom to help him. But like generations of kids before him, he is pretty convinced that aliens are going to abduct his entire family while he is alone in the shower. So he has asked me to stay in bathroom with him when he showers. And of course, as a survivor of the pre-teen alien abduction nightmares, I happily oblige.
I was sitting on the toilet while Lucas showered and he was chattering on as he so often does. I tend to tune him out at times because he just talks so much, but tonight I was listening.
“Ask me about particles, Mom. Or space. Ask me anything about space,” he said.
“Okay, Lucas, what about a light year? Is a light year a measurement of time or distance?” I attempted to stump him.
“Oh Mom, that’s too easy. It’s distance,” he exclaimed. “People think it is time because it is a year, but it is really distance. How far light travels in a year.”
“Alright, you’re smart.”
“Did you know that the Big Bang is still going on?”
“Really?” I asked skeptically.
“Really,” he replied. “Right now, at this very moment, we are banging.”
“Right now? In this bathroom? You and I are banging?”
“Yep. The Big Bang is still happening today. We are banging. The universe is still changing. The Big Bang isn’t over.”
At that moment—sitting on a toilet watching a blue shower curtain dancing with the movements of my clumsy son taking a shower—I loved him. I loved his enthusiasm. I loved his voice. I loved his constant, incessant science talk. I loved his weird sense of humor. I loved the smell of his deodorant sitting on the sink. I loved that he still likes talking to me. I loved that he needed me there, sitting on that toilet, to protect him from the monsters that lurked in his imagination. It was such an ordinary, daily life sort of moment. One of those everyday, uneventful, unexciting moments that make you pause and think. That make you realize how very lucky you are to have a part in creating such an extraordinary person.
This is it. He is perfection personified. I will never enjoy him as much as I do right now.
By Shannon Ralph
That was quite a blogging hiatus, huh?
As you may or may not have noticed, it has been quite a while since I have written anything for The Next Family. I completely missed Christmas. I totally overlooked New Year’s. I even missed the Epiphany. I apologize for my absence. I won’t get into the gory details about why exactly I have been MIA for the last two months. Let’s just suffice it to say that my entire family has been in self-imposed isolation related to a particularly ugly virus. And leave it at that. No need to get into the phlegmy details.
So I find myself finally re-entering the land of the living and attempting to resume blogging well into January. What should I write about? Christmas was kind of boring this year. Not much to report. Ruanita worked on New Year’s Eve and I was in bed by 9:00pm. Nothing exciting to tell you there. I suppose I could, as I have for the last several years, share my New Year’s Resolutions with you.
I decided to go big this year. Go big or stay at home, right? I’ve decided that, frankly speaking, I need some work. Some real work. Your everyday garden variety resolutions just aren’t going to cut it this year. “Losing weight” or “reading more books” or “exercising”—these are just the tip of the iceberg. I need a complete overhaul. Therefore, I am resolving to make multiple life-altering changes this year. Below you will find my 2013 New Year’s Resolutions.
- I resolve to kick my bagel habit. Once and for all, I will shed the shackles of Bruegger’s asiago and parmesan perfection.
- I resolve to try to like tea for the 463rd time. Even if I have to choke the putrid liquid down, I am damned and determined to cultivate my tea-drinker-nose-in-a-book-philosophical-intellectual-snooty-holier-than-thou persona.
- I resolve to do less laundry and use more deodorant. Laundry is stifling. It gets in the way of everything. It sucks the time and the energy and the very life out of a person. And, simply put, I hate it.
- I am going to stop cooking with heavy whipping cream. No more rich mashed potatoes. No more ultra creamy pasta dishes. Instead, I will whip the cream and eat it with copious amounts of chocolate. As God intended.
- I resolve to stop being a hypocrite. When I tell Nicholas that he has had enough screen time for the day without taking my eyes off my own phone, it screams of hypocrisy that even a six-year-old can’t ignore. And doesn’t ignore.
- I resolve to work with neglected children. I will begin with my own.
- I resolve to take up an exciting new habit. Perhaps knitting. Or stenciling. Or maybe smoking.
- I resolve to spend less than $1825 on coffee this year.
- I resolve to watch more cute and cuddly kitten videos on YouTube in 2013. I mean, what else am I going to do with all the free time I gain once I stop doing laundry?
- I resolve to gain enough weight to get on The Biggest Loser. First and foremost, two words: Jillian Michaels. She can scream at me any day. Second, resolving to lose weight as I have for the last several years seems to have the opposite effect on me. Rather than shedding pounds, I am putting them on. And if I am going to gain weight, let’s go hog wild and just get it over with. No half-assed packing on the pounds for me. No way. If I am going to do it anyway, I may as well commit to doing it right. Right?
- I resolve to try and drive at or under the speed limit. At least when I’m not tired. Or running late. Or even worse…hungry.
- I resolve to enjoy the sweeter side of life. The side that includes M&M’s, cheesecake, candy corn, Sugar Babies, Hot Tamales…
- I resolve to start listening to my children. Really listening. Even Nicholas who never stops talking and often causes me to develop an inexplicable urge to assume the fetal position underneath my kitchen table. I will even listen to Nicholas.
- I resolve to start making my bed. For real.
- I resolve to make a concerted effort to develop relationships with my coworkers. Even if I don’t want to.
- I resolve to shave my legs in 2013. At least once per quarter. Try as I might, I can’t quite carry off the Yeti look.
- I resolve to manage my stress. Possibly by drinking more.
- I resolve to start opening the envelopes the bank sends me. Even the ones with the mortgage bill in them.
- I resolve to read to my children every night. Perhaps some Huffington Post. Kids like white, liberal, left-wing political humor, don’t they?
- I resolve to volunteer to help others. I’m going to help them curb their annoying habits. Like talking to me. And calling me. And looking at me.
Yep, 2013 is going to be a banner year for me.
I feel it.