Monday, August 4, 2014

When Spaghetti is Worse Than Missing Dessert

I must have done something terribly wrong* for parenting karma to bite me like this.

My kids have stopped liking spaghetti.  From the day we met, up until about three weeks ago, one way to achieve harmony in our household was to put some noodles in water, some sauce and meat in a pan, and with very little effort, feed all of us.  But now, spaghetti is rejected.

By both of them.  At the same time.  My daughter, who lives for salad bars, so she can load up her plate with beets.  My son, who dances in the grocery aisle in his attempts to convey to me his enthusiasm for sardines.

They sit and look sadly at their plates of spaghetti.  The look in their eyes is much like what mine would be if I were offered a sardine and beet stew.

"I don't really want dessert tonight, Mom," sighs Linden, listlessly pushing the noodles across her plate.  This is code for "I'm refusing to eat what I'm served."  The understanding is that if you eat a reasonable amount of all of your dinner, you will be invited to dessert.

"I'm still full from those apples and peanut butter, Mom," says Oak diplomatically.

"The ones you had at 11:00 this morning?" I ask.

"Um.  Yeah.  I don't really feel like dessert tonight either."

"Fine," I reply.  "But in an hour and a half from now, when we're getting ready for bed, I don't want to hear that you are suddenly starving."

"Deal!" he exclaims.  "And if I do...I owe you a half hour of work around the house!"

Sounds like a win-win to me.  Except for the small matter of the ginormous bowl of spaghetti I put back in the fridge.  I am not going to serve it to them for breakfast and lunch tomorrow, but I am serving it for dinner tomorrow night.  I can only hope that either hunger wins out, or diplomacy continues to reign.

*Well, I guess I've been honest enough on here that we all know I have screwed up badly more than a few times.  I deserve worse than this.  But who wants what they deserve?


Sunday, August 3, 2014

"I Am Not Needy; I Am Wanty."

"Guess what?"

Our seven year old neighbor is dancing with excitement on our front doorstep.  Linden and I are chatting with her for a few minutes before we have to run an errand.  The girls have already arranged to have a tea party when we get back.

She can't even wait for us to ask.  "I'm taking the first test towards getting my quad license today!"

I ask her what that involves.  "Reading a chapter book and answering 2 questions.  Or maybe 11."  This sounds more like AR than the DMV, but I know nothing about quads.  Maybe this is her family's personal licensing system.  Still, I know what is coming next.

"Lucky!" Linden says this with that jealous punch that drags the word out.  She slides her eyes up towards me.  "It's not fair.  You guys have more money than us."

I fall back on the hoariest of chestnuts.  "Life's not fair, sweetpea, and you know that."

"That's what my sister always says!" exclaims our guest.

"All of us on this street are very lucky compared to many people in the world," I add.  Sanctimonious, but true.  The girls get side tracked into a conversation about who has more dogs in their family.  We leave for our errand.

We do seem to be the poorest and/or cheapest of our kids' friends' families.  The neighbors have an RV, four quads, a trampoline, and an above ground pool.  Linden's friend has three American Girl dolls, countless stuffies, and an endless array of new clothes.  They take gymnastics and horse riding lessons, and the family heads off on vacations every month or so.  This is typical of the kids they play with, and most of our adult friends as well.  None of us are fabulously wealthy--our social circle sits firmly in the 99%, as far as American wealth goes--but, according to the above infographic, we are also in the top 8% worldwide.

My kids used to live in a garage.

Their birth mom is homeless.


I haven't even mentioned Oak yet, but he is a bottomless pit of Wanting More Stuff.  He was fostered in two different Italian families three years ago--an adoption trial masquerading as a summer exchange--and he talks about it often, compared to how much he talks about the rest of his past.  It must have been a confusing time, being told to call first one pair of people Mama and Papa, then, when he seemed too rowdy to them and was passed on to a younger couple, being told that now THESE people would be Mama and Papa.  Then, at the end of the summer, back to the orphanage after all.

When he talks about it, he talks about the toys they bought him, toys he had to leave behind.  Legos, train sets, bikes, remote control cars, DVDs, video games... he describes a sort of Lost Boys wonderland of eating sweets and chips all day, playing video games without limit, and an endless supply of newer and better toys.  Whenever I ask him about the people, he becomes vague.  There might have been a brother or two in one family.  A grandma who let them watch movies all morning.  He doesn't remember the parents, and doesn't care to, but he is still angry about the loss of all those toys.  Life OWES him those toys.

(Yes, I get that this is displacement on his part, and that Stuff is less likely to hurt you than People are.)

I don't blame them.  Even besides the fact that it really is time for life to be unfair in their favor, I too tend to wander the shore of the endless sea of wanting more.  I am happy in my life, glad I earn enough to support my family, and that the Winemaker earns enough to support his winemaking.  I have everything I need and more.  But I have senseless wants, and I must battle my envy, just like my kids do.  I bought two new dresses this summer; my colleague bought a dozen.  We took a day trip to the beach; a friend's family rented a cabin for a week.  I tell myself that it's ridiculous that our family of four has to cram into a 2 door Civic, that my husband's allergies would improve if we replaced the carpets with wood, or even Pergo.  I try to explain to my son that getting this new toy will not actually make him happy, then I find myself wandering Target, thinking, 'Oh, I NEED that!" about objects I never would have considered if I'd just stayed home.  Or gone hiking.  Or read a book.


As Linden and I drove off on our errand, we passed the Oregon Food Bank headquarters on our street.  I remembered the time we saw a beggar as we exited the grocery store parking lot, and she asked if we could invite him home to sleep at our house.  "Let's sign up to help out at the food bank," I told her.  "I get why you sometimes feel jealous that your friends have things you don't, but we actually have a lot."

She started listing things we have--a house, cars, enough food always.  "So we should give some food to people who don't have any!"

I told her that, according to our paperwork, she herself once lived in a garage.

"I don't remember that," she said.  "That makes me sad."

It makes me sad too.  And angry.  And confused.  And embarrassed, that I, who have never lacked a safe place to sleep, am envious of those who have a few more toys than I do.  So I will sign us up to help sort food, and I will continue to limit my trips to Target, and be inspired by the Winemaker's thriftiness and self sufficiency.  I will not shame my kids for wishing they had more, nor try to create guilt for having so much when others have so little, but I will try to model mindfulness and gratitude.  I will force myself to have the uncomfortable conversations about their past, to tie together their history and their current life, and to help them see that just as they are the same person now they were then, that those who have less than us (or more than us) are no less human for that.
: )