Welcome to Chickadee Junction

Welcome to Chickadee Junction

I have birdfeeders outside of my office window. My office is in my home, up on a hill, surrounded by trees. The most frequent avian visitors are the chickadees. When the feeders are empty, they come to the window and let me know. They seem to converge here, and draw my attention out...

I wrote a column about life with children for six years. Now I am the grandmother, and I would like to repost those stories. I will also be adding thoughts and reflections, and if inspired - stories from the now.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

When Disaster strikes at our house, he doesn't hit and run.  He generally hangs around, enjoying the melee, getting in a few more kicks.

It was a frigid, early morn in our valley, nestled here in the southeast corner of Allegany County.  The air wasn't supposed to be quite so icy.  Even Stan on the radio was surprised at the 25 degrees less than anticipated.  Not being forewarned, I failed to turn on the heat in the basement.  The first disaster of the day: frozen pipes.

My eldest was the first to notice.  So we followed the usual routine - open all the taps.  Flip on the heat.  Then we got on with our day and forgot about the water problems.

My eldest was also the first to notice the ocean on the bathroom floor.  You know how squirrels store nuts and seeds for the winter?  Apparently a child in this house harbors ancient squirrel genes.  In this case he stored green crayons in the sink drain.  The big, fat kind.  And we claimed a waterfall and a sparkling blue ocean for our own.

Frenzied sopping, which soaked every clean towel in the house, occurred around me as I plunged - evacuating crayons.  The baby, as usual, was enjoying chaos from her perch on my back.  As I leaned over the sink, plunger in hand, vying with changing tides and obstinate crayons, my papoose helped herself to the toothpaste.  It was a fat, squishy tube.

Bathroom clean, drain open, we relaxed our guard, knowing Disaster was on his way to visiting another.  But no, he had one more prank.."Mom, what does the baby have all over her face?"  Blue, minty stripes.  She had smeared her clothes, the inside of her backpack.  And we all know where she wipes her hands..."Oh, mom, you should see your hair!"

Sunday, April 3, 2011

We are quietly reading, talking, doing chores, enjoying ourselves ever so calmly and the phone rings.  Chaos is unleashed.

First we have the race to the phone.  I haven't won, placed or even shown for so long that I don't even bother entering the race anymore.  Whoever wins generally grabs the trophy and cheers,  "Hello!" before the phone has even reached face.  The winner is also twisting and shimmying to shelter his prize from the other contenders.  Contortions make listening next to impossible.

It's happening already.  The phone is occasionally for my daughter.  And remembering my experiences in my teen years, I panic.  Over the next few years more and more calls will be hers.  Conversation times will increase until her neck becomes permanently cricked.  I'll forget how to dial or answer the phone, since the phone will be generally unavailable.

Still, the phone is almost always for me these days.  And my touching the receiver is 'the signal."  Voices are raised.  Arguments from the past month are rehashed.  Loudly.  Songs are sung in competing harmony and rhythm.  Ideas are hatched which need parental permission.  When better to ask mom than when she's not listening.  Then the  questions, "Mom, where do we keep the...?" or "Mom, how do we...?"

Project under construction means tattling will soon commence.  It also means that all writing implements will be needed in the toy room.  If I need to take a message, I have two options.  The first has limited success.  In my most controlled and business-like voice I ask,  "Could you hold a moment?"  I cover the receiver and hiss wildly,  "PEN!  Bring me a pen!"  I get blank looks instead.  "Pencil?  Crayon? Marker?"  None of these words seem to be part of their vocabulary.

Second option is to wing it.  Using a fork tine, I have learned I can scratch information on wax paper.

This leads to the Mommy-martyr complex.  Why can't I just sit back, relax and have a conversation?  Life is not fair.  Oh poor me.  So, I get tough.  One last battle-tattle and I announce,  "On the stairs.  All of you!  Stay there until I hang up this phone!"

The balance has changed.  Semi-calmness results.  And after I have finished my call, I get to listen to the Child-martyr complex.  Life is not fair.  I had to sit, and it wasn't even me.  Poor me.

Mima's Notes
More than anything, writing about the phone let's me realize how quickly technology changes family dynamics.  My youngest got a cell phone while in her early teens.  It is always in her hand.  She texts constantly and is not even vaguely interested in the family land-line, old fashioned telephone that can't go with you.

Now instead of let me answer the phone, the dynamic has become - put that phone down. 
Every family has one:  the Informer, a child whose mission is to make sure "Mom knows."  I was the Informer.  Now I have a child who is giving credence to the threat, "I hope you have a child just like you."

Constant tattling wears on me, erodes my spine until I am a blubbering mass of jellyfish on the living room carpet spouting,  "Go to your rooms.  All of you.  Stay there until you are adults!"

So I made a rule:  You can only tell if 1. someone is getting hurt or 2. something is getting ruined.  At least they have to stop and think first.  Slows down the meaningless reporting.

When I really get up in arms about the incoming  bulletins, the Informer backs off.  Rather than direct reports, I receive ongoing narration from the arena.

"Hey, Bro, you're not supposed to be eating crayons."  If we are talking to a little brother, then why are we raising our voice and addressing the general area of Mom?

Or,  "I thought Mom said you weren't supposed to do THAT!"  The ball is in my court.  I can choose to ignore THAT or be controlled by the Informer and satisfy the reporter by checking which THAT they are in the midst of now.

The Informer is somewhat easier to work with than the Enforcer.  The Enforcer never tattles.  The Enforcer merely takes over and handles THAT.  In the process someone ends up crying and the Informer is justified in telling.  Now I am involved anyway, but at least it's taken a few extra minutes.

I don't know why they want me in on it.  I am very predictable.  I make them sit on the stairs, go to their rooms, write an essay or run laps.  Generally the Informer and Enforcer are included.  When will they catch on and solve it peacefully among themselves?

Mima's Motes:
It did happen.  They did bond and learn to be their own society.  They learned to refrain from telling me what was going on.  Now that they are adults, they seem to enjoy telling me about their escapades - the times they did outrageously dangerous things, and didn't rat each other out.

"You did not hitch-hike to (a nearby town) with (name withheld to protect the guilty)!"

And siblings assure me this did happen.  And so I admit, I was a clueless mom once the Informer outgrew his job...


The worst part, the frigid-cold-seeping-right-through-your-boots ( and two pair of thermal socks) part of winter is over.  We have had a few thaws, so the creek is running fast.  Walk out the back door and the rushing tickles your ears...spring is near.

I know this is only a teaser.  I know Old Man Winter will assault us with at least one more dump of snow and blow of wind.  I know it's not time to plant peas.

The creek is hurtling by, high in the middle.  The ice still reaches from the sides, riddled with crystalline walls - crumbling.  It's time to assist Mother Nature.

I started it.  The boys learned it form me.  But I was simply reenacting what we had done as children.  And if we could spy on Neanderthal tots, we would observe them breaking off pieces of ice, launching them into the rapids.

Sticks pry (primitive, yet effective use of tools) hunks of ice, then poke, pushing as far into the center of the stream as one thrust will allow.  Now it's time to pray them past all the snags and roots and rocks.

Of course, encountering snags and roots and rocks calls for another age-old technique - throwing stones.  Sometimes one good lob will loosen the ice craft, allowing it to freely tumble over the waterfall, which drops about six inches.  The waterfalls renders floe into crushed ice.  So we launch again.  And again.

The rocks we toss become larger and flatter with each passing attempt.  The splashed become increasingly far reaching until I notice the water seeping through the weave of my socks.  Soon the creek bank is ice free.

We are all damp and chilled and in desperate need of hot chocolate.  But nor for very much longer.  Spring is in the air.

Mima's Notes:
We still find it hard to resist a thin layer of ice.  There is something so satisfying about the crunch of what was a pristine sheet under boot.  I was walking with my granddaughter.  We are in this same time of year.  It thaws, then freezes - promising spring, then retracting the promise.  Teasing us, forcing us to wait a bit longer.  The puddles along the roadside have an icy veneer, which we stomp!  We are aiding the delivery of spring, in our brief bouts of violent midwifery.