The Escape Hatch: Why All Parents Need One

In a few days my husband and I are going to Las Vegas, without our kids. On Sunday we’ll be dining at Picasso and going to see “O.” Just eight months ago we took our first trip alone, to Napa.

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It may seem a little selfish to be taking another trip away from our children again so soon. But you have to understand, our nanny (the most wonderful, kind, gentle, person on earth) is moving in less than two months. She’s been a part of our family since my son was fourteen-months-old. Up until that point I had never left him with anyone for more than fifty-seven minutes. Yes, I counted. After he turned one I came to the conclusion that if I was ever going to get a break (like, a real break) I was going to have to hire someone, schedule it and pay for it. After searching for a nanny and doing several interviews I stumbled upon the profile of a woman named Oz. The same weird nickname we have for my son.

It was serendipitous.

I knew she was the woman for us when during her interview she became distracted as my son wandered down the hallway, out of sight. She fidgeted in her seat and nervously asked, “Um, where did he go? Is there a gate at the top of those stairs? And you need better covers on these electrical sockets.”

I hired her immediately.

Over the last three years I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her. You know how every once in awhile you meet someone who seems too kind for this earth? That’s Oz. I’ve watched in awe at the natural ability she has to calm an agitated child with a gentle touch and a sweet, “Oh lovey, come here. What’s wrong?” I’ve seen her get teary eyed when talking about cruelty or injustice. She is love in human form. I will miss her presence in our life, and not just because she gives me a break from my children.

The clock is ticking my friends. Lately people keep asking me, “So have you found someone new? What are you going to do when she leaves?”

“Cry,” I say, “I’m going to cry very very hard.”

So I realized this is our last chance to take a trip without our children, for a very long time. Here’s the deal, I could find another nanny, but I will never find another Oz. It would take years to cultivate that level of trust in another person.

So, a few weeks back I was standing in the kitchen, looking at the calendar and realizing she was leaving soon. I knew if I ever wanted another trip alone with my husband it had to happen soon. Oz informed me she could watch the kids, in a little less than two weeks. We booked the trip quickly. There was barely enough time to build anticipation.

It felt different this time.

The trip we took back in February was a different story. We NEEDED the break. But lately things are good. It’s fall, still nice enough out that we’re out of the house a lot. We had a great summer, which included our first vacation as a family of four. The kids have been healthy. They’re involved in school and activities. Our youngest just turned two, and all of a sudden she seems like a person and not a baby. Life is fun.

Did I just say that?

But it is, it’s fun and we’re not really yearning to leave our babies right now. We’re more in the mood to go on a family trip to Disney, but as I said, last chance.

So here we go. It’ll be good.

But one of the things I’m going to miss most once our nanny leaves is the option of having what I call the escape hatch. Oh, the escape hatch, every parent needs an escape hatch.

 

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My handsome devil in one of the greatest cities on earth.

In order to understand you need to read what I wrote last winter right before we left on our first trip without our kids.

Here it is:

I can’t stop seeing the children, and so many of them so little, so precious. Perhaps it’s just the truth of any given profession that you will see your work everywhere you go. When I did hair I saw everyone’s hair.

Or perhaps it’s just the truth of leaving my babies for the first time. I wonder how any mother could ever truly leave her babies.

My children, I love them, but they were smothering me with their neediness. The way children tend to do from time to time.

I cried “Uncle!” I booked a trip. Something I never ever imagined I’d do. I had watched friends with babies (like babies who still need bottles) go on seven day cruises or resorts in Cabo, without their babies. I could never do that. I’m not “that kind of mother,” I would tell myself.

Of course, I guess no one is “that kind of mother” until they are. Until they take the advice any counselor, priest or minister gives you in premarital counseling: put the marriage first. If the marriage is strong the children will thrive.

And so here we are.

Over the five weeks leading up to the trip I found myself feeling as though I had been gifted an escape hatch. When the days were long, and whiney, and snowy and I was trapped inside waiting for nap time only to look at the clock and realize it was only 8:50am, I would remember the escape hatch. I would relax.

And then an amazing thing happened.

I started to miss my babies simply thinking about not being with them. I would look at them and think, “How could I ever leave, even for five days?” I would hold them tighter, attack them with kisses. As weeks ticked by other Moms, jealous at preschool drop-off, would yell across the parking lot, “How many more days?” At first I wouldn’t know what they were talking about. Then I would remember. I would smile and say, “Oh, geez, I’m not sure. What is today? Hahaha!” But really I wasn’t counting down the days.

I was already missing my babies.

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The escape hatch, we will miss you and foggy mornings spent in hotel beds.

Your Kid’s So Well Behaved, One Day My Son Will Hire Him

Recently my mother told me a quote that resonated with her. She spent her career as a high school guidance counselor. The quote was from a coach she’d worked with. He said, “Un-coachable kids grow up to be unemployable adults.” Having spent thirty years dealing with teenagers she could definitely relate. But she seemed to miss the irony that she was telling me this as we sat watching my son screw around at his gymnastics class. She had her head turned, talking to me as I watched my son dangle from the parallel bars while the rest of the class was doing handstands.

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Screwing off as usual.

I remember another little kid that didn’t pay attention at gymnastics. A kid that got yelled at by coaches to stop screwing around. A kid whose mother often said of her, “She will most likely become the dictator of a small country.” A kid whose kindergarten report card read, “She took some chairs out into a hallway and tried to start her own class.”

That kid was me.

And yes, I started a mutiny in kindergarten.

I’m a mother fucking boss lady.

Figuratively and literally.

When my son was one we learned about a charter school in our school district. It’s a public school, but it’s run like a private school, complete with uniforms and strict academic enrichment programs even in the summer. My husband (the product of a private NYC boy’s prep school) agreed we should put our baby on the waitlist immediately. I knew nothing about the school but I knew I wanted every possible option for our son’s education.

My son is now four, and the kindergarten talk has already begun amongst his friends’ parents. Depending on which school Oz goes to he’ll probably start kindergarten next fall.  And so at our recent preschool parent/teacher conference the conversation was all about where he should go next year. We were informed that they don’t believe his personality would be a good fit for the strict charter school. He doesn’t conform well to structure. Or as his teacher put it, “He’s smart, a little engineer, but when he builds something he refuses to take it apart and put it away. He won’t let other kids play with the materials,” she explained as a slow smile crept across my face.

This is a problem we’ve recently encountered at home. He builds what we like to call “art installations.” Then I spend the next five days or so attempting not to disrupt the hexagon built out of foam pirate swords, or the tower of plastic skeleton bones interspersed with Legos. These “installations” are usually in my living room or a busy hallway.

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An art installation in the kitchen.

Hearing that he was doing this at school should have made me concerned.

It didn’t. I felt proud.

As his teacher spoke I was having a flashback to a pre-meet/last chance gymnastics practice in middle school. The other girls got into an argument over who was next to practice their floor routine. Meanwhile I just kept rewinding my music and hogging the floor to run through my routine again and again. When one of them finally realized and called me out on it, I replied something to the effect of, “Hey, you can practice or you can keep running your mouth. You’re wasting everyone’s time.”

I’ve always been efficient as hell, even at twelve.

I have no use for standing around talking about what to do next. “Go! Go! Go!” has always been my work mantra. Lunch breaks are for suckers.

Our boy has inherited the best and worst of us.

He has leadership ability.

“Leadership ability” is a polite term teachers use to describe a kid that is a total pain in the ass. I smiled when his teacher said, “He has leadership skills for sure.”

“Yes, we know. That’s why he’s in preschool.” I replied, still smiling.

But the real reason he’s in preschool is that preschool is where we learn social skills. You know, like letting someone else play with the blocks when you’re done. Sure, what you built might be way better than whatever half-assed, claptrap, piece of shit tower the next kid’s going to build, but that doesn’t mean you should stop him from trying. Basically, preschool is just the place where we learn how not to be a dick to other people. Which is pretty damn important if you ask me. Like maybe the most important life skill.

Don’t be a dick.

But what I really want to say here is that these “leadership skills” are a good thing. And the idea that un-coachable kids become unemployable adults doesn’t sit well with me. My husband and I were always good employees, great actually. So damn great that we always thought we were doing the job better than everyone else. We didn’t want anyone to help us build the tower, or take down what we built, or use the materials to build their own claptrap piece of shit.

Nope.

We could always do it better, even better than the boss.

That’s why we both eventually ended up successfully self-employed. The majority of millionaires in this country are self-employed. That’s a fact.

No one ever got rich working for someone else.

Of course we’ll continue to work with Oz on sharing, and you know, not being a dick to other kids. We do a lot of talking about listening to his coach and following instructions. We want him to be kind to people and to know that sometimes following direction is actually in his best interest.

And when it comes to growing up and having a career I really just want him to find something he finds fufilling. But if I’m being completely honest, I’d have to say that when my boy grows up, I don’t want him to be employed.

I want him to employ.

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Today You are Two, I’m Not Sorry You Got My A$$

Dear Buggy,

Today you are two. I could regale you with stories of how perfect your birth was. It was. I could wax poetic on what an incredible joy you’ve been since you took your first breath. But the truth is that in the grand scheme of your life this birthday is arbitrary. You won’t remember it. I contemplated not throwing you a party. It’s a lot of work and you don’t yet know you’re supposed to have one. I remember my first birthday party (as I have a freaky good memory) and then my fifth. I don’t remember my second. I’m not even sure if I’ve ever seen pictures of my second birthday party. You see, you won’t remember your second birthday.

But I will.

Two is the beginning of the end. At two you are still a baby. At two you’re in a diaper. You still sleep in a crib. At two you’re still at my breast from time to time, popping off to speak in broken sentences. “I ride horsey!” you exclaim over and over at bedtime after your first pony ride at a pumpkin farm. “Bonk head?” you inquire when someone seems injured. “Kisses!” you giggle as you play the game of grabbing my arm on the changing table to kiss my hand over and over.

You my dear are a wonder, and still my baby.

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Next year you will be three. Three year olds speak in full sentences, use the potty, sleep in big kid beds and generally, are total assholes.

So there will be a party. We will celebrate you, my girl, because you deserve to be celebrated. Over the last year we have watched as your personality has slowly emerged. As of today I have already come to some conclusions about who you are:

You love deeply and are deeply possessive of your people. In fact, deeply seems to be your adverb. On a recent visit to meet family you latched onto my cousins as if you already knew them. You threw yourself into their laps. You lifted your shirt to feel the skin of your belly pressed against the skin of my cousin’s bare leg. You adored intensely; you couldn’t get close enough. As you maintained deep eye contact with my cousin he remarked “She’s looking into my soul.” You are a soulful child for lack of a better word.

I would tell you that you get this from me, but you get it from your Daddy too. We know how to “shoot the shit” with the best of them, but your father and I grow weary with the surface. We like to dive in, some may find us abrasive, crass, blunt, but we like to get to the heart of things. This is the reason we fell in love.

It is the reason you exist.

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I’m sorry to break it to you my dear, but at times the world isn’t going to feel real enough for you. You’re going to want to dive deep but often the waters will be too shallow. We will be here for you with warmth and laughter, because that’s another thing you do best. As your Grandmother said of you, “Baby girl knows how to clown!” You are damn funny already and we couldn’t be more proud. You come from a very long line of wise asses, stand-up comics and storytellers on all sides of this crazy family. You love to sing and dance, our little performer. You are the only baby I’ve ever met who tricks their Mama by pretending to wake up. I hear you on the monitor and enter your room only to find you still laying down, stifling laughter while you squeeze your eyes shut and tell me, “I seeping. Shut off light.”

This year I’ve slowly come to the realization that you have my body. Perhaps it is just because I have the body shape of a toddler. Perhaps you still have hope to grow long and lean like your Daddy, but I see the way you love food. You love it the way I do. I see your little legs and ankles and I see mine. One day you might hate your body for not being what you see on TV and in magazines. You might look at me walking down the beach and feel anger the way I felt toward my own mother when I was a teenager. You might hate me for passing on these “bad” genetics. But honey they aren’t just mine. They are your Grandmother’s. They are my Nana’s. But you want to know something about my body? It made you. It attracted your handsome Daddy. It grew you, and birthed you, and fed you. It cuddles you. One day the warmth of your body will be home to some little child (should you so choose). You look like me baby, and I’m not sorry about that.

Today you are still my baby. I will wake you and turn on the light against your request. I will lift you from your crib and you will point and demand “Bankie, bankie” for your blanket. You will snuggle your little head into me and smell my neck while sucking your thumb, your blanket balled into your chubby fist. I will read to you in the rocking chair still in your room. I will change your diaper and feed you breakfast in your highchair. Tonight we will make a special dinner and sing you “Happy Birthday.” You’ll practice blowing out a candle on a cupcake in preparation for your party this weekend. I will try to stop and soak it in. Soon the winter will come, the days will pass and we’ll find ourselves here again. There will be other cakes with more candles. There will be other parties and different friends. But this my darling will be your last birthday as a baby, and you won’t remember it.

But I will. I always will.

Forever and ever, I love you. Happy Birthday Buggy.

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