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28 February 2013 @ 10:52 am
LJ Idol Exhibit A: "The Ride Of A Lifetime"  
The Ride Of A Lifetime
LJ Idol Exhibit A | week 6 |1370 words


You enter into parenthood knowing that there will be ups and downs over the years, but people don't talk as often about how much of it will simply be weird.

Yes, there will be diapers and tantrums and that godawful kiddie music that makes you want to blowtorch both eardrums at once. There will be sweetness and laughter and the touch of soft baby hands that you'll want to remember forever. But there will also be moments where you are giddy or horrified or just stung by something that puts you squarely inside the 'How did I get here?' of that song by the Talking Heads.

I'm not talking about rookie mistakes, like your home contractor being the one to tell you that your baby has heat rash instead of diaper rash, because you've overdressed her for the weather. No, I mean things like taking a four-day trip out of state and having your baby turn into an eating machine and shoot up an inch and a half, and grow right out of all the clothes you packed.

We expected some sibling rivalry when our second was born—who doesn't? Instead, I took our daughter on an outing three weeks later and we weren't even five minutes out of the house before she told me that she missed the baby. Then she followed it up a minute later with another dose of random by asking a surprising but November-appropriate question: "Why we don’t have witches in the sky?"

Those unseen ideas or context are responsible for much of the bizarreness of life with children. My husband and I once bought an outdated version of the Fisher Price Dollhouse's "Mom" at a garage sale. We thought she could be an older sister or babysitter, and left her in the dollhouse as a surprise. I was busy doing something later that day when I heard my son say, "No! Not Mommy!", and noticed shortly afterwards that he seemed to be trying to ram something through a heating vent. I asked my husband about it that night: "Was that about the doll?" "Oh, the little homewrecker doll?" he said. "She had to go. Christopher does not like her."

Around the age of four, kids start to invent their own context. They enter a stage where they proclaim what I call True Facts From Nowhere. For instance,

Daughter: Donkeys don't live on farms.
Me: Yes, they do.
Daughter: *pouts* Well maybe some donkeys do… They live in the jungle!

Right, those famed South American jungle burros—how could I forget? Now, some of those wacky ideas come from other children (usually, a Bigger Kid), but at that age the line between what you know and what plants itself in your brain via imagination can also be very thin.

Parents talk about accidentally finding themselves having uncomfortable conversations with very little kids, usually involving awkward questions about sex. We've escaped that particular topic, but not the event. The most memorable was an unplanned dialogue with my 3-year-old son about healthy food and energy that got derailed with, "When snails eat their food, they die." I literally reeled. How did I suddenly get trapped inside a discussion about death (and the ethics of deceiving snails)? I still don't know why he thought that stuff was "snail food," unless his grandmother called it that or he extrapolated from the pictures on the box. Backing out of that mess was like trying to run with your feet stuck in cement.

Some of the surprises were ones I should have expected, at least the second time around. My husband introduced our daughter to Rocky Road ice cream when she was two, and a week later she told me, "Did you know you can buy chocolate ice cream without any things in it? They sell it at the store! *nod-nod-nod*" I actually thought she would grow out of some of her pickiness over the years, but after trying lemon bars at age eleven (which I was sure she would love), she said that she liked the taste but that they felt like jam in her mouth! What does that even mean? Criminy. She doesn't like that many foods to begin with, so hating things on the basis of their texture just makes a bad situation worse. She still insists she'll become a vegetarian when she leaves home, but she only likes about five fruits and six vegetables, so I don't expect that to go particularly well.

I have a friend who can't wait for her daughter to grow out of the stage where she isn't sure which things are real, and I don't understand that at all. To me, that confusion adds a lot of magic to childhood. Life is full of possibilities when you don't know the limitations of reality! The cluelessness also creates its own weirdness, which is where some of the cutest memories are born. Really, that phase will end on its own, and once it does there is no going back.

Now, I thought I had a pretty good idea of knowing when my kids would move past that stage, but it turned out I was wrong. Twice.

I definitely knew by age ten that my toys did not have feelings, and it probably happened even earlier than that. So a couple of years ago, when I remembered the "backup" toy hedgehog we'd bought as a duplicate and hidden away in case my son's ever got lost, I decided we obviously didn't need it anymore and that it might be nice to give it to our little nephew. My son was twelve, after all, and I was sure he'd understand. I asked him, though, just as a formality.

Holy cow.

My son dissolved into tears, fixated on the horror of that toy hedgehog living in a box for the past seven years. Instead of going to my nephew, the toy became "Twin Hedgie" and joined the extended hedgehog family that lives in my son's bed. Talk about epic parental fail!

But it wasn't just my son. Our daughter decided at age eleven that virtually all her toys needed to leave her room, including the tiny toys (and not-toys) she'd built habitats for over the years. She did a major room makeover (with the goal of it looking "more mature"), and I'd assumed that was the end of it. Fast-forward to fifteen months ago, when I got ready to sell some of her cast-off furniture. I opened the big, wide dresser in the playroom to make sure all the drawers were clean and empty, and discovered all of her habitats laid out inside! They had all been relocated and preserved, and parts of the drawers decorated to make nicer "homes." Most bittersweet of all was the little letter she'd left on the tiny living room table of one particular setup:

Picture shows plastic doll-sized living room set in a drawer, with various toy animals in it.

Picture shows the hand-written note on the above table. It reads, "I will never forget you. You were amazing friends. You will always hold a place in my heart & memories. I love you. xoxoxoxoxoo Lauren"

She must have felt such guilt at burying her little creatures away in the dark, while also believing that it was a necessary part of growing up. Even when I cleaned out the drawers, there were still a few creatures and houses she wanted me to save—and she was fourteen then! Meanwhile, my now thirteen-and-a-half year-old son is in an indecision spiral over which Beanie Ballz toys to buy with his Christmas money. Plans to get just the giant huggable penguin have expanded to include the giraffe, hedgehog, zebra, and maybe the turtle, because they are all so ridiculously cute that he can't stand not to have them.

Yes, there are highs and lows in parenting, and if you're lucky it's more of the first and very little of the second. Some of those will merit mentions on Facebook or letters to family, and you probably won't forget them. But the things that will make you roll your eyes or bring you delight many years down the road are the moments of unforeseen strangeness that are unique to your own experience.

It's those little twists and turns that make the whole ride so utterly worthwhile.

If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here.

(Deleted comment)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 28th, 2013 09:32 pm (UTC)
Aw, that note made me tear up.
I'm glad I'm not the only one-- that's exactly how I feel about it. So sweet, but still... so SAD!

Maybe that's why I partly love being a nanny - I love to play with the kids and remember doing the same myself!
One of the things I didn't expect is that reliving childhood fun and watching someone else enjoy it is a whole different kind of happiness than your experiences as a kid. I feel kind of like a joy vampire saying that or something, but other people's happiness can be so wonderful and sustaining!

I'm so glad you enjoyed this, and I thought about you a lot while writing it because I knew you would understand exactly what I meant. ♥
(no subject) - medleymisty on March 1st, 2013 05:13 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on March 1st, 2013 06:47 am (UTC) (Expand)
digitalwavedigitalwave on February 28th, 2013 08:04 pm (UTC)
Your kidlets are really amazing, sweetie. Thanks for sharing this with us. :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: weechestershalfshellvenus on February 28th, 2013 09:33 pm (UTC)
I hope it brought a little silliness/happiness, and thanks so much for taking a moment to read it! :)
(no subject) - digitalwave on March 1st, 2013 05:43 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on March 1st, 2013 06:44 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - digitalwave on March 1st, 2013 07:00 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on March 1st, 2013 05:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - digitalwave on March 1st, 2013 06:29 pm (UTC) (Expand)
cindytsuki_no_bara on March 1st, 2013 04:28 am (UTC)
lauren relocating her little toy rooms is really, really sweet. the note made me sniffle, too. i love reading about your kids, just in general.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 1st, 2013 06:51 am (UTC)
I was so shocked when I opened that middle drawer (which I hadn't looked into for at least a year) and found it packed with all of her creatures. Tons of paper rooms with paper furniture and decorated walls, popsicle-stick houses, etc. And some of the "inhabitants" were things like pencil erasers with faces on them-- whole families of those! For a couple of years, all of our erasers would disappear and become pseudo-people. We could never use them for actual erasing!

That note just hurts with all of the feelings it shows. I can't even really describe why, it's like something visceral. It speaks right to the heart. *sigh*
(no subject) - digitalwave on March 1st, 2013 07:01 am (UTC) (Expand)
whipchickwhipchick on March 1st, 2013 02:16 pm (UTC)
So sweet! I'm trying to remember when I grew out of my toys having feelings - I think I'm more of a packrat than worried about the toys themselves, but I know there's stuff I've hung on to still because it reminds me of being a kid...
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 1st, 2013 06:05 pm (UTC)
I can't exactly remember the earliest age, but it was way before my kids, obviously! I held onto many of my toys for much longer, because they were part of a simpler, more magical time, but apart from some lingering guilt over having loved them so fiercely and then... not so much... it was all pretty centered in reality.

Though I wonder if one or both of my parents wasn't eager to rush that distinction between real/not-real much like my friend here. You want kids to be independent, but it doesn't have to happen quite so fast, so long as you make sure that they're not planning to live in your basement during their adult years. ;)

Edited at 2013-03-01 06:05 pm (UTC)
jensi08jensi08 on March 1st, 2013 08:48 pm (UTC)
This was so sweet!! I smiled bunches reading it as well as teared up a bit.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 1st, 2013 09:20 pm (UTC)
That's wonderful to hear! I'd hoped to give a real sense of both why the weirdness is fun, and why some of the unexpected bumps are so bittersweet that they really get to you and never let go.

Thanks for reading!
beldarzfixonbeldarzfixon on March 2nd, 2013 03:21 am (UTC)
Wait, what -- toys don't have feelings?

I find this hard to believe.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 2nd, 2013 03:25 am (UTC)
Hahahaha! Oh noez-- I've exposed someone else to the harsh reality!
Pika the Brazen Ninjaporn_this_way on March 2nd, 2013 11:41 pm (UTC)
Given my initial reaction to the first picture was "OMG SQUEE LITTLE ORANGE FROGGY ON A CHAIR" I'm not entirely sure I ever grew into the "toys as inanimate objects" stage of my life either. Oh well, can't win 'em all :P

Your daughter sounds like an incredibly special kid. The toy habitats in storage drawers and that note out of an 11 year old...just wow.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 3rd, 2013 12:14 am (UTC)
Isn't that frog cute? He might have been a bathtub squirty toy, but it does not matter! Only the cuteness matters!

Some of the things not shown were pencil erasers with faces (in their "beds" in their homes), all of the Zodiac peek-a-Poohs desuited (God, I do not know why) and stuffed into a single bed, and random incidents of those litte fuzzy keychain creatures from Claire's. Both kids had quite a few of those, and none of them seemed to mind the hole in the head from removing the keychain. o_O

A parent of one of Lauren's friends once described her as "soulful." Both she and her friend were four then (!), but it was an amazingly perceptive label and it's still true!
heather chick: bella_solkittenboo on March 3rd, 2013 03:47 pm (UTC)
I literally laughed out loud at the hedgehog story, because as a child I totally would have reacted the same way!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Happy Hedgiehalfshellvenus on March 3rd, 2013 06:00 pm (UTC)
I would have too, but at a younger age! I thought I was safe, since he was twelve!


I had a similar fail when he was five, where he said that he thought Baby Hedgie was kind of a Beanie Baby (he isn't), and I said that he was more of a beanbag toy. "Mama, that hurts my feelings." I said I was sorry, though I didn't know why it upset him. It turned out that he still thought Hedgie was real, and the word "toy" was a devastating insult! :O

Clearly, I hit both those phases earlier than both my kids. If only I had known!
baxaphobiabaxaphobia on March 4th, 2013 12:22 am (UTC)
Although I am not a parent, nor have i ever wanted to be, I enjoyed reading this and your experiences. Smile.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 4th, 2013 03:31 am (UTC)
Yay-- I was hoping it would still be interesting for those without children. Thanks for reading!
Jemima Paulerjem0000000 on March 4th, 2013 06:40 am (UTC)
Awwww! That's really sweet.

I still have some of my dolls and toys from when I was little.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 4th, 2013 07:37 pm (UTC)
I would probably have a few more myself, but my parents moved so often that after I left home, they wanted to purge the toys while I was still in college and had no place to keep them!

Only a beautiful unicorn (passed down to my daughter), a corduroy teddy bear made by my grandmother (now my son's), and a homemade Eeyore survived.
heeroluvaheeroluva on March 4th, 2013 07:33 pm (UTC)
I'm 27 and still have toys from when I was a kid. Well they're at my parent's house, but when I have my own place, I hope to have a place for them someday.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 4th, 2013 07:38 pm (UTC)
I'd have a few more now if my parents had stayed in one house for more than about 5-8 years after I left home. They purged all but about 3 toys in a zillion successive moves!

My husband's very large teddy bear is one of the many toys in my son's bed right now. It was bigger than he was until about age 4. :O
(no subject) - heeroluva on March 4th, 2013 07:41 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on March 4th, 2013 07:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - heeroluva on March 4th, 2013 07:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
B Manimpoetry on March 4th, 2013 07:40 pm (UTC)
Unsurprisingly, I loved this, especially this line:

"Life is full of possibilities when you don't know the limitations of reality!"

Such a warm piece, very touching, cute, and funny. I hope you can hold on to those memories for a long, long time. Especially when the teenage years really take over. ;)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 4th, 2013 07:49 pm (UTC)

Many of these are written down in diaries I kept of when the kids were little, but this story finally allowed me to capture the history of all those habitats and that heartbreaking little note my daughter wrote to all of her tiny friends.

"Life is full of possibilities when you don't know the limitations of reality!"
It's incredibly true for kids, but later on also for the person who decides that "Man was not meant to fly" is worth ignoring. :)

Thanks so much for reading!
fourzoasfourzoas on March 4th, 2013 08:57 pm (UTC)
Loved the tiny letter!

I have just one--now three and a half--and I'm constantly surprised at the twists and turns our conversations take. Never a dull moment!

Interesting take on the prompt!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 4th, 2013 09:29 pm (UTC)
I love those earlier years. :D You have to do more for littler children, but the tradeoff in entertainment value alone makes it worth it.

I completely went with the random-unpredictable-ride approach to the prompt, because if rollercoasters are up and down then Tilt-a-Whirls are mostly sideways-- and this part of parenting is SO much like that. Little side-effects of the bizarre that you often never even see coming. :)
nodressrehersalnodressrehersal on March 4th, 2013 10:38 pm (UTC)
My favorite kind of post. Nicely done!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 5th, 2013 12:42 am (UTC)
Thank you! I imagine you have a lot of memories like this of when your kids were little. The weirder the better, sometimes!
alycewilsonalycewilson on March 5th, 2013 12:11 am (UTC)
Oh, what sweet stories! I'm looking forward to moments like those, though I'm having plenty of my own so far. Yesterday, at dinner time, when my husband asked KFP how he was doing, he said, "Don't worry. I didn't eat my fingers. See?" and held them up so we could see they hadn't been nibbled.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 5th, 2013 12:43 am (UTC)
It's funny how early those start, isn't it? For a 2-year-old, making sure not to eat your fingers makes perfect sense, but a grownup sure won't expect that!
(no subject) - alycewilson on March 5th, 2013 01:19 am (UTC) (Expand)