Overdrive

Once upon a time, we went shopping for our first new car. It needed to be a commute-friendly urban go-cart with room for a car seat one day in the distant so distant oh my god future. In the end, we were wholly convinced by the Honda Fit; not only did it meet those requirements but the brochure relied upon a llama to showcase interior seating space, which put it head and shoulders above the Matrix.

Five years and two giant car seats later, we were stuck in traffic for nine hours. You know you’ve been in a car too long when the prospect of feeding your kid her first (rejected) chicken nuggets outweighs putting up with preschooler feet hammering your beleaguered kidneys for one second longer.

We had been discussing a new vehicle off and on for a year, even going so far as to mention it to our financial planner, but that cinched the deal. It’s not just road trips: between driving to base, errands, doctor appointments for Maggie and her preschool in the hinterlands of Yorkshire, I live in that car.

Tom did what he normally does when I go on a tear and maintained a face of studious disinterest when the subject of minivans came up. After reviewing our options for overseas military sales, we had it down to the Volvo XC-90 and the Ford Flex. The Volvo is lovely. Luxurious. The sort of car made for moms of two who like a little style in their otherwise diaper-sandbagged existence.

The Flex…I lack the ability to improve upon another blogger’s words, which is that it looks like a space toaster. But we had once ridden in that silly box, and the interior was phenomenal. It also had more car seat configuration options for LATCH and a wider third row. It was the little space toaster that could.

Now, my grandfather, may he rest, was a deal maker. I suspect he ended up with more than a few items he didn’t really need in search of sweet, sweet negotiated bliss.

I have about half of that instinct, so I practiced Tom’s studied disinterest face when I got a quote from the base dealer. Under budget, ’twas our toaster to be, and Tom (never one to rush commitment, except with his spinning-hamster-wheel-minded bride) agreed that, pending a test drive during our vacation in the summer, by this time next year I would have a new car: a plush, carseat-friendly living room on wheels.

And then…I shot myself in the toaster-operating hand.

Thanks to the transient nature of our lifestyle, there’s a booming business in private older car sales on base amongst employees, and Tom’s coworker–a father of four–is looking for a buyer for their seven-year-old compact Mazda minivan. And unbidden, the voice of the dealmaker rose up in me:

“Ask him how much he wants for the van.”

Why? WHY DID I DO THAT?! I was eleven months away from my burly Detroit breedermobile. Tom, who suddenly hears “van” when the price is right, warmed immediately to the idea of a “perfectly practical” car for roughly 1/8 the price.

Now, we haven’t agreed to buy it, but we are going to look at it soon. I can’t deny that it really is a very sensible, affordable solution. But the Flex has heated seats and memory card readers so you can load music into the car computer and I can get bright red. This van is the antithesis of flashy red, but the idea of small living on a practical scale is more consistent with our values. Who gets a car payment just for heated seats?

*grumble*

So I will report back on the final decision: Flex, used van, or nothing. That is, if I have not taped my mouth shut and put myself in timeout so I can think about what I’ve done.

Never Say…

There is a new obsession that dominates our days, one which I swore I would never allow my children to take part in. While we were in France, we forgot that most restaurants don’t even open until 7pm–the hour where at home, we’re cleaning up after bathtime and everyone (including me) has put on comfortable elasticized pants. To reduce whinging in public, I put an episode of a cartoon on my iPod for Maggie. Then a few weeks later, forced by viral pestilence while Tom was in Munich, I downloaded the whole season to ensure that Maggie would stay. in. one. spot. please don’t move. while I prayed for Gatorade and a swift death.

It’s true. My children watch “Mickey’s Clubhouse” now.

This is a favorite of my nephew Owen, which is how I knew about it in the first place–we haven’t had cable in years, so I’m not really up on kids’ shows. As cartoons go, I find it quite a bit more tolerable than, say, “Dora” or “Blue’s Clues,” both of which I only know from my time babysitting in the early aughts. The nice part is that the show’s music is by They Might Be Giants, whose kids’ mathematics album “Here Come The 1-2-3s” is a huge favorite (sneaky math learning! Yay!) and includes the theme song and closing “Hot Dog!” dance.

Rare is the morning that Maggie doesn’t request starting her day with a “Hot Dog!” dance at breakfast. Moira puts such a wiggle in her Hot-Dogging that I can’t say no. Maggie is allowed one episode every few days and one or two on weekend mornings, and despite the initial introduction where the intent was to occupy Maggie’s attention while dinner came, here’s where I’m going to make the most whopping justification in the history of justifications:

Mickey talks to the kids. And Maggie answers.

Certain speech patterns of Maggie’s have flummoxed us; aside from a brief period when she was first learning to speak she has rarely repeated what we’ve asked her to repeat. There have been huge leaps followed by regressions (her loss of “I” in place of the third person “Maggie” or second-person “You” when referring to herself was particularly painful, but helpful in getting professionals to take our worries seriously), plateaus, and other social language difficulties. Maggie is incredibly intelligent and a capable spatial problem-solver, but you can see the frustration in her eyes when she tries to express herself verbally–you can see her chin jut and jaw work as the words sit at the back of her tongue but refuse to become speech. We are awaiting on a clinical psychologist to weigh in with an evaluation, but she’s begun speech therapy and a planned set of social activities at school to get her to dialogue and process questions effectively. Part of that is learning (or re-learning) how to appropriately answer questions. We have seen incredible progress.

And damned if Mickey doesn’t help. Watching “Mickey’s Clubhouse” is not a parental tune-out sort of activity. Oh no. It’s a fully interactive family event. Mickey reaches her in a safe way: a non-threatening, colorful animal who isn’t in her face, whose volume can be adjusted, and who is asking for simple things that she can answer without a lot of difficulty (especially if Mama and Daddy are there with the pause button to give her more time). It’s a confidence booster and she needs that now.

So. TV. The Disney Marketing Machine. It’s my last choice for an activity. It’s the most special of special treats. It bugs me that Moira’s here watching along. However, one of the more interesting aspects of raising a child that the Educators/Doctors That Be have determined is in need of extra assistance is that it is actually quite freeing: if it helps your child, whatever it is, even defying conventional wisdom about screen time/junk food/sleep habits/whatever the hell…you do it. Your child and you have gone off the path of convention, so embrace it. Do whatever it takes.

Right now, the siren song of “Oh Toooooo-dles!” and Mickey’s Mystery Mouseketools help. It’s such a small thing we can do for a little person who works so hard. So pass me my iPod…we’re going to do the “Hot Dog” dance again.

525,600 Minutes

One. ONE. In three days, you’re going to be one.

Only a year through, but it is hard to remember a time when you weren’t a part of our lives. You came in and settled down like you were always supposed to be here…and then you trashed the place with a huge impish smile and unstoppable mischievous energy. It’s who you are; that soft, sleepy sack of a newborn yielded to an extrovert of the most extreme, gregarious sort.

But that’s who you are now. Let’s talk about who you might have been.

Naming you was a challenge. We had a boy name picked, but finding a girls’ name took us months. We culled over twenty serious options. These were the most serious.

Ariadne: the goddess of travel, and the labyrinth. A symbol of the journey. For obvious reasons that was a good choice; you have taken us to places we had never considered. With you we learned how high a cuddly baby can take someone; we learned, albeit briefly, what it was like to parent a very sick child, both extremes that have expanded our capacity for understanding and compassion and empathy. You healed the breach I didn’t know existed in my heart, where I was afraid that I scared my babies off, and took me through the journey to becoming a more confident and aware mother. Our walk with you, short though it has been, has given us more than we could ever give you. Alas, Ariadne was your dad’s first choice, but not mine–lovely, excellent meaning, but the “-adne” was too nasal-sounding. So we moved on.

Vivienne: this also would have come so close to perfection, and was my first choice. You are bigger than life, and always have been.

A year later, we still get double-takes when we tell people “Ten pounds. Born at home.” You command the room’s attention. You shriek and babble and demand that your sister, who would really just rather be left to her tea and books, pay you your due attention. You roll and tumble and wrestle. You fill our house with the noise and ruckus of enthusiasm for life! People! New food! Games! “Oh, please, more of these!” is written across your face whenever you discover something or someone new. When you jump out of my arms to snuggle with even our most casual acquaintances, I can see your vibrance and happiness. Your energy makes our world glow. We would have called you “Vivi.” We shelved it because it wasn’t your dad’s top choice, and moved on again.

Flannery: This was, until a few weeks out, to be your middle name. “Red-haired warrior.” Oh, my darling girl. The things you wrestle and make yours…you seize, you grapple, and you conquer. There has been almost nothing and almost no one that you cannot charm and win. You won our entire family without firing a single shot; even Maggie adores you, and her loyalty is a thing to be earned.

But even though you are naturally good-natured and enduringly sweet…

you have the capacity for enormous anger and frustration and you wield those to your advantage…

…but always with a happy resolution. Sort of like “Let me DO what I need to DO and get out of my WAY…no, wait, come snuggle me. I figured it out.”

Clearly, as much as we liked Flannery, we went another direction with your middle name. Autumn, and an Autumn you are. My brilliant Autumn girl, with the multicolored fire hair and sparkling dark blue eyes–a true November blue. You are my wild child. You hug and kiss and snuggle and scream and howl in frustration and though you make me crazy sometimes I miss you terribly when you are away from me. That book is you, my crimsony cranberry puckery smuckery girl; my baby with the reddish goldish beautiful spirit. Once I read that book I knew it had to be Autumn, and your dad agreed.

And finally, Moira.

Two dozen tries later, we suggested another M name and from that, “Moira” evolved. We knew immediately that it was perfect, but not quite why. It means, in the Scottish/Gaelic, “Star of the sea” or “Of the sea.” The ocean is so important to me and your dad; we both grew up on the coast and adored Hawaii for its beaches. The sea is so gorgeous, and so powerful, and you are certainly both of those things. It certainly helps with our last name that your first name has a Gaelic background.

But there’s another wrinkle in your story. After you were born, Daddy told me that there is a different meaning for “Moira” in the classical Greek; it’s derived from “Moirai” and means “fate.”

A long time ago, while I was pregnant with your sister, I had a dream that I told your father about immediately because I was so sure I had predicted the gender of our first child: a little girl with hair of fire. I went one for two with Maggie, our golden blonde girlie. And then, two and a half years later, we had you. Our Moira. Our little girl with the fire hair, the one who completes us.

You are the child I once dreamed of; the redheaded girl I knew I would someday have. Of course it had to be Moira; no other name would do. You belong with us and always have.

Fate.

It was fate.

Happy first birthday, sweet lovely girl. We love you so much.

Sticky Rice

When we lived in Hawaii, every Friday was sushi night. Either takeout from the local place, conveyor belt style, or we drove up to the North Shore to have it at Banzai Sushi in Haleiwa. Maggie, to my knowledge, never had anything more exciting than plain sticky rice and miso. Once we moved here she got excited thanks to a picture book about sushi we found in a bargain bin somewhere in Boston.

I have no idea how to get kids to eat. Truly, I have no idea how to get kids to do much of anything. When my kids really dig their heels in I sort of look at them impotently and either shrug or mentally scream, depending on my mood. Somehow, possibly despite or possibly because of my lazy approach to bending wee wills, the girls are well-behaved and pleasant company–parental bias aside, we keep getting asked back to people’s homes so I assume they find our children at least tolerable. Dinners out are particularly nice, as Maggie will eat a wide range of food and Moira will do whatever Maggie does. It’s not hard finding them menu items.

Last weekend we decided to take an impromptu trip to Cambridge, which is about three hours away and near several RAF-Air Force based so there would be cheap lodging. Why not?!

We hit every single road closure, construction site, accident, and diversion in between here and Cambridge. What had begun as a three-hour drive during afternoon nap time became a nine hour odyssey with two small children, an ever-dwindling pile of trail mix, an iPad that no longer charges in the car along roads only overseen by sheep…all in a Honda Fit subcompact.

Around hour seven we decided to buy a new car, but before that we realized we needed to feed the kids dinner. There was nothing around, not even a convenience store, so we broke the last standard of our parenting careers and, fearing hunger screams more than fats, swung through the first establishment we found: a McDonald’s, the likes of which Maggie had never previously sampled. She’s had junk food, but this was her final frontier. This was the Star Trek of her processed food life.

We presented Maggie with a chicken nugget Happy Meal, bundled with zoo creatures from Madagascar 3. She sniffed the nugget, and delicately put it back in the tray. In a move that would have made Frasier Crane cheer, she pushed the tray exactly one inch away while wrinkling her nose. “Feed it to the zebra on the box instead?” The fries went totally ignored, unworthy of even a sniff.

This should have been the apex of my hippie/hipster parenting career, but I was just annoyed. Hours to go, bedtime approaching, and they refuse even semi-sustenance?! When I was three I would have thrown my sister under the stroller for a Happy Meal. Not Maggie, and not her worshipful copycat. They each had the apple slices, and refused all else.

Like I said, I have no idea how to make them do anything, so I let it go. Then this happened the next night.

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I have no idea. At least we like the same restaurants.