They’re kids. Not clones.

Parents seem to be endlessly amazed by the fact there are profound differences between their children. I mean, they are truly astonished, right?

It’s a frequent topic of discussion among them, and I am including myself in this circle of inanity.

When one pauses to consider: given the innumerable DNA coupling, all the random genetic match-ups, do you really think each little human being you push out of your body will be an exact duplicate of the one before? If not in appearance than in attitude, interests and propensity to like Elmo better than Dora? It defies logic.

Yet. We seem to be continually astounded by the fact our children are all not carbon copies. Shock that the oldest is quiet and obedient while the middle child is loud and outrageous. Surprise that the middle child will party all night long if not forcibly put to bed while the youngest brushes his teeth, looks at books quietly and then comes to kiss you goodnight all on his own.

So, what is it about the difference between siblings that is endlessly entertaining to us as parents? You got me.

I, by all means, am not immune. I too find silly entertainment by the personality differences between Prima and Secondo.

Of course, there’s a “for example” that comes to mind.

Prima has always loved school. Since the days when we guiltily used the working-parent lexicon, calling daycare as “school,” until now, well into the elementary school years, Prima goes to school smiling, happily. She’s the kid in the class the teacher always loves. The go-to gal in the classroom, the nice kid every parent compliments. (I know this factually because: Her birthday is over the summer. This past summer, the phone rang on her special day. My mouth hung open as I heard two years worth of teachers on the line, wishing my first born a happy birthday. She was over the moon excited to get the call, but not too surprised. It’s clearly a love-love situation.)

Along came Secondo. She has more or less enjoyed school, except when she threw raging fits for six months every morning while getting dropped off for nursery school. Oh, and, ummm, preschool, too.

Whereas at drop she would cling to me, fussing, at pick-up, she would take another tack. Secondo would primly walk passed me when I came to pick her up, all her friends dashing to give her hugs on her way out the door. I apologized and cajoled, but she was decidedly aloof. Her Pre-K buddies would call out to her, voices thick with a futile desire to gain her approval and love, “Bye, Secondo! See you tomorrow! You’re my best friend!” with nary a response from her. To be fair, sometimes she would respond with sighs, and eye rolls and perfunctory embraces. She didn’t want me to believe for one second she was backing off of her earlier position, that preschool was something she was fundamentally uninterested in, all evidence to the contrary.

Now Secondo is in kindergarten, and I am enthused. They are both at the same school, on the same schedule. The girls look so sappily adorable walking in and out of school together, my heart races with mom-adoration to see them go and when I pull up to pick them up. Happy Mommy wants for kiddos now to be happy. Please.

The first day of school, playing happy Supermom, I had their after schools snacks ready and waiting when they walked in. We unloaded backpacks and washed lunchboxes as we chatted and they munched.

I asked a million questions. Prima provided her usual ample information, in a rush, sharing everything she could think of. Getting relatively little from Secondo, I tried a more nuanced approach.

Me: Secondo, was there anything interesting about kindergarten?

Her: Well. [Fixing her gaze on me steadily. Pause.] There’s no toys in kindergarten. That’s interesting. [Pause] And, HORRIBLE!

Not making this up.

It’s early in the school year and as Mr. Bailey always likes to remind me, transition times are the hardest.

“She’ll get into it,” he reassured me. Fast forward to a very recent Sunday night meal.

Me: So, Secondo, are you excited to go back to school tomorrow?

Her: [Looking at me dully, she cocks her head to the right.] Sitting around? Writing Cs ALL DAY? Does that sound like fun to you?

She’s five years old. As she says this to me, she’s sitting there in pigtails, sipping milk.

As I often do, I admonish – “Secondo!” then hide my face behind my napkin and dissolve into eye-watering silent laughter. Mr. Bailey does the same.

But, here’s the trickiest part of it – she’s right. Writing Cs all day sounds like a stage of hell even as a writer, I would rather not journey. This child makes one heck of a powerful argument. Who could resist being amazed by that?

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Mastering sarcasm, at age 4

The other day, Secondo and I were in her room, changing her clothes for the sixth or seventh time that day, before Mr. Bailey and I headed out for dinner. At 4 years old, Secondo already has the outfit change down to a Superman-like science. In two minutes flat, she can skitter off unnoticed to her magic outfit telephone booth and slip back in, unnoticed, in a completely different ensemble.

Secondo’s room, sweetly decorated while she was just a wee babe with hand-painted green and purple strips, handmade canvases expressing love and encouragement, and furniture bought especially for her, most often resembles the dressing room floor after the Nordstrom’s half yearly women’s sale.

Clothes are everywhere.

I half-heartedly asked her why she didn’t pick her after herself and place her dirty clothes into the hamper.

In a sweet mood, cherub cheeks more rosy than red, curls wild and endearing, she grinned at me with love and, crinkling her nose, said, “Because I’m a terrible girl!”

Shocked, I gasped a bit, giving her just enough time to issue a mischievous laugh and smile broadly at me.

“Secondo! You are not a terrible girl,” I said, laughing a little now. As I said it, I realized her little comment had put me completely off the scent of teaching the lesson of picking up ones dirty clothes.

It was charming, disarming and spot-on sarcasm.

A bit flabbergasted, I reflected on this incident later, realizing this little munchkin has learned the art of the sarcastic comment – and its power – before she’s learned how to tie her toddler size 12 shoes.

The Baileys become, Those People

Before you have kids you think, “I will never be Those People.”

Those People are the ones the childless you observe “allowing” their children to misbehave in public, coddling their children with bribes (“If you’re good while we shop, Mommy will let you have M&Ms.”) and forcing their screaming children to do something they clearly do not want to do – like ride a semi-scary amusement park ride.

Not too long ago, Mr. Bailey and I became Those People. Full disclosure: I’m sure this isn’t our first foray, but it is the most egregious in recent memory.

Instead of staying home over Thanksgiving holiday we uncharacteristically decided to visit the most popular amusement park in theUnited States. We did this purely out of a desire to avoid the sadness of my first major holiday without my Mom. We had good reasons.

That’s what justified spending more than we should have on park tickets, hotel and food; the majority of the cost lying in the park-highway-robbery-tickets.

So when some of the most amusing of the amusements enticed, we tried to casually saunter into the line despite Prima’s mild protests. As we wove through the cavern-like line at a pleasingly brisk pace, Prima’s protests grew more urgent. Secondo, suddenly tuning into her kid counterpart’s anxiety, also began to chirp.

Mr. Bailey and I tried strategy No. 2 at that point: cajoling. We assured Prima it would be fun, we pointed out the other children in line, much younger than her, who looked excited: we mentioned out how smiley people were as they exited.

No dice. Prima’s protests became more urgent. Her already dominating brown eyes grew larger with fear as we approached the end of the wait to board. We could see dug heels lurking in Secondo’s eyes. (Prima’s dug heels are usually negotiable, Secondo’s are not. Ever.)

Rounding the last bend, we tried strategy No. 3: ignoring. Mr. Bailey and I talked about how excited we were, how this was our most favorite ride ever, how we were never ever scared on the ride. We expected Prima to quiet down and listen intently to what we said. Instead, she squared her jaw and began chatting, “no, no, no, no!”

Finally, as we neared the ride loading gate, we became Those People. As the park attendees eyed us sadly, and with the triple-digit cost of park tickets in mind, I took a firm hold of Prima’s wrists, and said, “Prima, come ON! Stop-shouting-It’ll-be-fun-I-promise-I’ll-buy-you-a-souvenir-if-you-do-it!” As she simultaneously shouted, “No-Mommy-no-Mommy-I-don’t-want-to-Mommy-please-no-please-no!” Mr. Bailey scooped up Secondo in the same moment this occurred, placed her in the ride and sat down with her.

Suddenly, I looked up to at least a dozen eyes on me as I attempted to physically push my terrified 8-year-old daughter into an amusement park ride. For the sake of – ahem – fun, and, let’s be honest, cost justification, and selfishness. Even Secondo looked at me, shocked.

It was the shock that got me.

“Let’s go,” I murmur, ashamed.

A kindly attendant gestured to her right.  “You can walk over this bridge to exit the ride.”

Mr. Bailey and Secondo unbuckled and hurriedly joined us for a whole new walk of shame.

It took several moments for the mortification to slough off me.

When it did, I saw the world in a new light: through the eyes of Those People. 

Mary ama dormire (Modern Mary loves to sleep)

Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love to sleep.

Whether waking or sleeping, Modern Mary makes sleep a priority. Postcard image by Trish Grantham

It might be in my genes. My father has always been a notorious sleeper. Give him 5 minutes in a comfortable chair, regardless of the hour, and he will give you a nap.

I’m not so much the napping type as I am the sleep-for-10-hours-at-a-time type. I often tell Mr. Bailey, “You know what I’d like to do? Sleep for two weeks.”

In times of stress, I like to head to bed around 9:30 and sleep, preferably, until 8 or 9 a.m.

If you’re a sleeper like me, you know dreams sometimes play a role in the experience.

Since my mom died, my dreams have become rich, offbeat and resonant parts of my nighttime routine.

It seems every suggestion or fear is immediately processed into my subconscious and put into the dream queue.

I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the absence of constant conversations with my siblings, the important conferring, the unity of our family as we fought cancer collectively. I am in the midst of deciphering what our family will be like now that my mother, the spoke, the emotional home of our unit, is gone.

In my midnight dreams, my three brothers and I are in my grandmother’s old house, together, sharing memories, looking around the dining room, theFloridaroom, laughing, when suddenly we hear the new owners arriving home. We all run into the yard, dashing like mad from our nostalgic breaking and entry.

I keep forgetting to put my hair up in rag curls at night!

I’m running blindly, trying to keep track of my brothers, desperate. Where have they gone? I catch flashes of their clothes as I dash down a set of stairs somewhere. We need to stay together, I insist.

Awake, I have fretted about the coming holidays, with their ties to home and family, memories like glittering lights on a twinkle string. They seem to illuminate only sadness without my mom.

At night, my third eye takes me to a future peculiarly reversed. It’s a future in which my father died instead of my mom. There we are in the midst of the holidays without him, all of us gathered where we always do – in my parent’s kitchen, surrounded by friends, family, trying to make sense of the first holiday without him.

In our daylight conversations, Mr. Bailey suggests we do something completely different and take a trip toNew Yorkright before Christmas.

As I lay sleeping, I dream we are stepping out of the airport into aNew York Citydecorated to the hilt with festive lights, swaying in a brisk winter wind. I feel the straps from the luggage I carry (with two kids we always have lots of luggage) dig into my shoulder as we cross a busy street to our hotel. Then we’re walking through a warm hotel, a corridor decorated with trees and ornaments and people milling, all sorts of people, here, and not home, for the holidays. It feels strange, exciting.

When I wake, I tell Mr. Bailey about myNew York dream.

“You are so impressionable,” he says, his eyes twinkling.

The dreams sometimes detract from the restfulness of my sleep, and sometimes enhance it. I wake with a sinking feeling so often it’s become a part of my morning routine. I imagine actually sinking into my bed, being swallowed by it. It’s not unpleasant.

Eventually, when all of the fantasies of slumber have been dislodged by the slanting soft light of morning, I get up. I RSVP for tonight to my sheets, my pillow, my comforter, my dreams.

Secondo v. Food

One of my earliest memories of Secondo is her smashed up newborn face pressed into my breast, glug, glug, glugging away on milk. She was immediately a good eater, and a little bit of a food oddball.

If only Secondo was so eager to eat...

When she got a little bit bigger, her nursing efficiency excelled. She wouldn’t even stop to cough. I still can’t figure out how she did it, but the child could cough while still latched on, spraying milk all over me, and her, and not miss the next glug.

Her second year brought an addiction to black beans, avocado and cherry tomatoes, halved. She only drank cow’s milk – preferably warmed in the microwave for 1 minute, even in the dead of summer. Altogether those foods were at least 50% of her daily diet.

Besides her Mr. Bailey and I, Prima, and our dog, Chance, milk has probably been the most consistently reassuring aspect of her young life.

Despite her food promiscuity in her second year, Secondo has regrettably become picky. She tends toward vegetarianism (fine by us), and relies upon the presentation of wheat- and dairy-based foods for needed sustenance.

Secondo’s food groups include: Annie’s Organic Mac & Cheese, cheese sticks, apples and peanut butter, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on wheat (crusts removed, please), plain pasta, cherry tomatoes, halved; mandarin and Clementine oranges and Pirate Booty.

Also, she chews her food longer than any other human being I’ve ever witnessed, particularly when she doesn’t particularly want to ingest it.

One night recently, I wanted to provide our youngest with some protein so I cut our freshly prepared teriyaki chicken into delicious bite-sized pieces and strongly encouraged her to, “Try some!” Smile, smile, smile, nod encouragingly.

After some cajoling, she dove into it. I grinned, smugly, and we began talking about the high points and low points of our day. A full 20 minutes later, Secondo began asking if she could be excused. As she asked, I spotted a flash of fleshy white tucked into the cheek of her mouth.

“Is that your chicken?!” I asked.

She dropped her chin and looked up at me through the top of her blue-green-gray eyes, nodding slightly.

“Chew and swallow, child! Chew and swallow!” I admonished, as Mr. Bailey and I shook our heads.

Several days later, Secondo got the chance to go out to lunch with my Dad.

At dinner later that evening, I asked her where they had gone.

“Papa took me to McDonald’s,” she whined, not being a big fan of the golden arches. “I had milk.”

“That’s all you had?” I asked, incredulous. She nodded solemnly.

“What did Papa have?”

“A fish sandwich.”

“Secondo, why didn’t you get something else to eat?” I inquired, as she sat not eating her dinner. “A hamburger or oranges or something?”

She shook her 4-year-old head of golden curls and placed both pudgy hands on the table, clearly exasperated by all my questioning.

“BEE-cause you don’t want me to eat things that aren’t FRESHhhhh!”

Sigh.

One day, we might unlock the key to Secondo’s curious appetite. Until then, we’ll just keep repeating, “Chew and swallow, Sisi, chew and swallow.”

 

Setting the vacation record straight, kid-style

This summer Mr. Bailey and I upped our travel quotient by triple from last summer, when our big trip was a long weekend camping excursion in the high country. As a family, we were focused on making fresh, fun memories to blow the stink out of the sadness-soaked highlights of the last two years.

Mr. Bailey and the children

Introducing Prima + Secondo to one of the greatest cities in the world. Little did we know they'd have a slightly different take... Photo by Mrs. Bailey

Our first trip took us to the Bay Area, always a go-to place for The Baileys pre-kid days. Now that Prima and Secondo are 8 and 4, we figured it was the first trip they had a chance at remembering. We budgeted to stay in the city, strategized about visiting some touristy San Fran spots, and planned to stroll, eat great meals, and createGolden Gatememories for our family.

About halfway through, as we rendezvoused with my brother who lives in the Bay, we were treated to a rapid-fire re-accounting of all the glorious highlights of our vacation so far – kid style.

“So, Uncle Benny, first, my Mom left her Nook on the airplane,” Prima began in her know-it-all-voice.

I groaned. No, no, no, these weren’t the memories I expected!

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Uncle Beeny, and we were on the train and she said, ‘Oh no, I forgot my Nook!’ And she started to cry,” Secondo chimes in, her voice going up an octave in excited urgency.

Oh, shoot, I thought, my forgetfulness is now the highlight of the trip.

“And then, Uncle Benny, we were walking along and we saw the Sparkle Guy!” Prima shouted, cutting off her sister. The Sparkle Guy is aSan Franciscoperformance artist/walking tourist trap who hangs out on the Pier clad in silver glitter from head to toe.

The Sparkle Guy in his getup. But some lucky little travelers got to see him between acts...

“But, but, but, then Uncle Beeny, later we saw him and we were walking to our hotel, and it was later, and, and – ” Secondo’s words couldn’t come fast enough.

“And he wasn’t wearing his mask and he was just riding his bike home on the side of the street!” Prima finished triumphantly, Secondo giggling hysterically. “And when we were on the bus to the hotel these guys started yelling at each other!”

“Prima,” I moaned, having forgotten that part of the trip entirely.

“And then, Uncle Beeny,” Secondo jumped in again, frenzy now in full swing, “we saw this old lady wearing these little shorts and walking and eating this HUGE peach, like chomp, chomp chomp!”

Sure that was funny at the time, but really? I thought.

“Then!” Prima battled back, “We were at the Pier and this girl made this old guy take her picture and he took off his gloves really slowly and took the picture and gave back the camera and then she looked at the picture and said, ‘Can you take it again? My hair was in my face!’” both girls laughed wildly.

OK, that was hilarious, I allowed.

Their uncle told them how impressed he was with their stories. It was silent for a moment or two as I recalibrated my expectations of what this trip would bring into their sweet little minds. But I couldn’t give up without a fight.

“We rode the cable cars,” I offered, “And ate in Chinatown and went to Ghirardelli and saw all the big ships, right?”

“Yeah,” said Prima, bored, “we did all that, too.”

Photo by Mrs. Bailey

Mr. Bailey, my brother and I burst out laughing.

Despite the months of planning, the savings account expense, the sacrifice on the part of my brother and his family to host us, and our focus on seeing the sights and making halcyon memories, the kid-version highlights boiled it all down to a mish-mash of discarded, humbling moments. At first it was discouraging. But then, it was delightful.

The kid-version, I realized, made hay out of chance encounters, stressful moments, mishaps and entertaining misfits. It cast bit players in starring roles and illustrated the humbling humanity in the parents they probably too often see as perfect.

Once I re-jiggered my thoughts, I was elated by the kid-version highlights, and asked the girls to recount them again and again. I laughed at their tales, rich with a child’s perspective, free of any pretense and goofily making dramas out of silly moments the four of us had shared.

I can see clearly now and your underwear is way too small

When someone you love is fighting for their life, a lot of stuff goes by the wayside.

A more basic version of you emerges. You develop a predator-like focus on the beasts you’re fending off. For our family, those beasts were cancer and death. We were on the side of many more years and love overcoming illness.

Our eyes were opened, and focused on beating cancer -- and not on so many other things.

Once the battle was over, my focus seemed to shatter into a thousand pieces of distracted attention.

Lately I’ve been working with my SuperGlue, in tongue-over-lip concentration, trying to fit at least a good portion of the pieces back together again.

The pieces are interesting! And shocking.

Take, for example, my daughter Prima’s bedroom closet. It was bursting at the seams with too-small clothes, socks and shoes. While I was the cancer predator, I just shoved new stuff in there, making small pliant promises I would go through it all later.

Later came the other evening. My younger daughter out with her dad, we dove in and began culling through the mess. I tackled her underwear drawer first. I found my 8-year-old daughter had been squeezing herself into size 4, 5, and 6 panties.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” she told me bluntly, when I apologetically pointed out the size discrepancy. “They stretched out.”

Oodles of guilt and shame were followed by a profound love of my Prima, who tends to find the silver lining, especially when she can spare someone’s feelings.

Another interesting piece was our desk. Sheesh! Outdated bills had started mating under the piles of unrequited junk mail, coupons that shouted, “FREE!” birthday cards never sent and school notices that never notified us. (Me: Did you know Prima has a half day today? Mr. B: No, did you?)

The Bailey's desk was about 1000 times worse than this, and remains a work in chaotic progress.

A carefully placed stack of colorful woven baskets yielded bills from the early cancer predator days, shoved away and now outdated, thankfully, and easy to shred.

I’ve woken up! And the living room needs painting and the floor needs changing and our lives need a fresh coat of paint.

The cancer predator was cruel, but it’s over now. And as much as I miss my Mom (with every thought and every breath, every single day), I am glad it’s gone – even if I have to start with tight underwear.