The morning begins with good intentions. My son’s—to dress himself. Mine—to embrace his efforts and give him space to shine. And hey, his act of independence may even afford me the luxury of a moment to write down a thought about the main character in my novel.
Make that a millisecond.
“Mom, where’s my Lincoln Park Zoo shirt?” the little voice calls from his room.
“I’m not sure, check your top drawer.”
Part of me is trying not to worry about him pinching his fingers in his ancient dresser drawer. Another part is willing my brain to focus on my own typing fingertips.
“It’s not here, Mommy.”
“Then it’s not clean,” I answer.
Will he find his shirt? Will I be able to capture this idea before it vanishes into the ether? I continue to type. Feverishly.
He finds his shirt. In the hamper.
“Mom, can you wash it?”
“Next time I do a load, honey.”
My answer comes on auto-pilot, that voice you use when you are answering your children politely while completely concentrating on something else. I type on, making a valiant effort to block out all distractions and harness my train of thought.
“But Mom, I need you to wash it NOW!”
My intellectual train is chugging out of the station. My fingers lift off the keyboard. Breathe, girl.
“I can’t wash it right now, Joe.”
“But Mom, I NEED it!!” And there it is. That particular whining noise that makes me cringe, in second place only to the high-pitched shriek.
Clearly I need to shift into full-on Mommy mode. We have a teaching moment here, people.
“You don’t need it, Joe, you want it. There’s a difference.”
Of course, I am unable to see in this moment how ridiculous I am being. The little guy just wants his elephant shirt clean. He is not ripe enough for this tricky concept. It occurs to me that my own father wisely waited until I was much older to share this particular semantic jewel with me. I remember well the day I came home from college and he emphatically impressed upon me the difference between my “wanting” a drink and my “needing” a drink.
Rapid onset of frustration mounts—for both of us. For better or worse, I haven’t given up on trying to capture the story elements that are now hopelessly slipping from my grey matter. And he hasn’t given up on the dirty yogurt-stained Lincoln Park Zoo shirt.
I ask Joe for what must be the seventh time to please remove it and choose a clean one from his drawer.
He looks up at me. “Mom, can I wear Scooby-Doo black?”
His mind has once again shifted. Underwear must be chosen.
“If it’s in your drawer, it’s clean.” I repeat myself with the insanity of someone who thinks that by simply drumming something out, over and over again, my little boy might actually hear it.
That doesn’t even work on grown men.
“It’s in the hamper,” he yells back.
“Then it’s dirty.” My ears are getting hot.
“But Mom, I want to wear it,” he begins to wail.
True confessions: I loathe any sentence that begins with “But Mom.” What I want to shout is, “then learn how to do laundry” but I know that’s not the appropriate adult response. I am silent. My novel’s character still teasing me from afar. My child still undressed.
Then, with admirable emotional agility, he performs the instantaneous turnabout unique to the four-year-old brain and says, “OK, how about Scooby-Doo red then?”
“That would be fine. If the underwear is clean, you can wear it.”
Can you even believe I’m still on this? I’m like a pit bull.
“Maybe Daddy knows if Scooby-Doo red is clean,” he says.
Sure he does. That’s exactly what Daddy’s been mulling over since he disappeared into the bathroom twenty luxurious minutes ago.
But hey, if Joe is going to attempt to get Daddy’s attention in the shower that leaves me a minute to finally write down that thought.
I sit down at my computer.
OK, maybe not. I jump up to investigate. Joe has opened the hamper and let it crash shut. And now the baby is awake. Crying. I pick her up for a cuddle.
Joe pulls the dirty Scooby-Doo black unders out of the hamper.
“Joe, it’s dirty, put it back.”
“Okay, Mom.” He drags his sorry little feet back to his dresser in defeat. But presto-chango, we have another mood swing!
“Hey Mom, I found my Tarzan underwear!” Disappointment magically morphs into delight. Ah, the sheer beauty of pre-schooler joy. I revel in his appreciation of the little things in life before moving on to the next task that will undoubtedly be as time-consuming as the last—selecting his pants.
I have two thoughts simultaneously.
The first is that he’s only four and this is a natural process of learning to dress oneself. I should not be aggravated that it is taking so long and that he has to run into my room every two seconds while trying to accomplish it. The second is how irritated I am that I can’t sit down for more than two seconds without having to bounce back up again.
Thirty minutes have passed since he first announced he would dress himself this morning. He appears—pearly-toothed grin, crinkled smiling eyes, a wrinkled orange T-shirt, red pants, and god knows what pair of underwear on underneath.
Triumphant he stands!
I thought I would be able to capture one literary thought while Joe got dressed this morning.
I thought wrong.
But all is fair—and all is fodder—when you try to mix two little kids into a working life. And this writer wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tanya Lee Stone is the author of more than 80 books for young readers. She works out of her home, juggling writing time with the schedules of her son and daughter. Her novel for teens, A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, will be out in paperback June 12th, with a new Bonus Reading Guide in the back. This novel tackles the topic of sex openly and honestly, has gotten starred reviews, and been called “Sure to be the new Forever” and “Vagina Monologues…for the teen crowd.”