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I’m not quite a young mother. I was 34 when I had Joe. And until my husband and I decided we wanted one, I didn’t pay much attention to children. I did, however, have a lot of opinions about other people’s parenting. So when I got pregnant, I knew all the things I wasn’t going to do.

  1. I was never going to lie to my child (and that included Santa, the Easter Bunny, and politics).
  2. I wasn’t going to let my child watch television for more than two hours a day.
  3. I wasn’t going to change my life to revolve around my child’s and thereby stagnate my own growth.
  4. I wasn’t going to have a child so insecure that he or she would have piercings on their face, blue hair, or any other ridiculous cry for attention.
  5. My child was going to be a reader! Preferably at birth.
  6. I was not going to let my child watch violence but then get all bothered by sex during those two hours of television a day.
  7. Becoming a parent would not be an excuse to wear sweats all day or leave the house in my pajamas.
  8. My child would not enjoy bodily function humor.
  9. I would not shelter my child from the reality of death, especially the death of pets.

OK, everyone, stop laughing!

Some of these went out the window the day my son came home from the hospital. (Hell, at least one of these got kicked to the curb during pregnancy.) Others made it for a few years. But that last one held fast until this week.

We’ve had pets die during Joe’s lifetime. We had a slew of very old pets when he was born. Those pets lived to be very very old and died right during those early formative years. We’ve had to bury, flush, or spread ashes for three dogs, one cat, a bunch of fish, and various worms, lady bugs, and roly polies. Every one of these pets got a funeral of some sort. We cried over dogs, mourned cats, and said solemn words above the toilet bowl for fish.

But I never lied. I never hid a corpse or attempted a sneak replacement. Not until last week. And last week I did both.

In my defense, I still wasn’t trying to protect my son from death. That ship has been lit on fire and sent to sea. No, my motivations are, well, murkier.

It all started with Nic. Nic is in Joe’s third-grade class. He’s a nice kid, smart, a little shy, a little sly, but maybe most importantly, tiny. I hate to admit this last part is important to me, but it is. Joe is tiny. He’s 9, but the size of a 6-year-old. I’m tiny, the size of a 16-year-old. That’s all well and good for a girl, but ask any of my guy friends and they’ll tell you it sucks to be a tiny male. (OK, this stuff about tininess, that’s probably grist for another mill. For now, let’s just say I like the idea of Joe not feeling quite so alone with being small.)

Nic has come over to our house a few times, but two weeks ago he came to spend the night. Ah, the friendship was getting serious. At last. Nic was the first boy from Joe’s class to come for a sleepover. Joe has a gaggle of cousins his age, and most weekends we have one, two – or five – at our house. It was about time he broke out past those familiar walls.

As they were playing in the backyard, the two decided they wanted to clean out the mucky pool that has been collecting snowfall and rain and leaves and dirt all winter. I think they figured if they cleaned it out, we could fill it and they could swim. This plan did not take into account the fact that the dog had been jumping into it and puncturing the bottom or the fact that snow was still a daily threat or the fact that filling it with the hose meant water cold enough to shrivel apples let alone little boy parts. But if they wanted to clean the pool who was I to stop them?

And of course they found a frog.

And of course they wanted to keep it.

And of course I said yes. Because this could cement their friendship! They could share custody and exchange the frog each week, taking turns caring for it and bonding over the shared responsibility. I immediately called Nic’s mom and got the OK. She seemed as enthusiastic as I was. She had an old terrarium I picked up and made ready for Jumpy Junior. We bought frog food and a fake log he could hide under. We made a water hole from a little honey jar I’d palmed from a restaurant. It was froggy paradise.

But that night Jason found one of the cats chasing Jumpy Junior across the living room floor. He put JJ back in the cage. I taped up the area around the light bulb with electrical tape.

The next day was the day I volunteer in Joe’s class. The boys asked if I would bring JJ. I asked permission of the teacher, got the official okey-dokey and brought the terrarium in. The kids were excited and asked questions. The boys basked in telling how they caught Jumpy Junior and how they named him and how they were going to share him. They kids in the class took turns trying to find JJ. I helped them look and explained that he was probably hiding under his log because he was scared. But as the morning wore on, I began to suspect that Jumpy Junior wasn’t simply hiding.

When I got home, while Joe was still in school, I peeked in the terrarium from every angle. JJ was a very good hider. Finally, I emptied it. First the log, then the leaves, then the honey-pot water hole. No Jumpy Junior. How could I tell Joe the frog was gone? How could he and Nic bond over a missing frog?

I put everything back and went outside and looked for another frog. No luck. I grew up catching lizards. I had no frog experience. I called Jason and told him about the missing JJ and asked him to find a replacement when he got home. (To his credit, he didn’t ask about my previous highly held convictions.) Then I staked out a place near the window and listened. I didn’t hear a croak until after Joe got home. By then there was no graceful way to ditch him to go outside and find a frog.

When Jason got home, I distracted Joe, and Jason swiftly caught the loud frog I’d heard. He deftly slipped him in the cage. When the frog started to croak, Jason and I joked about how Jumpy must finally be comfortable enough with us to talk. “He’s like a whole new frog,” Jason said, and he and I laughed.

But come morning, replacement JJ was gone. The terrarium was proving less than frog-proof. But I figured there was still no problem. First I figured we could find him in the house. But Lynn (our roommate) found his body as soon as Joe and I left for school. So I figured I would just find a replacement while Joe was gone. After all, I still had another day until the custody exchange. And we always have a ton of frogs in our yard this time of year.

But we also have the most unpredictable weather in the country. And it got cold that day. Cold enough that there was no croaking. I searched the yard. No frogs. Not even a croak. Jason searched. Nothing. When Joe asked about JJ, I relied on the tried and true, “He must be hiding under his log.”

The next day, I went out early and checked the pet stores. Lots of bright yellow or red exotic frogs and toads, but no plain green and brown Jumpy Juniors. The weather was a little warmer; maybe I could find a frog at the park. I had Jason feed Joe a line about me forgetting to get Jumpy ready to take to school and that I’d bring him for Nic when I came to pick up Joe. That gave me 6 hours to find a new Jumpy Junior.

I searched the yard again. Nothing but spiders and worms. I staked out the park. I walked around the pond at the park, followed the little creek, even managed to walk into a swarm of lethargic bees and do the prissy skip-dance through ankle-deep mud to get away (I hope there was at least someone around to see that, because, really, that kind of comedy should not be wasted.) I startled a couple of toads roughly the size of my head and one garter snake not much bigger than a worm, but no cute little frogs. I had to accept that the frog bond I had worked so hard to forge and fake between Nic and Joe was about to be rent asunder.

I couldn’t help thinking that if I were a TV mom I’d have found the frog and gotten it into the cage at the last minute with a great one-liner and a laugh-track complete with a few Aws. I felt vaguely disappointed. And not so vaguely pissed. I’d put a lot of effort into this. And I’m not the effort type. I was pretty sure Nic’s mom would’ve been able to find a frog. Or Mason’s. Or Jacob’s, Preston’s, Hawkeye’s, Mitchell’s, Ferdi’s, David’s. I was sure that this was a profound failing. A glaring damnation of my mothering abilities. A confirmation of the suspicions I was sure all the other mothers harbored about me. And I was sure Joe would never forgive me. When he was caught with a rifle in a bell tower in his later years, this day would be the subject of his rantings.

I wanted to call Jason and have him pick up Joe but this was my walk of shame.

I stood outside room 22 and waited for the bell to ring, hoping at least Nic would forget and just run on by. But, no, both he and Joe made a beeline toward me. “Where’s Jumpy Junior?!” Joe asked immediately.

No use bothering anymore. “He escaped. I’m sorry; he must’ve gotten out through –”
“I knew he was smart. I told you,” Nic said.

“Yeah, I bet he planned it!” Joe said, sounding proud.

“Ninja frog!” Nic yelled and put his hands up in the universal karate sign.

They ran ahead of me toward the edge of the playground, where cars and parents waited. They shoved each other and talked excitedly.

“Can Nic spend the night?” Joe yelled back at me.

“Sure,” I said, rushing to catch up. Kids darted around me, fast and happy like a swarm with its own hive mind. “Let’s go ask Nic’s mom.” But they were already rushing to where Krystal waited in the warmth of her car.

“Yeah!” Nic told Joe, “Maybe we can catch another frog!”

Joe and Nic

Joe and Nic

UPDATE: As of today (6-24-10), the third Jumpy Junior (found a few days after this post) is still alive. Anyone who has captured some tiny creature in their yard and locked it up in a tiny cracked plastic terrarium held together by duct tape can appreciate the marvel of this. We decided that any toad with such a will to live deserves to go out and breed. So, with Nic’s permission, Jason, Joe and I released JJ back into the wild. Well, technically, Joe threw him into the tall grass at the park and then told us all the stories JJ was telling to explain his absence to his friends.

Category: 9, Parenting, Stories  Tags: , ,  6 Comments

My son, Joe, stopped talking at age 2. We have no idea why. Hell, we didn’t even realize there was something wrong with that until we were talking to a nutritionist about a completely unrelated issue. We got him into the county’s early intervention program when he turned 3 (a wonderful wonderful program). Under the care and expertise of Miss Julie Cury, Joe started talking again and caught up quickly – and with a vengeance.

Because we were waiting so eagerly for him to begin talking again, and because I have a weird obsession with chronicling my life, I started writing down the funny or cute or weird or just uniquely Joe things The Joe said. Now, of course, I just post them on Facebook.

Here are the first 9 entries in The book of Joe:

1. I was lying on the couch with Joe lying on my chest. I’m not busty to begin with and was wearing a sports bra and tank top. Joe said, “Mama, where’s your booboos?” (9-9-04)

2. I asked Joe what color my eyes were. He said purple. (9-9-04)

3. I asked Joe what color his eyes were. He said orange. (Now that we know he’s color blind, this makes a lot more sense!) (9-13-04)

4. Typical exchange with Joe:

Me: Look, Joe, a crocodile.

Joe: No, alligator.

Me: No, Joe, that’s a crocodile.

Joe: No, alligator.

Me: No, Joe, really; it’s a crocodile.

Joe: No, alligator.

Me: Fine, it’s an alligator.

Joe: No, crocodile.

(9-11-04, though it could’ve been this afternoon)

5. One of Joe’s favorite phrases: “Whizzyme!” (translation: “Listen to me!”) (9-15-04)

6. Dana (a grown-woman friend), Jason, and I were sitting around talking. Joe went to the middle of the room, put his hand down the front of his pants, turned to Dana, and said loudly, “Where’s my hand?!” (9-18-04)

7. I came out of the bathroom and Joe said, “Whatcha doing, Mommy?”

I said, “I just went potty.”

He clapped and yelled, “Yay, Mommy! Good boy!” (9-28-04)

8. Leaving the Pumpkin Patch near the end of a very busy weekend. Joe and I were talking in the car. I mentioned his friends Will and Noah. Joe said, “No Will and Noah. Sit on couch.” I guess he was all done. (10-10-04)

9. It was 5:30 pm. Joe goes to Jason and says, “Night night!’ because he wants to play in his room.

Jason says no and asks Joe if he can get him some popcorn (as a diversion).

When Joe gets it, he brings it to Jason and asks, “Night night?”

Jason says no.

Joe takes the popcorn away and eats it in front of Jason very slowly and deliberately. He even holds pieces out to Jason before eating them. That’ll learn Daddy. (10-17-04)



Category: 9, Parenting  Tags: ,  3 Comments

Last week, Jason and I had our parent/teacher meeting with Joe’s teacher, Miss D. She told us how very smart Joe is and how advanced his reading is, and we talked about ways we can start working on some fourth grade learning, now, while he’s still in third grade. She gave us all the words he’s supposed to know at the end of next year. He knows them already.

Miss D. casually mentioned that Joe obviously reads a lot. But that’s not true. Not in the way she means, at least. The only book reading Joe does (to my dismay) is what’s required for school. But while we were talking, I thought about it, and actually he does read a lot. Hours every day. But not books. Or comics even. No, what Joe reads is the TV.

About a decade ago, I was at a hotel, hanging out during the day while Jason was in meetings, and in trying to master the indecipherable television remote I accidentally turned on the Closed Captioning. Before I could figure out how to turn it off I was hooked. I was so excited at being able to read the television that that’s all I did all day. I loved being able to see the differences between what the news put as placeholders versus what the actual interview subjects said. I loved being able to see when an actor went off script. I loved how football games turned the Closed Captioning into gibberish because the announcers just talked too damn fast. And I loved the accidentally hilarious typos (like the time CC told me that Oprah loved bestiality).

Jason just thought it was funny that I hadn’t seen CC before.

Not long after that fateful trip we decided to buy a new TV. (This was a momentous occasion because we don’t replace our major appliances until they threaten to electrocute, drown or smoke us out of the house.) Jason knew what size he wanted, what brand – I just wanted one with Closed Captioning.

Then we decided to have a baby. Surely it was bad to raise a child with the TV on as much as we had it on.

We had lots of grand ideas about how to raise a child back then.

For the first year after Joe was born, he didn’t watch TV. He heard it because I’d watch reruns of ER, Judging Amy or Dawson’s Creek while feeding him, or he’d hang out with Jason and I, being adorable while we sneaked peeks at Buffy or Friends.

Then Grandma bought him a little TV with a built-in VCR so he could watch Veggie Tales.

At first, we tried to limit his viewing. But as he got older he noticed when the TV was off. If it was on, he was oblivious. He’d play his little creative games and wander the house on adventures. But as soon as the TV went off, even if he was in another room, he’d run to it with excessive concern.

In a typical act of lazy parenting we slowly gave up the time limits on TV. But we decided to have the CC on, so at least there’d be a reading component to all the learning programs he was watching. It was the ideal excuse.

But that educational-viewing-only morphed into SpongeBob and Wizards of Waverly Place and Phineas and Ferb and the whole kid/tween array of programming designed to convince kids that they need more toys, more sugar and more games. Some of these shows are just insipid; others I find myself watching even when Joe’s not here. But what they all have in common is Closed Captioning. We never turn it off.

When Joe first started recognizing words, it was on the TV. He loves the descriptions of sounds (“jazzy instrumental,” “ominous pounding,” “sigh”) and he uses such descriptive terms in his writing. Now as his viewing grows more sophisticated and he gets more interested in how stories are told, we talk about exposition and dialog in terms of how CC differentiates between the two. He asks about accents. We compare interpretations of themes and guess at the endings of stories. We brainstorm other actions characters could take to avoid negative consequences. We point out when characters make choices that lead to positive consequences. If Joe doesn’t like an ending he’ll rewrite it. We discuss the sarcasm of House and debate what’s really happening in Flash Forward. And if the music is scary and the words aren’t, Joe will ask us to mute and keep reading.

Through TV, we’ve discussed homosexuality, the death penalty, god, bullies, politics and lots and lots about puppies. He asks questions; we pause the show and discuss (gotta love DVR). He now points out typos. His favorite thing on TV is “The Word” on The Colbert Report because the words in the blue box tell a different story than what Colbert says.

We DVR shows and watch them without commercials. We watch shows live with commercials. And we discuss how advertising works, examining the words they use and the images they show.

All this is not to say that a steady stream of TV is a good thing for kids. I’ve learned from The Doctors and CNN that this is most certainly not so.

All this is just to say that in our laziness, Jason and I found a way to incorporate something good into what is arguably a bad habit. We’ve figured out which shows to watch with Joe and which not to. We DVR questionable shows and skim them before we let him watch them with us. We ask him questions and encourage him to ask us his own.

But mostly, this is all just an excuse to brag about my son being the best reader in his class.

Cindie Geddes

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