Friday, April 22, 2011

The Daredevil and the Superstar

Last night I took Sam to baseball practice. I had not been the one to take him since last Thursday, as Matt accompanied him on Sunday, and my mother in law took him on Tuesday because Matt and I had to take Gabby to an academic team event (more on that in a bit). I was anxious to see how he had improved.

However, Alice, of course, wasn't having it. She saw the trampoline and playground equipment and was off like a shot. Now, the last time we had been there, she had not been interested in the trampoline at all, and only interested in the first level of the playground stuff. But today, she got to the other side of the trampoline and was struggling to pull off her Dora sneakers (her "Boots-Boots" as she calls them). I warily helped her inside, feeling she would be safe since the thing is enclosed and she was the only one using it. She bounced a bit, and laughed maniacally.

At some point, two other girls walked over. One was maybe 6 or 7, and the other was about 10 or 11. They politely asked me if they could jump with Alice and told me they would be careful of the "baby." The older one even related that she had an infant cousin that she watched "all the time." I said ok, and told them that if Alice got uncomfortable, I would just get her out. Alice happily welcomed them by yelling "HI HI!!!" and point at her vintage-y Alice in Wonderland t-shirt (which you totally know she had) and saying "Allie." The two girls introduced themselves to, and took turns bouncing her lightly. Somewhere in this, they started a game where they would bounce, and then say "BOOM!" and all of them would fall down. Alice found this to be hysterical; they found Alice's fake falling and loud "BOOOOO!" yell to be amazing. They had fun for a good long while, and I stood there, smiling goofily and being amazed at my child, who was having fun with kids so much older than herself and putting herself in a situation that other kids her age would find frightening.

When Alice finally got tired, I got her out and put her shoes back on her. She didn't skip a beat walking over to the other playground equipment and crawling around on it. I watched in amazement as she shimmied up a small, two step ladder to the Allie-level she had played on last time (I had just lifted her to it last week!) and then up another ladder to a level with a slide. Then she crawled over to the slide and put her little feet at the top. Soon, she lifted her hands up and said, "Ready!" I watched in complete and utter awe, as my 19 month old baby slid safely down, breathing loudly before going through the whole thing again.

As I watched Alice get to the top of that slide, something hit me. There was this look in her eye, a kind of devil may care, watch-this kind of glint, that I recognized. In that moment, sitting at the top of the slide meant for kids much older than her, the wind blowing through her scant, feathery hair, the knees dirty on her 18-24 mo. jeans, I saw myself in her eye. She giggled, placing a still-chubby, starfish like hand over her little lips, and I could see me, smiling, heading into something unknown and unsure, but damn happy about it, and a little proud of my gregariousness. In just a second, it was gone, and she was sitting at the bottom of the slide, giggling. But she was mine--all mine in that moment. She has her father's hair and a Russian middle name, but in that moment, she was just me.

(I should take a moment from this sweetness and joy of my wonderful, loving parenting to relate that shortly after this moment, Alice was encountered by another 19 mo. old toddler. However, this toddler had a pacifier and didn't talk. At all. Alice introduced herself and started up some sort of odd conversation about rocks (I would assume), and when the other toddler didn't respond, she picked up a handful of very fine-grain gravel (the kind they use on playgrounds that is like a sandy mix stuff) and frustratedly hurled it at the kid. Yes, she did. And I had to take the other toddler and her very shocked elder sister to the bathroom and wash it out of her pacifier and nose. Yes, I did. It was in the older sister's braces, ya'll. But I guess it should be noted that the toddler still didn't say anything during the whole ordeal, or cry for that matter. At any rate, Alice is a social FAIL, and I am a great big parenting FAIL, three times over. Feel free to judge.)

The whole (good) moment though, was very similar to earlier this week when Matt and I accompanied Gabby to a Battle of the Books tournament. Gabby had sort of halfheartedly decided to do this competition. She had wanted to do it, then she couldn't talk any of her other friends into doing it, and there was this girl on the team who said something about her other friend....oh, you know, DRAMA. The kind you don't understand unless you are 12. So, Gabby had started off strong but then slacked off and hadn't read all of the books, much to the chagrin of her literature loving parents. At any rate, the county-wide competition was on Tuesday. Matt and I really didn't have any expectations for this, because we knew Gabby had slacked on the reading and we, despite pleading with her to bring us a list of questions to help her with, never saw her actually practice. Nevertheless, we both took off work early, left the other two monsters with Matt's mom, and headed over across the county to the competition.

I should probably note that Matt and I were huge geeks in high school, which you probably imagined. And we did this thing called PACE, which is a Jeopardy style academic competition for teams. On a scale of 1 to 10 of total nerddom, (one being, say, a frat party and 10 being a joint Star Wars/Star Trek convention with a chess club meeting in the back), PACE is about a 14. I went to the school in the county that won this thing year after year. Matt went to a school that is better known for its skankiness and prevalence of Natty Light cans in the parking lot. However, in my junior year (Matt's senior), they beat us in a competition, much due to the fact that Matt went out of his way to memorize every battle of WWII, with dates. Matt and I were dating of course (Hell, Gabby was in the audience). This, I shit you not, is a defining moment in our relationship. More tears were shed over that PACE match than over anything else I've ever experienced, including natural, med-free childbirth. I should also note that this is the only PACE match that I ever lost (we ended up beating them soundly in the tournament--the way that God wanted). And no matter how many times I beat that SOB at Trivial Pursuit (AND IT HAS BEEN A WHOLE HELL OF A LOT), he will always bring that shit up (and also the fact that he got a perfect score on the Writing SAT II, and I, ahem, did not). I tell you this, not because I want to relive my high school glory days, but rather because Battle of the Books is basically the same concept, except it is all about books. They even used the same buzzer system that we had back in the day. So, um, Matt and I were invested, despite the fact that Gabby was a little less so.

We get to the competition, and Gabby is not studying, but rather, playing Angry Birds. My blood pressure shoots up crazily, and I'm like, "SHOULDN'T YOU BE PRACTICING? DO YOU WANT TO GO OVER QUESTIONS? LIKE NOW? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CAN WE PLEASE?" And she just rolls her eyes and walks away. While I'm trying to calm down, she goes over and talks to the girl who up until last week had been her mortal enemy. They giggle and laugh and at some point decide that maybe, just maybe, they should read over some stuff. Before long it is time for the first match. The parents all take seats behind the players in the classroom (Matt takes stock of the other team, which includes a chubby Asian kid in a Star Wars t-shirt and tells me that "We're doomed."), and the match starts. And in that moment, Gabby transforms. As soon as the questions start, she takes the buzzer in her hand and straightens up her back. I was sitting behind her, couldn't even see her face, but oh shit, I knew what she looked like from the front. She looked like ME. I straighted my back, just like that, sat on my foot, JUST LIKE THAT. And I haven't done it since. And yes, Gabby is a rock star at this. She answers questions like you would not believe. They HANDILY win each match until the third one when the get defeated by 3 points. And my girl? My kid? She got 16 of their 19 points in that one. And she does it all with her back straight, her buzzer handled just so.

There are a lot of my traits that I hope to God my kids don't get. I'm shit with money, I can be a total ditz with stuff, I don't accept help when I should, I'm self-indulgent, and I try to bend the rules in a way that they should not be bent. But there are these moments when I see my kids doing something that I have done and enjoyed, something that makes ME an individual. And it feels so good. Like an affirmation, not on my parenting skillz as they are, but rather on me as a person. And most importantly, it reminds me of just how exciting it is--it makes me downright giddy--to get to experience it all again, in a slightly different, yet amazing, way.

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