September 15, 2010
It’s Roshashanah, the Jewish New Year, and although I am a Christian, it’s become a holiday I vicariously enjoy. My two best friends are of the Jewish faith, and every year I look forward to hearing about their preparations for the day, which family members are coming to grace their homes, or which friends, whom I usually know, are invited to celebrate the event with them. The day generally coincides with the beginning of school, which due to having been both a student and a teacher always feels more like the “new year” to me than when it technically rolls around in December. I admit I also enjoy Roshashanah because it feels like one last breath of summer. With one or both kids home in years past, we’ve often been granted one final reprieve of a day at a fairly warm, and always sparsely populated, stretch of the Jersey shore.
This year was a bit different, as Justin had school but Zach didn’t, which actually made things less complicated for me. My youngest and I experienced a glorious day at the beach with my mother and visiting uncle, spent hours watching him dart in and out of waves, run up to children and inquire “what’s your name”, and race my mother’s brother to the nearest jetty and back. It was a wonderful day, made more precious because we rarely get to see this particular relative, who has always been phenomenal with children. He and I are only eleven years apart, lived together for five years when I was young, and have always shared a bond. It goes without saying how incredible it is for me to see one of my children laughing with him, playing with him, actually speaking to him. These are definitely moments to record for posterity in the baby book.
All too soon however the day concludes, with the time of Justin’s return drawing near, requiring me to relinquish my relaxed status with my engaged and somewhat less complicated child. We made it home in record time, and I quickly remove the last vestiges of sand from my son’s reluctantly held feet, unpack from the beach, and repack for Justin’s imminent haircut and last hurrah at our local boardwalk. I have a sitter for Zach this afternoon whom he adores, and I figure since the barber shop is halfway to the beach Justin should get a little slice of the holiday too. Besides, I’ll get another chance at a custard, and the allure of that rich creamy substance is far too great for me to resist.
His bus soon makes its grand entrance, and I see it’s a bit early, which actually gives me time to take him to the potty prior to getting on the road. He bounds off shoeless, which means his feet were probably hot, and I quickly usher him into the house and direct him to the bathroom, sneakers clutched in one hand, DVD player firmly clenched in the other. He’s usually completely compliant in this room, has become his own determining factor in discriminating when nature is calling, but I still prompt him to go whenever we’re leaving the house. He uses his communicative device much more frequently at school than he does at home, and since we literally spent years making him independent in the toileting arena, I’m loathe for him to fall back into the habit of accidents. There’s an entire chapter in my manuscript devoted to his official potty training year. I have no intention of ever revisiting it except in print.
He settles himself on the porcelain god with self-assured accuracy, reaches for the DVD, and vocalizes his approval of my choice of film. I busy myself with barking out last-minute directions for Jeff to convey to the sitter, as it’s likely my return will be after her departure. As I’m trying to remember my salient points through the remnants of what appears to be lingering summer brain, I simultaneously straighten out Justin’s socks, check to see if they pass the “dry” test, and attempt to replace his sneakers to their appropriate destination.
He is having none of it.
I try three times, and at the end I’m begging. If I can’t shoe my son soon we will be late for our appointment, and this is one place I particularly try to be punctual. The woman who cuts my sons’ hair owns the shop, puts up with my frequent time and day changes of appointments, and unfailingly makes certain neither of my boys has to wait when they show up for their scheduled time. She also makes me laugh, another reason I am more reluctant than usual to annoy her. I like this particular professional. Hair cuts for the boys are also “mommy time” too.
After the third attempt I give up the ghost, yell at my husband to “bring on the Tivas”, and hope that this will do the trick. He only started wearing sandals this summer, and normally I wouldn’t try this as to him this heralds an impending day at the beach. At this point I’m fairly desperate however, and decide once he gets to the boardwalk he’ll be okay with my fashion choice. It’s either this or barefoot, and since “no shirt, no shoes, no service” is God’s law around here, he’s got to wear something.
We placate and plead, bribe and beg, and are ultimately successful, although I’m not certain his leather alternative will remain in place permanently. My intuitions are ultimately right, for I hear the double clunk of his footwear bouncing off the back of my trunk twice on our journey, once before his locks are shorn, and once before we find primo parking mere blocks from the Himalaya and nearby roller coasters of our final destination. As I compensate for my sadly diminishing parallel parking skills I comfort myself with the knowledge that the first time he tried to let his toes breathe I was able to reclad him without difficulty, reminding him he could watch new movies inside the shop and play with trains if he so chose. I am confident the draw of one of his favorite places on earth will be enough to merit wearing the semi-offending sandals, and after I secure boy, bag, and sweatshirts in the waiting stroller, I move swiftly to reinstate his shoes.
I angle in with Tiva in hand, momentarily proud of myself for matching the correct shoe with the appropriate foot, and am firmly rebuffed once, twice, thrice. There is frustration evident on his face, storm clouds gathering behind his eyes, and I realize I’d better do something quick. I tell him he has to wear shoes. We’re going to the boardwalk. Let mommy help him.
He has to wear the shoes.
I finally manage to secure one on a reluctant foot, but as soon as I get a firm hold on its mate, my former target has released itself from its bonds. I pause in my ministrations as I am now sweating profusely on this temperate afternoon, and realize I need to formulate a new plan.
A new plan to take my child to the freakin’ boardwalk to have some damn fun.
I reopen the car door, unlock him from his stroller, pick him up, and reseat him in the car. I tell him he either wears the shoes or we go home, and the caterwauling begins, accompanied by full-on tears, guttural protestations of unfairness, absolute devastation in evidence. I try one more time to corral his feet but he resists, so instead I close the door, and lock him in. The crying ramps up in intensity, but he is safe, I am safe, and somehow, perhaps because I am tired, I just can’t seem to conjure up the despair I used to feel in these situations, these mini- ranting marathons which used to occur so often in the past.
After all, in reality, my seven-year-old is tantruming over Birkenstocks. Today, I just can’t summon the outrage.
We engage in this dance twice more, and the last two attempts include me trying to insert his arms in his protective harness, both ending in failure. The realization dawns that I need my husband to get in his car and drive down to the beach and help me get him home. I feel enraged I can’t handle this by myself. I feel enraged that I am handling this by myself. I placate my emotions with the realization that at least Zach will remain with the sitter, won’t have his life disrupted by yet another of his brother’s unpredictable, albeit thankfully recently diminished, storms. I place the call, describe my location, settle in for the wait while making sure Justin doesn’t completely dismantle my GPS. There has been enough drama for one day.
I click shut my cell, and step back and take stock of the situation, something I was never able to do in the “old days” when Justin’s revolts were far more frequent and physical, as during those debacles I was generally just trying to keep the two of us alive. For now he is contained, safe, and as I watch my sobbing boy for once I actually have time to reflect on what is happening to us. He seems to be calming down a bit, engaging in some sort of self-soothing activity as he rocks lightly back and forth, no longer hurling himself to and fro in the vehicle. I remind myself that not once in the past ten minutes has there been a pinch, a bite, or a scratch. I recall how tired he’s been as school has resumed this week, that he is in yet again a new placement, has had to absorb the loss of old attachments, contemplate the forming of the new. I remember that he’s had no less than five major changes since summer began, and that he’s risen to the occasion valiantly with each one. I admonish myself to cut the kid some slack, and to do the same for me, to not berate myself for trying this activity in the first place.
I resume my voyeur role once again, and am greeted with a much calmer boy staring at me from the backseat, tears continuing to march down his face, body still. I decide to give it one more college try, as if I fail in the attempt, I know my husband will be here to lend a hand momentarily. I unlock the doors, release him from captivity, and help him from the vehicle to the ground. I tell him firmly for the thousandth time if he wants to go on the rides, he needs to wear what I’m holding in my hands. I strap him in, double check to make sure I’ve got the right shoe so to speak, and go in for the kill, trying for the sake of all that’s holy just to put sandals on my kid’s feet.
He lets me.
There is an immediate transformation. He beams, and with salty tracks still drying on his cheeks pulls me in for kisses, then pushes me away to commence the bouncing that signifies a good time is imminent. I quickly call my husband to abort his mission, and as he is only halfway to his destination I know he will be able to resume his workday soon. I hide my cell phone in my car as I instinctively know the danger has passed, pivot my son to face the right direction, and head for one of Jersey’s more famous attractions.
I navigate the choppy sidewalks of this seaside town and admit once again the progress that has been made by my son, my family, myself. I’m proud of his restraint. I’m proud I didn’t fall to pieces. I’m proud he finally wore the damn shoes.
I’m proud we both “won”.
And as we approach the sights, smells and sounds of childhood dreams magically realized, I acknowledge, despite the agita, the somewhat ever-present agita, that within this new year, I am at peace.