Saturday, February 3, 2018

Dear Future-Margot

Thanksgiving 2017

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Dear Future-Margot,

I hope this letter finds you well, wherever and whenever you read it.  I’m writing to you from the dining room table in the country.  It’s ten o’clock on a Saturday night.  You’re upstairs asleep in Daddy and Papa’s bed with Papa, Coco and Flynn.  Do you remember these days when we all piled into the same bed in the country?  I suppose it’s not so different from our sleeping arrangement in the city.  The only difference is that in the city everyone starts in their own bed and then, one by one, you all make your way to Daddy and Papa’s bed.  In the country we just start in the same place.  Fortunately, we have a really big bed.

Everyone’s asleep except for me, which isn’t unusual.  I’ve spent many Saturday nights here in the country, working, puttering or writing while the four of you are asleep in the room above me.  Oh, and there’s usually a vodka tonic involved.  I’ll go up in a bit . . . 

The Annual Christmas Tree Hunt - 2017
Anyway, Christmas is over.  We finally got everything put away last week, but it was a lot of work.  You know we have bins and bins and bins of Christmas stuff.  And this year we had the biggest tree we’ve ever had.  Do you remember it?  We cut it down here in the country.  Just off the driveway above the pond across from the blackberry bramble.  The tree didn’t look that big when we picked it.  I actually suggested it and you know I’m not the one who wants the biggest tree he can find (that would be Papa).  But then, once we got it up on top of the car somehow it got bigger.  Driving back up the driveway I had to stick my head out the window to give Papa directions because we couldn’t see out the windshield.  And then we got it back home to San Francisco and it got even bigger.  And then a week later we put it in the house and it had gotten bigger yet.  When we put water in the tree stand Flynn was worried that the tree would keep growing and “break the house.”   

It was so big we got a text from a neighbor:  “Are you kidding me?” she said.  “Now I’m embarrassed by my fake tree in my window.  I’m closing my curtains.”  The tree fell over once while we were putting it up.  Coincidentally, Flynn was the only person in the room at the time.  Hmmmm . . .   A few days later Olive from down the street came over to play and asked, “Is that the tree that almost killed Flynn?”  So, it was the biggest tree we’ve had (so far), it caused a bit of a stir on the block, and it almost killed Flynn.  Just another Christmas for us, right?

Anyway, I’m digressing.  I’m writing to you because I thought you (Future-Margot) might like to know a little bit about your four-and-a-half-year-old self (Margot-Now).  I suspect that as you (Future-Margot) read about Margot-Now you’ll see a lot of yourself in, well, yourself. 

Just another day at school.
"I wonder what the plan is today."
The first thing you should know about yourself (or, you likely already know about yourself), is that you like a plan.  You like a schedule.  On weekend mornings or sometimes in the evening after dinner, we’ll ask you all if you want hear the plan.  You’re always the most excited about a plan.  “What’s the plan?!  What’s the plan?!” You’re like a “plan cheerleader.”   You (Future-Margot) are probably a list-maker, but it’s a bit too early for lists for Margot-Now.  You’ll probably make lists by the time you’re in kindergarten.

Your body functions on a very predictable schedule, too.   

On the mornings when Papa isn’t home I get up around 4:00 a.m. and start working.  This way I can get at least a couple hours of work done before it’s time to get you all up for breakfast and get ready for the day.  You’re always up first.  Sometime between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m. I’ll hear the stairs creak as someone comes down from upstairs.  (yes, those stairs have always creaked which means you’ll never be able to sneak out of the house or back in for that matter, although I don’t think you’re likely to be the one sneaking anywhere)  I look at my watch.  “It’s 5:23 a.m.  It must be Margot.” 

Sitting at the dining room table, I stop typing and wait until you appear in the doorway, bleary-eyed and disheveled.  “Daddy, I want to watch your phone.”  That’s always the first thing you say.  There’s no “Good morning, Daddy” or “Hi, Daddy” or even a mention of breakfast.  It’s always about watching videos on Daddy’s phone.  You and I have come to an understanding about this, however.  You can watch my phone but it has to be something educational, like Word Girl, or Odd Squad or Cat in the Hat.  As long as it’s something on PBS Kids, it’s fine.

So I tuck you in under a warm blanket (the big brown knit one, if you remember it) on the couch in the living room, while it’s still dark outside the living room windows, tap on the PBS Kids app, turn on the guided access (so you don’t switch over to My Little Pony or Shopkins or Elsia & Annia) and give you a bowl of dry Cheerios.  You settle in and I go back to my laptop at the dining room table, just a few steps away.  You and I usually get a little more quiet time before Flynn makes his way downstairs usually around 6:00 am.

Then there’s the other end of the day.  At some point between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m., you’ll start getting hungry.  Not just, “I’m bored and I want a snack” hungry.  But the “if you don’t get me some food right now I’m going to go into an irreversible meltdown from which I might not recover and you will thus be made to pay a steep price for not giving me food now” hungry.  At that point it’s time to get dinner on the table, STAT! 

You also know when you’re tired.  At dinner sometimes you’ll announce “I’m tired and I need to go to bed.”  You don’t deny you’re tired.  You don’t fight being tired.  You simply acknowledge that you’re tired and make a plan.  It’s time to go to bed. 

Bedtime is 8:00 p.m.  Or, at least it’s time for the three of you to brush your teeth, get into bed, then get out of bed to turn on and off lights and find your flashlights and the right stuffies and to generally delay bedtime, and then finally have your bedtime songs.  So, usually actual bedtime is closer to 8:30.  You’re always the first one asleep.  Always.  Many nights you’re asleep before Daddy and Papa are even out the door.  Sometimes you don’t even last through bedtime songs.  This recently has become immensely irritating to your sister.  Five minutes after you all have gone to bed, Coco will come out and complain that you’re already asleep.  “It’s not fair!  I can’t sleep.  Margot always goes right to sleep.  It’s not fair!” 

“Boring!”  Your favorite phrase right now is “Boring!” 

There is nothing boring about this girl!
“Margot, I have to go to work.” 

“Margot, you have to go to school.” 

“Margot, it’s time for dinner.”

“Margot, we’re going to the country tomorrow.”

I think you picked it from Rainbow Dash on “My Little Pony:  Friendship is Magic,” which is your favorite show right now.  And Flynn’s favorite show.  And Coco’s too.  All three of you would watch My Little Pony all day if you could get away with it.  Christmas this year was a My Little Pony bonanza.  My Little Pony videos, My Little Pony clothes and more than a dozen My Little Pony figures of varying sizes.  There’s even a My Little Pony mermaid (mer-pony?) around the house somewhere.
You’ve been tidy and organized since you were old enough to pick things up and put them away. “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”  Last spring, during your birthday party (and I mean - literally - during your birthday party), you took time to organize the gifts that our guests had left in the entry way.  Apparently they were not orderly enough.  You put them all in a nice straight line – although the line was in the middle of the hallway.  This Christmas you wanted the gifts under the tree to be grouped by who they were for.  Then, after all the gifts were opened on Christmas morning, you asked for a box so that you could put all your gifts together in one place – and keep them safely away from your brother and sister I suspect. 

Thanksgiving 2017

Now, there may also be some hoarding going on here, too.  After your birthday last spring, you put all your gifts into a large shopping bag.  Not a brown paper bag from Safeway, but a super big, double-strength, department store bag.  You packed all your gifts in the bag and then you parked the bag next to your bed as close to you as possible.  And there the bag stayed.  For at least two weeks.   

Two weeks after you parked that bag next to your bed, it ripped.  Of course you needed a new bag (there were tears, after all, when the bag ripped) so I brought a new bag up to your room and emptied everything out of the ripped bag onto your bed.  All the birthday gifts were still there of course.  But there was more.  Dozens of little things, trinkets, small treasures, I guess:  small plastic jewels, miscellaneous stickers, random coins, Hot Wheels, building blocks and various figurines.  For two weeks you had been dropping small treasures into that bag, apparently claiming them as your own.  Fortunately, Santa was watching and for Christmas he brought you two small treasure boxes so that you would have someplace to put all your small treasures and keep them safe.
So, Future-Margot, that’s a bit about yourself at four-and-a-half.  I hope it sounds about right to you.  It’s getting late.  I should probably sign off now and go upstairs to claim my place in the bed.  That’s getting harder and harder to do as you and your brother and sister get bigger.  But we’ll enjoy it while it lasts. 

Bedtime stories in the country
December 2017

Christmas 2017

The Biggest Tree Yet
Christmas 2017

Margot, Eden, Wyatt, Flynn, Jason, Josh and Coco
Christmas 2017

Margot before her first ballet class
September 2017


Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Brawl

Siblings fight, right?  My brother and I fought like cats and dogs for years.  We fought hard.  I mean, we like beat on each other.  At some point it stopped.  I think it stopped about the time we figured out we had better things to do with our time and we had the freedom to leave the house to go do those things.  So, siblings fight and then they find something else to do.  
Among Coco, Flynn and Margot, Coco and Flynn play together the most.  Both of them are imaginative, energetic and physical.  And they’re both bossy and stubborn.  So when they play together there’s a lot of declarations, orders and yelling.  There’s usually running around and jumping on and off things (except when Papa’s home; when Papa’s home there’s no jumping on and off things).  Lately, their play has been all about capes, superheroes and magical powers.  Super magical powers.  Like ice power.  Like Elsa’s ice power.  I’m not allowed to have super magical powers when I play with them; I'm just the target for their super magical powers which I think is totally “no fair!” 

Of course, playing leads to arguing and bickering.  Recently the bickering has become more physical.  Sometimes there’s a bit of pushing.  Occasionally Someone hits Someone Else and then Someone Else hits Someone back, and then both Someone and Someone Else end up sitting on the steps.   

Margot consistently stays above the fray.  Quite often she prefers to play by herself.  While Coco and Flynn are running around and jumping on and off things, Margot is setting up a tea party, feeding one of her dolls, or playing with Flynn’s Barbie house.  Once in a while she even asks me to tell Coco and Flynn NOT to play with her since she knows they’ll swoop in and wreak havoc on her otherwise organized and orderly play.  (Margot’s need for organization, order and a plan is a topic for another post.)

One morning last week Coco and Flynn started their day with playing that turned into arguing.  Not an unusual occurrence.  I was getting dressed for work and I could hear them in the other room arguing about something.  Flynn came into the room where I was getting dressed.

“Coco being mean,” he reported.  Not a surprise.  If there is a refrain in our house right now it is definitely “Coco being mean.”  I mean I hear it multiple times every day from Flynn and Margot, or I hear variations on the theme:  “Coco being mean,” “Coco not letting me play,” “Coco’s a meany.”  Coco defends herself by telling me that Flynn and Margot are not listening to her and they’re not doing what she tells them to do.  Now, pause, and consider this.  I am listening to my six-year-old daughter complain about someone who is not listening and not doing what they’re told.

But, back to Flynn and Coco.
“Coco being mean,” Flynn reported.
“No, I’m not!” Coco yelled from the other room.
“Coco being a meany.”
“No!  He’s lying!  He’s just trying to get me into trouble.”

So, what did I do? I did what any parent would do: I extracted myself from the situation, made some half-hearted remark to Coco about being nice to Flynn, and went downstairs to pack my bag for work.  About five minutes later Margot came looking for me.  “Coco and Flynn are fighting,” she said.  I stopped and listened.  I could hear them upstairs yelling at each other.  The yelling sounded more intense than usual.

So, I trudged upstairs to see what was happening.  I could hear the screaming as I climbed the stairs.  Yep, the yelling had definitely turned into screaming.  The needle on the “fight-o-meter” dial had moved into the red.  As I reached the top of the stairs I could see Coco and Flynn on the couch in the TV room.  It was not good.  Flynn was on top of Coco, straddled across her stomach, holding a fist full of her hair and screaming at her.  Coco was under Flynn screaming back at him and trying to kick him as hard as she could.  Both their faces were scarlet red.  Coco was crying.  They were clearly trying to inflict pain on each other.  It was a full-on brawl. 

I was shocked.

And then I lost my mind.  

Now, before I had kids I was always appalled when I heard parents yelling at their kids.  Not just barking orders at their kids like, “Hey, stop doing that!” No, I mean all-out yelling at their kids.  I would think to myself smugly, “I would never, ever, yell at my kids like that.”  Well, you know where this is going.  Every parent has a point, a threshold, where they’re exhausted and their kids have worked their last nerve and stretched their patience to the breaking point.  Fortunately, for me – and for Coco, Flynn and Margot – it’s not often that I reach that point.  But I admit on some rare occasions I lose my mind and yell at my kids.

I stormed into the TV room, yelling, “What is going on?!!  What are you doing?!!” I pulled Flynn off of Coco.  He was like an angry cat, hissing, with claws fully extended.  Coco was sobbing, “Flynn hurt me!  Flynn, hurt me!”

But I was not done yelling.  “You will never, ever, ever fight like that in this house.  Ever!  DO YOU HEAR ME?!!!”

Well, they heard me.  And so did the neighbors probably.  People walking their dogs in the park at the end of the street probably heard me.  And maybe some smug, no-kids fool walking past the house heard me too and thought to himself, “I would never, ever, yell at my kids like that.”  Whatever.

Fortunately, all those things my kids have learned on PBSKids, well, I’ve learned them too.  As Daniel Tiger says, “If you’re frustrated, take a deep breath and count to four.”

I need to take a minute and calm down,” I thought to myself.  “Coco and Flynn,” I said, “I’m going to walk out of this room right now and decide what I’m going to do about this.  Do not talk to each other.”

When I came back into the room, much, much calmer, I put them in separate rooms, sitting on beds, looking at the walls and left them.  Ten minutes later I came back to talk to them, to hear their sides of the story, and to pass judgment.  They pled their cases in very different ways.

I talked to Flynn first.  He was quite calm.  He sat on the bed, waiting for me to come back, like he was waiting for a bus, or for a cup of coffee, or for the start of a business meeting of some kind.  When I asked him what happened, he was very clear about the extent of his guilt.

“Did you hit your sister?” I asked.
“Did you scratch your sister?”
"Yes, he did!” screamed Coco from the other room.  “Yes!  He!  Did!”  She was crying again.
“Did you pull her hair?”  There was a pause.  “Flynn?”
“Yes.  But that is it,” he said emphatically, gesturing with his hands like he was an umpire calling the runner safe at first base.  “That is it.”  And with that, it was clear he had nothing further to say.  He rested his case.

Coco was the opposite of calm.  She was crying, complaining about her injuries, and immediately showed me the scratches on her arms and legs.  I think she probably had been searching her body, hoping to find a place where Flynn had actually drawn blood, but no such luck.  There was no blood, but she was pretty scratched up.

Of course I don’t know what started the fight.  As a parent, nine times out of ten, you don’t know what happened.  You don’t know who started it. You don’t know whose fault it was.  You do know, however, that it’s only a matter of time before the next fight, the next brawl. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Day Margot Stayed Home

     Margot had a fever.  She had had it off and on since Sunday evening.  She had been up for a good part of the night on Sunday night and then again for a good part of the night on Monday night.  Both nights Margot and I ended up in the guest room together, neither of us sleeping very well.  Now it was Tuesday morning.  A school day.  She would not be going to school today. 

     Margot not going to school was not a problem.  Flynn going to school without Margot would be a problem.  By himself?  For the first time?  A big problem.  How would I break the news to him? 
     To state the obvious, twins are together all the time.  They’re never without their best friend, their wingman, someone to give them a bit more confidence when they go out into the world – together.  Flynn and Margot have spent very little time apart from one another.  Margot took swimming lessons last summer while Flynn didn't.  Each of them has gone to Los Angeles with Papa for his work.  That's about it.  This would be different.

     Flynn is very attached to Margot; honestly, more than Margot is attached to him.  If you ask him who he plays with at school, he’ll tell you “Margot.”  If you ask him who his best friend at school is, he 'll tell you “Margot.”  Margot knows the names of other kids at school; I am not sure that Flynn does or cares.  At school Flynn and Margot sit at the same table together, they play together, and they eat lunch together.  At the school’s cultural celebrations, they sing and dance next to each other.

     Going to school without Margot was going to be a very big deal for Flynn. There were going to be tears.

     Before breakfast I sat down in the big chair in the kids’ room and pulled Flynn onto my lap.  “Flynn, Margot isn’t feeling well today so she can’t go to school.”
     “Me stay home too,” he said.
     “No, Flynn you have to go to school.”
     The tears came swiftly as I knew they would.  “Me not want to go to school by myself!  Me want to go with Margot!”
     I hugged him.  “Flynn, I know you don’t want to go to school by yourself but you need to go to school today.  We’ll go together.  You can ride on my shoulders all the way to school and all the way home! Won’t that be fun?”
     “Nooo!  Me no want to go to school by myself!” he said, crying.
     I really wanted to tell him he could stay home.  I was tired.  I had been up with Margot two nights in a row.  My FitBit told me I had gotten only four hours of sleep that night.  I was imagining Flynn crying all the way to school, through the park and on the bus, and then clinging to my leg and crying when I tried to leave him for the day by himself.  I had so much to do at work.  Why couldn't I leave Flynn at home with Mari, go straight to work and avoid all of the drama?  It would be so much easier for both of us.
     At that point Margot came in.  “Why is Flynn crying?”
     “Margot, since you’re not feeling well today you have to stay home from school, and Flynn doesn’t want to go by himself.”
     And then Margot started crying, which I hadn’t seen coming.  “Maestra mad if I don’t come to school!”
     “No, Maestra won’t be mad.  She’ll be sad but she won’t be mad.”
     “I don’t want Maestra to be sad!” she said crying even more.
     So, there I sat in the big chair in the kids’ room.  Flynn on my lap in his Christmas nightgown crying because he had to go to school but didn’t want to, and Margot standing in front of me in her Pull-up crying because she couldn’t go to school but did want to.
     I needed to change the subject.  “Let’s have breakfast.” 

     Downstairs, I texted Ken.  “Margot’s still sick.  I was up part of the night with her.  She can’t go to school  When I told Flynn he was going to school he burst into tears because he doesn’t want to go by himself.  Margot then burst into tears because she wanted to go because her teachers will be sad if  she doesn’t come.  I have a ton going on and don’t know that today is the day Flynn has to fly solo at school.  It would be good for him but not sure if today is the day I can make that happen.”
     Ken texted back.  “I think he should go by himself.”
     “I know that,” I thought to myself.  That wasn’t the question.  The question was whether I could be lazy or if I had to be strong and make him go to school by himself.
Apparently I was going to have to be strong.  There was no getting out of this – for Flynn or for me. 

     Mari arrived and I told her Margot would be staying home with her and Flynn would be going to school.  “Solo?” she asked in Spanish.  “Si, solo.”  Mari gave me a look that very clearly said, “Are you sure about this?”

     So, at 8:00 a.m., after more tears and protests from both Flynn and Margot, Flynn and I left the house.  On the porch, I asked him if he wanted to ride on my shoulders.  He nodded without a word and wiped his tears with his sleeve.  I hoisted him up on my shoulders and we left for school.

     The walk to school with Flynn was wonderful.  I have often thought about how very different my trips to preschool with Flynn and Margot are from my trips with Coco.  Coco and I had conversations on the way to school.  She would ask a string of questions (mostly “Why?” “Why?” “Why?”) and I would try to answer them as best I could.  She would tell me about things that popped into her head.  She would ride on my shoulders.  If we were late for the train I’d pick her up and run for it. 

     Flynn and Margot, on the other hand, play with each other on the way to school.  They run around, hang on to poles, jump off front porches, hide in doorways and point out circles and squares on the sidewalk.  They are very clearly a team of two.  Thing One and Thing Two.  While sometimes I might get brief fragments of conversation from them, for the most part I merely accompany them and herd them down the sidewalk and on and off the bus.  I sometimes put them up on my shoulders but that always involves negotiating taking turns and making sure the turns are not “No fair!”  If we're late for the bus, there's no picking them both up and running for it. 

     So, taking just Flynn to school was wonderful.  He rode on my shoulders the whole way to school.  High up on my shoulders he reached up to touch the tree leaves and the street signs not worried about sharing or taking turns.  Whether it was because he was nervous about going to school by himself or because he didn’t have Margot to play with, he talked with me the whole way.

     When we arrived at school without Margot the teachers knew this was a big day for Flynn.  They gave me looks and nodded, acknowledging the event.  One teacher whispered to me, “I have your telephone number.  I call if any problem.”  I said thank you.  I gave Flynn a hug and a kiss good-bye and turned to leave.  He didn’t cling, he didn’t cry.  He went about his business of finding a place to play.  At the end of the day when I picked him up, he was happily building a castle with his teacher.  He didn’t immediately want to leave as soon as I arrived, he wanted to play for a few more minutes so we did.  He rode on my shoulders all the way home.  It was a good day for Flynn.  And it was a good day for Daddy too.    

     So what about Margot?  Mari told me later that around the middle of the morning Margot wanted to get dressed.  And she wanted to put on a pretty dress with tights.  After her dress and her tights were on she announced to Mari, “Me go to school now.”  Margot was determined to go to school.  Around noon I texted Mari to see how Margot was feeling, if her fever was gone.  After my text my phone rang almost immediately.  It was a call from Mari.  When I answered, though, it was Margot on the phone.
     “Hi, Daddy.”
     “Hi, Margot.  How are you feeling?”
     “Good.” She said.  “When are you going to take me to school?”  She was still determined to go to school.
     “I’m sorry, Pumpkin, you can’t go to school today.”
     “Oh, me want to go to school.”  Margot was all dressed up, in a pretty dress and tights, waiting to go to school.  She'll go to school on Thursday.