Last night I slept with Bus Chicken.
I didn’t really mean to. It sort of just happened.
I’ve slept with Chicken Noodle and Chicken Little many times. But never Bus Chicken.
Bus Chicken appeared in my bed for the first time last night. She was soft and easy to be with. She didn’t grind her teeth like Little or donkey-kick like Noodle.
But all the same, it made me a little bit sad to sleep with Bus Chicken.
It was bittersweet.
That’s because Bus Chicken would’ve never come to live with us if it weren’t for a few key factors. Today is the last day of school, which means the last day of my baby’s Kindergarten year. Little has thrived and flourished since September. She learned to skip a bar on the monkey bars, navigate hot lunch, check out books from the library, and write and count and read.
For every ten books she read, her teacher let her choose a gift from the classroom treasure chest.
The treasure chest is where Bus Chicken came from, yesterday.
Bus Chicken is a hand puppet. Little’s teacher perched Bus Chicken on her hand to help guide Kindergartners to their proper ride home for I don’t know how many years, maybe 25? Until now.
Little’s Kindergarten teacher is retiring this year. She was Noodle’s Kindergarten teacher, too. It’s one of the many wild cards in parenting that brings immense gratitude when it works out right—good teachers. Today is Sue Carroll’s last day of teaching.
I can only imagine that is why she put Bus Chicken in the treasure box. Bus Chicken gets to retire, too.
I wonder if she was sad, handing off Bus Chicken. Or maybe relieved to put down that responsibility. Or, probably, a little of both.
I feel so lucky that Bus Chicken came to live with us. First of all, we know chickens around here. We are chickens. Chickens R Us.
Second, Noodle was overjoyed. Me too. Because Bus Chicken means we get to keep a special memento of my girls’ first year in school, of how they got launched off so expertly on their educational journey.
Thank you, Sue. Bus Chicken is in good hands.
But—Universe? Thanks for everything, I love it, but probably enough chickens in my bed. It’s getting crowded, and the feathers sometimes stick in my hair.
“Mom, we’re going to set up a shop in the yard to sell your books!”
“Great,” I said. An activity and potential moneymaker all at once, perfect.
“How much do they cost?” asked Noodle.
“Well, if you buy them at the store they’re like $15.”
“We can’t sell them for that much!” she said incredulously. “Let’s sell them for like $2.”
“Sure,” I agreed. Given that we live on a dead end street, I didn’t expect much traffic. And two bucks is two bucks, man. Halfway to a pint of beer.
They set up a lovely display of Chance of Sun, Day Trips from Portland, and a few copies of Central Oregon Magazine. 15 minutes later, they’d encountered no buyers.
“Mom, we think we’re going to sell them for a dollar instead.”
I laughed. “Sure, whatever.” Depreciation happens.
After a good long while, two customers approached (our neighbors).
“Books for sale, books for sale, one dollar!” the chickens chanted.
“What is this book about, why should I buy it?” said one careful shopper.
“I don’t know,” Noodle shrugged.
“Well, you’re selling it, you should know what it’s about,” said my neighbor, grinning.
Noodle picked up a copy and read from the back.
“Fresh, alive, exciting and bold writing. A compelling piece of writing, heartbreaking and redemptive.”
My neighbor smiled. “We’ll buy that book for a dollar. How much are the magazines?”
“They’re $5.” This mysterious pricing difference was lost on me, but I was going with my original commitment to laissez-faire parenting.
“We won’t pay $5, but we’ll give you a dollar.”
After they left, Noodle exclaimed, “I can’t believe we got two whole dollars from one person!”
Join the club, baby.
To my surprise, by the end of the morning, they’d sold six books. I rewarded them with a few cookies and covertly pocketed the bills. After all, the chickens can’t drink beer.
She’s writing her own songs now, which are delivered at full volume in the living room, often with the advantage of the karaoke machine microphone.
Here’s the latest installment in her Broadway-ready repertoire.
It’s titled “I Don’t Know” (“by You Know Who,” she wrote).
You’ll have to just imagine the tune: dramatic, full of tension and emotion.
I don’t know whether the ocean is flowing right or left
I don’t know where the birds are chirping now,
Maybe in the treetops, high above the ground
I don’t know where the fire chief is turning red, as red as a red thing
A very, very red thing!
I don’t know why you really care about what you care about
I don’t know why you really care about what you care about
For some reason, I feel as if these lyrics were inspired by conversations between Captain Daddy and me. But that might be paranoid.
This is not Noodle’s first foray into song writing, incidentally. See Number Two for a hilarious lyrical romp of three years ago.
The other night after some Central Oregon brewery suppertime fun, I pulled out of my downtown diagonal parking spot and proceeded to circle the block to head for home.
Chicken Little: That was crazy, Mom! Why did you go all the way around the block instead of just turn around back there?
Me: Because it’s illegal. You can’t back up and turn around in the street like that.
Chicken Little: Well, what would happen if you did?
Me: If I got caught by a policeman, I’d get in trouble. I’d get a ticket.
Chicken Little: (scoffs) Police aren’t everywhere, Mom. They can’t be all places at once. Next time just do it!
Chicken Little: Mom, I don’t want to do my homework. I want to make a robot that does my homework.
Yesterday was Captain Daddy’s birthday. Chicken Little and I baked a cake and decorated the house with balloons and party hats. Chicken Noodle took a different approach to celebrating dad. She made him a man cave.
Granted, it’s about the size of a shoebox. But despite its size, it’s very nicely appointed and well equipped. Using a nice collection of blocks, fabrics, and other design implements, Noodle custom-built a cave just for the Captain. It includes just about everything a 49-year-old fireman could desire.
Here’s the list she wrote, detailing the highlights of Daddy’s mancave. Some of these features really demonstrate Noodle’s intimate knowledge of her father’s preferred behaviors.
- Graham crackers for him to eat
- Girly stickers to freak him out
- Fake mustaches to pretend to be old
- A TV that only shows news and weather
- A sleeping bag with fifteen pillows
- A toilet that has lots of toilet paper and plungers
- A couch that’s hard and made of dirt
The artist added one final touch: an identifying bit of signage that reads “daddysmancave.com.” I think she’s on to something here. Stay tuned for news from our future entrepreneur.
Chicken Little was born glamorous. Once she was old enough to make fashion decisions on her own, her yen for style emerged. Little never met a frilly bit of clothing, hair accessory, or mirror she didn’t like. Lately, the kid has demonstrated a real affection for makeup.
Since she began school last fall, I noticed Little spend just a little extra time in the bathroom each morning. One day, long after I figured she’d finished tooth brushing and when it was high time to get the heck out the front door, I poked my head in the bathroom to see what she was up to. She was methodically replacing her fingernail polish, one nail at a time, in alternating colors, to match her outfit.
This quickly became a regular morning affair.
Soon after, Little discovered my own (albeit limited) supply of cosmetics. Immediately, it became unthinkable that she walk to the bus stop without first applying lip gloss.
This new habit led to some strange moments, like me doing a double take one morning as I buckled my five-year-old into her five-point-harness car seat. “Are you wearing mascara?”
“Um hmm,” she replied casually.
I love how consistently surprising parenthood is. First of all, these children came out completely who they are, totally irrelevant of Captain Daddy or me or whatever is in the neighborhood drinking water.
Second, decisions one is unwaveringly certain one will make in the theoretical future (of course I will not allow my child to wear makeup to Kindergarten. Duh.) get easily tossed out the window in the actual present, with no regret.
Turns out, I don’t really care if Little wears lip gloss to school. I care about other things a lot more, like her learning and being happy and staying safe and leaping off the school bus all smiles to give me a massive hug—a moment which is unquestionably the best part of my day, even when she leaves a lipstick kiss on my cheek.
Apparently Santa Claus agrees. He brought Little glitter blusher, a Hello Kitty hairbrush, and no less than eight different shades and flavors of lip gloss.
My kind of guy.
My oldest daughter spent our Hawaiian vacation being a boy.
Chicken Noodle, nee’ Elizabeth, most often known as Libby, announced upon arrival in Honolulu that she was now to be referred to as Eli. And that she was a boy, and would only do and wear “boy things.”
Given that the day before we left, she’d undergone a radical haircut, and also that Eli/Libby/Noodle has a rather forceful personality we’re all long accustomed to, the transition was fairly seamless. Chicken Little gave a brief nod. I—total fan of masquerade and espionage, myself—gave my approval.
Grandma took a half-second to get on board, but then she was there all the way. “Eli, would you like to play a game of Rat-a-tat Cat? It’s gender neutral.”
Eli wore the same clothes every day—that which we’d brought that was “most boyish.” Life is Good tee-shirt, black shorts.
I’d promised both chickens new swimsuits. At Macy’s in Ala Moana Center, the sales lady automatically pointed Little in one direction and Noodle in the other. I followed Eli to the boys section where we purchased a crisp new pair of Quicksilver board shorts and some black flip-flops. (Little selected a fine Hello Kitty floral bikini and a plumeria barrette for her hair).
At the beach, my children taught themselves to boogie board. They met a new friend named Grace. Little introduced Grace to her brother, Eli. The dynamic of being both oldest and male gave Noodle even more reason to boss everyone around than usual.
At our favorite beach bar, where we get drinks with pineapple and umbrellas on top, the waitress called Eli “sir.” She was elated. I grinned and agreed that it was awesome.
I was slightly less amused when my daughter got booted out of the ladies room a few minutes later by a self-righteous middle aged guest. I asked Noodle what she said to the lady who’d demanded she vacate the premises.
“I told her I was waiting for my sister,” Eli replied.
“You could have just told her you’re a girl,” I pointed out. Eli hadn’t considered that option.
Near the end of our trip, we went to Chinatown. There were a lot of pretty dresses in Chinatown. I saw Eli’s commitment to boyhood waver in the face of all of those flowing tropical prints.
She selected a fringed sarong, albeit in blue.
On the plane home, I said, “So who’s going back to the second grade? Eli or Libby?”
She wasn’t sure.
“Hello, Eli!” Captain Daddy (who had been kept abreast of the situation via text message) greeted her back at home.
“Daddy, it’s Libby!” she corrected and threw herself into his arms.
Macy’s issued a full refund for the board shorts.
Awhile back, I promised I’d post this essay, which was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters this year. It’s all about the antics which ensued when Chicken Noodle and I traveled together when she was two. Seems especially appropriate given our recent mother-daughter quest to Hawaii (which was not without challenge, I might add).
A Better View
As my two-year-old daughter and I arrive at the airport on a cold January morning, I am thinking that in the next dozen hours, practically anything could happen. If ever there is a time to fear one’s own child, it’s at the outset of a full day of air travel.
She could play quietly with the tantalizing distractions I’ve so selectively packed. She could be so mollified by going up in the air, in an actual airplane, that she sits peacefully, eventually slipping into a nap.
Or she could refuse her toys along with any of two dozen snacks I carry, become over-stimulated and hungry, and begin to scream and flail and cry.
In short, I fear that my child will morph into a miniature blond devil, people will stare at me and shake their heads in shocked disapproval of my obvious shortcomings as a mother, and in response, I will succumb to a full-blown panic attack, the grips of which won’t let up for my entire vacation.
Traveling with children takes some getting used to. After nearly three years as a mother, I don’t think I’ve adapted yet.
Up until I gave birth, I believed (as most reasonable people do) that vacation was supposed to be easier than regular life. The first time I traveled with Miss Libby, however, I instantly found myself wanting to run screaming back to the tiresome simplicity of my own home, where the outlets were already covered with safety protectors and the sleeping arrangements were blessedly segregated. As my sister puts it, vacationing with children is your regular life, only harder, but with a better view.
If there is one thing I know after nearly three years of living, loving and traveling with this small person, it’s that on this journey as all others, I should expect the unexpected. Most everything I’ve planned for won’t occur, and things I’d never been able to imagine, will.
So, when, once we’re in the air, my daughter refuses goading for a nap, I am not surprised. When she chooses to eat only cookies, I hand them over, non-plussed. When, a thousand miles west of the Oregon coastline, she starts whomping me on the head with her open hand, I tell myself: saw that coming. After all, she’s been deprived of sleep, the high fructose corn syrup has just kicked in, and we’re strapped into 24A and 24B. I feel like having a little tantrum myself.
As the blows rain down, it occurs to me that perhaps my greatest challenge on this journey is also my greatest teacher. For aren’t the secrets to a successful vacation welcoming new experiences and doing whatever one wants? And aren’t those the two mantras that Libby daily embraces, right down to her teeny tiny red polished toes?
Today has already held several excellent examples of Libby’s lifelong search for the fresh and the indulgent. When the Brasilia EMB 120 started taxiing out of Redmond—novelty, indeed—she buckled up and began hollering, “Is it time to blast off?” Soon, she was doing her very favorite thing of all time, watching that 21st century parenting godsend: the portable DVD player. She wasn’t even the slightest bit surprised that some stranger offered her a complimentary beverage. “Where’s that lady with my apple juice?”
So what can I learn here? I am determined to succeed at this vacation, as well. It’s the first time I’ve visited Hawaii in years, I’ve left Libby’s 11-month old sister home with my doting spouse, and we’re destined for Grandma’s (and therefore, plentiful help for me). This is the closest I’m going to get to time off in quite a while.
Embracing the new, I decide, will mean rolling with the punches (even the literal ones). Doing as I wish will require letting Libby do as she wishes, because pleasure surely does not result from wars waged against one’s own progeny. Also, I will have to stay alert to the easy moments when they arrive so as to remember to enjoy them.
Suddenly, I realize that Libby’s attention has reverted to The Little Mermaid, and therefore one of those easy moments is now. I crack open my mystery and sit back with my seltzer water and lime.
An hour before landing, Libby purposefully shuts her movie player, announces, “I want to take a nap,” plops her head in my lap, and falls immediately asleep. She even sleeps through the crash-bump landing.
The unexpected and the pleasurable. These shall be our themes for the week.
Once we’re happily settled at Grandma’s, Libby refuses the fancy stickers, coloring books and ABC puzzle I packed for her and instead plays with my mother’s turkey baster, refrigerator magnets and calculator. Her small, vacation-special shirts and shorts never leave the suitcase; instead she wears pajamas at all times and everywhere, including the zoo. Her new sunglasses are tried on and discarded. The bright new cherry-speckled swimsuit—which, incidentally, she wore for three straight days back home, where it was 20 degrees Fahrenheit—will be worn exactly once before the superior appeal of the beach in one’s birthday suit takes hold.
I paste a dazed grin on my face and acquiesce to almost every whim. I become that mother whose child runs barefoot at the aquarium and consumes cereal for every meal and takes a bath only every three days. In exchange for these slovenly low standards, I get a child stricken with delight at her mother’s leniency and, therefore, the opportunity to collapse in a pool chair, one eye cracked to make sure she doesn’t drown, while she picks all of the flowers off of the bougainvillea.
The next day, she leaps waves at the beach, her ice cream pajamas pulled to her knees, hollering “whoo hoo! Whoo hoo!” At the zoo, she refuses to go and see any animals but instead ducks under a grouping of gigantic palm and fern right by the entrance and says, “Is this the jungle?” I slump on a bench, turn my face to the sun, and smile.
When she naps, I don’t do the dishes. I don’t do the laundry. I don’t read the important novel I am supposed to be reading for work. I don’t write an essay. I read trashy fiction. I eat greasy chips from the bag. I stare stupidly into the middle distance.
It’s the best vacation we’ve ever had. We are two wild girls, far from home and feeling frisky. At the beach at sunset on our last night, I drink two mai tais—two!—while Libby holds the hem of her tie-dyed dress up around her head and swings her pantied behind at all of the caramel-tanned tourists. She flashes a ketchup-covered grin and spins, singing “the sun is going down! Down!” And it does, and it’s beautiful, and I am happier than during any romantic sunset I can recall.
Eventually, the good times have to come to an end. As Libby launches a full-throttle melt down because I won’t let her get on the airplane in her kitty cat pajamas, I get a glimpse of the messy habits I’ll have to overcome when we get home. A week ago, this fit alone would have sent me into a panic. But now, I just take a deep breath and wait for whatever will come during the 15-hour journey we have in front of us. I bet that, somewhere in there, I’ll be able to find the pleasurable and the unexpected
By the time we get on the plane, she’s content. By the time we reach our third layover, when by all measures we should each be hysterical, Libby lays her blankie in the middle of the nearly deserted hallway of the Portland International Airport and tells me it’s time for a picnic. We eat nine kinds of pretend pie, lollipops, and popsicles. It’s delicious.
We are not bothered at all by the occasional suited traveler winding his way around our feast. When we’re finished, my daughter crawls into my arms, kisses each of my cheeks and then my lips, and says, “Thanks for going on the airplane with me, Mommy.”
I think, maybe the unexpected and the pleasurable are the very same thing.