Sunday, October 5, 2014

Chutes N Ladders: A Choice Every Mother Must Face

When Annabelle was around the age of two I remember thinking that we would have to sell her to gypsies.  Perhaps it was because I was pregnant, and then had a brand new baby but Annabelle was quite a handful.  I distinctly remember thinking "this will not work."  And the response I got from several people, including an OB Nurse right after I had Georgia, was "Just wait until she's three."  So many people said it was going to get worse.  What kind of advice is that??

But I am here to tell you, everyone was wrong.  I LOVE this age.  I have found a new friend. A new buddy. A new person in my life to make me laugh and keep me company.  Don't get me wrong, when she gets mad  it is terrifying but those moments are few.  And I seem to be able to tolerate it a little more because usually her anger has purpose.  There is usually a good reason for her rage that can be easily identified and manged in some way.  When she was two it was just screaming fits of useless rage.
my new BFF

But now, we have fun. Annabelle got a memory matching game for her third birthday and she is really good at it.  She takes turns and follows the rules and understands the game. Of course game play is limited to Georgia's naptimes because no one can do anything with Georgia around. She has entered full  Orangutan mode.  Her activities include grabbing and flinging anything she can get her chubby little fingers on.  But Annabelle and I find time to sneak games in when we can.

So after we had mastered Memory, I decided she was ready to graduate to a more sophisticated game. A game I loved as a child and held in my brain as a milestone of "fun" for when I could play this board game with my children.  Chutes N Ladders.  I couldn't wait.  As soon as Georgia was down for her morning nap I peeled the cellophane off the box and showed the board and pieces to Annabelle.

Opening the box: Disappointment number one. Everything had to be assembled. I had to punch out all the pieces and assemble the spinner.  This activity took all of three minutes, but to Annabelle it was an eternity.  She also thought this was the game. So it was three minutes of "No, just wait" and "well we have to put it together first"  and "I don't know why. Because that's how they were shipped from China."

Ok.  We cleared that hurdle and were able to set up the game and explain the rules: Disappointment number two.  These rules were more complicated than Memory. There was spinning, turn-taking, number identification, counting...and then a very complex set of rules regarding the chutes and the ladders.  We almost didn't make it past this point.  Trying to define a "chute" to a three year old proved to be very challenging and I didn't consider this in my perfect vision of playing the game.  They look like slides.  She doesn't know what a chute is. I don't know what a chute is.  My chute knowledge is exclusively linked to laundry chutes, which we do not have in this house.  So we decided to play Slides N Ladders.  Why the hell would they call those chutes? I don't get it.

Ok. NOW we were ready to play right? Wrong.  The construction of board game spinners has really declined since the early eighties: Disappointment number three.   On my first attempt to spin the spinner didn't move.  Then on my second attempt the whole spinner assembly went skidding out from us under across the rug.  The spinner requires a very specific flicking technique that a three year old cannot possibly be expected to master. So spinning required two game-players. One to hold the spinner and one to spin. Actually it probably requires three players: one to hold, one to spin, and one to say "No, you don't get to spin it again"  and  "No, that's a two not a five" and "it's on the line so now you do get to spin again even though I've told you twenty times you only get to spin once."

Ok. HERE WE GO. Game play.  I looked at the clock I was worried that we weren't going to have time to actually play the game because set up and directions took so long. I really shouldn't have worried.

The ultimate Chutes N Ladders disappointment.  I am going to have to writea letter to Milton Bradley or whatever Chinese-based conglomerate is now producing Chutes N Ladders.  The spaces on the board are all green.  They alternate dark green and light green, with no discernible lines outlining each space.  For a very young child to count spaces and move their very small game pieces, this is a nightmare.  To her credit, Annabelle did her best.  She really grasped the concept of identifying the number she spun and then counting to that number.  Where she fell apart was trying to move the piece the correct number of spaces on the board which I blame on poor board design.  The whole notion that you can only go up a ladder when you land on a ladder was lost on her and she became quite agitated when I tried to correct her.

So we did our best.  Annabelle lost interest in Slides N Ladders and shortly after I prevented her from going down a slide that she was not legally permitted to slide on.  Additionally, she didn't understand that making this illegal move would really hurt her in this game.  She became bored after about five minutes of game play.  This also raised some questions about my parenting that I am still not sure how to answer. She just turned three.  Do I make her play by the rules completely and not allow her to just climb and slide willy nilly? And what happens when I win the game? Am I supposed to let her win so as not to crush her spirit? Or do I take the "hey, that's life kid (said in 1930's Brooklyn accent)" approach that I tend to lean toward on a daily basis?  I do not know.  The pressure of Chutes N Ladders was too much.  We put it away and resumed playing Memory.

the new face of terror in our home
I find it difficult to balance activities in our house now that Annabelle is three and getting to be kind of fun, Georgia is becoming...slightly less fun.  Or rather, she is becoming high maintenance.  It's like living with a miniature King Kong.  She seems so much more curious than Annabelle ever was at that age. We didn't ever have to do a large amount of 'childproofing' with Annabelle. For the most part she left stuff alone.  Anything that was childproofed was purely due to my own laziness of not wanting to pick up a mess and engage with my child.  My mother claims this is not true and I that I have simply forgotten what a handful Annabelle could be at this age, I will have to consult prior blog posts for a judges ruling.

But Georgia seems to be borderline suicidal.  She skips the fun stuff like the cabinet of Tupperware or the spice cabinet and heads right for the oven knobs.  She pulls herself right up on the handle of the door, turns on the gas, smiles and scoots away while our home fills with lethal toxic, combustible fumes.  This is also fun when I actually am baking something and she cranks it up to BROIL without my knowing.   Annabelle never once touched an oven knob in her life.
this happened while unsupervised-
how did she even do this?

Georgia's favorite past time is to sit in front of an electrical outlet and jam her fingers into it over and over again, all the while a smile on her face.  And yes, I know they make safety plugs to place in the outlets to prevent a violent electrical death, which is fine...if you don't ever plan to use electricity, but I have to vacuum up dog hair and ladybugs twice a day. I NEED OPEN OUTLETS. She's a Kamikaze lunatic. She climbs up on Annabelle's rocking chair, stands up with her toes gripping the edge of the chair like a monkey and teeters there smiling looking down as though this will her be her greatest stunt yet.  She lifts the seat on the toilet and pulls herself up and leans way over into the bowl to see herself (not unlike Narcissus) and  I told Bryan I would rather let her drown in the toilet than put a LOCK on the toilet seat. What kind of people have to lock a toilet? People who want their children to thrive I suppose.

  Needless to say, finding activities that appeal to all of us is sometimes a challenge.

In complete fairness to Georgia, I have noticed that whenever Annabelle runs toward her to "check on the baby" or hug her or interact with her in any way, Georgia tenses up, turns her head, and squeezes her eyes shut. So I have gotten the impression that Georgia is not the only threat to the safety this family.

I do my best.  Bryan's job keeps him away a lot this time of year and I do everything I can to make that seem normal to our girls.  So I try to pack a lot of fun into our weekends, to the point of exhaustion and nausea.  Last weekend we did art projects, got pumpkins, fresh milk from the dairy, played outside, checked on our own pumpkins in the garden, played Chutes N Ladders, and went to an Apple Orchard.

faster than a speeding bullet - our train ride
Which brings me to my next point: Apple Orchards.  The decline of the apple orchard experience is nearly as disappointing as the modern Chutes N Ladders game board.  It is more and more difficult to find orchards where you can pick your own apples.  And even if you can find one they are so overly commercialized it is frightening.  I am trying to figure out when bounce houses became synonymous with apples? I can make exceptions for petting zoos, because farm animals can be tied to apple orchards via six degrees of separation.  I can make exceptions for hayrides  because, again, loosely tied to orchards.  I managed to make an exception for a "train ride" last weekend because..well..  it wasn't really a train.  It was plywood built around a small electric motor, running on six feet of straight track being operated by an elderly couple, who seemed very passionate about the whole train ride experience so I didn't want to ruin their lives by saying "I'm not getting on that thing, are you nuts?"

mama got to ride the train too

It is difficult to try and create a learning experience out of an apple orchard visit when it involves going into a store to buy a bag of apples, riding a train, petting a goat, playing on a playground, and eating a brat. But we do our best.

Incidentally, in trying to cram in as many activities into a weekend as we can I have learned something else about my three year old.  Annabelle can drive. I don't mean she can reach the pedals and safely operate a car, I mean that she completely and totally understands the rules of the road.

Due to the nightmarish logistics of our daily life, we spend a lot of time in the car. More time than any child should, but that is how it is and that's all these girls know in life.  They think everyone does this. Annabelle and Georgia spend at least an hour in the car every day. And as a result of this Annabelle had learned how to drive.

When we approach the road to daycare Annabelle says "turn on the clicker" referring to the turn signal.  And when we get to the stop sign to turn out the road she says "You have to stop and wait your turn."  She of course knows that green means go, yellow means slow down, and red means stop, so I get a complete summary of what the options will be as we approach the stoplight.

The main highway we travel on every day is under construction (always) and on our way home when we get to the point where the barrels are up and we have to merge into another lane, Annabelle will say "Ok mom, you have to slow down."  She pays attention to everything in the car. So much so that when someone cuts me off and she hears me inhale sharply (in lieu of using unsavory language) she often say "Thanks buddy" which she has heard both myself and her father say in traffic.  Trust's better than the alternative. Regardless, I am certain if we were in some kind of emergency situation and I had to operate the pedals, Annabelle could safely and effectively navigate us home.  The child can drive.

the laundry needed to get done,
dinner needed to be made,
floor needed to be washed...
but it waited. 
What this is all saying in a very long way is that I no longer have someone to do stuff to, but someone to do stuff with.  It's fun.  But there is so much pressure to do it well. I want to make sure she gets to have the same amount of fun as kids whose moms don't work or kids who don't live 35 miles from their preschool.  Kids who can get on their bike and ride down the sidewalk. How do I compensate for what I view as a handicap to daily living?

Anyone who knows me knows that the geographic constraints of our life making 'normal living' challenging.  Annabelle started a tumbling class (technically a cheer tumbling class in preparation for her professional cheerleading career) and it is 35 miles from home and 30 miles from my work.  Wednesdays have become the barometer of things to come, I know this.  They is nothing enjoyable about it, except for how much Annabelle loves it. We leave the house at 6:00a.m. and don't get home until 8:00pm. We've been doing it for about six weeks and it's exhausting.  It's hard on Georgia too and Bryan and I have talked about quitting.  But I cannot justify not giving her these experiences because the logistics of our life are completely unmanageable.

And  I know this will only get worse as the children get older and each day the first question I ask myself when I open my eyes is "how am I going to do this?"  But I do it.  I do it every day and try to not get too caught up in what's going to happen next year, or the year after that.  But ultimately, even though I may have more commuting, driving and time-wasted going places, this is not that different than what all mothers think on a daily basis.  How am I going to do this? How am I going to be sure I do everything I can NOT TO SCREW THIS UP.

Bryan and I have aggressive work schedules.  I do not work because I want to, I do not work because I believe that I can have a successful career and be an amazing mom. I work because it's what this family needs a this point in time.  Do I think I'm doing a great job at work? No.  Do I think I'm doing a great job at home? Absolutely not.  Is everyone alive and mostly happy? Yes.  Am I currently writing this on a kitchen table covered in newspapers and half-painted pumpkins? Yes.  Is it making me crazy that's it not cleaned up? ABSOLUTELY.  But I had to make a choice. And I chose to sit and write this.  The mess can be cleaned up when I should be having breakfast.  I will choose to clean instead of eat. You'd think I be skinnier.

Bryan makes these same choices. His job is more demanding time-wise than my own and that is just the nature of that job.  But we do whatever we can to make sure the children are a part of it.  Today he'll take Annabelle with him to the field.  She loves it and thinks its the greatest day.  I'll spend quality time with King Kong and maybe get the laundry done.  If Bryan is working close to home, we'll go visit.  And when he's here, he's spending time with our girls instead of tackling the long list of things that need to get done here.  We still do not have any trim around our doors or floor since we remodeled the house in 2011.  Do I care?  Not especially.  Do I nag him as if I do care? Regularly.  But if I had to choose what he did with his time when he had a day off...well...

So when you wonder why my blog posts are not true blog posts and are instead thirty page essays, it's because I always have to choose.  I have to choose between laundry and painting pumpkins. Between paying bills and playing Chutes N Ladders. Between showering and posting to my blog.  So if you encounter me at the grocery store today, step away because today I chose to write.

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