Another good thing about Paris: My kid wasn’t there

This is my child, on the floor of the elevator at the Hampton Inn Vancouver. I feel OK about not taking him to Paris.
This is my child, on the floor of the elevator at the Hampton Inn Vancouver. I feel OK about not taking him to Paris.

I’m going to spare you the two-paragraph-long backpedal, where I assure you that I love my child. Of course I love my child. The first two nights in Paris, I cried myself to sleep. (True story.) But I got over it. Mostly because I realized quickly that Paris would have sucked if my kid had been with us.

This truth became glaringly obvious on our most recent adventure, to Vancouver B.C. Vancouver was Bini’s consolation prize for not coming to Paris with us. “You and Mommy go on trips sometimes and you don’t take me,” he complained to Steve.

Yes, my parents come up twice a year from California and shoo us off so Steve and I can reconnect and they can undo years of careful parenting and discipline. Usually, we do short jaunts: to Vancouver, Orcas Island, Leavenworth, and once, Las Vegas. Paris was obviously in a different class. It was for our 10th wedding anniversary. We’d been talking about it for years.

“Bini, we’re going to be going to lots of museums, and doing lots of walking,” Steve told him.

“Mommy’s going to be doing lots of shopping, too.” I added.

“I love all those things,” Bini protested. “I love walking and museums and shopping.”

None of this is true. Bini loves, in this order: 1) Star Wars; 2) superheroes; 3) riding his bike; 4) watching shows on the iPad and 5) dancing to Michael Jackson. He will hike if I bribe him. Once, when I was shopping for handbags at Nordstrom, he said, loudly, “Mommy, you DO NOT NEED another purse!”

U.S./Canada border
We waited for about 30 minutes at the border. During this period, Bini asked us why we weren’t moving approximately 10 times.

The kid wasn’t coming to Paris. So we told him that we’d take him to Vancouver, a place we’d long wanted to go as a family, when we got back. It worked out perfectly — his school had a teacher work day and it made for a nice long weekend. We found a Hampton Inn in Yaletown with a separate sleep area for the kid and the trip was a go.

We set off around 1:00 and the drive went smoothly — until the border. Bini could not fathom why we were waiting in such a long car line. “Why aren’t we moving?” he asked every 3 minutes.

Finding a restaurant in Vancouver was a markedly different experience than Paris, too. “Hey, that place looks good,” said Steve, gesturing to a white tablecloth joint. “Except there’s no kids in there,” I pointed out. We ended up at a cavernous brew pub with dozens of shrieking children and lots of beer. Rather than talking quietly in an intimate bistro, Steve and I shouted “What?” to each other and Bini colored a pilgrim drawing.

Today, though, was when any lingering guilt we had about going to Paris sans kid completely evaporated. Today, we took the kid to the Vancouver Aquarium. Bini loves aquariums. And this one is the largest in Canada, with 50,000 animals.

About 30 minutes into our visit, Bini proclaimed that he was bored.

“Look at the jellies!” I said, enthusiastically.  The Vancouver Aquarium has a new jellyfish exhibit, featuring 15 different species from all over the world. There’s big ones, tiny ones, orange ones. I could have looked at jellies all day. And the reefs! I had no idea that cold-water reefs could be so colorful. And did I mention the belugas? I was sitting, watching the belugas glide and turn, when Bini said, “Are we actually going to just sit here and watch belugas all day?”

We got on the bus and headed back to downtown. “I can’t walk anymore,” Bini whined, over and over. “My legs hurt.”

“Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t go to Paris with us, Bini,” Steve said. “This is all we did.”

That didn’t help. He harrumphed and grumped along, dragging his feet. We fed him, which helped a bit, but then decided to walk the 10 or so blocks back to the hotel.

“My legs are falling off,” Bini said, approximately every 45 seconds.

Now, we’re in the hotel and the flat-screen plasma in Bini’s sitting area does not have anything to interest him. He wants my laptop. Which I’m using. In Paris, I used my computer freely to write long, thought-out posts about the Roma in France. I read books. I talked to my husband, about lots of things. We strolled our neighborhood, and spent hours in museums. We slept, uninterrupted. We made breakfast for ourselves and were responsible solely for our own bathing and grooming. We drank wine at 4:00.

Tonight, we’re taking our son to a French bistro with some friends. The irony is not lost on us. I can only hope that he will eat beef short ribs and that the wine pours will be generous.

‘You’re fine. You’re going to school. Oh. Is that vomit?’

This is what maternal guilt looks like.
This is what maternal guilt looks like.

Let me preface this post by pointing out that this is an early release week. I’m still not sure if that’s supposed to be hyphenated. Is there a copy editor in the house?

Anyway, it’s conference week, so all the kids at the elementary school have gotten out at 11:30, except on Wednesday, when they got out at 1:30. Got it? And also, they have Friday off. It’s a shitty week for everyone but the kids.

I rolled my eyes when Bini came into our room this morning, complaining of a stomach ache. That’s such a hard one to verify. I used it myself when I was a kid trying to get out of school. Timmy’s dad told me that his kid complains of a fever every day. So no, I did not immediately rush out of bed and cradle him in my mothering arms. In short, I thought he was faking.  I’m sure he’ll remember that someday when he’s deciding whether or not to tell me about his heroin experimentation.

He kept complaining of a stomach ache, though, and a headache. But did I express sympathy? No. I thought about how I’d agreed to watch two of my friends’ kids today, and that if Bini truly were sick, I was going to leave them in the lurch. Also, I wanted to go to the damned gym.

“Why don’t you try and go poop?” Steve suggested.

“I don’t have to go poop.” Bini whined.

“B, it’s a short day. You’ll be home in three hours,” I said. “And also, if you’re too sick to go to school, you’re too sick to have play dates.”

He looked miserable. At the time I thought it was because I’d exposed his nefarious plan. He went over to sulk on the couch. Then threw up.

Oh jeez. Now I feel like an jackass. So, after I took him to the doctor (run-of-the-mill gastroenteritis), and filled his prescription for anti-nausea meds, I bought him a small Lego set, for us to build together. And a book. OK, OK — and a movie. (In my defense, we lost his entire movie collection on an airplane flight. So we’re replenishing. Honest.)

Oh God. I’m becoming THAT mom.

This is six weeks of kindergarten schoolwork. Action figure Yoda for scale.
This is six weeks of kindergarten schoolwork. Action figure Yoda for scale.

I’m losing control over my son. And I don’t like it. 

It all started with the homework. I was incensed — incensed, I tell you! — that my kindergartner had a homework calendar, with assignments every night. No, they’re not being asked to calculate the diameter of a circle. It’s stuff like: Think of five things that start with the letter “M.” Draw those things. Then label them. The teacher has told us that it’s OK to skip these assignments, or for the parent to do part of it. But I was annoyed that it was even a thing. Homework! For kindergartners!

Then, the reading chart. Every month, we get a reading chart with 30 slots, where we are to write in the number of books we read to our child every month. At orientation, one annoying-ass mother raised her hand and said: “What if you read MORE than 30 books in a month?” Oh, I dunno, you pain in the ass. Maybe … attach another sheet? By the way, while we’re at it, let’s just suck all the joy out of reading by making it a chore. Here’s to learning! Hooray!

Then, parent-teacher conferences … on the sixth week of school. The conference, on Monday from 12 to 12:20, was fine. I had to sit in a tiny chair. Bini’s teacher is a terrific lady: gentle, firm, very experienced. She had five neatly organized folders regarding my son. First, she showed me the academic and social goals Bini had set for himself, and her goals for him.

Then, she showed me his assessment test results (assessment test results?) and how to interpret them. We discussed the things he does well, and the things he needs to work on. Apparently, Bini’s involved in some battle of wills with the P.E. teacher, but Bini’s teacher sort of waved that off. In class, he’s super engaged and he participates and he works really hard.

After we’d gone through the five folders, I stacked them up and said, “Well, I have to say I’m a little surprised at how … academic … kindergarten has gotten.” Kindergarten was a long time ago for me, but I’m damn sure we weren’t worrying about writing or phoneme segmentation. We were laying around on beanbags, singing and learning how to line up and not hit each other. We napped.

Bini’s teacher has been teaching for 20 years, and she agreed that kindergarten has gotten a good deal more academic. She didn’t give her opinion on it, but I understand: When the economy tanks, schools get more focused on homework and churning out math and science majors. Art classes are handled by parent volunteers. That’s the deal if you go to a public school, even if it’s a public school in an affluent area. You’re at the whims of whatever wind is blowing through public education at the time.

I’ll be damned if my precious angel turns into a mass-produced student, doomed for the meat grinder.

So, even though Bini is doing well, I trudged home feeling like I could do better for my son. That scene from “The Wall” kept playing through my head. You know the one where the kids are wearing scary masks and there’s a meat grinder and the schoolmaster’s yelling about pudding? Well, the scene is copyrighted, so I can’t post it. My mood was dark and my thoughts weren’t terribly rational.

All that day, I comforted myself with vague plans to pull my son out of his excellent public school and put him in an alternative private school where you forage for berries and learn how to chop wood. Like I said. Not terribly rational.

I’ve calmed down since. It helped that I talked to Steve, who said, “I don’t necessarily want to pull our son out of a school because it’s too academic.” Which is Steve-ese for: “Chill out, you psycho.” So, OK. 

Today, it all crystallized. I walked the walk-pool to school; Nora told me about something to do with shoes, and I yelled out for Bini and Timmy to stop running. I ushered them through the big double doors out onto the playground, where they line up. But around the basketball court, Bini turned to me and said, “Mom, you can go now. You don’t need to wait with me.”

Ooof — shot to the solar plexus. “OK, just let me make sure all of you get into line.”

Bini shook his head. “Mom, we do this every day. We’re OK.” He tugged on my pants and I leaned down for a kiss. Then he ran off.

I didn’t leave. I ducked behind a pillar and watched until the bell rang. I couldn’t take my eyes off my son, who alternately joked with his buddies and stood quietly, taking it all in. When the bell rang, the kindergartners shrieked in unison. I fought the urge to wave to Bini as he trooped up the ramp, into his sunny, friendly kindergarten classroom.

Then I turned and walked home. And cried.

Pope Francis is kind of awesome

The least popey Pope?
The least popey Pope?

Well, we saw this one coming: Conservative and traditional Catholics are “shaken” by Pope Francis’ statements on abortion and gay marriage, according to this report from NBC News. One critic apparently called him “the Joe Biden of our era,” referring (I suppose) to the pontiff’s off-the-cuff style. Such as: Last month, Pope Francis ditched his prepared remarks at a meeting with unemployed Sardinian miners, saying: “The world has become an idolator of this god called money.” Such as, his landmark statement about gay priests: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

I was with my parents when the aforementioned quote hit the news. We have a gay family member. My parents are Catholic. They love this family member more than the Church, so they’ve moved away from mass in recent years. They were floored by the Pope’s statements about homosexuality. My dad is unequivocal in his hatred (yes, hatred) of Pope Benedict, who he feels kept the Church in the dark ages. My mom would get mad at that, cross herself or whatever, but I know the whole “love the sinner, hate the sin” stuff aggrieved her. It’s the conundrum many observant Christians/Catholics face: Do you have to believe in everything your church espouses? Can you be a “cafeteria Catholic” and still be a good Catholic?

I have no use for the Church because of their doctrine on homosexuality (and women in the clergy), but when I heard the Pope say that, I actually, for a second, considered trying again. I’ve shopped around since my divorce 16 years ago, trying to find a church that felt right. Nothing really has. I have to admit: I love the traditions and the rituals and how nobody expects you to talk to anyone. The times I’ve spent at Episcopal or “hands-in-the-air” churches (I don’t know the denomination) made me uncomfortable. Too much touching. Too much talking.

But the stuff coming from Pope Francis gives me pause. He’s a Jesuit who really walks the walk. He eschews the splendor and pomp of the papacy, taking the bus instead of the Popemobile to a public appearance. He lives in a Vatican hotel rather than the Apolstolic palace. He washed the feet of female prisoners —something conservatives believe should be limited to men. However, he stands with Church doctrine on female priests — not gonna happen.

Many Catholics love his humility and modesty. Millions of pilgrims staged a flash mob for Pope Francis in Rio. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, said in the Huffington Post that Francis “is an answer to despair.” Despair is one way to describe the mood of many good Catholics, following the child sex abuse scandals that came to light over a decade ago. Weekly mass attendance has steadily declined in heavily Catholic countries such as Ireland, Mexico, Spain, Poland and Italy for 25 years, according to research from Georgetown University. Holding firm to the doctrine may make you a good Catholic, but it’s not filling up pews.

Is it actually possible for me to be a Catholic again? A part of me would like to be. My 5-year-old son still isn’t baptized because I just didn’t want to find a random church and have it done. The whole point of church is community — in my mind, anyway — and none of the churches I’ve found gave me that “I belong here” feeling. Catholicism certainly never did. Ever. This will make my mother cry, but I hated church. I used to sleep as late as I could, in my teen years, to avoid it and my dad actually didn’t force me to get confirmed. When I went to an Episcopal service a few years ago, and heard a female pastor preach, I got tears in my eyes. Looking back, I think I deeply resented the male-dominated Catholic church. My life was already dominated by a strong man, and I didn’t want more of them telling me how to be a good girl.

If nothing else, this new pope — his courage, his convictions — have made me think a lot about my beliefs and languishing spirituality. I just don’t  know what to do about it. Yet.