Riding Elephants

14 Nov

Being a mom is a lot like being in a circus act. The clichéd parallel is the juggler, but that’s not accurate. Jugglers choose to make their lives more difficult. They begin the act with one ball, then add another, then another. While one could compare that to having one child, then another, then another, that doesn’t get to the heart of being a mom. Neither does comparison with the plate-spinning guy. No, he put all those plates up there. No one else is putting plates up there and he damn well knows that the plates are going to stop spinning eventually and will fall. If he’s any good at his job, he can predict pretty accurately which plate will fall when.

For me, being a mom is like being that woman who rides the elephant. No matter how experienced a rider she is and no matter how well she knows the elephant, at any moment a mouse could run across the elephant’s path. Instantly, she goes from a nice sedate ride on Jumbo to trying to wrangle a gentle landing from a raging pachyderm.

I have been riding the elephant for more than 16 years now, since my son was born. In that time, many are the mice that have skittered across my path, wreaking havoc that lasts long past the time they’ve disappeared into the woodpile.

My most spectacular tumbles from the elephant have involved my son. Every year, my sister’s family hosts Christmas Eve. Our son was 15 months old. I am a much more experienced elephant rider than I was then else I would not have allowed my son to stand on a chair and play at the kitchen table while my husband and I got on coats, gathered our contributions to the dinner, etc.

How many stories of children’s accidents include the words, “I looked away for just a moment,” do you suppose? I looked away for just a moment. My son fell from the chair. My husband grabbed the boy from behind and thrust him toward me saying, “Is he ok?” As the child was screaming and his face was covered in blood, I decided that, no, he was not ok.

One minute, my elephant was on its way to my sister’s house, the next it was on its way to the hospital. Four hours later, I had learned that my son is virtually impervious to pain and my husband is a rock when it comes to getting a toddler through a CAT scan. I also learned that a divorced oral surgeon is not just ok with spending Christmas Eve stitching up a little guy, but welcomes the excuse to not shop for his ex-wife.

Four hours seems to be the requisite amount of time to spend in the ER with a child as evidenced by another elephant crash, this one when my son was three. We lived in Oak Park, which seems to have an inordinate amount of deadly nightshade growing wild. It’s actually kind of pretty with its little purple flowers followed by small berries that turn a brilliant red. Still, with “deadly” in its name . . . well. I did my best to eradicate it. I tried pulling it, thinking myself tremendously environmentally responsible. After an hour of barehanded nightshade pulling, I felt distinctly queasy and more than a little dizzy. A little research revealed that nightshade will kill you, but first it will make you feel queasy and dizzy. Further, pulling it merely signals it to grow, grow, grow. I got out the Round Up and got rid of the weed.

Cue ominous music. I did not get rid of all of the weed. My son found it as I was readying to ride my elephant to a business meeting.

“Mommy,” he said, displaying a handful of nightshade berries. “What are these?”

“Oh, honey,” I said. “You must never, never eat these. They will make you very sick.”

He started spitting immediately. I immediately took him to the hospital. I recall having a rather nasty “Screw the meeting; my kid just ate poison” call. Four hours later, I learned that the only cure for nightshade is to wait it out, treating the cardiac symptoms as they emerge. I also learned that modern toxicology tends to focus on illicit drug overdose. The ER doctor had no idea what nightshade was or even what it looked like. She was fascinated. I was appalled.

I can’t recall a time when my daughter caused such a dramatic divergence in the elephant ride that is our life. My son seems to inspire disruption when I am in motion. My daughter has elephant repose radar. I sit down to read a book and within minutes I hear, “Mommy! Come here!”

“What is it?” I ask.

“I need you!” she says.

“Why do you need me?” I ask.

“I want a hug.”

So, I set the book down and go give my daughter a hug. The variation on this theme is I sit down to read a book and she comes flying into the room, shouting, “Huggy!” and lands in my lap.

Last night, the elephant lumbered to my office with me intent on writing this post. My daughter, you may recall, has trashed her room so utterly that she now sleeps in said office. I thought we could quietly share the space, so I began writing. She began reading a history of Ancient China. She began pointing out interesting facts about Ancient China and asking for assistance with complicated words like “foreign” and “conquered.” The elephant crashed, depositing me on the daybed next to my daughter.

We read “Ancient China” for a while, lying next to each other. When the elephant stirred my “I should be working guilt,” I kicked it soundly. Then I tucked my daughter in and kissed her goodnight.


8 Responses to “Riding Elephants”

  1. Sherri November 14, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    Janice – your posts are all so relevant to my life! On Saturday, 1/2 hour before my sitter was due over for my much needed GNO. My husband – 1/2 around the world on business, me managing the entire household alone. I bought chicken from jewel and tator tot’s, already cooked. 10 minutes after eating, my youngest daughter is covered in hives and itching. I called Jewel – the chicken tenders are cooked in Sesame Oil! Sitter cancelled!

    Another specialist visit tonight for her hearing since academics aren’t going quite as well as her older sister. I figured that I have to cover all bases.

    • jmlindy422 November 14, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

      Sherri, what is this “girls’ night out” you speak of? My big excursions with adult women are at work. Wait, does walking my daughter to school at the same time a bunch of other moms are walking their kids to school count? Wow, really sorry about the sesame oil. They should have that on the ingredient list, no?

  2. nevercontrary November 22, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Wonderful Blog!

  3. The Hook November 22, 2011 at 9:12 pm #

    “Being a mom is a lot like being in a circus act.”
    Well said!

  4. aefountain November 22, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    Wow your writing is magical. You transported right into the situation. Their were moments it felt like my life. You were my joy today! Thank you

  5. Sunshine November 22, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

    Excellent read and oh, so funny!
    Your words…

    “No matter how experienced a rider she is and no matter how well she knows the elephant, at any moment a mouse could run across the elephant’s path. Instantly, she goes from a nice sedate ride on Jumbo to trying to wrangle a gentle landing from a raging pachyderm.”
    ….kept me laughing at the visual image you formed in my brain! Thank you!!

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