Thursday, March 22, 2012


The nectarine tree is full, rich bloom, and while I can only sigh with pleasure at its abundance of creamy pink blossoms, part of me wants to whisper tactfully that it miiiiight want to wait a little next year. Our average frost-free date is two months away. Slow down, buddy.

In other news I've been researching small homemade greenhouses. What's a little coddling between friends, after all, especially if that coddling results in nectarines? Nothing. Nothing at all. I wouldn't think twice about coddling a tomato--why should a tree be any different?

Beautiful. And doooomed.

(For perspective, to look at our lawn you wouldn't think I thought much of coddling at all. Or home maintenance, for that matter.)

Speaking of coddling, we've been experiencing an unusual reversal at home in terms of which child has been receiving the Most Difficult to Tolerate Award most days. For years, our high-scorer in that category was the oldest, hands-down. Screaming fits about routine tasks, like fingernail clipping and the weekly bath? Check. Back talk? Check. Throwing body to the floor weeping in response to missed homework or the potential thereof? Check. Bossiness, oversensitivity, meltdowns that took over the house, sheer random acts of shittery? Check, check, check and check. But lately--and by lately I mean the past six months or more--the youngest has been making steady gains and now the Most Likely to Interrupt Dinner/ Get a Time Out/ Receive a Stern Talking-to During a Playdate has been H for several months running. Of course, her style is different from her older brother. Her policy toward homework is: if I like it, I'll do it. Attempt to convince her that something else is worth doing and hoo boy. Look out. (I admire that in a kid, especially regarding homework.) Routine upkeep is not an issue. She rarely has full-on, drop-down, scream-the-house-down tantrums. But! Good lord, the bossiness. She bosses everyone. Parents, friends, Romans, countrymen. Not teachers, I think. Not yet. Hence her popularity at school. But try to gently correct her course of action ("Sweetheart! It's time for dinner! Go wash your hands!") and she will stop in her tracks and scream at you. Last week she yelled at me in front of her entire soccer team because I was bringing two tupperwares full of apple slices instead of one. You can see that there are other factors at work--this sort of breakdown is not really characteristic and I think that like most of us she'd prefer to stay poised before an audience--but a little bit of performance pressure just fries any sort of ability she has to modulate her response. I sympathize, even as I hiss at her to stop it, already, it's just two tupperware, for god's sake.
Recent neighborhood visitor. Not coddled.

Silas, on the other hand, has retreated from some of his characteristic need to control. M. surmises that it's a developmental stage, the ability to relinquish the need to Control Everything, and Si has reached it (while H still struggles mightily.) I remember the days when Si would go through the cards prior to playing, say, Candyland, and arrange them in the exact order for one player to have a perfect game (orange first, so you get to cross the Rainbow Bridge). Or when he would throw a fit because his cousin just. would. not. put the Legos together in the proper order. He hasn't quite attained the art of the imperturbable Zen smile in the face of chaos, of course--we're all, uh, working on that one--but he's just on average more pleasant to be around. Usually reasonable! Mostly helpful! Easy to predict!

Right now his all-baseball-all-the-time schedule seems to be working in his favor (at which I am surprised and very, very grateful). He comes home from practice bright and energized, and except for his unfortunate reluctance to take a shower immediately, or *cough* at all, what seems on the surface to be overscheduling is apparently meeting most of his needs for activity, focus and attention. He does his homework. He sets the table (I even found myself looking up, at his request, the proper order of silverware in the Joy of Cooking the other day. Now there's a piece of knowledge I hadn't anticipated using. Like, ever.) He loads the dishwasher. He sets his watch timer and goes to play his allotted 40 minutes of Wii without complaining of its brevity or saying things like But I've looked forward to this ALL DAY. He comes back up and sits companionably beside us as we watch Portlandia or March Madness. I ask if he wants me to read him and he says, "I guess," in a hopeful way.

It's so very nice and reminds me of how all the childhood books say that at ten years old you have the personality you will have when the nonsense of the teen years are done. You are your real self, in other words. This makes me cast my mind back to being ten: what was my personality in fourth grade? While I can state with certainty what my likes and dislikes were, I can't really put a finger on my personality. Kind of a peacemaker, overall? Loyal to my small but sufficient group of friends and uninterested in anybody else? A bit dreamy, a bit vague? Occasionally self-aggrandizing and confident in my classification as a Smart Person, but lacking the snappy comeback or spunky smart-aleckiness to make this evident to anyone else. I guess those are personality traits, and they're pretty consistent today.

This also makes me remember with a wistful sigh how our fourth-grade teacher made us all decorated blown eggs at the end of the year. On the eggshell she'd drawn a picture of us as a grownup, engaged in our predicted profession. She'd predicted I would be a botanist, and I'm shown with a big smile and a test tube. This is one of those memories that makes me think I've missed my calling, somewhere. I was supposed to stay on the path, take all those specialized plant id classes, and end up writing papers on the role of pollen protein folding in the plant reproductive strategy or some such. Instead I stepped out too soon and ended up just editing those papers: it still feels like a disappointment. Like I've let myself down.

Then I remind myself that I haaate lab work. I hate the smell of all those chemicals and having to use the hood and spending all of a summer's day indoors checking on the deterioration of plants in response to some poisonous chemical. That's why I stepped off the path. That and a million other reasons. I'd much rather be out in the dirt, whispering advice to an early-blooming nectarine or staring at the ground, wondering whether the kale seeds are going to come up this year or not.

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