Friday, April 27, 2012

How Can Playing With Legos Make Me Tired? (and other burning questions)

Sometimes I get down on myself for not doing more with my life professionally, not using my intellect or talents in a way that would bring security and financial gain to me and my family. For reasons beyond my limited understanding, this has not been the path for me.

After years of staying home to raise kids and keep house, I've had a few part-time jobs, but none have turned into a mid-life career. I regularly apply for jobs, usually entry-level office positions, but so far nothing has panned out.

In my dreams, I have the makings of an impressive "Girl Friday"-type of administrative assistant. I don't know how build a website or run Outlook, but I'd bring my real-world experience and common sense to thorny inter-office relationships, remember my boss's anniversary several days in advance, and always have my Shout stain-removal pen handy. I think I have much to offer, if you like a slightly younger, slightly thinner Aunt Bea-type of secretary.

In my nightmares, I picture myself as a myopic, incontinent Lucille Ball trying to run new product development at Apple - total overwhelmance. I'd probably be a disaster in any workplace. (Exception: Dairy Queen - I'd give that a try.)
As long as there are 200 applicants to each job for which I apply, it's safe to assume I won't be working full-time in the near future. So I continue to make my halfhearted efforts at "working" part-time,during the  few hours that I am not needed for kid transport, meal preparation, dog feeding and coffee drinking with neighbors.

Right now, I have an interesting job taking care of a 5 year-old boy, just a couple of days per week. (Please don't forward this to any of your friends in the IRS, if you get my drift.) Since my youngest is 14, it's been a while since I've been required to conduct discussions with a preschooler for any purposes other than my own entertainment. I've always loved hanging out with kids this age, but all the occasional 30 minute visits over the last 10 years did not prepare me for the hours-long demands of a 5 year-old who wants to know everything about everything.

And I'm not complaining. It's a gas, and I spend most of my time with him either smiling or laughing. But after a few short hours, I'm exhausted!

This should be balm to the souls of you mothers with toddlers. In all honesty, as mothers we get swept so quickly into the next stage of our kids' lives, whatever it is, that we forget to notice that the annoying stuff from the previous stage is no longer annoying us. For example, when you are done changing diapers, you don't get to have a "whew moment" and just enjoy saving diaper money and burning the ugly diaper bag and turning the changing table into a toy shelf. No, you are too busy chasing around after a potty-trainer, which involves lightning-quick reflexes, expanded psychic powers and pockets discreetly stuffed with toilet paper, wet wipes, a change of bottoms and hand sanitizer at all times.

My point being, once you've moved on to the next stage of development, it is possible, in a matter of only weeks, to find yourself thinking back longingly to the previous stage. It's a sophisticated nuance of programming, designed by God for the continuation of the species. Without this special ability embedded in our brain folds, our foremothers would have headed back to the treetops at the first sight of green poop, leaving the scary baby wailing on the forest floor for lesser mammals to take care of.

As the mother of two teenage girls, I know of what I speak. Have faith, mothers of toddlers. Your days with the smug group of carefree moms at the bus stop, in workout clothes and steaming coffee in hand, are closer than you think. The years of preschool drudgery will be a dim, sweet memory long before you have mastered the stage that follows.

But I digress...and don't I always?

My friend, my charge, is a young man who goes to pre-k and will be in kindergarten in the fall. I make his breakfast, get him ready for school, drive him there, have 3 hours on my own, then pick him up, and stay with him until 3:30 or so. In all, we are together for about 5.5 hours. But we cover an huge amount of information in that short time. And we usually construct no less than three original Lego masterpieces each day.

In the interest of protecting his innocence, I will refer to him by the name of his favorite Ninjago (ninja Lego) hero, Kai. Here is a sampling of a few of the questions that Kai posed in a mere 40 minutes yesterday before school:

Why can I only watch that show at 8pm7Central?*
Why doesn't the syrup melt the peanut butter?
Did Mary sit in my booster seat?
Why doesn't everybody live in Florida?
Do you ever let your kids go to bed without brushing their teeth?

I'm relieved to report that, on most mornings, I am not required to furnish believable answers, due to time constraints. But by midday, Kai and I are both engaged and at our leisure, so I try to address his questions with the seriousness they deserve. Like this one:

Did Darth Vader know he was going to turn into a bad guy?

What an opportunity! Time to clear my throat and assume my lecture-hall persona. But wait: this is not Mary, who likes to talk about archetypes in mythology, or Camille, who enjoys analyzing ethical questions; this is Kai, who is 5, and Darth Vader is just a bad guy in movies and on toy shelves. Struggling mightily, I formed the shortest, simplest answer my normally long-winded mouth could construct:

Not at first, but I think he knew later.

This seemed to be all he needed to know. I was dying to say more, but I just pinched myself and held my breath. Years of putting my kids to sleep with explanations they didn't ask for about things they didn't care about had finally taught me something. Just answer the question, then stop. Wow, that was powerful.

And because Kai is 5, he had another, totally unrelated question, a few seconds later:

So when your grampa gets old does that make him the great-grampa?

Other interesting points of discussion in the last few days:

Why do you only have old goldfishes?

Why can't we use a fish net to catch butterflies?

What animal is salami? (If it's warthog it would taste bad.)

Could you really live in a house built of Legos if it had a bathroom?

Do you think it's weird that snakes can wrap around each other and not get hurt?

Why didn't you ever buy your kids Ninjagos?

Do you think a mulch monster could beat up a pine cone monster?

I know I'll always be older than Danielle, but will she ever be older than me?

And this is the most profound question I've been asked by anyone in quite a while:

Why do you need three dogs?

We talk quite a bit about sports, since he is a seasoned hockey, soccer and t-ball player. He pulls for IU and Notre Dame sports teams equally, and did not want to address the possibility of who to root for when these teams meet. He's just a fan of both, end of discussion. My lesson in sportsmanship. When I told him I graduated from IU, he asked,

Did you have to go to college to be a babysitter?

So it would seem, my little ninja, so it would seem.

*all one word


  1. Some days it must be a relief to get the brain "stretched" by someone with no political agenda!

  2. Yes! And some days I need to be distracted from the real world by playing with Legos...