Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fertile Ground #16


Soil Chart by Stacey Greenberg
Abraham at Home by Andria Brown

It’s a Family Affair by Wendy Trenthem
The Adventures of Nature Boy by Stacey Greenberg
Perfection by Stephanie Chockley
The End of Innocence by Kristy Alley
Saying It Loud by Richard J. Alley

One Time, At Rock-n-Roll Camp… by Stacey Greenberg
All Roads Lead to Mothersville by Melissa Anderson Sweazy
Build It and They Will Come by Courtney Miller Santo
Meet Colleen Couch-Smith: An Interview by Stacey Greenberg

I’m Not Kidding by Marrit Ingman
People Can Get a Little Testy Before Dinner by Sarah Raymond
Benjamin Franklin Discovers His Own Hands by Leah Browning
In Another Country by Kristy Alley
Play Therapy by Karen Wang

FICTION: Small Packages by Stacey Greenberg

Soil Chart

Soil Chart by Stacey Greenberg
Photo by Maggie Louie

We’ve been camping, we’ve been canoeing, we’ve been to the beach, we’ve been busy! When I said I was going semi-annual, I didn’t think I’d be scrambling to get out a second issue in December! I’m going to blame the giant lag time on moving. But even though I haven’t gotten a zine out since February, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. When I’m not blogging, I’m usually working on a story for the Memphis Flyer, Memphis Parent, Health & Fitness, or Edible Memphis. I’m a regular household name around here! Ha! I even tried my hand at fiction for the annual Memphis Magazine Fiction Contest as you’ll see in the Ruts into Furrows section. (I’m afraid I’m the only one who’s ever going to publish my fiction.)

On the home front we’ve been busy decorating and fixing things up to be nice and cozy. Even though we bought a house that didn’t need any work, we’ve had no trouble coming up with projects, both inside and out. The outside is going to break us I’m afraid. We have two giant gum trees that seem to dump something every season—pollen, gumballs, leaves, seeds, etc. If anyone knows a fun craft or recycling project involving gumballs please let me know!

The monkeys are just as crazy as ever. Just after the last zine went out, Jiro broke his leg jumping off of a fence. Like mother, like son, I suppose. Satchel has thankfully remained intact. Speaking of staying in one piece, I made my return to the roller derby track December 1st—something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to do. After almost a year of coaching and practicing, I finally got my nerve up. Now, I’m excited to get back in the action!

With so much going on, it seems something’s gotta give. Sadly, I think it is this zine. Only time will tell. (A zine-making friend of mine once went five years without putting out an issue.) I do plan on doing a “Best of” issue that will be super fat. It will be mailed free to subscribers and should make up for the cost of the outstanding issues left on the subscription. Also you can request back issues to make up for any outstanding issues on your subscription. Just shoot me an email stacey@fertilegroundzine.com.

Thank you for all of your support these last 5 years. It has really meant a lot to me! And remember, even though Fertile Ground may not show up in your mailbox, it is still online: www.fertilegroundzine.blogspot.com.

Abraham at Home

Abraham at Home
Essay & Photo by Andria Brown

It was ten days after my estimated due date, almost a month past my personally expected due date, and I’d been in “pre-labor” for over a week.

I went to bed around 11pm, feeling nothing physically stronger than my usual fatigue. But then I woke up about an hour later. And then ten minutes after that. And ten minutes after that. Still not convinced I was breaking out of the pre-labor pattern, I fought to go back to sleep, but then at 1a.m. I got the, "No, seriously" call from my uterus. Contractions were five minutes apart and after another half-hour, I couldn't lie down and be still during them. I got up and watched the clock for another twenty minutes or so and then woke up Jeff at 2a.m.

Next I alerted the midwives. Since she had the furthest distance to drive, I called Andrea first. She answered the phone excitedly and asked, "Is it time?" It was thrilling to be able to finally say yes. She said she'd call Amy and head right over.

Jeff was off to a slightly groggier start than I was. Maybe it was all the false alarms, or perhaps just the 97 minutes of sleep he was running on, but it took several reminders to get a pot of coffee made for the midwives (and him). He was in gear after about ten minutes, though, and we both spent the next hour puttering around, picking up the house, lighting candles, picking out music and contracting every 3-5 minutes (well, that was just me).

When Andrea arrived around 3:15, we were in a very peaceful yet productive mode. I was resting between contractions, rocking back and forth to Julie London, and then up and circling the dining room table when they hit. The repetitive movement was my primary motivation, but it was also an instinctive desire to get away from everyone and into a dark, quiet room. Andrea checked my blood pressure and the baby's heart rate and position and said we looked to be in good shape all around.

Amy rolled up about 4a.m., and she and Andrea set about getting things prepared. It didn't occur to me how much stuff they'd show up with, and it was pretty cool to see how they'd organized a mobile birthing center into a couple of carry-on bags. They both quickly adapted to the mood of the house and, although they did their work and carried on conversations, they moved and spoke smoothly and quietly, never interfering with my own rhythm.

As the morning rolled on, Jeff asked if we should wake my mom (aka Cha Cha) up. I said no, since I didn't see much need for her to sit around and watch me hurt. I also figured it would be better for her to get as much rest as possible before Miss M arose and she had to entertain her for an indefinite period of time, even though I was thinking we wouldn't have all that much longer to go.

Turns out, this was a good call.

Not long after the sun came up, Miss M came stumbling into the living room. At this point, I was making noise during contractions, going from audible exhales to quiet groans. We'd prepared M as best we could for what she might see or hear during labor, and she didn't seem bothered by what was going on. She was very clingy to Jeff, though, so we decided to wake Cha Cha up and turn over child-wrangling duties.

Contractions had been getting more and more intense during this interlude, and I finally hit the point where I could no longer complete my dining room table laps and had to just stand in one place, grab the back of a chair, and moan out my exhales.

When I started doing this, Amy and Andrea started bustling around, clearing space around me and laying out all the waterproof materials. They'd been assessing my dilation to that point based on my circulation and the location of my uterus, so I figured they had a good idea that I was getting close. Looking back, though, I think they just wanted to protect the rug in case my water broke.

I wasn't so much feeling pushy as just ready to be done with those really fierce contractions, and based on my sudden hot flashes and shakiness, I was pretty sure I was in transition. Glad that I'd thought ahead and closed the dining room blinds, I followed my urge to take off all restrictive clothing (i.e, all of it). This cued Miss M to take on one of her pre-assigned tasks, and she ran into her room and got a tiny little fan that she proceeded to use to cool me off. It was pretty damn adorable. For about 15 seconds, anyway. Then she got bored or freaked out or otherwise occupied and quietly went off with Cha Cha.

Saying things are a blur from this point on isn't entirely accurate. They're more dark than blurry, owing to the fact that my eyes were closed 90% of the time. I stayed in the dining room for a short while longer, but I suddenly remembered how soft and comfortable the bed had looked when I passed it on the way to my 319th pee, and I spontaneously decided on a change of venue. The bedroom was clean and light and airy and seemed like the perfect place to be.

I waddled into the bedroom and hoped that I could find a way to rest in between contractions. Problem with that plan, however, was that I couldn't get myself into any position other than standing or kneeling with my body straight up. Lying down just wasn't an option. Neither was being on my hands and knees, which I thought would help with the baby's position. I also became aware that, well beyond the intensity of the contractions, the pain in my back was getting stronger and stronger. Jeff resumed his post from Miss M's delivery, with his fists firmly pressed against the upper points of my pelvis.

They kept checking the baby's heart tones as often as they could manage, and as time went on, just about the only thing encouraging me was hearing that strong, consistent beat. After wandering around the bedroom and trying several positions suggested by the midwives, including sitting backwards on the toilet, I found my most comfortable spot. This involved standing in our teeny bathroom, hands pressed into the wall and arms straight ahead of me, trying to create a straight line of energy between the pushing in my arms and pushing out the baby. The crucial part of this set-up was Jeff, who was stationed behind me with his hands pressing into my back. Because the bathroom is so small, he was up against the opposite wall (or so I thought; he later showed me that he was actually jammed up against the closet doorknob) so there was a lot more counter-pressure.

Amy and Andrea were paying close attention to my energy level, and when I seemed to be wearing out, they were right there to encourage and coach me. When I thought I was about to tip over from hunger, Amy appeared with a spoonful of honey. When my legs started shaking from standing too long, Andrea suggested I try moving back to bed and trying to push from my side or back for awhile. Even though being in bed wasn't as comfortable for me, I actually found myself relaxing (or, more accurately, collapsing) and nearly asleep in between contractions. I also tried to keep focused by talking to myself, muttering words like "open," "release" and "strong."

But my back. Holy hell, my back. There was nothing else going on in my body that rivaled the pain in my back. It was searing, like flaming knives stabbing outward. When I wasn't bellowing incomprehensibly, the only words out of my mouth were, "MY BACK MY BACK OH PLEASE MY BACK!" Jeff did his very best to accommodate my hollered requests, but I felt like I was taking up valuable energy and breath trying to detail where I needed counter-pressure when I should have been spending it on pushing. Andrea did suggest that I try holding in my urge to groan and focusing that effort on pushing instead, which did seem to help make the pushing more effective.

Or so I thought, anyway. After all that work, I couldn't imagine that the baby was very far away. I kept waiting to hear, "He's close! I can feel the head!" but I never did. Every time they checked my dilation, I could tell that the baby was still very high up. Sometimes there was still a lip of cervix, sometimes not. I deliberately didn't look at the clock, but I overheard the midwives discussing the heart checks and Andrea said something about 10:25. When I heard that, I wanted to cry. Three hours. I'd been at this three hours and I wasn't even close. Andrea asked me to lie down so she could get a good check, but it hurt so badly that I flipped over and scurried over the edge of the bed like a startled spider. (You have to clearly envision my giant contracting belly for that to seem as impressive as it was.) I believe it was Amy who then said, "Well she's still got spirit."

At this point, the baby was doing just fine, but I was feeling in distress. I fell to my knees at the side of the bed, in exhaustion and fear and supplication. I prayed. I choked back the urge to sob. The idea of a hospital transport flitted into my head, but I knew I could never make it sitting in a car for 20 minutes. I also knew that I'd be a very likely c-section candidate, especially after I gleefully accepted an epidural and all its back-numbing deliciousness. So some stubborn voice, way way back in my head, told me to just keep going. To trust that we were doing fine and that everything would be okay.

I got back up and into the bathroom, mentally if not physically stronger. I felt a small increase in the effectiveness of my pushing, and with one particularly strong push, I felt the massive sploosh of my water breaking. As did Jeff, who was still stationed right behind me. I was somewhat encouraged by this change, mostly because it meant that something was happening. The midwives also noted that I'd feel a lot less pressure now that the bag of water wasn't trying to get out ahead of the baby. And they were right.

But oh my fothermucking back. Andrea offered to try saline injections to relieve the pain, but having heard nothing but failing reports from other mamas who'd tried the same thing, I decided against it.

I think it was about this time that Jeff pulled out the big guns. A few nights before, we'd watched Borat and, as much as I enjoyed the movie as a whole, there was one part that made me laugh out loud both when I watched it and any time afterwards that I thought about it. It was just one second of the movie, but it cracked me up. And I told Jeff that, when labor got unbearable and I seemed like I wasn't going to make it, that I needed him to duplicate that scene for me. So there in our bathroom, after 11 hours of watching me trying to squeeze out a baby, Jeff took it upon himself to cluck like a surprised chicken in a dropped suitcase. And in the middle of all that pain and frustration, I laughed.

The laughing stopped shortly afterward, though, when Amy came in to check the baby and we all heard something we hadn't heard before. No one said the word "deceleration," but after all those previous checks, it was easy to tell that the baby wasn't doing as well as he had been. His heart rate was noticeably slower. This time, Andrea's recommendation that I lie on my side wasn't a suggestion. And this time, I didn't resist it. I knew my comfort wasn't the most important thing anymore.

I got back in bed and onto my side. Jeff had my back, Amy helped support my leg and Andrea was applying compresses and trying to guide the baby's head. I'd rest for about 20 seconds and then groan, "Okaayyy," which signaled everyone to get into position while I pushed. I was still yelling instructions on where I needed my back pressed while I heard Andrea and Amy calmly encouraging my pushing. I finally felt like I was getting close, like the baby was really coming. This was the part I'd been anticipating for four hours.

I pushed and pushed and pushed. I could feel the fullness of the baby moving down and without anyone telling me it was happening, I knew his head was nearly out. And then it was. The relief was so tremendous that I wanted to stop right there and rest for awhile, but the midwives kept calmly but firmly guiding me to continue pushing. Which surprised me a little, knowing that there’s often a rest period in between the delivery of the head and body, and that their general policy was against coached pushing. But I listened. Within a few more pushes, and with a feeling I can only describe as "blooooop," he was all the way out.

And so, so quiet.

My eyes were still closed. All I could hear was the midwives telling me to talk to my baby, call him by name, talk to him. Jeff's face was against mine, and I could vaguely hear him whispering that everything was fine, that the baby was fine. And we both called to him, "It's okay, Abraham. We're here. Abraham. Abraham. You're okay." I can't pretend I didn't think the worst. I thought what every parent thinks in that time when you're waiting for the crying to start.

After a very long minute, we heard the cries we'd been waiting for, and the midwives placed his still bluish body on my chest. Andrea explained that his umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck. Twice. I didn't think there was a drop of fluid left in me after sweating for so long, but one heavy tear of joy and relief slipped from my eye.

Amy stepped outside and told Cha Cha and Miss M, who had been out back playing in the inflatable pool, to come in and meet the baby. Damp from the pool and red from the sun, they both tip-toed into the bedroom. I'm not sure whose face was beaming more brightly, although Cha Cha had the reflective power of tears on her side. I'm pretty sure my mother hugged me, and I'm positive she told me how proud she was of me. I wasn't prepared for how much it would mean to share that moment with my own mother, and I was so fiercely grateful that she had the chance to be there.

I held Abraham while the midwives assessed how I was doing. I coughed out the placenta a few minutes later and was feeling pretty good, all things considered. But they were concerned about my bleeding, which mirrored the situation after the three hours it took to push Miss M out of me. They dosed me with arnica, both to help contractions and to deal with the already gruesome bruise blossoming on my lower back.

Again, the timing here is all a bit fuzzy, but I think this is when they checked the baby. They weighed him with the slingy-looking scale (I won the weight pool - 8lbs. even), measured out his little body (21" long, 14.25" head, 13" chest, 13.5" abdomen) and gave him an oral dose of Vitamin K. Because he'd spent so much time swimming around instead of descending, his head was a perfect little ball of a thing. He had a light dusting of dark hair, already threatening to curl. His eyes were blue, but a deep sapphire that seems likely to darken into brown but will be truly stunning if they stay as they are. He had a hint of his dad's chin cleft, just like his big sister. He was, quite simply, beautiful.

During one of her checks on my bleeding, Andrea detailed the stickiness of Abraham's delivery position. He'd been posterior - face-up - but slightly turned to my left side. All he really needed to do was flip a quarter-turn to the right and he'd have been all set. But instead, he kept turning left. And turning, and turning. In what is called a "long arc rotation," he spun a full 360 degrees and ended up almost exactly where he'd started - still posterior. The only thing that keeps me from holding this against him his entire life is the knowledge that, in that big spin, he may have unwrapped one more loop of cord from around his neck. I don't think she was being at all dramatic or anti-hospital when Andrea said that this type of presentation was the most common reason for c-sections. She didn't suggest it, but I wholly believe that if I hadn't had this baby at home, I would have surely ended up in surgery.

After yet another discouraging check on my bleeding, I reminded Andrea that I'd been catheterized after M's birth because I'd been too swollen to pee on my own. I gave her permission to try again (forgetting that I'd had a local anesthetic last time, due to being stitched up). It was not a pleasant minute, but it did the job. With my bladder empty, my uterus could contract and the bleeding slowed way, way down. I could see the relief on both midwives' faces, both because I was going to be okay and, I dare presume, because this meant they could get some rest.

And, finally, that I could, too. With my baby at my breast, I laid in my own bed, with the sounds of my family around me, and went into a deep, bone-tired, blissful sleep.

It's a Family Affair

It's a Family Affair
Wendy Trenthem

Come February, we will have three children. Although we do tend to overanalyze things, this was not an easy decision to make. Our boys are currently 7 and 9, and we could be well on our way to the 'tween years without any more diapers, nursing, wakeful nights, preschools, and on and on. We tried to convince ourselves that two children are enough. They certainly cost enough. They are healthy and capable and keep us really busy. But our hearts wouldn't hear of it. So here I am, in my third pregnancy 10 years after my first.

When you announce you are pregnant and you have older children, most people immediately ask if it was a surprise. How silly. We know how this works. It's too hard to explain casually that it's been a heart vs. head struggle for years, whether to have three. Family planning is not like vacation planning. It's more like playing God.

My husband and I both grew up one of three kids, so that might explain our tendency toward three. But I also recently read that sometimes women will have just one more baby to put off being alone, or because they are not sure what to pursue career-wise once they are done with the childbearing years. Fortunately my career and family have meshed well even if I'm not raking in the dough. And please don't tease me that we're just doing this again because we're “trying for a girl.” Children are not collectibles. (But don't tell my boys that. They desperately want a sister.)

I see a couple of major advantages to the large spacing. First off, it's far easier to do it now than when I had a one- and three-year-old. Two in diapers was big work. The three-year-old liked to try to pick the baby up by the head. We were exhausted for about three years. The close spacing is great now, as the brothers are friends and playmates. But three right together would have sent me to the funny farm. So, now that they're older, the boys can really be more involved.

This new baby is really a family affair. Phillip and James have already read It's So Amazing, the “facts of life” book by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley, so they know where babies come from. But to watch their mom go through pregnancy firsthand is a real lesson in the subtle changes that take place over nine months.

They don't like it when I'm tired and ready for bed before they are. Needless to say, it's a lesson in patience, which thankfully gives us an opportunity for this giant change to sink in. They've been to the midwife with us to hear the heartbeat. And we have decided to find out the gender of this baby via ultrasound, mostly for the big brothers' benefit. At the ages of 7 and 9, they are very matter-of-fact about a lot of the biology. I think only our oldest, Phillip, really gets embarrassed about the idea of mom and dad having had sex. It's a bit more abstract for James, the seven-year-old.

We're planning a home birth after two successful natural births in the hospital, but we're still discussing how near the guys need to be during the actual birth. They will definitely be involved and included, but we don't want them to be bored, worried, or made self-conscious by watching mom give birth. I am happy that they will be able to hold their new sibling right away, in the comfort of home. And it won't hurt if they urge their future wives to have a natural birth at home.

The other practical advantages are obvious. Having only one helpless child, with two rather independent and helpful children will be easier. I don't presume to use my sons to take care of the baby, but clearly they will do more to help than be a burden. And the opportunity to help care for an infant and toddler is a great life experience. Not to mention the interesting life this youngest sibling will have, never knowing a world without Legos, Pokemon, and Nintendo Wii.

All that toy crap notwithstanding, this baby will have two excellent teachers who will show him or her how to approach life with gusto and exuberance. They will read their favorite books to baby, sing him/her songs, and show him/her how to have fun without mom and dad (or even at the expense of mom and dad). They will get in trouble, however, for scaring this youngest with stories of monsters under the bed, the way I did with my younger sister.

Yes, we'll have a kindergartener and a high-schooler. Yes, it will be harder to take the fun trips we'd just started taking to explore other cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Austin. Yes, we'll need another chair to fit around our table for four (we recently solved the car problem with a six-seatbelt microvan). Yes, the big brothers are going to feel jealous (maybe even resentful and angry) and will have to adjust to lots of changes around the house.

Every day will not be a picnic, but it isn't now. Life is about adjusting, accepting change. I hope that with this new baby, and with most everything we do as a family, we will equip our kids for life and all its changes, its ups and downs.

The Adventures of Nature Boy

The Adventures of Nature Boy by Stacey Greenberg
Photo by Maggie Louie

In Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, he defines Nature-Deficit Disorder as the cumulative effect of withdrawing nature from children's experiences. He says that it’s not just individual children, “Families too can show the symptoms -- increased feelings of stress, trouble paying attention, feelings of not being rooted in the world.”

I come from a long line of city girls, but when I married a former forest ranger, and later gave birth to Nature Boy, I found myself spending almost every weekend hiking through the Old Forest trails of Overton Park. Frankly, if it weren’t for these weekly communes with nature, here in Midtown, it’s likely our resident forest ranger would have moved us all to Alaska long ago. The Forest Ranger and I are doing our best to combat NDD in our own lives.

On our most recent hike, we were specifically on a hunt for lizards. Nature Boy, now age 5, needed a lizard. Bug box in hand, we set off down one of our favorite trails that opens up near the playground on East Parkway. As we made our way down the path, The Forest Ranger started off with his usual, “Remember when a bee stung you?” speech, reminding us of the time that I ran from a bee that eventually stung Nature Boy on the ear.

“I’m completely over my fear of bees now—I’m in search of lizards!” I say. Before we can even really start looking for a lizard, Nature Boy has found a centipede and The Forest Ranger, who is now working as an Archaeologist, has found a small glass bottle dated 1927. Geronimo, my three-year-old, and I assist with the bug box and “ooh and aah” accordingly.

A few steps later and we have a millipede! The Forest Ranger laughs as we try to get it in the bug box which is full of holes small enough for it to easily climb through. I’m totally over bees, yes, but I’m not so sure about this millipede. “It stings,” The Forest Ranger says coolly. We decide to let the millipede stay put.
Some new trees have fallen since we last visited and the boys waste no time climbing along them to check out the view. Geronimo spots some low hanging vines ahead, and they are quickly off to play Tarzan. (If the vines are hanging just right, The Forest Ranger and I get to play Tarzan, too.)

We pass through to the road running near Rainbow Lake and turn right to circle back towards the Red Playground. Not two seconds later Nature Boy has spotted his lizard.
“Look, Daddy!” he says as he points to a tree trunk.

“Don’t grab it by the tail,” The Forest Ranger warns.

“Why not?” Nature Boy asks.

“Because it will fall off and the lizard will get away.”

“Okay,” he says seriously and expertly grabs the lizard around the middle. “Mommy, I need the bug box!” he exclaims.

I rush over with Geronimo at my side and we both congratulate Nature Boy on his successful capture. He is gleeful. “I did it! I caught a lizard! I’m going to catch flies at home to feed him,” he says happily.

Yes, Nature Boy can catch flies with his bare hands.

“But what will we name him?” I ask.

“Lizzie,” says Nature Boy.

He imagines that Lizzie will live a long, happy life in a box next to Hermie and Crabby, two hermit crabs that we bought at the beach “gift shop” in July. (In truth, we will let Lizzie go the next day.)

Energized by the find, Geronimo is off to the Red Playground and Nature Boy is at his side. The Forest Ranger and I water the dogs and smile big at each other. The Old Forest is our sanctuary.


Stephanie Chockley

I am a firm believer that self-esteem is created by learning what you are and are not good at, and understanding how to deal with both of those realities. Self-esteem is not created by telling a kid they are perfect and shielding them from failure, which is a misconception I saw way too often back when I was an elementary school teacher. This philosophy was easy for me to apply to other people's children. Would I be able to practice what I preached once I had kids of my own? Eh. . . sort of.

I am usually able to let my kids try and fail at things, as long as I know they won't get hurt. But I have a hard, hard time withholding praise for praise's sake. Because look at my children! They're perfect and gorgeous and perfect!

I think having a boy first caused me to let my guard down a bit. I have told him he is the most beautiful boy ever to exist pretty much since day one. And that's okay for a boy to hear, because he will inevitably be told he is smart and strong and fast and all the other wonderful things boys hear just because they're boys. As he has grown, I have worked to compliment him on his good qualities and call his attention to areas that need improvement. Since his teachers tell me he's smart and helpful, I have no problem complimenting him on that.

But Chloe—you just can't tell a girl that she's gorgeous every day of her life and not have it come back to bite you in the ass. So when she was a baby, I tried to temper the "beautiful girl!" exclamations with "and so smart and strong!" But really, what does a baby do to show you her strength of character? Not much, really—she just sits there, pooping and drooling and being breathtakingly gorgeous. So eventually I gave up, because I didn't want to lie, and just reverted to the beauty angle.

And boy did I ever screw up.

She's talking now, and I tried to use that as an opportunity to bolster her sense of self, but it might be too late. She's easily frustrated by things she can't do—way more than her brother ever has been—and she seems to rely on the adorableness thing rather than her vocabulary to (successfully) get what she wants out of us.
The nail went in the coffin this morning when, after refusing one pair of shoes in favor of another, she declared, "I cute!"

Her elementary school teachers are going to hate me.

The End of the Innocence

The End of the Innocence
Kristy Alley

My oldest child is almost ten years old. I feel lucky that he has maintained his childhood innocence and wonder to an age that, if the media is to believed, is practically post-puberty for the average American kid. But I'm afraid this is the beginning of the end for some of that wonder.

A few months ago, he started asking me very earnestly, "Mom, is the tooth fairy real?" I found myself torn between telling him the brutal truth and letting the magic go on just a little bit longer. It's not that the tooth fairy is such a big deal, but if the tooth fairy's a fake, what's next? How far down the path is it to Santa Claus? Yes, Virginia, he still believes in Santa Claus. At least, he did yesterday. All that may have changed by now.

This morning, Calvin came out of his room on his own, before any of the other kids had woken up. He walked up to me grinning and drawing attention to a newly-formed gap in his smile where a loose molar had recently been. "Oh, you pulled your tooth," I said, smiling back. "Yep," he replied, "yesterday."

It took a minute for that to sink in. I'd been duped! I knew this was something he'd been planning to do, based on veiled comments and his recent revelation that his best friend had lost a tooth the day before, but he had waited to tell me. As if I were possibly in cahoots with all the other parents, making clandestine phone calls at the shocking hour of 10:00p.m. to alert them to their children's tooth fairy sting ops.

He didn't seem upset this morning, just satisfied that his plan had worked. He asked me what I did with all the teeth. When I told him not to spoil it for his siblings, he replied, "Well, you better give me a dollar then, because they're going to ask to see it."

A little later, he came into the bathroom where I was doing my makeup and asked, "The next time I lose a tooth, can I put it under my pillow?"

"You should have thought about that before you got in such a rush to figure everything out. Especially since the dentist said you're about to lose a bunch of teeth!" I said. I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for him, though. I also couldn't help but wonder where his thoughts would take him over the course of the day. I know my child, and I know that this is going to be a big deal for him. One thought is going to lead to another. And even though I don't remember a single moment when I stopped believing in Santa Claus, and I know I was never upset about it, it kills me to think of him losing that magical idea. He has been one of the last hold-outs in his class, insisting on believing. And now that's probably over for him.

I've always known that growing up is hard to do. I just never knew how hard it was to watch.