Monday, January 11, 2010

Two Heads of Cabbage

Two heads of cabbage. That was all it took for me to start feeling better today. I had spent the morning in the middle school discussing issues with the principal, vice principal, guidance counselor, and psychologist relating to my children. This made me feel helpless and hopeless. I try so hard with my children and, still, I can’t seem to produce the respectful, confident, hardworking, happy kids that I strive for.

So it was no surprise that I was feeling blue this morning. I always feel down when I am called into school about my children. I feel like a bad parent. And I wish that I had those perfect children that I see all around me in the school: children that are involved in all the right school activities; children that are always on the honor roll; children that are happy to be at school and enjoy the privilege of their education. (Well, OK. Maybe I imagine the other children to be more than they really are. But who doesn’t want their fantasies to be possible?)

I left the school and went home to pick up the baby to bring her to my friend and babysitter, Shanikqua. (Maya is already 3 years old and no longer a baby. But in my heart and mind, she will be my baby for a long time to come.) At home, it took forever to get Maya to cooperate long enough to get her dressed. This is one of the most frustrating things about having a 3 year old. I can’t control her the way I would like to. She actually has a mind and will of her own! When I want to get her dressed, she would rather jump on my bed and sing about the three little monkeys jumping on the bed. “Mama called the doctor and the doctor said, ‘NO MORE MONKEYS JUMPING ON THE BED.’” And when I go around my bed to the other side to get her, she slips from my grip, jumps down off the bed and runs away calling out, “Naked baby on the run!” Or “naked booty!” It’s all very cute and she is having a wonderful time of it. But when I want to pick up and go, I don’t want to play. Sometimes I am not in the mood for her ever-present smile and playfulness. Sometimes I just want her to come to me, stand still, let me dress her and go downstairs so I can brush her hair, test her blood sugar, and put her shoes, coat and hat on. But Maya? Maya always has a different plan about how things should occur.

After finally getting Maya’s coat and hat and shoes on, I strapped her in the car seat and left for Shanikqua’s house. -- That’s the other disadvantage of a three year old: you can’t just tell her to hop in the car so we can go. You have to coax her into the car when she would rather inspect the snow and touch and taste and smell it. (Maya is all about how things smell.) Then you have to strap her in before walking around to the driver’s side door. I had forgotten all those things in the years since Michela has grown up.

Once in the car, Maya still has opinions about what she wants to do and where she wants to go. Immediately, she tells me that she wants me to put music on. And she’s not polite. Rather, she says, “I want music!” For the umpteenth time I respond, “How do you ask nicely for Mommy to put music on?” Sometimes she just says, “Nicely!” And I think she really just does not understand. Other times, right on cue, she says, “May you please play some music?” Then, if I don’t put in the CD that she wants to hear, she cries out, “NO! I want the pink one!” Or, “I want reggae!” Again, I ask, “How do you ask nicely for Mommy to change the CD?”

Once we got the music resolved, I turned the car to the left at the stoplight and headed for Shanikqua’s house. Maya knew exactly where we were going when I made that left turn. (How does a three year old know directions to all of the places that we go?) Again, her plan was different from mine. “I want to go to Starbucks!” she yelled. Thinking that I could use a cup of coffee, I agreed. “We’ll go to the Starbucks near Auntie Shanikqua’s house.” At Starbucks, she wanted to hold my credit card, which I often let her do. This time, she dropped it in the grate on the refrigerated display case. I was in no mood to fish out my credit card from the depths of the cold metal. Still, once the kind barista helped me get it with tongs and long fingers, I asked Maya if she would like juice. “No,” she told me. Turning to the barista, she said, “I would like a cup of water with ice in it please.” “A child who would prefer ice water to juice; that’s a different one,” the barista responded. I shrugged my shoulders.

Needless to say, by the time I got through Shanikqua’s front door, I was ready to pull my hair out. I took off Maya’s coat and told her to go play with her friend. After a little small talk, I asked Shanikqua not to forget to test Maya’s blood sugar and handed her the envelopes she had asked me to bring for her. I was on my way out the door when Shanikqua pointed to a grocery bag tied in a knot sitting near the door. “Take that,” she told me. “What is it?” I asked. “Two heads of cabbage,” she told me. I must have looked a little confused. “I was in The Bronx and I saw a good deal on cabbage,” she explained. “So I bought four. Two for you and two for me. Take them.” I took the cabbage and left.

I was walking along the sidewalk to my car, carrying the cabbage when a nice warm feeling came over me. I was reminded of the many times I saw the old Italian aunts or my mother come into my grandmother’s kitchen through the back door carrying a paper sack with something in it. “Peppers were on sale at the A&P,” they would tell her in Italian as they placed the bag on the kitchen table. Or, “my cousin was in Patterson and bought bushels of tomatoes. You’ll need to cook these right away because they are ripe, but I thought you’d like some for gravy.” Or, “I baked five loaves of bread, so I brought you one.” Shanikqua is not even Italian, I thought with a chuckle.

Then I thought more about it. “That’s what good friends and family do,” I thought. When they see a good deal on cabbage, they pick you up a few. The sharing of bounty – and good deals on produce -- transcends race and ethnicity. Family and friends show their love and support for one another through the small gestures in life. I thought about how lucky I was to have a friend give me cabbage. And I hoped that my children, however they turned out, would be lucky enough to have a friend give them two heads of cabbage one day.

I tossed the plastic bag with the cabbage in it on the front passenger seat and turned the key in the ignition. With that cabbage, my worries melted away.


  1. Michelle,
    So true and so beautiful! I could feel the emotions running through me with each expression you so eloquently put forth. I truly enjoyed your blog and the message you put forth. Today I was with a client that was of a different race, religion, age, and everything else that others would use to categorize the differences. Yet, we had a wonderful conversation of color, inner beauty, Rumi, and faith...Thanks for sharing :) Intissar

  2. Hi Michelle,
    Loved your blog. Yes, the message of good friendships and family, and the small things in life that make it bearable. But also, the description of your getting Maya to the babysitters....! You described a situation often seen in our household to a "T". From running around naked and jumping on the bed, to having to make footprints in the snow before climbing into the carseat, to the screaming for music (or anything else that's not perfect!), to MAJOR backseat driving ("Go back, I didn't see the train tracks both ways!!!"), to dropping the CC, to speaking nicely to anyone other than mommy (water with ice please)! Daily rituals we go through here. It's gotta be the age, which is good, because this too, shall pass... ;) They are so loveable & charming, and then so challenging at times, too. Sorry I can't help you with that - just know that you're not alone!!! Enjoyed your blog, and happy that your friend thought of you that day and bought you some cabbage....
    Bonnie Lennox

  3. I was left hanging about your parenting issues as i completely find myself in your shoes... sometimes children can be a source of our great frustration especially that they tend to be not the way we wanted them to be.., but i guess we simply have to respect them as they are while doubling our listening skills in order to make something worthwhile form that experience... Hope we both succeed in raising responsible children ...God Bless