Thursday, August 20, 2009

Everything goes better with...

Don's mother arrived from Savannah on the Greyhound bus Tuesday evening for a long visit. For years she's been saying she wants to be here when Ulysses starts kindergarten, and now here it is. His first day will be Sept. 1. Tonight we're all going to the elementary school for registration. He's already registered, but we can meet his teacher, see his room and so forth.

The bus rolled in from via Milwaukee around 7:30 and we stopped at the China Wok on our way home to pick up our traditional Chinese feast, as we do every time she comes to visit. This time Ulysses seemed to know what Chinese food was, or at least he crowed about it and was thrilled when Don came out of the strip mall storefront laden with a heavy bag. We had been strolling along the shrubbery-lined walkways with Don's mother, who U calls "Ama," trying to get that rubbery road trip feeling out of her legs. "Chinese food!" he called. "You got the Chinese food!"

Back home we ate what seemed vats of egg foo yung with gravy, won ton soup, pork fried rice, lo mein with all sorts of seafood and meat -- it's the Wok's house special -- beef with broccoli. We each got an egg roll, too. That was Ulysses's pick.

He had his on a plate with a plenty of duck sauce and Annie's natural ketchup. Round and round went the end of the egg roll in the custom sauce between every bite. The orange and red swirl had to be replenished once or twice over the course of the egg roll. At the end of the meal, when we lifted the plate there was a ring of crunchy bits in red sauce that had built up around it over the course of the meal, left neatly behind like a reverse stencil of some kind.

When Ama got in the fold-down futon couch/bed in the living room for the night, Ulysses jumped in with her, smiling happily. "Read me a story!" he said. "Read me the scary book!" (Bears in the Night by the Stan and Jan Berenstain.)

"I'm too tired to read a book to you," said Ama. "I'll tell you a story. A story about when I was a little girl."

Ulysses's eyes shone in anticipation.

"Once upon a time there was a little girl and her two brothers. They went walking in the woods and they found some blackberry bushes. They were the juiciest, sweetest, darkest blackberries ever."

Ulysses was fairly bouncing with joy.

"They picked and picked and picked the blackberries and then they took them home. Their mother brought out some cream...."

Ulysses burst out, "...and then they put it all in a bowl with ketchup!"


Sunday, August 16, 2009

They hate the taste of mint

Ulysses ran to the bathroom and shut both doors.

When I had called, "Bedtime!" he had sprung from his computer without a word. Now he waited for me to slip inside and reach up for the toothbrushes and toothpaste. One hand covered his mouth.

One night in June, I had been going through the excruciating nightly routine of coaxing Ulysses into the bathroom for tooth brushing. He was already in the bed, and did not intend to get back out. "Do you want me to brush your teeth for you, or do you want to brush your teeth yourself?"

"No. No tooth brushing tonight."

"That's not one of the choices. I will hold you down and brush your teeth. Is that what you choose?"

"Me, I'll brush."

"All right."


"Come on."

Silence. Ulysses dug himself more deeply under the covers.

I was steeling myself to drag him out of the bed and carry him bodily into the bathroom when Donald spoke up.

"At bedtime, monsters come and take your teeth. But they don't take teeth that are clean and brushed. They only take dirty teeth. And they hate the taste of mint."

Ulysses sat up. Without a sound, he bolted into the bathroom and slammed both doors. I came in to find him with his hand covering his mouth. He quickly shut the door behind me.

We brushed our teeth together. He watched carefully, mimicking my every move with his own Spongebob Squarepants toothbrush. It was the lengthiest cleaning his teeth had ever had.

* * *

Since then, the nightly trial of getting to bed and brushing teeth has evaporated into this: "Bedtime!" and a dash for the bathroom, followed by a thorough application of dentifrice. I don't believe I've ever brushed my own teeth this well and this consistently, come to think of it.

He no longer shuts the doors and covers his mouth with his hand, of which I'm glad. I want him in bed and I want his teeth clean, but I don't want him traumatized, after all. After we brush our teeth every morning and night now, he likes to exhale with a proud puff and say, "I smell like mint! Monsters hate the taste of mint!"

* * *

About a month in, though, there was a wisp of rebellion. We were in the bathroom, but he wouldn't take the toothbrush.

"There are no monsters," he said. "They don't really come for your teeth."

"Oh, yes, there are," I replied. "They're so tiny that you can't see them. They're called 'germs.' Have you seen people with teeth missing? The germs ate their teeth. The germs grow in your mouth, but they can only stick to dirty teeth. That's why we scrub our teeth clean and rinse our mouths to wash the germs out and spit them down the sink."

I thought about showing him some of my own fillings, but he took his brush, convinced. Semmelweis should have had it so easy.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Who's wiping whose bottom?

I was wiping Ulysses's bottom when he said to me, "Mama, I don't want to be a little boy."

"What do you want to be?" I asked.

"A big boy."

I was silent for a moment. Then I said, "You're getting bigger every day."

"Bigger than you!" he said.

"You say you're bigger than me?" I asked.

"Yes, I am!"

I thought about that. "You know, big boys wipe their own bottoms."