Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I'm still here, kind of anyway

hello lovelies.

I say that with sincerity and a bit of sheepishness, as I keep getting emails that go something like "um, hello, did you drop off the parenting planet" or "Did you lose your mind because of that poop problem?" Truth is, I'm learning to focus. And to do that, I need to cut out most the extras in my life for the moment...and since I have this wonderful (although a little mushy, at least for now) gig writing for My North, a site dedicated to celebrating Up North living, my words have been temporairly funneled there. When I get into a better groove, I'm coming back here to tell you about Max and his obsession with
Plastic Jesus,
a recent tooth-fairy no more debacle, and Lizzie's first cat fight (black eye and all).

In the meantime, please come visit me here, here, and here. Maybe even send some comment love my way.

By the way, I am a walking, talking zombie thanks to Lizzie giving up sleep
for lent, like, four months early.

I'll treat to you an awful picture of me to prove it:

Notice the bags? I'm just going to start hoping that it becomes fashionable to have sugar snap pea shaped puffiness under your eyes. I do so hope you are enjoying the advent season...Oh, and guess what? Max just pooped. On the potty. Seriously.

Monday, November 3, 2008

This one is about you. You and your voice.

Hi. This is the place where I normally open up and let loose whatever neurotic parenting moment or issue or conundrum I am finding myself in as I type.

But this is not a normal day.

It's my birthday. More important than that, however, is that it is the eve of the 2008 presidential election. And I'm writing to simply say: Vote, with hope in your heart for better tomorrows. Please.

As for the neurotic parenting stuff, find me here, here, and here. And I'll be back here by the end of the week, because there is a funny story about a plastic Jesus (kinda like the priest walking into the bar jokes I guess), that I'm dying to tell you.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

To snip or not to snip, that is the question

Earlier this month, I was lying on my back, taking the deep, cleansing inhale/exhale combos that come only once a week at the tail end of my yoga class, and I let my mind wander from breaths to baby for maybe a millisecond. Yet there it was-- the immediate tingle, the wet shirt—eight months after I first nursed Lizzie, I still end up leaking milk like a loose udder. If you are going to have your boobs spring a leak in public, however, there is no better place than yoga, I suppose.

It was more the mere fact that even though I have my youngest physically attached to me all day, every day, save this one hour-and-a-half per week, I still can’t seem to get a moment to myself. Shoving my yoga mat back into my bag, I joked about this with my friend Alison as we walked to our cars.

“It’s kind of pathetic,” I offered up, knowing that Alison would come through with her supportive smile and that whole it-just-shows-you-are-a-dedicated-mom shtick. Of course, Alison’s youngest child is in fourth grade. She’s gotten through the abyss of newborns and has moved on to the realm of having all school-age children. So it helped, but only a little.

I’m not writing this to simply rant on the tiring, life-sucking, mind warp that is having a baby (although there certainly is plenty to be said on the subject, especially after a long day with a very emotional toddler and suddenly sassy fourth grader). I’m writing it, I guess, because it was the first image that popped into my mind when Justin looked at me, all nonchalant the other day, and said “I made the appointment for the big V.”

Suddenly, my memory of the leaky nursies seemed sweet, like a superhero badge that says “Giver of Life Found Here.” And Lizzie immediately seemed less attached, because she’s all into things like doing the army crawl over to the ottoman and pulling herself up—the view change alone makes her forget I exist for five full minutes.

I just looked at my husband—the same man I joked could saddle up next to me in the delivery room and have a vasectomy performed the minute our third born arrived—and burst into tears.

He looked at me, and then quickly looked around. I love this about husbands, the way an obviously irrational splay of tears always makes them seek back up, even if it is in the form a nine year-old who is stealthily sliding out of the room.

“You can’t seriously be thinking you want a fourth baby.”

“No, no. Um, you—I—I guess I was not expecting to hear that,” I said looking out the bay window in our kitchen. It was raining and cold outside, little rivers of water running down the glass.

“Babe, look at me,” Justin said. He was leaning against the sink, with Lizzie playing at his feet between us. “We agreed this was it, right? I’m thinking three and done is still our motto. I’d have a heart attack if we added any more.”
I felt like the fog rising from the ground outside was surrounding me. I couldn’t answer my husband. I couldn’t carry on a conversation about the topic. I just shrugged it off, wiped my tears, and changed the subject.

But the truth is, I am thinking about a fourth baby.

Or more accurately, I am thinking about the ability to have a fourth baby. The notion that I will never be pregnant again, that I will never go through the pain and ecstasy of delivering new life into this world, will never nurse another baby…It seems huge, especially when I feel like we have just hit our stride as parents. I mean, look at how sweet my husband is with these children.

I love how he loves them. I love how he—the uber athlete-- falls to mush and sheds tears with his friends over the way his daughter was so small and still and lovely hours after her birth. How can this part of life be over so soon?

I lament this to a good friend whose husband had the big snip three years ago, expecting sympathy, expecting to hear her say “you are still so young. Maybe he should wait.”

Instead I heard, “Are you crazy? You do not want to any more children. You do not need any more children. I mean, let’s talk population control, here. Or the fact that you give all your energy to the three babies you already have, and I can’t imagine it being healthy to add more to that load. And it isn’t like you are empty nesting, for goodness sake. You have a nine year-old! And a three year-old! And hello, an eight month old to boot!”

She went on and on, noting that we all have to go through “the sadness tunnel” of realizing we are done with our “birthing years.” She pointed out a friend who, at just shy of 50, added her fifth child to her brood, because she has yet to acknowledge said tunnel.

So I tried to approach my mom on the subject—after all, don’t all grandmas want more babies? Apparently not. I went to another friend. And another. Everyone who has made it out of planet baby seems to be on the same page here: get the snip, and get it now.

And I get it. I do. Like the stereotypical spinster with a thousand cats, I could easily become one of those nutty folks with 19 children, simply because I am a newborn baby junkie. Every time I get my hands on a warm bundle of just-birthed life, my whole body screams “I want one!” That feeling will probably never fade. But I think there is more to this than wanting another baby (although part of me does hear my OB’s voice echoing “four is simply the best”). There is something biological happening here, something primal that is railing against the notion of “never again.”

Noah seems remarkably old these days. He has excellent comedic timing, his jokes getting more grown up, his dinner table conversations becoming true glimpses of the man he will grow to be. Max, too, with his pre-school persona “we must fold our hands in our laps and say ‘thank you friends’ before each meal mama,” is suddenly moving into the next phase of life.

There are plenty of moments when I am ready for this change, this new chapter. When I hear Max padding down the stairs in the middle of the night to wake Justin with tales of a bad dream after I’ve just nursed Lizzie to sleep for the sixth time and Noah comes down soon after, confessing that his past-bedtime night-light-under-the-covers reading choice freaked him out; these are the times when I am ready for everyone to need less and be more, well, grown up. And yet, 20 minutes later, when the rhythm of my family’s breathing has slowed into a cadence of sleep, arms and legs tangled together; there is a richness to the sound, to the darkness, to the deep ties of mother and father and the lives they created together.

Max looked at me as I was typing this earlier today. Noah was at school and Lizzie was napping. He had been sitting on the floor stacking wooden blocks into a tall tower only to allow some Bionicle Lego creation to “seek and destroy.”

“When did your outtie turn into an innie again?”

I looked at my belly button, exposed because my shirt never made it all the way down after I put Lizzie to sleep.

“Well, after your sister came out, I guess,” I said with a giggle, shoving my t-shirt back in place.

“I kinda miss the outie. It was cool,” Max said. He turned back to his block tower, and just before the evil plastic Lego creation came swooping in to make it tumble, he added, “maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to see it that way again.”

And maybe, just maybe, that possibility is enough.

By the way, I'm now also blogging twice a week for the fantastic website, www.mynorth.com-- which is dedicated to Up North living. I'll be writing parenting posts there, and as they have just added blogging to the site, I'd sure appreciate if you would click here and hereto read, subscribe (and comment, pretty please) so the folks in charge see this is indeed a worthy effort. Thanks so much!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Obama Mama

A few days ago, Noah tagged along on an evening grocery store trip, just to talk to me. Let me relish in that statement for a moment: just. to. talk. Sigh. The transition back to school this year, after two blissful (at least that’s how I’m choosing to remember them) years of home education has been tough (on me). For Noah, there is this whole new world of kickball, a classroom with rats and a tarantula, and some kid who drinks milk through his nose at lunch.

But me.

Pitiful me has been walking around with tears always ready to break over the banks. Pitiful me has become the obnoxious presence in the principal’s office, “Do you need a healthy snack flyer?” “Do you really need to allow children to bring Game Boys on field trip bus rides? I mean, there are books to read, right?” “Could I offer you up some information on the latest in experiential education? You do know what that means…”

I will admit to being a bit of an, um, control freak (by this I mean totally neurotic to the point that most of my friends are wary to talk to me at the moment) about Noah’s return to school experience. I want him to love it. And yet, I think some part of me wants him to not love it, because I liked being his teacher, and I miss him. So I find myself in this constant tizzy of fear and frustration with the school system, even though Noah is perfectly happy just about anywhere, including his fourth grade classroom. He so detests shopping of any variety, however, that I assumed this trip to “talk” at the grocery store was to espouse protest about the nature of mindless homework and public school life. Imagine my surprise when he instead said:

“It’s politics, mom. The kids at school just do not have the same politics that I do. And I don’t know what to do about it. You talk to anyone who will listen about Obama and his good qualities. And I thought I could do that too. And then a lot of kids started saying crazy things, like he is a terrorist or stupid or a liar. A liar, mom. I just don’t know how to deal with it.”

Oh boy. I should pause here to say that having a mother who is a tried and true liberal, who makes “Bush is a total moron/war monger/children’s health care initiative slaughterer/red neck with poor grammar” common place dinner conversation does perhaps taint one’s abilities to NOT lean left or possess burgeoning interest in the political happenings on our planet. And Noah, being Noah, has been a Democrat sponge for as long as I can remember.
In 2006, he begged to go to Washington, DC, so he could see “where he would be” as president someday. During that trip, he created a plan to reduce homelessness (I’m serious) and decided all wars would be played with chess pieces, not people (Arlington cemetery did a number on him). In 2008, we returned to DC, per Noah’s request. He stood outside the white house and yelled at George W. about his many, many mistakes in office. I thought this was funny, until a family clad in matching flag leather jackets almost jumped us. And the morning coffee shop conversations went something like this:

Noah: “Mom, if Bush is so terrible, how did he get elected twice?”
Me: “There is this man named Karl Rove….”

The next day: “Mom, the democrats need a Karl Rove.”

Obama, for Noah, has been something of a dream come true. He has read biographies and memorized parts of his speeches. He has watched me be moved to tears as I talk about the hope of 2008, and he has cracked up at his little brother, dancing to the Yes We Can montage while wearing his “Barack and Roll” t-shirt. An outspoken nine year-old, Noah is always discussing politics with adults, listening with that true ear of a child, and responding with thoughtful comments, like “Yes, but McCain voted for the war, and for 90-percent of the other stuff George Bush wanted. Not to mention he is really old, and um, I wouldn’t want my mom running the country, even if she is a really nice person.”

I have vacillated on how much I should encourage this penchant for politics. On one hand, I believe it is important for my children to see to understand the importance of using our voices, to vote in ways that protect the greater good. On the other hand, I worry about moments like this one. I worry that political problems are too big, too deep, too, well, much for a child. As a member of Mothers Acting Up, I try to focus my energy in joy, even when it comes to the hard and sometimes heartbreaking work that goes with standing up for the world’s women and children. I try to hope for the dream of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals; I try not to get bogged down in the depressing reality of the Iraq War, the state of public education, health care, and anything else our cowboy president has blundered, or even the paralyzing fact that 11 million children in this world still die every year because of extreme poverty and easily preventable diseases. And yet, this election, I find myself struggling to not get on a soapbox. I struggle to be an understanding friend to those whose political views may differ from my own. My newest Pavlovian instinct is to vomit upon hearing the word “Palin.”

So I started to fill Noah’s steel trap memory with facts to be regurgitated when his playground banter turns political. As I’m loading him up with the Blueprint for Change, however, I notice his eyes looking down at the grocery store’s linoleum flooring. His lower lip is sucked in and his shuffling his feet.

“I-I-I just don’t want to have to argue with anybody. I just want to believe that the person who has the right heart, who is good and kind to win. I thought Obama is supposed to be the hope we can believe in, Mom.”

I stopped and dropped the box of Cliff Bars I’d been debating over into the grocery cart. My eyes met my sons, and I saw that image of oneness that is hard to describe, and harder to find as our children grow. It struck me that in this place of unbalance our country is in, how my desperation for change has put my son in a place far too old for his pure and waiting heart. I scooped him up in my arms, his legs so long now that his feet almost still touched the floor.

“I’m sorry,” I murmured, as he wiggled free, checking the aisle to make sure no one under 80 had seen.

“We just need to hope mom,” he said, patting my hand before he steered the cart back toward the cookies.

The words flowed off his tongue with ease and with honesty.

“Yes, yes. Hope,” I responded. “It is what this election is about above all else, and it is the place I need to operate from too. You should worry about things like kickball and leave this presidential pooh-bah to the grown ups.”

Noah nodded slowly, and then added with a (slightly wicked) grin, “Thanks….but by the way, where is my “Obama: I’d like a smart president this time” t-shirt?”

Monday, September 1, 2008

On his own time, or, the perils of poop

*While I want to write about our trip to the North Channel, and I will, I have been stuck in bed (for a week!!) with the crud, and so this is more along the lines of what I've been feeling:)

I have this reoccurring dream, where I am sitting on the floor between two enormously pooped-in diapers. It’s graphic: one has a tennis ball size poo, the other is oozing onto the carpet, a sweet orange breast milk river that toppled over its banks. I am trying to change both, fighting two sets of failing legs, attempting not to gag or get dung of either variety all over me. It’s a nightmare of, well, poopy proportions.

Oh, wait.

I’m not sleeping.

I have declared my house a full on poop wasteland folks. And I’m waving the white flag of defeat.

Once upon a time, Max was almost potty trained. And then came Lizzie. When we said hello to baby sister, we summarily said goodbye to the toilet. At first, I assumed it was just a phase.

“Leave him be,” became my mantra to all who antagonized my weeping puddle of a three year-old. With every, “Max, do you have to go pee-pee?” or “Max, why are you grunting? Let’s go potty,” came a shriek and banshee-worthy cry from the child who was already walking around yelling “I been dethroned! I been de-th-th-th-roooooooned!” It made sense to me, to Dr. Sears, to Peggy O’Mara, to just about everyone who knows anything about child rearing, that this was simply a little glitch in the giddy-up, an expression of a little boy who was searching for his new role in the family.

Of, course, Dr. Sears does not know Max.

Ah, Max. He is an incredible force of energy. His smile (that oh so devious and disarming smile) is enough to make every female from age three to 100 melt, myself included. I could write forever about the Maxism’s that I get to hear each day:

“Mama, I need my cape. You’re never fully dressed without a cape” (or Viking hat, or owl mask, or knight shield, depending on the day….and yes, we went through a watch Annie ten times a week phase, if the above phrase sounded vaguely familiar).

Me: “Max, come over here please.
Max: “Can’t mama. I’m heading to South America.
Me: “South America? What for?
Max: good tacos.

“I’m just saying mom, (palms held up in the air in that ‘well duh’ fashion) if I were an elephant, I would totally pick stuff up with my nose to eat it.”

Where Noah is my thinker, and Lizzie is my appendage, Max is this concoction of a shaken up pop bottle, a shot of nitrous, and a dose of radiant life rolled into one little toddler body. But he also has a huge helping of holy hell stubbornness in him ( I have no idea where that comes from) that adds the following phrases to his favorite vocabulary choices:
“Nope. I don’t think so. Well, thing is…. Not a good idea. I choose no way. Nuh-uh. NO. I don’t waaaaaaant to.”

And my personal favorite, “You can’t make me go!”

He grunts this, obviously, as he is squatting in some corner, butt high in the air, face red.

The anti-potty has become a sticking point. No negotiations (Max, if you go potty on the potty, you can buy all the glow in the dark underwear you want); no reward system (we tried that, and after five times and one Playmobile airplane, he looked at me and said, “I got my prize. Pull-ups, please”); or even sad reality checks (Max, you cannot go to preschool with Josie and Cal next week if you don’t pee and poop on the pot) have made a dent in our need to stock size 3-4 T training pants.

In fact, the more he hears anyone say “go on the potty,” the more he resists. We now are literally on the enema-a-week plan, which inevitably produces terds that have been known to require the toilet be plunged for over an hour. Okay, too much information. But still. For anyone who has been this road before, you know how hard it is to hear your child wake up and say, “uh-oh, it isn’t enema day, is it?”

Through a blur of tears, I looked at my pediatrician desperately a few weeks ago, recounting how “he doesn’t even care if he’s got dookie in his pants. How do you train someone to go on the toilet that looks at you with something that resembles a rabbit tail sticking out of his rear, and says with a smile, “oh, I’m fine.” I went on to blubber about how this whole thing must be my fault, “I should have given him more attention. When Liz was born, I went into the abyss of nursing and didn’t come out…I pushed him. He’s constantly constipating because I pushed or I didn’t protect him enough when everyone else pushed...”

“I’m a horrible mother and my son will never have a normal bowel movement because of me,” I found myself wailing.

My doctor responded with a chuckle and a shrug. “Do you see lots of kids in middle school or high school wearing diapers?”

I said, “well, no,” although I was secretly picturing Max at 16, coming home from soccer practice in a gigantic pull-up. Oh, God.

“He’ll go when he’s ready. On his own time. Don’t push and don’t fret, because after all, you can’t make him.”

Hmmm. I never thought pooping in your pants could become a source of parental zen-like philosophy. And I’ll be honest folks, when I’m elbow deep in two dirty diapers all I can think is, no matter how you slice it, this just stinks.

**let it be noted, I had to stop to change diapers four times while writing this post!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I've disappeared in Canada...almost...

**A note: I'm off exploring the waters of the North Channel with my family, a trip we take every year in August. We're currently stuck at a dock, however,waiting out a band of not-so-lovely weather. The dock has wireless internet. And I'm, apparently, a junkie that takes her computer into the wilderness. I didn't post the week we left (getting ready all but makes me insane), and I haven't been typing away on the back deck (yes, I do have restraint), but I do want to send you some idea of what life is like this week. The following was an article written for a boating magazine about our first adventure into the North Channel after Max was born. "See" you next week, when I'm sure my adventure recounts will include the fact that the only thing Max wanted to pack was his red superhero cape. Oh, and 400 stuffed animals, because "it can get lonely out there."

I distinctly remember when my husband came home and announced that we would be taking our two boys—then ages one and seven— on a boat to the North Channel for a week.

“There is a word for people who take trips like that with multiple small children on board. It’s called ‘crazy,’” I retorted, shaking my head and setting to work scrubbing the kitchen counter (my staple non-verbal way of saying ‘end of discussion’).

Following several days of pleading promises for family fun that ranged from exposing our children to the Channel’s beauty to having un-plugged, old fashioned, ‘round-the-campfire/exploring-on-the-rocks/coffee-and-beautiful-surise-sharing experiences, I began to cave. Still, I had plenty of fears to voice: how do we keep them safe? Won’t they get bored during travel times? What on earth will we do those dirty diapers if we’re anchored in the middle of nowhere?

Standing next to the coffee maker the morning of our departure, I had a feeling quite similar to what one must experience after rolling around on six-foot waves—in a sailboat—for hours on end. The dread of five sure-to-be sleepless nights and six stress filled days on a boat was running full throttle in my mind. Yet, I sucked it up, checked to make sure we had the boys’ life jackets for the third time in ten minutes, and headed down to the marina.

In the backseat, Noah, at seven, was chattering away about the adventures to be had, the pirates to spot, and the folks he hoped to soak with his new squirt gun. Max, not quite two, looked on with amusement and chucked a handful of Cheerios toward the front seat. All I could muster was: “we’re crazy.”

Once we unloaded the gear (and there was a lot of it) my husband went from dad to captain in a matter of moments. His first order of business was to line up the boys to go over “The Rules.”

“Crew,” he said in his most important voice, “there are a few rules that you must follow once you board this boat. One: lifejackets are worn at all time. No exceptions. On the dock or in the boat—if you are not on shore you will have a life vest on your body. Two: one hand for you, one hand for the boat. This is an important one. Whenever we are moving, you must always have one hand holding onto the boat. The same goes for when we are anchored and you want to walk to the bow. Three: When we dock or leave port, you must remain seated. When you are a bit older, I will teach you how to help me with the lines, but right now, the best thing you can do is watch without moving.”

I’ll be honest. What I was seeing amazed me. My two boys (my two busy, busy, selective-hearing suffering boys) were listening as they stood “at attention” for their father, and were suiting up in their lifejackets with minimal complaint. Note to self, I thought, make them feel like important members of this boating crew and set the non-negotiables out from the get-go, and things will—or seem to be—going smoothly.

A short time later we set off for Drummond Island. The late summer waters of Little Traverse Bay were calm; the sky was faded blue and the breeze was warm to the skin. Justin (the aforementioned husband) handed me an Island Bean vanilla latte and told me to relax. The boys sat up front with him, Max pretending to run the helm and Noah launching into a myriad of GPS-related questions. Hmmm. A learning experience and a chance for mom to soak up five minutes of uninterrupted sun? Perhaps this was not such a bad idea after all.

The journey to Drummond Island (and later, to Gore Bay) was long—and at times the kids exercised their right to boredom, but it seemed easily remedied with a few sugarless snacks, “mess-free” color wonder markers (the kind that can only right on special paper, not on boat seats) and overboard-friendly toys, like bath-tub boats or action figures (don’t bring anything of real value…we lost one very dear matchbox car to the bottom of Lake Michigan). I realized that boat travel was far easier than car travel in that the fresh air and lack of car/booster seat restraint left the kids happier with far fewer “are we there yets?”

The moment we hit Gore Bay, all my fears and dread disappeared. The magnificent backdrop the Channel creates was enough make our seven year-old think we were near the set of Swiss Family Robinson, and Max, now used to his ever-present life jacket, began to only object if we wanted to take it off (so yes, he wore it on shore, at dinner, and even to bed). Justin carved out time for special dinghy adventures each day (even just putting from boat to boat to visit those we were cruising with, allowing Noah to help steer, was enough to keep the kids well-behaved in hopes of more rides the next day). During the wind-down hours, I brought out a host of classic movies and TV shows (let’s admit it: these boats have DVD players, so you might as well use them). From Annie to Mary Poppins, The Andy Griffith Show to the Muppets, the boys loved to curl up down below and watch some of mom and dad’s favorites, before taking in one last look at the star-filled sky (we also carried a constellation book for Noah…another learning great opportunity), before drifting off to sleep.

When it came time to drop a hook for a few days, I’ll admit to feeling a surge of “what are we thinking?” rising up yet again. I soon discovered, however, that a disposable camera and a nature notebook kept our eldest busy for hours as he explored the beautiful granite rocks, the grasshoppers, the shallow-rooted trees that fell during a recent storm. The rocking motion of the boat must be a one year-old’s dream, because Max slept like a champ, and when he was awake, dinghy rides or backpack trips on the outcrops kept him more than happy. I even discovered Ziploc sandwich bags serve as perfect dirty diaper keepers. No smells, no messes. Maybe this cruising with kids notion is a little better than first imagined. In fact, the worst moments of the trip came as we were headed home, when we faced seven-foot rollers through Grey’s Reef. The boys, staying true to the “One hand for you, one hand for the boat” rule sat still in the front seats beside me, however, and as we returned to flatter water, the only cry we heard was “let’s do that again!”

For each cruise we’ve embarked on since that first go-round, we’ve gotten smarter, safer, and had even more fun. We pack much less now. We worry about far fewer issues, especially that fear of boredom. On a boating adventure, I’m convinced even teens are bound to find plenty of ways to have fun. The boys have the rules engrained in their brains, and though we offer a refresher each year, safety and on-water etiquette is now second nature.

I remember—with joy—one night that first cruise. The campfire was going. We’d just finished a great open-pit barbeque. Noah sat beside me in a red fleece, shorts, and bare feet. Max was curled up on my lap (in his lifejacket of course), sound asleep. The stars were beginning to light up the sky ten at time, like sparklers that grew brighter instead of burning out. I looked at my husband and smiled the kind of smile that you get when you are away from it all, yet you feel like you finally found the world’s center. We took deep, quiet breathes, raised our plastic cups full of good red wine, and offered a silent toast to the simple, unequivocal, un-hurried time we were sharing with our children.

“We’re a good kind of crazy, I think,” I whispered into the darkening air.

Justin smiled and nodded. “Anyone who takes a trip like this with kids is a good kind of crazy,” he whispered back.

And he’s right.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

locally grown

I have this image in my mind, of frolicking—yes, frolicking—through my mother’s large garden as a child. It looks like this: churned, damp dirt beneath my bare feet; the taste of fresh snapped green beans; the residue of tomato plants, rich and inviting, embedded in the grooves of my fingers. My mom is bent over her pepper plants, long brown hair hiding her face. She looks up as I skip past and smiles. There are morning songbirds and bees creating a background hum, an outdoor OM. I remember this moment as some sort of return to my family’s own personal 20x30 Eden in the middle of a suburban subdivision.

So when Noah let out an enormous groan, complete with shoulder sagging and watery-eyes at the very thought of having to head to our community garden plot yesterday, I felt a stab in the heart. And before I could begin to muster the long list of reasons why we should embrace growing our own food and supporting a local family farm at the same time—not to mention my rousing round of “it will be fun”-- Max chimed in “I am so not pulling any of those weeds.” Lizzie, everyday more aware of when she seems to be missing something, let out a hearty whimper/squirm combo as if to cry, “yeah, whatever they just said.”

Our foray into food growing started all right, with all five of us hoeing and raking and planting away early this summer. It lasted, of course, all of 15 minutes, until a friend of Noah’s who was also at the farm invited him home for a play-date and Justin started yelping that he had only agreed to come as “moral support” and Lizzie was sick of trying to sleep in the heat and wind and dirt and Max, well, he fell in a pile of manure.

“Look at me! I’m leaning in by the pooooop! I’m leaning in by the poooooooop! It can’t touch me!” Max sang (to the tune of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, I think) between giggles. He was standing near the healthy pile of dung that was left for community garden members to spread on their plots.

“Max, come away from there please. Come help Mama plant this spinach. I’ll tell you all about this thing called ‘carbon footprints’ and how we’re doing our part to slow ours down,” I yelled back, pausing momentarily to see my three year old only standing on one leg as he leaned ever closer the pile of poo.

“Carbon whats?”

He planted his bare foot back on the ground and tilted his head up enough so that he could find me from under the rim of his hat. I caught myself letting out a long, loving sigh, because even from fifty feet away, I could see the blue of his unearthly eyes matched the pale hue of his floppy sunhat. It never stops amazing me, how as mothers we get these unabashed floods of worship for our children at any given moment. I started to walk over, thinking of the best way to explain how we are slowly eviscerating our planet (without scaring the crap out of him).

“CARBON FOOOOOTPRRRINTS,” Max said in his best deep growl. He was marching (as in, sumo wrestler-style) in place next to the aforementioned poop. I recognized this move immediately as his ever-so-accurate impersonation of a dinosaur, and I actually started to think of how to explain the whole global warming/human impact on the earth and our environment thing from a way-back-when-dinos-roamed place. Seriously.

But just then, as my little T-Rex/cave man/sumo-wrestler went for an extra large step… You guessed it. He tipped a little too far to the right and plummeted directly into the manure pile (of course). Oh boy.

When he sat back up, I expected a flood of tears. Instead, I got a roar—his prehistoric playtime had not even missed a beat-- despite the fact that his arms and legs were smudged with brown and his dad was kneeling in the dirt, vacillating between chortling laughter and comments on how glad he was we brought my car to the farm.

I spent the next month and a half trying to talk to the kidlets about the importance of eating locally, of learning about the cycles of seasons and harvests and the blessings of being able to see our food in every stage, from seedlings to cooked meals on our table. I am passionate about this and feel like it is my matriarchal duty to pass along the understandings I’ve learned via Michael Pollan, Barbra Kingsolver and the whole locavore revolution. My children, for the most part, simply bemoan the fact that kale tastes no better from our garden than it does from our co-op, and in fact, as Noah points out, is perhaps worse after seeing the mass exodus of earwigs escaping the firm green and purple leaves as we harvest.

It took me until just this week (surprise, surprise) to remember that the best way to show our children something of abstract importance is to simply shut up and, well, show them. And so yesterday, I packed them up and drove to the farm. We got out of the car with the usual grumbles, but instead of heading straight to our plot to get in a hurried weed/harvest/healthy-eating-and-good-environmental-stewardship-lecture before the baby cried/the toddler wet his pants/the nine year old just melted, we went to the livestock barn and ogled the still-new piglets. We went through the farm store, feasted on fresh popcorn, and meandered down the raspberry patch lane. Eventually, we wound up back at the garden, where I got to work without a word. Within a few minutes, Noah sat beside me, picking at the leaves of a tomato plant while absentmindedly telling me about his newest Lego creation. Max was pulling a weed out of the ground (only to replant it over and over again). Out of the corner of my eye, I think I saw him snap, bite, and promptly spit out a green bean.

I tell this to my mother late last night, recounting with pride the possible progress on greening my children. She listens in silence, the distance between our two houses seeming bigger than it is, until she lets out a small laugh.

“Are you kidding? You had zero interest in that garden, unless it was to whine about coming to help me in it,” she said, after hearing me compare my idyllic vegetable growing youth to that of my thankless children. “You never ate fresh green beans or most anything else. I wasn’t growing peanut butter sandwiches without crust, and that was about all you wanted. By the way, I had short hair by then. Your memory is hilarious.”


Maybe that’s the ticket: to let my children feel the dirt under their moon sliver fingernails, come to understand life through the cycles of plants and foods and the earth beneath their feet. It can be messy. It can be dreaded or even something just short of disastrous.

And yet, Max looked at me this morning, as I washed blueberries for his breakfast, and said, “did we make these mama?”

Yes, I think there is something to be said about planting the seed and just letting it….grow.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

it's about...time

“Summertime, and the living is easy,” Noah croons as he stretches his clasped arms high above his head. He is standing ankle deep in the waters of the bay, looking out on the dusk stillness with lazy enjoyment. I am watching from five feet behind him, my toes nestled into the cool sand, Lizzie asleep in the frontpack. Her limbs are slack and I can just barely feel her breath rise and fall against me. Max and a friend take turns jumping off the dock, their laughter loud and insanely free as they soar from the rickety wood to the waters edge, and quickly scramble back again. Yes, I think to myself, summertime is so, so good.

This evening, one of ice cream sundaes and paddle boards and cold lake splashes, almost never happened. Don’t worry—there is no tragic almost accident or illness or major dramatic turn of events about to happen here—it is simply my occasional yet neurotic need to put parenting into a neat little box marked “perfect, anal, alternative, natural mothering.” Obnoxious, but true. We have been on the go nearly every night since the Fourth of July, busy with family and friends who flock to our pristine neck of the woods for the three whopping weeks of lovely weather we get each year. My children and their bedtime routine parted ways as the Independence Day fireworks exploded over their heads. In the clouds of hazy smoke that followed us home that night, they marveled at just how many stars could be seen when the world went dark.

“I’m staying up this late every night,” Noah whispered, his eyes directed skyward. “This is incredible.”

It’s true. It was. The deep July sky was pocked full of winking white lights. The Milky Way traced in an arc directly above us; a soft, smudgy outline that resembled eraser marks across black construction paper. It was the kind of night that is so thick and clear, if we’d laid flat across the driveway and reached up, we could have, perhaps, pressed stars between our fingers.

But we didn’t, because I went into frenzy-mode due to the fact that the boys were still awake at 11:38 p.m. As I bustled around the car, unbuckling car seats and gathering up a half-asleep toddler and squirmy baby, Noah keep talking, still looking up.

“Did you know that stars are like, millions of light years away or something? So the stars up there could have gone out a long time ago and we can still see their light. Cool, but kind-of sad too.”

I could have told him how his grandfather bought his grandmother a star for their first anniversary, how I carry that thought with me and still look to the sky and see millions of years of lovers because of it. I could have paused to reflect on the immenseness of his statement on the fire-light that continues to shine long after its celestial body dies. I felt that twinge of conversations we might have had, even as I hastily tucked him in, barking all the way out the door “go to sleep, it is way too late, close your eyes this second.”

I must interject now, that I am blessed to be raising my three littles alongside a tribe of amazing women—women who have far more patience (they can answer Max’s constant interruptions with smiles every time), far more parental discipline (they actually turned down parties when their babies needed to be home and in bed on schedule), far more knowledge on basically everything that goes along with raising a happy, healthy, creative and independent child. And then, there is me, the woman who nine years and fours months into her journey as a mother still feels completely ill-equipped most days. I am the one who views every minute that slipped by past bedtime as a monumental testament to my shortcomings and continual inability to stick with a parenting plan.

Having had Noah while sill in college—I was just turning 21-- and not going a week without someone still commenting (with disapproving taste) that I look way to young to have three children, my parenting mindfully confidence hovers just above the sludge found under the sandy bottom of our bay. And so I tend to err on the side of something that manifests itself to look like extreme robocop-granola mom. This is when I get all crazy and start turning good ideals into absolutes, must recently displayed in the BWS, otherwise known as Bedtime Warden Syndrome.

“They must, must, must be asleep by 8:30 p.m.” I lectured Justin as we stood together in the kitchen one evening shortly after the Fourth of July. It had been a non-stop mantra, which I failed on miserably, every night for over a week. If I had allowed myself to have fun while failing it—instead of fretting at each nightly gathering as the sky grew rosy and sleepy and my children grew rambunctious and loud—it would have been one thing. The fact of the matter was, however, that I became this awful, mean, per-snickety lady when we would finally arrive home. I shouted demands at my children, chastised my husband for allowing the bedtime rule breakdown (although I, myself, was usually the initial perpetrator). I was becoming the world’s biggest contradiction: I wanted to stay, let my children enjoy the company of summer friends or family, take the time for Justin and I to talk and be out and together after a long winter of baby-abyss. Yet, each time we did, I went into this panicked mode, as if my children missing an hour or two of sleep would kill off half their growing brain cells or permanently stunt their growth or give them fodder for therapy in 30 years. I ended up squashing the fun we’d just had with a harried, miserable Chinese fire drill of a bedtime

Justin, for his part, let me run with this dualistic personality for about six more days before finally shutting it down.

“It’s summer, Kate,” he sighed in that I-know-you-won’t-hear-me-way. “It’s still so light out at 8:30. They are kids. Don’t you remember running around until dark when you were little? Catching fireflies and falling asleep exhausted and sandy and all that stuff?”

I looked at him and (despite the flood of just such fond memories) uttered, in my most drawn-out, high and mighty voice “they will be asleep tonight by 8:30 p.m. Children need a routine. They need a bedtime that is not deviated from and we are going to get back on track for them. Period.”

Except, we didn’t. We got a phone call and a dinner invitation and we ended up here, on this beach, inhaling the sweet smells of lake and wind and watching my children’s love for this place we call home deepen like hues of water fading from daytime blue to dusk’s slate black.

The bay is still enough to reflect the glittering drops of sun as it sets behind us, each orange and pink ripple making its way from the middle of the lake to lap at Noah’s feet. I forget, standing here with my toes embedded in the sand and my daughter sleeping soundly on my chest, to check my watch. I am lost in Max’s belly laughs and Noah’s off-pitch song to no one. I am aware, for the first time in a long time, that the practice of parenting is not necessarily an art at all. Perhaps instead, it is in occasionally letting go of the practice—the theories and articles, the research and rhetoric— where the beauty of mothering is hidden.

The first star of the evening is beginning to come into view as the blue of the atmosphere darkens. Noah is watching it glow in the water. I am watching it in the sky. I move into the lake beside him and find his hand for a moment.

“Do you think that one is still burning?” I ask, just above a whisper.

He looks at me with his toothy grin and nods. “As long as we can see it mom, I think that might be all that matters.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

kite strings

I woke up yesterday morning to see the trees in our backyard doing the hula. Leaves and branches were swaying left, right, and in circular patterns. Set against a horizon of silver, a billowing set of low gray clouds emerged in the window, and within 20 seconds, had disappeared out of its frame.

It put me in a mood.

Living in a place that sees the sunshine very little in 365 days, summer is supposed to be a cherished celebration for those of us who make it through the bleak skies of fall, the frigid winters, the mud season each spring. We are supposed to rise with sunshine and deep blue glory; we are supposed to be warmed by the breeze that dances in off the lake. We are supposed to lollygag around downtown, eating our nightly (or morning, noon, and nightly in my case) ice cream quickly because the heat will surely leave it running down the cone between our fingers. We are NOT supposed to wake up freezing, put on sweats and hunker down under a blanket, waiting for Mother Nature to stop the cruel joke.

Lizzie and I had just gotten through a long night. She was up no less than 300—okay, three—times, only happy if I nursed her sitting up while reading Pablo Neruda aloud. No, I am not kidding. Max woke up crabby, slamming his blanket around the room and shooting evil eyes at anyone who suggested he may want to please use the potty. Even Noah was glum, staring outside at the building winds with audible disgust.

My husband, who refuses to let the weather win when it comes to his Sunday morning bike rides, had been cycling across the misty pavement for well over an hour already. By the time he returned (two more hours and 65 miles later….) I was throwing myself a full on “where we live sucks” silent pity party. So when his sweaty, smiling self trounced in and suggested we go fly a kite at the soccer fields near our house, I was less than enthused. The boys were crawling up the walls, however, and jumped at an opportunity to harness the wind for something, anything semi-exciting.

As they walked down the driveway, I plopped onto the couch with Liz, hoping she’d drift into sleep and I’d curl up with a book. She had other plans. We nursed. We rocked. We laid together in bed. Every time I thought her breathing had slowed to that rhythm of sleep, I would wiggle carefully free and start to slide out the door. And her eyes would pop open, poltergeist style, leaving me to cry out after 57 minutes “what is wrong with you?!?”

Windy, nasty day, plus refusing to nap newborn, plus whatever else I was finding to complain about, equaled major meltdown waiting to occur. I put Lizzie in her car seat (that’s what you get, I thought as she arched her back in not-again-with-the-car defiance) and we drove the block and a half to the field, following the speck of red, yellow and green dipping and diving high above. Pulling in, I could see my boys laughing, though the sound was carried away from me, high above the trees with the breeze that held up their kite. Max waved enthusiastically and proceeded spread out in snow-angel making style, his eyes fixed on the long purple tail whipping above him.

Lizzie and I stepped out of the car. She gulped the wind, both giggling and sputtering at the bursts of air that she caught in the back of her throat. I jogged her over to Justin, and found myself promptly lying next to Max, watching Noah yank the kite string to and fro.

“It’s almost my turn,” Max whispered, his eyes never leaving the sky.

I nodded, my gaze following suit. The kite was soaring, following Noah’s full-speed run across the field as if it were his shadow. The colors were stark against the overcast horizon. The sound, that crisp, distinct noise of wind against nylon, swirled around us in dizzying fashion. I became fixated on it and on the colors in the sky. I was thinking of Khaled Hosseini’s book, The Kite Runner. A story based in tumultuous Kabul just before, during, and after the Soviet Invasion. Its beautiful, broken words tell much of childhoods lost to hatred and war. I was lying in the damp, green grass, watching my boys take turns with the reel. They released line to see the kite nearly disappear, winding it in again to make the sail flip and rocket, and I felt myself starting to cry.

This is where I must add: could my Sunday morning whining, my pouting, my poor-me-for-having-to-live-in-a-beautiful-safe-tight-knit-town-nestled-between-hills-and-fresh-water-on-such-a-yucky-day be any more ridiculous?

Every once in a while I have these uh-oh moments as a mother. They usually come when I am cleaning out the old toys from my boys’ bedrooms. I will fill a garbage bag full of plastic crap, games missing pieces, and one sock wonders. And still, their rooms will be full and I will be standing in the middle of it feeling heartsick with over-consumption and the abundance that comes with our lives. I end up going on a week or two warpath of “no new anything” and preachy lectures high atop my kitchen sink soapbox about the dangers of our consumer culture and the disgusting way we have fallen victim to it. Noah is nine. Max is three. They look at me with sad, guilty faces and sometimes bring up our three sponsored children in Africa, and how much they’d like to share with them and I worry that I’ve told them too much too soon for the magic of childhood. Then Max remarks he’d especially like to share all his carrots or peas or anything else that is green and he is forced to try, and Noah inevitably chimes in “yeah, and mom we don’t have everything. I mean, we don’t even get cable.” And I am on the warpath all over again.

Yesterday, however, was different. I didn’t jump up and demand the kite grounded so we could have a crash course in the horrors of war or the “do you have any idea how much this opportunity would have meant to child in Afghanistan—in the last days of the monarchy or now—this kite that we all take for granted?” Instead, I remained still. I watched the kite. I imagined Afghani mothers, afraid to let their children walk down the street because their height or the shape of their eyes may give them away as something deemed less worthy than a dog; I felt the fear that would go with it. There is something that happens when we become mothers, an ability to feel more deeply. It is a well of rich joys and also an understanding of bottomless sorrow—the kind a mother must feel if she cannot give her starving child food, or must dig through bomb-riddled rubble in vain for a cry she no longer hears.

When my children were born, I had the sense that time stood not still, but together, as if every mother, every birth was with me. It was a root of connection that has never been matched. Since then, I’ve tried to grow in my conscious efforts to make the world a safer, more peaceful place for women and children. Our family gives time and resources to causes that work tirelessly toward those goals. I am actively involved in Mothers Acting Up, a planet-wide movement of mamas, arising with a collective voice for change. I’m a doer—or chronic over doer Justin would say—because as a mother, I feel a weight of responsibility.

That’s all well and good, except for this: where is my gratitude? Standing up in the middle of that field I was struck by how much I take for granted. It is easy to say I am thankful to never worry about having a warm bed for my children, or food and water to greet them each morning. I find myself telling others that’s why I am an activist. Yet, I forget, on a daily basis, that each moment when my children are safe and well is cause for celebration and joy. This is the place I want to work on now; an attitude of gratitude. There is, I think, responsibility for this part too.

And so I watched my boys fly their kite. When it finally came crashing back to earth, Max picked it up, the wind pulling it quickly above his head. Noah cracked up. Lizzie giggled. Justin smiled. I stood, just breathing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A little reflection goes a long way

Lizzie and I have figured out a fantastic new game. It involves me standing up, my growing bundle of blubber and drool sitting in my arms like a Lazy Boy, and watching as she presses her feet hard against the mirror attached to my bedroom wall. And then, we laugh. A lot.

Before you go thinking I’ve gone off the entertainment-by-way-of-a-newborn deep end, let me back up a bit.
A few weeks ago, Lizzie discovered her toes. It was as if she had found out the world’s best toy was actually connected to her body. All the time. Just imagine! Her whole face smiled every time she rocked—much like a top running out of spin—from side to side, clinging to her toes and babbling with glee. It would seem nothing could top this magic….until yesterday, when we realized that with the help of the full length mirror, we magically created two extra sets of toes to play with…and ah, how we passed the time today, feet against glass, just admiring the 20 stubby little piggies from all angles.

The humidity this afternoon was killer, like someone turned on a giant sauna and forgot to set the timer. My entire neighborhood was moving in complete lethargy—even more so than usual for a post Fourth of July Monday—because the air was so thick and damp and we were all soaking in our own sweat. As I type this, I am giggling at mental images of people stepping out of their homes, buck naked, to sit on cedar benches and sauna-tize in their front lawns.

Okay, maybe I am off the deep end.

But I digress. Today was hot enough that I was happy to stay inside, happy to let Lizzie spend almost an hour (an infant eternity, really) playing with the toes on her feet and the toes of her reflection.

All this time in front of a mirror got me thinking (no, not about the fact that I have not showered in three days or that my glasses are bent beyond hope or that I don’t even remember where the little make-up I own is actually kept). Looking at Lizzie as she examined herself with both deep curiosity and obvious trepidation, I began to think about my role in guiding my children as they grow, and how much it feels like their successes and struggles are mirrors of my mothering abilities.

Sounds a bit egocentric right? Perhaps, but its roots lie in this simple truth: I have a nine year-old. I am quickly discovering that something happens between years eight and nine; a shift that begins to transform your imagination-living child into a person who wants to talk about the grocery list, how to solve the kitchen ant problem (with no harm to said ants of course) and the upcoming election (okay, maybe that last one is all his mama, but we’ll go there another time). Don’t get me wrong, Noah still loves to invent games of spies and trolls and sorcerers. It’s just that there is something more grown up about him everyday, some awareness in me that we are halfway through Noah’s time in our home, and that the next half will be about him coming into his own, which inevitably means differentiating from Justin and I.

I will admit to being an overwrought parent when it comes to imagining my children’s future selves. I spent too many years in psychology classes not to fret over what metaskills I am providing poor foundations for or what untapped talents I somehow smushed or ignored. As time goes by, I am beginning to understand that one of my biggest challenges as a parent will be to celebrate the people Noah and Max and Lizzie will grow to be, without pushing my own agenda or aspirations for them.

How does one do that? How do you hold the mirror up to your child and allow them to see an authentic reflection, clear of parentally driven dreams?

Just before drifting off to sleep tonight, I asked Noah about his orange—his happiest moment—of the day. He looked at me with his faded blue eyes, scrunched up his freckled nose, and then, as if a thought was beamed in from one of the crickets making such a racquet outside, he slapped his hand to his chest and said, “when I got to skipper the pixel today and we did a jibe-ho. I just really love sailing mom.” I’m no nautical savant, so I don’t totally understand what he is talking about, except that he got to drive the boat he was assigned to for the first time during a tricky (I think?) move.

I do not miss the potential metaphor of the moment. We celebrate by having him describe, in painstaking detail, how the thunderheads rolled in from the northwest while he was doing a triangle pattern in the middle of the harbor and how he kept his cool as he steered his crew back to the docks safely.

“It was like the clouds crept up from behind the point, mom, and suddenly, wham! It started to pour,” he says, his voice building with drama and volume.
“And so I took charge. I looked at our instructor and said ‘we need to get back on shore. This could be dangerous.’ And you know what he said mom?”
“What Noah?”
“He said everything is dangerous to some degree. And so I said,” a pause here for effect, “Not love. Loving someone isn’t dangerous at all.”

My little boy looks at me as if he has imparted a very grown-up epiphany and that I will, in return, now express my gratitude. His posture is pin straight as he sits in his bed, the key move for Noah when he’s impressed himself with his word choices. I look at him, this shirtless waif of a child, who crawled into bed in his boxer shorts. My thoughts quickly move from “wow, he likes sailing. His dad used to race sailboats professionally. Maybe this is his calling, maybe he’ll be in the America’s Cup someday…how can I help make that happen?” to “thank goodness he still believes in love without heartache. Now how can I help preserve that?”

Some days Noah wants to be the president. Some days he wants to be a Lego engineer. And most the time, if I ask some far-flung request for him to tell me what the future will hold, he looks at me blankly and says, “I have no idea. Can I have chocolate milk with dinner?”

As I listen to him spouting sailing terminology, the heavy curtains of sleep begin to pull at his eyelids. A warm breeze dances in and he yawns, patting my knee.
“That’s ‘jibe’ mom, as in j-i-b-e.”

He understands that while he is sleeping, I’ll be googling words like that so that I can talk to him intelligibly by morning about this week’s latest passion. And he’ll love that I do that, just as I did when the thing that was to be his life’s calling was hip hop dancing. Or electric guitar. Or comic book creating.

Perhaps the role of a parent is to simply hold up the mirror and stand behind our children, out of the way but still in plain view. I keep picturing Lizzie’s reflected toes, matched perfectly against her real ones. And I hope against hope that for all of her years, she will smile as she did today when she looks at herself, because in the end, the people I want each of my children to grow up to be are, well, already standing before me.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

coming full circle

I had a dream last night, that I nursed Lizzie until she went to college. I know. Sounds a little creepy, I agree.

When I awoke this morning, pink pre-sun tones were bleeding into the deep hues of blue night. Lizzie was stirring beside me, her mouth, still so bird-like, opening and closing in a half-asleep search. Gently, I pulled her to me and watched the sun rise from the eastern hills in front of our house, happy as she slurped and suckled that for now, we are still in that other dimension known as infant and mother.

Maybe it is because I am (pretty certain anyway) that Lizzie is my last baby, I feel so very aware of how fast time slips by, even in the abyss/black hole/exhaustion/delirious nature of having a newborn. Every milestone Lizzie reaches is so bittersweet (except when she slept through the night—I was all alleluia over that one). Her first smile, her first laugh, the way she has settled into the routine of grabbing the necklace I wear everyday as she nurses; all of these moments bring great joy, but also that feeling of being the last time I experience my own baby’s firsts.

The necklace that Lizzie has taken to playing with as she eats was a gift from my friend Alison. It has three small silver circles, each bearing the name of one of my children. Alison gave me the necklace just before Lizzie’s birth, but at the time, I wore only Noah and Max. A circle with a simply stamped heart hung in the place that soon would belong to my daughter. When we brought her home, so small and new, still curled in my lap like she was in the womb, Alison brought Lizzie’s circle to me. We sat together on the couch as she laced it through the chain, between the names of her brothers. Alison put the heart on a chain of its own, which I put away for Lizzie to have someday. The two of us, quiet on the couch, leaned in toward this new being with complete adoration.

And then, Lizzie woke. Bleating hunger cries followed, as did my groan and quick inhale as she latched on to a very engorged, cracked, raw me. It was grey and snowy outside, and my hormones had me weeping again—as I had taken to doing with every sideways glance or needy older child yelp or well, basically anything. I’ll never get through this thing called having three kids, I said to Alison in doe-eyed panic.

She smiled and said something to the effect of “yes you will, because this part doesn’t last…if it did, nobody would procreate.”

I thought about that as I tucked soft baby hairs behind Lizzie’s ears in the dawn light. It has been almost five months since her birth and while she is still so young—and in a phase that is all consuming—I can’t help wanting to freeze us in this moment. It only takes the thump, patter, patter, patter of morning footsteps from the bedrooms above to understand how fast time disappears.

Noah is nine now, the sounds of his waking and walking far less clumsy than that of Max, who tumbles out of bed with animated energy that is year three. Both boys make their way into the bedroom and curl up on either side of Lizzie and I. Noah brings his latest 300-plus-page book about heroes, myths, magic or dragons and settles in without a word. Max clambers up with his sippy cup hanging from his mouth and The B trailing behind him. He plants sloppy kisses on us both and then hops up to start doing 360’s onto the floor.

I feel so full with happiness at this scene, aware of each stage of life I’m witnessing through the lens of a mother (even though sometimes I have to remind myself, yes, that mother is me). I want to make time stand still. In this second, I want my children to be these children—the ones who will be a day closer to leaving my nest when they settle into their beds tonight-- forever.

Don’t mistake me: I am sill so far from the earth mama who never has a day of non-existent patience or near neurotic nagging. And I’ve been known to fantasize plenty about the day when Justin and I can sail off into the Caribbean sunset, only to send grown children postcards while sipping from a second bottle of red wine. It’s just that sometimes it hits me—how small this time is in the greater scheme of life—and it makes me want to slow down, to ignore the minefield of Legos, turn off the phones, and leave the laundry in a heap. It makes me want to laugh, long and loud with my boys, nuzzle quietly with my baby, and simply be grateful that when she reaches up for my necklace, she has three circles to grab onto.

Friday, June 27, 2008

meet the B

Let me introduce the blankie: blue, ragged, stinky. It is also: best friend of my middle child, the ever-energetic Max; affectionately known around town as “The B.” More than just a security or comfort cling-thing, it is a measure of love; keeper of memories, and gage for how quickly my Max has gone from babe in arms to armed (and dangerous, if you fear sling-shot guns that send plastic flies flying) three year-old.

Understand: we all love The B. It is like a fabric member of the family. Justin and I wash it, carry it, wrap our tired child in it every day. We never leave it home alone. Noah, the man of intellect at age nine, is careful to see The B makes it off subways, that it survives dogs and draggings and other abuses, and that it makes it to the dryer before bed (his own tattered blanket still lives at the foot of his bed). Even baby Elizabeth, in her own way, loves The B, mimicking her big brother's sleepy nuzzle into her own, far softer, cleaner, and still-silky edged pink blanket.

When I look at Max, dragging that blankie through the streets of our town (or the other 28 states it has ventured since coming into our clan), I can see a lifetime wrapped in the Little Giraffe soft stitches. From the moment the blankie arrived in our hospital room (his first blue item!) to the tear-filled night we lost it in God-forsaken Hell, er, Disney World, The B is a third appendage for our rough and tumble child. It has made him a real-life Linus. I love that.

This afternoon, Max passed out cold on the kitchen floor after a rousing three hour game of hide and seek, otherwise known as mommy-pretends-to-be-looking-for-Max-while-she-is-really-weeding-the-garden-until-Max-gets-bored-and-runs-behind-mama-scares-her-and-sets-off-a-round-the-house-three-times-chase-catch-and-repeat game. Anxious to get a load of laundry on the line while the baby was happy in the front pack and the eldest was with his friends, the amigos, exploding diet coke two-liters via mentos fresh mints (described, perhaps, in detail some other time), I stepped over Max twice before pausing to look down.

His hand, still shadowed with the plumpness of a toddler, was traced with dirt. It gripped The B tight, even in his deep sleep, thumb and forefinger holding fast to the silk border of the once-plush blankie. I watched him inhale and exhale with the ease of slumber and childhood. And then, I pulled up a chair, sat down, and just watched him sleep, curled with The B, lost in his dreams. It was like a prayer.

I had a moment today, when the mindfulness of parenthood struck my core. And as I sat there, breathing in rhythm with Max, I tucked the feeling into the flattened chenille of his blankie for safe keeping.
Welcome to the blankie chronicles, the stories that make up who we are.