A Country Western Kind of Day

Today has been a country-western song kind of day, but the stay-at-home mom version. It goes a little somethin’ like this:

“It’s Friday night and I’m home alone with my kids. They’re havin’ a screaming contest in the bathroom. (I’m hidin’ in the closet.)

I stepped on my brand-new glasses and I broke ’em. Super glued my fingers together when I tried to fix ’em. (I lost some skin on that one boys.)

I went to the store for eggs and milk. I forgot the milk. (And now the kids are cryin’)

I let the dog out and he ate some grass. It came back up and now it’s all over my carpet. (I’m savin’ that mess for my ole man! Ain’t that right, ladies?!) ”

That’s it. I know, it’s a work in progress. And I never said it would be a good country-western song. I didn’t even say that it would be a not-horrible country-western song. All I’m saying, is that as I was going through my litany of woes in my head tonight, they  were accompanied by a banjo and they came to me in a Toby Keith kind of voice. And yes, my inner thoughts are frequently voiced by celebrities with musical scores in the background. Aren’t yours?

On that note, let me finish my masterpiece with the following photo series:

I put a coat on my girl, and she pouted.

I put a coat on my girl, and she pouted.

She took it off and laughed in my face!

She took it off and laughed in my face!

 

I strapped her in her car seat and won the battle.

I strapped her in her car seat and won the battle.

And now it’s bedtime! TGIF, Folks!

They Love Us Too

Last week, a dear friend of mine shared a beautiful tribute to her father, who passed away several months after her wedding, shortly after she became pregnant with her first child. She wrote:

“Today, on what would have been my dad’s 74th birthday, I remember the song I picked for the father/daughter dance at my wedding: Forever Young, by Bob Dylan.  I shared the song with my dad a couple of months before the wedding, and when he heard it for the first time, he teared up.  He understood why I chose it – not only is it a wish from him for me, but also from me for him.  We practiced dancing a little bit that day in my parents’ living room, and looking back I’m so very happy that we did.  By the time the wedding day rolled around, cancer radiation treatment had left my dad unable to stand without support.  Dad and I didn’t get to dance at my wedding, and a little part of me is sad when I think about that, but more so I am grateful that he was able to be there at all.
So, Dad, this one’s for you. 

I thought her post was profoundly touching, and not just because I knew her father — who was a good, kind, immensely intelligent man — or because I know how it feels to regret what you could not do with a beloved parent who has been beaten down by cancer.

What moved me the most was what she said about the song she chose for her father/daughter wedding dance — that the words of Forever Young were not just a wish from him to her, but also from her to him.

Bob Dylan’s Forever Young is a song whose lyrics can bring even the most unsentimental parent to tears. The first stanza alone has everything you need to feel both heart-swellingly hopeful about your child’s future and crushingly nostalgic about the childhood she will inevitably leave behind:

May God bless and keep you always.
May your wishes all come true.
May you always do for others,
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars,
And climb on every rung. May you stay forever young.

Of course these are the things every parent wants for her children.  We want them to follow their dreams, and to be righteous and brave. We want them to be loved, and to know truth, and to find joy. We want them to be young, forever. We want them to have everything in the world that is good.

But my friend took this point further and reminded me that these are the same things our children want for us, their parents.

I have written before that the best thing we can do for our children is to be there, beside them, as they walk through life. But it is also important, for us and for them, to remember that —  behind the tantrums and the defiance and the smug know-it-all-ism of their early years — they both want and need their parents to be content and fulfilled. They want us to be strong, and healthy, and as young as they remember us to be. They want good things for us, too.

Our children, particularly when they are young, don’t often show us that our welfare matters to them. I’m pretty sure that if you asked my three-year-old, she would say that her greatest hope for me is that I forever provide her with goldfish crackers. Or that I forget the word “nap.”  My five-year-old would like me to concede with prejudice that I am not, in fact, the boss of her. I feel certain they would neither acknowledge nor express any lofty aspirations for me. But I think our children feel a need for our happiness nevertheless.

* * *

For the last few months, I have been battling one rough winter illness after another. I had antibiotic resistant strep throat for four weeks back in December, which led me to discover some minor, though temporarily worrisome, heart problems. Then in January, I picked up the norovirus at Chuck E. Cheese, which knocked me out for eight solid days. I am currently winding up another course of antibiotics for a sinus/ear infection and bronchitis. It hasn’t been an easy winter, and I haven’t been my usual self.

While all this was going on, I noticed that my five-year-old’s behavior at home had been getting increasingly worse. She was being contrary, oppositional, and having massive meltdowns at the least provocation. I was overwhelmed, and I couldn’t figure out why she had picked the time when I was at my weakest to bring out her worst behavior.

But eventually it dawned on me. She was reacting to my illnesses. It was because I was at my weakest that her behavior was it its worst. I wasn’t well and she was worried about me. I wouldn’t have argued if she had shown her concern in a less challenging way, but that’s how my girl rolls — when life pushes her over her limits, she pushes right back at life.

* * *

Our kids love us and need us to be there for them. They also want, and need, for us to be well and happy*. Our wellbeing affects them — but it also matters to them. They can’t find their own contentment if we haven’t found ours.

And if we do our job right, one day, our children will want everything for us that we want for them. That is a big and beautiful thought, and I am so thankful to my friend for reminding me that the love and concern we parents feel for our children is reciprocated, and powerfully so.

This one’s for you, CHW. And yes, Dad, this is my way of saying I love you, too.

From the Forever Young Book, by Bob Dylan and Paul Rogers

From the Forever Young Book, by Bob Dylan and Paul Rogers

*Read more about our right to be well and happy at These Walls Blog, by my friend Julie.

The World Belongs to Such as These

Last Sunday, my five-year-old and I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon together, just the two of us, at a local indoor pool. With a younger sibling at home and a full day at school, time spent one-on-one has been rare this year. I’ve missed her.

My girl has a prolific imagination and spends most of her unoccupied time making up or enacting stories. As she has been learning so many new things this year, I have had the gratifying pleasure to observe how she weaves the new facts and ideas percolating in her brain into her stories and play.

So when we packed up go to the pool, I was interested to see her stash three princess figurines, three plastic cupcakes and a baby doll into her toy bag. I never really know where she will go with things.

When we got to the swim center, she headed straight for the baby pool, where she began setting up a scene. First, she brought out the three princesses and lined them up along the side of the pool. She placed a plastic cupcake in front of each. Then she went to her bag and brought out her baby. She carefully cradled it in her arm and carried it into the pool.

And then she baptized that baby, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen, using water consecrated with chlorine and the contents of a half-dozen swim diapers.

When I asked her about it, she explained to me that she had learned about baptism in her religious education class that morning. She told me that baptism is how we become a part of God’s family. And because she loves her baby doll, she wants her to become a part of our family. Therefore, a baptism was clearly in order.

photo (8)

It was an achingly sweet moment, the kind that reminds parents that bringing their child into the world really was the best thing they have ever done. It made me proud of her. It also made me reflect on and appreciate the best thing children do for us — allowing us grown ups to witness the fertility of their minds and the largess of their imaginations.

Most of us recognize the story from the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus urges his disciples to bring the children to him, because “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” It is a story that tends to be linked to the idea that what is most valuable in children is their innocence and unworldliness. It seems to imply that children, in their dearth of experience, are better able to absorb the teachings of faith, and indeed of the world around them. I don’t believe that this is a strictly religious way of thinking. There is a common tendency to think of children as blank slates waiting to be written upon.

Children are certainly unworldly. There is necessarily an innocence to the way they approach their world. They have no basis of comparison. They have no prejudice. Their minds are open. They are open, but I don’t think they are waiting, passively, for us to shape them. 

If I have learned anything about children and the way they approach life, it is that they do so through constant questioning and experimenting. They are endlessly pushing the boundaries of their universe. And these attributes apply equally to the way they understand faith and the way they process new facts.

When I think of my daughter, who is at that perfectly ripe age when the concepts of faith and fact are just coming within her intellectual grasp, I see nothing passive about her approach to the world. All I see is activity – a dynamic, unrestrained pursuit for more knowledge, a constant pushing and stretching of the limits of her understanding.

I hear her asking why, and no matter how thorough an answer I give, I hear her asking why again. I see her acting out, and re-enacting, what she is learning so that, through interpretation and experience, it becomes a part of who she is.

When I think of the idea that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” I don’t see it as a calling to submissiveness or innocence. I see it as a calling for us to approach faith — and reason — like children do – with flexibility, enthusiasm, ceaseless questioning, and a mind with ever-expanding boundaries. Those are the best things that children have to offer the world, and we adults should not forget that.

After my daughter finished her charming baptism by pool water, as I was thinking about the profundity of what her mind, and the minds of all children like her, will bring to our future, she reminded me of something else.

She tossed her baby to the side of the pool and, splashing, shouted, “Mommy, that boy FARTED! He made BUBBLES in the WATER!” While I blushed and suppressed my silent laughter, I reflected on the next best thing children have to offer the world: their uninhibited appreciation for bathroom humor.

Life is best lived with curiosity, questioning, a mind without boundaries, and the ability to laugh at our bodily functions.

Impossible Cuteness

There are many days when my two-year-old is impossible. I mean, she is two. And she is tiny and feisty and stubborn and smart and really, really good at getting her own way. She can be exhausting.

But then there are days when she is just impossibly cute. So cute that I want to squish her up into a little blond meatball and gobble her up. (Hey, I was raised with an Italian grandma and a Polish grandma in my life. We love our babies through food imagery.) Today was one of those days.

She was mad at me (surprise!), so she sat down on a kitchen chair and said, “Well, I jus’ gonna sit hewe and be fwustwated! Hmph!

Hmph!

Hmph!

And since today is Wednesday, and my friend Julie at These Walls has introduced me to the Moxie Wife’s Five Favorites series, and this little turkey kielbasa really is pretty cute, I will add a few more of my favorite photos. I will call this series the Silly Time Spectacular! 

I was supposed to be the "easy" one.

I was supposed to be the calm one.

We can’t leave out the classic naked spaghetti picture.

I'm naked. I'm eating spaghetti. Life is good.

I’m naked. I’m eating spaghetti. Life is good.

And then there’s the one where she puts together an outfit.

Caption THIS!

Caption THIS!

And the one where she tries to take all of her clothes off but they get stuck around her little heiny.

Meatballs, amiright?!

Meatballs, amiright?!

And now I am signing off. I have some meatballs to make!

fivefavorites

We Are All They Need

Today is Janurary 6, my mother’s day. It became “my” mother’s day 23 years ago when my own mother, after a nearly eight-year battle, lost her life to breast cancer and when I became aware of how vitally important a mother’s presence is in the lives of her children.

For many years, whenever January 6th arrived, I thought about my own losses. A first, I missed her with every nerve; I felt flayed and exposed to a host of things that were beyond my understanding. Gradually, my piercing grief was replaced by a longing that was no less intense, because it contained the realization that with each passing year I was separated even further from her.

But now that I have children of my own, when January 6th rolls around I find myself thinking less about my own losses and more about what my mother lost when she died.

She was so beautiful.

She was so beautiful.

Parenthood is a future-thinking endeavor. When we first breathe in the newness of our just-born child, we look forward, far forward, to decades of moments with that brand-new baby. Yes, we marvel at their smallness, their freshness, their perfection. We revel in the tiny yet immense gift we have been given. But we also envision what that baby will be like as a child, and as a teenager, and as an adult. We see them on birthdays, on holidays, at graduations and weddings. We see their children.

We plan to be with them until they are grown, and to experience life with them after they have reached their potential as adults. We don’t plan for our relationship with them to end when they are children.

When my mom died, she didn’t just lose her own life. She lost her life with her children. For her, my life and my brother’s life, intertwined as they were with her own, ended when we were eleven and six.

I can’t even imagine how painful it must have been for her, when she finally accepted that the end was near, to know that she was about to lose her future with us. That she would miss all of the moments of our lives, big and small, for the rest of our lives. That she would never know us as adults, or meet the people who would become important to us as we matured. That she would never, ever, hold a grandchild in her arms.

As her daughter, and as the mother of my own children, it breaks my heart to know that this face…

IMG_7943

…and this face

norahblog post

…are wholly unknown to her.

When she knew that she was dying, she also had to know that she was letting go of a million moments with her children. That the past was all she would ever have with us. She must have experienced the kind of pain that pray I never have to face.

***

This is not going to turn into one of those “enjoy every moment with your child because you never know how many you have” posts. I could go there, but I’m not a hypocrite. I would wager large sums of money that, when my children are grown and gone, I absolutely will not be longing to re-experience the prickly-hot feeling of panic spiked with shame that comes over you when your five-year-old is publicly behaving like a spoiled toddler, while your toddler is running in circles like an untrained dog smelling distinctly of eau de poo. There are many moments that I won’t miss.

I’m not even saying that we moms (and dads!) should be doing anything differently. If anything, I am saying we should all do less, or at least that we should worry less about what we should be doing. Because if I have learned one thing after 23 years of being without my mother, I can tell you that what I missed, what I craved, was her. Her presence. The knowledge that the world contained her.

I didn’t need any extras. I didn’t need perfection. I would have preferred to have had her healthy, but to have had her at all was a blessing and, as I have learned, a luxury. To have had her, just as she was, was enough.

And if just having her was enough, then it follows that just having us, their parents, is enough for our own children. The fact that we are in their lives, that we are actively loving them, is enough. Our flaws and imperfections and mistakes do nothing to lessen the impact of our mere presence. Isn’t that a freeing thought?

What I am saying is that the sum of moments that we have with our children is probably the best thing that we, or they, will ever have. And that if we are able to look forward to a future of these moments, when we and they are all present together in this world, then we are damned lucky.

When It Snows Below the Mason Dixon Line

My plans for this week were simple: 1. To clean. 2. To wrap Christmas presents. I find that if I keep my goals pathetically easy, I can be an incredibly efficient person. It’s amazing how that works.

But it turns out that Mother Nature has had other plans for me. She brought us Marylanders an unseasonably early set of snowstorms, which have cancelled school for two days.

Yesterday, it was wet and icy, so we had a full day stuck inside. It’s all a blur to me; the only part of the day that I really remember was my trip to my doctor’s office where I learned that I still have strep throat, despite having undergone a full course of antibiotics two weeks ago.

Today, after my new antibiotic regimen has kicked in with unusual force, I am a little more aware of my surroundings. Which is good, because a second snow day with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old who are both crushed that they couldn’t go to school requires a LOT of energy.

By 9:30, I was questioning my life choices. It’s now 4:42 pm, and this is the run down of how my day has gone:

Rooms cleaned: 0
Rooms made even messier: Every single one.
Gifts wrapped: 0
Time outs: 12. At least.
Labor-intensive Christmas crafts: 4.
Craft-related meltdowns: 4.
Sibling fights: I stopped counting.
Tears: Seriously, who can count that high?
Shattered glasses: 1.
TV shows: Um, 8?
Princess movies: 1.
Snowmen: 1.
Walks through the wintery woods: 1.
Rocks thrown in the stream: lots.
Faceplants into the stream: 1.
Children carried home crying: 1.
Wet, muddy children: 2.
Soaked items of clothing: 10.
Epic meltdowns related to the usage of stickers: 1.
Cups of cocoa thrown on the floor: 1.
Number of times a kid told me she was sooo happy: 4.
Worth it? Yes.
The number of prayers I will say tonight begging God that schools be open tomorrow: I’m going to start now and never stop.

It’s been a long day. Luckily, the roads are cleared enough for my husband to go out for pizza. Which he will be doing. Even if he has to walk. Seriously, I mean it.

There were also some precious moments, and I was fortunate to be able to catch many of them on camera for all the world (or the 5-ish people who read this blog) to see.

IMG_3324

IMG_3328

IMG_3330

IMG_3344

IMG_3357

IMG_3363

IMG_3364

Modern Elementary

Last Friday we went to my daughter’s first elementary school event, a PTA-sponsored ice cream social. I figured that we would go there, eat some ice cream and, you know, be social. My main goal was to meet the parents of the boys (yes, boyS) who, according to my daughter, have been trying to kiss her during recess. I expected a tame, grade school event that was no different or more exciting than all of the other events I went to when I was a kid in school.

What I did not expect was a dance party in the gym with an actual DJ. I didn’t expect to see a bunch of grade school kids dancing to “Cha Cha Slide” or “Gagnam Style” or “I’m Sexy and I Know It.” And I really didn’t expect them to be good — like, really good. The older girls seemed to know all the hip-hop moves, and some of the boys were actually breakdancing. Even my preschooler’s 2-year-old classmate was putting the grownups to shame with her skills.

Apparently, public school events in the 21st century are way different from the kind we had at Catholic school in the 1980’s. For starters, the principal was in attendance — and bobbing his head appreciatively — while music that included the word “sexy” was being played (loudly). Sister Madonna, my elementary school principal, was one of the loveliest women I have ever known, but I shudder to think what would have happened if any of her students had even whispered the lyrics to “Gagnam Style” within her hearing.

In fact, throughout most of the event I found myself either staring at the scene like an anthropologist who has just discovered an unknown tribal ritual (“what is that cha-cha thing they’re doing?”) or reminding myself that this was not 1999, I was not in college (there was no G&T at the drinks table), and it would be HUGELY embarrassing for me to break out my Elaine dance during “Cotton-Eyed Joe” in front of my daughter’s principal.

Yeah, that’s right, I said my “Elaine dance.” Because I’m old and I used to watch Seinfeld and, it would seem, I am totally unprepared for modern parenthood.

Because she is my child, my daughter spent the entire dance party running in circles around the gym. AS IT SHOULD BE. ;-)

Because she is my child, my daughter spent the entire dance party running in circles around the gym. AS IT SHOULD BE. 😉

Existentialism for Toddlers

Trying to have a conversation with a two-year-old can be about as productive as having a conversation with a wall, assuming that the wall screams a lot and sometimes throws things at you and is often violently disappointed by life.

This week, my two-year-old has decided that nearly everything the universe has to offer is yucky. It’s not so much that she feels a general sense of yuckiness about the world around her. It’s more that she keeps requesting things from life, and then whatever it is that life hands her in response is a shattering letdown. (And by life, I really mean “her mother”.)

No! Not dis life mommy! Dis life YUCKY!!

No! Not dis life mommy! Dis life YUCKY!!

For example, yesterday we had this conversation:
Two-Year-Old: Mommy, I watch Max and Wooby on TV?
Me: Sure, sweetie, here you go.
TYO: NO! Not DAT Max and Wooby! Dat one YUCKY!

Then we had this conversation:
TYO: Mommy, I need apple pease.
Me: Sure, sweetie, here you go.
TYO: NO! Not DAT apple! Dat apple green! Dat YUCKY!

And then, at the end of the day, there was this one:
TYO: Mommy, hold you?
Me, feeling warm and fuzzy inside: Of course I will hold you!
TYO: NO! Not Mommy hold me! Daddy hold me! Mommy YUCKY!

(That one hurt)

But this morning, we had a breakthrough. She asked for bread for breakfast, and when I gave her toast with peanut butter, she didn’t scream, “NO! Dat YUCKY!”

Instead, she said, “NO! Dat bread gis-GUSTING!”

Oreos, however, are not yucky.

Oreos are not yucky.

See? We’re making progress!

The Soldiers Marched to War

A few weeks ago, my five-year-old daughter stood for the first time on a stage, facing an audience, with a role in a play and her very own line to speak:

And the soldiers marched to war.”

It wasn’t a real play, just a narrated reenactment of Disney’s Mulan, produced by a county summer camp program. I had watched her perform before, lined up with her nursery school friends, wearing paper bag Indian costumes, singing songs about turkeys and pilgrims.

But something about the sight of my little girl craning her neck to reach the standing microphone and then belting out her line, boldly and proudly, caused a body slam of confused emotions – pride, nostalgia, anxiety, relief, and that strange feeling of loss that parents can feel even when holding their child in their arms.

It was the same moiling brew of emotions that I have found myself tampering down at random moments ever since the summer began with full time kindergarten waiting for us at its end. So I was familiar with those feelings, but rather surprised by their force.

I can’t say exactly why that one moment of my daughter’s performance was so emotionally powerful. Perhaps it was simply the sight of her, singled out in the spotlight, so small, yet so confident and capable, on that big stage.

Perhaps it was the line itself. I tend to think in hyperbole, and it’s not too much of an exaggeration to compare our school years to war. My own memories recall that time as a series of battles of who is in and who is out; who is good enough and who is somehow lacking. It’s a never-ending game of social King of the Hill, and my baby was about to march innocently into it.

***

Going into parenthood, we already know from our own experience that growing up is hard to do. What we don’t know is that it’s even harder when it is happening to our children.

They start out so small, so squishable, with curlicue bodies and necks that seem to be made of pipe cleaners. They don’t cry; they mewl. Everything they do – every yawn, every jerky kick, every sleepy half-smile – is miraculous. To feel their weight on your chest is to be branded forever with love and possessiveness for that person in that body. And forever means that even when you are ninety, and in a nursing home, and your sixty-year-old son is holding your hand, you are longing to hold the infant you bore decades before. I have that on my grandmother’s authority.

Yes, boys and girls, this is what your mother sees every time she looks at you.

Yes, boys and girls, this is what your mother sees every time she looks at you.

Which is why hugging your five-year-old goodbye, and sending her off into an educational system that can nurture and teach, but can’t ensure that she always has a friend to sit next to at lunch, is such an overwhelmingly emotional thing for a mother to do. Not just because that world can be scary, but because entering it represents yet another step your child is taking away from you. Their independence is at the same time thrilling (and freeing!) and heartbreaking.

***

These are the feelings that have followed me throughout the past few months. They are the feelings that I know will overtake me tomorrow, when I drop my kindergartener off for her very first day of elementary school.

But over the last few days, as I have found myself thinking almost non-stop about this looming change in our lives, I have come to understand one other thing. That with every step our children take toward their own independence, they are both walking away from us, their parents, and walking toward us.

I will never hold my newly born first child in my arms again. Even though there are moments when I ache do so, that time has passed. But as my daughter becomes more independent, and as I become less necessary to her, she will become completely herself. And as she grows into the person she was created to become, I have the good fortune not only to witness her transformation, but also to meet her, as equals, at the other side of it.

So tomorrow, as I stifle my tears at the loss of this part of my baby girl’s childhood, I will be reminding myself that the only gift greater than the birth of a child is seeing that child shine in the light of her own fulfilled potential.

Apples, Revisted

It’s been a while since I have posted. This isn’t because I haven’t been thinking about lots of interesting things to write about — I have been. But all of that has been going on somewhere in the back of my brain.The front of my brain — or whatever part of it that operates the things I actually do as opposed to the things I THINK about doing — has been engaged in conversations like this with my two-year-old:

Me: Do you want an apple?
Two Year Old: NO! I ALL DONE to apples!
Then, 10 minutes later, in car, running late for big sister’s camp drop-off…
TYO: Mama, I NEED apple right now.
Me: Sorry baby, we don’t have any apples.
TYO: Screams, cries, begs for apples so persuasively that I change my plans for the day and go home to get her an apple.
Me: Here is your apple sweetheart. I want to see some BIG bites!
TYO: NOOOO! I NO WANT APPLE! I ALL DONE TO APPLES. Grabs apple and chucks it across the room.

Or this:
Me: TYO, I got your favorite — pumpkin bread. And it has chocolate in it!
TYO: NO! No pun’kin bread. NO CHOCOLATE! I ALL DONE TO CHOCOLATE!

Or this:
Me: On a scale of one to ten, how tired would you say you are, TYO?
TYO: NO! I NO TIRED. Ahhhhhh! ROAR! You go ‘way, mama. I lion. I scary! ROAR! You go away! Followed by approximately 3 minutes of crying, and then:
TYO: Mama! Hold you! I hold you to me right NOW!

Or the conversation we had as I was writing the previous paragraphs:
Me: TYO, do you want some of my cheesy eggs.
TYO: No. I know like cheesy eggs.
Then, as I am putting the last bite of cheesy eggs in my mouth…
TYO: Mama, I need cheesy eggs. PEAAAASE?

All I want is an apple, mama

All I want is an apple, mama


Yeah, it’s been that kind of week.