Thursday, December 30, 2010

Blinded by the Light

 A few days before Christmas, The Today Show aired a filler parenting segment titled, A Parent's Guide to the Holidays from their ongoing series Parenting Tips for Those Who Have Been Parenting Under A Rock or Parenting for Those Who Cannot Think for Themselves. Matt Lauer interviewed a panel of experts consisting of a magazine editor from a popular family magazine, a lifestyle expert, and some fat guy (I am not being insulting here, this is how he introduced himself) who wrote a book with a self- deprecating title. The theme was At What Age is it Acceptable to _____________? At what age is it acceptable to let your teenager get drunk with you on New Year's Eve? At what age is it acceptable to pull the rug out from under your unsuspecting child's feet and let them know the truth about that jolly visitor from the North Pole? And, here is my favorite, at what age is it acceptable to stop taking family pictures? The answer was a resounding: when it ceases to be enjoyable. Hmmm, are we there yet? Thank goodness for the wisdom that The Today Show bestows upon me because I honestly thought, as you may remember from my previous posts on the subject, that family photos were an acceptable form of child abuse and torture.

In our family, we extend the tribulation to visiting relatives. See Exhibit A below. This is a sketch of my  sister, her husband and my two lovely nephews who were visiting from Las Vegas. They had only been in Buffalo for 24 hours and the boys were still on Vegas (Begas, as my 2 year old nephew, G calls it) time. My sister had not gotten any sleep the night before from trying to settle the boys. They were out of sorts from having missed their naps. Yet, it was imperative to my family to catch a shining Christmas Eve moment with all four of them. Look at how the little one, my nephew Lu, is fighting and giving up at the same time as he tries to contort his body and become dead weight in his mother's arms. Most of the 200 photos captured G, in his Michael Cera haircut, with his head down, clawing his way out of his father's grip.

I wanted a portrait of  H, my Dad, and me. "Ooh, ooh! Let me!" offered First Born Son enthusiastically. Like a kitten sidetracked by a ball of tinsel, First Born Son was mesmerized by the camera flash. Or, he was spellbound by a novel way to annoy me. He started giggling sadistically at the outcome of his picture taking, a series of images with our heads cut off, our mouths distorted as we pleaded, "Stop! Stop! I'm going blind!" Our eyes uneven and squinty. I tried to push through the blinding light which singed all of my senses; and, I pawed helplessly, hopelessly at him trying to recover my camera. But, he contined to dance around just outside of my grasp. I was so disoriented, but I thought I heard him singing, "That's what you get! That's what you get! For all of those years, doing us wrong with your camera lens!"

These are the kinds of photos you get when you hand your camera to a teenager who is out for revenge.

On the final day of my sister's visit, we gathered the kids together. There are six grandkids. If I thought that trying to get a photo of four kids was difficult, six kids is impossible. The Baby was one hour past done. G was too rambunctious from eating a dinner of cookies, with more cookies, and some fudge. H was antagonizing First Born Son by showing him affection. And Princess Commando shouted out through the clicking and snapping of 4 cameras with flashes on, "Ugh! The paparazzi!!"

If six kids is impossible, then eleven people and Simba is just plain silly. But, we did it anyway.

And, because, we like to learn things on our own time and the definition of "enjoyable" is subjective, we'll probably do it again next year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Army Crawler and The Drunken Sailor

Vivi and Lu did not know what to make of one another in their first encounter in five months. That is the equivalent of five grown-up years to an infant. They went through the typical stages: blank staring, indifference, acceptance, etc. And, then, they went on the lam. Lu was like a lightening bolt, army crawling across the hardwood floor. And, Vivi, in a show of camaraderie, crawled beside him on her hands and knees, despite having mastered the gait of a drunken sailor earlier in the week. Only one of them made it to the gate which separated the dining room and kitchen and hindered the passage to ultimate freedom. Vivi had the advantage as the terrain was familiar. Lu was sidetracked by the lure of unprotected outlets and electrical cords. Vivi delighted in her cousin's fetish for dangerous play things. They vowed that during Lu's next visit to Buffalo they would bribe the dog to chew through the wooden safety gate and carry them on her back down the short flight of stairs, and through the single wooden door, out to the backyard.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Everybody Dance Now

Pre- Christmas (chaos) Party with the Neighborhood Kids. It was truly all a blur.

Ahhhh. The day after Christmas is like loosening the button on your waistband after overindulging in a holiday feast. Relief and room to breathe a little more freely. Christmas is over. And, it was successful. There was joy, love, happiness, family, homemade lasagna.  The children did not receive coal or, as my father likes to tease, bags of dirt. But, in the 3 weeks prior to the arrival of the merry holiday,  my gut had felt disordered and heavy with lead. I was doubled over in pain for days. I knew that I was anxious about everything falling into place-not just the holiday business( buying last minute gifts, wrapping them, making cookies and preparing for the kids’ pre-Christmas (chaos) Party at our house on Thursday, etc) but the business of The Mr. finally coming to a critical decision about the future of his employment contract with “The Bank.”  I felt out of balance which only perpetuated the anxiety- fretting that I would not be able to complete the tasks I needed to carry out to regain a sense of order.  I was shamefully snappish and short with my family but, also, incredibly apologetic.  “It’s all right,” The Mr. would reply gently. “I know that you don’t handle (long pause) …well, life very well.” And he patted me tenderly on the shoulder and walked away. As soon as I realized that I wasn’t dying from some tragic abdominal disease and that my mind was wreaking havoc on the rest of my body, things began to fall into place.

The recap of last week begins with cookies. The Sunday before Christmas, The Mr. was kind enough to gather all of the supplies I needed to make cookies for our family and also for the neighborhood children (8 in addition to my four) who would be celebrating the last day of school before winter break with Princess Commando. It is the first year that I cheated- buying pre-made logs of dough and canned frosting. I rolled out and baked the cookies on Tuesday while The Baby napped. It is no easy feat to prepare any meal in our kitchen as we have no counter space and we are using an old wooden desk as a table (which is, also, catching the overflow of kitchen staples from the cupboards). I was relieved, to say the least, that the cookies baked up exceptionally. My anxiety began to diminish. First Born Son and Princess Commando helped me frost the cookies after school on Wednesday- while the air was filled with Christmas carols and standards pumped from a playlist (9 hours long) on our MP3 player. I realized I hadn’t pulled enough bowls to mix the frosting and food coloring; so, I asked Princess Commando to gather 3 more. We finished our frosting and the cookies looked perfectly whimsical. I stood back, surveyed our work, and let out a sigh of relief that at least one task could be crossed off the list. And, for the first time, I felt as if the season was something to truly enjoy. When the Peanuts gang began to sing, "Christmas time is here..." it didn't feel like they were taunting me.

And then I went into the kitchen, opened the dishwasher, and realized that where there had been 3 dirty bowls- the rack was empty. Sh#@!!!! Princess Commando had mistakenly taken the dirty bowls and we had been mixing frosting in them. "But this morning you told me the dishwasher was clean!" she cried. I broke down. All I could think about was a parent at school that I met once who was a germaphobe and would not  let her child consume anything at school parties because she worried everything was contaminated by unwashed hands. If somehow it leaked (and with children who choose to be honest when it is least appropriate- it was bound to leak) that we served dirty cookies than maybe my neighbors would never allow their children to play with our kids again. So, I threw out the cookies. My mother rolled her motherly eyes in exasperation at my story (well, more at me than the story) and chastised me plenty for being wasteful. In hindsight, I agree that it was. But, while I don’t mind if my children eat cookies off our sullied, dog licked kitchen floor, or ones that have been frosted from unsanitary bowls, I just can’t stomach the idea of our guests eating frosting that may have been mixed with the saliva (I’ve seen how the kids lick their cereal bowls clean) of my children. I still had dough left over in the refrigerator. I made 3 dozen more cookies burning one dozen in the process. The cookies cooled, we frosted, again, but this time with clean bowls. And we had splendid, wonderful, fantastic cookies.

In other preparations for the children’s party and for a visit from my sister and her family, I had scrubbed and polished the house until it sparkled and glistened and smelled of Murphy’s Oil Soap and other lemony freshness. I gave myself a moment on Thursday afternoon to take it all in. I actually sat down for 20 minutes while The Baby napped; and, I smiled at the invigorating glow and warmth that emanated from our rooms. Really, I was bracing myself for the tornado that would sweep through at three o’clock. My mother would be there to help but a little bit later than I expected as my sister and her family arrived in the wee hours of the morning from Las Vegas and needed Mom’s car for transportation to and from my father’s house where they were staying. During The Baby's second nap, I prepared the table with carrots and dip, the cookie plate (which also consisted of chocolate covered pretzel rods, and melted marshmallow and cornflake treats dyed green and shaped into trees), crackers, juice boxes, peppermint candy canes. I waited on the porch for the rumble and grunt of Princess Commando's bus as it pulled up to the corner. The joy of the season tickled the air as Princess Commando gleefully bounded through the snow toward the house and Ms. L, the bus aide, shouted down the street “Merry Christmas!”

In honor of Princess Commando’s first party where she was to play hostess, I forced her into an adorable lilac colored knit dress which had dainty little white and cranberry flowers painted on it. She wore striped stockings on her legs. She had only two minutes to put her school things away before, J, the boy who professed his love to her before Halloween- walked up the steps to our house, his little sister M in tow and their Mama right behind. When J saw Princess Commando in the doorway- oh his face!- his little -blushing –cannot- contain- my joy at being able to spend time with you grin- made everything worth while. They were instantly riled up and started chasing each other around the house. His mother who is from Boston kept warning, "I'm gonna be wicked mad if you don't behave." In the midst of their little love chase, everyone else poured in. This is an 8 and under crowd. I didn’t have anything planned for them. I figured that they always took care of themselves when they had gathered in the past. I could just sit back and watch. The Mamas even asked if they needed to stay. I happily and confidently shooed them away. “We’ll be fine. It will be great.” 

My wonderful mother entertained The Baby while I ushered the children to the table. After all of our cookie trials, no one even wanted cookies. They only wanted candy canes! With so many little boys- fueled by the promise of Christmas, the last day of school, and the sugary candy canes- the living room was bursting with energy which needed a little reigning in ( I saw someone start to do cartwheels up the walls). My mother suggested that I read a Christmas story. The children obliged as I temporarily settled them to the couch and about my feet as I read The Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed, my most favorite Christmas story. It takes place during the Depression era and is about a prickly little boy, doubtful of the existence of Santa Claus, and transformed by a fateful meeting and the surprise realization of an unlikely Christmas wish. If you haven't read it, please do. When we were finished, all of the children's eyes were wide with both belief and disbelief at the snapshot of proof that the story provides. It was magical!

And then there was more magic, as my sister and my nephews, Gus (2 years old) and Lu (7 months old and inches taller than The Baby) arrived in the middle of the children's impromptu dance party. The look of bewilderment on my sister's face was priceless. The photo above is a fair representation of what my sister walked into. It was a whirly- twirly blur. There were boys jumping off the arms of the couch. Some were hiding in the tree. There was a tickle attack going on. Someone started singing C&C Music Factory's "Everybody Dance Now. " What decade are we in and how does a 6 year old know that song? I had run out of clean drinking glasses so I had to give little M (on the couch) a pink, plastic wine glass to sip her juice from. It looks like she is "getting her drink on." It was a little crazy. But, at the end of the party, all the children exclaimed that they had a wonderful time. And, when I went to clean up the table, I found that all of the cookies had been devoured. During the dance party, they must have burned off a million calories and needed to refuel. When they all left, I found myself feeling so fortunate- to have been able to move into a neighborhood with such exquisitely entertaining little children whom my children love dearly. I feel that we have a holiday tradition in the making. Next time, in lieu of Christmas lights, I will hang a disco ball.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Piano Lessons

The hours between 5:00 pm and 7:30 pm are always a blur. During that time, there is a mad scramble to tackle dinner. I bribe one of the older children to wrangle The Baby while I face the unruly components which will comprise our meal. I chop vegetables with such urgency as if they might escape me if I don’t dice them fast enough. I swear at the olive oil which hisses and stings my hands as I attempt to attend to the chicken which is sautéing in it. I try to temper the pot which is boiling over with pasta. We feed the baby who is not content to be contained in her high chair; I deflect complaints and scowls of the children who are not pleased with what is offered on their plates; we wolf down the meal; try to catch up with the kids; and The Mr. and I clean up after the plates and argue with the children about the importance of good hygiene (you would think that they were little witches the way they are so adverse to taking a bath or shower). Then we settle the baby into bed (that entails multiple steps as well) and complete various other tasks. Last night The Mr. and I were sidetracked with additional chores- it was garbage night, a toilet was clogged (will they ever learn to courtesy flush?!), The Mr.’s dress/ work clothes needed to be laundered (I don’t trust myself to do it. Too many single red socks have breached the loads and turned our whites to pinks). So Princess Commando and H took on the duty of keeping after The Baby while we tied up our loose ends. All they needed to do was let her roam around the living room and steer her away from electrical outlets and cords which are her favorite play things.

 The children’s most beloved pastime, especially after dinner, is noise making-lots and lots of ear piercing, inhuman sounds. Last night, they gave The Baby a piano lesson which created a novel din in the house. Princess Commando took the low notes, H was somewhere in the middle, and The Baby took the high notes. Somehow, though, through the cacophony of three separate musical movements, a sweet song seeped through. They had managed to find the same rhythm- to clumsily pluck and plunk in a collaborative tempo.  H had perched The Baby on the piano bench. She was so proud of herself to be up high- delighting in the cause and effect of pressing the keys and bringing forth sound. She earnestly followed H’s direction as he knelt beside her on the floor.

She is about the same age as each of her siblings were when they first discovered the large, wooden noise box. I have pictures of each of them- standing on tiptoes, fingers stretched to the limits to reach the keys.
H at about 18 months old at our old house

Princess Commando 2 years Old
I have always valued having instruments in the house. I grew up with the piano and I eventually took up guitar. My grandfather is an accomplished pianist. Watching him play when I was a child, I always marveled at how his hands glided across the keys with such ease, creating a sound as smooth as silk. His talent for transposing music to suit musicians or vocalists who might accompany him is nothing short of amazing. I wish I had inherited that gift. Even now, as he is somewhat taken with Alzheimer’s, finding the tune, caressing the melody from the keys is so natural to him.
My Papa on Thanksgiving Day at my mother's house.

The piano in our possession came with our first house. They belonged to my step-father (the house and the piano). It was a little rusty sounding back then (13 years ago). But, it is hopelessly out of tune now. Time has also loosened the tops of some of the keys exposing the hardened glue that once held them in place. My grandfather, upon noticing its very sad condition, brought me a box of key veneers years ago. But, other priorities kept me from tending to repairing the keyboard. I used to play the piano daily despite its ill sound. But, I haven't had much inclination to play since we moved to our new home. It has always been my intention to provide the children with piano lessons. It is my firm belief that all children should learn to play at least one instrument. It is an outlet, a release, an expression which offers balance when life is askew. But, alas, money has always been allocated for other needs. And the absence of real live music in the house- no matter how square or clunky it comes out-  has been added to my list of regrets. But we are coming upon a new year and I am hopeful that there will be plenty of opportunities for music. In the very least, I am determined to have the piano tuned and its keys restored. In the meantime, I will have to settle for the sweet, tinny sounds of my little trio- Princess Commando, H and The Baby.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Only, I Didn't Say Fudge

Ain't No Half Steppin on My Snow!

I have not been able to write in a while because I cannot get my thoughts together. Visions of sugar plums keep occupying the small space left in my brain that isn’t observed by holiday anxiety, the maintenance of children’s schedules and fulfillment of their needs, the lists of things to do and the list of things that won’t get done for a very long time. So, the best I can offer is randomness.

We live in Buffalo, NY. We have a negative reputation for miserable, snow burdened winters. Really, it’s not that bad. Aside from the frigid snowstorm in the middle of the night while we dashed off to the hospital to birth The Baby on January 28th- there hasn’t been a notable snowfall around the metro area for years. We did have a freak snowstorm in October 2006- which was dubbed Arborgeddon because of its widespread destruction of trees in the city and surrounding suburbs. The two “snow days” we’ve had thus far this school year held nary a flake to the ground in North Buffalo. Our south towns got hammered (we draw a large portion of our students from South Buffalo; so, the school closings were due to transportation issues for that area). This week we were finally awarded what I consider our first real snowfall of the season. Beautiful, fluffy flakes marched down in bands, blanketing the sheet of ice on the streets- making a gorgeous but treacherous scene.  But, I have no motivation to escape the confines of my home to partake in the wonders outdoors.

I have a hopeless need to hibernate this time of year. I am happy to enjoy the view from inside. Fortunately, the children- who adore winter weather- are old enough to not need my looming supervision. I can superintend from the front windows-occasionally admonishing them when they venture too close to the street or pelt each other too enthusiastically with snow balls.  Anyway, the gloomier the weather, the heavier the snow, the icier the streets, it is all the better for the guilt that nags at me for not participating in the season’s hibernal offerings. I have very little faith in our weatherman (my hair is more adept at predicting changes in the weather than he is). But, when he drolly says, “It’s a cold one. If you don’t need to go out, stay indoors!” I follow his advice.

My moments of bad conscience stir again when I realize that the baby has been trapped indoors with me for days without a spark of new, external stimulation. But, I think being sequestered in our home hasn’t done too much damage because she has used the time to develop a new skill- taking drunken unassisted steps. She can run agilely along the furniture and walls with just a fingertip’s contact for support. When she is impelled to let go, she continues to run a few steps until she crashes into furniture or the Christmas tree. She’s not content to walk, she needs to run. Ain’t no half steppin for my kid (I realized today that she takes just enough steps to tap out that gem of a lyric from Heatwave. Now the song is stuck in my head). And, soon enough, she will be like the Gingerbread baby, taunting, “Run, run as fast as you can…” And, by that point, she may have worn me down just enough that I will let her keep running over the river and through the woods until that sly fox comes into view. Then I’ll intervene.

And speaking of intervening and more guilt, H in a last ditch effort to defend himself against First Born Son’s obnoxious, relentless teasing at dinner last night, told his brother to “Fudge off!” Only he, of course, didn’t say fudge. I am the worst offender of the F bomb. I grew up in a no swearing household. I was always respectful with my tone and my choice of words- even in moments of excruciating pain or anger. Something happened when I had children. In order to quell the moments of overwhelming anxiety or deep frustration in parenting, I would let loose an expletive or three. It was a release that kept me feeling grounded so that I would not lose my mind in those moments. I realize that it is terribly wrong. I’ve tried- I’ve really, really tried to stop- to exchange the unsavory words for others. But, nothing feels as good to say. And nothing feels so awful to hear coming out of your 11 year old’s mouth. My dinner literally turned in my stomach. But, I did not react. The Mr. took care of that. The gentle, mild mannered, non-cussing Mr. snapped, “That is not acceptable! It is not ok even if your mother does it.” I lowered my head in shame. If I had any money to my name, I would certainly put a quarter in a jar each time I unleashed an ugly word. I could create a healthy college savings fund for the children by my cussing alone. But, alas, my piggy bank is bare, so, I must settle for a New Year’s Resolution- to will myself to bury those words and set a good example. The Baby is absorbing things at a rapid rate. If the F bomb sounds disgusting coming from an 11 year old, it can only kill innocent kittens and puppies if it passes a baby’s lips. 

And, one final note relating to fudge, I will be up to my elbows in cookie baking and, yes, fudge making next week preparing for a little Christmas party I promised Princess Commando we would host for the neighborhood kids next Thursday after school. It’s too bad I don’t have a clue how to set up our video camera. If I did you would be able to watch live streaming video of true three o’clock craziness. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday Greeting Card

The children were filled
 with both apprehension and glee
when they discovered their 'star'
glowing brightly on the tree.

I finally finished our holiday card. It didn't quite turn out the way I wanted it to. It's difficult with The Baby to find any time to sit and illustrate. This was done during stolen moments. And, here are some holiday cards from Christmases Past. As mentioned in earlier posts, the illustration in my blog header is our Christmas card from 2006. I wish I could find my earliest cards from way back when there were only two children ruling the house.

Christmas 2007

Christmas 2008 Front (This was inspired by a photograph I took, capturing a rare moment where all three of them were snuggling in Princess Commando's bed. The boys were drawn to her room because she had been hooked up, temporarily, with a TV while she was bed ridden with a long bout of pneumonia.).

The interior of the card:

Christmas 2009. I was very pregnant with The Baby. She was sapping all of my creative energy- to, you know, grow and stuff. This was designed in a last minute burst of energy (then I hibernated for the next 6 weeks). I employed the help of our pets.

The interior of this one read:
On Oscar! On Ruby!
On Mitsy! And Mooshie!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Bring the joy and happiness of the season to all! 

Sadly, Oscar (our Australian Shepherd) passed away this summer. His sled pulling days are over:-( It's too bad because I could have really used his playful willingness and strength to pull The Baby through the snow this winter.

As we move onward through this holiday season and as 2010 draws to a close, I send you all my best wishes for peace, joy, health, happiness, friendship, love and success through out the season and the New Year.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

14 Years

Truly, my illustrations do not do his handsomeness any justice.

Fourteen years ago today, I became a mother. By the soft, natural light of early morning, we welcomed First Born Son, Max. I was surrounded by The Mr., my mother and my best friend, R whose enlivened faces had only moments earlier encouraged me to power on just a little further so that I may meet him. They were the first to see that my boy had, of all physical attributes, a full head of red hair. It was a playful, unexpected twist as I always imagined my children to take on what I thought were my dominant qualities, dark hair and skin.

Much has been written about the profound moment of holding your child for the first time- the feeling of holding your heart in your hands. I felt all that: relief, accomplishment, gratitude, awe and weight. I was amazed at how substantial my 8lb 9oz tightly swaddled bundle felt when I held him in my arms the first time. He felt like an anchor; but, it was not in the way of a burden. He was the ballast which flooded me with a sense of security. His two dark eyes peered out from the bindings of his warm flannel hospital blanket and cap with a sense of knowing and acceptance. “You seem like fine parents. We’re going to get along famously.” It just felt right. He was who he was supposed to be, as was I. Son. Mother.

Max was the ideal baby. He slept well, ate well, and rolled with any changes we imposed upon him. Fourteen years later (aside from his lack of willingness to eat well balanced meals), not much has changed. The list of glowing adjectives to describe him could flow like beautiful ribbons through the streets of Buffalo, NY.  Some of the most fitting are: bright, forgiving, patient, engaging, entertaining, thoughtful, benevolent, amiable, athletic; and on and on flow the ribbons. He is among other things-First born. Oldest son. Oldest brother. Mr. Chatterbox- Mr. Social. Handsome. He always has the eye of the older girls at school. They swarm around him and look out for him. Empathetic (except for when it comes to his younger brother). Max is the hesitant one. He says "NO" all the way to the "first time"- but after the first try- he masters the skill and enjoys the experience fully- putting his all into it- always sad to see the end (the end of his first professional acting experience, the end of the soccer season, the end of the school year). As a child in this family, he has set the bar high. And, luckily his siblings look up to him (whether they will admit to it or not) because they follow (whether they will admit it or not) his goodness, his strength, his thoughtfulness, his quiet courage, his endurance, his humor, his love of his family. I couldn't have imagined a better first. Yes, he is still teenager-ish and I’ve highlighted his antics in previous posts. But, honestly the list of disagreeable idiosyncrasies is not very noteworthy.

Fourteen years ago, he was the greatest early Christmas gift I could have ever received. He is the gift that keeps on giving. Happy Birthday, Max! 

Here is the birthday card I made for him. In a world filled with drones and droids, his uniqueness shines.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm Dreaming of A Dancing Nutcracker

If it was not ambitious enough to attempt to take a family photo, I also decided that we should decorate the house for Christmas this weekend. And if I had not learned my lesson already about the most realistic place to set the bar (very, very low), I did so after trying to force some family togetherness while we adorned the house. The Christmas season in my head is so different from the holiday that plays out in reality. Of course it is. We don’t live in Victorian Era Europe. Somehow,  I grew up believing (and I have not been able to shake it) that at Christmastime there would be warm fires after horse drawn sleigh rides, fresh cut Christmas trees, new velvet dresses, real garland with oranges and cloves, someone playing the fiddle while we danced by candlelight; and nutcrackers that come alive while we slumber.

I keep telling The Mr. that we should cut down our tree- that it would be so much fun. Oh, but it isn’t. My parents did take us on a couple of occasions when we were very little- to cut down our Christmas tree in the country. It was bitterly cold and the snow on the ground was up to our waists. The snow that continued to fall stuck to us and we looked like puffy snow men, struggling to stay adrift. It felt like we walked for miles before we found a hardy tree. My father’s saw blade was too dull, and there was some heated frustration. One of us, maybe all of us, were crying to go back home-now!- while my father struggled to drag the tree (whose needles were already spilling on the ground) back to the car. And, then we had to ride the hour back home- defrosting, holding our bladders and probably sulking in trouble for not being good sports about it all. At least The Mr. has a better sense of holiday reality and does not bend to my tree cutting whims.

This weekend, as the older three were competing over who got to put the first ornament on the tree, and arguing over which nutcrackers belonged to which kid, I realized that it is The Baby’s first Christmas. For the next month, there will be so many baubles and trinkets and glittering things to keep her entertained (and in trouble). It will all be so fresh and new to her. I gazed upon her sitting on the floor examining a plush bean baggy snow person that was as tall as she is sitting. She tentatively sat beside it locked in a staring contest. Slowly, cautiously she reached out her hand and poked its plastic carrot nose. The snow person bobbled back and forth. The Baby lit up. She began to babble strings of consonants and vowels I had not heard from her before. She was having a conversation. She thought he was real.  She embraced him and squealed with delight. I know Christmas is supposed to be about so many things- faith (which I have very little of), charity, family, cookies, etc.  But the baby reminded me that it is also a time for wonderment. As one year draws to an end, what better way is there to enter a new year, a new season, than with a sense of wonder?

The children did manage to pull it all together. The house looks warm and inviting all ablaze with thousands of little white lights. I can almost see them now, our army of nutcracker princes and misfits enlivened by our holiday magic, dancing by the artificial light while visions of sugar plums dance in our heads.

I must express my deep gratitude to Mustang Sally for mentioning me and my blog in her blog. I think that she is an amazing photographer and a fabulously entertaining writer. In the spirit of friendship and wonder, I would like to share her blog with you, as well as a couple of others that I follow. I have not yet learned how to link anything via html (I'll get there, I promise).   Here is Mustang Sally's blog, Functional Kaos :
You should also check out my friend, Corrie Wachob's blog:  She is going to be super famous very, very soon. She is a gifted young adult novelist. And she is just an all around awesomely inspiring and devastatingly beautiful person.
And, because she is everything I aspire to be as a mother and because I often forget to stop and recognize that my glass is truly half full (not empty as I often lament to myself that it is), I enjoy reading Kelle Hampton's blog, Enjoying the Small Things

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Would You Frickin Smile Already?

If it was up to me, I would not even send out a holiday photo with our Christmas cards. With Facebook and other photo sharing websites, I feel that my out of town relatives already have a window into our world that normally would be shuttered by geographical distance. There is nothing that this one photograph will tell them  that they have not been able to figure out over the past 11 months of viewing my online photo album. But, my family continues to put pressure on us- to keep up this tradition of torment. It is a legacy of torture that has been passed down from my grandparents to my parents to me. I am getting that sickish feeling in my gut now as I recall our photo sessions at Olan Mills photography studios- with my curly hair brushed out vigorously by my mother into an unseemly, bell shaped bob. On any other given day, my kids will ham it up for my camera. As long as they are allowed to make screwy, laughable faces, they are all in. I prefer those expressions. But, on family photo day, they look like prisoners of a juvenile detention center.

I gave them fair warning that we would be taking pictures before we left for my mother's house for Thanksgiving dinner. It is one of the few occasions when they all are semi-dressed up. I reminded them through out the day to be ready because I wanted this to be quick and painless. One of the boys asked what they would get as a reward for cooperating. Reward, are you kidding me? Cooperation means that you escape punishment. But, in typical fashion, as soon as The Mr. and I started to assemble the children on our tattered couch, Princess Commando put on the brakes. I have never heard another human make such dead- on animal growl protests. Once she starts, they all get ornery because they know that what could have been taken care of in five minutes with good old fashioned acquiescing was now going to be an epic battle of wills. First Born Son was ready to order a Hazmat shower from being forced to sit next to his brother for more than 5 minutes. And, he kept talking to Princess Commando through is teeth while trying to maintain a smile for the camera, "Would you just frickin' smile already?! Don't you want this to end?!" Right on schedule, the resistance and irritation quickly gave way to tears.

Oh, surprise, someone is missing from this picture. H held his pose through it all. He knows that willingly participating will earn him valuable points. And, he'll become the favorite child for the day.

The baby looks concerned because this is what was going on in the other room...

Oh, the drama! The tears! You would think that she had been abused and beaten. I threw up my hands and told them, "Forget it!" Those words broke the evil magic spell that had been cast over them. They fled from the couch as quickly as if they had discovered it was on fire. I could not "Forget it" though. I was stewing on the short ride to my mother's house. The tirade of anger spilled forth from my lips. I suppose they have come to expect it, as no one even flinches at my bitterness. And then I wind down with a sprinkle of guilt, "I do so much for you. I do not ask you for much in return. Just one damn family photo where you at least look like you love each other. So, we are going to try again at Nana's house." They all grumbled in reluctant agreement.

But we did not stand a chance with my aunts and uncles walking around, interjecting criticisms of my children's forced expressions of love. "You all look like you are in pain," one of my aunts observed. And then, Princess Commando lost it when my Uncle M said to her (as I just got them all to look in my direction, mind you), "Let's see who can make the ugliest face," without the slightest pause for her to respond, "Uh- you won!"

I made one more attempt on Friday as our Day After Thanksgiving Thanksgiving Turkey was roasting in the oven. I know, I was asking for more trouble and heartache. They did not disappoint. But there was a small miracle. Princess Commando consented merrily. Her brothers were a different story. I am tempted to settle on this image.

But, I don't think my family will appreciate it. They will be receiving this heavily Photoshopped image in their Christmas cards. So, hang that on your fridge with your Mom and Pop Pizza Shop magnet, Family!

Now, I am on to the task of creating the illustration for the front our Christmas cards. At least, in this scenario, the children in my illustration all get along and cooperate for their mother.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tooth Fairy Pen Pal: Letters from November Part 2

If stuffed animals are given magic powers to talk to us or act like real animals- they might eat us.

I should have expected that one magical letter per month from the Tooth Fairy would not suffice. Again, I am glad that she gave me warning when she whispered in my ear upon settling in after school yesterday that she left another note in her Tooth Fairy box. I don't expect that this will end any time soon. If she is anything like my sister, she will be 11 years old when the rug is ripped from beneath her at a family dinner and her whole world will crumble. Until then...

I realized when I was posting this that I had remembered to erase her name from the letter from the Tooth Fairy, but I had neglected to erase her name from her own letter. Anyway, she's still Princess Commando as far as this blog is concerned.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holiday Family Photo

As the winter holidays are swiftly approaching I am feeling that anxious tightening in my chest about taking our annual holiday family picture. I expect that I will attempt to take 1000 photos this weekend in the hopes that one- all I need is one!- photo will at least capture everyone looking in the same direction. Typically, 2 of the 3 are cooperating and I have to crop and paste the 3rd child's head from another photo and work some Photoshop magic. For an added challenge this year, we've included a 4th child. What were we thinking? The illustration from my blog header (which I have also included below) is the image I ended up using for the front of our 2006 Christmas card. The interior said something to the effect: May the joy of the season and the warmth of family and friends surround you during the holidays and through out the New Year. Princess Commando refused to participate. Why should I falsify my photo documentation of that holiday photo shoot? The truth of this particular holiday tradition is that it is no fun. There is a lot of huffing and eye rolling from the kids and I counter that with threats and bribes. It sounds a little something like this:

Press the shirts
Tame the hair
Wipe the snot and crumbs off of the face
Instruct the children:

Sit in the light-the camera won’t work otherwise.
Sit up straight.
No, up straight!
Stop touching your sister.
Move in to the left.
No, my left.
Stop wiggling
Come on now, smile!
You, middle child, you look like you’re dying.
Now smile!
This isn’t working.
Let’s rearrange
Oh, little one, stop crying
You can sit where you were before- when we’re done.
Just a few more- I promise.
We’re doing this because this is what families do for their holiday cards.
You don’t want to be the only family who doesn’t send out a holiday photo.
I don’t care that you don’t care!
Sit back down!
Stop crying!
For God’s sake!
Why can’t you all cooperate for one hour out of the year?
A half hour?
(Sweetly)You can play the Wii if you cooperate.
Santa’s not coming if you don’t cooperate!
This is the one we’re using!

I think I might just let them do what they want this year. I gave up trying to get them to wear coordinated outfits 3 years ago. Last year is a blur- but I think they might have been in pajamas they had been wearing for two days over a weekend. And, amazingly, I did not have to crop out anyone's head.

When I started this blog, I had every intention of creating one illustration/ day. Obviously, raising kids sometimes ties up my hands. I feel badly that I've cheated and reused an image. I'll get back to illustrating something new- soon. I'm still recuperating from sick baby week.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tokens of Love

The Baby has been sick the past three days.  Her stomach is disordered and her poor bum- well, you can imagine. She has slowed down ever so slightly- not so eager to practice her new climbing skills. And, although I would never wish an illness on any of my children, I do enjoy this temporary quiet of The Baby’s body. She is receptive to being caressed and carried, her soft downy head willingly nestles between my chin and my heart, she awakens in the wee hours of the morning just to connect with Mama for comfort and reassurance. Even though her whimpers startle me out of a sound sleep, I do not resent the dark hours, rocking her in her chair and hearing her softly breathe and hum. With that said, I am exhausted. We are coming on four days of around the clock care and my reserves are running low. The other children are patient and compassionate for their littlest sister, and they know in their hearts that we each take our turns with illness and neediness. But, I worry that I have not given each them enough attention over the past few days.

Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I was placing my earrings in their pottery container on an old table we recently brought up from the living room.  My eye caught the outline of a red chenille pipe cleaner heart sweetly placed beside the pottery. Just the day before, I was folding laundry in the bedroom and had to untangle a crumpled up red chenille pipe cleaner from a toe hole in one of First Born Son’s dingy, threadbare socks. I threw it on the table intending to use it to lecture the kids about emptying their pockets before haplessly stuffing their clothing down the laundry chute. And, here it was metamorphosed into a token of love. If I were to guess, I would say it was the handiwork of Princess Commando. She has been known to take a stack of pennies from a bedside table and transform them into the outline of a bird or some other whimsical creature for us to find as we reach over to turn out the light. Or, there are other times when I find her Cheerios arranged on the dining room table to spell out, "I LOVE YOU" (with a heart replacing the word love). It is a gesture that I appreciate beyond words. A love note to remind me that while I am caring for others, there is someone thinking of me- caring for me.

A note: I have not had the creative power to illustrate over the past few days. The illustrations above are from a picture book that I created for Princess Commando. You may view it here:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dark Rooms and Flashlights

The other day I was inquiring about H’s Language Arts teacher. I asked him if she had said anything to the students about her impending maternity leave.  “Nope.”

Had she even mentioned that she was pregnant? “Nope.”

Was she looking any more rotund? “I don’t know. She looks the same as she always has. She always looked round to me.”

“Maybe she’ll go into labor during ELA and you can deliver the baby.”
He looked confused. Of course he would. He can’t remember back to the tender years of childhood when he proclaimed that he was going to be a midwife.

He was three years old when I was pregnant with Princess Commando. He was my little companion to all of my prenatal visits with my beloved midwives. Their office occupied the first floor of a lovely brick Victorian home. That is what the office felt like- home- with its waiting room set up in the original living room and decorated with worn couches and children’s toys. H loved it there. He was impressed that they always left out nutritious snacks like fresh fruit, cheeses and crackers for visitors. Usually, he would stay in the living room with the receptionist, Mary, while I was having my examination. Mary put him to work copying papers, putting stamps on envelopes, etc. But, there were occasions when he just wanted to be with me. He would sit on the chair in the corner of the exam room, keenly observing every gesture, every soft laying of the hands by the midwife. I was used to the boys barging in on me in the bathroom- coming in to have a conversation while I was taking a bath or getting dressed. I had long gotten over being modest about my body around them. But, I also wasn’t parading around the house flashing my lady lumps.

On the day that I was to have my internal exam and Group B strep test (about 36 weeks), H decided that he wanted to join me. I was hesitant because up until now the only body part ever exposed during an exam had been my belly. I knew I would be draped and if he stayed in his corner, he wouldn’t see anything. I asked my midwife, S, if she thought it would traumatize him to be there while she was all up in my lady business. She laughed and told me that children (siblings) had seen far worse in the delivery room. S let H put the blue jelly on my stomach for the Doppler. He called it blue mustard (maybe this is why he has an aversion to mustard?) She guided his hand with the device to find his baby sister’s heart beat. He was spellbound. When S began the internal exam, the lights were turned down low. S told H that he could be her assistant and she gave him a flash light. So, there I was with my legs in the stirrups, draped, with my parts exposed. And, there H was, at my feet, dutifully pointing the flashlight. All of a sudden he exclaimed with equal parts pride and wonder, “Mommy, I can see right into your vagina!”

I kept trying to assure myself on the ride home that that he would probably forget that visual before we even pulled into our driveway. And, it seemed to be the case as he didn’t mention the experience at dinner when the Mr. asked him how his day was.

A few days later,  H and I were at Target. I cannot remember why we were there. All I remember is that we were standing in the home goods section when the lights went out. There was a sudden sputtering and belching sound from the building as systems were shutting down. And, then, silence. I was struggling to find my bearings. My eyes were adjusting to the darkness and I could make out the form of an elderly woman at the other end of the aisle. We stayed put, listening to the muffled confusion of the employees trying to figure out why the back up generator had not kicked in. I looked down at H sitting in the cart, who seemed more amused than frightened.
 “Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said with a huge smile exposing his little chicklets.

“Hey, Mama?”

“Yes, buddy?”

“You remember when we were at the midwives and it was dark in the room, and I got to look into your vagina?”

Oh no! There is was, as loud and clear as Christmas bells. There was no mistaking what my sweet boy had said. I thought I heard the old lady gasp in horror. And typical H, kept going, the more I tried to hush him and the less I tried to answer. “What? What did I say?!”

I tried to unbuckle him and rip him out of the shopping cart in the shroud of darkness, but the power was restored and the lights came back on. I hung my head and sped out of the aisle. This wouldn’t be the last time one of my children embarrassed me in a Target store. And it certainly was not the most scarring (that incident involved an epic tantrum, a Lego set and the help of 4 adults to get us to our car).

While I am a little disappointed that he has forgotten about his dreams to be a male midwife (he would be perfect for the job), I am certainly grateful that when recalling this story to him today, not a single thread of it sounded familiar. I am putting money aside for therapy, just in case.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thank You, Papa

My Papa

When we were younger, we would ask Papa about "the War." He never elaborated on the heavy stuff. He told us silly stories about (and forgive me because I was a child and I do not remember the exact location) peeing in troughs which were set up in the streets in Europe as urinals. "Can you imagine peeing in the street with pretty women walking by?" He would ask us.

I must have been about 8 or 9 years old when he showed us his army trunk in the attic; and I asked bluntly, "Did you ever kill anyone?" He did not answer. But, tears welled in his eyes and I could see his throat tighten. He composed himself and changed the subject. I was afraid to ask him anything else because I did not want to hurt him or to stir up difficult memories.

It was not until the onset of Alzheimer's that he started to let more of the story unfold to my mother who then recounted it to us. H chose my Papa's army hat, part of his dress uniform, to feature in his Social Studies Archives project in September. It was then that I learned that my Papa was in the 184th Blackhawk division of the United States Army. He had fought in both WWII and the Pacific War. He was a scout in Germany. He said that the scouts were sent ahead of the rest of the division to seek out the enemy's location. He maintained that the scouts were never shot at because the Germans did not want to reveal their location to the rest of the army too soon. My Papa was in Germany when Hitler's prisoners of war were released. He was later sent to the Philippines during the Pacific War to guard the prisoners of war there. When he was stationed there, he found his brother, Chuck, whom he did not even know was also stationed on the island as a ship repairman for the Navy. Since his memory is stuck in certain places because of the Alzheimer's, it is a story that runs on an endless loop, when we visit with him. He finds great amusement from it.

My Papa is an exquisitely sensitive man. He has always been the quintessential gentleman. I can not imagine how anyone manages to maintain such goodness and civility while carrying the gravity of what he experienced when he was such a young man. He was a remarkable patriarch- balancing discipline, guidance, culture, intellect, love, forgiveness and faith. A once great conversationalist, Alzheimer's has made this raconteur quiet. My aunt worries that he is too quiet. The alternative is that he would be ravaged by madness (as my Nana was in her last year) or dead. And, for Christ's sake he is 85 years old. The man bore the brunt of my Nana's lashing out when she became confused, paranoid and irrational in the throes of her Alzheimer's; he lost his Honey Bunny (my Nana) in February; broke his pelvis dancing with my Aunt at her retirement party in June; and was abruptly moved from his family home to an assisted living center in July. And when he is brought to visit with us, he still manages to wonder over his great grandchildren and see the beauty in all people. I believe he deserves the right to be quiet.

Of course, I am grateful for his years of service to our country. But more than that I am grateful for his years of dedication to this family.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Whimpering Over Spilt Milk

Last Bottle of Liquid Gold

To all men who might happen upon this page, you might want to skip this post. It is about milk that comes out of boobs.

All of The Baby’s firsts- first time rolling over, first time standing up, first time crawling, first time taking steps, etc, have been the last firsts for me.  This is the last time one of our children will pull herself up for the first time, or say her first word, or take her first unassisted steps. Each milestone is wrought with a bittersweet choking back of sadness for the all too swift passage of time. Among the rapidly growing list of firsts, I never expected to add the first time she refused to breast feed so soon.  She has become the most curious and busy little being. She would rather starve than miss out on an opportunity to seek out danger in tight spaces around the house. There were hints that this day was arriving. She would nurse for a few minutes, whip her head away from me, and then fight her way out of my hold to follow the cat. But, she was still waking in the middle of the night to sneak in a session. I did not deprive her of it, as it was the only time that she was perfectly calm and cuddlesome.

When you are pregnant, no one ever tells you how troublesome and complicated breastfeeding can be. You read the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and you are led to believe that this process is a natural, precious gift  and it will flow from you as freely as your love for your new child. The book also makes sure to let you know, in no uncertain terms, that if the milk doth not flow, it is your damn fault. I had nursed First Born Son through a case of double mastitis which lasted for 8 weeks. I finally gave up when the pain was too unbearable, the fevers were so high that I could not safely cradle him in my arms due to fainting spells; and, we had exhausted all antibiotics which were safe for breastfeeding. I was gun shy with H- and decided that, with a toddler at home, I did not want to suffer through an illness like that again. And with Princess Commando, my attempts were more concerted; but, she fell ill at 6 weeks old with meningitis, was hospitalized and I was told to temporarily halt nursing. I, too, became very ill and did not have the energy to pump in order to maintain my supply. With The Baby, I was determined to make nursing work. The hospital lactation consultants were kind and patient; but, my boobs were unruly and it took these veteran nurses several attempts to figure out what might aid our situation. We were sent home with an arsenal of nursing devices and the faith that it would all work out. But, it wasn’t working. At The Baby’s 3 day old appointment with the pediatrician she appeared to be gaining some weight; but, at 6 days old, she had lost some and she was not pooping. The pediatrician sent me to a lactation consultant who determined that the supply was there, The Baby’s ability to suck was there but something was disconnected. The solution was to pump and feed. So, I invested in an expensive electric pump and proceeded to provide for her that way. She was gaining weight nicely and she finally pooped; but, the process was torture. I’d pump, feed, pump, feed. I was exhausted and in pain. This was my last baby. I wanted to enjoy these moments with her. So, I quit at 6 weeks.  She was already colicky and I felt like I needed to focus my efforts on comforting her. I felt like a failure- a breastfeeding drop out. At 8 weeks old, during an extremely trying fit of colicky screaming, she began to root. We were alone in my bed, it was quiet in the house, so I offered the breast and she took it. It was magic.

I managed to exclusively breastfeed her for a total of 6 months (minus the 2 weeks I took a break) before we introduced solid food and occasional bottles of formula. I did not have a breastfeeding goal in mind- I just wanted to offer this as long as I could, in whatever amount was available. There were a lot of trials along the way. I nursed through the stomach flu and a 6 week battle with vertigo. I nursed through painful plugged ducts. I nursed and pumped (by hand) around the clock to compensate for another drop in supply which caused a plateau in The Baby’s weight gain. I waited patiently through her increasing distractibility- offering myself to her more times throughout the day to ensure she was getting enough.  I literally cried over spilled milk when I tripped over the dog on the way to the kitchen dropping an uncapped bottle of freshly squeezed boob juice (as the older kids called it) on the floor. My supply had been dwindling since we started to introduce solid foods and since she (gloriously) started sleeping through the night. I put even more effort into maintaining what was left by taking herbal supplements, eating oatmeal, pumping, etc. She would take what I offered in a bottle, but she no longer wanted to be pinned down to the breast. And, trying to manage and measure it all became an obsession which quickly wore me down. It just felt like it was time to close this chapter.

We made it to 9 months and one week. I pumped one last measly bottle the other night and put it in the fridge to save for a quiet moment. I discarded the parts of my manual pump last night (the electric pump was sold to a friend the first time I retired). I even made sure this pump touched Princess Commando’s old, stepped- in–dog- poop sneakers which were sitting at the top of the garbage pile so I wouldn’t be tempted to pull it out. I warned the Mr. that it was going to be emotional for me. He was sympathetic; but, of course, a man will never experience this. And, even the most empathetic husband and father will never quite appreciate the true purpose of the fun bags and all of the labor that went into sustaining his child. And, by no fault of his own, he will never fully understand how monumental and emotional the decision to cease nursing is for a mother.

I sat with her, early this Sunday morning, in her rocking chair before her morning nap. I gave her the warmed bottle of milk- the last bottle of liquid gold. She fell into the most peaceful milk coma. I lingered a little longer than I normally would, examining the pristine sweetness of her little face- the downy red hair, the long deep copper lashes, the rosy cheeks, button nose (where did that come from?) and cupid’s bow lips. And, I thanked her for being here and for giving me this experience.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Old Musings #3: Sacred Language

Since my last post painted First Born Son in an unflattering, teenager-y light, I felt the need to review my old writings about him- from a time when there were only the two boys in the house and the only homework was to cut and paste words with their corresponding pictures. The Baby is helping to stir up old memories of when the older three were much younger- filled with wonder and imagination-where each small milestone warranted a huge celebration. I will have those moments with The Baby. I will cherish them. But, I can not help but pine for the sweeter, less stressful times our family was allowed to revel in for so many years. Anyway, this passage is from June 2, 2002. First Born Son (referred to in the piece as "M") was only 5 years old.

As it often goes, my children have taught me so many things. Most unexpectedly, the depth of mothering evolves from a sacred language with one’s children.
One night when I was doing my goodnight rounds I found M lying in his bed with a wooden stick thoughtfully pressed into his chin. He looked pensive.
“What’s up Buddy?” I asked.
“ I want to go back to where it all began,” he answered forlornly.
Such a profound statement from my five year old made me smile. But, he was serious.
“ What does that mean, M? Where did you hear that?”
“I didn’t hear it anywhere. It just came into my brain,” he answered eyes widening. “ I want to be a kid again, not a grown up, not do work in school.  I just want to play.”
It was all making sense. He was tired. It was the end of a very busy school year. Kindergarten was approaching its grand finale and the teachers were preparing the children for the rigors of first grade. One of the most important lessons was learning how to sit still for a longer stretch, without wiggling and with concerted effort to complete written work in record time.
          He loves school. When given the opportunity to stay home complaining of vague ailments, he protests. He would rather be with his friends; he might miss out on valuable fun.  If we force him to stay home when he is truly ill, he reluctantly rests, anxious to join his crowd, those comrades who are so separate from us. There are precious secrets and encoded languages there. Teachers are privy to all of this, but even they respect the sensitivity of keeping these things sacrosanct.
I was pregnant. M was soon to be a big brother again- not his choice. He accepted more responsibility like feeding the dogs and letting them outside, getting his own juice and snacks, keeping his room clean, etc. For him, it was sometimes too much. “I’m sick of doing work!” he’d grumble. “ I don’t want dogs anymore.”
It’s not often that he complains about such things. He is by his own nature exquisitely amiable. He has developed an amazing empathy for others. He’s curious and mischievous and often wild, but above all, he loves. And when he lies on his bed at night- awake when he should have been asleep an hour earlier- thinking, thinking, thinking because it is the first moment of the day that quiet has entered his body- pondering the whys and the hows of the way the world around him works and more than that pondering his own feelings about the things he knows to be true, I must just let him feel. I must let him know he is wonderful and amazing. He’ll answer, “I know.” I let him know that I don’t want him to grow up too fast. He doesn’t need to be a grown up yet, but the things he does for us are helpful and they make this family run more smoothly.  I tell him that he is doing just fine and I don’t want much more from him than to continue to follow his heart to help other people out.
He’ll ask me to rub his back, and even though I am tired I will do it because he is still so fragile in these moments, so tender as he was when he was a babe. I know there will be a day or a thousand days when he won’t want me to touch him at all and he won’t even speak those truthful worries of his brain. I’ll be left to wonder if he is really okay. For now, I savor the sacred language we have that allows me to speak simply and make him all better.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Can't Love 'em Smart

Not So Sharp Permanent Marker Dull Point

I recently heard somewhere the following line which sums up my current realizations about parenting, “Well, you can’t love ‘em smart.” Teenagers have a way of proving that sentiment to be true every day. On Halloween, First Born Son came downstairs to greet my family who was over for dinner and a photo opportunity with the costumed little ones. He had borrowed a "costume" idea from a Halloween episode of The Office where John Krasinski's character, Jim, had written the word “BOOK” across his face to represent Facebook. My family was unfamiliar with the show; so, they swooned over how clever he was. But, my killjoy mom senses were tingling when I examined his face.

“What did you use to write with?”

“Uh, a Sharpie,” he answered without hesitation.

“Was it permanent?”

“Yeah, why?” Duh!

It was still fresh. He still had a window to wipe it off.  For a split second, I entertained the idea of letting him keep it on. The purple Sharpie scrawl would probably remain there for a week, considering his hygiene habits, before it started to fade away. He’d have to face his classmates, his principal and instructors, and his fellow passengers on the subway every day with that mark of stupidity on his face.

As a parent, you think about your children’s future, about the years when they will be further out of your grasp, about the possibility of them getting drunk and falling asleep at a frat party and waking up with a Hitler mustache Sharpied to their upper lips. You don’t worry about them doing this to themselves, sober.  I wasn’t trying to be sadistic when I decided to make him march up to the bathroom to scrub it off. But, the poor kid came back downstairs-face raw, red and broken out- begging for some salve. He looked abused which is worse than looking like a moron. My mother chastised me for my suggestion that he was (a moron). “He is a teenager,” she corrected. Right now, in this house, those two words are synonymous.

It could have been much worse, I know. He could have written “Shit” across his face. With each teenager-ish prank or fumble, I have to just keep saying, If this is his worst offense, I’ll gladly take it.  And, he really is a good kid. But, no, you can’t love ‘em smart.