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.