Friday, June 24, 2011

baby wrath

While it is never wise to underestimate the power even the smallest of children has on the world around her, it is always good to know where her loyalties reside. And, we can delight in the fact that for a few short years we can fall back on our ability to manipulate those attachments.
If you knew her, you would know that there has never been a day when her voice has not been heard- when her vote has not been counted, when she has been overlooked. She is definitely a force which commands attention and which directs this household. I would never withhold her "precious" from her no matter how many times she soaked me with a garden hose, or a cup filled with bathwater, or a sippy filled with milk. She is too smart and I am sure that she would rally her baby troops and descend upon me in a weak moment to retrieve her lovey. That would just be too cruel.

Stay dry, Everyone! And Have a Great Weekend!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

the end is near (at least for this school year)

June is a beautiful with its sun kisses and its temptations to set everything aside and imbibe golden warmth. But (and this is a giant BUT), school is not over. And, it remains in session with a vengeance. June is a carrot dangling before our children. It speaks in seductive tones- "You will have all of this: sunshine, warmth, leisure, if you just work a little bit longer." School in June is like a month long ass whooping. It aims to keep the kids in line, leaving a sharp sting on their hides so that they remember to keep learning- keep their brains tuned and sharp over the extended vacation. Unfortunately, all three of my older kids turned in their studiousness Memorial Day weekend. For someone who has suffered from a paralyzing anxiety disorder her whole life- more specifically school/ performance related anxiety- the loose ends of the children’s projects these past few weeks has stirred the demon once again. I find myself restless, impatient, snappish and cold. I cannot help but to view their work, their academic performance( so often wildly beyond my control) as my work, my assessment, my accomplishment- or my failure.

Ever since I graduated from college 13ish years ago, I have had a recurring dream. For someone who has always held academic performance and responsibility to a high standard, it is really a nightmare. I dream the week of spring finals in senior year. It is my last day. I have just completed my closing exam and I am a feeling confident and at peace with my mastery of the material.  I am walking down the hallway ready to leave the building, ready to graduate; and, then I overhear something which jolts my awareness- reminding me that I am not done. There is still one crowning final I have to take. The problem is- I never attended the class, never learned the material. I panic. Do I take the exam- certain to fail? Do I conjure up a tangled lie about how I dropped the course in the first week of school, but the department secretary neglected to file my paperwork? Either choice requires that I must face a professor, a stranger, and explain that I am ill prepared. The dream ends before I make my choice, before I must -with my heart racing and my palms sweating-confront my instructor with my mistake. I’ve always chalked up the dream to not having taken my History of Jazz final in senior year. (I was excused due to my overall A+ average). I figured that the dream meant that I was dealing with a need for closure.

In the past few years, when the school year rolls steadily toward completion and there is among the children an equal amount of excited energy and academic exhaustion, the dream insinuates itself once again and more frequently. I am coming to understand that it is indeed a reflection of the desire for closure. But, not for an exam I did not take. The panic, the feeling of vulnerability, lack of preparedness and fear of being labeled as a failure- all stems from being a parent with 3 school aged children- who in the final two weeks of the grading period had among them a Mandarin Chinese project, Regents exams, 5 final exams, 2 ELA projects and one 3rd grade Earth Science report- which they would rather ignore. I cannot fathom letting work hang over my head. I marvel at how they can live- eat, sleep, play- knowing that their work is not done. I bark at them like a distressed dog. “Work, work, work.” They put up walls and ignore my pleas. They howl back with tones that taunt my apprehension.  “Mom, it will get done!” How is it that all three of the older children inherited their father’s Last Minute Larry approach to living and complete obliviousness to schedules and time constraints?

At the consummation of the final academic week, when the last label was placed on a diagram of volcanic formation and the last scale of a Chinese dragon was penciled in, I realized that the children were correct in their assertion that the work would get done. It may not have been completed in the time I would have wished to see it wrapped up. And, as summer beckoned them, the work was not always a master piece. But, it did get done. Without my hand holding, First Born Son independently worked to score an A on his ELA assignment, as did Henry.

 I am coming to understand that independence-the trait that we work so hard to develop in our children- is also the tricky pressure which forces us to “let go” of our babies- pushing them further into the world where our opinions and vices begin to lose their hold on them.  I am stuck in a limbo- a place between my children’s ultimate autonomy and the lingering need for direction and parental guidance. And I am learning to reconcile that while, yes, I did put them out into the world and they are representations of my family, of my character- not everything they do is a reflection of me- of my performance as a human being or as a parent (But perhaps one could argue that First Born Son's Sharpie across the face is a reflection of my own artistic tendencies). 

I can continue to provide them the tools, support and guidance they will need to make smart choices, to be productive members of society. But, as they are exercising having "minds of their own," I am coming to grips with the reality that they will not always use the implements and nuggets of wisdom I have served them. So, I often hold my breath and spend too much energy worrying over them instead of embracing them. For now, the only sense of closure I must be satisfied with is the relief that tomorrow officially marks the end of the 2010-2011 school year. I accept that I have a lot of work to do in learning how to reign in my anxiety disorder. I also accept that I will continue to be haunted by the dream of taking an exam I am not prepared for. I don't expect that to go away until they are all good and graduated from college with careers which will support them. But, at least, in my dreams, I never end up in the classroom wearing nothing but my underwear. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

ode to the fathers in my life

It is the time he spends playing with our children- teaching them how to unwind when their mother has been run ragged and "fun" has fallen out of her vernacular- that make him a splendid mate and crucial life line in our children's lives. He not only demonstrates how to score goals but, also, how to set them. And he provides a balance- letting them know that there is more to life than w-o-r-k. He engages them, encourages them, guides them, redirects them- all the while showing them that they matter.

It is also in the space between the time of obligations/ the fulfillment of academic responsibility and chores and the time of recreation and abandon that I find him teaching them in the most subtle manner. They nestle in the quiet time, the down time where he does not force them to fill the silence with the things grown ups so often make them speak of. He does not impose upon them lectures and expectations. He just lets them "be"- thinking, resting beside him, in his company while he regards them peacefully. 

And, he poses for pictures while sporting an overstuffed diaper bag.

And, he rocks the girl children quietly in a corner away from the clamor of  the family during a holiday celebration.

It is these moments, along with a million other moments, some which will be counted and others which will pass without fanfare that make him the wonderful parent that he is.


And, then there are the other men in my life who have served over the years as positive male role models. I am most grateful for the relationships they have developed with my children, their grandchildren. It has been beautiful to watch them bond, to be present in my children's lives, to embrace the role of grandfather. They each have a gift for knowing when to be sweet and when to be silly, when to listen and when to lead. My children are much better people for having them in their lives

My Father

My Step-Father

My Papa

And then there is this guy- my baby brother, Chris. In a few weeks, we will welcome his son, my nephew into the world. While it looks like he still has a lot to learn (#1, we don't eat our young), I have every confidence that he is going to be an amazing father. I cannot wait to behold that mushy- dazed- infatuated- new- father look that he will most certainly have when cradling his new son in his arms. It sets my heart a flutter.

Happy Father's Day!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mommy, what is that big, glowing fireball in the sky?

Finally, I can walk past the wicker trunk in our living room which stores the fleece hats, knit wool scarves, the lined gloves, the ear warmers of winter and not be struck down with a pang of defeat. There is no snow, no icy rain in our 7 day forecast. " I do not need you now! Any of you!" I shout at the inhabitants of the trunk. Now we scramble to swap out the storm windows for the ancient wooden screens. And we let the house which has been boarded up against the sharp bite of bitter wind inhale the bloom of peonies and lavender and exhale the stagnant, dog breath air. The weeks of summer are like awaking from a coma- recovering from an illness long suffered. We don't know what to do with ourselves. We become gluttonous- consuming all the activities that have been withheld for too many months. We barbecue, we swim, we walk along a beach freshly raked of winter's debris (except for the canine carcass we found lolling on the shore). We attend festivals, we pull weeds and plant gardens, mow lawns and paint houses, eat lots of ice cream outdoors. We rush to take it all in- worried that somehow someone will steal the sun from us.

On the first 75 degree day, we inflated the $4 whale shaped, baby pool which barely holds 2 inches of water. And, before The Baby could dip her delicious naked toes in, Princess Commando claimed the head of the whale. Despite the fact that The Mr. was raising the older kids' 12' x 30" quick set pool (still a small wading hole, but never- the- less enjoyed by all), Princess Commando found more joy in reliving her much younger, much simpler days- when a plastic cup and a puddle's worth of water were enough to keep her entertained for 45 minutes. The Baby is not possessive of her things and her temperament is much better when she has company to share her things with. So, she lapped up the antics of her much taller sister splashing around beside her.

With the warm weather came the sacrifice of my creative outlets. I am not complaining. But, I do miss writing and illustrating for this blog. I am forever grateful for this community- for the poignant, moving, heartfelt, heart breaking, humorous writing I have the privilege of reading every day. Your words of encouragement for my own writing helped to give me the courage to submit my work for publication. It has been a while since I have been published or have submitted anything for publication. I am so excited to share with you that my essay, R.I.P Tooth Fairyhas been accepted for print in the Fall 2011 edition of Mamalode Magazine. The editor has also given me the opportunity to submit a new illustration to accompany the writing. There is a chance that the illustration may not get published. But, I am excited to begin work on it. The editor suggested a drawing of Princess Commando's "Anime eyes of sadness." I was trying to get her to pose the other night for a photograph with her forlorn face. And, I was met with this response,"Mom, why do you have to make me relive the saddest moment of my life, again?" Darling, it is all for art's sake. She did oblige me and even reenacted our conversation for a photograph of the two of us.

In two weeks, all of the children will be home for summer vacation. I am sure they will, as always, provide plenty of inspiring material. And, I am also sure that while I fulfill my body's quota of Vitamin D, feigning amnesia for those dreadful, arctic days, I will be aching inside to get my words out and to bring the pictures in my head to fruition. I hope this summer brings you all much beauty and many welcome adventures. I look forward to reading the summer chronicles of my fellow bloggers.