Chloe is asking Santa for a Little Cute Baby for Christmas. You may recall that Chloe already has a doll she has named Little Cute Baby. She got her for Christmas two years ago, and the doll accompanies us almost everywhere, including camping and vacations. Consequently, she is starting to get quite worn. So, Chloe is asking for a replacement - an identical replacement - a brand new, exactly the same Little Cute Baby. Oddly enough, this has been a dilemma for me. There is some part of me that is sad about the whole thing. Where is the sentimentality? Is everything so disposable nowdays? The ease and comfort of simply exchanging one thing for another, newer, better, should be practical and logical, and yet for some reason it disturbs me. Maybe it is because dolls are closer to people than things, because of their shape and because of how much love is invested in them daily. Perhaps the real fear is that one day I'll overhear Chloe's tiny voice saying, "Mommy is getting pretty worn, maybe we should get a newer one!"
Okay - another Seth moment. Today when we got home from school, Seth said, "Could I have something to eat? The hot dog at lunch was enough to sustain me until now, but I would love a little snack." He talks like a novel! A nine year old using the word "sustain?" I've always loved vocabulary, but now I'm raising vocab freaks! A couple of weeks ago at our friends' house, I was explaining that my kids are now 1,3,5,7,&9 years old. Seth said, "in other words, we have now embarked upon the stage of odd numbers." You should have seen how our friend looked at Seth! It almost made me snort my drink! But then this is the kid who, when he was in kindergarten, explained to me that he had scraped his hands because, "I trod upon my pants and tripped." Seriously - part of me is totally proud, and part is a little afraid! Seth actually wanted to perform sentence graphing for his talent at the talent show last month. Not at all normal, and completely my fault! Can kids still be cool and talk like that? Or will he be ostracized by his peers forever? Aarrgh - this parenting thing is complicated!!! Smart, cool, athletic, ambitious - but not geek, arrogant, over-competitive, or selfish. Where is that line?
A few years back, we finally gave in and bought a fake Christmas tree. It was a close-out, after-Christmas deal, and we had a ton of trouble finding a live tree in our price range that year, so we decided to move on. The next Christmas, instead of looking in a lot, we pulled out our plastic tree and set it up. You know what? It wasn't all that bad! No frozen toes or dismay at prices at the tree lot, or worrying about how long the tree would last before becoming a fire hazard and picking needles out of the carpet until spring. But what I really did miss was the smell - that fantastic, irreplaceable aroma of fresh pine that reminded me of childhood and ushered Christmas into the house. I love that smell!
Two days ago we hauled the fake tree out of the basement. The first thing that I noticed when I walked into the living room after the tree had been set up, was that it does indeed have a smell. It filled the room with it's own aroma - it smells like fresh plastic. You know, the way a new toy smells, just out of the box. And so my natural irony concluded that perhaps it is appropriate that a heavily commercialized holiday should smell like plastic! Imagine it now - Plastic scented holiday candles, plastic scented potpourri. They wouldn't call it "plastic," but instead, "the true scent of Christmas." Out with pine and cinnamon - let them go the way of wassail and sleigh rides, nostalgia for times past that mostly just live in songs. There is a new tradition in the making! What do you think? What other scents could be added to my new line of "True Scent" holiday candles?
The washing machine just ate Chloe's comforter. Months ago the washer went skewompus and the agitator only moves in one direction instead of going back and forth. Instead of repairing or replacing, I improvised: I turn the machine on the fastest agitating mode. The way I figure, really fast one direction is about the same as medium speed two directions, right? Worked fine -- until today. Luckily, I was in the basement when the machine started jumping around and making crazy noises - who knows what might have happened if I hadn't stopped it when I did? As it is, the comforter was twisted around clear inside the inner guts of the machine, the central agitator has come apart in several pieces, and I am soaking wet from wrestling the twisted, torn, dripping comforter from the machine's clutches. Told you I had a Greek Curse!!
I hear the flu season is going to be terrible this year. Is there ever a year that they don't say that? I'm waiting for the day when I open up my newspaper and read a headline declaring a projected healthy winter: Experts Predict Slow Flu Season: Don't worry about shots this year.
But no matter how crappy everyone else is going to feel, my house will be flu free! Why? Because I have spent the past several days jumping through the craziest hoops to get all of my household immunized! That may not sound like much of an accomplishment, but it truly is. Babies need to have two flu shots, given in half-doses. Children under 9 need to get the shot from a pediatric nurse. And Tysen's work does free flu shots for adults, but you have to be there within an exact window of time. So that is how our flu shots became a fiasco!
October 6th - Evey gets part one of her flu shot. Must get it early if the second one, exactly one month later, is to take effect before the flu season.
November 3rd - The Monday morning after Halloween weekend. I wander around the house in a daze just grateful to still be standing and wondering where to even begin with the mountains of mess throughout the house. Phone rings: "uuu Honey, you're going to kill me, but today is flu shot day at work and you need to be here at 12:15." Really. Change my clothes, do my hair, change toddler and baby clothes, do their hair, take kindergartener to school. On the way to school my phone rings: "uuu Honey, since Seth is nine, he doesn't have to have a pediatric nurse, so he can come in and get his shot too if you check him out of school." Great! Park at the school instead of just dropping off kindergartener, haul the baby and toddler into the school, wait in office forever until they realize that the reason no teachers are responding is that the class is at lunch. How happy do you think Seth was to see me at lunch? How much happier do you think he was when I told him that I was there to take him to get a flu shot? Needless to say, there was some foot-dragging. Back in the van - book it downtown to hubby's office, circle and find a parking spot, wait at the elevators - Tysen gets off the elevator with a look of extreme caution on his face. "uuu, Honey, you're going to kill me, but I got the date wrong. Flu shots are Friday." Really.
Friday, November 7th - Early day at school. That means that instead of checking Seth out of school (again) when I drop off Lily, I have to go back and get him to go down for flu shots at work. 10:40 - drop off kindergartener, go home, putter for 40 min., go back to school and check Seth out of school, pause and wonder for a moment if I should just go ahead and check Lily & Isaac out too, because school is out at quarter to one and that is really pushing it. But the prospect of trailing all five around downtown outweighs my better judgement, and I leave them in school. Back downtown with the pedal to the floor. Getting off the freeway, phone rings: "uuuu Honey, where are you? We're supposed to be there (two floors up from where he is sitting) in five minutes!" Really. Arrive, park, elevators, forms to fill out, hand forms in: "where is Seth?" the nice nurse asks. "Over there, hiding," is Tysen's response. "Oh, we also have the nasal mist, if he would prefer that. And what about your little one (Chloe); would she like the mist instead as well?" My turn, "umm, we understood that it was only for adults because there would be no pediatric nurse." "Well, we do, in fact, have a pediatric nurse. She is happy to help all of your children." Except the ones I left at school!!! Really. End up 30 min late to pick up the school kids - 30 minutes!!! Just as I turn onto the school's street, my empty light comes on on the van's gas tank. Quick call to Tysen - "how long can I still go when the empty light is on?" Get to the school. The guilt I was feeling at leaving them waiting that long was ridiculous, right? I mean, by the time they get their packs and jackets, get out of the school, and play on the grass like they always want to - it's not a big deal, right? I pull up to find them curled up in balls, huddling in a hole by the side of a hill because, as the remaining students waiting for rides thinned out, they were left conspicuous targets for some older boys who kept stealing backpacks, gloves, shoes, whatever they could get, and taunting them. Made me want to cry! If they had told me before I pulled away from that curb, boy howdy there would have been some bully boy heads rolling!!! I thought they were just playing, not trying to hide!! I'm a terrible mother!!
Today, November 10th - Kept Isaac home from the first part of school to keep an appointment I had made with the pediatrician weeks ago for an AM time before Lily goes to school. Four little kids and me running (well, Evey doesn't run - she just clings to me like a monkey while I run) through the parking lot, in the pouring rain, with Chloe crying that she doesn't want her poka-dot pants to get wet, to get to the pediatrician's office to wait for forty minutes to have a nurse give them THE EXACT SAME NASAL MIST! The mist doesn't even require a pediatric nurse! But Evey did get the second half of her SHOT.
So now our entire family has had our flu shots/nasal mists and we're ready to face the impending flu season. And my Mom thinks the whole thing is a conspiracy between the government and the pharmaceutical companies! I'm beginning to believe it.
I've decided that somewhere along the way I've ended up in a Greek epic; and as in all Greek epics, I have unknowingly offended one of those cranky gods who then decide to make me pay for it!! Last week I began making dinner - one of Tysen's favorites - a casserole that requires that I brown the hamburger, mix it with a bunch of other stuff, then cook it in the oven. I put the pound of hamburger in the frying pan, walked downstairs to get the tomato soup, and completely forgot what I went down for. After a few seconds of thought, I settled on needing to sew Halloween costumes as my reason for being in the basement (my sewing machine is in the same room as our food storage).
So I sat down and worked on sewing. 15 minutes later, I smelled something burning. The kids, of course, had followed me downstairs and were playing, so no one had been upstairs to notice before it got pretty bad. How stupid could I be? I ran upstairs, threw away the large blackened bullet of burger, opened all the windows (though it was really cold outside) and started over. Finishing up the casserole, I popped it in the oven just in time for the phone to ring. Candace was calling with a question about the baby. I talked to her for a while and just closed up all the windows, then I noticed smoke billowing down the hallway. The casserole had boiled over inside the oven! Huge mess! Terrible smell! Smoke everywhere!!! And right then, Tysen walked in from work....
After a lovely dinner of twice-burnt casserole, the evening proceeded normally. Tysen was in the kitchen doing homework after we put the kids to bed, when I started smelling something again, and noticed even worse smoke. Rushing into the kitchen in a panic, I was greeted by a consternated Tysen who, in an attempt to help out and make it so that I wouldn't have to clean the mess out of the bottom of the oven, had turned the self-cleaning cycle on. While he knew that the stove locks down for six hours and everything inside gets burned to a crisp, what he didn't anticipate was the toxic smoke and smell!! It was nearly unbearable. It burned the back of the throat and made eyes water.
So, at the end of the day, I guess we should just be grateful that our house is still standing and that everyone is well - but no one can blame us for eating out the next night!!
Crazy, true - you are saying - but not Greek-epic-wrath-of-the-Gods worthy. Oh, but it was only the beginning. Stay tuned for tales of our last trip to Lagoon and the never-ending saga of the Halloween costumes. You will believe!
It has been awhile since I've written. See, my husband and I took all the littles and and went on a camping trip. We got home exactly a week ago, and I'm finally beginning to feel as if I'm starting to recover and get my feet under me again. I have loved camping since I was a kid. I always planned to live that way. I remember, even in jr. high planning my dream cabin where I would live at one with nature. Now, I can barely survive 5 days with 5 kids in the wild! I admit it - I have gotten soft. No more plans to someday move "off the grid" for this gal. Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed every minute of the trip, and I've already reserved the campsite for next summer, but it was soooo hard!!! I thought that my daily life was already one of perpetual motion, but up in the mountains, where the weather changes constantly and food prep is much more involved, I felt like a whirling dervish!! It's regular life complicated by all four seasons every 24 hours with everything packed in tiny spaces. I don't remember camping this way. I remember leisure - listening to the wind in the trees - fishing on the river - reading - hiking - communing with nature. I understand now why my Mom always laughed when I told her I was going to live in the middle of nowhere when I grew up. Ah, wisdom.
But I still really enjoyed myself. We go to the most beautiful spot, and it is fun to watch the kids discover it the way I did as a kid. Wordsworth had it right when he called little boys "nature's priest." Although my Lily is more wild than any of the boys - and more covered in head-to-toe dirt! It is amazing to watch the stages as the kids at first are fascinated with everything, then they get bored wondering what to make of this non-technological world, then their minds begin to open, their imaginations begin to put down roots in the rich mountain soil, and something beautiful and wonderful grows. By the time we leave, they know every rock and tree, where the grasshoppers are, the best skipping rock sites... And they inevitably have established "clubhouses." Not built, or altered from the way they find them, just spots where they gather - a fallen tree that makes a large hollow, the canopy of a giant pine, or a grassy clearing surrounded by aspen trees. I always regret bringing them back to civilization (though one more day without a shower and I'd just cry). In another Wordsworth poem, he writes, "and she shall lean her ear in many a secret place, where rivulets dance their wayward round, and beauty borne of murmuring sound shall pass into her face." This notion resonates within me as I watch my children - filthy, bedraggled, sunburned, bug-bitten and more beautiful than at any polished time because the beauty of nature has passed into their faces.
And so even though it takes me two weeks non-stop preparation followed by a whirlwind camping trip, followed by another two weeks of recovery and laundry, I will never neglect a summer by omitting a trip into the wild for my little wild ones. But I won't be moving there permanently any time soon!
There is a tree in my yard that is amazingly beautiful and brings me great joy. It was here when we moved in, so I don't know what kind of tree it is, but it has almond-shape leaves and it weeps just gently enough to give it an elegant, umbrella canopy. In the spring, it puts on a show of blossoms in dangling, delicate white clusters that make the whole yard ethereal. Of course, the birds love the tree too - and my mornings in summer always begin filled with birdsong, like a Disney movie. Only the part no-one likes to mention is that having a beautiful tree that brings beautiful birds also means a yard covered in not-so-beautiful bird crap! Every morning I have the lovely task of getting outside before the kids do to hose down their table, the slide and swings, and anything and everything else left in the yard overnight. It also makes it a bit of a gamble to actually sit under the shady canopy and emerge clean. Why does it always seem that in order to enjoy beauty, we must put up with a certain amount of crap?
Once I start thinking about it, I find it in almost every aspect of life - especially when it comes to parenting. A U2 song recognizes that "there's always pain before the child is born." And from that moment on it continues into infinity; parenting is full of crap - literal and figurative. It is down-and-dirty-not-for-the-faint-of-heart-back-breaking-heart-breaking work. But flabbergasting beauty is the payoff. The look of adoration that my baby gives me just because I walked into the room. Tiny arms wrapped around my neck. Listening to the miracle of my kindergartener reading for the first time. Reading a story written by my nine-year-old. Bedtime kisses. Overheard prayers. Tutus and lightsabers and baby dolls.
It would be nice to have the beauty without the crap - enjoy the love without enduring the nights of ill children vomiting - but I'm beginning to believe that it is a universal imperative. It's the stupid adage that we'll enjoy the bike more if we earn the money to pay for it ourselves. Somehow it's true. Others may admire my tree, but they don't get the birdsong in the morning, the blossoms in the spring, or the crap to scrub. Others may enjoy the company of my children, but I get the truly beautiful because I also get the unsavory. But if dichotomy is a universal imperative, I personally believe that it is not at all an even one. In the grand scheme of things, when all is weighed in the balance, the beauty in life, in parenting, and in trees eclipses the requisite bad stuff.
An overheard scene:
Lily: Come on Chloe, time to take a shower.
Chloe: Okay mommy (gets into the closet and makes shwish noises)
Lily: All done, come get dressed now.
Chloe: Okay mommy.
Lily: You look pretty. Now it's time to eat, let's go to the kitchen.
Chloe: Okay mommy.
While trotting by me in the hall, Lily announces, "We're playing house." Obviously. Yet I wonder. If playing at being mommy and child is a reflection of their reality, why are they so much more obedient to "mommy" than they are to Mommy? If I ever asked any of the kids to do something and had an instant response of "okay Mommy" followed by prompt action, I would think I was being punk'd!! Maybe tomorrow morning I'll get up and tell the kids, "today we're playing house, I'll be the Mommy and you be the kids - now let's eat breakfast and get dressed." Think I'll get an "okay Mommy," from any of them?
I never cease to be amazed by how quickly babies learn what is important. Evey has, at a mere eight months old, discovered the critical fact that spoons=goodness. Though she has only been fed baby cereal (yuck, in my opinion) and a few mashed fruits, she knows that when someone is eating with a spoon, she wants it. I don't know if it is from looks on the faces of those eating ice cream, pudding, or even jello, or from some other body language that we no longer pay attention to as we get used to seeing it, but babies know that whatever we are eating, as long as it is on a spoon, is worth stretching, reaching, wriggling, almost jumping out of the safety of protecting arms to get. She sees someone eating with a spoon and she gets so excited - bouncing up and down, kicking her feet, and reaching with every inch of her body to try to get it. Once or twice I have given in, letting her lick a tiny bit of chocolate from a sundae off my spoon - which was a terrible idea because it simply re-affirmed her already established ideas of spoon specialness. Forks - not so intriguing. They just hold stuff like a salad or casserole - but spoons, that's where the good stuff is!! I can't help but agree.
Today it rained, and rained, and rained. Since I live in the desert, that is a huge deal. Perhaps a rainy day may be synonymous with sadness sometimes, but in the middle of the summer, in the desert, it is a miracle. My kids and I sat out on the porch and watched it. We just sat and watched the water fall from the sky and the gutters overflow. Well, it's not too long before the kids just can't take it any more. First an arm, then a leg, then the whole body dancing in the rain. My first impulse was to stop them - if they get drenched I'll have to change clothes and do laundry....but I checked my self-preservation instinct and sat back to enjoy the show. They then moved on to the overflowing gutter running swift with rainwater. Big alarms here, right? Children should not play in dirty gutters on the side of the street! Again, I checked myself, watched vigilantly for cars in the distance, and let the dams get built, the leaves race, and the glorious splash dances ensue. Childhood perfection.
Last night, while trying to get the kids to bed, the baby started making goofy squealing noises that set the kids off giggling. Once it started, it got completely out of control. Trying to stop it was like trying to roll back the tide. I would just get everyone quieted down, then one would do that holding-back-the-giggle-snort, or the baby would squeal, and everyone would explode all over again. As a good parent, I must get them to bed. I must control! Except it got to me too. Suddenly I was giggling just as hard, which made my husband finally lose it too, and there we were, a whole shaking, jiggling, rolling-on-the-ground mass of giddy.
Lesson learned from these two seemingly unrelated instances? Let it be, sometimes. I try so hard to do all the right parenting things, taking my kids to the zoo, to the children's museum, to Disneyland.... so that they will be well-rounded and have a full childhood. But sometimes it is too organized, too planned, too artificial. Sometimes the fullest moments of childhood are organic and spontaneous - despite the mess, chaos, and extra work involved. The payoff is miraculous, because those times that I override my adult brain turn into magical moments - the ones that crystalize and become precious gems that I wouldn't trade for anything on this earth!!
As I am just a beginner at this whole blogging thing, I have the distinct impression of myself easing into a very cold swimming pool - first the toes, then to the ankles, then slowly on in. Many times though, I feel that the pool floor suddenly takes a drastic plunge and I'm in over my head. It's not the technology I struggle with, a lot of it comes from being unsure as to what I expect from blogging. Am I recording for myself or hoping to attract an audience? Jury is still out on that one, and I just try to tread water. And why, when I read other blogs, do I feel, not inspired but hopeless - like, "well, they are so good at this, why waste my time?" Stupid, when I have taught hundreds of students that everyone's voice offers something unique and valuable to the world.
In gasping for air, I have been reading online advice for new bloggers. Mostly it just pushes me further into the deep end and turns me off to blogging all together. For example, Mom blogs are huge, and the more pictures and details the better - but if you value your privacy at all, and to protect your children and family from online predators, don't post pictures, give details, or worst-of-all-sins - use their real names. The suggestion: use nicknames for your kids. Great! Fantastic! I already have trouble attaching the proper moniker to the proper child! Though I swore I'd never do it, I go through the classic parent stereotype roll call - "Seth..Isaa..Lil..I mean Chloe!" My husband assures me that it could be worse - we could have pets. He grew up thinking that his nickname was "Fluffy," because his Mom called him that more than the dog who actually owned that name. So add to the already chaotic name game an online handle for each child and you might as well commit me now - I'd be loony bins in no time!
So maybe I totally suck, and have no clue how to be a hip blog, but hey, I'm still writing - that's something, eh?
I am the lucky member of a small percentage of women who have hyperemesis - meaning that when I am pregnant, I am unbearably crazy sick - usually needing IV fluids just to stay conscious. It is torture, physical and psychological, for all nine months. Silver lining? I lose weight! With my last pregnancy I lost 20lbs total. Forced bulimia! Down side? I gain it back, despite all of my efforts to keep it off. It is absolutely unfair. I mean, the price I pay during all those months should at least buy me the right to a little chocolate now and then!
And that's where I'm at now eight months after having a baby- watching the scale drift upward in frustrated hopelessness. Reading articles about how all I need to do is move around for at least 20 min a day to maintain, more to lose. Move around? I have five kids! Unless I'm asleep, I don't stop moving around. How is that perpetual motion disqualified as weight-fighting movement? So I try to move more. With no time to exercise in the traditional way, I have created my own aerobic workout that I should definitely patent. Here's the gist - while doing dishes, do squats; while folding laundry, jog and do lunges; while dusting, do the chain-step; lift kids for resistance training. Whatever housework or child-care task needs doing, it can double as a workout! I could call it Despercise - exercise for the desperate. Or Momaerobics. Can you just see the informercial for the workout video? "Get it all done and tighten that butt in just six weeks!" Seriously, I could make it on Oprah with this one!
Unfortunately, the scale disagrees that it is a proper workout. Dang!
My kids were discussing vacation with me and asked if the motel we were staying at would have a cat pool. "I am going to swim in the cat pool as soon as we get there!" They exclaimed. What, you might ask, is a cat pool? So did I. Anyone who has ever questioned children knows the insanity of trying to arrive at any kind of logic, but finally I discovered that their "cat pool" was derived from "kitty pool," which is a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the true origin -"kiddie pool." These several years of my children playing in water and just now I'm finding out that in their minds swimming is somehow related to cats! And, as I always do, I can't help but wonder if there is a lesson to be learned here on communication and listening practices. How many times do we misunderstand each other, like that classic game of telephone, without even realizing it? I know my husband and I do it to each other all the time, and only find out after some mutual frustration that we are actually saying and wanting the same things, only stated and understood differently. So I'm vowing now that every time I feel judgmental or wonder at someone else's motivations, I'm going to think of cats in a swimming pool, and hope that it recalls to me that we never know what is going on in other people's minds.
So my 2 year old has developed a new psychological ploy in her ongoing struggle to run the universe. She simply suggests her desired outcome instead of waiting for someone else to tell her what is going on. For example, my husband calls her from the other room. She has left her toys all over the floor, which she knows will get her in trouble, and she can hear from Daddy's voice that all is not sweetness and light. But instead of trying to hide, or skulking into the room dejectedly, she bounces in - all joy and energy - and asks in her sweetest little voice, "what, Daddy? You want to give me a cookie?" Or when I was hurrying her (as always) to try and actually get ready and get out of the house sometime in that same day, her response to my "hurry up! We've got to go now!" was another sweet voiced reply - "Where? Disneyland?"
Oddly enough, instead of being aggravating, her positivity diffuses the negativity with the result that, manipulated or not, we sometimes even give her what she has suggested. Not an instant trip to Disneyland, of course. But perhaps, after having her pick up her toys, she ends up with a cookie she wouldn't have otherwise received. Which gets me to thinking. What if we did more of what she does? What if we expected positive results and actually vocalized it more? I know that there are whole books on the power of positive thinking, and that the latest "hot" idea is "The Secret," about putting out to the universe what it is you want and then going about as if you are certain to get it. But still, could it really work?
I used to get really irritated with people who declared that they refuse to read newspapers or watch the news because it was just too depressing, but now there are days when I just can't stand how I end up feeling after yet another story on how bad things are and dire projections for the future. What if, when economists, reporters, politicians, employers, anyone who has power over our lives begins to offer more negative, we simply beat them to the chase with, "what, you want to make my life better?" Seriously, I'm not that naive, but still - I wonder. Especially as Chloe eats her cookie.
This May has put me in a rather pensive mood (though that tends to sound peaceful and quiet, which my life is decidedly NOT). This month my oldest turned 9, my youngest turned 6 months, and my husband and I will be celebrating our 11th anniversary. All of these things are much bigger to me than to anyone else in the world, of course. Even other family members see my son's birthday as just a date, a gift, and some cake - while I see it as an amazing passage of an impossible amount of time. Nine years? Where in the world did nine years go? I look at my six month old and it seems anachronistic because I feel that my oldest was just that size. Really. How could I have both? Not to mention the three children in between! When did that happen? And having a 9 year old, and being married eleven years (officially more than a decade), wouldn't that make me an adult now? When did that happen?
I keep thinking about when I was nine, and the memories that I have are so vivid and full of detail. Now that is my son, and it worries me about my own words, actions, even decorating! I remember going to friends' houses and I still can describe what each of their home's atmospheres felt like, what their moms were like, and what my own home was like. Have I made conscious choices to create an atmosphere that reflects me to my children and their friends? Not really. I mostly react to life - flying by the seat of my pants. Suddenly I am looking around and trying to see it all through the eyes of my kids. I wonder where I've taken them in my haphazard journey. Shouldn't parenting be like a planned out, methodological, pedagogy?
But life moves so fast, and kids are so unpredictable. It's like trying to hold water in your hands. Every time that I try to take control and establish systems and order, I find my hands empty and the water flowing down the stream. And so instead of holding on, I guess I just jump in and let it take me along. It is more satisfying to be caught up in the current, drenched in and surrounded by life. I enjoy things more - until I feel guilty that a good parent should be controlling it all - planning it and supervising - so I stand and try to stop the whole river with my bare hands once again.
Alright - enough with the stupid river analogy. The passage of time is a weird thing though. I've heard others say that it seems to move faster as we get older. It does move faster. Though the actual unit of time is constant, relative to how much time we've each been on earth, it moves more quickly by virtue of being a smaller and smaller percentage of the whole. For a one-week-old baby, one day is something like 14% of their life - but for the baby's 30 year old mom, that day is more like .0009%. So when it seems that a lazy day of childhood summer lasted forever, and as adults we can't seem to ever find a day like that anymore - it is true - relatively.
But somehow having kids seems to slow it down a bit. It's as if we can latch on to their relative timeframe sometimes and share that magical almost-stand-still time. I think that is most apparent with babies. I have so many questions about babies, and one of the top on my list is why watching them is so fascinating. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, and yet I find myself gazing for extended periods of time at that tiny face. What for? I can put in a masterpiece of a movie to watch while holding my sleeping baby, only to ignore the film while I watch my baby sleep! Sleeping!! Not even doing anything!! Why? But I can't help myself. And for those moments, time goes slower - focus gets very clear. And I watch my baby, with her curled eyelashes resting on her velvety cheeks, and listen, completely enchanted by her breathing - as if it is her unique invention and no one has ever breathed before. Maybe that is why we want to have children. Perhaps it is the uniqueness of every moment, and the way those moments step out of our quicker-paced adult time.
Wordsworth covers this arc so beautifully in "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood." I loved the poem when I was in college, but I now realize how little I really understood it before I had kids. I'll sign off with a slightly abridged copying the poem, which is one of my favorites. It's long, but beautiful, so take a moment to read it - every time I discover something more insightful.
"There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yor; --
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
The Rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the Rose,
The Moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare,
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, wher'er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth
Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,
And while the young lambs bound
As to the tabor's sound,
To me alone there came a thought of grief;
A timely utterance gave that thought relief,
And I again am strong:
The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep;
No more shall grief of mine the season wrong;
I hear the Echoes through the mountains throng,
The Winds come to me from the fields of sleep,
And all the earth is gay;
Land and sea
Give themselves up to jollity.
and with the heart of May
Doth every Beast keep holiday; --
Thou child of Joy
Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy Shepherd-boy!
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
Behold the Child among his new-born blisses,
A six years' Darling of a pigmy size!
See, where 'mid work of his own hand he lies,
Fretted by sallies of his mother's kisses,
With light upon him from his father's eyes!
See, at his feet, some little plan or chart,
Some fragment from his dream of human life,
Shaped by himself with newly-learned art;
A wedding or a festival,
A mourning or a funeral;
And this hath now his heart,
And unto this he frames his song:
Then will he fit his tongue
To dialogues of business, love, or strife;
But it will not be long
Ere this be thrown aside,
And with new joy and pride
The little Actor cons another part;
Filling from time to time his "humorous stage:
With all the Persons, down to palsied Age,
That Life brings with her in her equipage;
As if his whole vocation
Were endless imitation
Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie
Thy Soul's immensity
Thou best Philosopher, who yet dost keep
Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind,
That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep,
Haunted for ever by the eternal mind, --
Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!
On whom those truths do rest,
Which we are toiling all our lives to find,
In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave;
Thou, over whom thy Immortality
Broods like the Day, a Master o'er a Slave,
A Presence which is not to be put by;
Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might
of heaven-born freedom on thy being's height,
Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke
The years to bring the inevitable yoke,
Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?
Full soon thy Soul shall have her earthly freight,
And custom lie upon thee with a weight,
Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!
O joy! that in our embers
Is something that doth live,
That nature yet remembers
What was so fugitive!
The thought of our past years in me doth breed
Perpetual benediction; not indeed
For that which is most worthy to be blest;
Delight and liberty, the simple creed
Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest,
With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast: --
Not for these I raise
The song of thanks and praise;
But for those obstinate questionings
Of sense and outward things,
Fallings from us, vanishings;
Blank misgivings of a Creature
Moving about in worlds not realised,
High instincts before which our mortal Nature
Did tremble like a guilty Thing surprised:
But for those first affections
Those shadowy recollections
Which, be they what they may,
Are yet the fountain light of all our day,
Are yet a master light of all our seeing;
Uphold us, cherish and have power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
To perish never;
Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavor,
Nor Man nor Boy,
Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy!
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the might waters rolling evermore.
Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
And let the young Lambs bound
As to the tabor's sound!
We in thought will join in your throng,
Ye that pipe and ye that play,
Ye that through your hearts to-day
Feel the gladness of the May!
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.
And O, ye Fountains, meadows, Hills, and Groves,
Forebode not any severing of our loves!
Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;
I only have relinquished one delight
To live beneath your more habitual sway.
I love the Brooks which down their channels fret,
Even more than when I tripped lightly as they;
The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
Is lovely yet;
The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
that hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."
- William Wordsworth
As I walk around my house filled with little people and all their little things - from small scale furniture to itty-bitty socks - I often feel like a giant, like Gulliver when his travels brought him to live in the land of the Lilliputians. Swift wrote Gulliver's Travels as a political analogy, but I don't think I'm stretching much to see that parenting involves some of the same challenges as governing, especially when those diminutive beings we call children seem to have a language and culture that is completely foreign (any parent who understands their 2 year old when no one else can, or lets a child make their own sandwich with whatever toppings they want can back me up). My experiences with my children (five of them between the ages of 5 months and 9 years old) teach me and challenge me in a way I never would have believed.
After giving birth to my oldest son, life changed dramatically. I was now completely responsible for every detail of life for this tiny non-communicative person. At least, I thought that he was non-communicative. Then I learned, like an anthropologist, to watch for patterns in behavior and noises. Before long, I was able to tell the hungry cry from the anger cry from the pain cry. That was my first clue that this was going to take just as much study and learning on my part as it would for the growing and developing baby. It wasn't at all like the sculpting of raw material into a perfect child who would then become a paragon of a man - the one my imagination had created during my pregnancy. No - I was on his turf, and as each subsequent child arrived at our house, outnumbering the adults and transforming our house into Lilliput, I became Gulliver - the giant in a land of small human creatures. It is their culture that I learn, their languages I respond to, and their imaginations that define our household. Not that I let them run the roost - there is discipline, and I am a serious parent - but the little people's interests often supersede my own. I'm not complaining; living in a world where you can be a pirate one minute and a princess the next is exhilarating and joyous. It pushes me to my intellectual and emotional limits as I try to balance living and learning in their world while teaching and guiding them so that they will grow to someday join the land of the big people.
Like Gulliver, through studying the odd habits of this tiny foreign culture, I find myself learning more about my pre-suppositions. Every time I upbraid a child and their response is "why not," I have to pause and really think about it. Seriously, why not eat spaghetti for breakfast? Why not color your entire body with magic markers? Why not wear a Superman cape everywhere you go? And on and on... Why do we do things one way and not another? As adults we get so set in expectations and established thought patterns that we don't even question our actions. Kids force us to do that. In a society that increasingly values self-discovery, this shouldn't be undervalued. The premise of "Eat, Pray, Love," a phenomenally popular book about "finding," oneself, is that "stepping outside the box," going somewhere completely foreign from your own life helps to gain perspective on the pre-suppositions that have created that "box." I believe that is true - it has happened to me. I studied in France while I was in college, and it definitely altered how I think of things. I mark it as a major life-changing event that challenged all of my notions of self. I came back different. But I came back. The perspective shift was invaluable in my self-development, but the amazing thing about being a mom is that kids are not a life-changing event - they are life and change forever and ever - every day is a paradigm shift, an epiphany. Every day I find out who I am again, only to have it challenged and re-created the next day. Having children - living with them, learning from them, teaching them, loving them unconditionally, being infinitely responsible for and tied to other lives - teaches us, helps us, shows us the depths of ourselves in a way that little else truly can.
But being a parent is not all sweetness and light. It is appropriate for my analogy that the Lilliputians captured Gulliver and kept him chained as their prisoner. Sometimes parenting does feel claustrophobic - no matter how much I adore my children and wouldn't give it up for anything. There are poopy diapers and pouting and calls from the school principal. There are those dark and naked moments when inadequacy barely begins to describe how I feel. Night after night of little sleep. Day after day of absolutely never ending demands that MUST be met, and I am the only one to meet them. Even with an unbelievably wonderful husband who is the best of all possible dads, I am, like most moms, ultimately responsible and it overwhelms me. And yet even from this I learn more about myself. There is a raw, primal side of parenting - a "find out what you're truly made of" side. The all-night vigil over a sick child when I haven't had any sleep for what seems like forever taking care of other ill children for several previous nights, and I am also ill, and the fever breaks and the child sleeps just as the baby wakes up crying, and then the day starts and there is breakfast to get and school and homework and every other trivial and non-trivial need to attend to and I'm not sure if I'm even fully conscious or fully human any more. All previous accomplishments and honors mean nothing, all social recognition and status are stripped away; I stand devoid of everything but the core of who I am - and I find out I'm strong. Even if I'm falling apart and weeping like the children I'm caring for, I am still standing. It's a Rocky moment. Nothing can beat me down.
And that is why I'm starting this blog. To share what I learn. It may be just another of the hundreds of "Mom Blogs" out there, but I prefer to think of it as an anthropological journal of sorts - a record of a species of humans with the potential to teach us all more about ourselves - a journey from the heights of joy to the gates of hell without a road map of any kind. If that sounds like an interesting trip, stay tuned....