Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Welcome the Stranger

One day while walking the kids to school, Sean was telling me how his brand new tennis shoes allowed him to run really fast. I smiled, agreed with him, and continued schlepping Audrey's violin on my shoulder while holding the leashed dog in one hand and a dog-poop-bag in another.

Sean: You know, Mama. I bet if you put on your tennis shoes and tied them really tight, you might actually be able to run.

I scoffed.

me: I can run!

Sean: You can?

me: Of course I can! You just don't see me run very much because I have all this stuff weighing me down.

Sean: Oh. Yeah, (almost to himself) I just never see you run...

me: I am able to run. I just choose to walk.

His belief that maybe I could run if I just tried was endearing, but I suddenly felt very alien to my own child. I dropped the kids at school and as I walked home by myself, a half block from our duplex, I began to jog. I started to pick up speed, sprinting, and our dog happily raced alongside me. The air whipped my hair around and I felt strong and powerful in full strides. Then I got home: my lower back muscles pinched, my breathing choppy, my throat dry. I reminded myself why I don't typically choose to run.

That morning Sean saw me as a stranger to running, a stranger to being a youthful, energetic kid. I saw him as a stranger to me: why doesn't he see his mother as athletic? Then after running home, I felt like a stranger to myself. Running takes a toll on my back and knees, and I can have pain for days after pushing myself to hard running. The real kicker physically, however, is not running but when I try to do a cartwheel: never have I felt more like a stranger in my own body.

Sometimes the strangeness or divide between parent and child is funny, and that's proven in my Mother's Day present from Audrey last spring. Her belief that I'm not at all athletic has been memorialized for all eternity in a laminated Mother's Day poem. Sometimes the Stranger that needs welcoming is the unexpected mess: like the day Sean stepped in dog poop in the yard not once, but twice. Ruining not just one pair of shoes for the day BUT TWO. The Stranger I welcomed that day was a smell, a mess, and poopy footprints all over the kitchen needing immediate clean-up.

Sometimes the strangeness is not comical but curious and disconcerting - like realizing I'm no longer capable of doing a cartwheel. Or when Frances turns up at the side of my bed at 2am wanting to snuggle, or when her uptick in tantrums finally leads to a Strep Throat diagnosis on Thanksgiving weekend.

Sometimes the practice of Welcoming the Stranger is useful to me as a parent. When I am at wit's end with my children, my final resort is to imagine that they aren't mine. If I imagine that they belong to someone else, I can muster more patience. If I think they are my best friend's child, then I will want to roll out the red carpet for them, give them the benefit of the doubt, excuse a crabby day because they must have more going on than I know. I can shower mercy on children who aren't my own, but when the daily grind at home lowers my patience, my husband and children are the first to see my less gracious side.

That was the story of yesterday: I was challenged to welcome the stranger in a confirmed case of Influenza A in Sean. Then I found our dog laying on our bed (not allowed in our house!) right after Tom had lathered flea and tick medicine on the back of her neck: the duvet cover reeked and needing washing. Later Frances wet her pants (which on most days is a rarity), and shortly thereafter she spilled apple juice all over the kitchen floor: the apple juice that had just been purchased for Sean and his friend, Influenza. As the hours ticked by my day got stranger and stranger, but I forgot about my trick of welcoming my own children as strangers. By the time Tom came home I was in a bad mood.

I got stuck in the mindset that "these children are mine," and therefore they should act or respond in a reasonable, logical way, if only I can set the parameters of the day correctly. If they are mine then I take responsibility for trying to make each moment of each day go well or make everyone happy all the time. When I release that thought, when I welcome them as a stranger, I am able to see them as another human being in need of assistance. When I welcome them as strangers I try to control the situation less and stay present to the circumstances of the day more. What I forgot yesterday is this: welcoming the stranger as a stay-at-home mom means welcoming the daily foibles, sickness, and messes. Welcoming the stranger keeps me patient and sane. It's the practice of reminding myself that my children don't belong to me, but rather we belong to each other.

"If we have no peace, it's because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." ~ Mother Teresa

Monday, February 13, 2017


I’ve often wondered what kind of a parent I am. I’ve heard the labels of “helicopter parents” or the more lackadaisical among us who raise “free range kids.” I can see aspects of my personality present in each of the labels, and yet I’ve not been able to determine which one pertains to me. There are pros and cons to each label, and neither one really captures the kind of parent I want to be. A recent experience forced me to think about these two labels again.

I was enjoying a pleasant morning with two other moms. I brought scones over to my sister-in-law's house, she had coffee for all of us, and we each had a toddler. The toddlers played in the living room and we sat at the dining room table in the adjacent room. Moments arose where two of the toddlers would begin to wrestle and fight over a toy, and the moms would break the conversation long enough to glance over our shoulders.  The moms paused to watch the aggravated faces of our toddlers as they duked it out with Neanderthal-like thinking and reasoning: “if I pull on this toy long enough, this other kid is bound to give up.” One such fight started to pull the toddlers on the floor, the fight devolving into a toddler WWF, and one mom said to the other, “I’m just going to let that go.” This is the strength of free range parenting, right? Let them figure it out! I often walk the line between how far do I let something go versus step in and keep my toddler from physically assaulting another. Yet sometimes I jump in too soon. As I observed these two moms whom I love and admire, allowing their quarreling toddlers to wrestle it out, I thought, yes, I can learn something from this moment. It’s okay to let the Neanderthal minds reach their own conclusion, especially if no one is getting hurt.

Shortly thereafter the toddlers headed upstairs. Each mom took turns periodically running upstairs to check on kids when dangerous screams or crying was heard. After a while we relaxed into a long conversation, content with the absence of the toddlers so we could complete our thoughts and converse as adults, uninterrupted. There was a moment when the conversation stopped because someone thought she heard a toilet flush upstairs. Of course, this was quickly dismissed as a possibility because why would the toddlers ever consider playing in the bathroom? At another moment, I heard a large cheer go up from the toddlers, a muffled, joyous cry, that made me happy and I reassured myself: you see, Anna Marie, you don’t need to be overbearing or a “helicopter parent,” because left to their own devices long enough, the children figure out how to play well together. It’s not Neanderthal wrestling and fighting, it’s not Lord of the Flies: it’s just good, clean fun.

Then another 15 minutes later, the fateful sound of the toilet flushing entered our consciousness, and we broke our conversation to go check on the toddlers. I had yet to take a turn running upstairs to check on the kiddos, so I sprang up and volunteered myself. Once upstairs I saw no children, just the closed bathroom door, so I headed straight to it. I came in the bathroom just in time to see one of the toddlers throw his socks in the toilet, and a little hand reach for the handle.

Me: hey guys, what are you doing? No! Don’t flush that!

Like eyes that must adjust to the harsh sunlight, I began to take in my surroundings with increasing confusion. Nothing made sense: the toddlers weren’t wearing any pants. In fact, two of them, my daughter included, had their diapers off. How in the world did that happen? And why? I could see remnants of toilet paper strewn all over the floor, baseboards, and walls – but the paper was wet, not dry. Why was the floor so wet? I walked further into the bathroom to see a mound of wet toilet paper, plastic bags removed from the small trash can, and a diapers shoved into the corner. One diaper was filled with diarrhea, and it looked as though it had been dunked in water – toilet water? – over and over again, because the diaper innards were swollen and bloated.

This was the moment that I continue to re-live, now 4 days later, still as fresh and nauseating as if that moment were now. The children were crowded around the toilet like the witches of Macbeth – their cauldron filled with water and excrement. Their brew was strewn all over the walls, floor, and on their little bodies. Their eyes were joyous, they were proud of themselves. Frankie told me they were having a Pee Pee Party. I beg to differ. This was no Pee Pee Party. If I had a Twitter account, it would have read:


I glanced more closely at my daughter to see that her bottom "the smoking gun," hers was the diarrhea diaper now soaked in the corner. My stomach churned. I began to yell.

Me: Susie! SUsie! SUSIE!!! We have a big mess up here – I need your help!!

The joy in the toddlers eyes quickly turned to tears as the moms descended upon the bathroom and began to yell. Between the three of us moms, we have birthed 11 children, spanning over the past decade. Not one of us had ever had a child remove their own diaper, much less a diaper full of poop. It was a Poopocalypse.

Baths ensued for all three toddlers. Laundry was started: kids’ clothes, towels that were just innocent bystanders in the bathroom, rags upon rags that we used to scrub the toilet, walls, windowsill, and floors. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. We drilled it into their heads: that they are NEVER, EVER, EVER to play in the toilet. Never again. Frankie cried as I washed her in the bathtub, telling her how disappointed I was.

Frankie: I (sob sob) waaaaannt (sob sob) Daaaadddddyyyyy! (sob tears sob sob)
Me: I do too! I wish Daddy were here, too: so he could clean up this disgusting mess!

If I was a helicopter parent, would I have let that situation happen? Probably not. If I were a raising free range kids, would I consider this just part their learning? Doubtful. I’m still confused about which of those labels come close to my style of parenting. Of course I realize that labels don’t do me – or anybody – any good, and they don't ever fully articulate the scope of parenting. My only conclusion was that if I had a helicopter, as a parent, I would have gotten into it and flown away. Instead I stayed there in solidarity with my fellow moms: bathing kids, doing laundry, wearing rubber gloves, laughing and sighing while up to our eyeballs in shit.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Grannie's Eulogy

My grandmother, Anna Leah Agniel, passed away on August 11, 2016. She was three weeks shy of her 94th birthday. I was honored to speak at her funeral.

{walking up to pulpit, adjusting microphone, pulling out lipstick, applying lipstick without a mirror blotting lipstick on back of hand}

...and then she would gesture with it {taking lipstick and pointing out to the crowd} "now, we just need to move that table over here." Or if she was cooking and had a carrot in her hand, she would gesture with that, "please bring that platter into the kitchen." 

I have so, so many great memories of Grannie. And yet when I started to put thoughts together for her eulogy, the memory that kept coming to mind was from down at the cabin in Shadow Valley. Often we would be down swimming in the lake when Pup and Gran would arrive. Their arrival came with great fanfare, honking of the car horn, and their voices, hellos, echoing across the lake. Though we were down in the water and they were up on top of the hill, you could hear their voices distinctly.

Soon after arriving, Grannie and Puppy would come down to the dock, they would grab chairs from the breezeway, and they would come sit - drinks in hand - while we swam. Grannie was the picture of grace and poise: she always wore lipstick and makeup, her hair was beautifully curled, she had on a nice skirt and summer blouse, panty hose, and dress shoes. Though I knew the answer to this question, I asked every single time:

me: Grannie, are you going to come swimming with us?

and she would say,"Well, hunney, I don't think so, but I'm happy to just sit here and watch."

Grannie's words always had layers of meaning. For example, in this response "Well, hunney" carried with it deep love and affection. She loved us deeply and she let us know it. And then the "I don't think so" which meant "not on your life, will I get in that lake water." And finally "I'm happy to just sit here and watch" was her loyal presence with us. Even if she wasn't going to get in that water, she was there, witnessing and being present in our lives.

Grannie was a woman who did not waste time. I remember a weekend when she came to stay at our house because our parents were out of town, and I was so grateful when my parents returned because Grannie had made us work hard all weekend. She had us clean our rooms, the whole house, and we even scrubbed the Tide stains off of the laundry room table, which was unheard of.

She did not waste her resources. She was known for creating beautiful centerpieces and a welcoming environment to any special occasion, but she also frequently rearranged the furniture. She was way ahead of her time: Grannie knew Feng Shui before it was an actual "thing." The night before she died, they say she was in the front room, trying to move a large armchair before the whole family arrived the next day to celebrate her birthday.

She did not waste words. I recall one time Grannie told me, "Oh, Anna Marie, you look so beautiful with that makeup on!"

me: Yeah, thanks! I don't wear it all that often.

Grannie: Oh, well you should, hunney, you should!

She did not waste moments to put herself together. One year for her birthday, my parents and aunt and uncle decided to bring us 7 grandkids down to Grannie's in Jefferson City to surprise her. We thought this was an excellent idea, and we arrived unannounced to find Grannie still in her curlers, no makeup on yet. She enjoyed the surprise thoroughly for 5-10 minutes before excusing herself to finish getting properly ready for the day.

She had no shortage of love for all of us, especially us grandkids. In 2007 I traveled to visit Grannie at her retirement home in San Antonio, Texas. I had no kids, I was single, and I was excited to go meet Grannie's friends, to hear about where she lived, and how she liked being there. When I arrived at her apartment, she told me I had a couple minutes to freshen up, and there wasn't much time to rest. There was a karaoke night going on downstairs in the bar.

Grannie: I've told everyone what a great singing voice you have, hunney, so just freshen yourself up, and let's go!

me: I'm not really sure that I'll sing anything -

Grannie: Of course you will!

After a couple of margaritas, Grannie had me singing songs around the retirement center bar. She was so proud of all of us, and she believed in us.

So back to the story down at the cabin: why didn't she ever get in that lake water? You could argue that she didn't want to get her hair wet or mess up her makeup, but rather, I think she wanted to visit with us and then go up to the cabin to help get dinner ready. I think she wanted to continue visiting with all the people gathered there, to make sure preparations were being made to her liking: she always had fresh linens when we came to stay at her house, always a full candy jar for grandchildren to dip into, always a stunningly beautiful Christmas tree when we came to Jeff City for the holidays. She wanted to make sure people felt welcomed, comfortable, taken care of. She was preparing the way.

Grannie is no longer here with us in physical form, no longer down here swimming around with the rest of us in the lake. But I believe she is still preparing the way for us even now. For example, yesterday when I checked into the hotel after a harried, frazzled week, and 2+ hour car trip with our three young kids, the man at the front desk said to me, "Well, you'll be staying in 408." Which was the address of Grannie and Puppy's house on Woodlawn for 40 years, and those numbers are how some people would refer to that home. 408. That's Grannie, that's her still preparing and taking care of us, even if we can't see her physically.

me: So, Grannie, are you going to come swimming with us?

Grannie: Well, hunney, I don't think so, but I'm happy to just sit here and watch.

I love you, Gran.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Force Awakens

The children are obsessed with Star Wars. For that matter: the husband is obsessed with Star Wars. He and I saw #7  in the theaters and this started a tidal wave of hunting down the original three (4, 5, 6) and resurrecting the second trilogy (1, 2, 3). My chronological training in Star Wars is complete.

Our three children make multiple light sabers a day. Frankie calls them "light savers." Star Wars character roles are divvied out: Audrey is Leia, Sean is Luke, and Frankie is Yoda. Which makes sense, right? Frankie is short, so she is assigned the seat of wisdom. Hers is the character that molds and culls the force in others. Frankie calls herself "Yoga" and when I try to correct her, she never capitulates.

me: His name is Yoda.
Frankie: No. YOga.

One day the force was so powerful that they combined all their legos into one Jedi fleet. Sean brought out every lego set he has and Audrey enlisted the help of her girl-branded legos. They created worlds upon worlds where their characters fought the dark side and it was not uncommon to hear a distressed voice playing out some near death experience or brush with Darth Vader. (Frankie speak: Dark Vader.)

Frankie: Oh no! Are you ok?
Audrey: (calling to another character) I know the force is still strong in you!

The force is especially strong inside Audrey. The force is strong inside all three of them, make no mistake. Both a good force of love, compassion, and innocence, as well as a sense for right and wrong, justice, and even a force of anger.  Each of our children displays a fiery temper from time to time. Especially as they are learning to be their own person, making decisions apart from what Tom and I want them to do, they are fiery.

This winter has been a forceful challenge for Audrey. The revelation that her stomach aches were due to an egg allergy has led to a much needed but difficult nutrition overhaul. It's paying off, the stomach aches are subsiding. Yet she's struggled to figure out what things she can choose to eat on her own, and what things need to be checked by a parent. She doesn't like the label checking, but she abides it because she sees the benefit in her physical pain level.

Undoubtedly this is the reason we've seen difficult behaviors from Audrey. One evening after a stormy back and forth about taking a bath, shampooing hair, getting on pajamas and toothbrushing, everything stopped for a heart-to-heart between us and Audrey. We called out her choices, talked about the impact on our family with all of her arguing. As she struggled to hear us, Tom recalled a Native American story to better illustrate. He told Audrey how some people believe that a battle (much like the battle of good and evil in Star Wars) is raging inside people. This internal battle is between two wolves.

"one is evil. it is anger,
envy, jealousy, sorrow,
regret, greed, arrogance,
self-pity, guilt, resentment,
inferiority, lies, false pride,
superiority, and ego.

the other is good.
it is joy, peace love, hope, serenity,
humility, kindness, benevolence,
empathy, generosity,
truth, compassion and faith."

I could see Audrey trying to understand how wolves could be inside her. If such a thing were true, where could she find these wolves, and what did it mean? Tom explained that when people wonder which wolf wins this internal battle, it's whichever one you feed. It was an inspired moment from her theologian father, a moment when Audrey really grappled with buying into and acting upon her anger and jealousy. He told Audrey that we all have to think about which wolf we are feeding with our actions. How what we believe about ourselves begins to come true in the real world: a self-fulfilling prophesy. Tom successfully (even if just for a moment) put the ball back in Audrey's court - to believe that she had control over who she is in this world and which wolf she decides to feed.

I have come back to this analogy a lot with Audrey. She seems to get it. The image of wolves is more immediate for her than the intergalactic warfare of Star Wars. In the midst of intense emotions when I've stopped and reminded Audrey about choosing which wolf she feeds, many times this tale of two wolves has called her back from being more argumentative and obstinate. She's been able to articulate things that upset her, and use her voice to explain that she wants things to be different.

The tale of two wolves has not, however, stopped the playing of Star Wars around the house. As they play out their characters, the kids learn that each character has some strengths and weaknesses. For example playing Yoda comes with a downside: that gravelly voice of wisdom starts to hurt the throat after awhile. Playing Leia is risky because her long capes are held together with a kitchen chip clip: the whole cape/chip clip must be abandoned in order to perform well in a light saber battle. Luke frequently is called into battle even when his introverted nature wants a break. Strangely, no one ever wants to play Obi-wan Kenobi (or "Obee BoBee"). So when Tom plays with them, he is assigned that role. The ultimate wisdom coming from their father: the contemplative, the professor.

So often I worry that I'm too hard on our kids, that their fiery nature is a response to me expecting too much from them. Yet Star Wars has clarified something for me. Perhaps for all my guilt about being too hard on them, I continue to feed the better wolf inside me: the wolf of compassion, hope, benevolence, and truth. I try not to read too much into their character assignment for me: C-3PO. For whatever my failings, my kids accurately see me stumbling and bumbling through parenthood. "A being programmed for etiquette and protocol... who develops a fussy and worry-prone personality" (thanks, Wikipedia!). Or as I like to think about it: a rule-following, problem solver who has to run to keep up with the likes of these three brave Jedi.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The spectrum of the unexpected

I love surprises. I love surprise gifts, surprise parties, and surprising moments. As I was telling this to a friend recently, he responded with, "so I should jump out and scare you sometime and you'll like it?"

No. Definitely not. I have never enjoyed being scared: not by my brother in a werewolf mask, not by scary movies, and never by haunted houses. Never. This got me thinking: why do I love surprises but not scary movies? Surprises tend to connote something good. Whereas scary movies often lead to something bad happening.  Being scared fuels fear, paranoia, and doubts about the goodness of the world. Yet whether I'm talking about surprises or something scary, they both involve the unexpected.

Unexpected situations in my life rest on a spectrum. On one end of this spectrum, we have good surprises. One morning, Seancito got up with his alarm clock at 6:30am, got dressed, and came downstairs to see me dragging the recycling out into -9 degree weather (real temperature).

Sean: Mama, is there something I can do to help you?

He can't melt the weather, but he sure did melt my heart.

Other great surprises include Frances discovering that her sweatshirt has pockets. This resulted in joyous shouts, shoving her hands in and out of the pockets, and quickly finding things to stuff inside. Or seeing a video of Audrey during her dance class, watching her return to this activity she loves deeply, beaming from ear to ear.

But the other side of this spectrum resembles the payout of a scary movie: a pit in my stomach, fear, and anticipation of despair. A flat tire on a -5 degree day. The dealership's inability to fix our van's sliding door, resulting in me womanhandling the door repeatedly in subzero temperatures. It's a miracle the cursing happens only in my head and not into my children's ears.

Recently Tom was gone for 9 days. It's the longest I've been without my husband since we were dating. It's the times when I'm dealing with the unexpected on my own that I most question my ability to roll with it. A child dumping soggy cheerios and milk all over herself and the floor quickly becomes a large event in the day, one that is peppered with anxiety and frustration, when I'm parenting by myself.

And a recent diagnosis of an egg allergy for Audrey has fluctuated on the unexpected spectrum. When the nurse called to confirm the blood test results about an egg allergy, I was nothing less than surprised. Flummoxed even.

me: Eggs? She eats eggs everyday. She loves eggs!
nurse: Well we know this is a low class egg allergy.
me: So you want her to take 2 weeks off eggs?
nurse: That's right. And then we'll go from there before we prescribe her an epi pin.

WHAT? How did we go from "the girl struggles with constipation" to EPI PIN?

me: Wait. What? She has eggs all the time, why would we need an epi pin?
nurse: Well just make sure you have Benadryl around the house -

This is the most bizarre conversation...

nurse: - in case she breaks out into hives, or anything like that. The doctor wants her to take 2 weeks off all eggs. Including any baked goods. You're just going to have to check the labels on everything.

This was one week before Christmas - the baking Olympics of the year. I suddenly thought of no "cheesy eggs" for Audrey in the morning. I thought of chocolate chip cookies. I thought of my mom's banana bread. Eggs are in everything, right? When Audrey got home from school that day, I told her what the doctor had said. She was still in her winter coat, hat, gloves, boots, still had her backpack on, yet she crumpled up in my lap.

Audrey: But I love eggs.

Tackling food labels and reinventing breakfast has been tricky, but we've done it. A two week trial of no eggs has turned into a year of avoidance of all egg products. I expected that breakfast would become the hardest part of Audrey's day, but she has handled no cheesy eggs in the morning quite well. The more unexpected thing was her behavior around the Christmas break, out of her routine, a ton of presents and sugar, traveling, and a constant reminder that she can't just pick up food and eat without checking with me and Tom first, that led to a rocky couple weeks of behavior from Audrey. Then Tom took a 9 day trip, and I suddenly had to reinvent how to parent this firey, sassy, bold 4 year old.

I felt fear, anxiety, and paranoia: I thought that perhaps all this rocky behavior was caused by me yelling too much at times, or being too hard on Audrey. Slowly over the course of the past 4 weeks, I've started picking apart my knee-jerk reaction to our kids, and tried taking a step back. Especially with Tom out of town, I've asked myself, "is anyone bleeding? has anyone done something to truly HARM another human being?" If the answer is no, then I've tried all sorts of new tactics to redirect, re-engage, and reconnect with our kids, most importantly Audrey.

On this spectrum of the unexpected, I don't anticipate or like the hard, scary things. However, I am beginning to see that good things can come from even the situations that create anxiety within me. Life can't be full of good surprises, but the more seasoned of a parent I become, the more I'm surprised at my capacity to deal with the spectrum of the unexpected.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Taking its toll

The Thanksgiving break took its toll on all of us. We cooked all day on Thursday, it snowed, the kids played outside, the house was warm and smelled good. It couldn't have been more picturesque. That is until they all came inside. Then they fought with each other. Or Sean was busy tackling his sisters to the ground. The tackling isn't so much the problem, it's more the tackling on a hard wood floor. Or the tackling on the couch, while the 2 year old responds full force and then lands on the floor crying. Or tackling a sister in the middle of a well-traveled walkway for everyone else in the family. It was THAT.

I spent so much of the evening quietly correcting, then swiftly and loudly reprimanding Sean, that by the time we were brushing teeth and getting ready for bed, he broke down into tears.

me: (tired, exasperated) Why are you crying?
Sean: I didn't have a fun night!
me: Why is that?
Sean: I'm sad... (sob, sob)...because you wouldn't let me do... anything... fun! (Loud sobbing)

Basically I ruined Thanksgiving. As I was trying to fall asleep that night, I rolled over to ask Tom if he thought I ruined Sean's Thanksgiving.

Tom: You maybe ruined the end of his night, but you didn't ruin Thanksgiving.

That was a comforting distinction, but I continued to roll the picture of his crying face through my head until I fell asleep. By the next morning, Sean seemed to have forgotten all about his crying jag.

Sean: Wasn't that fun yesterday?
me: I thought yesterday was great! What part did you think was fun?
Sean: All of it!

Clearly his tooth-brushing-tantrum was a momentary lapse, quickly forgotten in the throws of sleep, but it stuck with me.

Parenting takes its toll. The other day I was talking to my dad and he asked how the kids were doing. After talking for a few minutes, Dad commented on what great kids we have.

me: They really are great kids. They just give us a run for our money.
Dad: As they should.

Frances has entered her indecisive, yet defiant stage as a two-year-old. She simultaneously will be upset that we won't let her eat an inordinate amount of raisins, then want to be picked up and held, then will slap me in the upper-torso-face-neck region, then I'll put her down, then she'll cry, then she'll want to be picked up, then I'll reach for her, then she'll run screaming away from me. And on it goes for 15 minutes. Sometimes she gets so exhausted by this cycle, that she ends up lying on the heated floor in the bathroom, curled up on the shower rug, sucking her thumb and pulling strands of rug out of its home on the floor. Her 2 year old brain, having spent itself entirely on the tantrum, needs a respite. The tantrum took its toll.

But what takes the cake is the past couple days. A 24 hour stomach bug hit Frances last Thursday, me on Sunday, and now Sean last night. There's nothing quite like stepping in someone else's vomit at 2am, in the dark of their bedroom, trying to figure out what has happened. Dear Sean kept taking a break from vomiting to tell us "I'm throwing up" and would then relay to us all the things he was experiencing. For example while puking he 1) can't breathe, 2) feels his cheeks puff out (which is how he knows the next round is coming), 3) feels his throat burning, and 4) can't wipe his nose fast enough. This projectile vomiting was so expansive, it's brought about 8 loads of laundry, built a tent city in our living room of large down comforters drying on racks, and inspired general chaos. The only way to do it justice is to take pictures of what our home looks like:
The television has won, and I've nestled the Lysol close to my hip so that I may strike the germs as soon as I see them coming.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Raising children in a violent world

“What most of us must be involved in--whether we teach or write, make films, write films, direct films, play music, act, whatever we do--has to not only make people feel good and inspired and at one with other people around them, but also has to educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world.”
― Howard Zinn, Artists in Times of War and Other Essays 

When I was in college, a friend's parents told me and my closest friends that idealism belonged to the young. They applauded our desire to better understand the war in Iraq and rail against it, but they seemed unwavering in their belief that we would abandon our idealism the older we got. In the wake of the attacks in Paris last Friday, I've been trying to channel my emotions into something good. My mom's response to Friday's attacks was prayer. She believes that's the only response possible in the face of such atrocity. I don't disagree. Another friend told me that her initial response was fear and anxiety because the attacks in Paris made it feel more likely something like this could happen here. I have felt those same feelings, too. Strangely what also bubbles up inside me is a slow burning rage. How does this continue to happen? These attacks are not happening on my physical doorstep, but they threaten to drown out my idealism that this world could be something more than a series of violent acts from one human being to another.

Sometimes I feel a pang of wonderment as to why we brought children into this world. As I entered young adulthood in 1999, I have become increasingly aware of how big our world is, how diverse the perceptions, how different the balance of the economic scales from one country to the next. We are a privileged society, and yet, we struggle with poverty, violence, racism, hatred, and fear. No one is immune from this world's suffering. Why did we decide to have children?

I have snuggled my kids tighter the past couple days, shuddered at the idea that I can't fully protect them from what this world will show them in the future. Unlike the advice I was given in college, though, I don't believe I've lost my sense of idealism. Rather, I'm more fully aware that idealism is in short supply. We must continue to fan the flames of idealism, rather than bow down to despair.

My friend, Muriel, lives in Paris. She has for many years. Her response to these attacks was "we need to continue to live and fight against the fear." How can I do that as a mom of three young children, living in Minnesota? The only thing I can think of is to continue to create. Continue to create peace between fighting siblings, continue to teach them to push past their own fears and accomplish things they didn't think were possible. Continue to be a person who creates: writing, singing, teaching, living through the fear so they have a road map to forge their own sense of joy amidst sadness. Continue to pray: with them, for them, teaching them to pray for others in need. And when that day comes when I can't protect them from the ugliness this world has to offer, I will continue to live and fight against the fear that they will abandon their idealism. Because without a foolish sense of necessary idealism, we will never change the world.