Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Those are our kids

Today I made the worst mistake of my life.  That's dramatic, but those were the exact words going through my head earlier.  If I can be criticized for something, it would be that I believe myself to be Super Mom.  I believe that I can do most anything with my kids in tow.  I take them both to the grocery store, to doctor appointments (theirs and mine), to vote this past November, and both to the car dealership today.  Note to self: Super Mom should not take her kids to the car dealership.  It was a necessary thing - we needed to get the oil changed and the airbag light on the dashboard had been glaring red at me for weeks.  I have the car most days, so it followed that I was the logical person to go.  It was not, however, logical to take the kids.  Make no mistake, we are all still alive, but only barely.

The mechanics had no more 90-minutes-you-wait-we-get-your-car-done appointments.  So I was left with the option of dropping the car off and getting a rental car until our car could be fixed.  Sure - I'm Super Mom - I can do that.  Once checked in at the dealership, we went to the kids' play area while waiting for the rental car.  Honda has a play area - kudos to them!  The kids loved being there.  Then I suggested we wander over to the cafe.  Great idea, right?  Free food, it was close to lunchtime, another location inside the dealership to kill another 5 minutes.  Brilliant.  I grabbed a cup of coffee, and the kids split a cookie.  Then, trying to be a conscientious, health-minded mother, I suggested another snack.

me: Oh, hey, guys: do you want a banana?

Sean and Audrey: Yeah!

Score - not only am I filling them up with free food, but the healthy choice of a banana outweighs the unhealthy choice of the cookie.

Just before sitting both kids down at the cafe table, the front desk calls my name.

Front Desk Woman: Anna Marie?

me: That's me - I'll be right there!

I picked up our three winter coats, my wallet, the cup of coffee and the banana.

me: Come on, guys, let's go over and get our rental car.

Audrey:  Nooooo!

She ran the other direction, away from the cafe, slightly farther away from the front desk, and around the side of a beautiful new Honda sitting in the show room.  Not too far from my eyesight and earshot, I headed to the front desk, thinking I could grab the keys, sign away my life, and still keep an eye out for Sean and Audrey.  Plus, Sean decided he would follow Audrey and help corral her towards me.  It's great that he's now old enough to hone his sheepdog-herding instincts.

Sean: I'll get her, Mama.  Come on, Audrey!

I hurried to the front desk, and greeted the woman. She placed multiple papers in front of me for signatures.  Just then I heard a shriek from behind me.

Audrey: Noooo!  Banana!  Nooooo!  Stop, Sean!  No Bank-Yoo!

me: (smiling at the woman at front desk) Excuse me.

I placed my wallet, coffee, and coats on her counter.  To hell with her helping anyone else on that counter!  I walked quickly over to the brand new Honda and saw Audrey face down throwing a tantrum of giant magnitude, pushing Sean away from her, and screaming for her banana.  I had the banana in my hand.

me: (calmly, quietly) Audrey, will you please -

Audrey: (crying) No Bank-Yoo, Mama!  Banana!

me: I have the banana right here.  Do you want some of it?

Audrey: (more crying) No Bank-Yoo!

I noticed a pool of drool on the floor right in front of the nice new car.  No big deal.  Audrey had also abandoned her cookie during this tantrum.

me: Sean, would you like some banana?

Sean: Yeah.  Mama, Audrey's having a tough time.

me: Don't I know it!  Audrey, would you like some banana with Sean.

Audrey: (crying) Noo -(upon second thought) yes.

me: Please get up off the ground, and I will give you this part of the banana.

Audrey:  (whimpering) Banana.

me: That's right.  I'll give Sean this half, and then you can have the other half, but you have to come over to the counter with me.

At this I gestured towards the counter.  The front desk woman, sweetly, went along with this plan.

Front Desk Woman: Hi there!  If you bring your banana over here, your Mommy can sign a couple papers and then you get to go.  Does that sound good?

Audrey: (tears still in her eyes) yeah.

Sean: Yeah!  We get a new car!  Just for today, right, Mama?

me: That's right, just for today.

I signed multiple documents, and high-tailed it back out to the garage with the kids.  I placed the coffee on the top of the rental car, visions of me possibly driving off with it still sitting there running through my mind.  Then I tossed coats in the front seat.  Knowing I needed to transfer carseats still, I told the kids to climb in the front seats.  Sean jumped right in and made his way to the passenger seat.  Audrey excitedly (no trace of the tantrum 90 seconds earlier) got into the driver seat.  I headed to our car, parked one car ahead of the rental, diagonally, and attempted to free Sean's carseat.  It wouldn't budge.  I began muttering to myself.  Then I looked up to see Sean in the rental banging on the windshield, adjusting (can such a gentle term be used accurately here?) the rearview mirror, and running his arms quickly over the dashboard.  I walked back to the rental.

me: (forcefully) Sean, I want to see you sitting down in that seat.  Do you understand?

Sean: Why?

me: This car belongs to the dealership, not to us.  I don't want to see your feet on the seat.  Ok?  Understand?

Sean: Yes.

Back to our car, I was still trying to free the carseat.  No luck.  The more I tried, the harder my heart raced and I began to sweat.  I looked back at the rental to see Sean swinging the passenger door open.

me: (yelling) Sean!

Sean: (hanging his head out of the passenger side) Yeah, Mama!

me: (loudly) Close the door.

The smile left his face, he quickly ducked back into the rental and slowly shut the door.  I could see Audrey's eyes peering above the steering wheel.  She was smiling.  Those are my kids.

I gave up on Sean's carseat: I needed a break! Still sweating I moved over to Audrey's. Luckily it freed itself without too much hoopla.  I then carried her seat over to the rental, trailing cheerios, raisins and decayed cheese as I went.

Audrey: (laughing) I driving!  Driving, Mama!  I driving!

me: I see that, Audrey.  As soon as I get this seat in, you are coming back here.

Audrey: Nooooo.

I muttered while putting Audrey's seat in.  I considered driving both kids home without either of the seats fully locked into place.  Though it would be irresponsible and illegal, it would get me the hell out of the dealership much quicker.  I locked one side of her carsesat into place, grabbed Audrey and sat her in her seat.

Audrey: Nooo!  Driving!

I slammed the back door to the rental car.

Then I went back for Sean's carsesat.  I pulled my hair into a ponytail - I was sweating profusely! - and dug my hands back into the crevice of the seat trying to free the latch.

Sean: (yelling from the rental)  Mama, don't forget our Christmas Trees!  Don't forget!  Our Christmas Trees! OK?  Ok, Mama?

me: (to no one in particular) Lord have mercy!

I pulled at the latch, I wiggled it, I twisted it; finally one side gave way.  I hiked up my jeans (forgot to put on my belt today - probably had a plumber's crack exposed to the world!), brushed my fallen hair away from my face, and averted all eye contact with the Honda dealership people buzzing all around me.  By this time I'd been working in their service-drop-off area for longer than 10 minutes.  Cars were parked all around the rental and our car.  I wouldn't say we were "holding anyone up" but we were certainly not making their job easier to check in cars.  I reached for the other latch.

Sean: Mama!?  Are you going to get our Christmas trees?

The seat latch gave way, and the carseat was free.  I trucked it to the rental, trailing more decayed snacks through the Honda garage.  I got Sean's seat into place and tightened the straps as best I could, still sweating and cursing under my breath.

Sean: Mama - will you get our Christmas trees?

me: Yes!  Give me a minute please!

Sean's seat in the car and locked, and Audrey's seat locked and secured, I buckled both kids into their carseats.  Then I retrieved the craft they completed at the YMCA: the Christmas trees.  Strange how neither child seemed appropriately excited for or appreciative of their craft in the moment: it sure seemed like life or death when Sean was screaming from the rental!

I finally sat down in the front seat of the rental, both kids buckled in and having remembered my coffee from the roof (small blessings!), and took a deep breath.  This was the worst mistake I'd ever made, I said to myself.

Sean: Isn't this so much fun, Mama?!

These are my kids.

me: (starting the car) Yes, Sean.  This is the most fun I've ever had.

Make no mistake: I'm now glad that the car is in the shop and will be fixed, but I don't think I'll tackle that again on my own.  Super Mom or not, that was too much for me.

It's not often that I think my actions are "the worst mistake" ever.  I do second guess decisions or wish I'd done things differently in retrospect, but I don't usually consider my daily choices to be terrible mistakes.  Certainly, even though my kids can drive me crazy, there is nothing about them that is a mistake.  And in light of the shootings in Newtown, CT last week, I am reminded more and more of the preciousness of each child.  I was brought to tears last Friday upon learning that so many children were dead.  I just kept thinking, "those are our kids."  Not my biological children, but they are close to the age of my children.  Those parents are my age.  Those families resemble our family.  Those are our kids.  Then last night I watched the President's address from the interfaith service on Sunday, and he used those same words: those kids belong to all of us.  What's happened in our society that so many children could be left so vulnerable?  What's gone wrong that death can greet them so quickly and so violently?  Those are our kids!  As President Obama read off the names of the teachers, administrators and then children, I sobbed at my computer.  I could hear people in the background in that auditorium in CT doing the same.  What must their reality look like to them right now? 

This past Sunday morning, the paper came, and I made a conscious choice to not read the articles about Newtown.  I couldn't take the details; I was shook up enough as it was.  But Tom had not read or heard much about the shootings, and he sat down at the breakfast table and read everything in the paper.  My sweet husband was crying at the table while I cleared breakfast dishes and our kids played.  As he tried to recount some of the article's stories, Tom couldn't finish some of his sentences, he was that rocked.  Those are our kids.

As many parents have done over the past couple days, I've found myself hugging my kids tighter and telling them I love them.  In response to my affection, I've received beautiful gifts back.

me: (hugging Sean) I love you, Sean.  Do you know that?  You're a great kid.

Sean: You're a great parent.  Ha!

I choose to not read into the laugh at the end of his statement.


me: I love you, Audrey.  You are my sweetest girl.  Do you know that?

Audrey:  You're the best!  

me: No, you're the best!

Audrey: No, you're the best!

Tom has been teaching our kids yoga.  It's quite amusing.  So while I was folding clothes the other day, Sean the Cito tried getting my attention.

Sean: Mama, watch this.

He brought his hands together in a prayer position, hovering right in front of his chest.

me: Oooh, are you doing yoga?

Sean: No, Mama.  This is sign language.  For yoga.  It goes like this -

He raised his hands up into the air, Audrey watching and then mimicking him, brought them together above his head, and then (in prayer pose) slowly brought his hands back down in front of his heart.

Sean: And then you say, "Mamastay."

me: Ehm, I think it's actually "Namaste."

Sean: No, Mama, Dad taught me, it's (over enunciating for my benefit) "MAMAstay."

me: Ooooohhhh. I got it.

I didn't bother to correct him again. These are my kids.  As I've let this humorous, incorrect, yet so fitting a phrase sink in, it's profundity has hit me harder.  The loose translation of Namaste is something close to "The divine in me bows to the divine in you."  As I imagine Sean's Mamastay, I find myself thinking the translation as "The mother in me bows to the mother in you" or "The parent in me bows to the parent in you."

I can not get Newtown, CT out of my mind these past few days.  Even after a touch-and-go experience at the car dealership, and tantrums by both kids on any day, I come back to thinking about the parents, teachers, and kids at Sandy Hook Elementary.  I want to extend to them the only thing I have to give them right now: Mamastay.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sight Unseen

Her temper flares.  It's not hard to do - her brother gets in her face, and suddenly she's thrown her cereal bowl onto the green-carpeted floor.  The plush, expensive carpeting from the 1960s didn't ever expect to see the kind of love (read: damage) as it's seen from this family of four.  I gave Audrey a bowl for her milk and cereal, wishing to give her some more responsibility and independence than her usual sippy cup with a side of dry cereal on her tray.  She did great for awhile.  That was until Seancito decided he was done eating cereal and wanted to pick on his sister instead.  Then the cereal bowl ended up on the floor.

Sean: (entering the kitchen with an honest look on his face) Mama, Audrey dropped her cereal on the floor.

me: (walking between the kitchen and dining room) Audrey!  No!  You do not throw your food!

Audrey begins whimpering.  It's a half-hearted whimper.

Would this have been prevented had I seen it coming?  What if I had listened to that motherly instinct when I gave her the bowl initially?  The instinct that told me I would be cleaning it up off the floor by myself?  Did I listen to that voice?  No.  Did I clean up the cereal by myself? Yes.  Well sort of.  Audrey, down from her high chair, stood beside me while I cleaned.

Audrey: (sighing) Watch. I watch.

Thank you.  That's exactly what I need.  An observer.  Then the kids went running to play in another room while I muttered to myself and took a rag to the milk and rice crispie soaked floor.

Or his temper flares.  After begging and pleading with him to use the potty before going to the kid's stuff section at the YMCA, (and he refused) when I came to pick him up he informed me that he'd wet his pants.  We're not talking soaked to the bone, but it was definitely wet.  I was fuming.  But I remained calm.  Outwardly.

me: This has been happening a lot recently, Seancito.  Why is that?

Sean: I'm not sure.

me: Well we have got to figure out a better way to do this.

Sean: (fingering his upper lip) yeah...

me: If you don't want to use the potty when I ask you to, and you don't tell someone at kid's stuff, then we might need to think about using pull-ups or diapers during the day.


Had I known that these words would have motivated the firestorm that followed, I would have re-thought using them.  But at the time, it seemed just the jab I was looking for.  I didn't want to yell and scream at him, but I wanted him to know I was serious.  Instead of me yelling and screaming at him, he yelled and screamed at me.  Through the whole lobby of the YMCA, into the family locker room, echoing off the tiled walls, in the bathroom stall, back out at the sink, while washing hands, and then traipsing through the lobby out to the car.  Yelling and screaming.  It didn't stop.  Never let up.

Audrey: Sean.  Cwying!

me:  Yes, I know that, Audrey.

Audrey: Sean.  Cwying!

me: Yes, yes he is.

Audrey's quiet commentary in my ear was heard by me only.  Anyone else in earshot of us could hear only the sound of Sean yelling at me.  When finally in the car, he coupled the screaming with kicking the passenger seat.  When I pulled the passenger seat as far up as it would go, he then kicked the car door.  All the way down the road.  He'd already been threatened with and subsequently lost the privilege of having a snack in the car (Audrey was quietly munching on her cheesestick without him).  He then lost the privilege of having books read to him before taking a nap.  Searching my brain for what other privileges might inspire him to better behavior, I pulled out all the stops.

me: (loudly, to be heard over his screaming) You know what!? Just keep this up!  Just keep doing what you're doing!  If you want to lose your TV privileges, then just keep it up!

Sean: (crying, screaming, etc) NOOOOOOOO!  I DON'T WANT TO LOSE TV!

me: Then you better turn it around, buddy!  You better show me that you can behave in a different way.  Because you will lose everything!  You've already lost your snack, you've lost your books at nap time.  You will lose the TV if you don't find another way to talk to me.  If you keep this up, you will lose EVERYTHING!  If you want to LOSE EVERYTHING, JUST KEEP DOING WHAT YOU'RE DOING!


Moments later, he quieted down.  He stopped flailing in his seat, stopped kicking things, stopped crying.  He sat quietly staring out the window.  He mumbled something about being tired.  We had come through the worst of it.

Hindsight is 20/20.  They say this for a reason, because as I looked back over my day, I realized that perhaps my words had triggered some of his angry behavior.  There was no excusing the massive tantrum or shouting at me, but there was room for my own reflection on why I said and did what I did.  I spoke with a dear friend that afternoon. I relayed to her what happened.  A mother herself, and someone who knows me better than I know myself sometimes, she pushed me to look past Sean's behavior.  She asked me what underlying fears I might be feeling about parenting and being a mom.  She bore into my soul from miles away.

So at dinner, once the tantrum was hours and hours behind us, once I'd had time away to go teach middle schoolers, and Sean had taken a nap and played at a friend's house, once Tom was home to balance out the parent to child ratio, I brought up what had happened at the YMCA.

me: Hey Cito, did you tell dad about what happened at the Y?

Sean: Yeah, I did.

Tom: Sean actually told me right after he woke up from his nap.

me: Do you know why you had such a hard time?

Sean: Yeah.  I didn't want to use the potty or wash my hands.

me: Well, that's true, yes.  But I've been thinking about it, and I realized that when I brought up wearing pull ups or diapers, that I wasn't being nice to you.  That wasn't a very respectful thing to do.

Sean: Yeah.  (pause)  Dad could I have some more corn?

Tom: Sure.  Do you think you can forgive mom?

Sean: Yeah.

The moment passed.   My confession revealed, I felt my shoulders loosen and my jaw unclench.  I don't know if the confession helped Sean or not, but I know it was important for me to move past my guilt.  Pushed by my dear friend to reflect on my own fear, I came to the conclusion that I'd brought up diapers and pull ups as a passive aggressive way to call Sean a baby.  Maybe if I called him a baby (secretly, of course, not really using the word "baby") then it would scare him into acting like a big kid.  It sure did scare him!  He threw a 30 minute fit it scared him so much!  But what my friend astutely observed and then I reflected on further was that my words came out of my own fear.  I am afraid that I'm not doing things right as a parent - why does Sean still wet his pants? Why does he still not want to eat certain foods just because of the way they look?  Why does he freak out when I use a different toothbrush for Audrey than the one he wants me to use?  Why does he seem so entrenched in his way of doing things that sometimes he can't see straight?  Why, why, why?

When my mind spins with these questions, as it began to when I picked Sean up and he told me his pants were wet, I focus more on those questions than on the little person in front of me.  It's like my head goes into a cloud and I can't see my way out until I answer every single question out there.  In my pursuit of the answers (read: my desire to control the situation) I completely overlook Sean and his humanity.

My prayer has been and continues to be that I may see my son.  Not just physically see him, but also intuit and listen and read between the lines.  He's not yet old enough to fully articulate all that he thinks and feels, and I'm not yet experienced enough to have all the answers (nor do I believe that day will ever come - the "I have all the answers" day doesn't really exist).  My prayer and practice - as difficult as that may be - is to fully see my kids for who they are.  With that in mind, here are some less-anguish-filled-stories about 'seeing' them.

The other day I saw Sean standing in the bathroom after having used the potty.  Pants around his ankles, one arm reaching for the handle of the toilet, he had his eyes closed.

me: Sean, what are you doing?

Sean: (eyes still closed) I'm flushing the toilet.


me: Yes, but why are your eyes closed?

Sean: I don't want to see it flush.

Or the other day, I asked Sean to stop harassing Audrey needlessly in the next room.  I was standing in the bathroom washing my hands and I could hear the shrieks and crying coming from their bedroom.  Without going in to see what was happening, I called out to them.

me: Sean and Audrey, what's going on?

I received no response, but only heard Audrey continue to cry.  Then, I turned my head to the right just in time to see Sean cross beside the open door of the bathroom.  He was walking slowly, arms stretched out into space, eyes closed.

me: Hey, buddy, what are you doing?

Sean: (peering out from partially shut eyes) I'm walking to the living room.

me: Okay, and your eyes are closed.

Sean: Yes.

me: And why is Audrey crying?

Sean: I'm not sure.

Squishing his eyes shut, he continued his path down to the living room.  I don't know what transpired between the two of them, but I know that Sean's solution was to walk blindly to the living room as if nothing happened.  Brilliant ruse.

The other night, Audrey couldn't get settled into her crib to go to sleep.  She couldn't decide if she wanted to sit in there and play on her own or if she wanted to snuggle with me while I sang her lullaby.  Decisions, decisions.  Finally, I put her in her crib and told her to lay down.

Audrey: Nooo!

me: It's time to lay down, Audrey.  Lay down, please, and I'll help with your blankets.

Audrey: Noo!  Wait!

She held up one hand, holding me off from helping her with anything.  Then she reached for her dolly.

Audrey: Dowy.

She kissed the dolly, squeezed it between her shoulder and cheek, and laid it down.  Then she grabbed the little stuffed lamb.

Audrey: Wam.

Again the kiss, squeeze and laying down of the lamb.  Once this was done, her 'children' safe within her sights, she snuggled into her crib and allowed me to lay blankets on top of her.  A little visual reassurance, and her day was done.

As I was tickling Sean the other day, he laughed so hard that something besides laughter escaped from him.

Sean: (laughing) Mama, you got me so laughy that I tooted!

Or one day after getting him dressed, he disappeared into the guest bedroom.  When he came back out, I asked him what he'd been doing in there.

Sean: I was looking at myself in the mirror.

me: Oh.  Nice.  How did you look?

Sean: I look handsome!

The other night we called my brother's girlfriend, Rachel, to wish her a happy birthday.  After singing the birthday song on her voicemail, we each left a little extra message.

me: Happy Golden Birthday, Rachel!

Tom: Hope Denis gets you lots of gold!

Sean: Yeah! ...  Hey, Rachel, we saw a deer pooping!

Oooookay.  I quickly hung up.  Rachel's lasting visual image from her Minnesota birthday message involved the sight of a deer pooping.  No doubt she may have preferred that sight to go unseen.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

the way g(G)od intended

Sean has been taking a Sunday school class called Atrium.  For 90 minutes on Sunday mornings, he is without any other member of his family, so when we get back together, we question him about what he's learned.

me:  Sean, what did you talk about in Atrium today?

Sean: I'm not sure.

me:  Did you talk about God?

Sean: No.

me:  Did you talk about Jesus?

Sean: No.

me: What did you do?

Sean: We cut paper.

He might not be listening, but he sure is enjoying himself!  The other day he was musing to himself in the backseat of the car while we drove, and then he piped up.

Sean:  I really like my class on Sundays.

me: That's great!  I'm glad you do.  What do you like about it?

Sean: I like drawing pictures.

Cutting paper and drawing pictures: that's about the gist of it.  I am not too hung up on him learning any huge tenants of the Catholic Church, but rather I like that the teacher introduces the kids to the idea of God and Jesus.  I also like the fact that Sean is getting some freedom from us.  I like that he's engaging with a teacher and other students, and he's exercising a sense of autonomy that's more positive than the defiance we see at dinner time - he's still refusing to eat dinner many nights. I also like that he's hearing about, learning, and discussing the existence of God; helping him get in touch with his own sense of God.   

Being a parent what I find most interesting is the interplay of who God is externally for our kids and who god is internally.  Who is that Great Spirit out in the universe that runs through all people and creation?  Likewise who is that inner self, our true self, whom we come to know more and more over the years as we age?  In Sean's class he gets to talk about and reflect on this Great Spirit, God, as a concept and a lived entity.  And while being away from us he gets to exercise who he is as his own person, god within.  I love seeing this play out on a daily basis, though he has started to wield this knowledge in a way I didn't foresee.

Sean: (at lunch, eating apples) Mama, I really like these apples.

me: Oh yeah?  What do you like about them?

Sean: They have red skin on them.  I don't like the apples with the green skin.

me:  Why not?

Sean: I just don't.  I just like the apples with the red skin.

me:  Huh.

Sean:  That's just the way God made me.

Interesting.  Basically he's laying the foundation for a time and space when I ask him to eat his apples, and he won't: due to the fact that he "doesn't like green-skinned apples".  And why should he?  That's just the way God made him!  The way g(G)od intended.

The fighting over dinner time has strangely bled into other moments, too.  Some of the arguments we use with Sean at dinner focus on needing to "try" new things.  Even if he doesn't like something, he has to at least "try" it.  So when we were down in the basement the other day, playing in the fake kitchen area with the fake wooden toys painted like food, Sean decided to turn the tables.

Sean: Mama?  What do you want me to fix you today?

me: Eh... how about some fruit.  Or maybe a sandwich.

Sean: (holding up a wooden toy painted like a raw steak) How about this one?

me: I'm not really a fan of red meat.

Sean: Well, you at least need to try it.  If you want to have any dessert, you have to try it!

This is clearly the way g(G)od intended.

I see this interplay in Audrey, too.  She is learning her own sense of what she likes and doesn't like.

On a cold morning, I pulled out a hand-me-down pink and brown vest from her Tia Astrid.  The poofy vest looked so warm, I thought it would keep Audrey going all morning, plus it would be cute.  I put the vest on Audrey, and it was indeed cute, but it also enveloped her entire torso, neck, chin and cheeks.  The collar sat around Audrey's ears.

me: This vest is soooo cute, Audrey!

Audrey: Mama?

me: Yes, Audrey?

Audrey: (indiscernable talking)

me: Is your vest big?

Audrey: Yes.

me: Give me a minute and we will change it.

Audrey: Ok.

She knew she had to communicate this wardrobe malfunction, and though she didn't have the exact words, she got her point across; the way g(G)od intended. 

I have also seen her stubbornness over the past couple weeks, because she's known how to walk for a long time, but she refuses to be forced.  She could go from person to person and from chair to couch, but the minute we would encourage her to just walk around with no specific direction, she would sit down and crawl.  She was clearly waiting for her own sense of comfort, balance and purpose before she took off on her own.  When she finally did decide, a couple weeks ago, to let loose with walking, without any specific destination, she used her words to encourage herself as she went.

Audrey: awking... awking.... awking....  Awking!  Awking!  Awking!

She is also including herself in conversations more.  Our friends, the Menkes, just had twin babies, and Tom was going to take them dinner.

Sean: Dada, where are you going?

Tom: I'm going to run to the Menke's with the food, and then I'll be back for your bedtime.

Audrey: Monkeys!  Oooo! Oooo! Aaaa! Aaaa!  Monkeys! (complete with arm gestures, tickling her own armpits)

When I've returned from teaching in the afternoons, and the kids come to give me a hug hello, I really enjoy Audrey's greeting.

Audrey: Mama!

me: Hi! How are you?

Audrey: gud. (with an umlaut above the 'u')

Ever the individual, Audrey's decided definitively, that she does not like green beans.  No matter how many times I place them on her tray, she will take a bite of one, chew, and then take it out of her mouth.  Now when she sees me coming with the green beans, she says, "No!  Don' Like! Stop!"  How about that for knowing yourself? The way her g(G)od intended.

I lost Sean at REI last week.  One minute I was looking through the clearance section of shoes, with Audrey at my feet, and Sean running up and down the fake rocky terrain where people can try out their new hiking boots and shoes.  The next minute Sean is gone.  I called his name.  I called his name again.  Nothing.  I looked back at the kids' play section.  Nothing.  I called his name in the back storage room.  Nothing.  I finally resorted to opening swathes of clothing on racks, expecting to see him sitting in the middle of the rack, staring up at the sky, saying, "I'm hiding."  But nothing.

Finally I found a woman who worked at REI, told her that my son had just been by my side, but was now not in the close vicinity.... OR was hiding in a rack of clothing (as he's wont to do) and I'd yet to find him.  The woman graciously began helping me look, alerting her fellow co-workers.  My mind raced.  I knew that the outer doors were probably too far for Sean to get to quickly.  Moreover, I didn't think he would race out of the doors, he's not that adventurous of a kid.

I decided I would circle the closest clothing racks to where I'd been standing just to see if I could see his little self hiding.

me: Come on Audrey, we need to go find Sean.

Audrey: Nnnnooo.

me: Yes, we need to go, we'll climb on this ramp later.

Audrey: Nnnnoo.

I pick her up and begin walking to the first clothing rack I see.

Audrey:  NNNNNNOOOOO.  Awking!  Awking!

I can smell that Audrey's pooped in her diaper.  Great.

me: Audrey, did you poop?

Audrey: Yeeessss.

me: As soon as we find Sean, then we'll change your diaper.

Audrey: Oookaay.  Awking! Awking!

Finally, from over the loudspeaker, I hear.

Loudspeaker: Will Anna Marie Bushlack please come to customer service?  Anna Marie Bushlack, please come to customer service.

Thank goodness!  As I made my way to customer service, I realized that I hadn't told anyone my name.  I stupidly hadn't told anyone Sean's name either.  This meant that Sean must have fronted the information to the adult who found him.  After reconnecting with Sean, I was firm with him about how he'd traveled too far away from me in the store, but I also acknowledged and praised his ability to talk to an adult who would help him find me.  He had told the adult my full name - the way g(G)od intended.

Last night being Halloween, we took the kids trick or treating, and we had them help pass out candy when our doorbell rang.  It was a huge success; not only did they get to walk around in costumes, looking cute, and gathering candy, but when we ran out of candy at home, Sean insisted on giving some of his collected candy away to more trick or treaters.  Music to my ears - get that candy out of the house or I will eat it!

Last weekend we had brunch with friends who also have young kids around our kids' ages.  We were talking about Halloween, and I was waxing philosophical on the positive side of Halloween.  The costumes, yes, the community aspect of the shared tradition, yes, but I even like the aspect of seeing scary, spooky things out and around.  I was relaying to our friends that I think it's important for our kids and our family to be able to discuss the darker side of human nature.  I went on(!):  I quoted one of my favorite performance artists, Anna Deveare-Smith, who talks about the need for our country to explore and better understand the "negative imagination" so we don't demonize it so much.  I made a great case for Halloween being an opportunity to face our fears.  Our dear friends listened to my soapbox.

Then last night, just as we were getting the kids ready for bed, one of the last groups to knock on our door was a pretty scary bunch.  All three teens(?) were masked in ghoulish, dark, haggard costumes.  None of them said much and none of them took off their masks.  Sure they said the mandated "trick or treat," but that was about it.  Because we'd run out of purchased candy, Sean insisted on handing out candy from his gathered stock.  But as he eyed the visitors on our porch more closely, he decided that Tom should hand out the candy to them.  Sean, recognizing his own internal compass, kept a safe distance.  Facing his fears, just enough, he watched as Tom doled out candy and the scary people left.  We made it through facing the fears!  Well done!

After we shut the door, turned out the light, and moved towards brushing teeth, a barrage of feedback erupted.

Audrey: Peepull.  Scawy?

me: Yeah, those were some scary ones, huh?

Audrey: Peepull.  Scawy?

me: Were you scared, Audrey?

Audrey: Yes.

me: That's okay.  They're gone now.  They are going home to go to bed soon, too.

Audrey:  Okay.....Peepull.  Scawy?

This went on the rest of the night.  All throughout reading books and telling a bedtime story, Audrey was telling us about those people.  Even as Tom laid her down in her crib, covered her up with blankets, she still looked back up at him to say, "Peepull.  Scawy?" Then first thing this morning at 6am, I pick Audrey up from her crib, and she's back on the same train.

Audrey: Peepull. Scawy?

Internally I applaud her sense of self and her ability to verbalize it.  Yet, as I look to that Great Spirit of God in the universe, I wonder if I'm the one who's supposed to get something out of yesterday.  Wanting my kids to be their own people, wanting them to bravely face the world head-on: these are not bad things.  But perhaps there are times when I don't need to push them so much and so far.  Instead of waxing philosophical about Halloween, sometimes it's okay to shield them a bit from the scarier parts of the world.  Perhaps that's my lesson from yesterday; the way g(G)od intended.

Finally, the other morning at breakfast, Tom and Sean were at the table eating together.

Sean: (between munching on his toast) Treat others the way they want to be treated.

Tom: Oh.  Nice.  Did Jesus say that?

Sean: No.

Tom: Oh. Who did?

Sean: I just made that up.

In his mind, no one had ever heard that before.  He'd just made it up on the spot. The way g(G)od intended.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Obviously obtuse

Some things are obvious.

Some are not.

Some things that are obvious to me are not so obvious to the kids.  And vice versa.  Such as -

I leave the room for 2 minutes to use the restroom.  I keep the door open so that I can hear if anyone (read: Audrey) starts screaming for any reason (read: Sean tackling her).  When I come back from the restroom, I see that flash cards are strewn everywhere in the living room.

me: What just happened in here?

Sean: We had a party!


Or just after their bath, Audrey is dressed in her pajamas and ready to read books. Sean is still running around the house naked doing the 'happy donkey' dance.  He runs into the furniture, the walls, and then head-butts his sister.  Audrey begins crying.

me: Sean!  I want you to come over here and say you're sorry to Audrey.

Sean hides behind a chair.  As if this makes him invisible to me.

me:  Sean.  I will only ask three times.  I've already asked once.  Now I will ask again.  Please come over here and tell Audrey you're sorry.

Sean still hiding behind the chair.

Sean: nooooo......

me:  Would you want someone to head-butt you?

Sean: noooo....?

me:  Then please do not head-butt your sister.  This is the last time I'm going to ask you.  If I ask you a third time and you still say no, then you will go take a time-out.

Sean:  Nooo!

me:  Then you know what you need to do.  Please come out from behind the chair and tell Audrey you're sorry.

By this time, Audrey has stopped crying so she can watch the exchange between me and Sean.  She watches, tears in her eyes, as her naked brother comes out from behind the chair with his head down.

And then because it wasn't obvious to everyone:

me: Get your hands off your penis and then say sorry to your sister.

Sean: (eyes up, hands up) sorry Audrey.

Or this evening at dinner:

Audrey's water bottle is knocked off her tray by her hand as she reaches for some food.   She looks over the side of her highchair tray and follows the path of her water bottle.  She then looks up at the rest of us.

Audrey:  Uh-Oh!

me:  That's okay, Audrey.  We can pick it back up.

Sean: (smiling and encouraging) You were really nice to Audrey, Mama.

me: HA! Am I not usually nice to Audrey?

Sean: no.

me:  What do I usually say?

Sean: You usually say, "Audrey, do not throw things off your tray.  Things stay on the tray, Audrey!"

me: (laughing)  Yes, that's true, but I usually say that when she's thrown something off on purpose.  This time it was just an accident.


We were taking pictures the other night and Sean wanted to be behind the camera more than in front of it.  He kept asking Tom if he could hold the camera and take the picture by himself.  Many a funny image was born out of this exercise.  Later I inquired about Sean's affinity for the camera.

me:  Hey, Cito, you had some fun taking pictures today, didn't you?

Sean: Yeah.  I did.

me:  Do you think you want to be a photographer when you grow up?

Sean:  (as if this was a silly question)  No!

me:  What do you think you want to be?

Sean: (straight out of a hallmark card) I want to be just like Dad when I grow up.

If we could have played the schmaltzy music, we would have.  It was a touching moment and beautifully sweet.  Looking up to his father, wanting to be just like him, wanting to emulate his intelligence, humor, silliness and integrity.  Perhaps he was envisioning the life of an academic - being called Dr. and Professor.  Educating the minds of young adults in universities everywhere.

Tom: Oh, Seancito.  That is so sweet.  Thank you.

me:  What do you think Dad does everyday?

Sean: I'm not sure.


This morning Sean was throwing a fit about getting dressed on his own.  He ran into the kitchen with only his underwear on, and I was losing my patience asking him to get dressed multiple times.

me: (he lodged his hands inside his underwear on either side of his hips) Sean, get your hands out of your pants and go get dressed.  I will only ask you one more time and then -

Sean: (adamantly) These. Aren't! PANTS!

me: Take your hands out of your underwear, and go get dressed!

Yesterday I was asked - by Sean - to be present in the bathroom while he used the potty.  Though I am encouraging him to use the potty on his own (trying to prepare him for being in school or otherwise), I acquiesced and came into the bathroom.  Since I'm on autopilot with my marching orders for Sean, I went into my usual routine after he finished using the potty.

me: Okay, pull up your pants, flush the toilet, and then let's wash hands.

Sean: (looking up at me, wounded) You don't talk to people like that.

me: How do you talk to people?

Sean:  (on the verge of a whine, trying to muster tears in his eyes) Using kind words! 

Clearly, what was I thinking?

me: Sean, please pull up your pants, then please flush the toilet, and then please wash your hands.  Is that better?

Sean:  Yes.

My own words come back to bite me!  How often have I asked Sean to use "kind words" in the hopes of getting a "please" or "thank you" from him?  How I have longed for him to understand what I believe to be obvious: we must use polite words when dealing with everyone.  These kind words are a directive; these are things I hope become habit, I hope it's obvious that these words are ever-present in our day.  So obvious that I forget to use them myself when dealing with Sean.  And I especially forget to use them when I'm in a rush, or feeling frustrated, or feeling pushed to my limits.

This morning was one of those days where I felt pushed.  From the beginning of the getting-dressed-routine, I tried to lay the groundwork for using kind words, working as team, listening and cooperating.  These are all my usual (and perceived by me to be), obvious buzz words that I use with Sean and Audrey.  It seemed like it was working until Sean refused to use the potty before we left the house:  an agreement we'd struck with each other not 5 minutes before.  Yet he became insistent that he not use the potty (though he was dancing around and holding his crotch, probably trying to "make the pee go back inside"!).  I got so frustrated, asked him my usual 3 times to go on his own, and while still refusing he finally went to time-out.  Then, he slammed his body against the baby gate so hard (the only barrier we have that will keep him in said-time-out-location) that he knocked it over.  This angered me so much, he got demoted to a time-out spot by the front door, and then he melted down to screaming.  It took us a while to come back from this estrangement.

Later in the car, I was trying to get us back on the same page.  I was trying to revert to my more obvious, and I believe to be successful, ways of getting him to join me in what I'm doing. 

me: Sean, are we going to have a good day today?

Sean: (fingering his lip, his usual 'thinking' pose) Yeah.

me:  What are some things we could do that would make the day easier?

Sean: Saying 'ok' when you ask me to do something...

me: That's a good one.

Sean: Using kind words...

me:  I like that one, too.

Sean: Not getting in Audrey's face...

me:  Yes, yes, another good idea.

And then in a moment of inspiration, I derailed from my war-path.  I thought, "I need to focus on something else instead of just hammering home these rules about the day.  I need to focus on teaching Sean something about the world.  Let's look at the trees which are starting to change.  That will make all of us feel better."

me: Sean do you see the trees and the leaves?  Do you see how some of them are changing colors?

Sean: Where?

I slowed the car down, and rolled up next to some trees with yellow and orange tips on the leaves.  I explained that leaves begin changing colors in the fall, and that when winter comes most of the trees will be bare.  Sean and I exchanged thoughts about why that happens, and then in the most crude fashion possible (my science teachers would be embarrassed) I explained why leaves die in the winter.  We had a great conversation about how leaves will grow again in the spring, with the help of rain and water.  Could this be a moment of light shining through the gray clouds of our day?  Could we, like the leaves, be starting fresh?  I will often remind Sean that he can always start his day fresh, no matter what time it is, no matter what's transpired, we can always start fresh.  This moment exemplified that: starting fresh.  They both seemed calm, focused and interested in the conversation.

me: So in the spring, we'll have to watch as the leaves grow back again.

Sean: Yeah!  The leaves will grow out of the branches!

me: That's right!  Isn't that amazing?

Sean: (matching the sound of wonder and awe in my voice) No.

Perhaps I found his negative statement to be too comedically timed, too bittersweet to end our moment of connection.  Tempting the fate of every obvious, obtuse declarative statement ever made, I put myself out there again.

me:  You don't think that's amazing?

Sean: (quietly shaking his head) No.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Close and closer still

This past weekend, I made homemade pizza dough.  Once mixed together, I set the bowl outside in the warm air to rise.  Tom was out in the backyard, mowing the lawn with Audrey in the backpack watching him closely. I was in the kitchen making dinner, and Sean the Cito was running around the backyard "mowing" the lawn with his pint-sized lawn mower.  Once tired of this activity, he walked up onto the deck and saw the pizza dough rising in the bowl.  He decided to open the plastic wrap, get a closer look, and stick his hands in.  Then he scooped some out.  Having figured out that this was a sticky, sticky mess, he immediately began scraping it on anything he could find: the deck, the lawn chairs, the table, under the table, etc.  When he exhausted all of these options, he then walked to the side of the house and scraped some dough on the siding.  It was only when he realized he couldn't get the dough off by himself that he eventually fessed up.  He just wanted a closer look at the dough!

Closeness is a funny thing.  There are times when I long for it.  I love to snuggle with the kids just after they wake up from sleeping.  I like to get close when trying to fit all four of us into a house-made fort in the living room.  I love getting close by sleeping in a tent out in the woods as a family.  I will never begrudge the closeness of having one of my kids sitting in my lap and reading a book.  But there's a closeness that can get too close.  For example while I'm trying to type an email to someone.

Sean: Mama, I want to come stand under your arms.

me: Eh... (only half listening, while also trying to type coherent sentences)...not... right... now...

Sean: (beginning to wiggle under my arms) But I just want to see what you're doing.

me: I'm typing an email, and then we'll get ready to go.

Sean: (whining) But I just want to see -

me: Sean, please do not touch the keyboard!

Sean: But Mama!  (then looking up under my chin and pressing) Hey - you have a boo boo under your chin.

me: Okay, please leave my face alone.

Sean: Why do you have this boo boo?

me: I think it's probably a zit.

Sean: A zit?

me: Yes, please leave it -

That's too close.  Or Sunday when Sean had me take him to the potty in the middle of church because he had to poop.  And he likes to explain to me - while he's pooping - exactly what's happening for him.

Sean:  I think there are two more turds.

me: Great, thanks.

Sean: I think maybe there's one more turd.

me: Ooookay.  Are you finished.

Sean: I think maybe it's stuck.


Our dear Audrey is quite close to many things: she's close to figuring out how to say many words.  Often when we're speaking, even if not to her, we'll hear her repeat words that have just been said.

me: Okay, guys, it's time for lunch.

Audrey: 'unch!

me: All right, let's go inside church.

Audrey: 'urch!

Or hearing a sound overhead while sitting outside:

Audrey: aerpane!

Or learning her manners:


Or upon seeing her brother first thing in the morning:

Audrey: Don!

We keep trying to reinforce the 'sh' sound that begins Sean's name, but Audrey seems content to call him "Don."  Close enough, right?  Whether she gets the first consonant right, the most endearing fact is that she knows his name.  She knows it's her brother, and her affection runs deep.  Equally as charming is that she refers to herself as "Audee" and Sean has picked up on this nickname too.  To the outside observer we have two kids named Don and Audee.  Delightful.

Their closeness to each other grows each day, and for the most part, we encourage it.  However, the tricky moments come into play around nap time.  Being in the same room, they often find comfort in knowing the other one is there.  But the downfall is when they find humor in the other one being there.  After I've left them to quietly go to sleep, sometimes I'll hear shouting, laughter, and then loud thuds.  When I go back into the room, I will find Sean clinging to the side of Audrey's crib, perhaps having just thrown a book or doll into her, and Audrey laughing hysterically.  It's difficult in these moments to figure out whether to laugh (which I try not to) or gently (and sometimes not so gently) reprimand. 

Sometimes I use their closeness to explain to Sean that he's there to teach Audrey things.  Like in the middle of quiet times in church, when Audrey is yelping and Sean is smashing toy cars together loudly.

me: Sean I need you to help Audrey learn to be quiet in church.

Sean:  (loud whisper) Okay, Mama.  I will do it.  I will help Audrey.  I will tell her to be quiet.   (then to Audrey) Shhhhh, Audrey.  Be quiet!  Shhhh, Audrey!

Last week I was called away from my workout to come pick up Audrey.  She was none too happy by the time I reached the childcare area, and there were kids everywhere.  The woman holding her stated that she thought Audrey didn't feel well, which is probably true.  She has a summer cold, new teeth breaking through; I'm sure the girl doesn't feel good.  Thankfully they have this lovely paging system so that they don't have to announce my name over the loud speaker.

Once in my arms, Audrey calmed down. She just needed the closeness of her mother to get her back on course.  This warms my heart.  Even though I would have loved to have a longer workout, I don't mind being called away if she's really that upset.  I'd hate to have her screaming at the top of her lungs for 2 hours.  And when the fix is just some closeness from me, I'm happy to provide.

Then as we got in the car to go home, I began to re-cap what happened with Sean.

me: Audrey had a tough time today, huh?

Sean: Yeah.  She did.

me:  Did you help her at all?  Did you talk to her or play with her?

Sean: No.

me:  Did you tell her it was going to be okay?

Sean: (after a long pause) I fell on her.

me: You what?  Why?

Sean:  I fell on her.  That's why she was crying.

me: Why did you fall on her?

Sean: I'm not sure.

me:  Did the people at the child care talk to you about it?

Sean: No.

me: Why did you do that?

Sean:  (little hands facing upwards on either side of his torso) I didn't do it many times.

And there you have it.  What I initially thought to be Audrey's desire to be close to her mother was not entirely true.  Upon closer inspection, she had been injured by her brother: the one person in the room she trusts more than anybody.  She expected that because she feels close to this person, she should be safe.  And yet, his physical closeness to her in this case actually endangered her creating tears.  Life is a paradox.

The doctor was checking my Vitamin D levels today (clearly with my vitamin D deficiency, I am not close enough to the sun), so both kids witnessed me getting blood drawn.  This was the closest they've ever been to needles without someone giving them a shot.  A good learning experience.  After leaving the lab, a very pregnant woman was in front of us walking to the elevator and when she saw Sean on her heels she backed away from the elevator call button.

woman: (to Sean) Do you want to hit the button?  I have a 3.5 year old, and I know all about the button.  If you want to hit it, I won't.

Sean: Yes. I do.

me: What do you say, Seancito?

Sean: Thank you.

He hits the button with fervor.

me: Nice job, buddy.

woman:  Are you starting preschool soon?  Our son's starting preschool next week.

Sean: Yeah.

me: When are you due?

woman: I'm having a C-section a week from Friday.

me: Oh my, very soon!  Congratulations!

woman:  I don't think I could have made it another two+ weeks, so I'm glad we're having the baby next week.

The elevator arrived, and we all walked in.

me: Is this your second?

woman: It's our third.  We have our son, who's 3.5, and then our daughter died when she was 7 months old.

me: Oh - I'm sorry.

woman:  She would have been 2 in July.  So this baby is our third.  And I was diagnosed with cancer during this pregnancy, so I'm really ready to have this baby.

me: Oh no.  I'm so sorry to hear that.

The woman spoke with no hint of self-pity.  She spoke honestly, directly, and lovingly. She spoke as though close enough to her feelings but not awkwardly or inappropriately sharing with a stranger.  Her words brought us closer in just a brief interaction.

woman: Yeah.  It's been tough.  (smiling and looking at Audrey) How old is this one?

me: Audrey is 16 months.

woman: (placing a hand on her own stomach) This baby would have been named Audrey if he hadn't been a boy.  We're going to have two boys!

me: That's very exciting.  And you look beautiful.

woman: Thank you.

With this the elevator doors opened and we all walked out to the lobby.

me: Best of luck with everything ahead.

woman: Thanks.  Have a great day.  (to Sean) Good luck at school, buddy!

Sean: (waving at the woman, as if she was leaving our house) Yeah!  Thanks!  And if I get enough stickers, I get to go on a special date! 

I don't know that Sean understood the exchange that she and I just had, but he seemed to intuit the newly born closeness between us.  His waving and saying goodbye carried with it a knowledge of that closeness, and then he felt the urge to share with her his news about his special date.  She had no context for this news, and she didn't seem to fully take it in, other than to smile and wave goodbye.

I was struck by the woman's honesty and bravery.  I was struck by her courage facing a new pregnancy after so recently having lost a baby.  I was struck by her warmth to us as strangers and her ability to create closeness without creating awkwardness. 

The other day I was cleaning out our car, and I removed both carseats to vacuum up the cheerios, raisins, bits of dried cheese sticks and crumbled graham crackers.  It was disgusting.  I had this brief moment where I looked at the clean, empty backseat and felt like I could breathe easier with the space reclaimed.  I longed for the days when I could just throw a bunch of stuff back there: no carseats, no kids, no dried chunks of food.  I then had this moment of realizing just how much our kids take up our lives and what it will be like to re-gain that empty back seat some day.  I am so close to these two human beings right now and I love it.  Though there are small trials each day that can send me spinning, I'm also keenly aware that this time is fleeting.  They won't always want to snuggle up in my lap with a book.  They won't always want to come running to see me when I've been away from the house for a couple hours.  So though I may have their carseats filling up my backseat, I have their humanity filling up my life.  With all the laughter, challenges, and growth, I am fond of our closeness.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Still Fighting It

The other day we were at the YMCA and Sean agreed to use the potty before we left to run errands.  An unusual compliance from him, I applauded his self awareness. But then Sean began getting nervous as he surveyed all of the toilets.

Sean: Which one can I use, Mama?

me: Any one you want, buddy.

Sean: Do the toilets flush by themselves?

me: Yes, Sean, all of them do in here.  We talk about this every time.

Sean: I don't like it when the toilets flush by themselves!

This rigamarole.  We go to the YMCA a couple times a week, and he always worries about the same thing.  He doesn't like how loud the toilets sound when they flush, and his dislike is heightened by the fact that the toilets seemingly flush on their own accord.  I did not have much patience for this predictable exchange.

me: I know you don't, but it's time to use the potty and then we need to go!  Come on -

He slowly, ever so slowly, began pulling down his pants, bending over at the waist to do so.  His head came precipitously close to carressing the toilet seat, which always gives my stomach a lurch, and he whimpered quietly all the while.  I was not in the mood to discuss his behavior or fears of the toilet, and Audrey was desperately trying to wiggle out of my arms.  I was snippy.

me:  Let's go, Sean!

Sean: (still whining) I'm just pulling down my pants.  I don't like it when the toilet flushes by itself!

me: I heard you the first time.

After he used the potty, he ran at my legs, which were blocking his exit from the stall, and he avoided looking in the direction of the toilet while it flushed.  He believed that looking at the flushing toilet made the sound, the surprise, and the whole experience that much scarier.  With pants back on and safely away from the monster toilet, he moved to the sink area searching for the stool that usually allowed him to stand at the sinks by himself.  The stool was missing.

Sean: Where's the stool??

me: I don't know, Seancito, but we need to wash hands and get going, so I will just lift you up.

Sean: But I want the stool!

me: Yes, but it's not here, so please just let me lift you.

I balanced Audrey on the sink counter.  Then with Sean's belly pressed to the sink and with one knee raised in the air to help keep Sean elevated, I turned on the water and quickly applied soap to Sean's hands.  During all of this a woman approached another sink beside us, and she watched while washing her hands.

Sean: (glancing over to the other two sinks) I... Mama... I... I... I want to go over to that sink.  (the whining continues) I want to use that other sink.  Not this one!

me: No, you absolutely can not use that other sink.  Please scrub your hands with soap and then we're going to go.

He tosses his head to the side, as if using this sink is the worst thing that's happened to him.  

Sean: (low grunt) uuuuuuhhhhhhhh, Maaaamaaaa..... nooooooooo.

woman: I have 3 year old boys.  (eyes darting down to Sean and then back to mine in the mirror) How old is he?

me: (laughing with exasperation) He's 3.  Does this look familiar to you, or am I the only one putting up with this?

woman: It looks familiar.  Hang in there.

This is not the only time Sean has fought a seemingly normal routine like going potty and washing hands.  Most nights, he claims he doesn't want to brush his teeth.  And every nap time and night time ritual is complete with this dialogue:

me: Okay, buddy, good night. (give Sean a kiss on the head)  Thanks for a fun day (which is said even if it's been a pretty rough day.  Most days have fun present in them, even if it's in short supply).  I hope you sleep well.

Sean: (quiet whine) Mama?

I know what's coming, but I still answer.

me: Yes?

Sean: I don't like it when you leave.

me: I'm not leaving, Sean, I'm just going to be in the other room.

Sean:  But I don't like it when you leave my room.

me: Yes, I know, thank you.  You say this every night.  Are we going to blow kisses?

Sean: Yes.

The blowing kisses ritual usually gets him out of his practiced whine.  The Cito loves to blow kisses with whomever has put him to bed.  So me from the doorway and he from his bed, we blow kisses as I walk out of the room.  Sweet, right?  A beautiful ritual, yes?  Yes!  Until it doesn't go that way.  Like at naptime yesterday:

me: Okay, sleep well, Seancito.

Sean: Mama?  I don't like it when you leave.

me: Yes, I know, you say this every time. I'll just be in the next room.

Sean: Mama?

me: YES, Sean!

Sean: (drops the whine and matter-of-factly) After you leave, I'm going to move the trashcan so it will keep the door from closing.

Again, a ritual that Sean feels it's necessary to include each time he lays down.  Even when there's no breeze blowing his door shut, he likes to have the trash can there, just in case.

me: How about I do it right now, so we don't wake up Audrey (who's already asleep in her crib, not but 3 feet from the door).

Sean: (with increasing volume) Noooooo!  I want to do it, Mama!

I move the trash can, and Sean melts down.  Crying, wailing, like he's lost his only stuffed animal.

me: (stage whisper, to be heard over the increasingly louder cry, but not so loud to wake Audrey) Do you want to blow kisses?

He's kicking his feet, thrashing about, and he wants nothing to do with blowing kisses now.

Sometimes the fight comes from nowhere, and especially when he's riding in the backseat of the car.

Sean: No!  Don't park the car in the garage!


Sean: No!  Park the car in the garage!


Sean: Stop the car!  Stop driving!  I don't want you to drive!  Stop the car! RIGHT! NOW!


Sean: No!  I don't want to take this street!  Why don't we take the highway?!?  I don't want to go on this street!

Why must everything be a fight?  Why must he rail against things that seem to be routine?  Isn't that the whole purpose of having a routine?  So that he'll get used to what comes next and be comfortable with it?  This is why we brush teeth every night!  (Well, for routine, AND for dental hygiene)  This is why we read books and say prayers before bed, so that he'll know what to expect and feel safe with the ritual

I felt like Sean was fighting me on so many of the normal, every day routines, and I was beginning to think there was something wrong with my parenting.  But then I looked back at my week.  My Aunt Jeanne died last Thursday, August 9.  My family gathered and had a beautiful wake and funeral for her on Sunday and Monday.  It was an incredible celebration of her life filled with music, scripture and ritual - all picked out by Jeanne.  Because I could see and feel her hand in everything, it felt like she was there with us singing, talking, and praying.  It was very sad, but it was also so good to celebrate her life. I felt like I had multiple opportunities to grieve; to laugh and cry with my parents, siblings and cousins; to hug my mom who's missing her sister; and to sob at the loss of a wonderful woman who's meant so much to me.

And yet:  when the funeral mass was coming to a close, the priest walked down from the altar area to stand by the casket and eventually lead her body out.  Just at that moment I had the most irrational fight rage inside of me.  Tears streaming down my face, and audible sobs leaving my mouth (sounds that I have made fun of my mother for producing in the past were now escaping my lips - I am becoming my mother!), I did not want that casket to leave.  Somewhere in my brain it made sense that Jeanne's body should just stay there in the church.  Somehow I thought that keeping the casket there, I wouldn't feel the pain of her leaving as deeply.  No, no, NO!  Don't take her body!  No, leave it there!  Don't take it!  I fought the most commonplace part of the ritual.  We all know that the body is brought into the funeral at the beginning and brought out at the end.  Why fight what I know to be the routine?  Facing my aunt's mortality, and subsequently facing my own, I was fighting the lack of control I have over this life.  We are just here to live it, but we have no say when it ends. 

Perhaps on a much simpler level - not one of life and death, but of dry or wet underwear, of dirty or clean hands, of brushed or un-brushed teeth - Sean can not be blamed for fighting us on the routines he knows so well.  It's those routines that shape his everyday, so when other things feel out of his control, he picks at the things he knows he has control over.  Is it possible that he senses, even at his young age, that growing up is difficult?  In the words of Ben Folds, "everybody knows it sucks to grow up, and everybody does... the years go on and we're still fighting it." 

There was one among us this past week who didn't seem to fight getting older.  My nephew, Theo, was well prepared for the wake and funeral.  His parents, concerned that he might be scared at his first wake, detailed what would happen.  When told that Aunt Jeanne had died, and that he would see her body at the wake, Theo wanted to know if he would also see her privates.  The answer was unequivocally "no."  In his mind it seemed that those who die must not wear clothes after death.  Fair enough. 

Theo: Mommy, will her eyes be open or closed at the wake?

Susie: Eh, closed.

Theo: (after a moment) Could I open them?

Susie: No.  Absolutely not.

At the wake, Theo walked up to the casket along with the rest of our family.  He showed no signs of fear.  In fact, when he stood in front of Jeanne's body he laid his hand across her arm and nearly tried prying her fingers apart until my mom stopped him.  He went so far as to give Jeanne some kisses on her shoulder and he seemed comfortable just draped there beside her.  Except for the growing line of people behind him, he could have stayed there all day.  And he did return to the casket many times throughout the funeral.  Once when I tried to entice him away from the casket, he moved just beyond my reach, and went over the kneeler.

Theo: I have to say a prayer right now.

Riiiight.  He also would go over to Jeanne's body, rub her hand, and then come over to me and rub my hand.

Theo:  Your hand feels just like hers!

I wasn't sure how to take that.

By far his best moment of acceptance was receiving his gift from Jeanne.  As if knowing that it would make me cry all the harder, Jeanne had planned little gifts that we would each receive after she died.  She gave each family member little crosses, pendants, rosaries, and trinkets that she had owned.  Theo received a rosary.  He accepted it with delight.

Theo: (laying the rosary out beside us on the couch) I have wanted this my whole life.

He was not kidding.

me: Oh really? (laughing) You have?

Theo: Yes.  I was going to ask Maimie to get me one for my birthday, but now I don't have to.

A thoughtful moment...

Theo: A necklace... you can wear... underwater.


me: (more laughing) No, I don't think you can wear that underwater.

Theo: (taken aback) Why not?

me: (frantically searching my brain for a reason) Well... it's just not made for that.

Theo: But Uncle Gene has a necklace he wears with a picture of Jesus on it (a crucifix, but let's not mince words).  And he wears it even when he goes swimming.  And this has a picture of Jesus on it.

So true.  Uncle Gene does wear a necklace with a crucifix on it and he doesn't take it off, even when he goes swimming.  The cross was given to him by my Aunt Jeanne, so I've been told.

me: Aaaahh, right.  I see....

Theo: (putting the rosary necklace around his neck) And the best part is... the cross hits my privates.

This statement might seem crude or insensitive to the outside observer, especially because it happened in the lobby of the funeral home.  However, I believe that Theo was just fully embracing his gift from Jeanne.  His parents astutely prepared him for this whole ritual, and instead of fearing it, he put his arms around the experience and hugged it tightly.  He was grateful for the gift passed on to him, and he immediately associated it with our Uncle Gene who wears his cross so proudly, even when swimming.  Theo found the positive amidst a tough situation.  As he begins kindergarten this coming week, I don't think he'll be fighting the ever flowing current of growing up that surrounds him.  In fact, I could easily seem him put on his underwater necklace and embrace his new found life as a kindergartener. 

If only we could all be so lucky.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Lady: That's disgusting.

Husband: What?

Lady: (to little girl) There is no way I'm letting you go in there!

Girl: Why not?

Lady: There is disease in there.  It's disgusting.  Disease and dirty diapers!  Do you know what happens to people who go in there?  They get sick. 

Husband: (quietly) Really?

Lady: (to little girl) There's NO WAY I'm letting you go in there!

This was the conversation that occurred right next to us as we approached the splash-pad-esque-water-area at the Minnesota Zoo.  I had looked it up on the internet earlier that morning and saw that there was a water area with fountains and squirting water where the kids could play.  On a hot day, it seemed like the best place to be AND it's in the middle of the zoo.  Does it get any better than that?  He was so excited about the possibility, Sean wanted to wear his swim trunks and swim shirt TO the zoo.  I thought this was a great plan.

Yet somehow we got stuck next to this family of Haters, and they were so close to us, it was difficult to not feel reprimanded by the mother myself for even looking in the direction of the water.  After her fearful reaction to seeing the water and recognizing the child-like wonder her daughter was exhibiting thinking about going in, I spoke directly to Sean.

me: Seancito, do you want to go in the water now or later?

Sean: Um, I think maybe later.

I don't think he heard the fear-ridden woman talk about the water.  I think he was just curious about finding the animals first and coming back to the water later.  However, I did stop and think for a moment about the impact that woman's words could have had on Sean.  He's a cautious kid.  All it takes is someone adamantly saying that water will make you sick, and he might take a break from the water for a week!  Thankfully her words didn't stop him from playing in the water area after lunch, and he had a great time.  What I wanted to tell that lady was that my dear Audrey would refrain from getting in the water, meaning I was single-handedly saving 25-30 children from getting hand, foot, and mouth virus that day.  Somehow I don't think she would have appreciated my heroism.

Fear is something that takes hold of me all too easily.  Though I wrote the lady off as a crazy, fear-ridden (and clearly unhappy) individual who has no fun, I did have one moment where I allowed her fear to take root inside of me.  I paused and thought: maybe I shouldn't let Sean run through that water.  Maybe there are diseases here!  I mean we are at the zoo!@!?&!  Perhaps there are germs everywhere, just waiting to take my children down!

Oh wait... Audrey already has a terrible virus.  That's right!

We live in a culture that spews fear.  Take the recent shootings in Colorado - an awful, sickening tragedy.  It's something that hasn't left me alone since I first heard about it.  It doesn't help anything, but I play it out in my mind: what if I had been in that theatre, what if I had heard those gunshots, what if one of my kids will be in a theatre like that someday?  These thoughts are paralyzing.  In fact, I find them to be spiritually deadening.  There is absolutely nothing - nothing - I can do about someone else's choice to harm people.  I have no control over my children's lives in that respect, and it terrifies me.  But if I give in to that fear - if I allow those hypothetical thoughts to take hold - I will not be able to be a good mother.  Frankly, I would begin to see everything in this world as a possible danger to my kids.  I must admit, I've thought twice about taking the kids to a movie anytime soon.  Makes sense, right?  Why would I want to put them in danger?  And yet... when I really evaluate that idea... that doesn't make any sense at all.

A week after September 11th, I got on a plane to Ireland for my Junior year study abroad experience.  A couple days before I left, they re-opened the airports, solidifying the fact that I would indeed get on a plane.  I remember distinctly having a conversation with my mom about my own fear, sitting on the stairs of my childhood home.  (Forgive me, Mom, this conversation happened over 10 years ago.  The content is all there, but I'm sure I've changed some words.  And perhaps I'll embellish a little for dramatic flair.  At least I'm honest about it.)

me: Maybe I shouldn't go.  Maybe I should go back to Dallas and not go to Ireland.

Mom: Oh no, I don't think that's the best idea.  You have to keep living your life.  (she begins getting teary-eyed) We have no control over what people do, and there is evil in this world.  But you must - we all must - keep living our lives.  We can not let fear dictate our choices. 

I was touched by this statement.  I know it was the reason I got on that plane a couple days later.  I was scared out of my mind, and when I said goodbye at the airport, I had a rock in my throat wondering if I would see my parents again.  Which is what I voiced to her in response to her positive, inspirational message.

me: What if something happens here?  What if something happens to you guys?

I expected mom to come back at me with more positive, inspirational thoughts.  I wanted her to bolster me in this time of second-guessing my adventure.  I wanted her to tell me that good would triumph over evil.  That there was no way we would get attacked again.

Mom: Well, Anna Marie, we have no control over other people's choices.  But as I said, we must keep living our lives.  And my only hope is that if we are attacked with biological warfare that I can stay healthy and strong enough to help Mary Kate.

WAIT A MINUTE!  Wasn't this an after-school special?  Wasn't the music playing and the tears were streaming and you were going to tell me that everything was going to be okay??  How did this devolve into biological warfare??  How can you say this to me right before I'm getting on a plane to fly across the ocean??  Have you any idea how good I am at creating my own worst scenarios??  I don't need any help in that department!

We both cried.  I firmly believe my mom was still inspired by the obvious answer: good would prevail over evil.  It always does.  It's part of her faith system and she lives it out every day of her life.  HOWEVER, I was crying because I allowed my mom's comment to take root inside me.  I will admit that flying on that airplane days after September 11th was not easy.  But I'm glad I took my mom's advice and I kept living my life.

My hope is that I can model that same thing for my kids.  Thankfully they aren't old enough to know what happened in Colorado.  I'm grateful we don't have to have that conversation right now.  Also working in my favor is that Seancito was so excited to be at the zoo the other day that he didn't seem to hear the crazy lady talking about the diseased water.  Is this what they mean when they say that in order to truly understand God, we must become like children?  We must be oblivious and ignore the news and revel in the moment in front of us?  Strangely, I think yes!  Maybe not be truly oblivious, but definitely ignore the news.  When I step foot into a movie theatre again (and I hope it's sooner rather than later) I will have to be a little oblivious to what I know has happened in Colorado.  When I send my kids off to school, I will have to let go of the fact that crazy people have made awful choices and hurt children while at school. When I get on planes, even still to this day, I make peace with myself that something terrible could happen.  Thankfully, we have more instances of movies running normally, school days running smoothly, and airplanes taking off and landing with no hiccups.  It's just that those don't get the publicity.

And when I go to the splash area at the zoo, I will have to surrender my control to the gods and understand that Sean just might come down with an awful disease or virus.  Something that might give him a fever and then blistery-lesions all over his hands, feet, and mouth.

Oh wait... he was already exposed to that at home.  If only that fearful lady knew how close she was to disease.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

a slight misunderstanding

It rained here today.  I was grateful because our car needed a good external rinse to get the chalk off.  Chalk? Why chalk, you might ask?  Well, it was a slight misunderstanding, but Seancito decorated our car with chalk designs a couple weeks ago, and we've been without rain (or the car's been in the garage) so there's been no opportunity for a rinse.  Did either Tom or I try to rinse it off ourselves after we realized he'd chalked the car?  No.  Why would we do something like that?  A couple weeks ago, he'd taken sidewalk chalk to his tricycle.  I think the misunderstanding occurred somewhere in here:

Sean: Hey, look, Dada, I colored my bike!

Tom: (feigning a level of excitement greater than he actually felt) Oh, nice, buddy!  Keep up the good work.

It was only later, when we got the family together to go somewhere that I saw the chalk designs all over the car. We'd been chalked.  Tom assured me that he and Sean had a little discussion about it; discussing how chalk is not the best thing to put on the car.  Now weeks later, we still have the chalk marks strewn on all four doors, rearview mirrors, and bumper.  The rain today, though, took care of it.

Life with our kids is sprinkled with slight misunderstandings.  For example, as I was cleaning Audrey's poopy diaper today, she kicked me in the face.  Probably not on purpose (because I don't think her aim is that advanced yet), but it stung all the same.  It was a slight misunderstanding on her part, and I wanted to elucidate this for her.  Had I not bit my tongue, and if she could reason like an adult, my monologue to her would go something like this:

Audrey, thank you for that heel to the face, but I want to take a moment and make clear: I am not doing this to torture you.  Given the quick onset of your leprosy (aka hand, foot, and mouth virus), I'm sure it's unpleasant for me to hold your feet and ankles while wiping your bottom.  However, it's the only way to keep your blistery, pussing, and oozing limbs away from the diarrhea that just exploded from your ass: an ASSplosion, as your Aunt Susie would say. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather see the diarrhea than witness your constipation, as we do on most normal weeks, but I don't relish the idea of cleaning it up.  Frankly, it makes me gag almost every time I have to do it.  But do you know why I grab those oozing ankles and throw them nearly over your head?  So that I can keep you hygienically clean.  Do I want to have my fingers in your shit?  No. NO I DO NOT.  But that's not a choice I get to make.  In fact, it's a choice that's made for me in the fine print at the hospital when they agree to let us take you home.  We must clean your dirty, dirty bottom.  Multiple times... a day.  And this will go on for the next 2-3 years (God willing, no longer than that!), and then we'll get to fight and argue about potty training.  Until that time, sweet girl who just kicked me in the face, I am forced to clean your butt.  So sorry it interferes with your idea of a good time.  That makes two of us.

Another misunderstanding occurred this morning while trying to get out the door.  Having run a leper colony for a couple days now, I could feel myself getting itchy to get outside.  Yet I was having a hard time thinking of any places we could go where I wouldn't infect small children with SARS.  So I settled on the idea of driving to the downtown library (one of my favorite spots in the cities), and once there I would confine Audrey to her stroller.  Then the only people she would touch would be me and Seancito, whom she has infected already and we still are healthy.  So as we got ready to go, I asked Sean to put on his sandals himself.  He quickly ran to get them and came back 2.5 minutes later with his sandals on.  AND on the wrong feet. 

me: Hey, nice job, buddy.  I think those are on the wrong feet, though.

Seancito: No they're not.

me: I'm pretty sure they are.

Seancito.  I like them this way.  Can I wear them this way?

me: You can, but...

And this sealed it.  He wore them on the wrong feet the whole morning.  Is there anything wrong with this?  I don't think so.  Did it help him fall in the parking lot and scrape his knee?  Probably.  Natural consequences, right?

Last week I told Sean he could go out and play with the neighbors, if they were home and outside.  Living in the suburbs in Minnesota, we've become very comfortable letting Sean run between houses.  It's a good, safe feeling.  However, being lax has its downsides.  One of them being this misunderstanding:  Sean takes off running towards the neighbors' yard.  Our houses butt up to each other and we don't have a fence between us, so the kids can roam freely.  I go to check on Audrey for a minute and when I return to see if he's in their backyard or ours, he's gone.  I don't panic right away, because I think he might be around the side of our house.  I head out to the backyard to search for him.  I call for him repeatedly, and he doesn't answer.  I'm just starting to get worried, and then I think, "maybe he's at our neighbors' house." so I walk in the direction of their backyard.  Just as I get to their lawn, I see Sean running from the front of their house back into their backyard, carrying a large toy.  He's struggling to both carry it and run at the same time.

me: What are you doing?  Where have you been?

Sean: I was just getting this toy.

With that he plops it down in the middle of their backyard, exhausted.

me: Where did you get this from?

Sean: Oh. From the garage.

I walk along the side of their house and into their front yard, and I see that their garage door is open, and Sean has indeed picked a choice toy.  I return to their backyard, storming.

me: First of all, that toy goes back in the garage right now.  Second of all, you can not just run off like that without telling me.

Sean: (horrified) NOOOOOOOO, but I want to play with this toy!  I want to play at Greta's house!

me: Sean, it doesn't look like they're home, and you've taken a toy without asking.  You need to go put it back in the garage and then come back to our house.

Sean:  NOOOOO - you said I could play at Greta's!  It's not fair!!

You're right!  It's not fair.! It's not fair that this was all a misunderstanding in the first place.  I said you could go out and see if Greta's home to play, but I did NOT, in fact, tell you it was okay to come take their toys and play in their backyard when they're not home!

me: The toy goes back, and then you come home.  I will give you one more chance to do it yourself, and then I'll  take it, carry you home, and you're in big trouble.

It's this last bit that gets him.  He puts the toy back in the garage and returns home with me while crying and protesting.  Just a slight misunderstanding.

I've heard of some other misunderstandings recently that have nothing to do with my immediate family.  1) My cousin had a baby this past weekend.  From their 20 week ultrasound they were expecting a girl.  However, at birth they welcomed a beautiful baby BOY!  Slightly misunderstood ultrasound images, I'd say.  2) A woman parked her car in a parking lot and went into a store (this is a true story, but I'm not relaying names or places to protect the innocent... or guilty... as the case may be).  When she came back out, she saw her car (an old jalopy) had side-swiped another vehicle parked across the way from where she had parked hers.  The vehicle that was hit was a very nice Jaguar. 

Witness #1: Is that your car?

Woman: Yes.

Witness #1: Did you forget to put on the emergency brake?

Woman: Yes.

I'm sure when the woman went to explain what had happened to the Jaguar-owner, he or she would see it all as a slight misunderstanding.  Thankfully, in this life, most of my misunderstandings are comical at best and annoying at worst.  My children provide me with ample opportunities to clarify what I want from them.  Though there are times when I want to bang my head against a wall because I'm done explaining myself, I also savor those moments when I can go into a deeper explanation of why something is the way it is.  There are times that Seancito's misunderstanding opens the door to a really great conversation.  This has certainly been the case as we talk about my Aunt Jeanne dying.  It's also been true as we've discussed the presence of God in the world.  On a more mundane note, we've had conversations about how airplanes fly, and why the backside of his pillow is cold and not warm.  They recently knocked down a house in our neighborhood and this has provided hours of observation, entertainment, and explanations.  Many conversations offer moments that are profound, sweet, and simple.  Other moments are hard to explain but it's well worth the struggle.  All in all, they are moments that develop my relationships with my kids, and I'm grateful for them.  Even when some moments can drive me batty.

Yesterday Sean had initiated his own need to go to the bathroom, which I love.  I applauded him on his self-awareness and sent him off to the bathroom alone.  20 seconds later I hear crying and whimpering coming from the bathroom.  Having trained myself to not respond to every single cry and whimper, I let it go on for a couple minutes.  It sounded to me more contrived than real, so I continued bringing up loads of laundry from the basement and checking on Audrey.  The whimpering continued, and I felt myself going crazy.  Finally, breaking my own silent rule of ignoring him, I caved.

me: (stifling my annoyance) Sean, are you doing okay in there?

Sean: (mild whimpering) Nooooo....

me: What's going on?

Sean: (still whimpering) I fell all the way in the toilet!

And I decided to go in the bathroom.When I got there, the back of his shirt was wet and so were his shorts (how did THAT happen?) with toilet water.  Bleh.

me:  How did this happen?

Sean: (beginning a fake cry) I forgot to put on my seat!

He has a smaller seat that fits flush on the top of the toilet, thus allowing him to sit, protect the bathroom from errant penis spraying, and keeping him from - you guessed it! - falling in the toilet.

me: Why didn't you put on your seat??

Sean: (weakly) I'm not sure...

It was then that I noticed the roll of toilet paper.  It appeared as though someone had unrolled it and then rolled it back up.

me: What's going on with this toilet paper?  Did you do this?

Sean: No.

me: How did it get this way?

Sean: I'm not sure.

me: Sean.  Did you unroll the toilet paper and then roll it back up again.

Sean.  Yes.

Ooookay.  As we were relaying this story to Tom later that night at dinner, we all had enough distance from it that I was no longer annoyed.  Coining a phrase that I've been using around the house recently, Tom described the whole situation as a "hot mess."  Not wanting there to be any misunderstanding of what transpired, Seancito corrected him.

Sean: Actually, Dada, it was a wet mess.

And then everything was clear.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Something always comes up

At approximately 12:45pm today I was scrubbing the kiddie cart attached to the grocery cart at Target.  Both kids were in the car eating gummie bears.  They had not yet eaten lunch.  I was hunched over the cart, my backside hanging all too closely to the traffic in the Target parking lot, and I realized that I had only eaten a piece of toast with peanut butter on it, a cheese stick, and a cup of coffee this morning.  No wonder the heat was getting to me.  If you think me a thoughtful Target shopper for cleaning up my cart after using it, then I want you to hold that thought in your brain while you read the rest.  Perhaps you will think well of me for another 60 seconds until you get to the end.

We traveled to Texas this weekend for my Grannie's 90th birthday celebration.  It was a great time!  It's been far too long since I'd seen my Grannie, aunts, uncles, cousins and cousins' offspring.  A good time was had by all.  Some highlights are below:

After renting a car in Dallas, we began a journey down to Mabank, Texas that ended with Sean puking all over the back seat of the rental car: chunks of hotdog and strawberries mingled with the smell of stomach acid, and the car was not a place you wanted to be.  We stopped on the side of the road (but a mile from my aunt and uncle's lake house), stripped Sean down to nothing, pulled out suitcases from the back of the car, and got Sean clean clothes.  He whimpered while we dressed him, and his favorite part of this mishap was getting to ride in the front seat on Tom's lap for the rest of the 1 mile trip.

Tom: I feel sick to my stomach now.

me: Don't do it!  Stop breathing it in!  We can not all get sick in the rental car!

Upon arriving at the house and seeing his cousins, Sean forgot all about his puking-in-the-rental-car-scene and ran off to play.  We never saw a lick of illness from him again.

The next day Susie and I rode the jet ski across the enormous lake, Susie was screaming at the top of her lungs, clutching my middle while I rev'd the engine.


me: We are going 14 miles per hour.

Saturday night we had a skit put on by the 4th generation Agniel/Herbert grandkids called "Cinderella at the Farm" and it was inspired by a budding actress in our family, Abigail Barni.  She has a glowing future ahead of her in creating stories and theatre, and she gathered many cousins to play the different parts in the skit.  When I asked my nephew, Theo, if he wanted to join in, he had some specific things to say about his role.

Theo: (knowing the title had Cinderella in it) I want to be one of the mice.

I had to search my brain for the mice in Cinderella, but I quickly picked up what he was talking about.

me: Okay, that sounds great!

Theo: But I don't want to be Gus Gus.  I just don't want to be the fat one.

Fair enough.

Throughout the weekend, the lake house had a constant din from all the kids running around, and there was action happening in every room.  We had food and drinks out at all hours of the day, and my favorite scene involved looking at the island in the kitchen filled with rows upon rows of red plastic cups, each marked with a family member's name on it.  Given that our party approached 60 people, we needed a lot of cups.  You could find groups of people talking around the kitchen table, the patio out back, the deck on the water, lounging on couches, or helping the little kids play bingo, corn hole, decorate cookies, or play pool. 

As part of the celebration for Grannie's 90th, we put on a "This is Your Life" skit and had a slideshow with tons of pictures.  There were cupcakes that were delicious (thank you, Katie!), happy birthday was sung, and there were presents for Grannie.  Yet through all of the merriment and re-connecting with family, our little Audrey was cranky.  Her usual gentle demeanor was replaced with whining and crying.  Her usual easy going attitude and quick smile was replaced with a constant "no" and shake of her head for anyone who touched her and a quick scream when she didn't get her way.  This was not the personality we see at home.  I chalked it up to the huge molars coming in on both sides of her bottom gums. 

Tom and I didn't get much sleep.  Partially I'm proud of that, because we had two great nights of hanging out with cousins around the hotel after kids were asleep.  But as I crawled into bed around 12:30pm each night, I was woken only an hour or so later by a crying, screaming Audrey who could not be consoled.  She ran a low-grade fever, and she fought me every time I tried cramming Orajel in her mouth. 

This morning, I called the doctor to get her an appointment, and after getting off the phone with the nurse, I looked at Audrey's hands and feet.  What had seemed like little mosquito bites and a terrible diaper rash had turned in Leprosy.  She had huge lesion-looking welts all over her hands, feet, toes, and some cropping up around her mouth.  I got increasingly concerned and was grateful for our doctor appointment.  As I relayed to the pediatric nurse all of Audrey's symptoms from the weekend, I explained about her teeth coming in, how we alternated between tylenol and ibuprofen every 3 hours, and how she still seemed to be in pain.  I then explained that she had these lesions showing up around her hands, feet and mouth that seemed to explode this morning.

nurse: Have you ever heard of hand, foot, and mouth virus?

me: Yes.

nurse: She has it.

I paused.  Weren't we supposed to see the doctor?  How could she diagnose that so easily?

Sean: Mama, can I have a drink of Audrey's water?

nurse: Nope. No sharing.  She's very contagious.

My heart sank to my stomach.  Not only had I allowed Sean to finish Audrey's milk this morning, but we had just come back from a fun-filled-60-person-family-reunion!  Audrey could have infected anyone and everyone!  I felt awful.

So it wasn't until I had both kids strapped into the kiddie cart at Target and we were headed through the aisles that I realized something.  I probably should not have this child out and about! I quickly did my shopping, making sure to keep Audrey only in the cart and nowhere else.  However, her leprosy-hand-foot-mouth disease seemed to flare under the fluorescent lights, and I felt that every single mother could see them from miles around.  I was endangering everyone!  I moved as quickly as I could, feeding the kids cheese sticks, grapes, and milk in the store.  After piling most all the groceries in the cart, only needing two more items, Sean began melting down.  I became desperate and walked towards the candy.

me: (speaking quietly and forcefully) Sean! If you stop whining and crying, I will get you a special treat. 

He stopped and looked up at me with tears in his eyes.

Sean: What kind of special treat, Mama?

me: Well... (I perused the candy aisle) I will get you.... gummie bears.  But you must -

Sean: (whining) Can I hold them??

me: If you stop whining, then yes, you can hold them.

At the checkout, my eyes searched the candy shelves again and I put a Mounds bar in the cart for me.  My mothering knowledge of feeding my kids healthy food, or less than that, feeding my kids something substantial before feeding them candy completely fell away.  I couldn't get out of the store fast enough, but not before I had something to comfort myself with.  Something to promise both them and me that we would be rewarded for making it through.  I could feel Big Brother aka the CDC watching me through hidden cameras, judging me for having a child with hand-foot-and-mouth-leprosy OUT IN PUBLIC.  Who does that?? Me.  That's who.  And I buy gummie bears and a candy bar.  I have hit rock bottom.

And that, my friends, is why I was scrubbing the kiddie cart at Target on a nearly empty stomach.  And that's why my two kids ate gummie bears for lunch.  And that is why after completing this post, this hand-foot-and-mouth-leprosy mother will reward herself with a candy bar.