Friday, March 30, 2012

Did I really ask for Wonder?

This morning Sean was "nursing" Pooh bear.  He was sitting in an over-sized tupperware container (one that would house camping gear or blankets or large toys - a big container) in the living room with Pooh cradled in his arms.  When I double checked to make sure I heard him right, he clarified.

me: You are nursing Pooh?

Sean: Yeah!

me: (hiding all misgivings vocally) That's great! 

Thank goodness I was in another room so that my face could allow curiosity, confusion, and humor to cross it.

Sean: I'm giving him honey!

But of course!  If a man could nurse a small creature, and if a stuffed bear could receive said nutrients, then clearly that man would produce honey from his body in order to supply said bear with exactly what he craves.  This is all coming together now.

It makes sense that Sean would explore the world of nursing.  He sees me nurse Audrey multiple times a day.  In fact he recently raised a question about this activity while Audrey was nursing.

Sean: What are those things?

me: What things?

Sean: Those things.

me: (not wanting to give in to a non-specific question) What things?

Sean: Those things... hanging from your shoulders?

me: (I'm quite certain he knows the answer to this question) My breasts?

Sean: Yeah - bweasts.

Deep breath.  He's not even three years old, and yet this conversation feels awkward.  Is this the joy of raising children?  The joy of being a family?  Awkward moments?  Yes.  I believe it is.

Sean: Are those for Audrey?

me: Well, they are for me.  They are mine.  But I use them to feed Audrey.

Sean: To feed her milk?

me: That's right.

Sean: Oooohhh.

I have prided myself on using correct anatomical words with Sean.  I have always wanted him to know the correct words for men and women's genitalia.  Not wanting to shy away from calling a spade a spade, so to speak, I've encouraged this practice daily - especially while potty training.  However, I began to question my diligence when Sean recently discovered the box of Tampax in the cabinet.

Sean: What are these?

me: Those are tampons.

Sean: What are tampons?

%&^*$#@&* - deep breath.

me: They are for me to use during my period.

Sean: What's a period?

*#%@&%!(* - deep breath.

me: It's something that happens inside my body.

Sean: Where?


me: In my uterus. (Seriously, Anna Marie?? You're really going this far??)

Sean: Where is your uterus?

me: It's inside my belly.

Sean: And do you put them in a hole?

Why do I feel I'm being led down the garden path?  Am I the butt of a joke?  Surely he knows how awkward this feels for me.

me: Yes, in my vagina. (This makes me want to shiver, do an awkward dance, and shout "Bleh!" But I don't.)

Sean: But I don't have a bagina?

me: No, Sean, you don't.

Sean: 'Cause I have a penis.

me: Right. (Could we STOP the conversation now?)

Sean: (nodding his head, affirmatively) Just me and Dad have a penis?

me: Right.

Sean: But you and Audrey don't?

me: Right.

The Jewish theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel, is my dad's favorite theologian.  One of Heschel's books is entitled I Asked for Wonder.  I frequently think of this title - full disclosure: I have not read the book - but when thinking of God or the universe, or what this crazy life is all about, I think of that title.  I consistently think of it when Tom and I talk about parenting.  We asked for this, right?  We asked for the crazy, sleepless nights of a newborn; for the joyous wrestling/tickling matches in the living room; for the headaches of tantrums and the heartaches of trips to the ER and surgeries; for the bliss of watching our kids cuddled up asleep.  When we accepted the responsibility of becoming parents, We Asked for Wonder.  It's this sense of wonder that I love most about my kids.  I want them to wonder at the world.  I want them to explore their imagination for as many years as they can before life and Big Brother beat it out of them.  I want them to wonder at the stars and the moon, to soak up the sunlight, and to marvel at rain and snow.  I want them to ask for wonder.

But do I want them to wonder about the anatomy of my body?  I don't know that I asked for THAT!  Yet that's the reality of being a mom or dad with very young children.  The bathroom door is almost always open, and when it's not, Sean readily opens it to find out what's going on in there.  Moments of privacy are few.  So the human anatomy and strangely humanity of each of us is up for debate.  I am humbled on a daily basis.

Some recent moments of wonder for me have been less intrusive.  Audrey has been sick this past week, and she has refused to sit in her high chair to eat.  I have chalked this up to being so sick that she just doesn't want to eat anything.  However, upon placing her on the ground, she will scoot around the floor picking up every cheerio, calcified scrambled egg, and day old crumb she can find on the floor.  Guacala.

Also because of being sick, she has woken more frequently in the middle of the night cyring, much to my dismay.  Yet on a night when I felt I could take no more, I walked into her room, and was about to reach for her when I could see and hear her clapping in the dark.  She was so excited to see me, she stopped crying long enough to clap.  Yeah, Mom!  I will ask for that wonder.

Sean picked up on my stress of sleepless nights, and the next day at lunch he announced that he was thinking about getting older.

Sean: When I get older, I'm going to put Audrey to sleep.

me: (not sure if he understands the euphemism at play here, I try to reign in my shock) You are? 

Sean: Yeah.  Give you and Dad a break and put Audrey to sleep.

I'll take that sense of wonder, too.

Finally, Audrey's first word: we have been teaching her baby sign, as Sean learned, too, and the first word she's truly connected in her brain is dog.  She loves dogs.  Whenever she sees a dog, she kicks her legs, waves her arms, shouts in the air, and then starts patting her leg: the baby sign for dog.  She's gone so far as to make the sign when seeing a cat, which we had to promptly correct, but nevertheless, her language is growing in her little brain.  I love to marvel and wonder at that.

A couple weeks ago, while unearthing pictures that had been packed away from our move, Sean began to wonder out loud while looking at a picture from our wedding. 

Sean: Mama, who did I stay with when you and Dad got married?

me: You didn't stay with anybody. You weren't even born yet.  (in an Irish accent) You were but a twinkle in our eyes!

Sean: That's silly.

After pulling out more pictures, some of Sean as a baby, he began to wonder again.

Sean: Mama, 'member when me and Audrey were in your belly?

me: Yes I do.

Sean:  Me and Audrey were in your belly at the same time?

me: No, you came first and then Audrey came second.

Sean: First it was me, then it was Audrey?

me: Yeah, you were born three years ago, and Audrey was born one year ago.

Sean: Yeah. (as if remembering a relaxing vacation on the beach) That was great! 

I could see the wonder in his eyes.  He genuinely seemed to cosmically understand that this was magical. He even looked at Audrey and seemed to understand the miracle of both their births.  I wondered if this might be a moment where he was filled with gratitude.  Grateful to be alive, grateful that I carried him for 9 months, grateful that he had a little sister and wondering at it all.  Perhaps I would even get a thank you!

Sean: I can't wait to do it again!

A-hem.  I asked for this, right?  I asked for this wonder.  I ask all the time that Sean and Audrey be blessed with a sense of wonder at this world.  And if that sense of wonder includes thinking his gestation was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to him, then I'll take it.  Even without a thank you, even with the sleepless nights, and even with the tantrums. God knows that their gestation and lives are perhaps the best things that ever happened to me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Driven to Distraction

We sat outside playing with sidewalk chalk and soaking up the abnormal 60 degree weather in March in Minnesota.  We drew bulldozers, backhoes, bowls of fresh berries, refrigerators, and flowers.  You know, the normal stuff.  I received a text, picked up my cell phone (because of course it was but inches from me outside - must be always accessible), quickly read it, answered it and put the phone back down.  Sean stopped drawing with his chalk.

Sean: Can you turn that thing off? (though coming from him it sounded like "fing" instead of "thing.")

me: (nervous laughter) Sure... why?

Sean: I don't want to hear it.

While speaking, he'd left his place on the driveway and walked towards me.  I was sitting on the ground, and he was level with my eyes but staring at my cell phone.  He clearly sensed, as he does so frequently, how important my cell phone is to me.  The text message was completely unimportant and mundane, there was no rush, and yet I responded to it as if someone had asked for a prompt reply.  Truthfully, I enjoyed the momentary lapse in reality as I joked with a person far away from me via text, and sometimes I need a little distraction if the present moment is particularly tough.  However, both Sean and I knew that I had distracted myself from our calm, enjoyable, present moment.  Though he and I hadn't been talking with each other in that instant, he felt my distraction and he called me on it.  Can you turn that thing off?

Distraction seems to live with me.  Some distractions are pleasant: the Sunday morning paper, fun emails from friends or family I hold dear, a good book, and baking, baking, baking. (Does it count as a distraction if it takes a great deal of my focus?  I blame Tom, my parents and in-laws for chipping in together to get me a KitchenAid for Christmas.  Baking has really kicked into high gear around here.  Not a bad thing in my world, and a wonderful distraction for my brain.)

Some distractions serve a purpose: the other night while grocery shopping, I gave Audrey a nylon purple grocery bag.  She played peek-a-boo with herself for 30 minutes, laughing hysterically, dropping the bag, watching me pick it up, going back to peek-a-boo, and making friends smiling with nearly every shopper we passed.  Not only did this make the shopping go faster, but it imbued a sense of joy in me and others.

Some distractions create diversions: while cleaning up Sean's poop in his underwear, Audrey inched herself over to the training potty and stuck her hand in. Bleh.  There was nothing in it at the time (thank goodness), but it was nasty nonetheless, and it was born out of my distraction.  Just moments after taking her hand away from the training potty she puked in the middle of the bathroom floor, stuck her hand in it, and smashed it into the tiles.  I didn't see the puke until she had created her own Jackson Pollack puke painting on the floor... I was distracted.

Some distractions are ineffective: when Sean doesn't want to stop an activity to go use the potty, he will distract himself by hitting his crotch.

me: What are you doing, Seancito?

Sean: Huh?

me: What are you doing? It looks like you might have to go potty.

Sean: No I don't.

me: Well you are hitting your crotch, so I thought you might have to go.  What are you doing?

Sean: I am trying to keep the pee in.

me: How's that working for you?

Sean: Good.


Some distractions are hilarious: at church on Ash Wednesday, Audrey distracted everyone around her by taking her Elmo chew toy, holding it up to her face (which made her laugh) and then smooshing it into my face (which made her laugh harder).  This made me laugh AND then made Sean laugh, which meant that no one in our pew or any pew around us was focusing on the liturgy.  She also successfully distracted her brother from being quiet.

Sean: I want to do that!  Can I do that to you, Mama? I want to smoosh your face! SMOOSH!

Similarly in the past week, Sean got easily distracted from being in the bath.  I walked out of the bathroom for a moment to put Audrey's pajamas on, and he jumped out of the tub, run around the house flapping his arms like a chicken while skipping and singing.  He knew that I was indisposed with Audrey and therefore could not chase him.

Sean: (pick the tune of your choice) I'M NAKED, I'M NAKED, I'M NAKED.

me: Sean, are you done taking a bath?

Sean: What, Mama?  (back to singing) I'M NAKED, I'M NAKED!

me: (getting louder to be heard over singing) Are you done taking your bath?

Sean. NO.

me: Then you need to get back into-


me: OOOOOOOOoooookay.

Some distractions take a different tone altogether: I've recently seen how distractions carry an insidiousness. The computer is a huge distraction for me.  On a day that's rough with the kids I find that I'd rather check my email 20 times (even if no one has written) than fully immerse myself in Sean's crabbiness, changing poopy diapers, or Audrey's clingy-ness due to constipation or tooth pain.  I'd rather feel mildly distracted by other things than fully frustrated with these two kids whom I love so much.  Yet I see how mild distraction can slowly eat away at my rapport with them.  The days that I have "just a couple things" I want to accomplish on the computer are the days that the kids seem to go bananas.  Amidst making a doctor appointment, buying a birthday present online, paying a bill, checking email, surfing Facebook, searching Craigslist, changing diapers, helping potty train, and do the dishes, I find our interactions are jerky.

Sean: Mama, will you come play with me?

me: Yes, Sean, as soon as I finish the dishes.

Sean: Will you come play with me now?

me: Yes, Sean, as soon as I change this load of laundry.

Sean: Mama, will you read me a book?

me: Hang on a second, Seancito, I am on the phone with the doctor.

The more I put him off, the more I see a tantrum right before lunch or just before nap time.  I can't be right next to him every moment of the day to be sure, but there are times when I know I need to stop and hear him more clearly.  The days when I can take a break from whatever I am trying to complete and be fully present to both kids, those are the days that flow more smoothly.

I was struck recently by the words on CNN spoken by the Superintendent of Schools in Ohio after the recent school shooting.  He told the media people, the parents of the students and anyone watching TV that they should go home and hug their kids.  He made a point to say, "Don't text them. Don't Facebook them. Go home and hug them."

His words have stuck with me, and I just keep replaying that moment in my head.  What kind of society are we when we need to be told to have intentional, engaged, in-person communication with our children?  Yet, at times I can count myself among the distracted.  Though I don't have an iPhone or smart phone or whatever the hell else, I do have a computer and cell phone, and emails and texts are very enticing to me.  We live in world that is quickly using technology and the internet more than in person exchanges.

I am actively working on being present with my kids and my family.  I try to keep the computer closed and off until they go down for a nap or after dinner if I can help it.  I try to leave my cell phone for periods of time to just focus on them.  I try to not answer the phone during dinner (throw back to dinners at the Agniel house in the 90s, eh, Mom and Dad?  However contrary to rules in days of yore, I do allow singing at the dinner table.  Most of the time, I am the one who is singing, so...)  Even while doing laundry or cooking, I try to keep an element of presence, try to oscillate between accomplishing household items and focusing my attention on them.  Because honestly what in this world is more important than in-person relationships and exchanges?  Facebook, emails, and texts are fun and good in their own right, but I hope to keep them in a place befitting their function.  They can be pleasant, purposeful, funny, and even useful, but I strive to make them less important than whomever is right in front of me.

Sean: Can you turn that thing off?

Out of the mouths of babes. 

I hope in days to come it doesn't take Sean's voice telling me to set down my cell phone.  Of all the external stimuli and distractions, I hope I find an internal censor that keeps me present and engaged with my kids, even in the moments that get rough. Or better yet, I hope that I can respond to the in-person distractions that really matter.  When I feel like the kids are distracting me from making dinner, from getting the laundry done, from making doctor appointments, I hope to welcome them as a distraction.

For example, at church this past Sunday, Sean kept bugging us while we were trying to pay attention.  He was distracting us from listening to the priest and the readers and the beautiful music.

Sean: Mama -

me: Sean, please be quiet, we are trying to listen.

Sean: (in a loud whisper) Mama!

me: (stifled annoyance) Yes, Sean.

Sean: What can we do?

me: Well right now we are listening.  You could play with your toys or read books.

Sean: Can we take a walk?

me: Not right now.

This made him pause, he surveyed his books and toys.  He even considered his Cheerios as snack, but then he found the key to getting my attention.

Sean: Mama!

me: Sssshhh.  Yes?

Sean: I have to go potty.

And so we went on a walk.  When he successfully distracted me from the liturgy, I looked down at him as we walked to the back of church.  He had a spring in his step: proud to be leaving the pew and the boredom.  He was also holding his finger perpendicularly under his nose as if playing the role of Hitler... appropriate for church.  When we reached a place where we could talk in a normal voice, I inquired about his 'stache.

me: What are you doing with your finger?

Sean: I smell something coming from church.

me: Oh, that's the incense.  Doesn't it smell nice?

Sean: No, it's stinky.  I am holding my finger so that I can't smell it.

Clearly.  His ineffective gesture at trying to avoid the incense was very funny.  Though completely distracted from any spiritual meditation I might have experienced in the pew, I really enjoyed this moment with Sean.  I enjoyed stepping away from what I felt I should be doing (paying attention at mass) so that I could better focus on my son.  Was his potty ploy merely a distraction?  Perhaps.  But better to see my son as a distraction, better to respond to the life in front of me.