Sunday, December 15, 2013

Can't hold what's not in your hand

My brother Denis has a great line: "you can't hold what's not in your hand."  He uses this to refer to flatulence.  Ever the gentleman.  And it's been this thought that's come back to me again and again while changing poopy diapers (which I'm definitely holding in my hands) (I mean, not right now, but...), or while the kids are laughing about farting at the dinner table, or when Audrey is using farts as a means to insult someone.

me: Audrey, please pick up that book you just threw and put it on the bookshelf.

Audrey: Ok, poopy.

me: Audrey, that's not nice.  Please pick up the book and choose different words when talking to people, especially me.

Audrey: Ok, tooty.

Uproarious laughter follows each of these name-calling episodes.

We read a book recently where a villainous character called her sidekick/minion "Fatso".  Asmarter, quicker parent might have chosen to not read that word aloud.  I read the word outloud, and it has become part of Audrey's vocabulary.  She got in trouble the other day for calling me and Sean "Fatso" over and over again (which, of course, Sean thought was funny, but he kept trying to make himself NOT laugh, because he knew I would get mad), so she was eventually sent to time out.  In her room.  Then across the house, I heard,

Audrey: FATSO.

At first I ignored it.  Then a moment later.

Audrey: FATSO.

And still...

Audrey:  FATSO.

When I can't see her or grab at her, she gets away with a lot more.  Can't hold what's not in your hand.

She has pin-pointed all the words we don't want her to use, and then she uses them all in a sentence.

Audrey:  Mama?

me: Yes.

Audrey:  You don't want me to say the words butt or poopy or fatso, right?

me: (trying not to laugh) yes. that's right.

Audrey:  Or tooty. (she's smiling)

me: Yes.

Audrey: Or ca ca?

me:  Yes.  Please choose different words.

Audrey:  Ok, tooty.

And then to time out.

In the build up to Frances' birth each of our kids handled the upcoming change differently.  Audrey exercised some moments of anger by throwing that which WAS in her hands.  One morning, she was angry with me and Tom for leaving the kitchen while she was eating breakfast.  It would seem she needed help and was angry no one was there, and she had been cranky from the moment she woke up.  So, she took a half-full gallon of milk (no lid) and threw it against the sliding glass door directly behind her.  When I returned to the dining room, I found Audrey calmly eating her cereal, a look of peace on her face, completely ignoring the mess behind her.  How was she to be responsible for that mess?  She can't hold what's not in her hand.

Likewise, another night before Tom got home from work, I was preparing dinner.  Sean and Audrey were watching TV, and my pregnant self was enjoying a moment of solitude while cooking.  Audrey came into the kitchen asking for a snack, and I told her no, she would need to wait until dinner.

Audrey: I want some food. RIGHT. NOW.

me: Audrey, talking to me like that will not work.  You can choose some kind words.

Audrey: I want a snack!

me:  You already had a snack, and now it's time to wait until dinner.

Audrey: I want a snack RIGHT NOW!

me:  Saying "right now" will not get you what you want.

Instead of responding to me, she stood on a step stool and swiped at a large glass of ice water I had on the counter.  It crashed to the ground, breaking the glass into a million pieces, water everywhere.  Neither one of us could hold that.

If you hold a tiny infant in public, you will find that people want to converse with you.  Or at least they do with me.  All the time.  People come up because they want to see Frances, they want to see her face, they want to tell me stories about when they were parents, or about their own infant child now, or about their grandkids.  I talk to more people when I'm holding an infant than any other time in my life.  And for those parents whose children are grown, our conversations ALWAYS end with them telling me to "enjoy this now, because it goes so fast" or saying "I miss that stage" or "mine were never that small" or "mine are teenagers now, and I wish they were like that again" or "I have a two year old and he talks back, not like when he was a baby."  The prevailing theme is to enjoy it because "it goes so fast."  Yet once I offered jokingly for someone to take my kids for the day - it was a stranger, and of course they wouldn't have done it, but for me it was more of a gesture -

person: Enjoy it.  It goes so fast.

me: Well, do you want to take my three kids for the day?

person: (laughing) Oh!  No! I bet you don't get much sleep with them, do you?

me: No I don't.

person: It's hard work. (then the nostalgia took hold again) They are so fun when they're little.

We parted ways and I reflected on our exchange.  The person was telling me to enjoy it, but she didn't want to actually take my kids for the day.  Why not?  Well, probably because she envisioned it would be a lot of work, and not much sleep, and because she's a perfect stranger.  Who are these kids to her?  The nostalgia thrown at me feels like it negates the difficulty of this stage in life.  Yes, yes, it's a whole lot of fun to cradle Frances in my arms and look into her eyes while she coos.  She then can vomit all over me and our moment is gone, robbed by the need to change her clothes, my clothes, and spray down the chair and carpet to avoid stains.  Yes, it's a blast to play with Sean and Audrey in the living room, but it's no cake walk to discipline them, or yell when someone's about to get hit in the face by a flying toy or swinging bat.  Yes, it's phenomenal to see our three kids resemble us in features or mannerisms, but it's hell not getting to have an uninterrupted conversation with my partner and best friend.  I miss that guy - that person I used to talk with all the time - that person I used to go to the movies with and hold his hand. 

I think what people are telling me when they say "enjoy it, it goes so fast" is "you can't hold what's not in your hand."  Having three kids under the age of 5 is intense - some might say it's CRAZY - but the beauty of this time is that they are right here in our hands.  They rely upon us for everything and our life revolves around them: their eating, their sleeping, their bathing, and pooping.  The majority of our time is spent caring for them or playing with them or wishing they would go to sleep at bedtime.  And the flip side: it's tiring, maddening, challenging, and crazy-making to raise kids.  It doesn't feel like it's going fast when I'm washing poopy cloth diapers in the cold, cold Minnesota water in the toilet.  Nothing is going fast when they are whining because I poured the milk into their bowl the wrong way.  Time creeps along when all three kids are hungry at the same time, or pooping at the same time, or crying at the same time. 

It's only a short time that we actually hold our children physically in our arms.  It's magical, but thank God it goes quickly, because we're sleep deprived, and Frankie can't control the movements of her arms, and she's in constant threat of one of her siblings smothering her with too much love.  It's a short time that we actually hold our toddlers in our arms, and it's the best to receive their hugs, but thank goodness it doesn't last too long, because our backs ache from carrying our children around.  When they are right here in our arms, it's amazing to be part of their everyday life, and yet there are times when I need a break from that intensity.  That's what's so magical and fleeting about life.

You can't hold what's not in your hand.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Truth truce

Last night my neighbor, whom I think the world of, said this to me, and I'm 8.5 months pregnant:

Steve: Now I don't mean for this to sound....

me: Oh, God, here we go...

Nervous laughter was shared by the group of us gathered for dinner.

Steve: Well, I see you all the time, but for some reason, just now you are looking really pregnant.

I laughed.  Because he's right: I do look really pregnant.  However, this is not something to say to me while I'm feeling large and in charge, as evidenced by the look on my husband's face when Steve said this.  Tom started slicing his pointer finger across his throat, eyes wide, panic setting in.

Tom: Steve, Steve, stop now.  I have to deal with the fall out later.

This post is not inspired by Steve's words, but rather they're the nail in the coffin.  I started this post a week or so ago, and Steve just pushed it to the top of my list.  I give you a trip down memory lane: things that have been said to me while I've been pregnant.  Things that I would recommend you NOT say to a pregnant woman any time soon.  Or Ever. Steve's was the first, which begins my top 10 list:

2.  "Mama, your belly used to be flat and now it's just fat." - Sean the Cito

Endearing from my 4 year old child, but not really what I want to hear.  God love him, he was just telling the truth.

3.  Conversation between a mother and her children:

Audrey: Mama, can I say hi to the baby?

me: Sure.

Audrey: (in a high pitched voice, motherly, while patting my breasts) Oh, hi baby. 

me: No the baby's down here (pointing at my stomach). 

Audrey: Oh.  (looking down at my stomach and then back to my breasts) Why not the baby up here?

me: Well...

I mean, yes, the breasts are huge and one could probably fit a couple fetuses in them, but in fact, no, there's no baby in there.

Sean: Mama, why does Audrey point to your breast feeders when she says hi to the baby?


4. Conversation between me and a coworker:

Maria: How many months are you?

me: I'm 3.5 months.

Maria: Oh my goodness, what are you going to look like when you're 8 months??  When I was pregnant with my kids, the doctor was concerned I wasn't putting on enough weight. 

Thanks a lot.

5. This from an acquaintance back in July:

woman: When are you due again?

me:  Mid-October.

woman:  Wow, you just look like you're ready to pop.

(I'm only 6 months along.)

me: Yeah, I guess it's just easier to pop out when it's my 3rd.

woman:  Oh yeah... It was easy to lose the weight after my first, a little harder after the 2nd, but the third - pshhh - Forget it!  I still have it and my youngest is 4 years old.

6. After my first delivery, a woman from our church brought us a meal.  Such a huge help.

woman:  When did you have your baby?

me: About 3 weeks ago.

woman:  You don't even look like you were pregnant.

me:  Oh, thank you.

woman:  Don't think the weight will come off as fast after the 2nd one.

Hey lady, thanks for bringing us food, we really need it.  Please keep your passive aggressive woman-hating comments to yourself.

7. An acquaintance at the gym:

woman: Hey, Anna, how are you feeling?

me: I'm feeling good.

woman:  When's you're due date again?

me: October 16.

woman: That's coming up!

me: Yes it is, probably faster than I know.

Then after some pregnancy-banter -

woman: When I was pregnant, I didn't even need maternity clothes until the 8th month.  I could just fit into my regular pants until then.  I was just so skinny, I guess.

(I'm wearing size XL shorts and an oversized t-shirt in which to exercise so that my sweaty skin doesn't cling to clothes that are hugging my body too tightly.  I fear I look like a blimp.  I'm only 7 months along.  I have been wearing maternity clothes since I was 2 months along.)

8. During my 2nd pregnancy, from one of the older, female volunteer ushers who worked for me:

usher:  You look good today.

me:  Oh thanks!  (and then, this self-deprecating joke) It's called I blew dry my hair today. 

She laughed.  And then - 

usher: You must have been really sick earlier on, because you looked horrible a couple months ago. 

me: Well, and I do have make up on today. 

usher: Oh that must be it.

9.  And another from an older, female volunteer usher:

usher:  Do you know if you're having a boy or a girl?

me: No, I like to be surprised.

usher: Oh good for you.  Well, I think you must be having a girl.

me: Really? Why's that?

usher: There's an old Greek saying that says when you're pregnant with a girl, it sucks all the beauty out of you.

And finally, saving the best for last - 

10.  From my dear, loving husband, during my first pregnancy, when he still attended my OB appointments with me.  He made the mistake of standing just behind my shoulder while they weighed me.  He could see the numbers on the scale as clearly as I could.  I was 37 weeks along.

Tom: Wow, babe, you're really setting records with this one!

Friends, can we just call a truce?  This is a truth truce.  Though the things you say might be truthful, the only truth I'm interested in hearing right now is this: "You look beautiful."  Or some variation of that.  The fact is, I keep enough negative thoughts rolling through my head all the time about my weight gain, how clothes don't fit right, how uncomfortable I feel.  I don't need anyone else's help in putting extra thoughts about weight or largeness in my brain. 

On the flip side, there are many moments when I look in the mirror and see myself as beautiful.  I'm beautiful because I'm creating a child.   I'm beautiful because I have extra weight pushing on my bladder and pelvis at all times of the day while still running after two children, changing diapers, cleaning up messes from trantrums, and trying to stay sane.  As Sean has told other people, "my mom goes to the bathroom a lot."  Yes, yes, I do, because there's a little person inside of me who decides randomly to punch my bladder.  S/he has no concern for whether I'm in the car, exercising, sleeping, or just went to the bathroom, but consistently the punching causes me to return to the bathroom.  I spend my days in the bathroom: sometimes for me, sometimes because of the baby, sometimes for the 4 year old, sometimes for the 2 year old.

I'm beautiful because along with a battlefield of other mothers, we are responsible for producing and carrying on the human race. So if you want to say something truthful, tell a pregnant woman just how beautiful she looks.  Tell her she's glowing.  Tell her she looks great.  Take her out for a massage, or a pedicure, or allow her to put her feet up.  For God's sake, do not - I REPEAT - do not grab her belly without asking.  This is not the most comforting feeling, especially if you don't ask.  And if you can find nothing else to do or say: give her a high-5 and say, "Soldier on, sister!"

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Out of Character

Audrey threw a huge tantrum last night before going to bed.  She didn't want to brush her teeth (nothing new), and then wanted to play with her cell phone instead of sitting down to read books.  Instead of listening to me as I asked her repeatedly to pick out a book, she walked over to the diaper pail - the place she knows grosses me out - and began hitting it with her cell phone.  I would not have put it past her to try to lick the diaper pail just to get a rise out of me.  After I counted to 5, a smile on her face the whole time, I took the cell phone and brought her away from the pail so we could read books.  She rebelled.  In the throws of her anger, she lunged and bit my thigh.  Then she landed in timeout.

The tantrum that followed must have gone on for a solid 30 minutes.  This is out of character.

When the tantrum first started, Sean didn't want her in the bedroom, citing that he would not be able to fall asleep with her screaming and crying like that. We removed Audrey from the bedroom to give both kids some space.  Later Sean began complaining because Audrey wasn't in the room and therefore he couldn't fall asleep without her.  Did he not still hear the screaming coming from downstairs?

Audrey refused both attempts by me and Tom to console her, rather choosing to get a blanket, throw it in the middle of the play room in the basement and lash away at it with her tears.  Where our dear Cito usually wants to be coddled and hugged during one of these tantrums, she preferred her distance.

The whole day had been like this - she screamed and yelled at the YMCA because I wouldn't carry her up two flights of stairs, through the lobby and out to the car.  She threw herself on the floor of the bathroom (again, a spot I assume she knows grosses me out), and then when Sean and I walked away, trying to get her to follow, she would scream and cry so loud that many of the retirees thought she was wounded or lost.  A handful of people tried to speak with her - she ignored them - and another handful got worried looks on their faces thinking she was searching for her lost mother.  Oh no, that's just the sound of her stubbornness.  I wasn't ever farther than 15-20 feet away, but she screamed like a member of her family had just gone missing.

Our usual tricks didn't work - like the walking away and trying to get her to follow - or the surefire hit: getting Sean to walk back to where she is, take her hand and gently lead her to where we want her to be.  She was having none of it.

So the next day, when I returned from my workout to pick the kids up at the YMCA, I was dismayed but not shocked to find Audrey in time out.  As soon as she saw me, Audrey started shouting, "I want to go in the gym!" and she soon broke down into tears.  The staffer releasing Audrey to me pulled out an incident report - a small piece of paper that I've seen handed to other parents before.  It was a recount of why Audrey had been removed from the gym not once, but twice, and why she'd been put in timeout twice: she had pushed another child.

YMCA woman: From what I know of Audrey, this is not like her.

me: Yeah - both today and yesterday have been hard days for Audrey.

YMCA woman: I have kids myself, and sometimes when a child is about to make a developmental leap forward they take a big step back.  Two steps forward, one step back?

me: Yeah, I've heard that before.  Let's hope that's it.

Today when I picked her up from the YMCA, I asked how she'd done, and the child care staffers said she did great.  I was so pleased, and I told Audrey so.  We'd had many conversations building up to the YMCA visit, talking about different ways of dealing with sadness or anger than pushing or hitting other kids.  She gave lip-service to understanding what I was asking of her.  And then I felt heartened to hear that she had survived well during the 90 minutes I was away.

me: Audrey, I'm so proud of you!  You had a good day at Kid's Stuff!  Did you have fun?

Audrey: Yeah!  (pause, then earnestly) I still pushed a kid.

me: You did?!

Audrey: Yes.

me: Why did you push a kid?

Audrey: I can't 'emember.


Audrey will often tell us that she's had a bad dream.  This doesn't happen in the middle of the night, but rather she nonchalantly brings it up at breakfast.  She's pretty matter-of-fact about it:

Audrey: (between bites of cheerios) I had a bad dream.

me: Oh, really? I'm sorry to hear that.  What was it about?

Audrey: A spider was kiwwing joos.

To the untrained ear, this could be interpreted as "A spider was killing Jews."  And the first time Tom and I heard her say this, we were a bit troubled.  Was our daughter's mind being infiltrated by the Nazis??

me: I'm sorry, what?  A spider was what?

Audrey: Kawwing jooos.  Big, big jooos.  And milk.

Ahhhh, so we're talking about liquids!

me: A spider was carrying juice?  And milk?

Audrey: (gravely) Yeeess.

Spider killing jews.  Spider carrying juice.  No matter which way you slice it, it's a strange dream.  She mentions no other dreams to us besides this one, and it crops up at least once a week.  If the first interpretation were true, that would be so out of character - I'm not even sure she knows what it means to kill someone.  And certainly not in a genocidal way.  But after the events of the past two days, I'm beginning to wonder.  The best we can hope for is that her spider is either carrying juice, OR that she has a streak of social justice in her - being worked out in her dreams.  In that sense, it would be Audrey's place to go up and push the spider for killing those Jews.  That hitler spider!  And she should be pushing the spider - she should be standing up for Jews everywhere!  And in that world - where Audrey reigns as defender of justice - she wouldn't be put in timeout.  Perhaps the developmental milestone she's approaching has to do with her accepting her super human powers to prevent Jews everywhere from discrimination and death.  Either that or she's just 2 going on 2.5, rebelling against the beginning of potty training, sensing the birth of baby #3 soon, and just being herself.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Department of Corrections

I made a prison break tonight.  Crazy because usually the ones to break out of prison are the prisoners, but here instead, I abandoned my role as Corrections Officer and headed for a coffee shop.  Why?  Because I can begin to feel trapped in my role as CO of the Bushlack household.  This comes in the form of constantly reminding (sometimes nagging, sometimes yelling at) the kids to do what I've requested.

For example:

me: No, you may not play by the toilet.

Sean: We are just pretending to use the toilet.

me: Yes, but you're still playing with the toilet, and now you need to wash your hands.


me: Audrey and Sean, stop wrestling on the stairs.


me: Audrey, take that box off your head if you're going to walk up and down the stairs.


me: Please do not use that fork to comb your hair.

Audrey: (grinning while lacing her blonde hair with peanut butter) I use it 'cuz I a silly girl.

me: Right, and still I don't want you to use the fork in your hair.


me: Audrey, please don't eat that rock.

Audrey: No, I use it as my food.  It's my food, Mama. I bite it!

me: Yes, but you're not supposed to really put it in your mouth: that's yucky.

OR Audrey reaching for an empty pack of Marlboros in a parking lot, being rained on, run over, and trashed.


Audrey: (looking at the trash) What is it, Mama?

me: That's someone's trash that we are not going to touch. YUCK! Take your hands away!  Stop!  Do Not Touch!

OR upon finding the toilet paper in the bathroom completely un-rolled:

me: Sean, did you come in here and play with the toilet paper?

Sean: (earnestly) No.

me: Audrey, did you come in here and play with the toilet paper?

Audrey takes a moment, bends her knees, places her hands on knees, examines the toilet paper very closely, then looks up at me.

Audrey: (a slow realization) Yes...

me: Audrey, toilet paper is not to be played with.  It's only used if you need to go to the potty.

Or like tonight, Sean took a metal pole away from Audrey (she was waving it around  like a flag), and when I asked him to give it back to her, I gave him the chance to either listen or I would come take it from him.  I counted to 3.  The counting angered him so much -

Sean: NO!  Stop counting!  Stop counting RIGHT NOW!

 - he forgot all about his choice to listen or not and threw the metal pole (albeit a thin, wiry pole, but still a metal pole) directly onto the hood of our new car. (A used mini-van, but still: new to me, and still: purchased with our hard-earned savings.) I picked Sean up and brought him inside the house and placed him on the stairs.

me: ABSOLUTELY NOT!  You may not throw things at the car!  You may not ignore what I'm asking you to do, and then THROW THINGS at the car! 

I was furious.  Sean was crying.  Audrey was still standing in the driveway wondering what had happened.

I wouldn't think this to be a statement I would need to say: "Don't throw things at the car."  But hey, he didn't pay for that car.  What's it to him?

Sometimes the roles are reversed and they feel the need to correct me. The other night, both kids were in bed, about to go to sleep, and I was getting ready to leave the room.

Sean: (nervously) Are there going to be bad storms tonight?

me: I don't think so, buddy.

Sean: (with heightened anxiety) But what is that sound I hear outside? I think it might be thunder.

me: I think that's an airplane.

Sean: (still nervous) But are there going to be storms?

me: I think the weather forecasters said that there won't be any bad storms tonight.

Sean: (approaching desperation) But how do you know?

me: We actually don't know for sure, even the weather people are only making their best guess, but I think we won't see any bad storms tonight.

Audrey: (standing in her crib, arms tossed over the side, without a care in the world, smile on her face) Yeah, no bad storms, only happy storms.

I'm sure Sean appreciated this vote of confidence from his sister.

We were at a garage sale a couple weeks ago, and someone else at the sale commented that we should "watch out for a bee flying by... you don't want it to sting you."

Sean: No, bees will only sting you if you're trying to take their honey.

And why not let him live in a world where that's true?


Audrey playing with her fingers pretending they are real people

Audrey: "Oh Mommy, I need help, Mommy."

me: (from another room) Audrey, are you calling for me?

Audrey: No, Mama, I not talking to you.  I talking to my fingers!

What's worse than me correcting them or them correcting me is when I fill the role of Corrections Officer for myself.  Last weekend not only did we purchase the new (used) vehicle, but we also made an exciting excursion to the outlet mall to purchase some summer maternity clothes for me.  I've never been pregnant in the summer, so I'm woefully ill-prepared for summer weather.  (Never mind that spring has barely sprung in Minnesota much less any sign of heat or summer and it's June, but that's a rant for another time.)  The mixture of these two purchases made me worry about money. 

So I did the only logical thing I could think of:  I searched my closet for clothes to sell.  Clothes that belonged to my former self: that person who used to work full-time for a university.  That person who'd never had her body changed, inhabited by another human being, gaining weight week by week, only to give birth to a precious infant, fall in love, realize her body would never be the same and proceed to live in sweat pants and baggy shirts for months.  That person who used to take her time getting ready for work in the morning, picking out stylish clothes, doing her hair and make-up, and feeling proud of the way she looked.

This is not to say that I don't take pride in the way I look now - because I do.  However, it's entirely different. Looking stylish now involves clothes that hang elegantly around my 5-month pregnant belly, but don't cling too tightly to the back-fat.  Cute for me is a day when I leave the house without any peanut butter smudges on my clothes or traces of snot smeared across my shoulder.  Put together is a day when I take longer than 5 minutes to assemble an outfit and get dressed.  Usually I take 5 minutes, with my bedroom door ajar, listening for screams or yells around the house and wondering what I can wear that will enable me to chase after kids the best. (Read: move the fastest, roll around on the floor, pick up food under the dining room table, and eat picnics in the backyard.)

I uncovered some of my favorite professional outfits: a very sassy three piece suit, a red/creme floral silk skirt and wool brown skirt, a gray pencil skirt, and a nicely tailored pair of wool pants.  Most all of these clothes I am confident I will never fit into again.  These clothes had no sign of children's sticky fingers on them.  Not a lick of snot, and no place where little hands clung to the pants-legs begging, "I wanna come up, Mama!"  I felt myself get emotional as I quietly folded the clothes on the bed.  I surveyed them carefully remembering the different events I managed while wearing those outfits, the way I carried myself, and the pride I took in looking fashionable.  I felt sad and a little resistant to let those clothes go, even in the face of knowing I may not be able to slide my mom-of-three-body into those clothes in the future.

A week later, those clothes are still sitting on my bed.  Partially because I couldn't part with them, and partially because I haven't had the time to go sell them.  As the time ticks on, though, I think I'm waiting for something else.  I'm waiting for the Corrections Officer in my head to quiet down.  I'm waiting for a time when I can take those clothes to sell, not because I feel I must, or I owe it my family to balance the other recent purchases with the selling of my old clothes.  I can drive myself so hard to create balance, strive for frugality, instill good values in my kids, and live a life that I'm proud of, that I sometimes forget it's okay to buy maternity clothes that I need, or get a mini-van so that we can fit all three kids in one car together when the baby comes. 

Simiarly, I recognize that there are moments when I can drive my kids hard, too.  I know there are moments when I could just let them play and not remind (nag) them so much.  Earlier today I was cleaning out our Honda Civic as we get it ready to sell.  I was vacuuming and dusting and cleaning all the crevices.  I discovered mold growing around Audrey's carseat in the back - ewwww - and found decayed cheerios, m&ms, granola bars, and cranberries littered throughout the car.  As I cleaned, the kids climbed around the car pretending to "drive."  They were having a blast.  They don't fully realize it, but these are their last moments in the only car they've ever known.  This car that we brought both of them home from the hospital in, and we took numerous, grueling car trips with crying babies, poopy diapers, and yogurt flung on the seats.  This car that safely brought us cross-country to start our new lives in Minnesota and usher in a whole new chapter for us as a family.  They were having so much fun in the car, in their car.  Meanwhile, I was focused on the fact that they kept getting mud and grass on the seats, just after I had cleaned it out. 

There is a need to let go of those things that we no longer need, or are no longer ours.  My old work clothes don't really belong to me anymore.  I love the mom that I am becoming, and I wouldn't trade that for being able to wear those work clothes again.  Likewise I make no secret about the fact that I am overjoyed to be driving a mini-van;   a fact that Tom continues to marvel (laugh and shake his head) at.  I much prefer to step in and out of that mini-van while I'm 5 months pregnant than curl my body, lug groceries, and get our kids in and out of our little Civic.  I don't wish to go back to the past.

There is a need to both rejoice in what was and to embrace what is to come.  Within that is a little grieving, a little sadness, and a lot of humility and joy.  Life continues to march forward bearing gifts of the new.  May I go along for the ride, not trying to over-correct myself or my family in the process.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Tale of Two Children

How is it possible that two seemingly opposite truths can hold the same space?  For example: why is it that we got 5 inches of snow a week ago, and then four days later it was 74 degrees?  And why is it, after reaping the benefits of a glorious weekend of weather (dare I say, summertime-feeling-weather?), there are predictions for snow tomorrow.  This means that two drastically different seasons of clothes are needed at practically the same time.  Which is why I'm scrounging the house for summer clothes for both kids while I can't bring myself to pack their snow pants away yet.  Some might call this paradoxical.

I find a similar phenomenon exists in my children: how is it possible that I started the day reprimanding Sean, asking him to "turn his day around" with all the whining, crying, and shouting "NO!" only to have come through the morning with an incredibly well behaved kid?  Why is it that Audrey is sweet as can be and silently devilish while walking away from me, pretending to not hear me call after her, when she has a poopy diaper that needs changing?  (The most logical thing for her to do in this instance is to hide behind a park bench and laugh quietly.  Which she did.  Which pissed me off, because I had been calling to her for a solid 90 seconds.)  Or today, when Sean fell on the driveway riding his bike, scraped both knees and started screaming, he calmed down after I held him for a few minutes.  He calmed down enough to breathe deeply, and listen to my conversation with our neighbor.  Then, it wasn't until I set him back on the ground and he got a look at the pool of blood on his knee that he began screaming again, hobbling around like an old man, and claiming that it "really, really hurts now!"

me: It's been doing the same thing for the past 3 minutes, and you were calm just a second ago!

Sean: (distressed, crying) But it really hurts now!  It really hurts!

After cleaning him up and dressing his wounds with Toy Story band-aids, he hobbled out of the house, nearly winning an Oscar for so truthfully playing the part of a 95-year-old man.

I give him credit: the cuts looked like they didn't feel good.  He had grit and dirt ground into both knees, and the skin was nicely irritated; red and puffy.  But my compassion is at a low with El Cito, because these things happen all the time - an injury - followed by massive amounts of wailing, and then often there is no "injured site" to be found.  For example, the other day he claimed that he'd wounded an ankle (doing what? I can't remember...), and in the bath he made sure that I knew about it.

Sean: Mama, will you please be careful with my ankle, because it really hurts.

His eyes were puppy-dog-inquisitive, his face an earnest complexion of concern.

me: Sure, can you show me where it hurts?

Slowly, carefully he lifted one foot out of the bath water.  He cradled it like a baby and raised the ankle towards my face.  I saw nothing.

me: I don't see anything.

Sean: Oh!  I think it's the other one.

Same thing - slowly lifting the other ankle, he coddled it and brought it up to me.  I grabbed at it, seeing no wound.

me: You are making this up!  There's nothing there!

We both laughed.

Sean: (bashful) Oh, I forgot...

Forgot?  How does one "forget" a non-existent wound is NOT there?

me:  "Oh hey, I have an owie on my pinky. Oh wait. No I don't!" That's you.

More laughter. Sometimes I can become annoyed by Sean's - how shall I say it? - tenderness with his own hurts?  He has so much tenderness for himself that I find myself being callous in moments, which I don't want to be my usual response.  So this moment was a beautiful, playful one - absent of any annoyance.

Even as I look at both of our beautiful children, I see jarring differences that make me wonder how they can be siblings.

The kids had their yearly check-ups at the doctor a couple weeks ago, and Audrey needed to get a shot, while both kids needed to have their fingers' pricked.  I will start by saying that both of them were incredibly brave.  No huge shows of emotion in the office, and they listened really well to the nurse, and we made it out alive.  I was really proud of them.  The differing reactions began, though, as soon as we left the office lobby.  Sean walked out, looked at the elevator and the stairs, and then at his finger with (yet another) Toy Story band-aid on it.

Sean: Mama, I think we should take the elevator.  I think that would be easier on my finger.

me: Ehm... we can take the elevator.  But let the record show, that I don't believe the stairs would be rough on your finger.

Sean: Well.  Actually, Mama.  I think the elevator would be easier on my finger.

Sean then couldn't open the car door because of his recently-pricked thumb.  Then he couldn't open his cheese stick wrapper.  Then he needed help taking off his snow boots when we got home.  He also considered the difficulty and extreme risk involved in washing his hands before lunch because of the pain in his finger.  More than that, as he reached for his water glass, he could only use one hand, while the other hand (out of commission because of his finger) could only offer assistance by way of the wrist.  Throughout the day I received multiple updates about the status of his finger - how much pain he was in, how quickly he was healing (or not), and how brave he had been.

On the other hand (no pun intended), having received a Hepatitis A shot in the leg, AND a prick to the finger, Audrey quietly removed her thumb bandaid within 20 minutes of leaving the doctor's office.  We didn't hear another word about it.  That is until Sean would talk about his thumb hours later (still bandaged, of course), and then Audrey would comment on her own thumb being all better.

Their responses to some situations are... let's just say... different.

For example, when Sean received his first haircut at the tender age of 19 months, he cried through the whole thing.  I don't think anything physically hurt him, but the experience was overwhelming, and he didn't like the tattoo'd man who was chopping off his hair.  Even with the promise of a sucker afterwards the crying continued, and the process felt excruciatingly long.  Though he's had many haircuts since, he still drags his feet when we talk about getting his hair trimmed.  Most recently, he's heard Tom talk about growing his hair a little longer than usual which has prompted Sean to say,

Sean: I don't want to cut my hair.  I want it long.  Like yours, Mama.

Fine by me if he wants to grow longer hair, but he did have a Beatles-style mop expanding on all sides of his head, so we were pushing him to get it trimmed before his birthday party.  Still dragging his feet about it, Tom and I reached a compromise with Sean.  Tom offered to trim Sean's hair here at home.  Sean liked this idea, and so one night we set up a chair in the bathroom, put a towel around his neck, and let Tom get out the buzzer.

Sean started out brave, but as the hair began falling and accumulating around his neck (of course the towel didn't stay in place for very long), his skin got irritated.  I could see his skin turn a bright red, and the more Sean itched and scratched, the worse it got, and subsequently more hair would nestle around his collar.  It was a bad combination.  Sean started crying.  Tom was doing a valiant job of trying to cautiously and judiciously trim parts of Sean's mop, but as Sean moved around and cried, it became increasingly difficult.  At one point, Tom brought the buzzer too close to Sean's right temple, leaving the Cito with Vanilla Ice tracks in his hair.  They remain there today, even after a couple weeks of growing out.

Tom felt awful.  I just smiled.  I was proud of Tom for trying it, and I know for a fact that this is a rite of passage.  Everyone has stories about home hair cuts gone wrong, right?  RIGHT?  Moreover, Sean the Cito was not upset at all by the haircut.  He was mad as hell about the discomfort of the hair trimmings around his neck, but he has not once been upset about the way it looks.  Even still, we felt the need to take him to Great Clips and get the home-trim trimmed.

While at Great Clips, Sean bravely sat in the seat while the woman spoke with him calmly.  He was a champ.  The hairdresser remarked that we would have to just "leave the right side alone for a while."  READ: the Vanilla Ice tracks are here to stay until enough time passes that the surrounding hair can cover it again.  I was holding onto Audrey while Sean got his hair cut.  The woman looked up at Audrey and smiled.

Hairdresser: Do you want to get your haircut, sweet heart?

Audrey: Yes!
Before we knew it, a trip to get Sean's hair fixed became Audrey's first hair trim.  It was minimal: a 1/2 inch off around all sides of her head and slightly around the bang-area.  Audrey smiled the whole time.  When she caught sight of her face in the mirror, she looked even more expectant and thrilled with this new experience.  Sean reassured her, reading the happy look on her face as a mask covering terror beneath.

Sean: You're doing great, Audrey.  You get a sucker when you're done!

I would never want to say one reaction is better than another.  Each child has strengths in their character, and each one presents different challenges to me and Tom as parents.  Yet when placed side by side, their reactions are so paradoxical, so mystifying.

Just today, walking around the zoo, I was captivated by how close Sean sticks by my side, while Audrey will roam without looking back.  She makes me nervous in large public areas, because I think she would bravely wander a great distance without realizing it.  And yet.  Sean is the older child, the more experienced one, and he's the one that can get up against the glass of the gorilla or sea lion exhibit.  Audrey stands behind him, unsure of these large creatures, and when the animals get too close to her, glass or no, she backs away to find me.  They clearly both have a reserve of courage, but they exercise it differently.  They clearly both have their rebellious ways, but they exhibit or hide it from us differently.  They both have hearts bursting with love, and yet Sean is a snuggler and Audrey not as much.

Less than being a paradox, it's just as I started out saying.  These kids are two truths holding the same space.  It's mystifying, maddening, challenging, electrifying, and joyfully overwhelming.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

fixation vexation

We all have our fixations.  Mine is often the fixation of picking something out of the kids' noses, or wiping a runny nose, or getting Audrey's hair out of her face.  I'm constantly thinking about checking for poopy diapers, making sure Sean's pants are zipped, or watching Sean hold his crotch while trying to "keep the pee in."  I fixate on things like Audrey sucking on the child-size Crayola flossing tools because the package says for 3 year-olds and up (what awful things could happen to a 23 month old baby who's sucking on those things??).  I often can't get these fixations out of my mind.

Other fixations are trivial, or at least I judge them to be so.  Sean fixates on the things he can participate in: helping to grind the coffee beans each morning, or unscrewing the milk cap from the gallon jug, where we place his tooth brush at night, or how he must have a glass of water and a towel before he even begins to brush teeth, or flushing the toilet.  Yet there are moments when that fixation changes, and he no longer wants his autonomous participation, but rather fixates on me and Tom doing it for him.  Maddening.

Another fixation is the way in which the kids express their defiance.  Sean is fire-y.  He lays it all out there on the table.  He screams and shouts - sometimes for extended periods of time - and he is in our faces; he is intent upon letting us know about the slightest discomfort, the slightest ill at ease.  He will not rest until we know that he's angry and upset about something.  Audrey on the other hand chooses a quieter approach.

The other day we walked down to the lake by our house, and the kids made the 10 minute walk with full energy.  We marched through puddles and mounds of snow.  I thought I could almost see the pent up energy leaving their little bodies.  I applauded myself for getting them outside and for preparing them for a good night's sleep.  But then it came to the walk home:  both of them grew tired, and each one started to whine about walking.  Sean outright complained and asked for frequent breaks.  Audrey, however, decided this was the best possible time to stop walking, turn around and run in the opposite direction of home....  right in the middle of neighborhood streets, charging through puddles, and laughing hysterically.

When I would catch up to her - my pregnant self not as fast as my non-pregnant self - and I'd scoop her up in my arms she would calmly tell me about her plan.

Audrey: I want turn 'round and go back to the lake. Let me go!

Did she think that going back to the lake would make the walking stop?  Obviously.  After a couple rounds of me chasing her down and getting winded, I decided that was for the birds.  Instead, each time she would stop walking, I would continue walking ahead of her and call to her from over my shoulder.

me: Let's go Audrey!  Time to go home!

At a similar juncture, Sean might have yelled "no" or engaged in an argument.  Audrey held her silence.  When I would finally turn around to see what she was doing, she was standing in the exact same place with a smile on her face.  She had not moved.

me: Okay - let's get going, the sun is setting soon.

Once she knew my eyes were on her, she would slowly, slowly, ever so slowly turn her back to me.

me: Audrey - no more going back to the lake.  It's time to go home.  Let's go!

She would hold that stance for a couple moments longer, just enough to lull me into a false sense of security that she might actually stand there indefinitely.

me: Audrey?  Audrey Claire! Let's go.  I'll give you to the count of 3 and then I'm coming over there.  1... 2...

Then she would begin to run.  Damn it!

Or today, she was told by Tom that she couldn't have an oreo until she finished her vegetables.  When I reinforced this statement and put her vegetables directly in front of her, she said nothing.  She in fact reached for a spoon and the bowl, and I thought she was going to eat her peas, so I walked back into the kitchen to finish the dishes.  Two minutes later, Sean comes running in.

Sean: Mama, Audrey dumped her peas everywhere!

I walked into the dining room to find peas all over the table, all over the floor, and Audrey swirling her arms around the table as if spreading seeds in a garden.  She didn't say a word.  She had also quietly been smashing some peas with her pink rubber ducky, grinding them into the table cloth.  Not a sound from her lips.

What is this to tell me about the difference between my kids as they become adolescents and teenagers?

I turned my back the other day only to hear Sean inform me:

Sean: Uh oh.  Audrey's on the table.

I turned back around, and not 2 feet from me, Audrey was standing - STANDING - on the dining room table, smile on her face, looking me dead in the eye.  Had her brother not announced it, I wouldn't have been any the wiser.  She's stealth like that.  She's fixated on it.

There are moments when their fixation coalesces, and they realize that they're stronger as two than as one.  Audrey didn't like it that I wiped her face after lunch the other day.

Sean:  Audrey, if you don't want mom to wipe your face, you could just eat some more sandwich and then get more jelly on your face.  Then the jelly would be back and mom won't wipe your face.

The fixations turn into vexations when I allow them too much time and space in my head.  When I spend too long wondering if I'm doing all the right things to move Sean out of pull-ups at night.  I can spend much too much time trying to determine if the kids are eating enough vegetables.  I can fixate for days on whether Sean's temper tantrums are "normal" and "developmentally appropriate," but the worry and fixations do me no good.  They just fuel a slew a questions that I have no answer to, but feel I should:  When will Audrey start potty training?  When will we move Sean into a bigger bed?   How will we manage when we have three kids all under the age of 5??  Where are we going to find the best deal on a minivan???

We all have them, these fixations, and we can't escape them.  The best we can do is to learn to live with them.  My best days are when I'm able to smile at them.  Both the fixations and the kids.

Tom's current fixation is Bob Dylan.  It's not enough that he's reading the 700 page biography or watching Scorsese's documentary, or downloading as much Dylan music as possible.  Each time I get in the car, another Bob Dylan CD is in the player.

Audrey: (as music starts) Is zis Bob Diwwan?

At this point that I believe the fixation has gone too far.  And then -

Sean: Mama, why don't you like Bob Dylan?

me: I do like Bob Dylan, just not as much as dad does.

Sean: Why don't you like him as much as dad does?

me: Everybody has different likes.

Audrey: Why don't you like Bob Dylan?

me: I do like Bob Dylan, I'm just not as big of a fan as dad.

And on and on...  You would think I was secretly burning Bob Dylan CDs with the way the kids question me.  And as time goes on, and the fixation continues, there are times when I think of throwing the CDs out the window.  But then imagine the questions from the kids.  These are the good days, when I can smile about the kids' fixations on my supposed music taste.  When I can breathe in and out as the questions continue throughout the next 20 minute car ride.  Me defending my like of Bob Dylan, and resting easy that I spend my days interfacing with these two kiddos and all our fixations.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lessons Learned

As I begin a new year, I'm looking at my lessons learned.  There are so many.

1.  When telling friends that you'll meet them for Christmas Eve Mass, arrive a solid 35 minutes after you told them you'd arrive, so as to encourage the Christmas spirit in everyone.

2.  When attending said Christmas Eve Mass, make sure that your son's shoe is not all the way tied, so that he may lose the shoe outside in the snow and 13 degree temperature before ever making it inside the church.

3.  When the church is jam packed, and the ushers are telling you that even Standing Room Only is full, push past them and proceed to walk up and down the side aisles searching for your friends.  Friends who were saving you seats nearly an hour, fighting off old women who wanted those precious seats.  Also, while moving up and down the aisles, make sure you don't put your son's shoe back on so that everyone you pass may comment on "how cute" he is.

4.  When considering going to Christmas Eve Mass, double check your intentions.  Do you intend to have a transcendent experience?  Do you intend to listen to the music and homily?  If so, do not bring two small children.  And if you do, make sure you allow your son to play with your family heirloom 100-year-old gold bracelet engraved with your name, that you only wear on special occasions.  Then when he proceeds to break it, take deep, deep breaths instead of yelling at him during this glorious ceremony - which you are not paying attention to.

5.  When you leave the house on a date night, expect to come home and find your children sleeping soundly and proceed to get your pajamas on.  Then, check on your 21-month-old daughter before going to sleep and expect to see two large pools of blood outside of her mouth that she coughed up while sleeping.  Then proceed to the ER at 11:30pm so that she may sing songs, make friends, and play with all those she meets until 1:30am while your husband sleeps on the bed in the ER room.  This scene will end with nothing being wrong with your daughter except a "nose bleed that came out her mouth", but it will provide ample good memories for all involved.

6.  When helping the children brush their teeth, make sure you look away from your 21-month-old daughter long enough so that she may begin using her toothbrush as a tile scrubber on the floor by the toilet.  When you take it away from her so that you may wash it off, make sure she's livid (actually that will occur on its own).

7.   When leaving the children to go to sleep on their own, after having read multiple books, told an original story, sang lullabies, rubbed backs, scratched heads, and given drinks of water, do not be fooled by the call:

Audrey: Mama!  Hep wif bankets!  Mama!  Hep.  Wif.  BANKETS!

8.  When you find your daughter in a dark bathroom holding a large Minnie Mouse over the toilet.  Think nothing of it.

me:  What are you doing, Audrey?

Audrey: Open.

me: Why do you want the the toilet open?

Audrey: Minnie (she dangles Minnie over the closed toilet).

me: What about Minnie?

Audrey: Minnie.  Poop.

me: No.  No.  Minnie is not going to poop on the toilet.

Audrey: Minnie. Poop.  Open.

9.  When your 3.5-year-old spends the majority of his day crying, screaming, and saying no, just look to your daughter sitting in her highchair eating her lunch. 

Audrey: (singing) The itsy bitsy spider went up...  (pause)  Sean cwying.

me: Indeed.

Audrey:  What happened, Mama?

me: Sean does not want to flush the toilet.

Audrey: Oh.  (pause, then more singing) Down came the rain...

10.  When you're having a bad day, ensure that your husband knows just what to do to cheer you up.  Flowers, a balloon, loving cards and thoughts from family and friends.  A list of things that the kids love about having you as a mom.

Tom: So what do you guys love about mom?

Sean: Snuggling with her.

Audrey: Paying (playing).

Tom:  What else?

Sean: She helps me find things.

Tom: Audrey?

Audrey: Paying.

Tom: Anything else?

Sean: Letting kids help to wrap presents.

Audrey: Paying.

And then when the children draw pictures for you to lift your mood, may I suggest (for we failed to do this) that you turn on the video camera to record their drawings and explanations.  Sean achieved his first ever stick drawing of our family - 4 stick figures.  I was amazed at his stick figure abilities: a circle for the head with two small circles for eyes and sprouts of hair on top.  Then two long sticks coming out of the head as legs, and two tiny, tiny sticks as arms.  In order to differentiate the mom from the dad, Sean added two circles around the would-be chestal region. 

Tom: Seancito, what are these on mom?

Sean: Those are for breastfeeding Audrey.

Sean had drawn a smaller stick figure for himself, and an even smaller one for Audrey.  Poor stick girl, Audrey, could only fit one circle inside her small head, as opposed to the two Sean was able to fit on his small head. This also needed an explanation.

Sean: Dada, Audrey only has one eye... but she can still watch TV.

Let that be a lesson for you.