Sunday, October 31, 2010

Superheroes and cold places

We talk a lot about future careers in our house.  I think it's the best way to capture where a child is at in any particular moment. 

Jack currently wants to be an author and a scientist, with a house in Minnesota and another one in Russia. He'd also like to sleep in tents a lot. He spends a lot of time writing stories and drawing pictures, and is always running some sort of experiment.  Living in very cold places?  Not sure what that one is about - he did NOT get that from his mother. 

Andrew wants to be a superhero and a science teacher, and that is such a great way to define the dichotomy in him - the deeply thinking, analytical side and the very-physical "helper" spirit. On his struggling days,  I have him make pancakes with me, move clothes into the dryer, get things for Simone.  He wants to know he's a valued, functional part of our family - and that his actions make a difference.  I love this about him.

I am very, very curious to see if these change completely as they get older...or if there's some reflection of that baseline interest.  I can't really imagine Andrew being a sedentary desk job.  Is it because he's only 3?  Considering he's the son of a math teacher who does Ironmans, perhaps that split between thinker/athlete will continue with him?

Having more than one child makes certain aspects of personality really pop out.  What seemed like it was age-appropriate and unquestioned with Jack, became more interesting when I see Andrew make completely different choices or decisions.

I used to plan on not comparing my children, but I now see that's just about value judgments.  Seeing the varied elements of personality is what makes our family more best...and lets us nurture our children. 

If we decided one trait was bad and the other good, that's one thing.  But watching our kids settle into this path, their personal groove, is one of the most fascinating things I've ever watched. 

Learning how to parent them differently, in ways that honors that difference, is one of my primary goals.  But I'm not always sure how to do it.  Some are simple: Right now, I can see sending Jack to his Russian camp the same week that Andrew goes to a Outward Bound trip.  But will that change as they get older?  And how do I best nurture that on a daily basis with them?

I think parents learn as much from children  (and grow as much from what they learn), as children learn from us.


Me: "Jack, does it sound interesting to you to listen to what someone says in Russian and translate it into English?  Would you like that job?"

Jack: "Nyet."

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Misreading Masculinity"

When Jack was a baby, mature moms warned me that my sweet little angel would one day point guns in my face and pretend to kill me.  Enough moms whom I really respected (and whose children I liked!) told me this, and I started to believe this might be true.  That it wouldn't mean he was on a path to violence in life.

When he was also tiny, I read Raising Cain and then Misreading Masculinity.  Freakin' fascinating, and both were invaluable for really understanding my very-very-boy boys. 

But something I read in Misreading Masculinity seemed strange to me at the time. It said that boys in school are told they can't write about death, so then they have nothing to say.  The crisis with boys in reading/writing isn't because boys aren't interested, it's because they want to read/write about things that aren't acceptable in schools. 

Boys writing about death?  Little boys?  I couldn't imagine.  Doesn't that mean they're unstable and unhappy?

I asked Steve (a kind, loving soul) if he'd ever drawn pictures or written stories about death and killing people.  "Oh definitely.  I remember this one picture of a haunted house, with axes falling on people and blood everywhere."

Whaaaat?  After that conversation...seeing how Steve grew up to have a stable, solid core... I stopped being concerned about seeing any of those things in the future with Jack (and then Andrew).

Fast forward 5 years, and Jack is creating "personalized stationary" for Grandma Candy for Christmas.  We're using blank notecards, and he's drawing pictures on them for her to send to people. 

Jack: "Can I put in rough pictures?"

Me: "What does 'rough' mean here?"

Jack: "Like shooting people and things?"

Me: "Hmm.  I'm not sure that would work with Grandma Candy. Can you draw other things?"  He nodded without issue.  "Sure!"

Jack spent about a half an hour at the table, drawing away.  Then he came to me, sincerely perplexed:

"I don't know what else to draw.  I drew two cards, but I can't think of anything to draw that isn't about shooting people.  That's all my brain wants to draw.  I drew one with pieces of candy and another with animals. That's all I've got."

We brainstormed awhile, and he came up with birds and her name done artistically and a few other things.  But seeing how much of a brain-block he had beyond shooting people was just downright odd....especially when you see the type of child he really is.  Kind, gentle, caring.  Not aggressive or violent. 

Also today, we were watching a channel with commercials (unusual for my kids - we tend towards PBS and movies).  Jack and Andrew went nuts over the Nerf guns and Buzz Lightyear commercials.  Then a toy horse commercial came on, and Simone shouted: "This movie is for ME!" 

Considering she's never owned or ridden a horse, I really don't know how she decided this.  But I've heard rumors of the horse craze rampant among girls, so perhaps this is an early indicator.

Parenting is fascinating.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The magical thrift shop costumes

The other day, Andrew and I were at the thrift store.  They were having 50% off their Halloween costumes...which in thrift-store-currency meant about $3 for nearly new costumes.  We bought a few for the Outreach Africa costume picnic and grabbed a Batman suit for the boys. 

Deng loved our Spiderman suit so much that I thought I'd go back and get one I saw at the thrift store.  We went right when they opened today, but Spidey was gone.  But, they'd brought out another we walked out with $30 of 10 costumes for the dress-up box.  A ninja, Buzz Lightyear, Megatron, Bumblebee, Green Lantern, and more I can't remember.  Oh yes, a princess dress for Simone.  Way too big, but she didn't care.

I told the boys we needed to wash the suits first, and Andrew said: "But I WANT my costumes to be dirty and have diseases."  Bwhahahaha!  I think this child inherited his mother's love of immediate gratification.  :)

I loaded them all into the washing machine, and watched as all three of my children peered into the front-loader window - watching the laundry like it was a riveting movie, for most of the cycle. 

And then they wore them wet.  No one wanted to wait for the dryer.  :)

I loved seeing how happy they were, going from costume to costume.  Jack even wore one to the library to meet with Gretchen. 

In all of this, there is the most wondrous sense of childhood to me.  I loved their grateful spirit about them. The excitement and joy they felt, even though they were from a thrift shop.  They didn't care whether they were new or not, they just wanted to have the magic of wearing the costumes.

And what I loved most was doing this for 2 little boys who said, when they learned there was no Spiderman suit at the store: "No problem, Mom, Deng can have ours."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Not so zen life

There are so many chunks to my life.  It's almost as if I've gone out of my way to make things as complicated as possible, but really, that wasn't my goal.  It just happened.  I started teaching for one school...then added another...and another.  I was up to 4, but have scaled back to just 3.  Oh yes, and teaching my 2 co-op classes.  And 2 days a week in the classroom. 

One runs 8-week classes, one runs 9-week, and the other 15 weeks.  It keeps my brain active, trying to keep it all straight.  But sometimes, especially when I'm not in the mood for active brainwork, it just feels like chaos.  Like I can't just get ahead of the messy pile of "stuff" on my list.

Tonight, I have to submit final grades for one section...grade homework for another...30 essays for another...and update the gradebook in another.  When really, I just want to blog and eat more cookies from the oven.   

Even at its baseline, when there's no external drama, life is messy.  I suppose that's okay.  Clearly I don't mind mess too much, or my van wouldn't look the way it does.

But sometimes, I just want to have a To Do list with only 2 things on it.  Instead of pages and pages of different categories of things to do, people to call, errands to run, papers to grade...

And that's not even the other parts of life.  That's just teaching.  The boys have their co-ops.  Thirteen different courses (with different instructors), helping Jack track homework and make sure we have all his supplies.  Service coordinator for MOPS.  My work with the Lost Boys. 

Sometimes, like my emotionally charged last week, I have these visions of a calm, serene, zen life.  As zen as life can be with 3 youngish, active children.

But the thing is, I don't want to give away even ONE of those chunks.  I've looked over the list, many times.  And every single one of those chunks is this perfect accessory to what I need and want in my life.  All of them are part of my tapestry of a really full, nourishing, stimulating life.

So then what? 

Maybe I just need to embrace the tough weeks...where there are not nearly enough hours in the day...and just see them as part of how my life works best.  When I scale back and try to go back to zen, we just fill it back up again.  The quiet, rare days at home?  They don't feel that zen, since all of us are just itching to get out and explore.


While writing this post, 10 more Essay #3 submissions just "dinged" into my email.  It's a bit like the laundry.  Even as I fold and put away all the clothes, little persons are running around dirtying more.  Life marches on.  The inbox fills up.  The To Do list is growing. 

But blogging served its purpose, as I'm ready to go back and put those papers to bed.  And then put myself to bed.  Early morning tomorrow.  Picking up the suit for Deng...OCC presentation at MOPS...Hunt Club field for Andrew...meeting with Gretchen for Jack. 

Oh my.  I need to get to bed.

Snapshots of parenthood

In the messy madness of the days, there are moments that just melt me.  They catch me off-guard and give me a moment of wonder about how really spectacularly beautiful it is to mother little persons. 

Like Andrew, falling in love with the song Mr. Tambourine Man. Whenever we get in the car, he asks me to play it.  And his teeny-tiny angel voice singing along ("...hey Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me...") is one of the most adorable things I've ever heard.

And Jack, when he overheard me tell Steve that Simone hadn't seen Wizard of Oz, so she probably doesn't understand the "Dorothy" dress I bought on clearance last year. A few minutes later, we found him in the back bedroom. He'd found the DVD collection, picked out the movie, loaded it, and was eager to present it to Simone. I love how he takes care of his little siblings.

Or Simone, planning her Princess Birthday Party, despite being almost a full year away from another birthday.  She invites people all the time and tells everyone how she's going to wear a "princess suit." Not "princess dress."  Casey joked that it's because she's used to her big brothers wearing superhero suits.  We even bought some princess paper plates at the dollar store.  I think I might run with Casey's suggestion to just have a random princess party for all the little 2-year-old girls, because there's no way she can wait until she's 3.

I wonder now how I didn't mind if I didn't have a daughter, back before she was born.  If I'd had 3 boys, I would have been just as ecstatic.  But seeing this new chapter of parenthood...filled with sparkle shoes and dolls and tutus and Princess pretty fun to watch.

Then again, all of it is pretty fun to watch.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Please send money" (some comic relief)

Updates on Ryan and Jack

I've had a number of emails asking about Ryan and Jack.  Most importantly, we received an amazing update from Susanne and Craig:

Good, if not great, news this morning. They took an MRI this morning and it came back reporting only "superficial" oxygen depletion damage to the brain. Much less damage than we expected to see.

More importantly, Ryan has become much more responsive. He reaches up with his hand when pinched which means his brain is able to send specific response to local stimuli. This afternoon he has started to look around very slowly, and even smiled a few times!!

The doctor is saying he can see the personality in his face today, as opposed to just being a mask yesterday. The doctor thinks Ryan my make a full recovery after all.

I can't imagine anything more beautiful than seeing my baby smile, after a scare like that.  They're not out of the woods, but what a renewed hope they must have.

Jack is doing well. He went to co-op today, so it's the first day back into "real life." We cancelled our plans for yesterday to give him a calmish week. I had sent around an email to the parents with a picture of Jack, so they could prepare their children if the child might be sensitive to it. He IS a bit shocking to look at, definitely. I also let them know he was fine, even if he looked shocking. So most everyone was prepared when they saw him, but I still wasn't expecting such a kind and compassionate welcoming.

A few kids made homemade "get well" cards for him.  All of them were so sweet and warm to him, asking if he was okay and if it hurt.  Jack didn't seem sensitive about the topic or concerned about them -  I think he was expecting them to be scared or disturbed by his face.  But he felt really good about their caring, I know.

It's feeling like a very good day, after a rather overwhelming weekend.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Machinery of life

If the situation can cause any more anguish for her, I just learned that Susanne still can't hold her son.  Can't hold him.  My soul shattered reading that.  He continues to struggle for life.

When I was with my mom before she died, I remembered having the most overwhelming need to touch her.  Like I did with my babies when they were first born.  Touching hair, arms.  I've always felt that's how our souls touch each other.  Feeling the human warmth next to our skin. 

After she died and her spirit left her, her body was so cold.  I could feel that she was gone.  Where did she go?  What part of her left?  Her body was there, but it was so apparent *she* was gone.

When I look at Jack, it seems so surreal how his body's machine betrays who he really is.  He's still the same Jack.  Spent several hours drawing, offered to get Simone her lunch from the fridge, asking his typical line of questions.  But there's this bruised and battered mask covering him.  He looks nothing like himself.

Baby Ryan's brain is still showing trauma.  He's breathing, but not waking up.  I can imagine Susanne wanting to just reach in and pull him out - pull out who she knows he is.  The smiling, sweet little boy. 

It makes you wonder where the soul really is. What part of our body, our brain, are who we are.  His machinery is broken right now, his brain is betraying him.  His soul is still present, but where?

I have been stalking my children all day...holding them, hugging them, pressing my nose into their hair as I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that they are safe and whole and here.

I keep wondering how I'm ever bothered by the noise, the mess, the peripheral truths of child-raising.  Life is chaotic and cluttered sometimes.  Most times. But for right now, I am grateful...that my children are making chaos and clutter and noise. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Raw humanity

From Susanne, about Baby Ryan:

Ryan is struggling. Please continue praying. His brain is still reacting to the trauma, and he is having trouble breathing. We appreciate all of your words, prayers and thoughts...we will continue to update you on his status. God is faithful.

With the constant hum of thoughts of Ryan in the backdrop of our life, I keep looking over at Jack, his face almost unrecognizable.  I am grateful to have only this temporary injury, when it could be so much worse.  And yet, it pulls at my maternal stirrings so deeply.  It disturbs me to see how quickly something can happen to my baby boy.

He assures me it doesn't hurt much, and he's patient through my multitude of kisses and hugs and "I love yous." On the one hand, I am so proud of his calm confidence and strength.  He stares intrigued into the mirror and watches the progression of bruising like his typical scientist self.  He tells me he can open his eye at least a millimeter now, with a voice of triumph.

On the other hand, though, I want him to feel safe to be scared or bothered.  And as I write this, perhaps he *does* feel safe...and just doesn't need those emotions right now? 

It's been a contemplative day.  I am feeling raw and open and grateful and scared for Susanne.  I watched Darfur Now and was reminded by how much I NEED to use my raw feelings to change and shape things.  To bring something out of sadness.  I don't always know how to do that or it doesn't always work.  But I am feeling that sense exploding out of me.

If you haven't read this article about water safety and children, please take a moment to read it now.  It's called "Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning."

And give your babies another hug for me.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hug your babies

Yesterday, I learned that Susanne and Craig's 2-year-old son nearly drowned in a friend's pool.  Craig gave him CPR to keep him alive while the ambulance came. After being life-flighted to a hospital, they are sitting with him while he's on a ventilator and not responding.  Now off sedation, he's starting to show signs of brain trauma.

My heart is broken for them.  I vividly remember us sitting at a cafe while we talked about our shared infertility... back before we each had 3 wonderful children.  Attending her baby shower before her first was born.  The anticipation of what children and a growing family would mean. 

Motherhood can bring all types of emotion that you can't even fathom experiencing.  The deepest love, the most mind-blowing frustration.  But she's seeing a side of motherhood I can't comprehend.  I have so much grief for her, for Craig, for what they must be feeling.  This absolutely beautiful, kind, wonderful family must be shredded with pain right now.

Today in a soccer game, Jack ended up at the bottom of a pile of children.  He was kicked in the face by another child's fall...hard.  His face is so swollen on one side that his eye can't open.  I took this picture with a webcam, because I don't have my real camera this weekend in Williamsburg.  It looks a bit better in this picture than in real life. 

Seeing Jack's face almost unrecognizably deformed is sending a primal chill down my core.  Right now, it's just a swollen face and likely a killer-bruise on its way.  But how many parents have had their child's entire life change course in that same length of moment - falling in a pool, a car accident, so many things that can change the shape of a life.  I don't normally feel so struck by the negative possibilities in life.  But today life is feeling particularly fragile, particularly precious.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Curiosity sounds exhausting!

Jack tends to ask questions in the car that require YouTube or Google for his mother to answer. =)  So he started carrying around a notepad to list his questions, so we can look them up when he gets home.

I thought he might like a record of his 6-year-3-month-old mind, translated from phonetic spelling:

- How does hair make itself?

- How do little cells crack themselves in half and make 2 of themselves?

- How was the first seed made?  Trees have seeds that blow out of other what about the first tree?

- Why do you write in cursive?  Is it faster because you don't lift your pen?

- How are eyeballs made?
- How does gasoline make an explosion that makes your car move?


Fly out of her heart

Andrew and I did not have a good day yesterday.  That's putting it mildly, but it was pretty much a train wreck of our relationship yesterday.  He slammed a few doors.  I wish I could have.  It was just not pretty all around.  I knew he was SO sleep-deprived, but that didn't make the hysterical tantrums any better to absorb.

It was saved only by an afternoon playdate, where he could run off steam in the backyard (lightsabering with other children is very cathartic for him)... while I could sit at a kitchen table drinking a perfect cup of tea with a friend.  Take a few deep breaths in and out.  And then drop him off at home with Steve while I took Jack to lessons...while I sat and stared out the window of the studio, at the ocean below. 

Apparently, we needed some space from each other. 

It is days like yesterday that can make parenting just seem like a direct route to a juvenile delinquency program. I hate not feeling like a good mother.  Not many other failures in life can shoot so deeply into my core.  

I absolutely love Andrew's spirited deeply he experiences life...and most days, that means he's just an Energizer bunny of love and joy.  But all that passion has the dark-side, when he's overtired or hungry or ate something with food dyes. =)  Then it's a mess.  We're a mess. 

I don't want to wish away the dark side, because I tend to think it's just the preschool version of the greatness that will come from those traits.  As I've seen Jack mature out of some of the emotional intensity of the young years, it makes it easier to take the long-view with Andrew and Simone.

But yesterday was still awful. Awful!

When we have those hard days, I can feel stabs of terror about what's going wrong.  It's hard to see them like that...and it's hard to feel that absolute disconnect from him.  I had nothing soft to give him yesterday.

Last night, we all went to bed freakishly early (for us, at least) and woke to a much better day.  Steve saved our morning by cooking a huge batch of buckwheat pancakes last night, so Andrew could jump right from bed into food.  That can make all the difference in our morning. 

Jack had Russian today and I teach in the Andrew and Simone went to Casey's for a few hours. When Jack was dropped off, Andrew just started chatting away to me - pouring out all his thoughts.  Instead of talking Star Wars with Jack, he and I got some space to talk.

Andrew: "Why does Grandpa Mike like fixing cars?"

Me: "Probably because he's good at solving problems.  People like to do what they're good at, usually."

Andrew: "When I grow up, I'm going to fix cars too.  And be Superman and a science teacher.  And a Daddy."

Me: "That sounds great, Andrew.  You're going to have a full life filled with things you love.  That's a nice life to have."

Andrew: "Superman is good, you know. I want to be good.  But...I do get mad sometimes."

"Being mad isn't a bad thing, Andrew.  Some things, we should get really mad about.  But it's what we do with our 'mad'.  You can use it to make things better, or to hurt people."

"You know that little girl that always hits people? She has so much hate in her heart.  She needs to HUG people...and LOVE people...and then all that hate would just fly out of her heart."

My heart just thudded with love for him.  I wanted to stop the car and pull over, and hold this sweet little child in my arms. 

How can I ever, ever worry about this tiny little 3-year-old spirit who can say things like this?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Spasfam Cookbook

Jack's recipe for cookies:

"Get chocolate thingies and then some flour.  Then add some wheat and water.  Pour into one big bowl and stir it up.  Then crack eggs and put a bunch of different kinds of powders.  Then you take an ice cream scooper and scoop it out.  Then you put it on a metal tray.  Use a fork to flatten it out, then put it into the stove to cook it."

Andrew's recipe for pie:

"Do all the ingredients, then put it in the oven and cook it.  Wait for them and then eat them."

Simone's recipe for pancakes:

"Daddy makes the pancakes FOR me."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Econ 101 from my backseat

Today, we went on a journey to buy sushi at Trader Joe's.  By journey, I mean we drove for 5 minutes from our meeting with 3 persons squealing "sushi!" from the back of the car.  It felt much longer than 5 minutes.

They were all wanting the "little sushis" (the 6 pack)...but their economist-mother was trying to explain the value of the Big Sushi Platter.  You can feed 3 children for $6.99 with the party platter, but each "little sushi" costs about four bucks. 

We multiplied, we subtracted, we did all sorts of fun things to prove my point.

They still wanted the "little sushi."


"Okay.  So what can you do to help pay for the cost difference?"  (Being a child of an econ instructor is difficult). ;)

Jack: "How about if you pay your 2 dollars you would have spent, and I'll give you two dollars."

Andrew: "How about if you give ME two dollars...and then you give me ANOTHER two dollars."

Me: "Umm...."

Simone: "I have two dollars!"

Me: "Where did you earn two dollars?"

Simone: "I took Jack's two dollars."

Clearly, we still have some economic lessons to explore.