Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why I'm out of the running for Mother of the Year. Yet again.

It is an extraordinary reality that children can suck the lifeblood out of you more than anything else on Earth...but pour life back into you in these tiny moments of wonder, too.

I was a crabby mother today.  I had a stack of paperwork last night that *needed* to be done.  Deadlines for paper grading, soccer sign-up, application for Jack's camp scholarship, and other things that had been building up.  I ended up staying up until 2AM to take care of things, until I practically crawled up the stairs into bed.

Today was this hamster-wheel of the most draining parts of family-rearing: bank run, library dropoffs, carpool lane, post office, grocery store, all the things around the house, etc etc.

One highlight was that dinner rocked tonight, and it was affirming to watch all three kids devour an arugula, crimini mushroom, sun-dried tomato saute. It was the first time I'd made it, and we were all shocked by how great it was. Jack even licked the bowl.  Now that Steve gets home hours beyond dinnertime, they're my taste-testers for my French cooking streak. 

But other than dinner success, the rest was just blah.  The I-stayed-up-too-late-and-was-woken-up-too-early blah.  

Everything was driving me batty.  Andrew leaving the sliding door open EVERY SINGLE TIME he came in or out.   Getting to the post office and Jack forgot to wear shoes.  Forgot? To wear shoes?  I was pretty spent at that point, and told him to come inside with socks and hope no one cared. No one cared. Simone suddenly forgetting how to put on any.article.of.clothing, while we were already running behind to get to preschool.  There's more.  So much more that I'd bore you listing all the things that exasperated me today.

Really, though: If they were writing this post, they'd talk about much I was driving them batty.  How their mother was annoyed and impatient and dragged them along on the lamest errands ever. 

By the time bedtime came, I was D-O-N-E.  I put down the little ones, came to tuck in Jack, and he asked if he could stay up later to read on his own. I agreed, but told him that I needed some space to get some things done.  Could he just turn out the lights and put himself to bed when he was done?

15 minutes later, he came down to ask something.  And completely-and-totally inappropriately, I just snapped at him:  "I...am...done tonight.  Finished. Please go to bed.  Reading is fine.  Wandering around the house is not."

His crestfallen face broke my heart.  He looked hurt and stunned.  And rightfully so.  And the unbroken bits leftover were smashed even more when he looked like he was holding back tears: "But. I didn't get any hugs at all today.  You were there all day, but your brain was doing other things."

My heart sank. He was right.

Perhaps the greatest miracle in mothering is how when you have NOTHING leftover... nothing to give...you can reach inside and find this hidden place of Extra Energy when you need it.  Looking at his face, I knew I needed to find it.

Deep breath.  Then another one.

"Jack. Today was not a good mothering day for me.  I'm going to work really hard to make tomorrow be a better one.  I can't fix today, but can we maybe go snuggle and talk about things?"

And perhaps the greatest miracle in childhood is how they can forgive with such purity.  No matter how many times I screw up.  They really want to connect with their mom, and even though that's an inconvenient reality to face some days (like, when I'm a crabby walking zombie mother)...I really am grateful for that.

This same little boy at whom I snapped wrote a completely adorable essay today about why he wants to go to Russian camp, for the scholarship application.  It was ridiculously sweet, about his dreams to live in Russia and be an explorer and learn how to live life differently - like putting shoes outside the door and eating borscht.  I can't wait to show his grown-up self this innocent, passionate essay from his 7-year-old self. He also wrote a superhero book, complete with illustrations, for his younger brother.  Played dollhouse with his 3-year-old sister, with the most incredible patience for trying to figure out her storyline and play along.

Agh.  He did not deserve the mothering he got today. None of them did.

When I think about who these children are...how much work they put into learning and growing and being...I really and truly have NO idea how their oversights (leaving out dishes, dirty clothes strewn down the hall) can be the problem I feel like they are in my stressed/tired moments.  Do they need to put their things away? Sure.  But I need to just step back and use my centered-mothering voice, and remind myself that they're still figuring it all out. 

I'm anxious to push the reset button tomorrow.




Friday, February 17, 2012

Who knows, I'm sure Da Vinci probably liked cookies too...


I made an Art Table for Jack (7), where he could work on his little LEGO/cloth/pipe cleaner/clothespin creations.  He's always making something out of scraps, and he needed a workbench for his things 'in progress.'  My only request: That the scraps don't permanently cover the floor of that room.

Here's his art center:

A constantly rotating set of homemade board games, action figures, and various other inventions.


And here's an action-figure he made this morning for Andrew, out of felt, paper, pipe cleaners, and yarn.




So today, I walked into the room and saw a bunch of scraps on the floor...but also on the floor was a really cool homemade board-game he was making.  

Me: "Hey, Jack, you should respect your work!  It could get trampled on the floor.  Do you think Leonardo Da Vinci put his work all over the floor?"

Jack, without missing a beat: "Probably not. But then again, I don't think Da Vinci made cookiemen made out of clothespins."





Thursday, February 16, 2012

If I could put a moment into a jar and seal it, this would be it.

The boys and I were listening to Teach Your Children on my iPod.  I paused it for a moment and said to them, "Hey, guys? What's something I've taught you that you'll remember for your whole life? Anything.  Big things, little things."

Andrew (5): "Being nice to people.  Manners and things, but also making sure everyone gets to live a good life.  Even in other countries."

Heart skipped a beat.  

Then Jack (7): "That everything comes and goes.  Toys... but also family members, like Grandma Lynn.  And the most important thing is to enjoy them while you have them."

Tears.

The greatest honor of my entire life, no matter what happens down the road, will be raising these little children into adulthood.  




Monday, February 13, 2012

Failing at my "Don't-Do-Anything Semester"

Moving to Richmond was a lot like how I clean out my closet.   I take everything out and pile it in a big heap on my bed, and then decide what goes back in it. 

Our life was frenetic madness in Hampton Roads. Good.  But messy. So many great things and great people, filling our days.  But there were times when just emptying out the closet and starting over sounded really nice, too.

Coming here, I had to say good-bye to the Sudanese families....left the children's co-ops and my work there...quit my job teaching at the local college...and all of our friends.  

Okay.

So I decided I was going to treat our New Richmond Life as a sabbatical of sorts.  I'm not signing up for ANYTHING or making ANY commitments for the first semester.  Or so I said. 

Maybe this would be the point in motherhood when I'd actually find a routine around the house, and not just throw food at my children in the car as we drove somewhere. 

My goal: I was going to decide what I really, truly missed and only add back in those things.  

The empty space was really nice.  For a few weeks. My floors have never been cleaner.  We were sitting down for a home-cooked meal at a regular time every night.  Since we weren't driving an hour home from co-op (only FOUR MINUTE commute now), people weren't napping in late afternoon.  I could have everyone sleeping by 7, clean up a bit until 8, do my work until Steve gets home at 9 or 10.

It's been very "Betty Draper" (Season 1) around here since we moved in.

But all this empty space in my life has been a bit deafening -- I guess I'm not used to it.  So one month into my Don't-Do-Anything Semester, I've already applied for teaching jobs and written to the local Refugee Resettlement organization, and they're going to start their background check on me.  

Minimum I can start doing anything with them, though, is several months out (training and background checks).  And while I don't understand their full scope yet, they seem more categorized and rigid than my work before.  With Julie, I could help put out fires as they came up -- serving whatever current crisis the families needed. 

I'm torn about my work with refugees, because my life dynamics have completely changed.  My "value" to the Sudanese community was that I was surrounded by incredibly generous persons -- and a lot of them.  Starting over, I know almost nobody.  My ability to fill needs for brand-new refugees just evaporated.

Pretty much nightly, I ask questions to my husband like: "So what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? What things in my life make me most 'me'?"  And to his credit, he actually listens and answers when I ask completely vague, open-ended questions like that.

Steve suggested grant-writing for refugees, as a way to gather resources that didn't require a social network, and I like that idea.  I need to learn a bit (um... like, everything) about grant-writing. But I think I'm going to explore that one.

I've been really struggling with the political side of refugee work in the last few months.  I've been so anti-politics and bureaucracy for so long, it's a bit unsettling to realize the work I really *want* to do on a soul-level for these families requires political involvement.  A whole 'nother post, that one.

BUT... I also really loved how intertwined my children were with my work back in Hampton Roads.  It meant a lot to them.  It was something WE did, not just my thing.  I needed to find a way to keep them involved, keep fostering their awareness of global needs and other people. Grant-writing and political work doesn't really do that.

So today, I opened up another account on www.Kiva.org, just for the kids. On the site, you can give microloans (as little as $25) towards a need -- primarily, entrepreneurs in other countries.   I made sure it has all three of their names as the profile, and a picture uploaded of them.  It's going to be their thing, I'll just do the typing.

I asked the kids whom they'd most like to help.  Andrew and Jack didn't miss a beat before saying, "The Sudanese."  Simone said: "I want to help children." 

So we went on Kiva, chose "South Sudan" and got 9 profiles back.  I explained to Simone that they don't really give loans to children, but we could make sure the person *had* children, so we were helping them too.  

I read through all of them out loud to the kids, and figured it was just drone noise for them.  I wasn't sure how they'd choose.  When I finished though, Jack immediately said "Alice."  I was surprised he remembered the name, after all that reading, and asked him why.  "Because she had 6 kids, and that was the most.  It takes a lot of money to raise that many kids, so she could really use it."

Be still my heart. 

She needs $300, but we gave $25.  I told them they could do jobs around the house, if they wanted to give her more.  I would pay however much they earned for her.   The boys loved that idea, and Andrew immediately started naming off all the things he could do to help Alice start her business.

That was a really nice moment, and one I needed to see in my "sabbatical."  That there are still ways to matter to the world, even in tiny ways, and to show the children there's something bigger out there.  

As sweet and significant as all of that was for me, though, I should add: When I told them about doing jobs around the house if they wanted, Simone shook her head and said, "Nah, I think I'll just keep the money and buy some toys."  Ha!  

Parenting.  It's a process. 








Sunday, February 12, 2012

Oh that's right...she's only 3.

The other day, I complained to Steve that Simone "likes me too much."  

Yes, I did.  

Her happy little singing/dancing/chatting/question-asking self follows me around most of the day.  Left to her design, our days would consist of snuggling on the couch reading or watching Care Bears all.day.long.

Steve found out he didn't need to work on Saturday, so I planned a special morning with Simone while Steve took the boys to SEP at William & Mary.  Almost 5 hours of dedicated time with  her, hoping to fill the intensity of her "quality time" love-language.  We read books, went to the library, ate cookies for lunch, went to the dollar store and she could pick out whatever she wanted, blah-di-blah.

And do you know what she said at the end?  "I was expecting to have a lot of Mommy time, but we just had a little bit." 

Oh...my...lord.

I had all sorts of initial unedited-by-logic thoughts: horror at her lack of gratitude, fear for the downward spiral of her future, and how I'd managed to fail as a parent so dramatically in only three short years.

Oh yes...and completely annoyed that I'd used my entire day trying to fill her emotional need and to have her say that. 

One of the trickiest parts of raising her, truly, is remembering that she is only 3 years old.  If you've met her, you'll know exactly what I mean.  She has this mind-boggling awareness of the world and an almost creepy ability to articulate it. I have no idea where she learned to use some of the words she does, and to spin thoughts the way she can.  Her grasp on the world and how it works can lure you into thinking she's so mature and wise -- like you're dealing with a grown woman, and not a barely preschooler.

One small example among many: I was teaching her how to make lasagna last night, and showed her how you put down the noodles...then sauce...the ricotta....then some cottage cheese.  Immediately after I told her that, she said: "Wouldn't it be faster to mix them all up and put it ALL together on top of the noodles?"

Um. Yes.  It would.  Never mind that I've been making lasagna for YEARS and never did that. 

Thanks, Simone.

For so many reasons (how long do you have?), I can completely and totally forget she is 3.  And that when she says something like, "I was expecting to have a lot of Mommy time, but we just had a little bit"....well, the translated-into-3-year-old version of that just might be: "I'm sad our time is over."

Yes, she can create these complex and articulate phrases -- but her ability to pinpoint exact feelings and communicate them with perfect accuracy -- goodness.  She was just birthed onto this planet 3 years ago.  

What on Earth do I expect sometimes?  








Monday, February 6, 2012

Perhaps the bloodiest, most traumatic 20 minutes of my children's young lives

We finally...finally...had our first family visit to the Emergency Room.  And no, it wasn't because Andrew jumped off a roof with a homemade Batman suit constructed from fabric and LEGO blocks, like I'd suspected would bring us there.

I was in my bedroom, putting away laundry, and I heard Simone scream from the next room.  A bone-chilling scream like I'd never heard from her, and I ran in there to see her covered in blood.  Covered.  Hair already dripping red, hands like she'd dipped them in paint, and soaked through her clothes.  Blood was squirting (squirting!) from a wound in her forehead, but I couldn't tell yet what all might be bleeding.

I could figure out that she'd knocked her head into the wall - but why all the blood?

I ripped open a pillowcase and tied it around her head and started searching her body for more wounds.  She was just staring at her bloody hands, still crying in terror.  

I called my dad and asked him if I should drive to an ER or call an ambulance...how serious might this be?...and he said driving, but we should definitely get it looked at.  

When we came downstairs, Jack saw Simone covered in blood and started crying too.  I have rarely seen him panicked (I can't even think of another example right now), and apparently, he thought she might die because there was so much blood.  For full disclosure, that was my initial thought when I saw her.

I kept my calmest Mom-Voice and kept saying, "She's going to be okay.  We just need to get her to the hospital.  We just need to get to the hospital."

When Andrew heard that part, HE started crying too.  It wasn't until almost 10 minutes later that he could finally communicate his fear: "If Simone goes to the hospital, is she going to die like Grandma Lynn?"

And for the first time in the bloody, cry-filled chaos, I realized that my sweet-hearted little child thought that if you get a head injury and go to the hospital, you will die.  Like Grandma Lynn. My mom's last two weeks were initiated by breaking open her head when she fell in my parents' garage.

So my intentions of soothing them with going to the hospital created this traumatic moment for them that I didn't anticipate.  Yes, they know she had Muscular Dystrophy and that a "disease was eating her body."  But their short lives had taught them if you break open your head and you're taken to the hospital, you will die.

Oh my goodness, the gravity of steering tiny young souls through the newness of life. 

Once I could assure them that Simone absolutely-positively WOULD NOT DIE from her head...that she just needed to be sewn up, and that actually was going to be pretty interesting (sewing human skin?)...the boys were able to calm down and focus on being the sweetest, most gentle, loving brothers history has ever seen. 

Simone needed, apparently, to have the blood washed off her hands.  Because once we cleaned her up, she moved into completely calm mode and never blinked from that.  Not even when they wrapped her up and started sewing into her.   The team suturing her said they had never seen someone (adult or child) lie so still while getting stitches.  

I have no idea what created that calm in her, but I will forever be grateful for it.

The added benefit to all this:  I think a lot of healing happened in their idea that hospitals are where you go to die.  That doctors also save people there. Or just give 8 stitches to a little girl who conked her forehead on the corner of a closet door.

It's been quite a day.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why I tell my daughter I think she's beautiful

I keep reading things about girls and how they're judged by society on looks, and I agree that it's a concern in raising a daughter.  One of the things that never resonates with me, though, is that we should avoid telling our daughters they're beautiful. That we should just ignore that conversation completely and only tell them about how great they are in other areas.

Hmmm.

That doesn't make sense to me. 

I tell my daughter several times a day how beautiful she is to me. Will I ruin her entire psyche?  Maybe.  I'll report back when she's grown and gives me notes from her therapy sessions.  

But these are the thoughts I considered when I tell my daughter she's beautiful:

I think the problem is when it's about a competition.  Is she more beautiful than other people?  How does she compare?  Whether it's beauty, intelligence, or any other variable...that approach will always bring disappointment. 

But I don't think that's what acceptance has to feel like.  I'm not telling Simone she is better than other people...more symmetrical than other people.  That she fits the Red Queen algorithm for beauty, more than other people.

I'm telling her that when I see her, my being lights up.  She enchants me.  I love looking at her.  And she brings me joy.

And someday, I will send her out into the world.  When she falls in love, if that's how her path heads, I want there to be a spark of recognition when a man tells her she's beautiful to him.  I don't mean the construction-worker catcalls...I mean something different.  What she's learning from her parents.

Quite honestly, I want her to demand that of her relationship: Not to settle until she finds someone who finds her beautiful.  Whose being lights up when they see her.  That she enchants him.  He loves looking at her.  And she brings him joy.

That's not about physicality.  And oddly enough, one reason I know that is because I first fell in love with my husband based 100% on looks.  He was going to be my hot-guy fling.  

Now, his physical traits are completely irrelevant to me; I can go very-long periods without noticing the shell of him.  And it can almost shock me when I *really* look at him and see his physical traits.  

But physical shell aside, I do find him completely beautiful to me.  Er, handsome.  Whatever.

What I see in him is the inner Steve.  In part, the history we have together. But also, the traits in him that make him irreplaceable to me.  His integrity, his kindness, his wisdom.  How freakishly awesome he is at being a dad to our children.

And quite honestly, the inner Steve is the only part of him that matters in the end. 

My husband tells me regularly how beautiful I am...and I ASSURE YOU, many, many, many times I'm not even in the ballpark.  Un-showered...hair all crazy from just waking up...or the middle of childbirth, for Pete's sake.

What he's saying is that *I'm* beautiful to him, regardless of how I look in the present moment.  Communicated right, real beauty has absolutely nothing to do with where your eyes or nose landed on your facial DNA mapping.

Here's what I think, whether it's wrong or not.  There might be hundreds (thousands) of messages later on, telling my daughter she's not good enough.  But if she's grown up in a family that finds her amazing and beautiful, I really-truly believe those messages will slide off of her.  Like an error message will pop up, saying, "Does...not...compute."  

That we'll have created this foundation of acceptance, love, and respect for her that creates a code in her psyche.  That if people treat her that way, they'll feel like "home" to her.  If they don't, they'll be irrelevant.  

My grandmother never wanted my mom feeling like she was better than other people - so my grandmother worked hard to avoid any messages that my mom was beautiful, intelligent, etc.  And my mom did struggle with viewing herself that way, because the code wasn't written in her.  She was brilliant...she was beautiful...but external messages telling her those things "did not compute." 

I deeply believe that if you feel confidant to your core of your worth...that you were meant to be accepted and loved...then competition doesn't even become a part of it.  It's only the persons who feel lacking in those areas who require the competition - need to quantify things.  

I have a hard time believing that telling my daughter she's accepted and cherished and celebrated at home is going to mean she's going to go out into the world needing to prove it to anyone, or even needing to hear it from anyone.  She'll know she is lovable and worthy, and will look for people who treat her with the respect she was taught to have for herself.  

As with all my parenting thoughts:  We shall see. :)