Thursday, July 31, 2008

How Do I Love Thee

Yesterday my first baby turned 4. In celebration of his life, here are the things I love most about him (in no particular order).

He has the most beautiful blue eyes I've ever seen.

He has a dimple on his right cheek that will melt your heart.

He uses big words like improvise and destination.

He calls bananas "gananas."

He loves his brothers and tries very hard to make them happy.

He has a passion for music already.

He prays several times every day.

He wants to know more about God and asks me to read to him from the Children's Bible.

He likes to write cards to his favorite people.

He remembers everything he hears.

He has friends from different races and has never once asked why they look different.

He can give you directions to our house, using left/right and correct road names.

He says "I love you" spontaneously, and often.

He follows directions.

He wants to know why things are the way they are and how things work.

He gets nervous and sucks in his cheeks when he's around unfamiliar people.

He looks forward to Sunday School all week.

He wants to please me so badly.

He forgives me when I'm impatient.

He still loves to sit in my lap.

I am so proud of him I could just burst.

Sometimes I call him Baby, and he protests that he is not a baby. I remind him that he's my baby and will be forever, even when he's an old man with babies of his own.

I have so many more things to say. I love him for so many more reasons. Happy Birthday, Jackson. I have loved every minute (okay, most minutes) of the last 4 years. I love watching you grow. I love seeing the person you're becoming. I can't wait to see what kind of man you'll become. I am so proud of you. I love you so much. -Mama

Jackson, 1 day old

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

There's a new member in our extended family. Mike's cousin just had a baby boy. We went to see him Thursday night. He was so tiny and wonderful. I held that little limp body and examined the wrinkles all over his skinny legs and decided that my heart definitely wants another baby. I know, I'm not normal. Mike isn't quite as opposed to the idea as he once was, but I still think he would very much prefer not to have another. Well, we'll see.

Anyway, the baby's mama was having a rough day. She had just gotten back from the doctor with the baby because she was concerned about white spots in his mouth. Turns out that he has Thrush (which, if you are unfamiliar with it, is no big deal). They were settling back in with him when she noticed a small lump on the back of his neck. Her husband tried very hard to convince her that it's just a little fat deposit and that it will be fine. But she was very upset and called the doctor. They said to come in on Monday (keep in mind that it was Thursday). She fought back tears. I told her just to take him to the doctor tomorrow and tell them that a first-time mom is asking for them to please take a look at her baby, and I know that they will. I did not suggest this because I think he's ill. I agree that it's a fat deposit and no big deal. No, I suggested that because I know what was going through her mind. She didn't say it out loud, but I'll tell you exactly what she was thinking. She was thinking that by Monday it will be too late because it's probably cancer and it will continue to grow over the weekend and on Monday they will go in and find out that if they had taken him in immediately they could have removed the lump but now it's inoperable because it's grown around the brain stem and he has about a week to live. I know this because I am a mom and a worrier too.

When I was pregnant with my first baby I was terrified. I ended up getting hooked up to the fetal monitor twice because I was just sure that he had stopped moving. I cried all the time because I just knew that I was going to go to the doctor and she would say that she was sorry but I had lost the baby. I honestly could not bring myself to believe that I would have a healthy baby. That's something that happens to other people. It was too good to be true, I guess is what I'm getting at. Then I delivered this perfect little person, and they put him in my arms. I remember that I couldn't open my eyes, and I heard my mother say, "Look at your son! He's so beautiful!" My son? That's when I started crying. I have a son. You would think that reality would then set in and I would stop believing that this is just something that happens to other people. But no. This was only the beginning. For the next week I watched in agony as my son lost weight every day, and I just began to believe that this is how it would end. I would forever live with the pain of birthing a son and then losing him. Then one day he started gaining weight, and the doctors said he was healthy and perfect.

Eventually, I was able to settle in and believe that having a son was, indeed, a reality for me. I still worry about him (and now my other kids too), but I no longer believe that God made some huge mistake and is trying to correct it by taking my baby away (yes, that's what I thought...the combination of hormones and OCD didn't sit well with me). Eventually having children became so routine that I stopped experiencing that panicky "something this good isn't supposed to happen to me" feeling. Yes, routine. That's the best word for my world. Routine. Not in a bad way, but not necessarily good either. Just routine.

When I saw this new mama in her distress I suddenly had a rush of emotion come over me. I wanted to go wrap my arms around her and promise that her baby is fine (perfect, even) and that she will stop feeling so scared all the time in a couple of months and settle into a state of managable worry when things become routine. But at the same time I wanted to tell her to bottle up these emotions so that she can pull them out in 4 years when she has one child crying over a broken crayon, one child peeing in the floor, and one child screaming because she put him down for the first time in 2 hours (so that she could clean the carpet where child #2 peed). I had almost forgotten how it felt to be in a constant state of thankfulness for my children. I take them for granted. Every night when I say my evening prayers I thank God for my children and ask Him to protect them. Routine. I hardly even think about what I'm saying now. In fact, I would almost say that my prayer is less a true prayer to God and more a superstition, as though if I forget to ask God to protect them he'll allow something horrible to happen the next day. I don't believe this, but I still don't dare alter my prayer. It's one of those little things that helps manage OCD worry. I'm sure God understands. The point is, it's just routine, a recited prayer no more meaningful than the poetic prayers we make our children recite before they even understand who God is. I'm not moved to stop my day and tearfully proclaim my gratitude for putting these amazing little people in my life.

Today I vow to stop taking my children for granted. I will live as though I still believe today might be the last day I have with them. And when this too becomes routine, as I know that it will, I will pray to God for some experience like I had Thursday which will stir up these emotions again. Welcome to the world, New One. You will never know how the lesson you taught me this week. I can't wait to watch you grow. God has so richly blessed our family.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I have this friend. Let's call her Jill, just in case she should someday stumble upon this blog. Anyway, Jill is perfect. I mean it. She's perfect. She comes to playgroup every Monday with her two perfect boys who never throw a tantrum and always follow her first request. She popped out her second baby and left the hospital wearing her size 4 jeans. She wears makeup and fixes her hair for outings with her children. She brings healthy snacks for her kids to eat after playing on the playground. She coordinates her outfits with her jewelry and her nail polish. Yes, she even polishes her nails. I would really, really like to hate her. Unfortunately she's also really nice and a great mom. She's the whole package.

Did I miss some class in how to juggle a husband, kids, a house with a yard, friends, and a job without turning into a slob? Individually, I can do any of those things well. I could be a good wife, or a good mother, or a good housekeeper or a good gardener, or a good friend, or a good employee. I could even make myself look presentable. The problem is that I can't seem to do them all at the same time. So, at any given moment, I will have a super-clean house but 3 cranky children. OR I might have a solid relationship with a friend but be neglecting my spouse. OR I might have a well-manicured yard but nails that haven't seen a manicure in years. How do women like Jill do it?

I think I stumbled upon the secret today. Lean in close, because this is a well-guarded secret. I'm pretty sure they DON'T do it. Yeah, it blew my mind too. Let me share with you how I know this. Today I took my kids to Sprout. If you've never been there, it's basically a big room full of toys divided into "educational stations" that kids can visit. This place is great because you pay your admission and then let your kids run around like maniacs for a couple of hours making messes that someone else has to clean up. Meanwhile, the mamas sit on leather sofas and sip coffee (well, those that aren't breastfeeding do, anyway) and chat or read a book or just stare into space and enjoy the feeling of no children climbing on their legs for a few minutes. So, today I took them and was really looking forward to nursing the baby to sleep in my lap and then diving into a book that I've only read a few pages of thus far. But when I arrive I see a new sign. This wasn't there last week. It's an outrage! It reads: "Sprout is a parent/child interactive place. Have you played with your child today?????" (Yes, there were really that many question marks.) So, evidently the people who opened the place didn't have in mind that we would sit and watch from afar. Okay, so I take a deep breath and enter anyway. I can do this. I can play with my children and sacrifice my solo reading time. On the inside, however, I notice that the other mamas are going out their days like any other Sprout day. They are lounging on the sofas and sipping coffee and reading books. The signs (I notice that there are several more posted on the inside) don't seem to have phased them at all. I decide that they won't phase me either. But they do. I can't concentrate on my book. I feel like a kid in school trying to hide a comic book from a passing teacher. Every time one of the employees passes by I drop the book into my lap and feign interest in the plastic food salad that my children are preparing in the pretend kitchen nearby. So, I grudgingly drop my book into my bag, throw the baby over my shoulder, and make my way into the indoor tree house to play with my children. Here's the thing, though: my kids behave a million times better when I'm not hovering over them. So, although they are usually really well-behaved at Sprout and I don't worry about them at all, today they were really bratty. They fought over toys, made messes that they then blamed on someone else, teased each other, and talked back to me. I was really embarrassed. I kept looking around to see if the other moms were looking at me and secretly making a mental note never to allow us to join their playgroups because my kids would certainly corrupt all the other children. They never even looked up. Huh? My kids are acting like wild animals, and no one even flinches? Nope. So, I started looking around the room at the other children. I saw a little boy grab a little shopping cart out of the hands of a toddler. I saw a little girl wipe her glue-covered hands on the table. I saw siblings all over the place quibbling over who had the toy first and who got to be the fireman in the play. I witnessed at least ten tantrums when moms said it was time to go or to return a toy to another child. Actually, I think my kids might have been near the top of the list as far as behavior goes. Is it possible that today all the kids were worse than usual? Or is it just that I was hyper-aware of my surroundings because the Sprout folks added an extra dose of mommy-guilt with their wagging fingers? Logic would suggest the latter.

Okay, so back to my original thought that the other moms don't have it any more put-together than I do... Today I realized that, although we definitely have our bratty moments, my kids are really well-behaved. And I came home and took a good look around my home and discovered that, for housing 3 children, the place looks pretty darn good. Mike mowed the grass today, so although we don't have much in the way of landscaping, we even look tidy from the outside. The longer I thought about it, however, the more flaws I began to notice. The curtains behind the kitchen table have little spaghetti hand prints on them that need to be washed out. The dog needs a bath. My hair needs dying again. My toenail polish (freshly applied only 2 weeks ago!) is almost entirely chipped off. And I'm off, making a list of all the imperfections that set me aside from all the super-moms out there who have their lives put together. Now, wait. I seem to recall that the super-moms ignored their children attempting to beat each other with drumsticks earlier today. So, maybe they don't have anything magical about them. Maybe it's just that I don't make lists of every one of their imperfections the way I do my own so they never seem to add up the way mine do.

You know why being a mom is so hard? Every night as I lay in bed I replay the day in my head. I criticize my every move. I was too hard on Jackson. I ignored Ei when he was clearly trying to get my attention. My expectations of Aaron were too high. Etc., Etc., Etc. See, I'm responsible for these people. Three people completely depend on me for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. And I'm just terrified I won't get it right. Before children, when I went to work during the day and came home at night, I could acknowledge my mistakes and then leave them behind because they didn't directly impact the well-being of anyone else. This is huge.

And here's where all of this got me. Tonight I'm putting my children to bed and internally stewing over how I'll never be perfect (beginning to acknowledge that none of the other moms are either) and trying to prioritize which things I will allow to monopolize my energies. I kiss my Ei and tell him good night, and this is what he says to me: "Mama, if you get scared tonight, you call me and I'll come right in here." I realize that none of this other nonsense matters. My children have heard me say that I will be there for them if they are scared so many times that they have internalized it. They have enough empathy to realize that others might have similar feelings and care enough to offer to help. I don't need to prioritize. Without even thinking about it, I've been doing that all along. Worship God. Love your family. Be a good helper. These are the lessons I teach my kids. These are the lessons I hope I act out with my own behavior. I'm Supermom. So are you.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Happiest Place on Earth

I just got back from Disney World. They call it the happiest place on earth? Why??? No, I really did have a good time, but it's a very different experience going as the mother. And, while I did enjoy seeing my kids meet Mickey Mouse and ride their first "roller coaster" (the kiddie coaster Barnstormer), the long lines, extreme heat, expensive food, and grumpy crowds did not have me thinking to myself, "WOW! This is the happiest place on earth!" What exactly would be the happiest place on earth?

First, and possibly most importantly, this place (we're going to call it Utopiatina) would be free of Yo Gabba Gabba. If you are not familiar with Yo Gabba Gabba, you are a better person for it. Do not Google it. Do not watch it on television. Do not allow your children to tell you about it. If someone approaches you and attempts to discuss this horrendous excuse for a television show, cover your ears and run screaming in the other direction. You'll thank me later. Second, Utopiatina does not have a Chinese buffet. I do not feel the need to explain this one. Yuck. In Utopiatina, eating raw vegetables and cottage cheese makes you painfully fat and ugly while eating chocolate, guacamole, and pizza makes you super-model pretty. All meetings are kept to under 2 hours. People who attempt to file lawsuits for ridiculous things (like getting burnt by hot coffee that did not say HOT on the cup) are exiled. Children do not whine. Delicious, nutritious dinners serve themselves promptly at 6:00, and husbands are never late because they got stuck on the phone at work. Little boys always love their mothers and never grow up to be embarrassed to be seen with them. Everyone is required to nap every day after lunch. Snack time and story time follow nap time every day. Gray hairs fall out when exposed to oxygen. We use the barter system. Babies sleep through the night from birth. Small victories are celebrated ("You cleaned all 3 bathrooms today??? Fireworks! Margaritas all around!") Minivans come equipped with privacy screens like in limousines that separate the front seats from the back ones (where the noisy children sit). The weather is a constant 65 at night and 75 during the day. People do not use the term bemused to mean amused. And Winnie the Pooh still plays with Christopher Robin.

Would you like to live in Utopiatina too?