Mending

“Mama, these are the pants I cut the hole in. Can you please fix them now?” Seth chided last night, his blue eyes wide with a curious mixture of remorse (for the experimental pant-cutting) and trust (that I could fix them, finally, and fulfill my promise.)

After countless asks, I took some time this morning to mend them. With each stitch–made by hand because I have a stupid pinched nerve in my shoulder from putting on my coat (seriously) exacerbated by the stress of driving for three hours in a snowstorm yesterday picking up groceries and children, both of which are necessary for my daily sustenance–I reflected on the things I can fix for my children. And on the things I can’t.

This year. Goodness. With a heaping portion of perspective, I can chalk it up to change, transition, growing pains. I know, with all that perspective, that things are not so bad. Lots of things are worse, some of which we taste fleetingly and some of which we will never have the misfortune to experience. But if I skimp on perspective, I have my days where I am just sad. Frustrated. Tired. Weary. It’s the weather, it’s the lack of sunshine, it’s having to get my vitamin D in the form of a dropperful of oily necessity. It’s the holidays, it’s the people I miss that I can rarely see, it’s the people I miss that I’ll never see again. But most painfully, it’s the mending I cannot do, or at least not without sloppy, slipping stitches.

When you have kids, and you are in the twilight hours of diapers and feedings and gates to prevent bodily injury and ceaseless crying because there are no words, you feel as though: THIS. This is the toughest bit of it. And in some ways, you’re right. It’s so relentless then, often thankless and monotonous and plodding. That old adage of “the days are so long, but the years so short” is completely applicable. In those long days, it seems that having older children will be so much more navigable. Because: WORDS. I am good at words! I knew my children would be good at them, too, because they have two expressive and sensitive parents modelling it for them. But the truth is that words fall short. I’ve lost my faith in words, the longer I’ve sought to master them. I see how inadequate they are, all the while feeling that the attempt to make oneself known through conversation is so vital to all things.

It’s a bit (a lot) paradoxical that, while I am studying to be a parent educator, I am experiencing my most challenging time yet as a parent. While I learn about development, and relationships, and how to work with adults who want to explore more deeply the unique relationship between themselves and their children, I am feeling that I am falling so short. Instead of the intentional, aligned parenting I meant to be doing, I am in the business of crisis management, reactionary and insecure. It is a patchwork of “Help this kid! He needs a lot of help right now, and you other two are seemingly fine so go play Lego or something! Oh, wait, now THIS kid really, really needs me! Divert attention to him!” I feel awful, because the kid in crisis can’t truly be “fixed”, and the other two kids are momentarily back-burnered. There is never a sense of parity, nor of adequacy. Perhaps this is exactly what I am supposed to be learning right now, on the cusp of my professional practice: you might never feel sure that what you’re doing is the right thing. The blessing, often but not always, is that if you’ve been sensitive and you’ve tried your children will still think that you can help them. And you can, often but not always, still try to do so. This applies to relationships beyond parents and children, too, I think. Friendships, marriages, it can all get messy. If you’re earnest, and lucky, you can keep trying. Success is not guaranteed, but the alternative is apathy and I have never been one for that.

My eldest, age eleven at this moment, is old enough that I won’t write in detail about him here. But remember middle school? Remember how much it sucked? Suffice it to say, it still blows. I see now that it’s really, really hard for parents, too. To have the push-and-pull of the adolescent/parent relationship. To want to preserve what little is left of innocence, of fun, of childhood. To see that time marches inexorably forward, despite the protective efforts. I can advocate, but I can’t fix everything for him. Or any of my kids, for that matter. I can teach, guide, and comfort, but I am not always there. Bumps and bruises are inevitable; you can’t soften the whole world for your babies, at least not forever.

But I can mend the tear in his favorite stuffed river otter, however imperfectly. I know he won’t notice, or at least won’t care, that the fur is slightly scarred, imperfect under the glossy coat. He’ll just know that he asked, and I tried.

Categories: Mostly Me | 4 Comments

Nine Candles, Nine Exclamation Marks

Another year, even more proof that you’re no longer three years old, but rather 3². Though you’re anything but square.

How'd you get up there?

How’d you get up there?

We’ve had quite the year together. In fact, it’s pretty difficult for me to write this letter to/about you this year because there are a lot of very grown-up feelings involved in how your ninth year has gone down. I’m aware that, as you get older, there are appropriate places to process such things (with trusted friends and family, for instance) and inappropriate ones (on the internet). I would simply say that every second we’ve spent thinking about you and advocating for you, about how to help support you as you grow into your best self, has been so worthwhile. We’ve done a lot of work, with helpers, and I don’t regret a moment of it. But most of all: YOU’VE done the work.

With your buddy, Wilbert, on your last birthday.

With your buddy, Wilbert, on your last birthday.

You are basically my role model for living, because you find a way to be joyful and compassionate even when things are hard. It’s amazing to watch you go through a mental process, trying to reconceptualize one thing into a new something, knowing that even the small paradigm shifts can be arduous (for me, anyway). You have proven time and again that, with some proper time and space for recalibrating, you can and do meet changes with grace and good cheer. Do you have any idea how rare and wonderful that is? I don’t know if you do, but I’m going to keep saying it forever and hope that you will, someday.

On perhaps the one nice day for sledding last winter (the winter of our subzero discontent...)

On perhaps the one nice day for sledding last winter (the winter of our subzero discontent…)

A few traits have emerged this year that we either didn’t see as much in the past, or they have just started to look differently as you’ve grown. For one thing, you love to play games. LOVE. And you are quite the little strategist. Most recently, this has kindled a desire to master the game of chess. You played Boompa on Thanksgiving, lost graciously, but even though you’ve played probably 10 games so far in your life, Boompa even had to admit: “He’s good.” Whether it’s in chess, or other games, or simply in life, you’ve started to think a few steps ahead of the present moment. For someone who previously lived only in the realm of this! very! moment!, this is something new and exciting. Cause and effect are no longer a momentary experiment, but have become a concept to premeditate. That’s been huge for you.

The great strategerist and work.

The great strategerist and work.

I want to be clear, though: you have not lost your sense of fun. You’re still my exclamation-mark kid. Maybe I should have named you !!!!!! instead of Oliver. It was especially fun to travel with you on our big family road trip this year, because every day was a new adventure that you embraced whole-heartedly. I don’t think you complained of boredom except for maybe once in a whole two-week period of constant driving. You were adaptable to whatever came our way, you ate with vigor (well, that’s a given), and you tried new things with a spirit of curiosity. At the end of each day, you expressed how much fun you’d had, and were grateful. You remarked on the new things you saw along the way with a sense of wonder. Basically, you are the perfect travel companion.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In KY, post-cave tour...

In KY, post-cave tour…

Wildlife habitat in NC

Wildlife rehabilitation center in NC

When we meet new people (or people we don’t remember since the last time our paths crossed), you are the first to approach with a hand extended in welcome, introducing yourself and asking about your new friend. And if they have food they’re willing to share or an electronic device you can watch them play, so much the better.

A pretty simple equation: where there is cake, there is Oliver.

A pretty simple equation: where there is cake, there is Oliver.

You have also really come into your own as the middle child in our family. We often reflect with you that you have a very unique place in our unit, because you are both a little brother and a big brother at the same time. As Maxwell has gone on to middle school, you have stepped into a more active “big brother” role with Seth. You are attentive and protective of him on the bus and in the halls of elementary school. You have more of an interest in trying to play with him at home, too, even though it is sometimes difficult with him. You keep trying. After a more resigned first 6 months or so of your year, you’ve regained your confidence and your persistence. I didn’t realize how much I’d been holding my breath over it until the time I recognized it had returned. Your positive spirit, it has returned. And we are all better for it because, quite frankly, you show us all how it’s done.

Oliver, ever enthusiastic!!!

Oliver, ever enthusiastic!!!

The proud (and protective) big brother.

The proud (and protective) big brother.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you are brave. You are brave to love, with an open heart, every single person in your life. Sometimes you get hurt in the process and, as your mom, I feel a tug to protect you. But you have shown me something this year: I can’t, and I shouldn’t, shield you from that potential hurt at the expense of you putting all that beautiful love out there into the world. Yes, some people (even some kids!) are jerks and they will take advantage of your kindness. They will tease, or steal, or push. But I see that you gain more by universally spreading your love and enthusiasm than you lose. If someone missteps, you have learned to simply say “no”, or take a step back, but you don’t rescind your love and respect for them. How were you born with such wisdom? I don’t know, but I see it is your gift to me, and to the world.

How can anyone help but feel happy when you're around?

How can anyone help but feel happy when you’re around?

And you do.

And you do.

I celebrate today the anniversary of the birth of your big, beautiful heart into this world. I am grateful for it every day.

Happy birthday, Oliver.

Categories: Ollie | 7 Comments