To Boldly Go…

Well, Maxwell, today you are twelve years old.

You.

Things are so different now from when I started this blog in 2009 or so. For starters, I had to ask your permission before writing about you and putting it out there, because now you are “out here”, and aware of things, and it really is just the respectful thing to do. (You obviously granted permission, or I’d not be doing this public declaration.) As we drove yesterday, talking about this entry and your birthday, you expressed amazement at getting here…to twelve, I mean. “I used to dream of being twelve. I can’t believe it’s happening tomorrow!” I asked why twelve, what’s so awe-inspiring about age twelve? You said its proximity to thirteen makes it very attractive.

Your last day of elementary school.

And while you’re in a hurry to be a teenager (status, you said…and to no longer be called a “kid”…are big draws), I can’t help but do such a Mom thing and remind you to enjoy the here and now. There is a lot to be said for exactly where you are!

No, really! Being twelve is fine!

No, really! Being twelve is fine! Emo Max and Emo Iguana at El Morro in San Juan, 2015

For starters, now that you have all the adjustment out of the way, middle school is proving to be awesome for you. You are having a chance to stretch your brain in wonderful new ways. We always knew you were a math whiz, but you have spent all year really blowing us (and your super-Ace math teacher) out of the water. You work hard for it, to be sure, but part of why you work so hard is because you like it and you like feeling successful. Who doesn’t? Who knows, maybe you’ll become a full-time mathematician after all. Other subjects have evolved into interests, too…history, for one. You completed your very first foray into MN History Day, making it all the way to regionals (honorable mention!) by playing James J. Hill with aplomb. And gym…who knew? I don’t think you expected to enjoy it so much. But as I assured you, it’s all about showing up and doing your best, and you’ve got that skill in spades.

The Empire Builder of St. Paul. And F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Empire Builder of St. Paul. And F. Scott Fitzgerald.

But your backpack, your room, your locker (probably)? Oy. I guess you fit the Einsteinian model of messy, absent-minded professor in all respects. Good thing for technology; the ability to submit your work electronically definitely pays off.

You are just…easily absorbed, shall we say?…by the inner workings of your mind. Your imagination is as vibrant as ever, though your interests have shifted somewhat. You are a big fan of anime and manga. You love Sci-Fi and Star Trek. We bonded big-time over Harry Potter this year, and I just can’t get over how fun that was. You tell these incredible stories, full of detail and whimsy…my special favorite being the tale of the firefly and the gnome that you told us under a starry sky in a tent in NC this summer. You are still constantly, constantly reading (though now you’re always on the iPad. The danged thing.) You continue to be a caring and responsible big brother, who helps me more than I can say. If all heck is breaking loose, I feel like I can at least count on you to meet my eye over the fray of the shorter members of the family as though to say, without words, “Can you believe this?” It’s a sanity-saver. For both of us, I think.

See what you have to put up with?

See what you have to put up with?

We traveled a lot this year! First we went on our big summer road-trip to the southeast US, then just last month our family vacation (reward for putting up with FIVE YEARS of college-student parents, first one then TWO of us!) to Puerto Rico. By land or by air (haven’t tried sea), you enjoy exploring new places. You reported that your favorite parts of the road trip were visiting the City Museum in St. Louis and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. And the pizza. As for Puerto Rico you said, “Can I be honest? My favorite thing was Church’s Chicken. And cable TV. The beach was pretty nice.” So: food. Travel, and eating.  I get it: you’re a growing boy.

Off the charts at the apple orchard, fall 2014.

Off the charts at the apple orchard, fall 2014.

Case in point: you will likely be taller than, or at least as tall as, I am by your next birthday letter.

Already taller than Grandma! April 2015

Already taller than Grandma! April 2015

Sure, I am amazed at the way your body has grown, from the 8-pound, 21-inch package we brought home from the hospital to this tall and sturdy guy you’ve become. How does a body do that, in twelve short years? But more incredible to me, now and always, is how you’ve developed from the tiny, helpless baby who needed to sleep close to me, who needed us for every. thing. to this totally capable and amazing and compassionate and independent person. Someone who rides his bike where he chooses, who is learning to advocate for himself at school, who gets his own food and cleans the bathroom and who thinks these big, deep thoughts about life and shares them so eloquently.

How’d you get up there?

With you baby cousin, summer 2014.

With you baby cousin, summer 2014.

A skilled player and all-around life of the proverbial party.

A skilled player and all-around life of the proverbial party.

Your first State Fair trip. Did I mention there was food?

Your first State Fair trip. Did I mention there was food?

Training your brothers well in the art of pulling faces. Down at the lake, 2014.

Training your brothers well in the art of pulling faces. Down at the lake, 2014.

You astound me. Even in the moments when we engage in eye-roll stand-offs, you make me so proud. Exasperated, perhaps, but always, ALWAYS proud. That I was selected for the honor of raising you will always bring me up short. Oh stop rolling your eyes at that, I totally believe your spirit chose me and I’m grateful for it, OKAY?!?

You’re the first, and I know from personal experience that it isn’t easy to blaze the trail. But I hope that I had one iota of the grace you’ve had in facing down the challenges, first in line, and breaking us in. You go boldly where no one has gone before (with these two parents, anyway) and bless you for it. And I know you already know everything, c’mon MOM…but let’s us keep learning and growing together, okay personality-twin? I know I’m better for it, and I hope you will be, too.

A man of the world.

A man of the world.

Love.

Mama

Categories: Max | 2 Comments

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