You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2014.
Despite all the successes, the competence, the celebrations, it is so easy to be undone by the wrong thing going through the washing machine, the loss of that thing you just had and may be still in the house although you cannot find it anywhere, the residue of life piled high on all the furniture, blissfully ignorant of the hours you spent cleaning.
About half an hour before celebrating my 40th birthday I went to Chico’s and bought a new birthday outfit. I bought a shirt in the same light turquoise of almost every birthday shirt I wear, because it goes with my eyes and looks good. I bought a new necklace because it looked great with the shirt and new earrings to go with the necklace and because Zeke has pulled several earrings out of my ears lately and they are lost forever. Then I glanced at the sale rack and found some sparkly jeans. Bejeweled jeans. Magnificent jeans adorned with a zillion sequins.
I am pretty sure I have never owned any clothing containing so much as a single sequin. My wardrobe choices lean toward functional and away from shiny.
But if you can’t wear sparkly jeans on your 40th birthday, when can you? I wondered if I would find another occasion to wear them. I remembered that I am going to see the Indigo Girls perform tonight. Why not wear sparkly jeans? And I am going to a birthday party next weekend? SPARKLY JEANS TIME!
I think before I turned 40 I would not have looked twice at those jeans. And I would have missed out.
Just as I was filing the insurance claim for the minivan (Ghost George) in which we were rear-ended last weekend on our way to our ill-fated vacation, my husband called to say he had heard from the mechanic that our other car–my trusty 12-year-old Honda Civic (Ella)–needs a new timing belt and brake pads.
As it happened, I had the minivan into the mechanic just a few weeks ago because of a leaky tire, when they discovered my tires were all cracked and not good. Hey! Four new tires! Why not? While they were installing the tires, they discovered I needed new brake pads. The car would not pass state inspection without new brake pads, they said. Sure, install new brake pads. Why not?
Then we were rear-ended but managed NOT to hit the car in front of us, potentially saving ourselves and others from serious injury and expense. Could it have been because of the new tires and brake pads? Who knows? But let’s say it was.
So Ella needs a new timing belt and brake pads, and I am happy to give them to her, because we like to be safe. And Ella’s never had a new timing belt. That’s what credit cards are for, right? So we can be safe. I love new brake pads.
Since my last post I got the stomach bug. Then my mom got it because she and my dad generously agreed to watch Zeke for the day after we got home so we could all take it easy. Then I had a birthday, which was lovely. Then we had Easter, which had some good moments but was also exhausting, perhaps because Zeke has not slept normally in 10 days or perhaps because he is teething or perhaps because we’ve just had a rough week.
But we did make it to church this morning and here’s the poem I wrote during the sermon.
Many Daddies are standing
in doorways at the edges of the sanctuary, holding their
restless babies and toddlers.
Perhaps they are giving the Mommies a break or at least
enabling the Mommies tosit and listen with one ear to the preaching and the singing,
while listening with the other to the child who is coloring and asking
“Is this almost over?” or sleeping and stirring lightly.
During the quiet of the prayer,
the not so quiet undercurrent of
baby babble is heard. Little people wander
off and are quickly retrieved.
We were late, arriving after
one of my favorite processionals,
in the middle of the first hymn.
But others arrived later. I wonder what their stories are, but
I realize I already know.
This is the song that’s been in my head today. Because we are Unitarian, they didn’t sing it today at church, but instead sang different lyrics to the same tune. The Unitarian philosophy is what I believe, and I love the music at our church 51 Sundays a year, but sometimes I miss the hymns I grew up with. This is Easter.
I am sitting in the parking garage — 5b North — I’ve made a note of it for later — while my kids sleep in the back seat of the minivan. My daughter is moaning slightly. Outside the garage the rain is coming down in torrents. My husband is sleeping in the hotel room after spending the early part of the day in the emergency room after spending the night throwing up. Luckily my daughter only threw up once. Did I mention we’re on Spring break? Woo-hoo!
Luckily our friends who met us here in Philadelphia for a few days were still here today so I had another adult around to help out at the children’s museum. Zoe insisted that we go even though she was tired and weak. She was definitely off her game but rallied every now and then, exhibiting an encouraging burst of energy and an occasional smile. We spent a while in the craft room at the museum, a suitably low-key place to be. One table was book making. Zoe’s book was a one-page brief, which said blah blah blah blah and some other similar blahs to describe how she felt.
As I inch closer and closer to 40, which is waiting expectantly for me this weekend, I realize this is just how it is. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and — well you’ve heard that song before. Those are, indeed, the facts of life.
I used to think I needed to be happy. That you either had a good time or a bad time or were a happy person or an unhappy one. Since becoming a parent I realize it is more realistic to have a happy moment followed by an unhappy one and if you’re lucky followed by several happy ones before something else goes awry.
Did I mention on the first day of this trip we were rear-ended on the highway in what became a six-car pileup just North of the Millard Tydings Memorial Bridge over the Susquehana River and had to wait on the shoulder for the state troopers to arrive while comforting children in the car? Thankfully, no one was hurt and our car is mostly okay. Thankfully it wasn’t in a blizzard or a rainstorm or a heat wave. Thankfully our children did not scream throughout the hour we waited.
As I was writing earlier, Zoe woke up and said she was going to be sick so I quickly unlocked the door and opened hers and she thoughtfully puked all over the ground. She is typically both neat and accurate when vomiting, which is a good skill to have. I pulled out the roll of paper towels that I cleverly stowed in the car just for this vacation and brought her some. Just at that moment, Randy texted to find out where we were and say that he’d woken up, so I requested his presence in the garage. He carried Zeke in and Zoe rode in Zeke’s stroller. I was amazed that she fit, but she did.
I won’t go into details about the rest of the evening except that to say it involved calls to my parents and the pediatrician and some amount of weeping from various family members, and wet washcloths, and a trip for Zeke (nestled in Ergo and clad in raincoat) and me (clad in raincoat wearing Ergo) to the CVS to procure supplies for everyone. I asked the woman at the front desk for directions to CVS and she explained that it was three blocks away and I actually asked her to write down directions because I knew I would not remember them and it was raining and I just couldn’t deal.
Thanks be to God that at the tender hour of 9pm, the rest of my family is sleeping peacefully. Please let them all stay that way until morning.
All this is to say that perhaps one of the most significant things I’ve learned in my nearly 40 years is that we will survive and that it is imperative to suck the juice out of those beautiful moments scattered among the messy ones. Tonight: in the midst of her painful headache, Zoe asked to call to my mom, which immediately calmed her down and soothed her. Then she watched some Reading Rainbow videos. Thank goodness for the sanguine virtual presence of LeVar Burton. And she asked me to sing “Amazing Grace” to her, which also seemed to help. And Randy was willing to switch beds with her and take the sofabed because she said she was uncomfortable.
And: Zeke totally chill and taking it all in on our rainy mission. Zeke happily putting his toys in one of the hotel room cabinets and taking them out again. Zeke smiling and laughing and blowing raspberries. Zeke not puking. And Zeke finally submitting to sleep after I was very close to being out of jiggles.
Childless people have observed to me in the past that, from the outside, being a parent seems daunting or difficult or perhaps even impossible. “I could never do what you do!” they say. Or, for those actually planning to have kids, “Wow, that seems hard.”
Well, sure. It’s hard. But what’s easy that’s worth doing? Okay, maybe a few things. But what big things in life are easy that are worth doing? I have known since I was seven when I became a big sister that I wanted to be a mom. It took me longer than I expected to make that a reality, mostly because it took me a while to find the right guy to be my kids’ dad. But it all came together and there’s nothing in the universe like it. These little beings who need you so much, and you’re everything to them. Sometimes that can be overwhelming and exhausting, but also so satisfying and joyful. You sacrifice a lot, but you receive more in return. Being this person on whom your children can utterly rely, whose trust you have earned, who love you and need you and want you so relentlessly that you sometimes feel suffocated but usually feel so privileged. I am profoundly thankful for my little family. Even when they have made a mess all over me and all around me.
This trip was supposed to be a Spring break adventure–we never go away for Spring break. We always work and Zoe usually goes to camp. And this trip was supposed to be a little birthday present for me, since I am about to have a big birthday. Since Zoe was born and her birthday is two weeks before mine, we have not done much to celebrate mine. Last year I was hugely and uncomfortably pregnant with Zeke and it happened to thunderstorm on my birthday so we got pizza delivered. And all that is ok. But sometimes I feel like I should get a little treat. (I did buy myself roller skates recently, which is as close to a little red sports car kind of purchase as I would come) And I’m sure I will. But in the meantime we will drive home in the morning. I promised Zoe we could return to Philadelphia another time, maybe for a long weekend, to do all the things we had planned to do but didn’t.
In the meantime, I will just enjoy the beautiful silence of my sleeping family and hope that no one throws up on me (or anyone else) in the middle of the night. I love these guys.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — to learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! To learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!
Today at her 7th birthday party Zoe was asked to break four boards. Usually at the martial arts studio where she attends classes three days a week, you have the opportunity to break a board on your birthday. The instructors at her party asked if she wanted to break four. No pressure or anything. All her friends got up and broke boards, some on the first try but most after some extra coaching. And then it was Zoe’s turn. She had requested that I hold one of the boards, so I was on the mat, on one knee, holding the board and bracing for her punch.
Turns out she was pretty nervous. Lots of friends and family members were there to celebrate her. All eyes were on her. The punches and kicks that she does routinely and knows well were suddenly harder to execute. During every practice session she practically knocked the target out of the instructor’s hand, but when it was time to break the board, she would punch to it, not through it. In the end, it took many tries for her to break all four boards. But she did not give up, she did not get upset, she did not stop trying for even a second. She even smiled through most of it, when she wasn’t looking intensely focused. Where she gets this amazing determination, I do not know. But the girl has heart.
Her birthday present from her grandparents was, at her request, a wheelchair for her American girl doll, along with a medical kit, complete with leg cast and arm brace, for the doll. Zoe loves tending to her dolls and making them well. Who knows if she will actually fulfill her aspiration to become an obstetrician, but if she does, she will have an outstanding beside manner.
One of the tasks required for her to achieve the next belt level in martial arts (the big move from red stripe belt to yellow solid belt, which signifies the transition from intermediate to advanced skill) is to come up with a virtue you think is important and which you aspire to embody, and describe it for the instructors and your classmates. Zoe’s choice is respect. We have talked about respect many times recently at the dining room table. Today she asked, “Am I respectful?” I answered, “usually.” She seemed disappointed. I said, “nobody’s perfect, but you are generally respectful.” She said, “but I never hurt anyone’s feelings on purpose and I’m never mean.” And we agreed that was true and that’s part of being respectful. Randy pointed out that it’s also a part of respect to listen to your parents and not argue when they ask you to do something or stop doing something. But, I told Zoe, it is true that you are always kind. If I have tried to instill anything in her, it is to be kind. She was listening.
On our outing to the library last weekend, Zoe selected several chapter books and then we perused the nonfiction shelves while she looked for anything of interest. She picked out a book “Autism and Me: Sibling Stories.” I asked her why she chose it and if she knew what autism was. She said it looked interesting and no, she had no idea what autism was. So we went home and read it together. As it happens, this is a great book. It includes 14 first-person accounts by kids of what it’s like to live with their autistic siblings, for better or for worse. Zoe was fascinated. We had a good discussion about learning differences and challenges that some kids have and how everyone can be good at some things even if they have a hard time with others. This is a hard thing to remember, especially when we are always hearing this message that we should be the best at everything. Which is impossible. Last weekend after her winter swim clinic, Zoe was a little down. She reported that after every lap, she was the last one to finish and felt like everyone was staring at her. I said they probably weren’t staring so much as watching her finish, waiting to start their next lap. But I got the idea. Zoe is a strong swimmer and has improved her strokes vastly in the past year or so. But she’s not the fastest. But who cares? She can swim and not sink, and she knows how to do two actual swimming strokes and can cross the pool repeatedly doing those strokes. That’s enough for me. Actually that’s more than I could do in the pool myself. Hopefully it will be enough for her too. There are many things at which she excels, so it’s good to have some things you’re just fine at, but not the best, and remember that they’re fun anyway.
Such as martial arts. Zoe’s fierce determination has enabled her to advance over the past two years. Certainly there are other kids who are stronger and technically better at martial arts. But Zoe has heart, and she has fun. And she is equally at ease becoming a magical fairy or caring for her dolls. Not to mention caring for her actual baby brother, whom she adores. I can’t wait until he starts learning martial arts from her. He already enjoys playing with her dolls, although he mostly tends to slobber on their heads or poke their eyes. In a brilliant marriage of her interests, I managed to find a martial arts uniform for Zoe’s American girl doll. And in an uncharacteristic moment of craftiness, I managed to put the logo of Zoe’s martial arts studio on the back of the doll’s jacket, to match the new uniform we gave Zoe for her birthday. I am not a crafty person, but I wanted to do something extra special for Zoe, because she’s an extra special kid.
Happy birthday, Zoe. I love you and admire you so much. Love, Mommy
Later this month I am participating in Glennon Melton’s Messy, Beautiful Warriors project on Momastery. This means I will be writing a post that is linked to Momastery and maybe, if I’m lucky, it will be reposted there. I am a big fan of Glennon so I am excited about this opportunity.
What’s in it for you? A free book! Because I said I would write about being a messy, beautiful warrior, Glennon sent me a copy of her book to give away. I own it and I’ve read it and it’s great. Randy even read it, and he mostly reads tech blogs and news and books about programming, so that’s a testimonial right there.
Any reader who makes a thoughtful comment on my blog in April, and who says he or she would like to be entered in the drawing for the book, will be eligible.
Coming soon–reflections on birthdays and messy beauty!