The Little Years

I am in the little years.

The days drag but the years fly.

Overwhelmed by the demands of life, and overjoyed by the delights of toddlers.  I am too often too exhausted to enjoy the fun, and I long for bedtime so I can rest.

I want to work, but I feel guilty when I’m away.  I want to be home, but I feel drained by the demands of little boys.  I want to stay home; I want to work.  I want to play; I want to be alone.

Facebook reminds me that the years zoom by.

Piles of dishes and laundry call.  One boy poops his pants, and another scrapes his knee. One screams when his brother takes his toy.  Milk drips off the table, pooling on the floor.  An endless cycle of little kid crises.

In the midst of the crying and wiping, I wonder if I’m good enough for my children.  I want them to have everything while being grateful for everything they have.  I want to love them perfectly; I know I fuss too much.  I want to create a safe, clean home for them.  I want them to experience a happy childhood; I feel inadequate.  I am torn between work and home and play and chores.

In the ultrasound room, the expectant mother and I look intently for a flicker on the screen.  We stare, desperate to see the flutter of hope, future, joy.  It is not there.  No movement, no life.  We cry for a baby not meant to be.  My arms ache for my own babies, and I long to feel their breath on my skin, their hearts beating against my chest.

Mommy, say yes to go fish and hide-and-seek and play-dough and pretend, because the little years are flowing by, like a river rushing; I try to catch these moments as they slip between my fingers.

Now I have family pictures of me with boys in my lap and clinging to my legs, but too soon I will be the smallest one in the picture, surrounded by grown men.  I don’t want to wish away the little years, tired of the demands.

I have so many drawings and “I love you” notes I ran out of room on the refrigerator.  I hear toddlers singing “Jesus Loves Me” and I don’t want their voices to change.  At 6 am, the door creaks open and a toddler snuggles up to me in bed, and I kiss him and love him so much I can’t breathe.

But I struggle to live in the moment, love the little years, forget crises and messes that make up our day.

I want to be with them; I want to be away.

This is a time of love, and a time of labor.

These are the little years.

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Half Brave

I am half brave.

This is why I spent the afternoon vomiting off the side of a diving boat into the Atlantic Ocean as schools of fish swarmed below.

My father, who is 100% brave, organized a diving party for our Bahama Vacation.  My mother, who is 5% brave, said “No way, I will read on the beach while you dive.”

My twin sister, who inherited my father’s bravery gene, said, “I’m in.”

I, who got a little bravery from both parents said, “I don’t know…that sounds really scary…but I want to….but maybe it’s too scary….but it would be cool…but freaky…and an amazing opportunity…so I’ll try it?”

Yes, they said, try it in the pool they said, breathe they said, you’ll be fine, they said.

My dad and I planned our tactics, that I would use my yoga breathing, prana, to remain calm in the pool.  He would help me remember the number one rule of diving: keep breathing.  I practiced yoga before we left, to center my breath.  I was ready.

We watched our diving video, geared up, and jumped in the pool.

I submerged my head, regulator in my mouth.

Prana, breath of fire, breath of life, I am brave, prana, fire breath….ok ok ok

We moved to the middle of the pool to practice our critical diving skills.

I kept myself under control…Prana, breath of fire, breath of life, I am brave, prana, fire breath…until the skill where we slowly let water into our masks to defog them and then blow it out under water.

As I watched water slowly fill the dive instructor’s mask, I could only think of a person trapped in a glass box as it fills with water.  FYI not good imagery for someone trying not to panic underwater.

I maintained my cool long enough to complete the skill then leaped out of the water, hyperventilating.

“Why did you come up?  What’s wrong?”  The dive instructor asked, emerging from the water.

“It’s too scary!”  I shrieked.  “It’s so scary!”

“But you completed your skills perfectly!”  He responded.  “You’re doing fine!”

“I know!  But it’s like a freaking horror movie in there, man!  AAARGH!”  I yelled, struggling to calm my breathing.  “A HORROR MOVIE!”

“Hm,” he said, looking doubtfully into the clear four foot water where Beth and her boyfriend swam below.  “You calm down, we’ll talk more later.”

He submerged to help the others.  I took a deep breath, replaced my regulator, and dove back under.  I completed the training, and decided to try the dive.  I would be brave.

As if a fear of being underwater isn’t enough to make me a poor diver, there is also the matter of my seasickness.  As in I look at a boat and get sick.  I was so busy conquering my fear of water that I had pushed that little fact to the back of my mind.  It became a fact at the forefront of my mind as soon as the boat took off.  I focused on the horizon, trying to be cool while the experienced divers around me prepared their equipment like navy seals about to enter battle.

“Are you excited?”  Asked my dad.

“Well…um…if you call the feeling you have before getting a root canal excited,” I responded.

“Are you feeling sick?”

I nodded, struggling to keep it together.

“Mind over matter!  Breathe deep!  You can do it!”  My dad coached, patting me on the back encouragingly.  Motion sickness and fear are foreign to him.  He jumps out of airplanes, off mountains, and into shark infested water without a second thought.  I nodded and gave him a thumbs-up, thinking that people like him belong on this boat, not people like me.

We reached the dive site and were instructed to put on our gear.  I started buckling up, but immediately got sick over the side of the boat.  But with my dad’s help, I got my gear on and walked into the ocean as instructed.  I clung to the rope off the back of the ship as the others jumped in behind me.

I put on my regulator and sank underwater.  I am brave, prana, breathe in, breathe out, breath of fire, I am brave….

Suddenly fear overtook me again, and I bolted to the surface.

“I can’t do this!” I shrieked.  To the dive instructor’s concerned queries I could only yell, “It’s too scary!  It’s so scary!”

“This happened to you in the pool, remember?  You were ok, yes?”  He asked.

I nodded, yes.

“Ok, calm your breathing, you are ok, we can do this.”

I nodded and focused, yes, I can conquer this.  I have always wanted to see the underwater world.  I will do this.

“You put your hand on my vest, hang on to me and I’ll descend.  Just worry about your breathing,” He said.

I nodded and grabbed his vest with a vice like grip.  We descended again, the ocean water closing over our heads.  In, out, in, out, prana, breath of fire, I am brave… when panic threatened, I looked the instructor in the eye, he motioned that we were ok, and we continued to descend…I am brave, breath of fire, I am ok…He took my hand off his vest and placed it on the rope.  He turned away, and I lost eye contact and looked around at the endless, limitless ocean, the surface far above me.  I thought about going further down and staying there, and suddenly I couldn’t anymore.  Terror reigned.  I swam back to the surface, to quit for good.

“What happened?  Why did you come back up?”  Asked the instructor as he emerged behind me.

“I just can’t!”  I sobbed.  “It’s too scary.  I can’t do this.”

“Are you sure?”  He asked.

“YES!”  I said, vomiting again into the ocean.

The boat driver pulled me aboard, and I rocked miserably on the side of the boat for the rest of the dive, wishing I were smart enough to stay on shore with my mom, or brave enough to be on the bottom of the ocean with my dad.  Half brave isn’t any good at all.

My dad, family and friends say they are proud of me.  Proud that I tried, proud that I faced my fears, even if I didn’t conquer them.

When I was a little girl, my dad tried to get me to ride the Big Bad Wolf roller coaster at Busch Gardens.  He said he’d buy an “I rode the big bad wolf” T-shirt for anyone who went with him.  Beth got the T-shirt.  I did not.

After our dive, I sat in the Jacuzzi at the resort, pondering my half-bravery, wondering if I should feel proud or ashamed of myself.  I glanced up and saw my dad, a big dish of ice cream in hand.  He grinned down at me.

“Here, this is for you,” he said.

I smiled.  I was too wimpy to earn a “Big Bad Wolf” t-shirt, but I did get raisin-rum ice cream in the Bahamas.  Because I am half-brave.

 

 

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Boo Boo Baby

“Mom!”  Stephen said, coming inside, “Adrian’s friend is making fun of me and saying ‘na-na-na-na boo boo baby’ to me!”

“Just ignore her,” I advise.

“I keep throwing dirt on her to make her stop,”  He said, exasperated.  “But she keeps saying it anyway.”  He shook his head in bewilderment.

Yes, strange.  Who could have predicted the failure of dirt-throwing as a method to get a Kindergartner to stop teasing?   Maybe we need to work on our problem solving techniques.

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Modern Childhood

My mom and I spent the night with Stephen and Adrian in a hotel on the north side of town for a spring break stay-cation.

When we turned on the TV, Adrian asked, “Where are the shows?”

“They’re on the channels,” I said.  “You have to flip through the channels to see what’s on.”

“But where are my shows?” He asked.

“They’re not here, there’s not a library of your shows.  You just have to see what’s on right now.”

We channel-surfed, Adrian looking very confused about the process.  We found a movie and watched for a little while, then decided to go down to dinner.  I turned off the TV.

“Mom!” Stephen exclaimed.  “Why didn’t you just pause it!?”

“It’s live TV,” I said.  “You can’t pause it.”

The boys looked at me blankly.

“TV shows come on at a certain time, on certain channels,” I explained.  “When you don’t have DVR or Netflix, you have to watch them at the time they are on.  And you can’t save it for later.  That’s always how it was when I was a kid.  Shows only actually come on once a week, at a certain time, and if you want to watch it, you have to watch it at that time on a particular channel.”

“Why didn’t we get a better hotel that’s not like the olden days?”  Stephen asked.

Grandma stepped in.  “When I watched TV as a kid, you had to actually get up to change channels.  And there were only 3 channels,” she volunteered.

Stephen shook his head in amazement.  “Let’s just go,” he said.  “I’ll play my kindle and watch TV at home!”

Oh, the stresses of a modern childhood….

 

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Safety Tips

“Ok, hold mommy’s hand,” I said as we crossed the street leaving the YMCA.  “Do you see any cars?”

“No!” Said Reid.  “It danj-ous, Mommy?”  He asked.

“That’s right, we have to be careful, because the street is dangerous.”

“Cars don’t squish us!”  Chimed in Will.

“Right, we don’t want to get squished by a car.”

“Bad guys don’t shoot us!”  He added.

“No, we don’t want to get shot either.”

“Dinosaurs don’t eat us!”

“No, that would be bad too.  So watch out for cars, bad guys, and dinosaurs in the parking lot.”

Safety rules covered.

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MOPS talk

This morning, I was given the honor of speaking at the MOPs (Moms of Preschoolers) group at First Presbyterian Church.  I thought I would share my speech here as well.

***

I started young; I got married when I was 22 after graduating from college, and got pregnant 3 months later.  I was in the middle of ultrasound school, and had no idea about parenting.  But being me, I hunkered down and focused on what was truly important: school.  Then on July 10, with my due date being July 17, it occurred to me that I was having a baby next week and should possibly get a clue about babies.  So I attended one MOPs meeting and then went into labor.  

I had a very difficult, even traumatic, delivery.  For the first time in my life, I experienced depression and really struggled in the early months of Stephen’s life.  MOPs was critical for me in that time; I sorely needed the support, companionship, and advice of other moms.  

At my first meeting, after finally dropping Stephen off at the nursery (and you all know how hard it is to drop your baby off that first time…both emotionally and physically…is his diaper changed?  Did I nurse him enough?  Is his bag packed with the extra clothes, pacifier, bottle, diapers, desitin, hat, wipes, swaddle blanket, extra swaddle blanket just in case, and the socks he needs to survive 90 minutes without me??)  but after a successful dropoff, I ran into another mom who greeted me warmly.  I looked down only to find my black shirt smeared with what appeared to be either snot or spit up.  I sighed.  “Well,” I said, “I’m here.  But I don’t know the last time I showered or brushed my hair.  And now I just realized I have something gross on my shirt!”  My eyes began to well with tears.  But she just laughed, hugged me, and said, “You and everybody else!  You’re in exactly the right place!”  And I was.

So usually at this point, when I’ve talked about “my first son” and my “other son” and my “youngest sons,” I see people’s faces squinching up trying to do the mental math.  “Um…how many sons do you actually have?”  Someone once asked me.  So here’s the rundown: I have four sons, they are 8, 5, 2 ½ and 2 ½.  Squinchy faces again.  Yes, 2 2 ½ year olds, yes twins.  I know, crazy, but that wasn’t my idea, trust me.  So now it’s funny to look back and think about how hard it was getting to MOPs with one baby.  Now if I only have to take one baby it’s a cake walk!

As I’ve gotten better at packing 4 boys into a van, usually most of them have shoes on, we are lucky to get 50% on coats, I’ve also gotten more perspective on parenting.  As my sons grow older, I have realized that my role as a parent really changes from taking care of them to shepherding them.  I think this can be a difficult transition for moms to realize when to start letting go, and how early that needs to happen.

When our babies are truly babies, our job is to meet their needs.  They are totally helpless, and do need mom to do everything.  We have to feed them, change their diapers, and help them sleep.  When they cry, we jump to meet their need.  And that is how it should be.  But somewhere around two, we have to start moving away from doing everything to enabling them to do things for themselves.  I’ve noticed this is harder for people who have fewer children, and they have to make more of a conscious effort to let their kids do things.  

But when I had 4 kids aged 5 and under, this was not optional.  I literally couldn’t do everything for everyone.  Everyone had to do what they could to their ability, and wait their turn if they needed help.  2 weeks after the twins were born, I had an epiphany about this.  

Stephen was halfway through Kindergarten, and as a good mama with her firstborn just starting school, I dutifully packed his lunch, checked his backpack, and packed his books.  I made sure he had tennis shoes for gym day and his book for library day.  I made sure his homework was in his red folder on Fridays.  Then a week after the twins were born…lo and behold….I forgot his library book.  When he came home from school, he chastised me for it.  “Mommy!” He said, “You forgot to put my library book in my bag!  I couldn’t check out a new book!  Don’t do that again!”  Of course, I was initially offended.  He’s the one who forgot, after all!  It’s his book!  

But then I realized: really, it was my fault.  I hadn’t taught him it was his job.  I had taught him it was mine by taking it on all year.  I apologized, and told him that I wouldn’t be remembering his library book again.  I told him I should never have been putting it in his backpack in the first place.  He would have to remember library day, and everything else for that matter, himself.  Now although Stephen is a very smart boy, I fear he will become the absent minded professor.  He whizzes through math, reads easily, and helps me through the high levels of Candy Crush.  But when it comes to finding his shoes, or his coat, or his homework, he has no idea.  Completing a task efficiently?  Seemingly beyond him.  It literally takes him 20 minutes to brush his teeth because he gets so distracted singing to himself in the mirror.

But between tandem nursing twins and potty training Adrian, I didn’t have the time or energy to micromanage Stephen any more.  And I realized it wasn’t good for him anyway.  Remembering is one thing that doesn’t come easily to Stephen.  Since I quit reminding him, he’s missed recess because he has to spend it doing the homework he forgot, he’s walked to school after missing the bus, and he’s been hungry after forgetting his lunch.

But then at the end of last semester, Stephen came home with a past-due library slip.  He couldn’t check out any books because he didn’t return the last book he got.  I said, “Bummer.  I guess if you can’t find it you’ll have to pay for it.”  He couldn’t find the book and kept returning home with past-due notices.  I said nothing about it.

Then one morning, he came up the stairs wearing a new vest.

“That vest looks good on you, Stephen!” I said.

“Thanks,” he said.  “I’m wearing it because I needed something with pockets.”

“Why do you need pockets today?” I asked.

“I have to bring my wallet to school, because I saved my allowance.  It’s library day and I want to check out a book, so I have to bring my money and pay for the book I lost.”  He put his jacket on, grabbed his bag, and opened the door.  “See ya!”  He said, leaving with Adrian for the bus.

I watched him walk down the driveway, realizing the difference between this library day and that library day 2 years ago.  It took a lot of tongue-biting to let him forget things and miss the bus, but now I am seeing the long-term results.  Every day, I see how Stephen is becoming a young man.  

Stephen realizes this also.  He brought home had a reading sheet last year that told a story about a little eagle who learned to fly.  Then she told her mother she was hungry and asked for help getting food.  The mother said, “No, I won’t help you.  You have to hunt on your own now,” and flew away.  I asked Stephen if he thought the mommy eagle was being mean, and why he thought she said “no” to her hungry baby.

“She wasn’t being mean,” Stephen said.  “She just had to learn it for herself.”

Now that I am experiencing the toddler years for the third time as the twins quickly approach 3, I say ‘no’ a lot more to them than I would have to Stephen.  I’m sure these phrases are familiar to you: “Get my cup!”  “I need that over there!”  “Get my shoes!”  “help me now!”  To all of these, I say no.  If he is capable of performing the task, I expect him to do it.  If he is barely capable, I allow him to struggle before I step in.

And yet even as I was editing this talk, I violated my own principles! 

Adrian and Stephen get dressed, breakfasted, and ready for school by themselves.  Liking to “sleep in” (until 6:50), I usually wake up a few minutes before they go to the bus and say goodbye.  But when I emerged from my room, 3 minutes before they needed to leave for the bus, they were in the basement glued to the Kindles they got for Christmas.  

Being the kind, thoughtful, loving mother that I am, I decided to harass them.

“Stephen!  Adrian!  You’re going to be late!  Hurry up!  Turn off your game!  Let’s go!  Hurry up!”  I said (very lovingly).

And my wonderful children, knowing that I do it all for love, shouted, “We know mom!  We just have to finish this first!”

“No!  I said put it away!  Now!  Hurry up!  You’re going to be late!”

“Just a minute!  We don’t want to turn off our game!”

Then I seized the Kindles forcibly, to protesting: “Mooom!  I wasn’t done yet!  Geez!”

*Kids stomp angrily out the door while I lecture, “You aren’t going to be allowed to play games before school if this is how you act!  You need to be able to turn it off when it’s time! Oh….and I love you and have a good day….”  *door slams*

After the door slams, I sigh angrily, feeling frustrated, the weight of the confiscated kindles in my hand.  Then I wonder, “why did I just do that?  I know better than that!  Making the bus is their problem!”  And I resolved yet again not to do such a thing.

But fortunately, they gave me opportunity to try again just the next day!  The next day, Tuesday, I emerge from my room 3 minutes before they need to leave for the bus.  They are in the basement, glued to their Kindles.  And I do not go downstairs.  I go to the kitchen to make my coffee and watch the clock tick.  

Oooh, they’re going to miss the bus.  They’re going to miss it this time.  I really want to say something…I should just say one little thing…no no no….it’s their problem, it’s their problem, they can read a clock….but they’re going to miss it….but it’s their problem….they can walk….make my coffee…..6:59 clicks on the clock…..7:00….

Then I hear footsteps on the stairs.  And two little heads pop out of the stairwell.  They hug and kiss me as they run by….”Bye mom, love you!”

“Bye,” I call, “Have a great day!”

And as the door closed, I felt happy and pleased with my sons.  We all learned today that they are capable of managing themselves; another step was made on their path to independence.  Yesterday, they were belittled and reminded that mom is grumpy and doesn’t believe in them.  Which message do I want my sons taking to school in the morning?

Refraining from rescuing my children presents itself uniquely with each of them.  My second son, Adrian, has a congenital eye disorder that affects his sight.  It would require eye muscle surgery to correct, and the doctor said they don’t recommend the surgery except in extreme cases.  Adrian may need surgery eventually.  But I have decided not to worry about it.  Adrian has to learn to operate in the world of his peers with whatever vision he has.  This story has been a particular inspiration to me:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeFRkAYb1uk

“Nor have I seen anyone quite as remarkable as Ben’s mom.  I think that’s a lot of the secret to Ben’s amazing talents.”  Said the dr.

If you watch the entire documentary, here, his mom talks about when he woke up at 3 years old after eye-removal surgery and cried because he couldn’t see.  She told, “Baby, yes you can see.  You can see with your hands, and you can see me with your nose, and you can see with your ears.  You can’t use your eyes any more, but you can still see.”  She cried in her room alone, but in front of Ben, she maintained confidence in him and told him he was ok.  Imagine sitting at your son’s bedside after having his eyes removed and telling him it’s all going to be ok.  But she believed in him, she taught him a reality that he could see.  She allowed him to do what all the other kids were doing despite his disability, and he rose to the challenge, exceeding all expectations for his abilities.  As a teenager in that clip, he said, “I don’t consider myself blind.  Ain’t nothing wrong with me.”  His mother is the one who taught him that; she gave him sight.  That is the power of a mother.

Whenever I wonder, “Is this too hard for Adrian?”  Or my mom says, “Maybe Adrian can’t see well enough to do that…”  I say, “if the blind kid can do it, Adrian can do it.”  I am trying to be a brave and good enough mom to let my eagles test their wings.  I want to give my sons vision, a vision for who they could be that is greater than what the world ever expected.

Our children thrive when we believe in them, and when we allow them to develop their skills, not when we shelter them or solve all their problems.

As I was preparing for this talk, I realized how this thinking about parenting is truly a Christian perspective.  God the father did not shelter his Son from suffering.  God came alongside his son, and loved his son, but he did not save him from pain.

As I raise boys in an increasingly violent and sexual culture, I see my job as their mother becoming ever more important.  Accepting the phrase “boys will be boys” or accepting that something like pornography is “normal” will not happen.  I am holding my sons to high standards.  Even though I want to protect them, I know that I can’t.  And even more than that, I know that I shouldn’t.  Because I’m not raising boys; I’m raising men.

 

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Best Friends

Will looked at Reid one morning, smiled kindly, and said, “We’re best friends, Reid-ee!”

Reid’s face instantly soured.  “No!”  He yelled.  “We’re BIG BOYS!”

Will looked confused.  “Reid-ee,” he persisted, “But we’re best friends.”

Reid looked angrier and yelled, “NO we’re not!  We’re BIG BOYS!”

Will’s angelic countenance disappeared and he yelled, “We’re BEST FRIENDS,” followed by a hard shove to Reid’s chest.

Reid pushed him back and they both started crying.  “We’re big boys!”  Reid wailed.

I stepped in.  “Guys, guys!”  I said.  “You don’t need to fight!  You’re both right.  You are best friends AND big boys!”

“Big boys?”  Reid sniffled.

“Yes, you’re big boys.”

“Best friends?”  Will sniffled.

“Yes, you can be best friends and big boys at the same time!”  I informed them.

They smiled.  “We best friends AND big boys!”  Will said.  They happily returned to playing.

Glad we cleared that one up!

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