Monday, November 02, 2015

One Decade

One night 13 years ago I was studying for my Civil Procedure exam.  I had spent weeks memorizing all these intricate rules and exceptions and so and and so forth when suddenly, the night before the exam, it hit me like a thunderbolt from the blue:  the entire course was about how to file an action in civil court.  I knew so much about it, and yet I hadn't really understood anything because the whole point of it had eluded me.

I think I do that with life, all the time.  Andrew turned ten yesterday and I either need to plunge into some deep exploration of the changes I need to make in myself or I need some medication because I am feeling heartsick and desperate about it.  Have I been a good enough mom?  Did he have a happy childhood?  Did we fill those years with the right things, in the right way?  Did I waste it?

Since I was a kid myself, before ten, I have been unhealthily aware of time, and yet somehow a whole decade still got by me.  A little baby is now halfway through with growing up, and these last 8 years at home, two fewer than we have had together so far, will be marked by an increasing separation.  He will be peeling off of the foundation provided, by which I really mean to say, he will be peeling himself off of me.  I know how unhealthy that sounds.  But when your baby is born, adhesion is just basically the most accurate characterization of the relationship between mom and baby.  In Andrew's case that was especially true.  He could not remain asleep, even, if he were not resting right atop someone's chest.  He seemed to require that he burrow deeply into the embrace of another person.  I spent the first four to six months of his life with him connected to me.  At night, Brigham and I took turns snuggling him, his personal sleep-support system.  The kid didn't sleep independently until he was 2 and Will's birth ejected him into his own room.

And now that baby is ten.  He's gone through his phases:  dressing in costumes for his daywear, obsessions with certain movies (Cars), or toys (monster trucks and Lightning McQueen), or little tv shows (Scooby Doo).  Life with little tiny kids is so exhausting that we welcome the growing independence and the little changes, sometimes without registering that these changes are what the whole thing is about.  He wasn't born to be a baby or a little kid, he was born to be an adult and that's what he is going to be.  Soon.

I am reading To The Lighthouse right now, so that's another strike against mental health right there.  In it, the main character realizes that her children will never be as happy again as they are in their childhoods.  That is a sad thought, but I disagreed, based on my own life--which was characterized by a happy childhood.  I feel like being a young mom has been the most real period in my own life, and much of it my kids won't really even remember.  Already don't remember.  They are the center of my life but I am not to be the center of theirs, and they will only vaguely recall those early years when I was.  This is where the advice comes in to live your own life and not have your world revolve around your kids.  I can see the value in that counsel, for sure.  I am not prepared to say which is the best way, though.  Maybe, though, that is part of what it means to give wholly of yourself to your kids.  Not as a martyr.  That description feels demeaning to the holy sacrifices involved in parenting.  But rather in the way that Christ taught us to love one another and the way that He loved us, living each day of His life for us.  In a way that they will understand when they grow up and become parents, giving of themselves for their children.

Ok, at ten Andrew is a lot of fun and very companionable.  He is a diligent if disorganized student, a usually sweet and supportive brother--who yet also will earnestly admit to feelings of jealousy over perceived lack of attention, and very helpful.  Last month I somehow had all five kids in Costco at the dinner hour.  And Halloween costumes were up, as were Christmas toys.  Everything fell into pandemonium and it became necessary to heave Claire back into the cart and bolt out of there.  Charlie nearly toppled from my front pack in the effort, and Claire banged her flailing leg on the side of the cart.  She screamed and sobbed in pain and frustration and jealousy, since I was holding Charlie during her moment of need.  Andrew just casually swept over and scooped her out of the cart and into his arms, where she settled down.  I plan on doing a little interview with him and asking him some questions about himself and his goals for the future, but for right now I think that little anecdote summarizes Andrew right now. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Day 2

This morning I walked Will to his second day of second grade.  I have been building up to this task for almost a year now, since we live so close, but today was the first day when the four small bodies obstructing this path and the eating reluctance that runs the clock out on it were all finally cleared.

We walked, we chatted, Charlie sat perfectly content (or perhaps overwhelmed into silence by the shock of leaving his property for the first time since returning to Texas), the cars whizzed by and we entered the school through the back by the track, the place we went for his Tiger Cub picnic a few weeks after Charlie was born.

I worry so little about Will these days.  Everything comes so easily to him, or maybe he so easily to it.  He's confident and happy, easy to please.  When I picked him up after violin practice yesterday, it had basically fallen off my radar that it had been his first day.  "Second grade is going to be fun!" he announced to me with a grin as we sweated our way to the parking lot, preempting a question I had forgotten to even ask.  I also tend to experience fewer feelings of nostalgia over his growing up than I do with the other kids--the side-effect of having an older brother to broach new vistas of childhood first and younger siblings whose transformations are more pronounced.

But today as he scampered confidently off in the direction of his new classroom, not a hesitation about where or how or with whom he would go, I was struck by the small shock of his growing independence.  He disappeared in the swarm of kids and a day that will be all his own.

I spent the rest of the day taking excessive footage of the four kids who spent the day at home.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

In With the New

Somehow another school year is upon us already, pressing its Type A face with its schedules and time tables and homework into our darkened windows where we are oversleeping.  Two days after arriving back in Houston from our East Coast Summer, I felt grateful that we were able to invade my parents' house for 6 weeks.  Every inconvenience associated with suitcase living and crowded beds was dwarfed by all the fun moments spent with family and friends, doing old, familiar Virginia things and having the opportunity to try out new ones (like taking a trip to NYC).  It is nice to be in our home again but I think we will be summer travelers from now on.

Will is the first to head back, with his first day tomorrow.  Andrew starts the following week and Porter the Tuesday after.  Will is excited to start 2nd grade and is not put out at all by the fact that his brothers get an extra week off.  He will begin his first season of flag football and his second year with the Fiddling Lions.  His goal is to get his name of the principal's list displayed in the school hallway.  We think the way to do this is straight As.  He got straight As last year but for some reason they don't include 1st graders.  His plan to help anyone feeling left out is to simply ask, "Want to play?"  I figured cementing a catch-phrase in their brains to reach out to others is better than long lectures on kindness.  At this stage, playing together is the cure-all.

Porter will start Kindergarten at Pines Presbyterian Preschool rather than joining Will at BHE.  It is a shorter day running from 9-1 and will give him more time to slow down and be little.  There will only be 10 other kids in the class and he will have two teachers.  He has become very fascinated with Will's violin and is eligible to enroll in the BHE violin program with Will, so, against my lazy inclinations, he will participate in that, too.  It will be a pain for me, but I am hoping that I am striking while the iron is hot musically.  I think it will be a wonderful year for him.  I am glad I figured out a way to win back that extra time that his April birthday steals, even if only for one year, since he will finish high school with all the other 2010 babies.  For this year, at least, we get to a few extra hours at home where he can play with Claire and make Charlie smile and be part of the at-home orbit.  

Andrew is officially old to me now.  I am cheating time in two ways here:  first, his late birthday puts him behind a school year (when I was his age I was entering 5th) and second, the sweet nature of his all-boys school keeps him that much more innocent.  But all my cheats notwithstanding, he is still over half-way on his years at home.  I feel like the word "years" is itself a form of deception.  It is not marking off a very long chunk of time, and if it weren't for the fact that it is how long it takes the planet to revolve around the sun, I would propose a different measure.

Andrew has agreed after much encouragement to participate in x-country.  He went running with me this summer and was far more capable of the four miles we did than I was.  I am no athlete, but I had a bit of endurance.  My dad was the same way, and it seems like Andrew is, too.  While I am a little nervous that he will hate the sport as applied in Houston in August, he seems proud to announce his anticipated participation so far.

He gave a talk in primary today.  The assigned subject was "Miracles."  I had totally forgotten until this morning, but we sat together and prepared it fairly easily.  I am trying to make everything formulaic for them so they can grasp how to go about things in their lives better.  I always felt so clueless and lost.  After he introduced himself and defined the term, he launched into two family stories illustrating the principle.  One was about George Q Cannon's mission to the Hawaii at age 18, where he experienced the gift of tongues and was blessed to taste as sweet a bitter root he had found disgusting.  The second was the story of my dad's conversion.  He made it sound like he had been raised in the Church but had resisted the Gospel, but the point still came across well.  His whole life he had been firmly atheist.  It is hilarious to think of non-believing little boy, but he really never believed in God or Heaven or life after death.  After my mom joined the church, the missionaries became a fixture in our home and he was eventually baptized.  I had always suspected that he had just joined to support my mom and us, and under the theory that there was no harm in living a Christian life even if the whole thing was silliness.  But when my friend was investigating the church during my high school years, he shared an experience he had had with the missionaries.  He said that during one discussion, the missionary turned to him and said, "Can you not feel the Spirit that is in this room right now?"  My dad could not reply because the Spirit was so strong that he was totally overcome.

That story stunned me.  Up until that point, I really believed my dad was a "no harm in going" kind of member.  I have always been grateful to know of this spiritual experience he had.  We need to know these things about one another.  Sometimes we need to borrow light to keep ours from snuffing out.  I realize that it sounds like just another conversion story, remarkable to the people involved, but not miraculous.  But to me, knowing my dad, knowing how logical his mind was and how skeptical (he once said he didn't really like reading the D&C bc he felt like it was just Joseph Smith telling people what to do), the fact that he felt the Holy Spirit testify of the Gospel in such a way that rendered him speechless, well that is a miracle.  I am grateful for the witness it has provided to me and that it can provide to my kids, who loved him so much.

Andrew did such a great job and I marveled out how much he had grown in the course of a year.  The most coherent part of last year's talk was when he, after mumbling some sentence fragments, crumbled up his sheet of paper and tried (and failed) to make a basket in the trashcan.  He was trying to be funny and funnel away his embarrassment back then, but what a difference from today.  One of his primary leaders asked if she could take a photo of the notes he brought up with him.  I asked him which part she seemed to be interested in and he replied, over his pearler bead project he was making for me, "Probably the end because that was the best part.  Mom."  I had written out the ending for him to read since he had trouble winding it back down.  We are as close to his leaving on his mission as we are to him calling out "Aaami, are you?" and hooking his little arm around my neck when we read books on the floor.

Wherever it is that the time goes, there are some pretty adorable little memories swirling around, too.  I wish I could visit.        

Friday, January 02, 2015

Christmas 2014

I had high hopes of cultivating some new Houston Christmas traditions but alas I was too weary.  We attended Andrew's school production of A Christmas Carol, which was truly extraordinarily well done. I wish I had invited other people because it was probably the best live action rendering I have ever seen.  We sat on rolled up mats in the wrestling room and watched through the open-air windows, since the seating there was superior to our folded chairs on the deck.  Claire repeatedly requested "nursers!", Will and Porter demonstrated their incapacity to sit still for any length of time, and Andrew sat with his classmates in the choir probably not singing and it was perfect.  The night was beautiful and balmy, the play of perfect length (under an hour), capped off with cookies and chocolate milk under the huge great oak, dripping with oversized glowing lights, while kids ran wild in the dark adjoining field.  I loved it.

We took the boys to Toys R Us one night to buy gifts for each other.  Porter couldn't stop shopping for himself.  I can slightly understand, though, since he is the easiest one to shop for.  I couldn't stop shopping for him myself, and ended up having to give one of his presents to Will to even things out when wrapping time came.

The sister missionaries came for Christmas Eve dinner, which brought a lot of cheer, particularly to the boys who went wild with the attention of it all.  Brigham and I spent all day cooking up a feast of mashed potatoes (still in the fridge), fresh french bread, ham, tenderloin and green bean casserole.

After the sisters left, we read Luke 2, opened one present each, pulled out the Christmas pajamas we bought 2 Christmases ago (that would be 2012) and sent the boys to bed.  Then Brigham and I enjoyed my favorite of our traditions:  wrapping all the presents together while watching Its A Wonderful Life.  I kept thinking how we watched this movie in our townhouse when we just had two little tiny boys, and in the basement of our home in McLean.  How happy and especially in love with this man who has given me my own wonderful life--a life that seems to keep increasing in happiness so much that I feel nervous that something is about to befall and rupture this delicate bubble of joy--I feel every time we set to wrapping under the glow of this old movie.

Christmas morning was sweet.  Everyone had one big gift (a lego set for Andrew, a scooter for Will, a Playmobil Dragon Castle set for Porter and a kitchen for Claire (and Porter).  I bought a bunch of book collections at costco, including the Little House series.  I am usually so cheap about stupid stuff and I am glad I got over that to invest in some wonderful children's literature.  We read the Christmas chapter out of Little House on the Prarie and I almost cried.  I want to read a Christmas chapter from her or something similar every year from now on.

We got to Skype with Katie on her mission in Ireland, which was a lot of fun.  Brigham has a wonderful family and it brought back a lot of memories from being a missionary in Chile to see her.

Later that night we had Christmas dinner with the Hickman family, our home away from home.  The kids had a wonderful time playing in their playroom, eating their delicious dinner and getting showered with the attention of the Hickman kids, whom even Claire allowed to hold and cuddle her.  The elders were there, which was a lot of fun.  We played a game at the end of the evening and I felt such a happiness looking over and seeing Porter stretched contentedly across the laps of two of the Hickman kids while Andrew and Will raucously and somewhat cluelessly participated in the game.  After one of the elders played a beautiful rendition of a Christmas medley on the piano, I felt our Christmas festivities, though they may not have been all I had hoped to accomplish, were plenty and sufficient.  I am so grateful to families who can open their homes to us when we don't have family here.

I had wanted to inculcate some volunteerism, some hand-made-gifting, some special service into our season but at the end of the day all I managed was loading Will down with Toys for Tots, one hand-made ornament each and a lot of baking and delivering of cookies and bread on Christmas Eve morning (the kids were actually thrilled with this one, at least).  Our cousins had the great idea of the kids hand-making presents for each other and I'd like to attempt that next year.  We squeaked out a Christmas card that probably didn't arrive until after Christmas to 49 people (I wouldn't let Brigham order more bc last year's cards are in my dresser still.)

I was unsatisfied with our photographic recording of our season so today, when we took down the tree,  I forced everyone to pose for me.  Our undecorating efforts will photographically substitute for our decorating ones.  It is great to just let things be good enough.

I have been feeling even more on edge with my over the top unabating nostalgia lately because we are in such a sweet spot with our kids.  Andrew, at 9, is still a little boy, but only just barely.  I think 10 is really wading out into some tween waters.  He is a great kid and as he has gotten older he has shown such wonderful new sides to himself.  Last night he gave a family prayer that had both Brigham and I blinking back tears.  I just am not ready for him to grow up.  Even looking at photos taken just one year ago I can see the changes in their faces and it breaks my heart.  Sometimes it feel just too clear and true that life really is like a vapor that is here in the morning and then disappears.  I feel these years slipping by before I can fully get my bearings and I feel overwhelmed by it all and that's when I just start watching tv to ignore it a bit and return to it later when I am ready to face it.  In some ways, one of the best parts for me in having another baby is the sense of renewal it brings to me, to my vision of our family.  We aren't done--there is another little guy coming along who hasn't had any Christmases or traditions or birthdays, yet.  We are still at the beginning of something.

I suppose that is what Christmas, in its own way, might be about, too.  The renewal of life.  This mystical, magical promise of things and people never ending, of ultimate restoration.  These days, these people we love and lose, all of these forgotten moments will all be restored to us and we will all be made whole together, in the end.  So these special years I am treasuring and yet insufficiently appreciating, these years I know I would one day give anything to relive any mundane moment, are not really evaporating when they are done. Somehow they will come back to me.  Maybe that is part of what eternity means.

So that was Christmas!