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June 2010

Summer daze

Tonight, as we were praying together with the boys at bedtime, I asked God for a good summer together. As I did, I paused, and looked around me.

It used to be fairly easy to gather up the troops and have fun. A trip to the zoo, a picnic in the park, an outing for ice cream. Things were noisy and chaotic, but we were a team and we traveled together toward whatever it was we set our eyes upon.

These days Tre's like a huge lab puppy, full of energy and joy and eager to please, but given to knocking furniture over. The house doesn't seem big enough to contain him anymore, and although he loves us, he really comes to life when he's with his unbelievably noisy pack of friends.

Max stands in his shadow, aching to be as grown-up and brash as his big brother. He's not quite sure where to put his feet to follow him, but you'd better believe he's searching. When he's most upset with Tre he accuses him of acting like "Mr. MATURE," not wanting to believe that this new near-man isn't an act.

And Raphael remains in the world the three of them used to share, with toys and pretend and games. He's not sure what's happened to his brothers, but lord, is he angry at them for leaving. He needles them every chance he gets, and being the littlest brother, you had better believe he's good at it.

I'm sure I'm idealizing the past, remembering it as easier and sweeter than it ever was. But I look at Tre's school desk, folded against the wall for the summer...for ever... and I feel a wash of panic. Time is moving too fast, and an era that I thought I was safely in the middle of is suddenly over.

I want to spend this summer in the past. I want to gather up my gang of boys, to delight them together with easy joys. I want them to fight in simple, uncomplicated ways, and know that their conflict doesn't threaten their relationships.

But time doesn't seem to go that direction, not even when you have a really good reason for it. And so I finished praying and we said our goodnights.

"Are you okay, Mom?" Tre asked. "You sounded sad when you were praying. About the summer." 

"I just want us to have a good time this summer. To have some fun together," I said, my voice light. They moved in close. Sophia was draped across my lap, drowsily nursing, so Raphael planted a foot on my knee, in lieu of climbing in my lap. Max curled against my left side, Tre perched on a foot rest on my right. Clay sat on the other side of Max.

"You know what we should do?' Raphael said, "we should go on a bike ride, all of us. Put Sophia in a trailer and we can all ride around Cherry Creek." We spent a few minutes discussing the logistics of such a ride, and then I shooed them off to bed.

I don't know what the summer will look like. I don't know if we'll ever go on that bike ride. I don't know how we'll work all this complicated-ness out, or what this family will look like on the other side.

But I know I love those people, and I have this summer to share with them.

The trick to feeling like a really good wife is to set the bar low

"Here, honey," Clay said, "I got these faxed for you." He handed me some papers.

"Oh, great," I said, "thanks." I turned to toss them on the top of the teetering pile on my bedside table. When I turned back, he was still watching me.

"You know, I could take care of those for you..."

"Um, thanks, I got it."

"I'd be happy to make you your very own file."

I looked at him, and he cast a telling glance at his filing cabinet. It is his own personal shrine to order and right. I am a trial to the poor man, with my stacks and my I'll-get-to-it plans. He is far too good to me.

"Okay, hon. That'd be great," I said. I picked up the papers and handed them back.

So it's not like I never gave him anything.

Doing my best

Back in March, I made the mistake of taking the kids to the zoo during spring break. It was MADNESS, completely packed with people and strollers and noise. I had to park seventeen miles away. Maybe a thousand miles away.

As we were waiting in line, I had a very Denver moment. There, in the surging throng of humanity, the woman ahead of me turned around and said, "Kira! Hi!"

The whole of Denver was at the zoo, and I was standing next to my cousin (technically, my second cousin in-law). She had a baby about a month before I had Sophia, and we'd had a baby shower together. Now she eyed Sophia, toddling around at our feet.

"Are you still nursing her?" she whispered, leaning in.

"Yeah," I said, "I thought she was going to wean herself when she first started walking, because she was just too busy. But she seems to have changed her mind and come back to it with a vengeance."

"Oh good," she said, "I'm still nursing too. Now I won't feel bad about it."

That stuck with me for the longest time. Why on earth would you feel bad about breastfeeding? Did it seem self indulgent to her? Did she doubt she was providing her baby anything special anymore?

Why would she worry about nursing beyond a year?

As I settle down on the couch to nurse a sleepy Sophia, I remember her first days, when getting her to latch on was an uncertain, squishy sort of balancing act. Now we are like two halves of a magnetic clasp. I lift my shirt and unsnap my bra in one motion, and she reaches toward me with her chin, and just like that, connection. I feel a lot of things about nursing a toddler. Weary, sometimes, especially on those occasions when she nurses all night long. Content, to still have this one thing that is just our little world. Comforted on days when she isn't much interested in food, preferring to fling it around, and I know she's still getting plenty of nutrition. Frustrated when she spends one day nursing a lot, and then hardly at all for the next few days, and I walk around with super-filled bra cups. Amused, as she interrupts her meal many times to yammer and comment and talk, complete with hand gestures and animated expressions.

But I don't feel bad.

Then again, I've done the extended nursing thing before. I know she'll wean eventually, and I know she's not even late. When people question me it doesn't bother me. Last week a woman got all sniffy with me at the library.

"Is she STILL nursing? Oh REALLY. And her doctor is okay with that? Hmm. Does she EAT FOOD?"

Answers: yes. Yes. And yes. Thank you for...erm...let's call it "caring."

The thing is, mothers get a LOT of "caring" from random people. Woe betide the mother who pulls out a bottle of formula in front of the wrong pair of eyes. It's way too easy to slip into self-doubt when you're doing this job, and there are way too many people there to help you go.

I remember a story my Aunt Addie told me once, years ago. Addie was born in 1901, and she lived for 99 years, dying when Raphael was just a flutter of life in my belly, so new that I wasn't even queasy yet. When Addie was eight her mother had another baby - a menopause baby, Addie said. This child sneaked aboard as his mom's cycle stuttered to a halt, and when he was born, she couldn't produce milk. So they mixed up a formula of sorts, from canned milk and karo syrup.

"Of course, he was always small and sickly," Addie said, "at least, until he started eating food."

Got that? He was okay. It was a rough start (can you imagine feeding a newborn evaporated milk and corn syrup?), but he recovered and was fine. And that's the point we miss sometimes, in our impassioned arguments about what is best. Children are a force all their own. Our best guesses at what they need are just guesses after all.

I have a friend with four kids, half biological, half adopted through the foster care system. She says her home-grown babies, breastfed and weaned on homemade organic foods, get sick far more often than her babies who were born in distress to drug-addicted moms and given formula. In the world of babies, the logic doesn't always work straight. Sometimes X equals Y, so if X, therefore platypus. You just don't know.

The thing is, breastfeeding is just a part of the relationship I have with Sophia. And you'll just have to believe me (or not) when I tell you that I am doing the best I can for each of my children. In food and conversation and t-shirts and hugs and eye contact and school work and discipline and prayers, I promise you that I'm doing my best. It's not enough, it's never good enough, and when I fall short, that is the sort of pain that brings me to my knees. But I'm doing my best, and I pray for God's intervention in the gaps. And while I believe humility helps me strive to do better, I know humiliation never has.

That's why I don't think my cousin should feel bad about her feeding choices, or you or you or you.

I'm doing the best I can, and I believe you are too.

The problem is that I don't even PLAY the lottery.

Lately I've been worried, a bit, about the neighborhood. Specifically, about the kids in the neighborhood, and how they are being rotten to my perfect little snowflakes.

Seriously, the boys kept coming home angry, with stories of terrible treatment. Or came home repeating things I did NOT want to hear coming out of their mouths. The worst one of all was the time Raphael came inside and repeated a racial epithet he'd heard being tossed around, and my head spun around and I vomited pea soup and it was not pretty.

So from my perspective, the tree-lined street outside was looking sort of ominous. Seedy and dangerous and murky. In quiet moments I would try to imagine how we could move to a different, nicer, kinder, neighborhood. (Hint: any plan that begins, "So we win the lottery..." is not a plan. It is a fantasy.)

Tonight Clay was at a meeting, so after dinner it was just me and the kids. The boys quickly disappeared outside, and Sophia took to pointing at the door and cooing piteously. She loves to be outside, and since my choices were doing the dishes or trailing her in the golden late afternoon light, I obliged her.

Sophia could spend all day wandering around our street, I swear. She runs up and down the ramp to our deck. She picks up rocks and throws them. She pokes plants. She falls down and scrambles back up. Her knees are perpetually scabbed up.

As I meandered behind her, the girls who were playing next door came running over, shrieking, "the BABY!" They ached to pick her up and mother her, but she would have nothing to do with that. So they followed her around and tried to convince her to give them hugs. She snubbed them thoroughly, and they only adored her more.

A boy from up the street wandered past with Tre, and they stopped to chat. For some reason, this kid started telling me all about how his dad was a weight-lifting champion in high school, and how he almost died in a terrible car accident at 16, and how bravely he fought his way back to health. It was very sweet, the way he bragged on his dad, even if he did go on so long that I nearly faked a heart attack to get away.

Sophia trotted up the sidewalk, clutching a tennis ball. Every so often, she would FLING it with all her might, sending it flying a good two or three feet away. The next door neighbor boy, about 13 years old, was skateboarding, and whenever he sailed by the bouncing ball, he would lean down and scoop it up. Then he stopped and handed it back to Sophia, and she would take it, both of them wearing extremely serious expressions. Then he would hop back on his board and push off, and she would ratchet back her arm, dimpled elbow to her ear, ready to throw again.

She and I came to the corner yard, where the kids all congregate. All the usual suspects were there, including two of our three boys (Raphael was riding his bike, and streaked past periodically, yammering at me about a ramp they were building. I only realized later that he was pilfering 3 inch screws from his dad's work bench in the garage). I knew most of the kids' names, save two girls. It took me a while to realize that one of the girls was a statuesque blond, all ripe curves and flirty looks. She tossed her hair and shot looks at different boys, laughed and exclaimed at anyone not paying enough attention to her. She was both intoxicated by her feminine powers and completely unaware of just how powerful she was.

Tre hung around the edges of this group, nearly killing himself in the effort not to look at her. I worried a bit that he might walk straight into the path of an oncoming vehicle, so determined was he not to notice.

I stood there, outside the gaggle of kids, observing the sweet and silly young beauty of it all.

I absolutely right. This is a dangerous crowd.

We have GOT to move.

Not as planned

On Easter day, my grandmother Alyce fell out of bed and broke her leg. It was a nasty break, a displaced fracture that needed to be repaired surgically. However, Grandma Alyce is not physically up to the assault of surgery. Not to put too fine a point on it, the doctors were afraid that she wouldn't survive. So they put her in traction and then created a brace for her and sent her back to her care center and hoped for the best.

But sometimes things don't go as planned.

Today Grandma Alyce went back to the hospital. The break is worse, and something has to be done. Mom spent all day with her, waiting to talk to the orthopedic surgeon (who still hadn't shown up by 8:00 tonight). Sophia and I spent the evening there, being of no help whatsoever. Grandma no longer understands what's happening. She doesn't know anyone's name, or why she hurts, or how things should be. She speaks in "word salad," a garbled mix of words without the structure of syntax. Mom is left to try to do all the understanding and make all these terrible decisions for her. Mom is just emerging into the sunlight after her dad's death, and she'd thought she could stay out of the darkness for just a little while.

But sometimes things don't go as planned.

Tonight I was supposed to go to the Rockie's game. We had ridiculously wonderful tickets, a gift from my dad, and had planned for some time to surprise the boys. But my mom was supposed to watch Sophia, and of course she couldn't. So Clay and the boys went without me. After a while Clay called to say the game had been called because of a bone-chilling heavy rain. They were coming home.

Because sometimes things don't go as planned.

So now here I am, sitting on the couch, with my legs draped across Clay's lap. The kids are all asleep, and he has one hand on the remote and the other on my ankle. The rain is turning to sleet outside, but our house is warm and bright and cluttered with toys and love. It occurs to me that once upon a time I couldn't have believed that this would be my life someday, that I would be all tangled up with this man who I love so much. I thought my world would always be just me, wrapped around my boys, straining to make things right. I never imagined this home, this love, this life.

But sometimes, thanks be to God, things don't go as planned.

A very real Mother's Day

Is it too late for a Mother's Day wrap-up? Do you mind?

Don't worry, I'm not going to tell you some sparkly my-family-loves-me-so-much story involving a spa day and a new car or anything. My family DOES love me so much, but what I had was a very real sort of Mother's Day.

It started out with my loving family trooping in to wake me, with two new tea cups. One was full of coffee, the other had a paper flower, planted in paper "dirt," underneath which was some cash for me to spend on my garden. So I exclaimed that it was a money plant AND plant money all at the same time. Tre thought that was funny, which was a total score for me. When did I start trying to impress my son? He used to think I was brilliant when I hung a spoon off my nose. Now I'm all smug and content when I can make him chuckle.

The fun thing about the tea cups is that they gave me those very same cups for my birthday, back in March. The previous cups lasted 10 days before they were both broken. One was left where Sophia could reach it, and the other one was knocked into the toilet one morning during the pre-church rush. I was disappointed about it, because they were pretty things, and I had been especially impressed because Clay had ventured into Anthropologie all by himself to get them. So the fact that he went back, braving that bastion of girliness just for me? Awfully sweet.

"These are it, though," he warned me, "because these were the last ones on clearance."

See? Very real. [UPDATE! I just found out that this second time he bought me these cups? He took all three boys with him. INTO ANTHROPOLOGIE. I'm just saying.]

After church we went to Mom and Dad's house, where the men prepared us our very favorite food - food we didn't cook. In this case, ribs, rice, corn on the cob, and cheesecake with fresh berries. There was supposed to be broccoli, but there was a broccoli snafu. It happens to the best of us, and Clay and Dad are two of the very best of us.

I gave Mom a card wherein I accused her of being the popular one with the kids (totally true), and Mom gave me a card that totally made me laugh, not because of the card, but because of the parenthetical comments she added. You had to be there. And Max gave me the card he forgot to give me that morning. It had two original poems in it. The first one I shall spare you, because it was about him and Tre throwing up, and thanking me for my willingness to clean up. But here's the second one:

Tweety's face is red,

The rings under your eyes are blue,

Every day,

We love you.

It was accompanied by a picture of me walking the floors at night with a screaming baby.

See what I mean? A very real Mother's Day. It is good to be loved.

(Tweety is one of the many nicknames around here for Sophia. Tweety, Tweety Ann, Sweety Tweety Ann, The Tweet, Sopapilla Sam, Pumpkin Heart. Oh yes, Tinkerbell the Hun was just the tip of that particular ice burg.)

Special, indeed.

A few days ago the boys came in from playing outside, all aglow with the night air and bike riding and, as it turns out, controversy.

"So we were riding our bikes down the street, and everyone was going off the ramp in front of the P-'s house, right?" Tre was eager to tell the story.

"But we were the only ones wearing helmets," Max broke in, not wanting to be left out.

"Yeah, and some of the guys were making fun of us, patting us on the head and saying, 'Oh look, how special they are! Look how safe!' You know, just being jerks."

"So you know what we did?" Max said, nodding at Tre.

"We told them about Craig James," Tre finished.

Craig James is their friend whose life was changed forever by a brain injury. And although it wasn't a bike accident that hurt him, it stunned me that they have connected the dots on their own, that they understand how precious and fragile heads can be.

"Right," said Max, somewhat smugly, "and then they shut up."

These boys, these near men? I know they're my sons, but sometimes they surprise me.

I am sorry, though, if that song gets stuck in your head.

This morning, being Monday, was time for Monday school. Funny how that works out. And since they still don't have a class for one-year-olds, that left Sophia and me to spend the day without our usual compliment of boys. (As we made our way across the parking lot into the school, Raphael turned to me and said, out of the blue, "Is it true? Are we really not a tall family?" And I had to tell him yes, sorry, it is absolutely true. See how much they learn at - or at least NEAR - Monday school?)

However, one very sad side effect of leaving the boys behind is that they are therefore not in the van when we drive away. This is unacceptable to Sophia, who prefers a full cast of brothers to keep her occupied in the car. She is still nearly two pounds away from being allowed to sit front-facing in her car seat, so she is left staring morosely at the empty back seat of the van, with nothing to do but object, vocally and repeatedly, to the sub-standard conditions.

I had lots of driving to do today, so Sophia had many opportunities to object. Oy, my ears. At one point she was really winding up, moving from a whimper to a cry to a full-on sob, so I started singing to her to try to distract her.

"If you're happy and you know it, shout hooray!" I sang. It's one of her very favorite songs. The pitch of sobbing dropped and the pace slowed, so I went on. "If you're happy and you know it, shout hooray!" She quieted down to small hiccups as she caught her breath. "If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it, if you're happy and you know it, shout hooray!"

From behind me came her tweety little voice, calling out, "oooh-rah!"

I don't know what tickled me more, her singing along with me, claiming to be happy in her sorrow-soaked squawk, or her sounding like a tiny wee Marine.