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Just Keep Going

15 Jul

Our oldest daughter, age 6, has been telling me lately “I love you more than you love me!” or “I love you googol times more than you love me.” (Since learning some mathematics, she has been fascinated with the concept of big numbers and infinity).  She’s not saying this to make me feel bad that I’m not loving her enough, though sometimes I worry that maybe I’m not! She’s expressing as literally as she can her deep love for her completely imperfect mother. I feel unworthy of such devotion even as I am thrilled and warmed to the core that she feels about me the way I feel about her. She is my life, my first baby love, my treasure of treasures, the most sensitive of our three children.

I let her down a while back, it was a small thing, but I felt it hard in the moment. Mostly I am happy with how we dole out attention to each of our little ones, her and her twin siblings, a boy and girl, age 3. We try to spend individual time with each of them, even if its only a few minutes. So I was thrilled that I was able to volunteer at her end-of-year class party, helping with face painting and snacks and planting little seedlings.

As I busied myself bustling about, she kept tugging at me, “Come outside Mommy, come outside and see me!” They were playing games out there, dancing and doing the limbo. “In a minute, honey, I’ll be right there,” I replied. She asked me again, maybe three times. “I’ll be right there,” I said, sucked back into the vortex of sugar-fueled Kindergarten madness. I meant to go out there — the door was inches from me. I meant to, I’m coming, I’ll be there…

When I finally got outside, the courtyard was empty. It was over; I missed it. “You missed me doing the limbo, Mommy. I wanted you to see me,” she sounded sad. My shoulders fell, I sank into the ground with disappointment. How simple her request, and I could not grant it; the one wish that requires no money, no sacrifice, barely even any time at all. Just attention. And I couldn’t give it. Too busy, yet again.

What are we so busy with that we cannot even be there to witness what is important to a small child? Too busy for the fleeting fun things that added together make for a good life. How can I expect her to always give me her infinite love if I can’t give her 5 minutes when she asks specifically for it?

She got over it and I’m not agonizing about it, truly. Life goes on and things have to get done and sometimes we do miss the golden moments, but there will always be others. As long as we are there for most of them, I think we’ll be judged successful in the end, whatever that means. I have been trying to banish the guilt that comes from fretting over small things, as I wrote about in my last post.

When I start to take stock of how I’m doing, I naturally think of my own Mom, who is the type of person who always feels she’s not doing enough of something, always wishing she could do better. (She’s also my blog’s biggest fan — hi Mom!) We live far from each other — she’s in my hometown outside of Philadelphia and we’re here in North Carolina. She has expressed to me in the past some regret that she has not been able to pass on any legacy to her grandchildren, has not taught them anything lasting. I’m not sure if she was thinking piano lessons or what — she can read music and played the cello in high school — but I know what she means. Even from far away, she wants to matter in their lives, have an impact.

A very good Mom

So I just wanted to tell her something from my fairly new perspective of a parent who is realizing it’s very hard to discern just what will make an impression on your kids. Of all the lessons you try to impart each day, in every little way, which ones will stick? I think it is these:

-A good mom will color a picture with you when you ask, even if you are still scribbling all outside the lines.

-A good mom will watch your favorite cartoon with you.

-A good mom will cook for you, especially when you are sick, when you get little star pastas in chicken broth to make you feel better.

-A good mom teaches you a love for books and songs and pretty little things in nature.

-A good mom brings your favorite breakfast on a tray in bed for your birthday — strawberries in cream.

-A good mom sits by your bed to comfort you when you are scared or nervous or not feeling well.

-A good mom serves as your “alarm clock” during the school year, waking you gently but firmly after you have silenced your real alarm clock too many times with your weary teenaged hand.

-A good mom always believes in you, even at times when she may not agree with you. She is able to trust that sometimes, even kids know best for themselves.

In these scenarios, the good mom is her. She did all these things for me, her only child, when I was growing up. And her legacy will be that I will do these things for her grandchildren. I hope she realizes that is enough, more than enough, in fact. It is simply the best that can be done in this crazy world.

(And don’t forget, Mom, you taught them to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the piano, and you always brought a craft for them to work on with you — and you had the patience to teach them how to do it.)

My Mom has been dealing with some tough health issues lately and spending more time than anyone would want to in the hospital; now she is in a nursing home and mostly confined to bed. All of it from the effects of dealing with breast cancer for more than 15 years. Even amidst all that, she has managed to stay upbeat and her voice is strong when I talk to her on the phone.

“What is your secret?” I asked her recently. “How do you manage to keep your spirits up?” I have felt inadequate to the task of helping her do so.

“I just keep thinking about you and kids,” was her reply. That’s it, nothing more. I think that’s enough. You did a good job, Mom, are still doing a good job. And so am I. And so are you out there, dear reader. Keep going.

Away She Goes

22 Sep

Now that I’ve had a little time to think about it, I’ve figured out what bothers me most about the First Day of School. It’s the doors. The doors to the classrooms. They are so narrow, and there are no windows on the walls either. You take your oldest child, whom you have raised for years in the cocoon of your home, and you walk her quickly to the door of an unfamiliar room — Kindergarten.

And then in she goes, whoosh. Into a void. Sucked from the wide world into this suddenly tiny room. She walks in ahead of you to greet her teachers, and you try to squeeze in, but you can’t because other children have come in right behind. So there you are in the hallway, craning and stretching your neck to see inside, desperate for a peek.

2009 08 31 First Day of School_0010

© Laurens Kaldeway, 2009, via Flickr

Finally you get a look, and you know you will have to say goodbye soon. But first, you want to see what she is doing, your child. But she isn’t doing anything. She just got there! She is trying to put away her lunch bag, or looking for someone to tell her what to do, or maybe sitting in a chair. Or simply walking silently in the opposite direction from you, and this is a weird feeling. Before this day, you knew almost exactly what she was going to do at any given minute, whether at home being Little Mommy to her younger brother with Down syndrome and his twin sister, or in preschool. From now on, eight hours of her day will be a Big Mystery.

Sure, they’ll eventually send home a schedule and there will be curriculum nights where you can find out more about how and what they are learning.But because the day is so long and so full, you cannot possibly keep a grasp on what has gone on in each class, every day. Not that you need to. No one needs to, but you want to, you really really want to know. Because you’re the parent and you know exactly how she likes her oatmeal and which teddy bear she keeps closest to her pillow and what shape the constellation of bruises makes on her right knee. But this school thing is much more her business than yours.

Though you know you will be an involved parent and will visit the classroom and keep up with assignments and field trips, this does not change the fact that those doors and those walls divulge no information at the very moment you crave it most.

The First Day is about to begin, and the seconds until your departure are ticking by. You still can’t really see anything because other small bodies and big backpacks keep getting in the way. A zillion questions run through your mind. Is she happy? Is her hair getting in her eyes again? Will she be shy or friendly today? Will she choose puzzles or blocks? None of this matters a whit, yet the answers to these questions seem the most crucial of your life, simply because they are so impossible to obtain.

And then you leave. End of story. No fireworks, no confetti, no gong to mark the transition. (I’m dating myself, but remember the Gong Show? They knew how to send someone packing with style.) There is no warm, matronly woman handing you sympathy tissues — or, more my style, sympathy coffee and pastries — and saying with great enthusiasm “Thank you for leaving your beautiful, amazing and sometimes enervating child with us for the next 12 years!” No one pats you on the back. They are all too busy. As they should be. But still.

As Peggy Lee sang, Is that all there is? All the getting her excited for school, reading lots of books, buying new clothes, ceaselessly hunting for bags full of supplies, packing the lunch with care, waking up in the dark, actually making it out of the house on time — ends with a quick kiss good bye in a room full of strangers. Have a nice day, dear.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m THRILLED that she handled it well, that she was happy to be there even if she looked a little stunned. But I guess I thought there would be more pageantry about the whole thing. It just seemed too much like the rest of life — all business, no magic. And everything important associated with our precious ones is supposed to be magic, right? Right?

Yet I know the magic is there, past those walls you can’t see through and those doors you can barely fit into. Behind those blockades, all kinds of secret things happen that parents mustn’t witness. If they did, they might disrupt the alchemy that turns a little 5-year-old into a confident schoolgirl, possessed with the golden knowledge that she can indeed do great things.

Up, Down and All Around

7 Aug

Joy and grief. Clarity and confusion. Ease and difficulty. Twin emotions that came with the birth of our beautiful, amazing twins nearly three years ago. One, a girl, snuggly and often crying, but simple to figure out. The other a boy, born with Down syndrome, squirmy and quiet, hard to hold, host to some odd little traits that needed sorting through – and still do. Now they will turn 3 in a few short months and start preschool programs, flying from the nest, half finished, into a bigger world. Their older sister will start Kindergarten, the first step along the road that only leads further and further away from hearth and home. What I get out of this deal is a little more time to myself, and a new routine for the kids that maybe, just maybe, will make them a little bit less crazy, more in control of their behavior. How do I feel? In a word, ACK!

Comedy and Tragedy

Courtesy of carolclarinet via Flickr

Elated and freaked out. Happy and so sad. Excited and nervous. Those twin emotions, back again. The children are gaining independence, a wonderful thing. Learning how to survive on their own, without their sometimes overwhelmed mother at their side. But they are so full of life, such fun kids, so innocent, and our lives feel unusually blessed most days. I know in my heart that school will be just what they need, but change is always unsettling. Will we be able to preserve our little cocoon? Will our sweet and sensitive big sis be OK in the rough-and-tumble world of public school? (I’m sure she will, actually). Where did this year go, the year I was supposed to be savoring every moment with the Three Bears and blogging about it?

I’ll tell you where it went: the fall, winter and early spring went by in a blur of sicknesses, hospitalizations and operations, minor ones. Snot and saline spray were my constant companions. It was not pretty. We were trapped inside and I was always on the phone with doctors or nurses or billing offices. I knew it was bad when my 5-year-old proudly showed me a drawing she had made on a big piece of poster board. It was an awesome piece of work, very detailed. The outline of a house, with a wreath outside for Christmas. In the living room, a sofa with three figures on it, big sis in the middle flanked by the twins on either side. They were watching TV. Off to the side, a woman in a dress, talking on a phone. Me, smiling at least.

“Oh,” I cringed as I spoke to her, “is that how you feel? That all you do is watch TV while I talk on the phone? That is so sad!”

“But Mommy,” she replied, pointing to the small square devices they each held in their stick-figure hands, “we each have our own remote controls and we’re watching our own shows! It’s not sad, it’s great!”

That drawing now has pride of place, taped to the wall of our living room. It’s a living reminder of all the twin emotions in our lives — frustration and laughter, getting stymied but making do, falling ill but getting better. Since late spring, we have been freer — less sickness, more time for playdates, strawberry picking, riding bikes, trips to the park or the pool, bowling, lots of ice cream and other treats. The other side of the coin is showing. I like this side. Please don’t flip back again come fall, please, I silently plead.