Response to Matt Walsh on Sex Ed

photo-18I have been a fan of yours for awhile, Matt Walsh; a big fan.  Before becoming a full-time stay at home parent I was a health educator in the public schools.  I wish I thought your perceptions of comprehensive sex education were accurate, but I respectfully do not.  I would like to believe that parents who are incapable of teaching their children healthy, universal lessons about human sexuality are an “aberration,” but research shows we have not yet evolved to that level of competence as a society.  Since your arguments are not actually based in research or evidence, allow me to speak from the heart as you do.  In my experience, and I know that you are speaking from your experience, I believe comprehensive sex education in schools saves/improves/protects lives.  This is what I have witnessed:  1) Human sexuality is a part of biological science, which is taught in schools.  We do not restrict information about other sciences based upon the cultural beliefs of students.  We give them the facts.  2) What we teach in schools does not restrict what parents can teach kids at home.  If they are capable, loving parents, lessons from home will be primary, not secondary, to lessons learned at school.  3) You suggest we have a case of parentphobia.  Please consider whether you have a case of teacherphobia.  Health educators are professionals, and “most of them are…capable.  Most [teachers] love their [students].  Most [teachers] would do anything for their [students]. Most [teachers] know what’s best for their [classrooms].”  Teachers aren’t the government…I encourage you to have a little faith in them.  In fact, perhaps you still have some things to learn from teachers that will help you navigate the parenting “minefield” of which you speak.  Sometimes we need expert guidance from people who are trained professionals.   4)  One of our biggest failures as a society is our tendency to trust our assertion that “I can look around me” and see everything that’s going on out there. We need to doubt our beliefs about “most of us” because that is usually biased by what we see.  When we make decisions about the needs of our society as a whole, we have to remember, respectfully, that “most of us” don’t interact daily with a representative sample of the population.  Matt, we need to doubt ourselves every time we use the phrase “most of us.”  Herein lies the intended and constructive purpose of statistics; science and research that can help us make decisions about what kids as a population need.  “Most” researchers are good, smart people that have the very best for young people at heart.  As parents, we cringe at the idea of our kids rendered to numbers, but these numbers have the ability to remove our blinders when all we can see is what is around us.  The evidence, in this case, suggests that comprehensive sex education in schools has reduced the rate of unintended pregnancy, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  As a health educator, I can tell you that everyday I had that job, I went home feeling like I improved the outcome of someone’s life that day.  As a citizen, when I send my kids to public school I choose to be willing to have my children educated in such a way that is best for the common good.  And as a parent, I welcome the challenge to teach my kids what I want them to know about their sexuality in the context of what they learn in school, on the playground, and in conversation with other kids and adults.  I encourage you to broaden your view, doubt your assertions, and then tell us all what you think is best for our children.  Here are some resources:

A Change of Pants….

IMG_2616We woke up at our friend’s cozy cabin in Ely, Minnesota to -35 degrees outside. My nearly 3-year-old extracted himself from the warm space between his dad and I to express, “I am just a big boy. You are a big gorl. You are HUGE,” then disappeared under five layers of blankets, pillows, and brothers. I got up and wrapped my body in animal, plant and petroleum products; wool, feathers, leather, silk, rubber, polyester and vaseline. I am huge. I step outside into the crystalized, silent cold. Squeak, squeak; very cold snow is loud under foot and too frozen for footprints. My eye lashes freeze together. Half my breath catches in my throat; the part that makes it out freezes on contact with my scarf. I am in my element.

This act of exposure suggests a hearty commitment to my continued, or rather, reinvigorated practice of daily outdoor meditation. November was amazing. I gave up on December at 3 or 4 days in. The contrast in my state of mind between December and November has me clawing my way back. January 1, 2014, seemed a poetic day to begin again. Going outside today, January 5, is not the extraordinary effort it appears. I love the vice-grip of negative temperatures under dazzling blue skies. Light fractures off every crystal of snow like a zillion tiny disco balls. The humbling cold squeezes my head thoughtless. It takes skill to be out in cold like this, and I love the challenge.

IMG_0001_3I can’t sit; my toes won’t make it through 15 minutes of inactivity. I watch for animal tracks in the fresh snow and in contrast to the balmy 15 degree morning yesterday, I see none. Not one snowshoe hare, squirrel, mouse, pine martin, deer. None. It’s time to stay covered, hidden, warm. I am gloriously alone; a spectacle for smarter bunnies as I squeak, steam, and grin down the road. The northern winter’s temperature, wind, snow, ice and glare; none of it is gentle upon its inhabitants. But with enough preparation, protection, togetherness and patience, it is a more peaceful, beautiful, serene and affirming habitat than I have known from Chile to the Yukon.

At dinner on New Year’s Day I told my kids that a friend recently asked me to describe each of them in one word. I chose, from oldest to youngest: inventive, creative, and delightful. Tenny decided each boy should do the same for me. From youngest to oldest, I was: poopy pants, author and busy. “Poopy pants” I accepted from the youngest of 3 boys. As to be expected. “Author” made me feel good, though it’s a stretch. Other than grad school research, newsletters, birthday cards, my journal, some op eds, and this blog, I have never published anything. Apparently I now have a goal for 2014, presented to me by my precocious and puzzling middle child. “Busy,” for all of its accuracy, however, made me very sad. I know that little look. I know his inner wisdom. I know he found his moment to say what he needed to say.

This year has been nuts, and being with my children has not been enough of what made it busy and challenging. I already see the climate of the coming year and it looks a lot like January. I have three aging loved ones. My Uncle will leave us much too soon and it already hurts. My parents will need more support than ever and I already feel at capacity. I’m attempting to return to work and apparently, to publish something. THEN there are these very important boys. Their paperwork alone makes me manic. Add in some potty training and glimmers of puberty and I am what my children see. Most of friends would say the same of themselves; we wear huge, busy pants.

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I recently asked my dad, a psychiatrist, how to slow down time and feel less busy. He said in 40 years of practice, he’s only seen one thing that appeared to work, and it wasn’t eliminating obligations, or balancing schedules, saying “no” more, or working less. He simply said, “notice more details in your everyday life.”

I cannot change the climate of the year to come. Like so many of you, I long for more ease in 2014. The fact is that every year, no matter where you live, there will be a January, a deep freeze, a record low. But in the love of winter there is also a lesson about endurance if we have the skills, support and protection to survive, or better yet, enjoy it. It’s hard and it’s beautiful. It’s audacious and it’s exquisite. It’s challenging and it’s invigorating. Step outside in the woods and you will hear…nothing. You will need layers and tea and baths and snuggles. Neighbors will shovel each others’ walks. Friends will bring soup. Strangers will assist each other over snowbanks. Someone will give their mailman a gift card for hot coffee. Snowmen will dot the tundra. The beautiful details of a long, cold winter are infinite.

I want a better word to describe me in 2014. Ideally my word would reflect, like a zillion snow crystals, the light that is essential to get us through the darkest days. But I would take something more mundane, like “warm.” IMG_0078In the middle of January, I can wrap my kids up in all that earth offers. If I carefully eliminate thermal aperture at wrists, ankles, and earlobes, they will make snow angels. They will sled gleefully. We can toss a cup of boiling water to the sky, freeze an egg in snow and watch our spit freeze midair. And for heaven’s sake, there will be a thaw; a day that everything drips and we expose our collective skin again. I can show them we will also have: Spring.

Does God Send Buffalo?

Week 2 & 3: Sit Spot Report

20131114-161354.jpgDay 8-9: I forgot the whole point is to listen for nothing. Autumn sun, beautiful, wagging dog friend here with me. Mutual grins. Hum when my mind gets going. Old trauma’s voices are the only ones that break through.

Day 10: Check in with the 5 senses, as per usual. Last night’s campfires, yellow leaves, cold air, woodpecker, armor. I actually say “armor” out loud. I have been identifying things like “chilly nose” for the sense feel, not “armor.” But today I went deep inside, inspired by my husband who is a little more “woo woo” than I. He did the Sit Spot and came back with reports on his Chakras, and I realized I had been glossing over this sense, with intention.

Day 11: I go back to last week’s coyote lesson and picture taking off my fear and my urgent unders. I attempt to lift the armor. Its heavy.

Day 12: I cuddle Gebo in the sun. Death is coming; the vet has confirmed it. It looks like a warm yellow light. I remove armor; put it on a dressing form nearby in case I need it.

Day 13-16: Its quiet. Armor is back on. Mind is busy. I feel like giving up. Gebo seems happy in the sun.

Day 17: I feel like prey.

Day 18: Gebo limps to our spot. Its easier to stop thinking with the sun glowing on my closed eyes.

Day 19: I carry all 55 pounds to the sun. Gratitude for Gebo overwhelms me. God gave me one of the great ones. Armor is off.

Day 20: The crying starts. We share some goodbyes and knowing looks. He wags for me.

Day 21: We spoon in a sleeping bag in the grass, shivering together. Head is a traffic jam of thoughts. I take a deep breath and try pouring love into Gebo.

Day 22: I am frustrated and doubtful and busy. I practically shout at God that I’m done figuring out a purpose in life, a career, that makes me feel fulfilled. I’m sick of myself. I find a plastic buffalo in the same spot where I saw the coyote. Weird.

Day 23: Just us. He wags every time a child walks by. He wags at the geese flying south.

After 23 days, I write a letter of gratitude to Michael Trotta, the Nature Coach at Sagefire Institute who suggested the Sit Spot to help me on my urgent quest to “find my purpose;”

20131114-161124.jpgDear Michael,

Thirty days now feels short to me too and as you said, hardly enough. Its day 23 and I can’t imagine living without this practice. It has already been so grounding just to remind myself, “did you sit in nature today?” With that said, I haven’t been sitting in nature everyday. My heroic dog that has joined me throughout this is dying. I have followed him out into the leaves and sun to our Sit Spot over the last few weeks and watched him like a mentor, absorbed in nature. Eventually I started carrying him. This week I started criticizing myself for skipping days. Today, with death more palpable, I reversed that self-criticism. What could be more natural than sitting with the dying? The days I haven’t been out there I have been on vigil, riding the ups and downs of the end with him since about Saturday. Sometimes it feels silly to put my life on hold for a pet. Most often I thank Gebo for putting my life on hold for me. My guard is down; everyone including my mailman has seen me crying. And I feel like I must be the most special person in the world right now to have been given the world’s best dog. I feel like Pete saying goodbye to his dragon.

If I hadn’t started sitting in the woods with him, I would have no idea how to process his exit. With this gift of 15 minutes of quiet in nature everyday, his passing has become a gift as well. I am grieving the young me that raised him, the stay-at-home-mom years we were together most everyday, the tiny boys that love him so growing up too fast, and the deaths that are to come among our eldest family members. You’ve given me a trail for this journey, and I am so grateful.

You are so right; it doesn’t always work to quiet my mind. I have not yet felt free of thoughts. But I can see the value in the attempt. “Its about dropping the stuff (armor) that stops you from being awesome and as deeply connected with your intuition for yourself (as you are for others).” Thanks for this. I can hardly lift the armor to put it on now. I even called my mom the other day just to tell her I hurt; she is one tough cookie. My weapy call absolutely brought out the best in her, and let me be ME instead of what I have always been to my family; the tough one, funny one, light one, the easy one…in the armor.

“…Its in our vulnerability that we find what we are seeking…the tension and emotions you are experiencing…I see you embracing them or at least, acknowledging them. Perhaps, this is your job right now? Perhaps your exploration of stillness is your job.” This has allowed me to wait for the next track to appear, and trust that it will, without so much demoralizing effort. It also made me realize my question isn’t so much “what is my purpose” as it is “who am I now?”

I don’t know if you can relate to how my dog’s death has been such a poignant part of my experience. But remember what I explained after my first week? The first week the universe sent a loud truck, then a bulldozer, a coyote, an empty gas tank, a fierce wind, and that was easy. Then it sent some terrifying quiet and stillness. That was hard. When I was about to give up, the universe sent death. As you suggested, Michael, I could no longer see past “what’s real, right here, right now,” as Gebo began to die. Gebo translates, “a gift from the universe; partnership, forgiveness.” Gift, I acknowledge. Partnership, we’ve done. Forgiveness feels like the last step. I don’t feel like I have to go searching for what or whom to forgive; I just finally feel done with my armor. After he’s gone, which I believe will be eerily close to day 30, I have a feeling the quiet and stillness will be a whole lot less terrifying.

As I was leaving the place where I saw the coyote, I found a tiny toy buffalo on the ground. According to Lakota Shamanic Tradition, the bison symbolizes manifestation, courage, formulating beneficial plans and abundance.

In gratitude,

Shawna

Mom; I’m sorry I lit you on fire

LexmarkAIOScan14I am participating in a 6-week online course called “Finding Your Calling.” I love it, but I also like to tease it. Each week it starts with a meditation. I lay down, get quiet, and try very hard not to get distracted by the cheerios under my table, the ongoing Target list in my head, and the fodder. Oh, come on! Your yogi’s voice has never quite suddenly morphed into Zach Galifianakis’s saying “step into the blue light?” You’ve never riffed on “release yourself into the space?” I admit, I had to suppress giggles recently when told to “let go of my fruits” in yoga class.  What does that mean? And how did “juicy” enter yogi vocab? But, civility wins out (except if I am with my old friend, Molly, the elusive and cunning Jokestress that destroys my every attempt at maturity).

The truth is, in fact, it takes guided meditation, at least eight miles of running, paying a therapist, or a long road trip for me to hear myself think these days. I have been a stay-at-home mom for five years. I have not loved every minute but I am proud of my work here and I will look back fondly on my privilege to spend so much time with my babies. But now the purse strings are tight and I feel this need to contribute to society as a whole again. And, perhaps exercise the part of my brain that can do stats beyond the chances the tooth fairy is visiting on any given night in a house with three children.

One of my kids lit my hair on fire today. Since I decided to stay home with my three boys and my parents tarted having health problems, I have called myself a specialist in “taking care of humans and putting out fires,” but I didn’t mean it literally.

It was not his intention to light mama on fire. He meant to spray the baking sheet with oil for me when we were making cookies. He sprayed south, the bottle pointed north, I leaned in toward the lit stove and kaplooey–the oil completed the arc from hair to flame. I suddenly realized I could happily spend a little more time in an office with grown ups.

I poke fun, but I do feel like I have an unmet calling out there I cannot figure out. My dog, my first born, is 15.  I am trying to learn something from him while he is still here with me. We are oddly similar aside from our coloring. He howls, I sing. He is a herder, I am a caretaker. He loves puppies, I love babies. He protects his flock; I’m into public health. He also loves running through the woods and jumping in creeks and is always banged up and bruised from playing really hard. I can’t say I mind that either.

All of these things come together in this absolute gem of a dog. In me, however? I am a mom who is often asked to volunteer for causes, loves giving advice and problem solving and would consider policy work if I didn’t also love writing so much and being outside and I would love to hold your infant and help you figure out your latch problems as well as perhaps be with you at your birth as long as I can be home to get my kids off the bus and I don’t have to sit very much.

I would have made a better dog.

So, I opening my mind to my juicy self today. I have been advised by a “coach” to go outside, sit, listen and attempt to quiet my mind for fifteen minutes. Gebo does that. And my hair smells too bad to be inside. I’ll give it a try and let you know if I see the blue light.

Fail well, little one

imageToday my second child went off to kindergarten. He wore the blue plaid “kindergarten shirt” his big brother wore on his first day. When he boarded the bus and sat down, the window revealed only a blond tuft and his little waving fingers. My husband said “he looks so small” and his voice broke, eyes wet, he giggled self-consciously and had a little cry. This day did not sneak up on me the way it did my husband. I have been home with him full time for five years. I feel like I have given him all a mom can provide in these early years before school starts. That feels good. He is ready and I am ready. I admit, I am excited to have a little more help fostering and molding this guy’s life.

I did the follow-the-bus-to-school thing and when I met him there, he got off the bus with his big brother’s arm around him and did not acknowledge my presence. When Tenny went his own way, he peeked behind his shoulder to make sure I followed. I brought him to his hallway, took pictures and helped him find his locker. We met his teacher, put on his name tag, practiced his lunch number and found his miniature table. When his eyes were no longer glossy I said, “can I give you a hug?” “No.” “Kiss?” “No.” “Pat on the back?” “No.” “Can you squeeze my hand?” Big, tight squeeze under the table. I had my teary moment.

imageAll week we have been talking about kindergarten and his only concern has been “what happens when you get sent to the Principal’s office?” I am not sure how he even discovered this concept. Arthur, PBS’s biggest nincompoop? A poor, hastily selected movie? Big brother? But I have said over and over again, “you won’t.” I have said, “you are a good boy,” which is only a small stretch of the truth. But last night as I snuggled him to sleep he brought it up again, so I took a new approach. I told him “I expect you to make mistakes in kindergarten. We all make mistakes when we are learning.” He turned his head toward me, which this independent, non-auditory learner rarely does. “Kindergarten is for learning how to learn. Learning means trying and if you try really hard, you will fail sometimes. If you make a mistake and get sent to the Principal’s office, he will be stern but kind and help you to understand how to do better next time. You will learn something if you fail well.” He responded, “Faiw wewl?” “You got it, buddy. Fail well.”

When I got home I filled out the kindergarten paperwork. Plink, plink, plink. Tears on page as I filled in the blank “what do you hope your child will learn in kindergarten?” I hope he learns to love learning. I hope he learns that he is a very capable being. I hope he discovers his own awesomeness. But most of all, I hope he learns to try, fail, and keep going. Right now he has try, fail, and fall-apart-in-glorious-splendor down. But it’s time for something new; something sustainable. Which means, it’s time for me to let him go. Let’s face it; he will probably reserve fall-apart-in-glorious-splendor for his dad and I for years to come. And that’s why it’s time for me to squeeze his hand under the table, tell myself I have prepared him well, walk out of his kindergarten room, call my mom, and fall apart in glorious splendor.

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Madame Conductor

By 9am tophoto-1day, Sunday, my husband had spent 3 hours at work.  By 5pm he had spent 4 hours at work, parented 3 kids, rebuilt our fence and built a sandbox.  Within 4 hours today our amazing babysitter had prepared a healthy lunch, made cookies and inked block prints with all 3 of our kids.  By 10pm tonight my oldest had been an angel for said sitter, learned to wash dishes, solved our ant problem, put his brother down for a nap, helped the other little brother with his Legos, watered for the neighbors, swept up sawdust and attended the Murder Mystery Night at the Lake Harriet trolley.  And, by the time he fell into bed, Wesley had helped our neighbor fertilize 11 rose bushes, watered her gardens, weeded her flower beds, rode his trike around the block, cleaned up tools, unloaded a wheelbarrow of scrap lumber, helped build a fence, learned to block print, made cookies, “mowed” the lawn and consumed many pounds of food.  Wilder learned to block print, made cookies, finished a Lego train, watered for the neighbors, took a 2 hour nap, took care of our dog, road his bike around the block 8 times, and invented a laundry shoot pulley system for elevating items to the 2nd floor with his big brother.  The bathwater was opaque.  The floors were gritty.  The house was shredded.  The bar of soap, literally, had a bite out of it.  I don’t know what that’s all about but it somehow symbolizes this productive day.

By 8pm tonight I had made more messes than I cleaned.  All I did before noon was pay one bill and fine-tuned next week’s calendar.  I went on a walk with a friend.  I called my parents.  I talked with neighbors.  I did a load or two of laundphoto-4ry.  I weeded.  I supervised bike rides, gardening and watering.  I cleaned the toilets.  I wrote a blog post.  I took pictures.  I kept my 2-year-old away from the saw, the compressor, the nail gun and the creek.  I accompanied my son to Murder Mystery Night.  But nothing stuck out.  By 8pm I was eating ice cream I felt like I hadn’t earned.  “Where does the time go?” and “Why can’t I get anything done?” careened about my achy head.

My kids were little farmers today; outside, productive, dirt-drenched.  They had great days.  The dirtier the bathwater the better the day!  They were excited, proud and exhausted.  I was not satisfied.

When I was a working mom I proved to my supervisor that I could do my full-time job in 30 hours per week.  Done.  Productive; fast and finished.  Her feedback was positive.  Now that I am not a working mom, I have to convince myself each day that my time is “well-spent.”  I have a list of things to do a mile long, but somehow its never enough; my feedback is consistently negative, and there’s really no one else here to pat my back.  I spend most of my days putting out fires.  I prevent things from happening.  I reign in energy.  I clean up.  I chase.  I rarely create.  I rarely have products I could show you by the end of the day.  The list just gets longer and longer and the pile stacks up.  The parent I had the intention of being is still just an intention.

But then I look at the ring around the tub.  I eat one of their cookies and hang up their art.  I kiss their heads.   They are alive.  They ate quinoa today.  They got dirty.  Somehow taking an ounce of credit for their ingenuity, their health, their smiles, their manners, their activities, their compassion and their learning is NOT WHAT MOTHERS DO.  But the truth is, I made today happen.  I planned the weekend down to the trip to Home Depot, the babysitter, the naps and the illusion of free-time.  I bought the food.  I shopped for their jeans and the soap someone ate, dammit.  I took the pictures and I wrote iphoto-3t down when my oldest said “murder isn’t ok.  Its pretty much banned” because its funny.  So, I am giving myself credit for an itty bit of what THEY accomplished today.  Because I get paid in ice cream and kisses.  Because its hard to feel accomplished for keeping the poop in the bathroom and the food in the kitchen.  Because its hard to feel really, really great for buying everyone’s new shoes when I didn’t earn the money to pay for them.  Because I cannot survive this if I continue to devalue my own worth.  Because in truth, they appreciate me so much more than I appreciate myself.

Things are not always what they appear…

This week friends sent us a care package that contained bakery bread, brownies, snack foods, cookies, and coffee cake.  Most importantly, it was a big box of understanding and compassion.  Though I still haven’t gotten around to putting it in a card, the gift inspired an immense “thank you” and gratitude for my friends.  I have dear friends, which I bask in the glow of regularly at times like these.  Receiving sour cream and cardamom coffee cake in the mail the afternoon before the first day of summer vacation felt like I was being offered a deep breath; no thinking, no prep, no dish washing; breakfast, day 1, had arrived.  I slept well, secure in the future success of a morning made easy.

At 8am, I heated water.  So many of the best things in life start with boiling water.  I set out plates and napkins.  I hummed.  The kids asked for tea (adorable.)  We prepped our first-ever tea party.  Sun shined through the windows.  I put on classical music.  We beamed.  See photo.

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Tea party

I could leave it at that.  I could post this photo to facebook and other parents would “like” it with a little chagrin.  I could fool you all, like I fooled myself for the hours between the arrival of the box of peace, and approximately 7 seconds after the slicing of the small miracle of walnuts, brown sugar and white flower.  But here’s the truth; miracles don’t come in boxes.

I snapped the photo and before I sat down they skipped their forks and dove into their slices of cake.  Crumbs flew.  Their tea was “watery.”  I went for honey.  I swirled it into their cups.  I sat down and took a bite.  The cake was warm and delicious.  The tea was “too hot” so I went for ice cubes.  A teacup flew.  Upon my return one child was playing games on my phone (do I have games on my phone?) and another was crawling across the table to him.  The 3rd had evaporated.  I swept up the shattered teacup.  I said nice things like “its just a thing” and “I’m glad everyone is ok.”  I removed the child from the table lest he flew as well.  I took a 2nd bite; cold.  I warmed my tea.  I smelled dirty diaper.  Diaper sequence.  I re-warmed tea.  Chase sequence.  I re-warmed tea again.  Freaky mom sequence.  Children sit on bench in shock while mom tries one last time to consume re-warmed coffee cake and tea.  Dog throws up.

The reason my friends sent the care package is because I have been devoting lots of time and energy to my mom, her recovery, and my feelings about her stroke this month.  They wanted to make life a little easier for us, and it absolutely brings a little joy everyday it lasts.  Our 15 year-old dog is also not doing so hot (see next post).  The truth is I am sad, I am tired, I am irritable, and I am behind.  I am also grateful.  I’m grateful I have an amazing mom, even though it’s hard to take care of her now.  I’m grateful I found an amazing family pet at a farmer’s market when I was a single girl.  I’m grateful for my supportive friends and family.  I am grateful that I don’t remember the chase sequence, or the freaky mom sequence from my childhood, though I’m sure it happened.  In the end, or the long progression of ends and beginnings and the forging of memories, we filter.  For the rest, there’s therapy, nostalgia and some good laughs.

I think back to the photo; the one I shot before things fell apart.  Perhaps my kids will remember the 7-second tea party like it lasted for hours.  They certainly will not remember I never actually drank my tea.  Hopefully they remember I had enough sense of humor to document our entropy, broken teacup included.  And if I can look back at that morning and say to myself, “I am a good mom, too” perhaps miracles do come in cardboard boxes.IMG_0009

Unpredictable

IMG_1283This morning in Minneapolis we expected to wake up to the unusual glow of spring sunlight bouncing off 3-9 inches of snow.  But the branches were bare and crocuses bloomed despite dire predictions.  I got up to make breakfast and cracked an egg into a blue bowl.  Two yolks poured out of one shell.  At the kids’ gymnastics school I went to pay my bill.  Hallelujah; my account was paid in full.  I smiled, embracing the unpredictability of this day.

I was not an ambitious mom this morning.  I left the house with 2 kids and no snacks, each of them just barely fed and minimally dressed for the chill.  We were late, we were crabby and we were hungry.  We hit McDonald’s after tumbling class.  I ordered chicken nuggets for my 2-year-old but had little hope he would be satisfied (fast-food is generally unpopular in my family).  I had to pull over 10 minutes later to decipher the out-of-control screeching “caniavsom morkickin?!!?!” in the backseat.  “Take your thumb out of your mouth and ask nicely, Wes.”  He responded, “Can I have some more chicken inside-voice please?”  I ended up at Burger King this time and 4 more nuggets down, he was still screeching,”caniavsom morkickin?!!?!”  I drew the line at 2 stops and he fell asleep still crabby, still hungry.

Which brings me to the most predictable element of life with kids; sleep.  If I stay up late the kids will get up early or puke in the middle of the night.  If I go to bed early they will sleep in and I will wake up anxious at 4am.  If I have something important to accomplish without my hands full that day the napper will not nap.  If I have nothing on the agenda everyone will nap for 3 hours and I will panic; paralyzed by the possibility of wasting precious free-time!  Sound familiar?  But today, Wes napped peacefully, I accomplished things, and the big boys played nicely; there is no possible way I would have predicted that outcome for any given day.

Our last event of the day was Kindergarten Round-Up.  Wilder, of whom you have read, was about 97% enthusiastic.  My oldest has been in school for 3 years so I jumped in without forethought other than a little uncertainty about his readiness.  Then I read his school supply list.  Something about Wilder needing his own glue sticks grabbed my heart and squeezed.  Simultaneously it was time for the yellow-sticker kids to go with the yellow-sign teacher.  His eyes got a tiny glossy and he held his breath in an adorably determined way like a kid on the high dive.  He went.  He followed her.  Lump in throat, grabbing the hand of his neighborhood buddy.  He looked so little to be so brave and I had to hide my tears from him.

So after class time and a bus ride, I asked him what he would like to eat for a special celebratory dinner with mom.  “Meat,” responded my kindergartner-of-largely-vegetarian-upbringing.  We went out for his first steak.  He dove into his summer homework packet while we waited–not prediIMG_1290ctable!  He tried his first hearts of palm, first curry, first onion rings, first pierogies.  He was voracious and adventurous and beaming.  We “cheersed” with our drinks, our forks, and pierogies.  He exclaimed “yehaa!” with a fist-pump.  He thanked me for the haircut to get him ready for school today–I hadn’t made the connection.  I offered a toast and he interrupted, “to King Wilder!”  When we were done eating and toasting and snapping pictures of our wonderful dinner, he walked out of the restaurant in his socks.  I laughed so hard I cried and told him, “Wilder; this has got to be one of the best nights of my life.”  He said, “me too mommy,” with a kiss; a joyful outcome to an unambitious day.

Wilder, Age 5

IMG_0537On a snowy April morning in 2008, I awoke with little tiny pangs of labor.  Too much, in my opinion, to head to the hospital at 7 a.m. for my scheduled induction.  Wilder/Louelle was on his/her way.  My oldest son weighed in at 9 pounds, 4 ounces and was purple and breathless at birth.  He spent his first few moments with a NICU team ventilating him to life; something we would not chance repeating.  But on April 11, 2oo8, I was getting signals that this little one was only a day or two behind what the doctors ordered.  At 7 a.m. in a warmish and sparkling snowstorm, we decided a rigorous walk held better potential than Pitocin.  And it worked!  After a beautiful walk from our front doorsteps around the lake and a stop for hot cocoa, we were ready.  With subdued excitement and a call placed to our doula and friend, we were on our way to bring baby 2 into the world.  Eight hours later after a textbook labor (pain, water, yelling, water, pain, hand wringing, massage, pain, vomit, pain relief, rest, pushing, yelling, baby), we were a family of 4.  Between pushes I actually said out loud, “this is kind of fun!”  So far, that has been an illustrative metaphor for parenting young Wilder.

I can say now that Wilder was appropriately named.  Ironically, age zero to age one was a halcyon year.  This sweet child placidly tucked himself into my sling and stayed there minus one pudgy hand for hours every day.  He nursed, he slept, he laughed.  Wilder glowed; people could not pass him by without smiling.  I remember when I swaddled him at night and laid him in his crib Wilder would just turn his head to look at me and drift off to sleep.  He did everything short of saying “thanks for another great day, Mom.”  Then he learned to crawl.  He has not sat down for more than 17 seconds since.  His personality has always been game; charming, agreeable and adventurous.  He just has an intense case of the wiggles.  When he was 9 months old I came downstairs for breakfast to find him standing on the kitchen counter (escaped from the crib), naked (removed his own diaper), and opening cupboards (did not yet walk).  Wilder is industrious, zealous and passionate.  When he eats he involves every limb, sense and surface on his body.  He swims in his food and leaves a wake.  When he cries he falls to the floor and waxes prophetic about friendship, love and injustice.  When Wilder tells stories he gleans attention and delights listeners (perhaps baffles is more accurate, actually, but he woos the crowd).  Wilder has the same mischievous smile as my mother, which garnered her the nickname among her 3 brothers and sisters, “the foxy one.”maricktots

Until Wilder was about 3, I was happy to have him along on most any excursion.  We were very attached at the hip.  I hope that we are still attached, but he is a classic middle child and a little bit of an enigma.  He likes his leash long, but loves constant reassurance I adore him.  He has big, big feelings, but they never last long.  He longs to be treated just like his older brother, but occasionally steals my lap from his baby brother.  He spoke “cool kid” from the moment he could say  his R’s.  He winks at people.  He employs his eyelashes and baby blues at will.  He knows his numbers and letters and colors, unless you ask him.  He expects the world to be his oyster, but he is more easily crushed than I want for him when his world doesn’t provide pearls.  He is bold with a tender heart.  He isn’t easy-going these days, or easy to parent.  He sticks his fingers in his ears when I discipline him (even if I hold him and whisper).  His emotions ramp up from zero to sixty faster than Lightning McQueen.  He moves too fast and breaks things on accident and injures me inadvertently 5 times a day.  But he gives the best hugs.  He squeezes so tight.  And he says “mama mia love you” in his sleep.  He is a fantastic dancer.  His self-authored songs are insanely creative and his voice is cherubic.  And, perhaps best of all, he says “uffda,” and then all else is forgiven.

Wilder; you are 5 today.  Your first 3 years I was with you every step of the way.  Since then I have just barely kept up.  But I am always here, right behind you.  Your dad and your baby brother are too.  Your big brother is just ahead.  You are surrounded and we are all attempting to predict your next move.  I know you want to take this world on boldly on your own and I am so proud of you.  I can see you now in your sheriff’s hat, your blue leather fringed vest, and your duct taped sword racing to save the day.  I can see you because I am hiding behind a tree.  And I will always be behind that tree keeping my eye on you.  As much as I trust your wisdom and admire your courage, you were born into my love and my protection.  When you can dress without putting anything on upside down or inside out or on the wrong foot in time for school, I will grant you a little freedom.  Then when you can read books and write stories and figure equations and play drums on your own I will let you go a little more.  When are old enough to have your heart broken and mend it your own way, I will offer you a little more space.  I also know that you will always love my hugs, my cookies and my lullabies.  And I will always love your songs, your stories and your perspective.  Wildman, grow.  It’s gonna be awesome.  And I will be right here.

Addendum: when my birthday boy awoke this morning he sat in a chair upstairs quietly looking out the window at the snow and listening to the thunder.  I watched him for a moment and asked, “How are you doing, buddy?”  He lifted his shirt, rubbed his belly and said, grinning, “I don’t feel any bigger, but I am feeling right here kind of birthdayish.”