Such a fine line

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Today I was late to a meeting because I got my pen tangled in my hair.

I was reminded of the time my son went walleye fishing with an earthworm in my hair.

My family and I once got snowed into a friend’s cabin the same night the pipes burst and water poured through the ceiling. Hours later, my husband admitted he could neither confirm nor deny the presence of raw sewage in my hair.

I often find food and snot of unknown sources in my hair.

We recently established a rule that when I am reading to my sons, no one is allowed to wrap their fingers or toes in my hair.

But today, I was alone. Shampooed. I put my hair in a bun and stuck my pen through it to hold it in place while I drove. I had it under control.

Ready for the world–until I attempted to step into it. Anxious, I pulled the pen too hard, too quickly, and unraveled my morning instead of my bun. Twelve precious minutes–the difference between timely and tardy–lost.

Such a fine line persists between control and chaos.

My Best Ideas of 2013

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Summer-Bag; in the back of the van and always ready for the park, beach or pool. Ingredients: towels, suits, swim shirts, sunscreen, sun hats, buckets and shovels, goggles and a bottle of saline solution. Why saline? Best ever solution to sand-in-the-eye!

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Caboose Game; marbles are moved from the red jar to the caboose as the kids’ good deeds accumulate. Ready for school without nagging? Share something with your brother? Say kind words to someone who needs them? I reward both good behavior and positive character. When the caboose is filled, they get a train-related outing of their choice.  Our last one was a trip to Jackson Street Roundhouse Museum.  ChooChoo!

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One-on-one time SCHEDULED with each child monthly.

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Art therapy; my kids and I made these the day our Gebo passed away. We keep his tags in the clay cup.

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Character stones; one might be asked to carry this around in his pocket after he, for instance, screams “I HATE YOU” upon being denied a popsicle.  The best part is you can make new stones as the needs arise!

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Character stones; one might be asked to carry this around in his pocket for awhile after after he, for instance, does not put his shoes on after being asked FOUR TIMES!

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Swimming in waterfalls is just a deeply good idea.

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B is for Beethoven. I made a baby books for newly arrived friends and family members with snapshots of loved ones taken at baby showers.

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K is for kiss!

Best term: Blizzard Brain This is my term to describe the mental affects of surviving the Polar Vortex: the fog rendered by rescheduling due to snow days (no matter how we love them), the adrenaline pumped by white-knuckle driving (it rattles the best of us), the head spinning attempts to keep body parts warm, and the net-effect of months spent largely indoors.

Best case: The Missing Goldfish  We lost our goldfish. I interrogated the children. I pried open the pump and the filter. The fish has fled the household. The children interrogated our babysitters. They searched water glasses, flower vases and floors. The case was stamped “unsolved.”  The investigators are taking new cases.

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Holiday cards bring us peace. They also bring us a conundrum. What do we do with all these adorable pictures come Spring?  We cut them up and made a poster we enjoyed all year round.

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Embrace the catastrophe!  Yes–that is a baby pool sandbox in our basement.  50 days below zero, people.  50!

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It started innocently, and grew…

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DIY colorful race for outdoor birthday party inspired by the “Color Run” and India’s Holi Festival. We used cheese powder (not kidding), turmeric, and powdered blue and green food dyes mixed with rice floor. Biodegradable and fantastically silly. Yes; it stains by design.

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We asked our neighbor who owns a landscaping and plowing company to show our youngest his trucks for his 3rd birthday. He outdid our request by taking him plowing. DREAM COME TRUE.

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Our Thanksgiving centerpiece was made by our tableful of guests. When they arrived, an object of nature was on their plate. Each person said what they were thankful for and placed it in the centerpiece. It gave us the opportunity to hear from everyone in a year that we all needed each other.

Best capture: calendar quotes I keep my kids’ quotes on my calendar and write them down in a book every few months.  Easy.

Best recovery: bowling night  In one solitary weekend, I neglected to register for my yearly 1/2 marathon, I forgot to go to a class I’d been looking forward to for months, I went to a voice lesson and my teacher wasn’t there, I went to a meeting at the wrong time, I toured 3 senior homes that had no openings for my parents, I dragged my kids to 2 stores for mittens that didn’t sell mittens, and I took them for consolatory cocoa at a coffee shop that was closed. I just kept walking down the street to the next door and it turned out to be the magical gateway to an awesome evening; a bowling alley. Now when anyone complains of having a bad day, the kids yell, “let’s bowl!”

DIY Christmas balls; purchase wool, felted wool balls, and plastic ornament from Michaels.  Include items from nature.  Lovely grandparent gifts.

DIY Christmas balls; purchase wool, felted wool balls, and plastic ornament from Michaels. Include items from nature. Lovely grandparent gifts.

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DIY lego kits

Homemade ice cream cakes; freeze for 1/2 hour between each layer.  Cookie and butter crust crunch crust, fudge sauce, ice cream slightly melted poured on top, frost with whipped cream and cocoa powder (frosting won't stick to ice cream), and then decorate on top of the frozen whipped cream.  Voila!

Homemade ice cream cakes; freeze for 1/2 hour between each layer. Cookie and butter crust crunch crust, fudge sauce, ice cream slightly melted poured on top, frost with whipped cream and cocoa powder (frosting won’t stick to ice cream), and then decorate on top of the frozen whipped cream. Voila!

…shock and awe have been as integral to our days as sleep and hugs.

IMG_1479My 3 boys all had the same first word; “uh oh.” This says a lot about us.  Soon after, the two oldest acquired, “what the?”  I distinctly remember my now-nine-year-old saying it for the first time at age three as we wandered upon a slimy dead fish on a walking path quite far from water. My five-year-old has been saying “whad da huck?” since age two. Perhaps we are less colletively shocked by life these days, however, because my youngest son’s utterance of the phrase is still pending at three. I find it rolls off my oldest boys’ tongues as easily as “no nap” and “hold me,” I assume because shock and awe have been as integral to our days as sleep and hugs. Daily, I am wonderstruck by the strange things I am forced to do in the care of my children.

Sometimes its messy:

photo-22This is a cup in a shower surrounded by toys.  As all wise mother’s do upon locating mysterious substances near places previously occupied by children, I sniffed it. Pee. It’s a cup of pee.  The funnel was also implicated.

My oldest also once helped his bestie construct a waterfall down a carpeted staircase. My youngest once emptied a gallon of green paint on the kitchen table while I searched for a tool to open it.

These incidents pale in comparison to the time I was presented a rhythm stick while eating dinner with friends. Immediately apparent, the stick had been stuck into poop and withdrawn. We were not picnicking on a lawn or some other such forgivable location, nor were we with company good for poop on a stick at the dinner table. What ensued was a long search for the origin of said poop, never to be found. We call it “the poop stick incident.”

Sometimes it’s dangerous:

When our middle son, Wilder, was 12 months old, I came downstairs in the morning to a naked baby standing on the counter rifling through medicine bottles. He didn’t know how to walk, much less climb. He had never before exited his crib independently, nor removed his diaper. He had had an inspired morning. My youngest, Wes, bested him at eighteen months by forcing us to replace our three foot fence with a six footer because of his escape artistry. And then there was the fire he once started in the rice cooker as I stood two feet away from him, frying tilapia.

Impossible:

One day of summer “vacation,” before 9am, my boys showed me a movie they had made on my phone while I changed Wes’s diaper; a spectacular vantage of their bottoms, followed by full frontal nudity.  While we were discussing why we call private parts “private,” Wes flooded the bathroom, “washed” the kitchen sink with a toilet brush, and threw a plate on the floor with such force it set off the house alarm.

Embarrassing:

My youngest does not say “truck” politely. He once pointed to a truck in the window of the library and ran screaming his lewd version clear to the opposite side.  I was 2% horrified, 98% entertained by the mixed responses of librarians, parents, elders and teenagers. But it gets better/worse. A naughty neighbor recently goaded him, “say truck,” over and over. I did not squelch it soon enough. Next thing I know my little man is transferring his lesson to the five-year-old’s two-year-old little brother. Their conversation went like this: “Say “f*#!,” “F*#!, louder and louder until I regained my capacity to parent.

Funny;

Wilder and I took a special trip to the mall one day when he was three; just us. At the time, he had had very limited experience with mannequins and cousins. I opened the door to Nordstroms, he walked in, threw his arms around the well-groomed men’s department mannequins and exclaimed, “oh, my cousins. I’ve been looking for you for so long!”

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By age four, he was excelling at the comedic role of straight-man; our own mini Jason Bateman. For instance, while reading through a new stack of library books, my oldest, Tennyson, bragged, “I am reading in my head.” Wilder responded, deadpan, “I am reading in my elbow.” This same kid replied to a guy on the chairlift who queried of Wilder’s age, “I’m turning 40. I’m gonna have a weally big party.”

I can’t always keep up:

We chose to inform our oldest, then five, he was going to be a big brother (again) before we planned how we would explain this phenomenon to our eighteen-month old. As soon as we finished the phrase “we are having a baby,” he had located his brother and explained, “mama has a baby factory inside her.  That’s where she made you and she made me. Now she’s making another baby. The baby factory is called her uterus.” Then he jumped on his bike, raised his first, and exclaimed, “To the uterus, and beyond!”

And these: I didn’t know our oldest could draw shapes until he whipped up a highly detailed war ship. I did not know our middle kid could count to ten until I overheard him count to 100.  I did not know our youngest knew about letters until he sang me the ABC’s. Upon my third son turning four, I had still not finished the book, “Your Three Year Old.”

At times, they are wise beyond their years:

I recently sat in tears, writing my wonderful uncle’s eulogy. My tender eldest son rested his little hand on my typing fingers, gently smiling with a vulnerable heart and saying quite perfectly, absolutely nothing.

BobandGeboA week later our five-year-old drew this picture.  He said, “It’s Uncle Bob throwing a ball to Gebo in Heaven’s House.” When he gave it to me, Tennyson said, “Mom, don’t hold back your tears.”

On a totally different note, when Wilder triumphantly exclaimed one day, “I am the King of all Pagina!!” his thoughtful big brother retorted, “You can’t walk into a castle or the White House and just say that. You have to wear really shiny leather shoes, comb your hair, and bring a nice gift. Then they might believe you.”

They are quite emotional:

I did not know little kids had such big feelings until I lived with them. These creatures’ elbows barely reach their earlobes when raised overhead. Resting atop their shrimpy bodies are immense heads powered by adult-sized frustration, grief, will and glee. My cousin once told me a story of when her three-year-old daughter had a breakdown, crying “I want, I want, I want…” Moments like this, I’ve come to find, are generally not about the object of desire–it’s about learning to get what you want.

For example, I was recently informed that  if I did not comply with my son’s wishes, “your hair will fall out and your clothes won’t fit and you will grow a penis. Seriously.” He had found my weak spots and wasted no time using them against me!

It’s always an internal endeavor:

After 10 years of parenthood I no longer crave sleep.  I have adjusted to a simpler vocabulary, lower level of articulation, lack of alertness and wavering faith that rest will come. My standards are lower. I buy patterned shirts because you can’t see the kid-snot on my shoulders. I exercise when it’s feasible. I live with the fact I may have microbes of poop on my sleeves. Speaking of poop (again, and again, and again) I interact with it, discuss it, think about it, more than I ever thought tolerable. I do not know what to do with myself when my arms are empty. I have stopped keeping lists because they generally just make me feel bad about myself. I find I am happier if I count on the important things to rising up inside of me and the others not truly being important. Shockingly, this system rarely fails! I do keep a calendar, on which the days click by faster everyday.

“Notice the details,” my dad always says, “and time will slow down.” Beyond the calamity and hilarity, when time does slow down and I am in the moment, the biggest surprise of all is that I still have reserves. I had no idea what I was capable of feeling, accomplishing, tolerating, negotiating, surviving, and creating before my children arrived.

Occasionally, there will be victories;

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I participated in a ski race this morning.  My children sent me on my way, saying, “I hope you win!” I am not a winner of races. I was humbled and winded when I reached the final stretch and saw them perched on a hay bale, their beautiful faces smiling and cow bells ringing. As I raced toward the glowing display of love and support, the thought rose inside of me, “Criminy, Wes is supposed to be at a birthday party!” But I charged on, as parents do, and was greeted at the end with ebullient hugs and exclamations, “you have a medal mama! You won, mama!!!” Someday I will tell them about finishers’ medals. But today, I’m happy to be a winner in their eyes.

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.

I am on the naughty list…

IMG_1737 IMG_1559 IMG_0001_3 IMG_9038 IMG_5603 IMG_2616 IMG_2202 Yesterday I was taking our food processor down from a high shelf when the blades careened to the ground on which my kids stood. I yelled “crap.” My five-year-old and nine-year-old looked up at me with cheeky grins and Tennyson responded, “now you’re on the naughty list.” So, I replied, “shit.” They covered their mouths and brightened their eyes and threw their heads back, shocked. We laughed our heads off, together. It was worth it.

I miss my dog. My mom is back in the hospital. And, miscellaneous. Arguments, let downs, fears. We’ve all had those weeks. Months. Years? Some weeks just kick us in the ass, right? I can write that because I’m already on the naughty list. I have learned an invaluable lesson in the worst of times; we don’t know each others’ pain. We care. We show up. But we can’t know the specific hues of what others go through, even if we love them. Understanding this gives us a greater capacity for community. I’m constantly mind-boggled by human endurance. With all the LIFE that keeps happening, how is it people smile again, laugh? When my son was crying for his dog the other night he asked me in his 9-year-old words, how do we do this? I told him the only way to get to the other side of pain is to go through, and we go through it together.

For those of you who are friends and family, I’m there. I will bring baked goods and hot dish and I will listen. I have amazing friends, family and neighbors, so I try to pass it on. For those of you who I don’t know, I will be here. I will never claim to truly understand your journey and tenacity. But I will put my heart out here as something you can cling to, attempting to find the 2 percent of life that might make you laugh, weep, ignite, and continue.

A couple winters ago I lost my favorite left mitten and kept its right counterpart. A few days ago I found the left, pink stain and all, laying on the ground beside the path where I walk most days. A little voice said, “be open to the gifts of this year.” Sometimes you need a little magic to feel brave enough to keep going.

I used to lead backpack trips, One of my 17-year-old campers once said to me at the end of a grueling 13-mile hike up and down cliffs, over waterfalls and across rivers, “I must store a tiny reserve of energy in the smallest part of my baby toe.” All life contains 2 percent magic. What’s your magic?

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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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.

All aboard…

SanFranflappers_2Tuesday I published “All Aboard,” an account of our family trip to Chicago, despite a nagging feeling that our thoughts should be in Boston. I wanted to offer something lighter. I wanted life to go on. Then I read my own post and phrases like “8-year-old,” “marathon traffic,” and “at the wrong time” jumped off the page in an accidental manner. I tried to write something new but so much had already been said about terror and tragedy and heroism. So I’m re-posting “All Aboard” because it might just be about what matters: we enjoyed our friends and family. We made memories. We reflected on our past, we reveled in the present. And today, we are fortunate to have a future on this earth, despite all that is rotten and for the love of all that is good…

The love of trains has run resolutely in my family for generations; my husband’s too.  People have said my 8-year-old’s deep love of trains will be a phase, but I have no doubt his love will abide.  He is the nephew and grand-nephew of electric train collectors, the great grandson of a Milwaukee Road engineer, the great grandson of a Great Northern clerk and the great great-grandson of the Great Northern Rail Road Band Director.  When my grandmother graduated from high school, her father, the Band Director, bought her and her mother round trip tickets from St. Paul to San Francisco; quite an enterprise for a 17-year-old girl and a mother of 9 in 1924.

True to our legacy, we often travel by rail.  This weekend we took the Amtrak to Chicago.  When we disembarked at Union Station and walked the kids in tightly grasped hands between the massive Amtrak and Metra, we were all entranced.  The platform was pulsing with the energy of throngs of passengers and thundering engines standing silver and blue and nearly two stories tall.  The loudspeaker was vibrating with “Amtrakakakakak, trackackackackack 88888,” just like my dad recounted in his bedtime stories.  Train travel is legendary; like a magic carpet ride that works.  I’m not surprised trains were selected by authors to bring wizards to Hogwarts and believers to the North Pole.  Trains are a source of wonder and an engineering marvel.  Train rides can be cathartic, like the time spent in motion, the hum of the rails, and the mingling with strangers somehow routes us from here to there via dreamland.  Mind you, dreamland has icky bathrooms and poor ventilation.  Nevertheless, taking the train back and forth practically guaranteed our trip to Chicago would be a memorable journey.

The pinnacle of our time in Chicago was cavorting about the city with our 3 boys, our friends, and their 2 boys (who we have claimed as cousins by marriage of my Uncle to their grandmother).  They were a wrestling, jumping, bumping, boxing, climbing team of urban explorers.  Other adventures included a downtown tour on a double-decker bus, a sunny walk along the pier, dim sum in China Town, the Lego store on Magnificent Mile, the bean sculpture in Millennium Park, and the model of Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry.   The low point was most definitely getting stuck on city bus 6 in Shamrock Shuffle-induced gridlock traffic for 1.5 hours with no escape.  After we had drained the last of our phone batteries and ate the last Altoid, we kept busy with rock paper scissors tournaments, multigenerational thumb wars, conversations with young art students, cuddling, tickling, resting and snuggling.  Nothing paints a more vivid picture of our decline into claustrophobia than Wilder near the end.  At some point I absolutely drenched him while “helping” him drink water on our lurching bus.  He took off his shirt.  His pants were too big.  He cuddled up into a half-naked ball with a plumber’s butt in his seat where he hummed and moaned for the next thirty minutes.  By the time we stopped, he arose with pink cheeks and a blond fro, wrapped from neck to descending pants in my coral scarf, wailing, “go, go, go, mama, door!”

The funny thing about low points, however, is how quickly they become high points.  Between adults, there was some analysis of whether or not we should have taken the 10 rather than waiting for the late 6, or whether a cab or train would have been prudent.  For the kids, the only discussion warranted was the “adventure” of being “trapped” on a bus for “hours” while the “insanely crowded” bus waded through “epic” traffic just like “we were the soldiers under water on the U—505 submersible in WWII” that we saw at the Museum.  In other words, it was stupendous; in retrospect.

I am now writing from my quiet sleeper car on the way home from our trip.  I’m sipping complimentary champagne.  This is a lovely finale.  Our 8 year-old is playing chess with his cousin in the observation car, our 5 year-old is on a tour with the conductor, and our 2 year-old is struggling to stay awake.  One cannot craft the perfect trip.  Sometimes you just have to wander onto the bus at the wrong time and see what challenge bears the sweet, memorable fruit of overcoming an obstacle.  By the time we arrive in St. Paul, I anticipate our other memories will be similarly transformed.  Every misbehavior on my children’s part and every miscalculation on our part will be converted to golden memories impossible halcyon.

Although the bus trap is likely what my children will remember most about the trip, here is my list:IMG_0005

  • Lazing in a cozy white-sheeted bed watching the first thunderstorm of the season come up over Lake Michigan.
  • Walking the city with 5 little precocious boys, 2 of whom trekked by jump rope–see photo.
  • Leaving our collective kids with a family friend while we adults enjoyed margaritas and mole and discussed the raising of boys by candlelight.
  • Eating Giordano’s pizza.
  • Seeing the glow on Tenny’s face as we headed underground for his first ride on the subway.
  • Helping Wilder discovering the answer to his question, “what is a Chicago?”
  • Snuggling Wesley right now, while the pink sun glows over the tawny fields of Wisconsin spring and the clickety clack carries him home via dreamland.

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.”