Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Dark Cloud

I can't quite understand the dark cloud that hangs over me sometimes. I mean, sure, it makes sense that I would be feeling a little hopeless and worried and emotional when my kids have been waking up at 4 am for over a week. And the dark circles under their eyes and horrible behavior don't do much to help me feel like a good mom. And the fact that my normal extrovert tendancies get somehow squashed under the weight of actually getting out the door--this can't be helping my mood.

And, true, it took me 15 minutes--15 full minutes!--to read one page of the spiderman book that Luke selected this morning. What with Henry approaching age two and thus grabbing the book and trying to rip it out of my hand, and Luke (being Luke) trying to hit him, and Henry being placed on the floor, and then crawling back up onto the couch and grabbing the book again and then biting me and being placed in time out, and re-placed in time out, and re-placed in time out--when it was all said and done, it took me 15 minutes to read the first page. And to realize that I am not ever, ever, ever having any more kids. The futility of trying to read the same sentence out loud over and over! The bore of the cheapie spiderman book that I wish we didn't even own!

This dark cloud: I realize that it is a cliche, but it is apt. My vision feels as though it has actually been dimmed. I feel like I'm spinning in circles (another cliche), stuck in some game of Star Wars Monopoly, being moved, over and over, in the same pattern by my kids.

And the fear. For me, the dark cloud is really about the fear. I'm so frightened that none of us will ever get enough sleep again. And I'm scared of what it says about me as a parent, that I can't even get my kids to sleep enough to keep them rested. And, too, there's the fear that I'm never going to pray one decent, heartfelt prayer again, or think one coherent thought again, or raise my kids to be decent human beings.

But then, through what is surely, again, a holy moment of everyday life, the cloud just lifts. The sun starts to rise, the coffee starts to hit me, the icons catch my eye, and I think of my children as adults who might not sleep enough but will still be (I pray every moment of my life) happy and loving adults.

So, really, I guess I often do understand the dark cloud. It is the lifting of this darkness that is mysterious and miraculous to me.


P.S. I didn't actually make it to that one church service. I don't want to falsely brag or anything.

P.P.S. I should give credit to Jenny and Lucy for the depressing form letter idea. Thanks, you two! It made my sixth 4 am wake up in a row more fun.

Friday, February 23, 2007

My Lenten Form Letter

Dear Friends and Family,

Here it is, 4 a.m., and I am thinking of my lovely family and want to share with you all what we have been up to this first week of Holy Lent. We are doing well, and this time of Lent always emphasizes our strengths.

Henry is in bed sleeping. Meanwhile, the bacteria from all the breastmilk is hard at work on his already deteriorating enamel. While Craig put him to bed last night in order to try to keep his teeth clean after we brushed them, he awoke after 30 minutes to begin his all night nursing marathon. He prefers to remain latched on all night but, being the flexible guy that he is, he will settle for once-per-hour feedings at age 20 months.

Luke is lying in his bed awake, fondling Craig's ear. This is quite possibly a sign of a neurological disorder called sensory processing disfunction. Luke has been waking at 4 a.m. all week. His extreme exhaustion only highlights his unique personality, however, one that we understand much better now that his Waldorf school teacher told us in a conference that he was a warrior in his past life.

Craig may be finally finishing his PhD! He has sent out 50 job applications. However, he has had no positive responses to any of them, and the rejection tally is now up to 7. I found him just an hour ago on the couch watching televised poker and drinking a beer. However, I think his spirits remain good, as he is clearly focusing on Lent to keep him positive.

I was awoken 1, 421 times last night by Luke, Henry, Craig, and the 78 students that we live with. But don't worry--I am able to remain happy and focused despite my chronic exhaustion because I fuel myself with fatty, dairy-laden junk food every night. And I am looking forward to the one church service that I will attend this first week of Lent.

I hope you are all as happy and blessed as we are!

The Jacksons

Saturday, February 17, 2007

All These Winters

Yesterday, Luke and I were spending our much-loved "alone time" together while Henry was at his playgroup. Luke's mood always markedly improves the moment we walk out the door leaving Henry behind. This day was no different.

It was a bitterly cold day, and as we walked out the door, Luke picked up a big, dirty chunk of ice. "Mom, let's keep this and put it in our freezer to remember all these years by!" he said excitedly.

"Uh, okay, Luke," was my reply. "But what are we going to remember with the ice?"

"All of these winters," he answered decidedly.

Okay, then. I'm not sure what Luke has in mind. I'm envisioning something like saving the top layer of wedding cake, breaking it out of the freezer a year later to eat it and celebrate one year gone by. It has been terribly cold out for so long--maybe this winter itself feels like "all these winters." Frankly, we have all been in a funk for the last few days, cooped up in the house as we have been. I would rather forget this winter, to tell you the truth.

When we got home, we forgot about the ice hunk. I recovered it, half melted and sitting in a pool of grey water, and chucked the thing in the freezer. Maybe a year from now I'll remember this winter a bit more fondly. Right now I'm ready for spring.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Little Faith

So I don't really know why I don't post at all about my faith. It certainly relates to raising my children, since we are raising them as Eastern Orthodox Christians. Part of it is that I always feel like my faith is so personal that it is hard to write about. But I write about the bad behavior of my kids, about my worries and fears about how we are raising them. I write about Henry's rotting teeth and Luke's tantrums. So why don't I write at all about being Orthodox?

Mostly, I think that I fall way, way short of the mark of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. I know everyone says that, but believe me, this isn't humility speaking. I feel like a hypocrite writing about my faith because it is so small. Well, this isn't exactly accurate. I do have quite a bit of faith, I guess, but my practice is rather dismal.

In the past, I went to church and participated in as many services as possible, but I realize that this was largely for show. At least 75 percent of my motivation for attending church has been because I should. When we left our home parish to attend graduate school, this motivation began to fall away. I realized that people didn't think less of me for not attending Great Vespers sometimes, and that missing the occassional Divine Liturgy wasn't the end of the world. And, happily, my delight and joy in church began to grow. And then I attended church more.

But then we moved to Chicago and we had children, an intersection of events that has been rather disasterous to the practice of my faith. I now go to church on three out of four Sundays. And that is it. No Great Vespers, no mid-week services. And, really, this could become a pondering on faith and practice and how these overlap and reflect one another and the chicken and the egg . . .

But when it comes down to it, going to church with my two very active boys feels like hard work, and I don't often feel particularly spiritually rewarded for it. I feel a lot closer to God when I get a chance to say personal prayers, or when I light the candle in front of my icons, or, really, during any moment of beauty and peace that I can find in any one of my days.

I do think going to church, despite this, has its own rewards, but right now these rewards feel the same as those I get when I get up every day at five in the morning with Luke and Henry and start reading spiderman books, buttering toast, washing dishes and wiping bottoms. I get through it. I do it because the alternative is yelling and feeling sorry for myself and checking out. And I can't do that, because then I would miss that moment at the park when the sunlight hits them both from behind as they sit on top of the slide, just perched there ready for speed, laughing with what is surely a holy joy.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Trip to the Dentist

So Henry has bad teeth. After tossing and turning about this for many nights, I have come to the realization that there is no way of knowing why his teeth are rotting. But as a perfectionist, first child, daughter of a dental assistant, this is hard to accept. It could be something I didn't eat while pregnant. Or perhaps it is that Henry has been allowed, as a second child, to indulge a bit more in sweets. Then, it could be that Henry is still an avid all-night nurser, and I'm so tired I haven't yet done anything about it. Maybe he has weak enamel. Maybe we didn't brush well enough. Perhaps genes? I could drive myself crazy trying to figure it out. But when it comes down to it, his enamel is breaking down, he has a cavity, and we have another four years or so until these baby teeth begin to fall out.

So this first trip to the dentist. I was prepared for Luke to have fits. He is my spirited child, after all. But Luke was perfect. So good, in fact, that Henry followed his example and sat, by himself, in the dental chair for the first half of the exam. But after that it started to go south. Henry started crying, and had worked himself into a wailing frenzy by the end. But, in true Henry style, the moment he got up from the chair he was all smiles again.

Henry's next visit was last week. He needed to have a tooth filled. His dentist planned to fill it quickly, not using any anesthetic, as the shot would be more painful than any pain from the work itself. But Henry was on to what was happening. He started crying as we walked back to the room, and was wailing as the chair began to recline. He spent the entire 15-minute procedure screaming and thrashing, trying with all his might to bite one of the dentist's fingers off. I was holding Henry and we were both a sweaty mess by the end of it.

Luke, meanwhile, sat on a chair and calmly read books the whole time. Apparently Luke is my spirited child except while under the mystical charms of Dr. Morin. Luke murmured dreamily, as we put on our coats in the waiting room, "I love Dr. Morin." One might wonder what, exactly, Luke loves so much. Somehow, I think that Henry's "bad" behavior made Luke feel really good. It was probably nice, for once, that Henry was losing it.

Yet another reminder not to be so quick to label my kids, not to carve a place for each of them in my heart and soul that is so permanent and fixed that it cannot be changed. Henry, with his charm and winning smile (all the more reason to toss and turn over the crumbling mess that I envision in his mouth!) can be difficult. He can throw a tantrum with the rest of 'em. And Luke does have his shining moments.

Of course, when I asked Henry the next day if he wanted to go to the dentist, he smiled and said, "YES!" Oh, that Henry. He is a charmer. And that Luke. I don't know what to say about him sometimes. I'll try to keep my heart wide open for the both of them.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Force

Luke is really into board games lately. With the exception of Candyland and Chutes and Ladders, though, he cannot tolerate the rules. They are sometimes too confusing, but often it is just that Luke really, really likes to win.

I get it. I either must adopt a bored, distanced perspective on games or--truth be told, if I am to truly enjoy myself--I am out for blood. Craig loves to remind me of the time I threw a pair of dice at him when we were playing some game that we have long since forgotten. I was really mad, and the dice bounced off the window and wound up in someone's drink.

One game that we can play very successfully, though, is Star Wars Monopoly. Except that we don't really play it. We each pick a team of figurines, and then we fight. We randomly draw cards, take money when we like, buy ships when it suits us, and engage in numerous battles. Sometimes we throw the dice at the figurines and try to knock them down. Luke dictates the rules.

This game always ends the same way, though. All of the figurines have died, save for Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Then Skywalker stabs Darth Vader, Darth Vader says, "Luke, I am your father," Skywalker says, "I know this to be true," and then he stabs his father. They profess their love for one another before Darth Vader dies.

I think it is the drama that Luke likes more than the rules, regulations, and chance of games. It is the playacting. And in Star Wars Monopoly, I think, it is the eternally fascinating oedipal struggle that entrances Luke. This kid, he likes drama and passion. He is a force to be reckoned with.