Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sleepless in Seattle

So I'm on my first real vacation away from my kids. I have had a night away here or there (three, to be exact, one away from Luke when he was two and two different single nights away from Luke and Henry last summer) but this is different. This is a long weekend.

I've flown to Seattle to meet my mom and sister. And it is really, really lovely. Even the getting here, which, in my life before children would have felt very trying--a car trip to the airport, two different flights, and a shuttle ride to the hotel--felt completely surreal and relaxing. I napped on the plane! I read half of a novel! I sipped coffee!

Yesterday, we spent the afternoon getting facials and haircuts, then lounged around in bed snacking, napping, and reading. Then, last night, we wandered around looking for a place to eat, and wound up in a nice bar sipping wine and eating spinach dip.

So we are having a really wonderful vacation. But I'm having a hard time sleeping, and I'm needing to quell the occassional wave of anxiety that laps at the edges of my good time. Because, even though my youngest is two and a half, even though I "deserve this," and even though, as my hairdresser said yesterday, "Oh my gosh, it is high time! You waited long enough!" I still feel off kilter. My pacing is off. I don't quite know how to function without my kids around me for such a space of time.

I'm the kind of person that needs a routine, needs motivation. I need a plan. And that is what my kids are. They divide my day into little tasks, and when I manage to squeeze in a paragraph or two of writing, or a load of laundry, or a thirty minute workout, I feel very accomplished. And when I'm able to be patient with them all day, I feel so satisfied. Here, faced with the expanse of self-indulgence in the day ahead of me, I feel really lucky, but also a little hollow.

On the airplane, as my first flight was about to land in Chicago and we were flying low over the frozen edge of Lake Michigan, I imagined crashing into the icy water. And I looked at all the people around me, and wondered who I would help, and the thought came rushing into my head that, you know, I wouldn't help anyone. I would swim as hard as I could so I could make it to the shore and get back to my Luke and my Henry.

And that thought goes against all of my lofty notions of myself as a good person, but it also makes me think that it is good and right that I feel off kilter without my kids. We are supposed to be together. There is nothing wrong with wanting them by my side, under my wing. That is right where they belong.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

2YO ISO Identity

Henry is definitely coming into his own lately. I sometimes wonder what he would be like if he didn’t have Luke—and I must admit I sometimes wish he weren’t so geared toward superheroes and guns at such a young age—but it is a fruitless line of questioning to pursue. What would Henry be like if he didn’t have me for a mama? Maybe not so quick to yell. But also maybe not so engaged with the people around him, so interested in the feelings of others. It is impossible to trace all of the nature and nurture and learning and genetics to explain away this little person that Henry is becoming each day.

But even though Henry absorbs many of Luke’s interests, he always puts his own, quirky, two year old, extroverted, not-quite-mastering-language yet spin on them. He's seriously wrestling with both language and his own identity, and the overlap of the two creates a whirlwind of crisis and hilarity.

Lately, he has been Batman. When we pass people, he strikes a superhero pose (see picture above: superhero pose and lilac "pretty princess" pajamas) and yells, “Yah!” or “ZZZZTTT!” or whatever noise he decides a superhero would make. The other day, a woman at the library gave him funny look after this routine, likely because he was making so much noise, and he shrugged his shoulders and said, “I just a black guy.”

You see, the problem with Henry’s Batman routine is that he seems to forget Batman’s name a lot. Yesterday in Starbucks he kept saying, “I the black guy! I the black man!” After a few sharp glances from our African American barista, I loudly asked Henry, “You mean you are the superhero Batman? The one with the black colored suit?”

“Yes, I Batman!” said Henry. “Batman! The black guy! I the black man!”

I’ve read about kids at this age having some crossed wires in their language mastery. Their brains can’t quite keep everything straight, all of these new and amazing words. Luke never seemed to do this, though, so in Henry I find it terribly amusing and sweet. Particularly when coupled with Henry’s tendency to mix up first consonant sounds (as in the great corn/porn confusion mentioned in a previous post).

Yesterday, Luke and Henry each got a new toy from the thrift store. After trying out his new Playmobile set, Henry was eager to try Luke’s Power Rangers, but for some reason he couldn’t remember the name.

“I done flaying with my my flaymobile. Can I flay with your . . . I flay with your . . . I flay with your yogurt, Luke?”

Luke was glad to let Henry play with yogurt, which, incidentally, we did not have in the car with us, but not so giving when it came to his new Power Rangers.

Today, the Ben Ten action figure Wild Mut was Walnut.

And last night at the dinner table we were about to say our prayer together when Heny started before the rest of us. I stopped him and told him that we needed to wait for daddy to start us off. The night before, on a lets-give-hubby-a-chance-to-be-spiritual-leader whim, I had told the boys to wait to begin praying until daddy started “since he is the leader.” So last night, after I stopped Henry, he said, “We wait for Daddy because Daddy is the King!”

And recently, while playing a modified version of Trivial Pursuit with the boys, I asked Henry, "Who is the leader of our country?" Henry's guess: "Henry?"

"No, Henry is not the leader of our country. Do you have another guess?" I asked. Henry's second guess: "Todd?" Todd is our landlord.

Oh Henry, black man, lilac-lover, loyal subject of Daddy the King and Todd the President, player of yogurt and walnut games, lover of porn: I love you, in all of your many forms. You are the apple of my eye. The porn on my cob. The walnuts in my yogurt.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Some of the most meaningful books I have read were "adolescent literature." I read everything by Madeline L'Engle (and still love all of her books, those written for children and adults alike) and basically everything on the shelves of the YA section of our local library that made it past my parents' scrutiny. I don't remember many of the titles now, but I do remember that the ones I loved were always about young women overcoming their insecurities.

In high school I had bangs. In ninth grade, they were all half poofed up and half curled under, the bang fashion of 1989. In tenth grade, I began wearing them simply curled under, likely a reflection of trends, but somehow more my own. And then, when I was a junior in high school, I began growing my bangs out. This was probably also becoming fashionable, what with the whole grunge thing, but I felt that my self-confidence was growing with my bangs.

I just got bangs for the first time since high school. And I have been feeling really insecure about them, and about other things. And, too, I have been trying to write a short story about a high school girl. So this all has me thinking about self-confidence in general, and my self-confidence in particular.

I was very awkward and self-conscious in junior high and early high school. This probably was at its worst during eighth and ninth grades. There are many obvious explanations. I gained thirty pounds at the onset of puberty. I moved from my small parochial school to a large public school in junior high. And, really, the most obvious explanation of all is that I hit the age when I needed to separate myself in a major way from my parents. It is hard to create a new identity for yourself.

And when I think about the points in my life when I was the most self assured, they are the times that I was happy with what I was doing, busy and filled with purpose. During my last few years of college, I really hit my stride: I was excelling in an English program, about to be married, loving my job as in a coffee shop and living within walking distance from my church. Graduate school shook me up a bit, but then, living in Chicago, I seemed to hit a good stride again: I was a dorm head surrounded by fun and interesting people who looked to me for advice; I taught in an adult education program where I really made a difference in people's lives; I lived near many people parenting in the ways that I want to, always ready to offer me advice, inspiration, and company. Oh, and I also gave birth to two children without drugs--one at home--and ran a marathon and a half marathon.

So anyway, lately I guess I don't feel so useful and accomplished, so obviously sure that I am making a difference in peoples' lives. Like I said, I have bangs. I have gained a little weight. I am a full time stay at home mom for the very first time. I don't really have any friends here yet, at least not close friends or kindred spirits. But, mainly, I think there is this: I am again trying to create a new identity for myself. Stay at home mom. Writer. Mother in a community where I often don't fit in.

But some days I feel like it just might work. My bangs are growing out a bit and looking better. I'm falling into a good routine with the boys. I'm making it to the gym, noticing moms who use cloth diapers, and making progress on that short story, the one where the young woman faces her insecurities.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Few Random Things

I am working on a longer post, one with more of a point, but I do need to post a couple of important updates:

I bribed Luke today, which I try to avoid when possible. But it was for something very important. I told him that I would buy him a small Ben Ten action figure if he would let me try to pick the wax out of his ear. Seriously. But it is a really big ball of wax, and I have been resisting it for months now. Today it just became too much for me. And here is the real clincher, the real point at which you will understand my sickness: I had to walk the two miles to Target because my car is broken down. And I remembered this when I made the deal.

* * * * * * *

Luke has a real talent for sniffing out weakness and social taboos. And then of course, working to explode it all. On Monday, I took the boys swimming by myself, and when we got out of the pool, the family locker room with the shower was occupied. Since Henry was shivering and blue, and since Luke gets excema if we don't shower him and moisturize him after chlorine exposure, I decided to break the rule and take Luke with me and Henry into the women's locker room. I didn't tell Luke the rule, that children of the opposite sex over the age of three aren't allowed in the main locker rooms with their parents. I simply told him to hop right into the first shower stall and not to come out, that I would be in the next stall with Henry. But, moments after Henry and I began to soap up, I heard in Luke's voice booming out at me, in that echoing way that can only happen in a locker room, "Mom, do girls have testicles? Mom? Mom? Do girls have testicles?"

* * * * * * *

Henry now believes that sleep is a new and exciting game, and he is determined to be the winner. Every day, nap is a huge battle that has three possible results: I put him in the stroller and go for a walk, during which he finally passes out; he doesn't take a nap; or, I yell at at him enough that he finally stays in his bed and goes to sleep. And I should reiterate the fact that I am laying with him, patting his back while expecting him to go to sleep--it isn't like I have locked him into his room alone. For some reason, bedtime is fine, but then he wakes around 3-4 in the morning, and getting him to go back to sleep is very difficult. I am accustomed to waking up with one kid or another at 4:30 or 5 every morning. My body has adjusted. But I'm not doing any earlier. Contrary to what Henry may think, this is one game that I will win.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Christmas Form Letter

Dear Friends and Family,

I'm sorry this letter is so late in arriving. I was so busy spending a joyous holiday season with my family that I'm only just now finding the time to write. True, a more dedicated stay at home mom/homemaker would have completed this project in October and be scrap booking about the holidays by now, but I'm still honing my skills. I know I will have finally mastered this role once we get a minivan. For now, I will make due with my Jeep Cherokee and soon-to-be biodiesel Mercedes. I know, I know, flirting with Earth Mama may cost me in my journey to Soccer Mom. I'm considering my options.

Speaking of cars, we had a fun little New Year's Eve adventure. We visited our good friends and Luke's godparents in North Carolina after Christmas--a sweet visit peppered with Luke screaming, "I hate my godparents!" here and there--and on our way home in the quaint town of Williamsburg, Kentucky, our car started lurching and clunking. We ended up renting a huge moving truck and pulling our car behind us on a car carrier. You see, the smaller moving vans don't have bench seats, and the bench seat was a must so that we could spend some quality time together on our six-hour drive home.

In this last year, Craig has begun a teaching-only postdoc, which is his dream job. As he was spending the last eight years getting his PhD, he was fueled by the thought that he might land a temporary job teaching three, 200-student calculus classes--every mathematician's dream! Beyond work, Craig always has a project or five up his sleeve. He has spent countless hours and thousands of dollars setting up a wood shop in 3/4 of our basement. I can't wait until he makes something. Of course, he has both of our broken down cars to keep him busy also.

Luke continues to be a lively and creative child. He has been really into legos lately, and also into crying for up to an hour and screaming, "I had a horrible Christmas!" It really keeps him busy. He also sometimes adds, "No one loves me! I don't even want to be a part of this family!" We are excited that he is beginning to perfect these melodramatics now, so that he will be well prepared when the teen years arrive. Luke has also been occupying himself with anxiety-induced sore throats as he refuses to go to school or to bed at night. When he does go to school, though, it has been going well. He is on his best behavior there these days so that he can conserve his strength for later in the day when mommy and daddy are around.

Henry is our wild, athletic guy who has miraculously not yet landed in the emergency room. He loves insisting on doing everything himself, which was particularly exciting when we were on a long and wet hike in North Carolina. We think he may have broken his finger. In other Henry news, he is still not night weaned! But we are making slow and steady progress. After a year, we are down to one nursing per night. We can't rush him, you know, as he is only two and a half.

We are extremely proud of how we are doing with the boys' religious education. Luke refuses to attend Sunday school anymore since the last time he attended he was put in the corner by the little old lady substitute for saying "dung," and "poop" too many times. It was reported that when she asked him where he learned those words he said, "My brother. No, my dad." We are very proud of him for deciding to tell the truth. Henry is showing an extremely advanced understanding of theological and reproductive matters for his age. He asked me, on Christmas Eve, "Mom, where baby Jesus now? In Santa's big belly?"

I am enjoying this journey to Soccer Mom in this suburb that we live in. I believe I have made a name for myself here--a woman I recently met told me that I might like her neighbor "who is into Sierra Club and, you know, that kind of stuff." I continue to slowly write a little each day, and just received a rejection letter last week. This means I am a true writer! Craig very sweetly gave me a laptop for Christmas so that I could have more flexibility with my writing, although I keep knocking the touch pad with my hand and messing up what I have written. This letter has taken me eight hours. But I continue to persevere!

May you all be as blessed as we are!

Ser and Family