Sunday, June 29, 2008

Taking Care of Each Other


Sunday, June 15 was my birthday, which coincided with Father’s Day. I was born on Father’s day, and so every once and a while this overlap occurs.

When I woke up, I wanted to be nice to Craig, it being Father’s Day and all. And I knew he would be nice to me since it was my birthday. I told him that I would take care of the kids for the morning and I would cook him a nice dinner. I asked Craig if he would watch the boys while I went for a pedicure and if he would help the boys bake me a cake. He pleasantly agreed.

Mid-morning, Craig sat with the boys outside for an hour—not even his scheduled child time!—while they all made me birthday cards.

As I started making dinner that evening, I told Craig that I had a surprise for him—a large and fancy beer from Whole Foods. And Craig reached up onto the top of the fridge and pulled down some expensive tequila that he had gotten for me.

Later that evening when we were talking to Craig’s parents, I heard him say, “Well, it is Ser’s birthday, too, so we took care of each other,” apparently in answer to the question about what we had done to celebrate Father’s Day.

His answer really struck me to the core, because I realized that so often we don’t take care of each other. We usually don’t start each day wondering what we can do for one another. I start the day scheming about what I can get Craig to do so that my day will be pleasant, and he starts the day staring into space and thinking about who knows what he thinks about in that spacey yet excessively rational mathematician’s head of his.

And so often, we get stuck in the same circular arguments that all come down to this: who works harder, whose work is worth more, and whether each hour staying at home with the kids is equal to each hour spent outside the home earning income for the family. And when I write this down we sound so petty and ridiculous—which we are, sometimes, but also we both care about living in a way that is mutually satisfying.

In all of my long-term friendships, the dynamic has been much more what can I give rather than what can I get. But sadly, too often I find myself wondering what I can get from Craig.

I’m sure that much of this is normal and natural. Craig and I feel the need to be more careful with each other, I suppose, to work out patterns that are sustainable, while with friends we can be more carefree with our generosity. We leave friends at the end of the day. But with one another we must work out a rhythm that is repeatable again and again for the rest of our lives.

But if we were to take care of one another a little more, engage in carefree generosity more often, this forbearance might just become joy. Think of that. The moments of happiness and flickers of delight might just settle in and take up residence here in this, our shared life.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Collectables

Luke and Henry are obsessed with collectables. I’m not sure of the origin of this term as they use it. The first time I remember hearing it was in reference to the half of a very large marble—the size of half a small apple—that Luke found in a stream bed one day over the winter. Luke obviously found this particular collectable, but Henry begged for it and then cried bitterly on and off for hours—hours!—when Luke refused to give it to him.

From what I remember, this ushered in the era of collectables in our house. And what an era it has been.

The boys are always on the prowl for collectables. For a while, the sought-after collectables were tiny plastic spheres that we kept finding all over our neighborhood. These spheres, about the size of half a raisin, have no holes and so cannot be beads. I really have no idea what they could be. But the boys wanted them, and wanted them bad. They each have about ten in their collections.

Ahh, these collections. I bought each of the boys a basket to set at his place at the table, since this is where the collectables always wind up. These compartmentalized baskets are now full, bursting with small sticks, unidentified plastic disks, shreds of colorful rubber and rusty hunks of metal.

I am not a saver. Craig is. In fact, I would go so far as to call him a closet packrat. This must be his fault.

The era of the collectables seems to be coming to an end. But I must admit, as much as I hate the mess and the rubble, as much as I long to sweep the overflowing baskets into a waiting trash bag, my boys’ habit of collecting has opened my eyes to some of the hidden riches just lying on the ground. Where I would have seen just asphalt, I now see colorful bits of potential; where once there was only grass there is now a hidden realm of undiscovered treasure.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Do We Look Alike?

Okay, here's a random blog post, and I actually do hope to write something about my amazing little sister some day, but until then, I just have a question: Do we look that much alike?

All her life, my sister--ten years younger than me--has been told she looks SO MUCH like me. People in the small community where we grew up are always accidentally calling her Ser. It has alway bugged her, but whenever we are out together and people tell us we look alike (or even, on occassion, ask us if we are twins!!!) I feel hugely flattered. Because I'm getting old and she's not.

But I have a theory that it is more related to mannerisms and striking family resemblance than anything. And also, we used to wear similar glasses.

So what do you think?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why a Mommy Blog?


Before I started this blog, I didn’t fancy myself a writer. I mean, I knew I could write—I wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages of literary analysis in graduate school—but I thought of myself as an academic writer. A literary critic, perhaps. But since I decided not to get my PhD or become a professor, I basically figured that I was done with writing.

I started this blog a year and a half ago after my friend Jenny kept telling me that I should. I was always telling her stories about my boys’ shenanigans, and she thought I should write them down. Maybe she thought they were good, or maybe she just wanted me to stop talking so much so she could get a word in edgewise. I didn’t really take her seriously, but I did have one little problem: Jenny is a night person and I am a morning person. And so one morning at, oh, about 4:45 a.m. when I got up for the day with Henry (after waking to nurse him 11 times) when I really wanted to tell some stories about my horrible children, I started the blog.

I’m glad now to have a record of my kids’ lives. Especially because I am not much of a photographer. But what I have found remarkable is the amazing way in which writing these stories has helped me to see my children more clearly. As I write, I analyze their actions and turn our every day life together into narrative.

And what is really interesting to me is how telling these stories has actually changed my perception of my life with Luke and Henry. When we are having a horrible day—or when it isn’t even so bad but I’m sick and tired of watching their puppet shows and cutting crusts off of sandwiches and reading books—I begin to make meaning of it all. I see the moments of humor, the hilarity in the absurd, the way Luke hitting his brother fits into the theme of the day or the way that Henry’s confusing story demonstrates his interesting use of language.

When I’m on the lookout for stories, everything becomes more interesting. I can see our life through the eyes of someone else.

You know the way that time softens the edges of experience? The way that once our babies are walking we can’t quite remember how tiring it was to lug them around all day? Writing about my children and my husband and myself helps me to see us all through this softened lens a little sooner.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Stuff of Imagination


Henry is entering the age of fantasy. He creates worlds inside his own imagination. He can often be found playing in a corner of the house with whatever objects happen to be lying around. The other morning, he held two cheerios in his hands, using them as puppets.

“Are you my mama?” one Cheerio asked of the other.

“Yes, you are my little boy,” answered Mama Cheerio.

As the conversation between baby and Mama Cheerio continued, I remembered Luke, around the age Henry is now, telling long and fantastical stories. But Luke’s imaginary world always seemed more anchored in big, mythological narrative. Luke’s plot lines involved good and bad guys, rescues, the slaying of dragons. Greek myth.

Henry’s imagination is sometimes just bizarre.

The other day I asked Henry to please stop kicking me. Without missing a beat and without a hint of a smile on his face, he asked, “Or you will throw me into a lake?”

He often comes up with ideas whose origins I can’t imagine. While we were driving a couple of weeks ago, Henry saw a man in his yard using a weed whacker.

“What is that man doing?” Henry asked.

“He is using a machine to cut weeds in his yard, but it is not for children to use,” I answered.

“I used that once when I was a man,” Henry replied.

“Oh, you were a man?” I asked.

Again, without so much as a pause, Henry explained, “One day a fairy turned me—poof!—into a man. And then I used that machine.”

While Henry’s fantasy world is often confusing and seemingly random, it has occurred to me that it reflects Henry’s personality in the same way that Luke’s narratives reflect his. Henry has always been riveted by details, personal interactions, tone of voice. Henry focuses on people, often so intently that he runs into walls, tumbles down stairs, trips on his own feet. His legs are covered with bruises.

This morning, the boys each put on a puppet show. Luke’s involved knights slaying dragons, then conquering the Cerberus to enter the underworld. (Yes, Luke owns a plastic Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of the underworld of Greek Mythology. It was at the top of his Christmas list the year he was four.)

Henry’s show featured three dragons. And yet there was no slaying.

“Green dragon, will you be on my team?” one green dragon asked another.

“Yes. We are two mans on the same team,” the other green dragon replied.

Then a red dragon stepped in: “Can I be on your team?”

“Yes,” the first dragon replied. “We are a team with two green mans and one red woman dragon.”

And that was the show, folks.

I think that Henry’s focus on human interaction and nuance might be why he has been so much more interested in princesses and clothing than Luke ever was. Henry is intrigued by gender. He sees the differences between girls and boys and men and women. He is interested in teams, in what kinds of people are friends, in what type of people do what types of things.

How wonderful that I have one child to help me focus on the vistas, the overarching narratives, the archetypes, the myth, and another child who will turn my gaze toward the nuances of individual human emotion and interaction, toward the butterfly on the flower right before my very eyes.