Thursday, January 27, 2011

State of our Union I'm a day late and a dollar short. What's new. I started this post a week ago, when the title would have been timely and clever. Now... not so much, but all the same--

January is a wonderful time to take stock, look back on the year that has just ended, look forward to the events to come in the months ahead. I love the full, blank calendar at the beginning of the new year - the possibility it holds, the potential for fun and excitement and unforgettable memories. I love dreaming of warmer months, penciling in plans six or eight months from now, coloring this month's squares with cheerful designs, cordoning off the time to be spent with friends and family. (Of course, the realist in me always looks at the blank squares and knows that some of them, too, will be filled with sadness and frustration and unexpected events as well....)

President Obama's State of the Union address got me thinking - what is the state of our union?
In short, it's pretty great. Life is good. As much as I love the baby days, life with a toddler is more predictable, a little bit quieter, and not so much grasping-for-a-life raft. I estimate that my
SPN (sleep per night) hours have doubled since this time one year ago. (All credit goes to the fantastic Jeff Carter, as well as the kid-free weekend getaway to NYC in November with my mom, my bestie, and her mom...) I could probably stop right now in my address - well rested mama = happy family.

Pax is endlessly amusing to us all. Even in his mischief, we cannot help but laugh. Leave it to Pax
to end our streak of never having walls or carpets colored on by children - in the midst of the heyday and chaos one morning, the stealthy boy grabbed his panda face stamp (that he is quite adept at using, all thanks to the instruction from his older brothers) and gave the family room rug a complete makeover. I've got nothing against panda bears, but they simply do not match
the decor. When I "scolded" him, he looked right at me - and cackled! He is one of the most skilled communicators I've ever met, yet his vocabulary consists of precisely one word: Mama. It is the delivery that conveys his every want and need. "Mum mum mum mum" with a fist opening and closing repeatedly is his begging request - "I want that. NOW!!" "[?]ama!!" means
"I'm excited to see you, whoever you are!" (Everyone interprets this particular variation to mean that Pax is calling them by name. "He just said Dada, did you hear it?" "Was that Grandma I just heard?" "Yes, that's right, it's Grandpa!" And the one that needs no interpretation at all - "MAAAA MAAA!!!!" "I'm hurt! Help me, my brothers are tormenting me! I'm bored silly, come
here, get me out of this crib!!" But there is one that is truly just for me - "MAma." Delivered with a huge grin and what I can only imagine is a full heart. Everyone knows exactly what he means when he says it this way.

Leo is four, fully four. His birthday party, a Dinosaur Extravaganza, was great fun. The young paleontologists who helped him celebrate hunted for dino bones, ran in a dino dress up relay race, made Brachiosaurus top hats, and even got to explode a volcano. I made a Stella Stegosaurus cake - probably my most ambitious cake to date - and she turned out quite well, despite the duct tape I eventually used on her head....
Leo is in that delicious world of magical thinking. His imagination knows no bounds, and he revels in the opportunity to dress up in a different costume - or seven - every day. Currently, his go-to outfit is the Superwhy costume from Halloween. In his words - "You want to know why I loooove being Superwhy? Because I looove wearing these green tights!" He has an ear for music and loves to sing. I had a "driveway moment" the other day - he was singing along to the radio, that very sweet love song with the refrain "You are the only exception..."
(Paramore) and there was Leo, lost in his own world, tenderly singing on pitch and carefully enunciating every syllable. I watched him through the rearview mirror, watching my exceptional boy, not wanting the song to end.

Aidan is my scholar, my boy who loves school to the point where he was crying that there was no school last week due to wintery weather. His schedule dictates much of the family's life right now, and that's okay, because there's so much fun and joy to be had. He has been taking karate since August, and the discipline of the art has been wonderful for him. He recently joined a different cub scout den, one that is much larger and with boys who are very committed to Scouts, and he is particularly excited about the upcoming Pinewood Derby. He is taking a music class through the Saturday Enrichment Program and loves it. His sketch book is filled with very detailed drawings of all sorts of instruments, as well as pages and pages of quarter notes, eighth notes, and rests. He's convinced he wants to play the drums... so of course, Jeff and I are regaling him with the wonders of smaller, less noisy instruments.... (like the French horn, perhaps). We took the kids to their first ever symphony to hear Peter and the Wolf performed by a local high school orchestra. It was very full-circle for me - watching a high school group, remembering being on that stage myself, but now being in the audience with my very own kids. Aidan is entering the world of big kids now, and while I am slightly sad to see that play-doh no longer holds much appeal, I am so very excited for him...

Jeff continues to love his job as a nurse, and seems to be exceptionally good at it, considering the number of "love notes" he receives from patients and the higher-ups at the hospital alike. Although I don't wish a stay in the neuro unit on anyone, I can't help thinking how lucky they would be to experience Jeff's compassionate, healing care. Jeff has started training for two races we're going to run together - the 10 miler and the 10K that I did last year. I'm really excited at the chance to be his coxswain again - er, to run with him, I mean! It should be great fun.

....and I am at the very beginning of what will likely be the hardest and most stressful semester of school to date. I am taking one very hard class, Reading Disabilities, and won't pretend that I'm not intimidated by the 9 Ph.D. candidates in my class. I'm also taking a writing class, which I think I will enjoy quite a bit, but it is still a huge commitment of my time and my mental resources. I hope that my blog writing will not suffer as a result of all my school work, but a gentle nudge to get back on track will be appreciated, if necessary.

I fear my State of the Union address holds more resemblance to a Christmas letter than anything else - but sometimes, you gotta have a little bit of a "catch up" in order to move forward. In short, the State of our Union is pretty terrific. Indeed, 2011 will witness the 10 year anniversary of this Union. Hip Hip, Hooray!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

not a baby's lullaby

There are moments in mothering that stop me in my tracks - because of the shock, the joy, the poignancy, the bare truth revealed. The indelible moment that embedded itself in my memory today came in the most unexpected and roundabout way and left me crying in a flood of clarity, relief, and understanding.

The house was too quiet (ha! in a house with three boys??) so I put on Elizabeth Mitchell's album Sunny Day. (It's been about 6 weeks since we heard anything but Christmas music around here.) Aidan said, "Oh I love these songs! I have them on my MP3 player." We had been listening for awhile, singing along with the many familiar songs when he asked, "When will that one come on that starts 'Rest your head my angel?' It's my favorite."

For as much as I love music, I am terrible about actually listening to the words, and I could not think of which song it could possibly be without hearing the tune. A few songs later, he said "This one! This is it!" I listened carefully, ever so carefully. This was my boy's favorite song, and I wanted to know why...

Rest your head my angel
Stay here by my side
I've been doing some thinking
And you've been on my mind.
Oh, you're growing up so fast
Right before my eyes
You don't have to figure everything out
You just take your time
You just take your time.

Come and sit here beside me
Tell me what's on your mind
I can see you've been troubled
But you don't have to cry.
Oh, you're growing up so fast
Right before our eyes
You don't have to figure everything out
You just take your time
You just take your time.

The truth of those words left me with big, fat tears rolling down my cheeks. While it was Elizabeth who sang so beautifully, it was Aidan's clear, beseeching voice I heard in the words that spoke straight to the core of my being. I repeated the song, over and over again, memorizing the profound lyrics.

These last weeks and months, I've been struggling mightily with expecting a lot of my oldest boy, and simultaneously knowing that I'm expecting too much. I can only imagine how hard it is to be the firstborn. Yes, there is a lot of privilege, a lot of opportunity, a lot of singular attention. But there is also a lot of responsibility, a lot of burden, a lot of lofty (and unrealistic) expectations. Recent conversations with my friends have included lengthy discussions on how hard we are on our firstborns. Even knowing that we're hard on them, it's sometimes hard to stop. Because they are so capable, because they are so big and grown up, because they are our first ones and no matter how long we've been a mom, they are still the first to enter uncharted waters, every single day. Toddler tantrums? No problem. A preschooler fighting rest time? Big deal. But first grader frustrations? Oh how often I wish I had a user's manual to guide me.

The song stopped me in my tracks. This lullaby isn't for babies. This is a big boy lullaby, a quiet song to end the day, a deep message for Mother and Child. Yes, you are growing up so fast. I see your troubles and your worries. While I might not cradle you and rock you anymore, please rest your head on me. Leave your worries with me, and take your time. I am here so you can take your time. Take your time, take your time, in your own good time - I will be here. I will let you. I am here.

(Click on the link below to hear Elizabeth Mitchell's version of David's Mandolin - a.k.a Big Boy Lullaby)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Frederick

There is a wonderful children's book called Frederick by Leo Lionni. (1967). At the story's beginning, a young family of field mice scurries around, making all the necessary preparations for the upcoming winter - collecting berries, gathering wheat, finding a cozy hideaway in the stones. Everyone works hard - except for Frederick. Disdainfully, the others question him, "Why don't you work?" He replies - "I am working." Frederick works at gathering the warmth of the sun's rays; the gorgeous colors of the meadow; and words. Finally, it is the dead of winter. The mice have depleted most of their food. They turn to Frederick in their misery, and ask him to share his supplies. Under Frederick's guidance, the mice revel in the warmth of the sun, of the colors that are painted in their memories, of the beautiful words Frederick has composed into a poem. Always humble, Frederick accepts their love and praise, knowing that his work has earned his keep among the mice.

In August, just before school started, I came across a wonderful idea in Family Fun magazine: a summer memory jar. In the hot and humid days that ended our summer, it was hard to imagine that we'd soon be facing the bitter cold of January, the lonely days of February, and the relentless hold that March often has on winter - yet I knew the summer memory jar would make it more bearable. And so we began. Each of us wrote down (or drew pictures of) our most favorite summer memories, with enough detail to bring us back to those specific moments in time. We added more memories to the jar over several days until it was full, then tucked it away on a side table in the dining room, to be brought out again when the days were bitter cold...
....Then, just a few days ago, after Aidan chose Frederick as his going to bed book, the lightbulb suddenly shined bright over his clever mind. "Oh Mom!" he exclaimed. "We are just like Frederick! We collected all those summer memories and now we can read them and remember when it was warm!!"

Yes, Aidan, we are just like Frederick - more accurately, you are just like Frederick. You are my collector of sunshine, of colors, of words - you are my poet. And you've certainly earned your keep.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Heads or...


Happy New Year! There is something delicious about starting a new year. January offers new opportunities, renewed optimism for the future, a commitment to change, a willingness to tackle projects with gusto,(hypothetically, at least) and, a fresh perspective.

And it's the perspective part that I loved today. I'm always humbled by the creativity of children, the unique outlook they have on life. I love how they think. This morning, I overheard Aidan and Leo in their room, clearly playing some kind of game. I kept hearing Aidan say to Leo, "Do you want to be Monticello?" Leo would answer yes or no. Aidan would ask again. Leo would respond again. What am I missing? I wondered. How are they "Being" Monticello? (It was a quiet game, for sure, but I just couldn't picture them standing like Doric columns...) Finally, I stuck my head in and asked what they were doing.

"We're playing Heads or Monticello. I flip the coin, and it either lands on Heads, or it lands on Monticello. We keep track of who is the winner," answered Aidan.

Well, of course. I don't know if it's our proximity to The University or our proximity to Monticello Tourguide Grandma, but either way, I was more than a little surprised - and delighted - by this fresh perspective.