Always and Forever

Isaac was always our snuggler. Then toddler-hood descended and he became a beam of light in a room full of mirrors; a bowling ball shot out of a cannon.  This didn’t mean we could no longer hug or hold him — but that it was often like catching the wind in a fishing net.

Bedtime. That’s when our child, this barely contained assemblage of chaotic energy, sat on our laps quietly while we read.   It was my time to hold him close.  Several months ago, he climbed into bed for the evening — but chose to sit beside me for his bedtime story.  I wonder if he heard my voice crack as I read to him?

You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.” (Dr. Seuss)

Sometimes what we’re certain will last always and forever — happens for the last time. Parenting is a series of those transitions:  The adorable mispronunciation that fades into maturity.  The assistance they no longer need.  Some tiny loss of an innocent perspective. Yesterday’s memories slowly dissolving into the mist.   

The lesson however isn’t to grasp too tightly — or to live in fear of what we’ll lose. Today’s changes lead to tomorrow’s discoveries — and an endless array of new horizons. I often want to freeze some moment with my children — but if that were possible, I still may be crawling around my childhood home, my parents themselves willing time to stop.

Sometimes always and forever does happens for the last time — and I’m learning to be at peace with that.  To cherish each moment — but to hold on loosely.  To enjoy the metamorphosis — and even their faltering, uncertain steps toward autonomy that serve as stark reminders that we can’t hold on to them forever.  

Isaac -- Timothy


Old Blue

The once bright blue mattress is in the waning years of life, far removed from his factory birth and proud display in a furniture showroom.  A couple arthritic springs are beginning to groan, while the adhesive brand label — mostly missing, the letters smudged and illegible — rests just above his sagging midsection.

The mattress was given to us by a family member for Noah’s first bed, like an aging race horse being given one last reprieve on a family farm — one last season of life before venturing into the Great Beyond.

Old Blue has proudly watched Noah grow, embracing his sleep and the dreams that danced through his resting head — dragons and knights and fantastical adventures.  He’s supported me and Sarah as we told Noah bedtime stories, stories exposing my laughable inability to create believable villain names:  Vigoramell, Gigantora, Skullbonehead.  It hasn’t always been carefree; there have been the unfortunate nights where a younger Noah dreamed of a waterfall and the sheets weren’t sufficiently water proof. Then there was the Night of Endless Sickness just this past week.

With our upcoming move out west, Old Blue will be unceremoniously tossed away on community dumpster day, joining other aging relics from our neighbors — relics imbued with fading memories.  The creaking rocking chair that someone’s recently deceased grandma owned — a chair she was herself rocked in as a baby.  A broken doll house that was a child’s respite from the shouting and discord — a safe haven where dreams of stability were acted out.

After the move, Noah will likely get a mattress featuring a steel coil support system or a Smart Bed featuring temperature controls and touch screens. (Or was that the one on my wish list?)  This mattress will undoubtedly witness his rush toward youth and embrace the shifting dreams of a boy whose eyes are opening to the world.  She may overhear my faltering attempts to tell a cryptic story about how Mrs. Bird and Mr. Bee loved each other very much — then my nervous interjection that Mom will be home soon and can finish the story.   She will likely feel the tears of his first breakup.

For now though Old Blue lies there, covered in a Superman blanket, unaware of his impending demise.  He’ll undoubtedly be wrestled off the box springs a couple more times as Noah builds a fort — perhaps seeking shelter from my tired stories about Xanadorthu and Pelgwandor and Lightningbone.  He’ll hear us read the last several chapters of the Chronicles of Narnia series while an entranced Noah excitedly fidgets on the bed — occasionally interrupting with a question.  A few more good night hugs and kisses. A few more good night prayers. Then the Great Beyond.

Ten (Not So) Super Secret Revelations from Stay at Home Parents

We’re elated when invited to dinner parties or other events — but we’re also terrified.  We don’t get out very often and have lost any semblance of social awareness.  It’s possible we’ll airplane food into someone’s mouth and if a guest has sauce on their cheek, we’ll compulsively wipe it off without permission — with a saliva soaked thumb.  When we laugh, we’re certain the sound resembles the whinnying of a giddy donkey — the loud, rapid staccato of someone who’s forgotten how to laugh in the adult world.   Interacting outside the confines of home is like stumbling into blinding sunlight, overwhelmed by the noise of the terrifying, giant people we no longer understand.

No one is more uniquely qualified to write a dissertation on the difference between loving and liking — than a stay at home parent.   The overflowing heart basking in the glow of a child’s angelic, sleeping face — can quickly give way to inconsolable weeping under the bed (the parent–the parent is under the bed weeping), as you wonder how your child was born with the innate knowledge of where to find all thirty-one of your buttons.

Weekends aren’t weekends — ever.  Imagine your place of employment.  As you’re leaving for your days off, the boss informs you they’ll be spent at work — but you’ll have extra help.  That’s what our weekends feel like.  We’re at the same place, with the same people, doing the same things — with extra assistance. Imagine you can never get away from that needy co-worker — who you care about — but constantly poops himself.

It takes hours to make the house look like we’ve done absolutely nothing all day.  If it looks like we haven’t done anything, it’s likely we never sat down.  If it appears there was actual progress, one of the children ran away or was left at the grocery store.

The human psyche has a limit to the the crying, bickering, or pestering it can withstand.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a Buddhist monk or a cement statue.  Eventually, you’re going to crack.  You aren’t taking care of children — you’re attempting to corral trained, emotional assassins — intuitively aware of ancient techniques of verbal torture.

To understand what it’s like to move through a day with children, imagine you have forty pound blocks attached to you with rope.  The blocks often move in opposite directions — except for when they’re trying to destroy each other.  Don’t have noodles for the casserole you’re making that night? There goes three hours of your day.  After wrestling the blocks into the appropriate gear, then into the car — an hour’s gone.  (Oh, and the blocks are shape shifters with infinite permutations.)  Two hours later after finally returning home, you realize you bought a muffin tin, a type of hair gel you don’t even use — and forgot the noodles.

Every movement of the day requires an algorithmic calculation.  If you ever see an adult in a grocery store at night giggling and performing a Dora the Explorer interpretive dance — it’s likely a stay at home parent that’s been given thirty minutes of freedom.

We have friends.  There’s a recurrent myth we’re all reclusive hermits, who have no friends and rarely venture outside.  The part about no friends isn’t true. It’s rumored a stay at home parent in California, between cashiers at the grocery store and a nice bank teller, has eight friends.  Eight!   (I have four unless you don’t include the ones unaware that asking me “Paper or plastic?” is automatic inclusion into my social circle.)

It’s an endurance sport.  There isn’t any one thing we do that’s particularly difficult.  It’s doing them for the seven hundredth time that day with the Discordant Symphony in A Minor pummeling our eardrums — that the endurance comes in.  Ultra-marathoners like to believe they test the limits of human will. So you ran seventy miles through Death Valley?  Did you do it with kids in tow or have to run through poop and legos?  Spare us your manufactured stories of triumph and grit.

We cry
.   It’s not every day and it’s not only when we’re overwhelmed — but we cry.  If you weren’t aware of this, it’s because we don’t choose those moments to post selfies to our social media page.   We only post pictures when the children’s clothes match, their smiles are angelic, and the living room is in perfect order.

The moments make it all worth it.  Every parent gets to experience these — the moments that take your breath away or bring the world into sharp focus.  We just experience more of them.  There are times the isolation feels unbearable and the self-doubt settles in — but then we get to watch as a new understanding of the world dawns in their eyes, or we get an uninitiated kiss on the cheek, or their adorableness overwhelms us.  It’s those moments that make the seven foot stack of dirty dishes waiting on us in the kitchen — only feel about six feet tall.

I Don’t Want to Forget A Thing.

I fear forgetting the stories and vivid impressions of my children that I assume I’ll always remember. The sound of their laughter.  The hilarious phrases.  The endearing looks.  Already, gazing into the recent past — the images are cloudy — as if I’m looking through opaque glass.  Perhaps if I read this years from now, it will help revive these memories.  Maybe it will read like a chronicle from a different life.

Isaac’s pouty-faced, “I don’t like t-rexis.” (Repeated at least seven times)

Watching Noah’s mind at work — always on fire — never stopping — never slowing down.

Isaac’s run where everything is moving at once — cheeks, head, arms — like he’s being controlled by the invisible strings of a puppeteer.

Noah catching a blown kiss and rubbing it into his heart.

Isaac, nestled in his crib at bedtime as he pulls his community of stuffed animals in tight — tucked into the protective cocoon of childhood.

Noah drawing a picture for every classmate, the picture carefully based on what each of them likes — or drawing pictures as a gift for the librarian, the mailman, or the bank teller.

Isaac’s pout that appears just a touch contrived.  (His mother has noted a certain Hitchcock likeness.)

Noah’s inchoate attempts at creating his own jokes, where the punchline is followed by expectant laughter.  “What can’t you eat for breakfast?  Lunch and dinner.”

Isaac’s contagious, room expanding laughter after everyone else laughs — like he understood the humor.

Their kisses on my cheek. The authenticity of their hugs. The feeling that if they were any more adorable, precocious, or amazing — my heart would rupture.

I wonder if tucked away in an old book — there is a yellowed, folded piece of paper on which my parents detailed what they didn’t want to forget.  I wonder if I ever made their heart feel like it would burst.