Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Our Own End Times

The other night my husband and I were sitting on the couch watching some End of Times show he had recorded. End Times stuff isn't really my thing to hear about, since I feel I'm already experiencing it when our house perpetually looks somewhere between apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic. Thus, I wasn't paying a great deal of attention to the show. I was browsing Facebook and Twitter looking for quality cat-stealing-dogbed videos when our 4 year old shuffled into the room.

Climbing up on the couch, he snuggled into my side with a sweet "Mom, I wuv you" and shared his nigh-nigh (blankie) with me, smoothing it over my lap.  He provided insightful commentary on the show my husband was watching, like 'Wow, dat's a wot of bugs!" (swarm of locusts) and "Someone put juice in da river" (The rivers and seas would turn to blood.)  I found his interpretations of the scenes far more entertaining than the actual show.  When it was finally time to go to bed he looked at us with big sweet eyes  and said, "I hweep in your bed?" (He hasn't mastered his "S's" yet.)  We both giggled at his ridiculous cuteness and scooped him up and put him between us in bed.

As I lay there with him between us, I realized how much our parenting has changed in 10 years.  In some ways I feel a twinge of guilt because I think he probably has had the best version of us, as parents.  We are far less high-strung and neurotic, we are experienced and/or worn down but most of all we are tired.  Having your first 4 year old at 34 is an entire solar system away from having your third 4 year old at 40 (and 42 for the Hubby.)

When we had him, we knew he would be our last. From the time we brought him home I did some things so differently than I had before. Many of his naps were on my chest in a recliner, laundry and dishes piling up around us and unlike the two other times in my life when I had a newborn, I didn't care.  I knew that these moments of having a little cocoon of a baby on my chest, were limited and I wanted to savor every moment of them.  The laundry and the dishes were always going to be there, a snoozing ball of babiness wouldn't.

The experience, er exhaustion, hasn't always manifested itself in savoring moments.  It has also shown up in knowing which battles to fight.  When it came to potty training, sure I was annoyed at the youngest's disinterest, but after battling a year and a half with our first son, I wasn't going to drive myself mad.  I knew it would eventually happen, on his own terms, and he wouldn't be wearing pullups to 7th grade.  Additionally, the Hubs has reminded me (several times) there is no training in potty training, they already know how to go potty. They need to care and show interest. Sidenote: Although I agree, I have never seen his hands in the toilet swishing out Scooby Doo underroos that have been soiled, but that is probably a nonessential point...  Anyway, in the end, it took just a package of Disney's Planes underwear, and his own decision to to wear some cool Jolly Wrenches underwear and that was that.

Last night when asked to sleep with us, I didn't even hesitate.  The oldest is knocking on the door of tweendom and eyerolls, and while our daughter is still mostly dwelling in the land of princesses, rainbows and glitter, I've already been lobbed a few volleys of "You HATE me!"  I know that opportunities for snuggles are disappearing like the summer sunset you stare at until it slips down past the horizon, soaking in the last glimmering orangey-pink glow until it goes dark.

As we settled into bed, I pulled my little guy's back to my chest, and he tucked his feet between my knees.  My Hubby fell fast asleep and after I kicked him to roll over and cease his snoring, I relaxed into my snuggle buddy.  His fidgeting quickly slowed and his breath became rhythmic and soft.  I rolled to my back and thought about how fast time flies and that I need to treasure these moments.  My profound thoughts were shattered by a small arm landing on my face in the pitch blackness.  My son had rolled to his back and in typical child form, splayed his arms out like a sleeping referee declaring a touchdown.  I removed his arm from my eye socket and smiled, kicked my Hubby who was snoring again, and realized our family is, in its own way, experiencing our own sort of end times.  And, I think I'll be OK with it... as long as there are no (more) infestations.

Friday, January 23, 2015

My Diagnosis

I've been afflicted by a condition. It is time to come clean about it.  I know I've been suffering from it for about 10 years.  I know that is has had a great affect on me.  Physically, it has caused wrinkles, stretching, scarring and graying.  

Emotionally, the mood swings are drastic.  Elation, irritation, sheer anger, pride, joy, and  amusement are just a few of them.  

And then there is the exhaustion. The brutal exhaustion.  Exhaustion is the hallmark of this condition. At times, it is the crushing kind of exhaustion where you find yourself in the middle of the cereal aisle staring at the Honey Nut Cheerios without any recollection of how you got there.  The sleep disturbances are devastating.  

Someday, maybe I'll figure out the affliction and its treatment.

Oh wait. I have children. Never mind. Carry on.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I'm not Brave, I'm a Mom.

Recently my son had a swim-a-thon as a fundraiser for his swim team.  It is his first year on the team, and he has progressed from looking like a floundering drowning victim to, well, a swimmer.  Pride hung thick as the humidity in the pool area when he popped up at the pool edge, out of breath and said, "Mom! I did a 200 free WITHOUT stopping!"  I was proud not only because he did swim the length without stopping, but he knew the distance and the name of the stroke! He has tried some other sports, but hadn't really found his groove yet.  He tried wrestling.  It was like watching Gandhi wrestle.  He did gymnastics for a couple years which did wonders for his lax-loosey goosey joints and core muscles, but he lacks that compact, small body form that excels in gymnastics.  He was ready to try something new and when I suggested swimming he was completely on board.  

Our swim club is non-for-profit, so they do fundraising to cover costs they incur.  In the last email regarding the swim-a-thon the coach mentioned she was looking for parents to swim too.  I hesitated for a nano-second and replied that I was willing to swim.  In my mind, I envisioned a pool full of kids and laid back parents, laughing, having races, and maybe some water games. It would be fun.

Swim-A-Thon day arrived, and when the coach sees me she says, "You are BRAVE!"  In a moment, I felt like I was buying a foreclosure home sight-unseen, or had volunteered to babysit triplets or accepted a double-dog-dare to eat a roller hotdog from the gas station.  I'm sure my expression was one of shock meets apprehension meets regret.  
Probably like this

When it was time for the kids vs. parents event, I looked around and saw a gazillion kids, and four parents suited up: two dads, a svelte, tall mom, and me.   My son gently looked at me, and with all sincerity said, "Take it easy on me, OK?" We jumped in the water to do a 50 free, and though it may have LOOKED like I let my son win, only God knows if I pulled a hamstring, or had a wardrobe malfunction, or got short of breath in those last 10 yards as he shot past me, and I came in last.  And that is all I'll say about that.  

As the day wrapped up the word "Brave" kept echoing in my mind, or maybe it was just water in my ears, but I kept thinking about this perception of wearing a suit, in front of God and everyone as brave.

Brave is choosing a profession that forces one to run into a burning building or possibly take a bullet, daily.  Brave standing up for someone when everyone else is beating them down.  It is finding the strength and courage to finally walk away from an abusive relationship.  Brave is accepting a diagnosis of cancer.  Brave is many things in many forms, but it is not donning a one piece swimsuit at 40 years old to swim with a child.  Frightening, comical, and disturbing maybe, but not brave.

The thing is this day was not about me, it was about the kids. It was about them succeeding, swimming and having fun. I am at the point in my life that any insecurity regarding my cellulite or squishiness can not trump what he will remember from that day. He will remember his mom swimming in a lane next to him, encouraging him when he was struggling, and beating her by an arm length. He will remember his mom was active, secure and supportive. He will remember he had fun. The reality is one of my jobs as his Mom is to model behaviors he will seek in eventual girlfriends, so I try to exemplify traits I respect and admire in women. Just as my daughter looks to her Dad as a prototype for men, my sons are viewing me as their primary example of a woman and a Mom. So I will continue to show them the real me: squishy, flawed, and supportive.  That won't make me brave.  It makes me their Mom.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Healing one stitch at a time.

This fall I had been asked by several different people if I had quit writing, because they missed seeing my work in the paper.  I stumbled with my answers because it was a question that I couldn't really  answer with a yes or no.  I think anyone who writes, or is of the creative nature, knows that creating can't be forced.  They are just these ideas, these words or visions that come to you and and you are called to get them out.  But trying to force words or come up with thoughts is like trying to feel amorous about someone you find appaling.  It just isn't going to work.  So, I would stutter and stammer and say "Uhm no" and give the old pathetic standby "Just been busy."

I am choosing to view my creativity as a gift and not as a ADD/Flight of ideas affliction.  In the past I have worried that maybe I am one of those "Jack of all Trades, Master of None" type people.  That maybe I was not really great at anyone thing, because I was so interested in many things.  Now I just embrace my creative spirit. I can't help it.  I love to create, in different mediums: glass, furniture, photography, words, and most recently fabric.  The reality is creating feeds something in my soul.  And I am called to do it, and feel they are God given gifts.

This fall I started throwing around the idea of repurposing clothing.  I am just hippie enough that the waste involving clothing and textiles boggles my mind.  I was also raised with zero concern for brand names and labels, but a great sense of a good deal.  More so I am blessed with an amazing, free-spirited daughter who never ceases to amaze me with her styling.  I hope to God she never loses her independent style to the pressures of conformity.  So, with my little muse inspiring me, I started playing with repurposing thrift buys into cute little girls clothing.  Appropriate styled, non-street-walker little girls clothing.  It has been soul quenching because it is sheer creation. No rules, no patterns, just creating.

What I didn't realize would happen is the healing that would take place during this time.  December would bring the eleventh anniversary of my Mom's death.  For eleven years, around mid-November I would fall into this paralytic darkness.  I WANTED to be excited about Christmas and decorate, I WANTED to gaze at a lit tree in the darkness of an evening. I WANTED to feel the magic that Christmas brings about. I.just.couldn't.  I completely realize that the darkness always fell in the exact same time frame as the last month of her life, the month I flew 3000 miles back to be with her.  And I sometimes wondered, "Am I making this up? Just wanting to be sad? Wanting to wallow in grief?" But as hard as I tried, it was like barely being able to breath, for a month. Just functioning, getting through a day.  Not able to feel sadness nor joy.  I was just existing.  

The morning of December 15th always seemed to bring, without fail, this feeling of being able to exhale.  Just as I did 11 years ago.  I believe the anticipation of the end can be so much harder than the actual end.  I mean you KNOW it is coming.  The person you love is on a one way trip and is already talking to angels.  You know how this story ends, but you hold your breath until they make that leap.  And then you can exhale.

In the years past this has always created a mad-dash scramble to complete all those Christmas tasks in 10 days, when most have been working on them for a month.  But me, I've been "gone" for a month and I felt the worst about what that has been like for the kids.  It probably felt something like this: "Can we decorate yet?" (Nope. Too overwhelming.) "Can we wrap presents?" (No. We haven't actually shopped yet.)  "Can we go buy a tree?" (Sigh. Ugh. Really???) To "Hurry up! We need to clean house so we can decorate and go buy a tree and we need to get some cookies made and let's get a fire going.  Someday I'll have to apologize for the all those years of bipolar-Christmas-Mommy.

But this year? This year was so incredibly different.  I started sewing, and cutting, and creating. I volunteered to make two costumes for our Sunday School Christmas program because PLEASE just don't ask me to bake.  I sewed my daughter's originally designed-by-her Halloween costume, complete with Elizabethan collar and pocketed cap (in case her bucket got too full, there were pockets for candy.)  I made skirts from jeans and jumpers from hideous Holiday shirts.  I made bags as gifts for friends.  Through all of this I realized I, for the first time in a very long time, FELT her.  I felt her guiding me what to do when I was stuck on a pleat. I felt her guiding my hands to create gathers and draping that fell just right.  My Mom was a fabulous seamstress, out of necessity.  A 4'9.5" frame in a time period where a size 7 is the smallest available left her with the need to be able to alter and create.  And she did it well.  I spent countless hours standing beside her at her machine, being lulled by the  rhythm of her machine.  Now I felt her laughing when my daughter annoyingly pestered me asking why her dress was not done and I was working on someone else's items.  Just as I remember annoyingly asking her why my quilt was not done and why she was working on someone else's item.  I felt her, her life and not her dying and death.  The rhythmic sound of the sewing machine released feelings and memories that had been long been buried under the thick blanket of the death process.  I would never trade that last month of being with her for anything, but somehow who she was in life had gotten lost to me in what we shared that last month.

As I worked with the fabric, the pins and scissors, memories started to sprinkle in. First like raindrops as they hit the ground, combining together to create little streams and finally joining together until the surface is completely covered and the air has that amazing rain smell.  This is what healing feels like.  It was gradual, over a couple months, but eventually my ability to remember her, her laughter, her humor, her ability to create her own words (or Darleneisms as we called them) her intense love and never ending support for her family replaced the darkness in my memory of her.  I know she would never have wanted to be defined by her journey towards death, and I struggled for years with guilt knowing that is exactly where my memories were stuck.  Never in a million years would I have imagined my healing would come stitch by stitch, needle stick by needle stick and yet now, looking back, it makes perfect sense.

Yeah. She was that Awesome.