Category Archives: Parenting

I Am Not Okay

My third grader came home from school Monday afternoon and told me all about their school-shooting drill they had that morning, how they’ve been prepared with special hiding spots, how he was chosen to be in the group that gets to climb to the top of tall shelves, how the bell will ring when they are in Lockdown Mode, how to survive something that has knocked this country to its knees.

I wept. Or I should say, I weep. Because I haven’t quite stopped since Friday.

When he showed me how they were taught to hide in bathroom stalls, curled into tight, tiny balls on top of toilets, a fury boiled within me. The tears I cried then were hot and red, righteous in their anger.

I am not okay.

I sift through the senseless and scavenge for meaning, for justice, for change. I listen as my heart beats a subtle unsteadiness as we near the school doors where I drop my son off and away and into the world ripe with heroes and villains, with uncertainty. I fight the urge to stay put just outside those doors, my arms poised open and ready to grab him back, molding him into my chest where it is safe, where I am not blood and bone and breakable but steel and unyielding, where no one will claim him from me.

My daughter twirls clumsy pirouettes in her favorite skirt, and the beauty of it, of her innocence shatters me. The brittleness breaks through and I am sobbing at the sight. Her cheeks are pink and feather soft, her hands warm and sticky. I tuck her under my chin for as long as she will let me, spreading kisses all over until her skin smells like my breath. I don’t care that she has crumbled pretzels in my bed or trailed crackers up the stairs. She is vivid and alive and that is enough.

I am not okay.

My children, with tiny nail polish-chipped fingers and growing feet and apple-scented faces tasting of caramel kisses, are subject to the brokenness and the meanness of this world. And with that I am not okay.

I wonder how this could happen, how black this world can be, and then my hatred and my bitterness grow fierce, my judgment unwavering, my wrath filled with poison, and that is when suddenly I know. I crawl through the tunnels of my own darkness and realize the only thing that tempers it is love.

I am not okay.

In the lulls of constant chatter, at stop lights, when they wake up, when I tuck them in, when I make them grilled cheese sandwiches and ignore the pile of vegetables untouched on their plates, when I read their favorite story though it’s thirty pages long and well past their bedtime, with every fresh box of new crayons, in every squeeze and kiss and touch and fingers tickling backs of knees and in between ribs, I love them. I tell them over and over and in every which way, I hold them until they squirm, I whisper it when they’re sleeping because I never want them not to know.

I try to make that love louder than the noise that threatens to drown it out, the noise that circles the earth and prowls outside their windows and roars inside my own temper.

If I love louder, then maybe it will be okay.

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Knowing Love

My kids know I love them, right? Internet strangers spending five seconds on this here blog know I love my kids. It’s not a secret.

Lately my sweet two-year-old Bean has begun to really understand what those words mean when we say I Love You.

It’s beyond understanding what red and bwue mean, or that a circle is round and squares have pointy edges; that cows moo and pees, daddy? will get her almost anything.

She knows these words when she first wakes up and when we tuck her in at night. She knows they are not just for her but for her brother and for mom and dad. She knows they taste and feel good, often wrapped around a hug and kisses.

And she knows that when she says them back, it makes me melt.

To this young but growing mind, the words I Love You are moving past something to say. They are building into something bigger than ritual, larger than necessity. They are words she is learning to attach to that swollen feeling in her chest when completely encompassed by her daddy’s arms, when resting against her mama’s shoulder, when clinging to big brother’s back.

They are words followed by affection given freely and without hesitation by a little girl with exaggerated kisses and wriggling hugs.

And watching as she shifts from knowing love to knowing love is breathtaking. And all I can do is stare speechless and try not to crumble when she wraps her arms around my knees and declares, Wuff you, mom.

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I Harbor the Ugly

Yesterday was one of those days.

The kind of day you wish you could just start over. Start from scratch.

I mean, I knew things were beginning to get out of hand when I started talking about The Starving Kids in Africa! to prove a point about whining over playing video games.

Those days are rough. And unfortunately, they come around too often.

By mid-morning, I was wondering just how much more…accomplished, I guess would be the word…my life might be once both kids are grown and gone. Or at least old enough to both be in school all day long.

I might actually get back into shape. I might actually write a novel. I might be able to keep the house clean for longer than 14.73 seconds. I might be able to take a shower every day. The possibilities are endless!

And then I’m yanked out of that daydream by an eight-year-old asking for the infinitieth time if he can turn on the television even though I JUST said, “Not until your room is clean”, or a two-year-old pitching a full-blown tantrum because I won’t let her play with safety pins.

But here’s my secret: though I raise my voice and huff in frustration, I am silently glad.

Glad because I’ve been crouching in my darkness, waiting for their behavior to cross into “undesirable” so I can dole out punishments with justification. I’ve been feeling small and petty and bitter, and finally, I have a reason for those feelings to manifest themselves in all their ugliness.

And I harbor the ugly with ease. I nurse it. I let it hide beneath the excuse that we all have those days, I let it grow restless inside the partial truth that they’ve earned the threats and restrictions and harsh words. I let it loose outside the bigger truth that they are small now and learning. Learning from the best that it’s not only okay to feel frustrated and disappointed and angry, but that it is okay to express these things with smallness, pettiness, and bite.

I let the ugly swell bigger than the beautiful, heavy weight of growing this boy and this girl, of witnessing their intelligence and kindness. I let it thicken more solidly than the fragile hearts beating sweetly in their chests. I make it more real than the impossible, short time I have to parent them before they leave me behind in their glorious dust.

Yesterday was one of those days when I was reckless with the gift of motherhood.

But I am lucky that I can do it all over today with two who really do make it easy.

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The Smallest Infinite

She woke up crying, but I stalled. The chapter I was reading had not ended, and besides, her nap had not been quite as long as they normally are. (And the chapter was really good.)

So I waited for her to settle back in to sleep.

But she insisted, her cries growing more anxious (and distracting), and I couldn’t finish the chapter anyway; and besides, the story would be there still tonight, and she was quickly moving from impatient to indignant.

So I crashed into her room, all smiles and songs, hoping to cheer her up and make her forget all about my most recent neglect.

With a scoop and sway, I cradled her, offering a snack or some juice or a toy to play with, a trade-off for absent mothering.

But all she wanted was me.

So I listened (this time) and let her snuggle against my chest, felt her press her cheek into my shoulder. Her fists squeezed beneath my arms, tucked against my side, and we rocked back and forth to almost-sleep, two pieces fitting neatly together.

I never know how long these moments will last. But I know eventually that they will end altogether.

And with that knowledge, I refuse to watch the clock tick from 4:24 to 4:57, refuse to remember that I should be thinking of what to cook for dinner, but before that, I should run to the grocery store, but before that I should dry the load of wet towels in the washer, but before that it’s almost 5 o’clock and I haven’t even made the bed.

So I refuse and remain in the moment, all the while knowing that before I can cook dinner and shop for groceries and dry wet towels and make the bed, she will grow restless. My shoulder will grow too sharp, her cheek too warm, her body too still. She will have rested, and she will want to spend that energy somewhere other than curled like a cat above my breastbone.

But in the time it takes for her to crave that freedom, I will focus on her lashes fluttering against my jaw. I will tap out a silent song with my fingertips along the slope her nose makes, her quiet heartbeat my rhythm. I will listen to her breaths, deep and effortless, in and out without a care.

Strangely enough, though the clock ticks on, this moment we are lying in is timeless.

And for a little while, within this small moment inside of 4:24 and 4:57 on a lazy afternoon, I can pretend that we are infinite.

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There Are No Words

Happy birthday, my magical Beanie-bell.
You have no idea how sweet you make this life.
L o v e ,
Your lucky, lucky mama

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A Glimpse of Legacy

It’s easy to feel forgettable.

And being forgotten is terrifying, isn’t it?

I don’t want to be left off the email list when someone is organizing a play date. I don’t want my friends to wonder what I’ve been up to lately. I don’t want my blog to fall under someone’s “Read When I Have Nothing Else To Do & I’ve Already Watched All the Reruns of Law & Order: SVU on TBS” folder. I don’t want to be written out of my parents’ wills. (Just kidding, Dad.)

I want to spread my words so they resonate with people, ringing in their ears long after. I want others to remember me, even if they’re just remembering to invite me to the splash pad.

I don’t want to be forgettable; I want to leave a legacy.

My daughter has taken to rocking her dolls and stuffed animals to sleep. Earlier today I caught her doing that to a tower of Legos.

She walks around with a toy cradled in her little arms, gently swaying it back and forth whispering, “Hey, hey, hey, shhhh.”

The comfort she is copying, the softness in her voice, the way she presses her cheek against a pink bunny or multi-colored blocks all remind me of the way I cradle my own children, smoothing down their baby fine hair, nestling them in that sweet, safe spot between my chin and my chest, that spot that tells them they are loved beyond measure, and not just by the arms encircling them.

And as I watched my daughter carefully tuck her stuffed elephant in beneath a tee-shirt-turned-blanket, I caught a glimpse of my legacy.

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The Small and the Mundane

It is the small and the mundane that undo me.

It is the shade of my son’s eyes, hazel and bright, as he rambles excitedly on about an upcoming field trip or summer camp.

It is the smallness of my daughter’s hand when I place a cracker in her palm, her fingers tiny but her grasp tight.

It is the lightness that is evident across my husband’s shoulders when he walks through the door, his spent energy renewed at the sight of a boy and a girl tearing across the kitchen floor, dropping whatever it was they were doing to bask in their father’s attention.

It is the faintest dusting of freckles across my son’s nose that grows deeper as the sun grows hotter.

It is the scent of sunscreen and sweat that fills the car as we drive home from a play date at the park, my daughter too exhausted to make it the three miles home awake.

It is the Saturdays when I can be selfish with my family, hoarding them from work and school and a thousand other commitments, hiding beneath the covers until a hunger for pancakes drives us out of bed.

It is the small and the mundane that undo me, because I am caught off-guard, waiting for the milestones and the benchmarks, the moments for when I make sure my camera is charged and ready, the bright color-coded entries in our family calendar that brightly and colorfully remind me how my children are growing.

But then I am sucker punched in the heart, and I am quite certain my ribcage is about to explode, just because my son leaned into the front of the car to kiss me unexpectedly before darting out and joining his friends as they march into school, or because my busy, busy toddler took a moment from her life of growing independence to crawl into my lap and lay her head on my chest.

It is the small and the mundane that I am unprepared for, and because I am unprepared for it, this love seems that much larger.

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