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Posts Tagged ‘Children’

I wasn’t planning on having children. Actually, I was planning on not having children. Until my now-firstborn, now-twelve-year-old, first made herself known. That extra pink line on the plastic strip might as well have been an angel, and I would have benefited from the routine angelic greeting, “do not be afraid.” I admit I cried myself to sleep that night, but it seems I always take a night to freak out before changing my plans in any major way. Sometimes even the sweetest surprises are first met with salty tears.

And now, we are two-thirds of the way to that tiny baby’s high school graduation.

Week 15 of #songaweek2016 included an extra challenge, to write a song in the form of a recipe. I already felt like writing a song about my daughter, so I found a way to squeeze it into recipe form too.

Take a smidgen of him and a dash of me
Bake for nine months at ninety-eight point six degrees
Then when my body feels like it’s about to break
It’s time to open up and meet my babycake

Pretty baby pretty baby with her daddy’s eyes
Pretty baby pretty baby mama’s sweetest surprise

Give liberal breastfuls of milk to my sugar and spice
Try not to scream the first time she bites
Blend up some squash and put it on a teaspoon
Pretend it’s on a mission and she’s the moon

Pretty baby pretty baby with her daddy’s eyes
Pretty baby pretty baby mama’s sweetest surprise

In a medium class combine her with twenty kids
Sift through all her papers and art projects
Roll out chores and charts so she gets her work done
But ditch the cookie cutters, let her make her own fun

Pretty baby pretty baby with her daddy’s eyes
Pretty baby pretty baby mama’s sweetest surprise

Sometimes my little sweet gets a little saucy
Sometimes she flames up like bananas foster
Then I let her settle

Let her sweetness age, let her take her time
Gotta wait patiently for the finest wine
Then however she decides to pour herself out
She’ll outsparkle all I’ve dreamed about

Pretty baby pretty baby with her daddy’s eyes
Pretty baby pretty baby mama’s sweetest surprise

 

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[I wrote this after a school-morning parenting moment with my preteen daughter earlier this year. Sometimes I am just as amused at my words in moments like these as I am at my daughter’s!]

You absolutely adore your teacher, and he fiercely cares for his students. One day when I am volunteering in the lunch room you walk in and sit down, and you are crying. Your teacher confides in me that he doesn’t get it why you cry sometimes and can’t say why.

I get it. You know why, but it’s not a talking kind of thing. You and I sat on the couch this morning and tried using words to unravel the problem, but it only wound tighter, tightening along with your shoulders, along with my tone of voice.

Using words, we outlined the problem something like this:

You need to make your lunch so you’re ready for school.

I can’t. My life is so hard. I’m lonely. I hate it here. I want ramen noodles. Please buy me ramen noodles. We don’t have anything I can make for lunch.

I just went shopping yesterday. We have plenty of food.

No we don’t.

Yes we do.

No we don’t.

How have I failed so miserably as a parent? We need to leave this country. You need to see how most people live. You have clean water and more than enough food and a safe place to live every day. You get to go to school every day, and have few other responsibilities in life. How can I show this to you?

You hate me. I make you feel like you’re a bad parent. I need to leave. I’ll move somewhere else. You don’t want me.

Words, which I love, often fail me in my parenting efforts. So I close my arms around you, my dear miserable child, and close my mouth. Your shoulders relax, my throat loosens, and eventually, you are in the kitchen making your lunch and singing.

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Lots of things can inspire people to push to a new level.

You can see someone else do something amazing, and start to wonder what you may be capable of. For example, watching the Olympics. Or this guy. Or the last moments of last night’s Super Bowl!

You might have a drill sergeant or a coach or teacher or boss who yells and punishes and demeans you to draw those hidden reserves of strength from you. It works for some people, some of the time.

Or, as I poignantly discovered yesterday, love might do it. Love and joy and a bit of parental pride too.

silasrunThis kid, if he were your kid, might inspire you to do something you didn’t think you could. Maybe you have one like him. Or maybe you love someone else as fiercely as I love this kid, and then you might also know what I’m talking about.

In this photo, my son is a few years younger, but he’s doing the same thing he’s been doing every day, almost since he first balanced on those two legs. He’s running. Back and forth, lap after lap after lap. Muttering and shouting to himself, jumping, waving arms now and then, the star of the story in his head, pounding out the joyful rhythm of life coursing through his veins.

On Saturday, Silas toured the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and the athletes and stories he encountered inspired him to start his own training. On Sunday, he announced that he would run around the block 20 times. Nathan went with him, and used his phone’s Strava app to track it.

Ten laps around the block, and Nathan was done. They had gone 2.5 miles at an average pace of 9:38 per mile. But Silas wanted more! He had said 20 and he meant to do it. So I said I’d go.

Six and a half years ago, I decided it was time to get back in shape, and so I started running. My first accomplishment was running one mile without stopping. Over the years, I pushed until I was regularly going on ten-mile runs, and my average pace peaked at (or dove to?) around 9:30 per mile (which is nothing special, but for recreational running, respectable enough).

Then we moved to Colorado, where the air is thinner, which makes running harder – and since we’ve moved here, I’ve never run further than six miles at a time, or at a pace much less than 10 minutes per mile. Lately, I’ve been averaging closer to 11-minute miles, and hardly running more than two miles at a time.

Which, of course, is fine. Even great, relatively speaking. And I’ve been content with that.

But then, yesterday, Silas wanted someone to run ten more laps around the block with him, and as he had already worn out his dad (who, to be clear, is in great shape but just not much of a runner), it appeared to be my turn.

Knowing that just two days before I had eked out two 11-minute miles, and that Silas had just rocked two-plus miles at a pace of more than a minute per mile less than that, I wondered how this might go. But, he had just run two miles, and I was coming in fresh, so maybe these next ten laps would go a bit slower.

I brought my phone so we could track our pace on my Strava app. Since Silas didn’t have a good way to carry it securely while he ran, he emphasized that I needed to keep up with him so he could get an accurate reading of his pace.

I said I would.

And we were off.

The kid showed no signs of slowing down.

“Pace yourself, now, Silas! Remember you’ve got to keep running for ten laps! And you’ve already done ten so you may be tired.”

“I know, Mom. I’m fine!”

“Great!” But I wasn’t so sure about myself. Legs felt fine. It was the lungs that protested. I concentrated on breathing, and keeping up with Silas.

We counted the laps as we passed our house. “One!” I panted.

“Nine more to go!” Silas joyfully shouted.

Help! my mind screamed.

We made it to four.

“Only six more now!” piped the happy little athlete.

Six more! But we hadn’t even run six yet. We had run four, and we were going fast, and I was breathing hard. When we had actually gotten to six, we would still have four more – as much as we had just run – still to run! How was I going to manage?

“Are you getting tired, Mom?” Silas asked as we turned a corner and I began to breathe especially hard.

“Not really, just having a little trouble breathing! How are you doing?”

“Great!” chirruped the cherub.

“Awesome!” cheered the panting mother.

We ran, and counted, and ran, and talked a bit.

And then, somehow, we were at nine. One left! I could do anything now!

And we did. We sprinted for the finish, and I stopped the app and insisted we walk just a bit to cool down, and when those ten laps were complete, my phone told me we had just run 2.5 miles at an average pace of 8:54 per minute.

Even in the flatlands, even on short runs, I rarely saw the number 8 for a minute-marker in my average pace.

My boy had just run five miles in a little over 45 minutes, on a whim, in the mile-high Colorado atmosphere.

And, probably more remarkably, he pushed his mother to shave two minutes off her average pace – not with inspiring platitudes, not with barks or insults – but with something much more powerful.

He did it by tapping into the love I have for him, and sharing his absolute joy of running with me.

This morning, still basking in the glow of yesterday’s achievement, I went out on my own and ran an 8-minute mile, and another 10-minute one to finish out a daily run.

I didn’t know I could do that, not before yesterday, not before I ran with Silas.

Who knows how serious Silas will be about continuing his “training”? I hope we can keep it up together for a while at least.

But whatever the case, and far beyond the realm of running, I learned something deeply important yesterday – that if you want to break through to a new level in anything, or help someone else do so, love and joy might just be the ultimate motivators.

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I closed out another journal this morning. Here’s an entry from earlier this year, written after a particularly painful evening of parenting.

Oh ten-year-old girl with the rages and rolling eyes, the cry and play of a child, the body and mind leaning towards adulthood. You are loved, and lovely. You are unpredictable, awkward, unkind, collapsible. Headstrong, indecisive, brilliant and naive.

I, young one, am your mother. I am wise and baffled. Patient and irritated. I love you. I do not always like you. I am not old and wise enough to never feel pain at your unkindnesses. (No, that’s not where wisdom would be found. Love feels the pain. Wisdom – and love again – can reach beyond it, to embrace you, to envision you in truth, a child-woman writhing in growing pains.)

Sleep tonight, my small darling. Sleep and be refreshed. You are not in-between two realities. You are fully functioning, smack-dab in the center of one reality, this one, the reality of your living self at age ten-and-one-half. And I am honored to know you here and now.

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God’s fingers were floury from kneading the bread dough.

She wiped them on her apron

Then stooped to pick up the baby

(He had been crying and pulled himself up by her pant leg, his snot and

tears spotting her jeans at the thigh)

She kissed his cushy cheek

Hoisted him on her hip

Smoothed a stray strand of hair

And laughed when he sneezed unexpectedly.

On the radio the band struck up a tune

So she took his chubby hand in her callused one

And they danced around the kitchen

Afternoon sun dappling the linoleum

School buses whooshing by outside

Neighborhood children chattering down the sidewalk

And there in the middle of it all,

Bread dough rising quietly.

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In early June in Minnesota this year, it seemed we lived in a world of rain, a land of gray. I think we spent two continuous weeks under granite skies, and my nine-year-old daughter began to feel it in her light-hungry soul. The perpetual gloom, combined with the haunting bedtime thoughts about death and loss that are common to her age, brought an above-average precipitation of tears welling up from a previously-unplumbed depth of grief and questions in her being. We were packing to move across the country that month, far from the familiar hugs of grandparents, a thousand miles from the back doors of the neighbor girls she loved like sisters.

This girl was not my idea. I was not inclined towards having children, because although I have always adored babies, children (those little people who want birthday parties and sleepovers and repeat, “watch this!” over and over and interrupt intelligent conversations to repeat their favorite lines from inane movies and litter the world with cheap plastic toys and fingernail polish) are not my strong suit.

I was a child once. And this does give me a window on my own daughter’s childhood. But just as her birth was not my idea, neither is her self. As I wrote here, she is a whirlwind of imagination and action. My child self was a model of compliance. Trying to understand her most mystifying elements through the lens of my childhood too easily leads to comparison and value judgments.

But when I remember that Luthien was never my idea, and that her continuing unfolding is not my idea, I relax a little more into the One whose bright and colorful idea she is. I support, encourage, seek to inspire, educate, discipline, celebrate and love this inexplicable human, but she is not my grand idea to be worked out precisely the way I think best.

She is the apple of my eye and the stars in my night sky, but apples don’t feed eyes and stars at night don’t keep their beholder warm. My baby, my child, my girl came from me, changed and changes me, has marked me forever – and yet, she has her own road to travel, distinct from but ever intertwined with mine.

Here’s a song I wrote in those gray weeks in June.

Lyrics:

You are the apple of my eye

But eyes cannot eat apples

You are the stars in my night sky

But stars are too far away to keep me warm

You are my darling baby girl

And babies need their mothers

I am your faithful failing world

I rock you in my arms and cry along

A long long night

Oh will it ever end?

A hard hard fight

I wish we both could win

You are a flash of color bright

Inside a kaleidoscope

You ask me sometimes late at night

Is anybody there looking through?

You are a mirror in the woods

Reflecting all around you

You show the trees they’re looking good

But secretly you’re lonely for a face

A face of love

A face with patient eyes

A face you’ll know

From your feeling of surprise

You’re growing into summer now

You’re thirsty like a flower

With all my heart I’ll show you how

To spread your petals out and drink the rain

The rain that soaks

And chills you to the roots

But don’t lose hope

The sun will come out too.

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On this first day of spring, my brother’s wife is laboring to birth the last of my parents’ grandchildren. This child will probably get a new name today, but for the last nine months he has been Baby Omega.

On this first day of spring, I am bundled in layers and confronted with a cold snowy world outside my window.

These things have me thinking about how children are like snow.

Both children and snow are a beautiful inconvenience. Both are a gift that comes when it pleases, or when God pleases, or the forces of nature and life, or random blind chance, or some crazy-quilt mix of these, depending on who you ask.

Both start as romantically anticipated events, at least to some of us – those who wish for white Christmases, those who dream of a baby cooing in the cradle in the new house we just bought.

The first snow is magic and mystery, and so is each new baby. The world hushes, slows, becomes one eternal sacred moment.

Then the snow hardens to ice chunks, soils itself with sand and salt and animal droppings, and generally gets in our way. The baby wakes us up every night, spits up on our clothes and our furniture, grows teeth and bites us.

The winter wears on and we settle in to the new reality. We read more books, go skiing, build snowmen, drink hot cocoa. We wake when the baby wakes, which is no longer a shock to the system. The babies grow, and we accept the relentless school-night routine (dinner, clean-up of kids dishes table floor, bath, storytime, prayers, kisses, lights-out, drink of water, lights-out, comfort for nine-year-old’s existential fears, lights-out, comfort for six-year-old’s scary dream, lights-out . . . ) as our basic reality, just like we accept that we can’t run barefoot outside in the snow (though our children don’t always concur).

We dream of summer. We dream of empty-nest years. Middle-aged couples in the child-free restaurant booth near ours (the one with children chattering about Phineas and Ferb and parents droning, “sit down!” and “say ‘excuse me!'”) look as exotic to us as the posters for Jamaica hung in the icicle-bedecked windows of the travel agency downtown.

The snow is going nowhere, though the calendar says it’s spring. The children seem to be in no hurry either.

But every day has moments that catch us off-guard with their goodness. The color of the light on the snow at sunset, the waking adult we glimpse in the graceful stride of our golden-haired daughter.

The days and the years carry on. One day the snow is more absent than present, the child’s life is lived more out of our home than in it. All of us are refreshed by the spring, with its sprouts and sunshine, this new season of our lives ripe with energy and possibilities.

But then winter, with its gifts we never asked for, gifts we never did experience as well as we could have, softens in our memories, and we are just a little sad that we never officially said goodbye to the snow, even as it faded right in front of us.

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