Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Wind in our Hair

When we were in college, one of my favorite friends and I went to an out-of-state theater conference.  The real fun wasn't at the conference itself, but during the journey to get there.  We blasted so-bad-it's-good 80s music, talked about our current boyfriends and whether or not they were keepers, we got pulled over by the police in Ohio for speeding (and even separated so the cop could interview us), and only stopped for bathroom or french fry breaks.

Last week this same favorite friend and I went on another road trip to Chicago.  This time it was for business, and this time we brought along our four children.  I probably don't have to point out that the trips were totally different.  But I'm going to.

Instead of driving a red convertible, like we did when we were younger, this time we drove a minivan with a DVD player.  Ten years ago, we probably swerved the car a bit to try to reach for the Twizzlers, that we may have left on the backseat next to the diet cokes.  But this time we swerved trying to get a good look at one of the toddlers, or trying to throw single chicken nuggets toward the back row, to reach one of the "older kids" (and by "old" I mean 3 or 4).  We didn't get pulled over by police this trip, but we did have to pull over once to climb over the mountains of bags and make the trek to the last row of seats, where one of the older kids had Houdini-ed his way out of his car seat harness.  There was no 80s music, but a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Frozen and a few Fresh Beat Band episodes.  There were a few fights that needed breaking up- about who should sing the 'Let it go' solo, or who was taking whose pillow.  And there was still heartache and tears- although this time, the pain seemed less trivial than fights with our boyfriends.

And at the end of the 4th day of our trip, as we were halfway home, I think my friend and I probably were at the farthest point of difference from our trip in college.  We felt old and were very very very tired.  Tired in every possible way, more than just physically.  We had stopped in a pizza place.  The kids had just played in a splash fountain, one had been in time out for swatting another kid with glow sticks.  One hadn't had a nap.  And all kids were covered in pizza sauce and trying to stand up in their booster seats.  Mine was facing the window, jumping up and down, trying to play with the restaurant blinds and singing a song in a falsetto.  And hers were surrounded by coasters that they had colored, and bits of pizza and less favored toppings.  The floor under the table was like Land of the Lost, littered with kicked-off shoes and other items.  One of us had made a final warning to one of the kids, you know- a real teaching moment -something like 'Will you PLEASE SIT DOWN??!'  When my friend and I made eye contact and without saying a word, just knew that we were feeling the same exact way.  And we just started to laugh. The kind of laughing where you don't know how to stop.  It just keeps spilling out, and hurting your stomach.  And tears are coming out of your eyes and you know you should stop because the suburban family at the table next to you whose children are older and can sit in one spot for more than five minutes is looking at you side-eyed.  But you keep laughing.

"I can't believe it's taken you this long to feel how I've felt since the beginning of the trip!" I said in between sobbing laughter.  Because I had started off the trip at half the energy of my amazing friend.
"Mommy?  Why are you laughing?" her three year old asked innocently, no doubt a little frightened.  The children were all staring at us quizzically.
"Because being a mommy is hard sometimes" she answered, still laughing and wiping tears from the corners of her eyes.

God favored us that day, because we found all the shoes under the table, because our credit cards were accepted for the pizza, and because no child was injured in the eating of the meal.
We rolled all of our strollers and diaper bags up what seemed like a 3 mile steep cliff back to the parking lot and began changing diapers, and passing out sippy cups before starting the last leg of the ride home.  Dirty diapers and wet clothes were leaking out of the car as we tried to wrestle kids in.  Mine escaped and got stuck between two seats trying to reach a toy.  I stood helplessly and frustrated and tried to give her verbal direction.  "Move your left foot a little to the right." I offered.  But she's two and is still learning right and left, and also in a dire situation like getting a toy, she can't really pay attention to directions.  "James, can you help her?" I asked the three-year-old desperately.  He reached out a hand, but my daughter probably thought he was trying to take the toy, and pushed him away.  I tried to maneuver into the van from the back, while random objects like dirty diapers, a stroller part and a half eaten sucker fell out into the parking lot.
"This is like Absolutely Fabulous but without the drugs." I told my friend who was probably maneuvering another kid in another row in the van.  We would have gone into hysterical laughter again but didn't have the energy.

On the way home we got to talk a bit- about how we think we've changed since we first started raising our babies. We couldn't tell if it was our very beings that changed so much, or even maybe more than changed- maybe even lost ourselves altogether, or if it was just our lives that have changed so much and we're just keeping up.  But in between the interruptions: ("Mommy, my body hurts from being in this car seat!" the three year old said sadly.  Or our two-year-olds, both crying and reaching out to us to hold them), we found ourselves again, for a couple hours, just by connecting and understanding each other.  And that alone was worth the trip.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The circle of life and stuff

Obviously Mother's Day has changed for me since I started growing a wombmate...A few years ago the Hallmark Holiday would have typically started with me waking up to check my phone and find thoughtful and sympathetic encouraging texts from the people closest to me.  The texts would say that they were thinking of me or my mom, or how much she loved me, or how she lives on in me.  Then I might take a walk, and feel stabs of heart ache seeing others with their moms, or I would hear a love song and think about her and how she was gone forever.

Of course the past couple years on Mother's Day I still think of her and still feel a sting when the thoughts start coming into my mind:  She would have loved Penelope.  How would she have held her? Played with her?  What would Penelope call her? 

Today while Danny was upstairs giving Penelope her bath I stared at a picture of me and my mum.  In the picture I'm about Penelope's age and my mom looks so young and healthy.  And really looking at her face and remembering her, and how she really was before her illness swept her away, it started happening again.  Grief, like a sinkhole starting pulling me.  The icky sad thoughts started swimming around.  I wasn't moved to tears but it might have started had I not heard something suddenly breaking through the darkness.

From around the corner and up the stairs I heard a tiny sweet voice call meekly:
She was done with her bath, and ready for her mommy (the lucky me) to put her to bed.  Her voice instantly shot the grief and darkness back to its dusty corner.  I put the picture back on the shelf, and with a giant grin, bound toward her, up the stairs, to fold her up, cover her face with kisses, and begin our ritual of stories, songs and rocking.  No wallowing this year.  No time and no room for it.

Having my baby didn't make the pain stop.  But just kind of made it less important.  And today, I realized again how my Mother's Day is so totally different.  The emptiness it usually holds, was filled with the joy I have of being a mother myself.  (Don't get me wrong, I still almost cried today-- when Penelope was having a meltdown, exhausted and over-due from a nap.)  But otherwise, it was a really beautiful day. 

Turns out the grief of losing someone who means everything to you still can't trump the euphoria of gaining someone who means everything to you.

here she is hugging James Brown, of course....

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Star Struck

We had a celebrity sighting today.
Penelope has a ladybug suitcase, that came with a ladybug purse.  She loves her ladybug. She talks to her, carries her around, hugs her and says "Geeeze!" (translation=squeeze, which is what we say when we hug sometimes).  She also has a ladybug plate, bowl and bib.  So when she saw the actual real live ladybug on her bedroom wall today, she was ecstatic.
"OH! HIII, ladybug!" she exclaimed.  "Hi! mmmmMMA!" She made a kissy noise, but luckily did not actually inhale the bug that was frozen on her wall, probably wondering if its death was imminent.  Penelope ran and got her stuffed penguin, to show the ladybug.  "Pengin!" she told the ladybug, holding it up to the wall.  "Dance!" She said and began to make her penguin dance for the ladybug.

This episode, along with hearing her say 'Ohma goodness" for the first time, were the two biggest events of my day.

I am trying to avoid saying it, because it's so cliche and obvious but it's so insane how fast she's growing.  Just a few months ago, she had an identity crisis.

Penelope's grandma has a Betty Boop figurine in a glass cabinet.
"Do you see Betty Boop?" We all asked Penelope, pointing at the little character staring at us sweetly from behind the glass.
"Boop!" Penelope confirmed with pointing. A couple days later when she proclaimed "Boop!" I noticed she was patting on her own chest, motioning to herself.  And then I noticed that she wasn't looking at Betty, in the cabinet but slightly above the statue's head- at her own face reflecting in the glass.  And that was when I realized this whole time she'd been staring at herself, and now thought she was Betty Boop.

Then that night as we were getting ready for bed, Penelope was shivering from her bath.  "Want some lotion?" I offered the bottle up as a distraction.  She held up her little hands toward it.  "BOOP!" was the sound effect I used as I dropped it onto her chest.
"Boop!" she said, seemingly excited that she recognized the language.  "Boop!" she repeated, tapping her chest and nodding as if saying "Yes, I am Boop.  If there was ever a doubt about who I am, and if these big people were trying to teach me something.  It's that I am named Boop."

What have we done?  We taught her that she's a 1930s cartoon character! She's going to start kindergarten in just 4 years! By then it will be so deeply ingrained there will be no stopping it.

Now she knows she is "Pen-a-me".  She knows the entire alphabet, at least 100 words, numbers, songs and even random animals like 'porcupine', 'newt', or 'xoona moth'.
She's obsessed with flossing.  "Fossy??" She begs if she sees floss.  If you give her a string she keeps it in her mouth, the ends dangling from both sides of her lips and walks around, going about her business.  "Mm! good foss!" She nods as if I've cooked it for her, or maybe like a fine cigar.

I think I love Penelope more than ever.  I know I said that before but I think I almost have to. It's as though my love has to keep growing and stretching because that's what she's doing.  It's no longer as simple as loving a little baby who stays wherever you put her, eats whatever you place in her toothless mouth, wears whatever shirt you thread her tiny arms through.  Now my love has to be strong and malleable enough to cover the personality that is growing as fast as her curly hair.  From the parts that are easy to love- like her interest in music that makes her stand up even to the Subway $5 footlong song, as if she's at a BeyoncĂ© concert--shaking her hips and holding her hands in the air-- to the harder parts like how she stubbornly wants things that I don't want for her.  Like eating the outside of a kiwi, or wanting to walk on her own through a public place saying "Hi" to EVERYONE- even the teenagers who are snickering menacingly at the world.  Probably making fun of everyone they see, these older kids see the world populated by idiots. I remember those days.  It's like you're wearing special teenage glasses where everyone else looks and sounds like a fool.  But Penelope doesn't know that.  She just flashes her  smile as she walks by narrowly missing a sharp table corner.  "Hi!" she says for the 4,324,590,293th time.

Not only does my love for her continue growing, but I'm finding another transformation in myself-- that I'm loving and finding empathy for all creatures.  Other babies for sure, but also older people, even the cranky ones, and animals.  It's as if my love for Penelope has helped me to love all of Creation.  I almost felt bad when I peeked at the bottom of the pink crate that holds all her Carebears and saw 7 dead ladybugs at the bottom.  "Ew." I said out loud, without realizing it.  Penelope ran over and peered inside.

"Oh! HII ladybug!" She exclaimed excitedly.