Brave face….in the face of loss

Our house has been on the market for over a year.  It’s a torturous process.  An agent calls, we work into the wee hours of the morning to clean up all remnants of 5 little boys, we vacate the house (often hanging out at my mom’s)….I carry 8-10 large plastic bins of cleared items (including the countless sippy cups and sippy cup parts from the countertop) down into the basement, stack them up among the 30-40 other storage bins already down there….and then slowly bring them all back up one by one in the days after a house showing as we remember things we need next.  Well, it’s usually me wondering things like, “where’s the bundt pan to make this cake?”… “what happened to the metal spatula that I like using to get the cookies off?” … “where do all the sippy cups keep going?” (some of them do find their way behind the couch or under the seats in the car, only to be thrown away once found if they meet the black-inside criteria).

All this is to say that having one’s house on the market is a Pain with a capital P.  But what has really been troubling me (other than my back when carrying all those bins) over the past year is a sense of a slow leak…a slow, yet accumulating loss of things.  I find myself often thinking, “I wonder where I put that x, y, or z the last time we packed up the house?”  “I can’t remember where I put….”  And, it’s almost like Christmas to the boys when we go to my mom’s house and they find one of the bins with their toys in it “Oh, look, it’s our Batman-mobile!!  Look, here’s our tractor!!”  I get the same joy occasionally – “Oh, look, here’s a bin full of cereal boxes…most of which have expired!”  But generally, I find myself frustrated and grieving the loss of items which I used to rely on.

Naturally, these simmering feelings were blown into gargantuan size this past week with the burglary of our house.  Frustration, grief, anger, sadness.  Kathy was on the local news the next day telling our story.  A friend called to tell me she was “coming up” on the news as I pulled into the driveway.  “Oh, I’ll run inside and watch,” I said….followed quickly by “oh, we don’t have a TV.”  Noah falls asleep in one of his unique, semi-unsafe positions and I long to reach for the camera and capture another “Noah sleeps” moment.

Yet, all of that is nothing compared to the loss of my memory.  I have sudden amnesia. Sudden Alzheimers.  And yet, I am not sick.  It’s just that I entrusted my memory to a machine because there was so much within my brain and now that machine has left me….and so has the memory of Micah’s first word and when he learned to walk.  So has the memory of how many classes I’ve done for “continuing medical education.”  So has the work that I’ve put into building a crisis nursery….hours upon hours of work….gone.

So I spent the week walking around with an ache inside and a brave face in front.  “Doing okay,” I’d say and then tell the story of how Bazer the police dog chewed up the furniture.  I’m really good at telling a funny story.  It keeps my own emotions in check.  And people have told me all week “Wow, you’re brave. You’re strong.”  And most of the time I feel like I am and then I crash – big time.  I come home late one night and the older boys are in bed without their respective pull-ups on….and the blankets and the sheets and the jammies are soaked through….and I explode.  Fueled by my anger of loss….it actually doesn’t matter what small thing sparked the explosion.  Fueled by an older son who does not want to hear that his dearest “blue blankie” is saturated with urine and thus must be washed NOW.  Fueled by the audacity of someone to invade our privacy and safety.   Slamming doors, kicking, muttering under my breath….I finally lay in the bed and sob.  That’s where the brave face falls apart sometimes.  And the words of Mandisa’s song “What if we were Real” run through my head:

“Well, I’m tired of saying everything I feel like I’m supposed to say

I’m tired of smiling all the time, I wanna throw the mask away

Sometimes you just have a bad day, Sometimes you just wanna scream ….

We keep trying to make it look so nice, And we keep hiding what’s going on inside

But what if I share my brokenness, What if you share how you feel

And what if we weren’t afraid of this crazy mess, What if we were real.”

What I’ve slowly come to realize in my week of working through this, is that while it’s important for me to be strong and protect my children – that’s the only face I show them most of the time.  The face that says “Mommy has this all altogether.”  I rarely show them the “real” me.  The hurt me.  The angry me (well, no – they know that one really well).  The sad me.  They need to see those faces sometimes too so that it’s safe for them to be “real.”  So tomorrow we’ll buy a dog bone for Bazer in case he wants to come back and visit sometime and we’ll all practice being real.

“Will the robber take me too?”

How do you answer a question such as this from a 6-yr-old boy?  Why would you ever want to be faced with the question?

Well, this week I was.  I left the house Monday morning to take the kids to daycare.  I went to a meeting as part of my foster parenting requirements (one of those in which the facilitator just reads a powerpoint presentation to the audience…and I try not to roll my eyes).  I returned home planning to knock out an hour or so of work on the crisis nursery project before heading to teach a class to medical students.

As I came up to the back of my house, the back door screen was propped open with Seth’s diaper box.  Not too unusual…my dad sometimes stops by to do some work around the house. I headed into the dining room and noticed the front door open as well….I grabbed my cell phone and dialed 911 while calling out “hello?”  I passed by the stairway and felt a coolness and brightness of air change….looking up there was a gaping 8 foot x 4 foot hole in the staircase where our beautiful stained glass window had been less than 2 hours before

I hit send on the phone and ran out the back door.  In minutes, an officer was patrolling our house with a machine gun poised and ready. Bazer the police dog was “sweeping” the house for intruders (but finding only a couch and a mattress to shred to pieces).  No people were found….as were none of our electronics.  TV, computers, digital cameras, the Wii system (including the balance board under the table), jewelry…everything.  To make matters worse, the idiot that I am had left my safe in the office upstairs and that was cleaned out of all my important documents as well as the back-up external hard drive for my computer (I backed up the files for virus protection…but never thought about needing to hide it from robbers!).  Gone is my passport, birth certificate, social security card – my identity paperwork.  Gone is the birth certificates and adoption certificates of my sons. Gone is my work on the crisis nursery nonprofit and all my professional and personal life.  My stomach dropped to the bottom of my soul.

It’s amazing how long the state of shock lasts.  It’s amazing how much more hyper-alert I am.  Where an out-of-place kid’s toy was once cute, it now appears threatening in the middle of the floor at night.  The random noise makes the heart stop.  That sense of safety is now fragile.  The disbelief rings out through the silence.  The ache of loss seeps throughout the daily rhythm.

For the boys, there is a missing TV.  The excitement of possibly falling out of the missing window is replaced by the starkness of plywood. The fact that the police dog chewed up the living room couch brings smiles to silly faces.  But for the older boys, there are also some questions.  As Micah fell asleep that night, he asked “Will the robber take me too?”  It pierced my soul.  “No, my child, you are safe.”

For after the excitement died down – the police had come to fingerprint the area, a kind man arrived to put up the huge sheet of plywood to keep the impending rain out and the children in, and the children were tucked in bed – I found Noah sleeping on the staircase landing under that big window.  The image is imprinted in my cortex. He was curled in a fetus position of absolute comfort.  He trusts that he is safe.

And I realize that this is what we as parents do for our children.  In the moments of the storm, we tell them “You are safe. Mommy is here.  I protect you.”  When gaping holes appear, we find the patches to block the winds.  When pieces of their world go missing, we stay by them and remind them that we are not leaving.  When there is stress and anxiety and worry in the air, we hold them tight and kiss them softly.  You are loved.  You are safe.  You are my child and I am your mother.  I am here. God grant you peace, my little one.

Soccer Mom – It had to happen….

It has to happen at some point, especially if one has a boy.  At some point, I have to become a Soccer Mom, if only for a season.  I’m secretly wishing that it’ll catch on with at least one of the boys since I like the sport.

On the other hand, maybe I should wish that they will all have a preference for basketball.  It is at least an indoor sport!  I thought about this last weekend when we arrived at the field in a torrential rain storm and I prayed for game cancellation despite my sons’ enthusiasm.  We had just the day before gone to the soccer store and purchased cleats for both (poor Seth can barely walk in regular shoes) and socks and shin guards and balls.  Noah would have worn the cleats and shin guards to bed if I had let him.  So when the coaches started yelling out “U8 games are cancelled” I was very happy.  The boys, however, decided that the now sprinkling water shower was actually enjoyable and they spent the next 30 minutes sloshing about in a mud puddle….in their new shoes!

So here’s my list of things you need as a Soccer Mom…in very little particular order…and with the caveat that we’ve only had one “game” for each kid and my thoughts are highly likely to change over time.

  1. The perfect water bottle.  The ones that leak all over the neighboring diaper bag while at the bottom of the stroller are not so ideal.  The ones that shrink to one third the original size as a result of dishwasher cleansing even if on the upper rack are also now worth only recycling.  The ones that Micah has chewed on the pop-up value so much that they can’t close anymore are also of little value.  I know….probably should get a Nalgene.
  2. Collapsible captain’s chair.  I have two of them.  They work fine, but they really are a pain to carry on one’s back while pushing a stroller through damp grass to the farthest field EVER!  And who wants to fold them and put them back in their “handy” bags?!?!
  3. A golf umbrella.  Let’s face it – despite years of ridiculing my father for such a HUGE umbrella, last week I looked on other people with envy as they kept “mostly” dry with kids scurrying around under their feet.
  4. A really warm parka.  Again, back to the basketball.  I’m not sure I’m cut out for rainy days, cold days.  I might need inside sports to avoid the damp cold (and I certainly don’t plan to be the one to teach the boys to ski!).
  5. Rubber car mats.  After playing in the rain and the mud, I’m pretty adamant that they remove their shoes as they clamber into the van….before stepping on the seats as they make their way into their carseats (and thank goodness for babywipes when they do get things muddy!).
  6. Extra shoes to have the boys change out of cleats when they finish playing.  I haven’t figured out the logistics of this yet – which is why 3 of them (my nephew also plays at the same time as Micah but on a different teams so they don’t strangle one another or just stand on the field making potty sounds at each other) wore cleats to the movie theater see “Finding Nemo 3D” yesterday afternoon!
  7. Extra food in the car.  Even though the boys get a snack after the game (and I was wondering today what I’ll do when it’s my turn), they still pile into the van and ask “what do you have to eat?”  I must remember that they eat every 2 hours no matter what and are not capable of “calmly” overcoming this strong impulse.
  8. A duffle bag to keep team shirts, socks, shoes, shin guards and balls in whenever a straying item is found throughout the week so that by Saturday morning you can just grab it and go.
  9.  Grandma!  Yes, she is vital for pushing a stroller through long damp grass, carrying folding chairs on the back, taking siblings to the “potty” while the other one plays (or just changing a diaper on the ground), cheering loudly, and generally just helping with everything!
  10. A strong heart to swell with pride at every goal, every good  defensive play, pretty much every move.  It’s amazing how teary-eyed I get while watching the boys.  I don’t know who sports is better for – them or me.

Please help me – what else do I need?  I know I’m forgetting something.

Smitten by a Kindergartener

“My baby girl fills a place I didn’t even know was empty. I am positively smitten.”  (K.H.)  I love this line that I “borrowed” (with credit) from a friend in her Facebook stream.

I also love vicariously reliving the “smitten” stage of the first-born child.  There is something so wonderful and special about those magic moments.  Those moments when time stands still and you realize that you have sat on the couch for two hours listening to the uneven yet peaceful breath of your baby and your mind has been still and content.  Those moments when you stare into your baby’s face and realize you never knew love could be so powerful and so peaceful and so strong.  Those moments when you realize your life has changed forever and you’re so thankful for that.

I watched my friend cuddle her 2-year-old son on the subway during our recent trip to New York City.  Her arms wrapped around him.  Her face bent forwards to snuggle against his cheek.  She spoke softly, whispering. Smitten. Blissful.

I was on the other side of the train – restraining a one-year-old with one arm, “spotting” the three-year-old as he bounced around looking out the window into the darkness and jumping back to look at all the people on the train, and verbally reminding the 6-year-old to “hold on,” “sit down,” and “be quiet.”  There was no quiet within my brain.  And yet, I was still okay with it all the chaos and the madness of my three.  (Alright, actually….I was thinking “yes…just you wait until baby #2 is born and then all of that lovey-dovey-attentiveness will change.  Just you wait.”  Not in an evil-haha kind of way, but in a reality-is-coming kind of way 🙂 .)

You see, I have a great friend who has 4 little boys about the same ages as my three guys (poor dear – she’s amazing!).  And we are good for each other because we are honest with each other.  And we agree that we absolutely love our boys.  No questions about it.  But we don’t always feel that love.  Sometimes, I’m just going through the motions of care-taking. Sometimes I’m just changing another diaper, wiping another snotty nose, putting on another pair of shoes that I just put on and that he just took off again.

And sometimes, I am “not happy with your behavior” and the love feels far away.  Present, but currently unavailable.  But then I sneak into the boys’ bedroom before I go to sleep each night, and lean over to kiss each one (a blown kiss to the little guy whose crib mattress is too far away), and whisper I love you.

Yet, it is in some of the “big moments” of parenting when I am overwhelmingly reminded that I am still, 6 years later, smitten with my boys.  This week Micah started kindergarten.  I stood along the wall of the church’s gymnasium and watched as he made new friends with the boys sitting beside him as they waited to go to their classroom.  I signed “I love you” whenever I caught his eye, and I gave him a kiss as he walked away from me.  The tears flowed by the time I reached the anonymity of my car.  My boy.  Kindergarten.  The start of the journey of school.  And as I drove to work through the fog of my eyes, the chorus of a song played over and over in my brain – “well done, well done…” (Moriah Peters).  It just seemed to sum up my love for him, all the work that we’ve done together over the past six years, all of that – well done – you got him to kindergarten!

I did much better the next two days of dropping him off, until I opened his backpack Friday evening and found a card that Micah made at school.

A Handful of Love

(by D. Conway)

It was my first week of school,

And now that it’s done,

I can’t wait to tell you

About all the fun.

We read a book called The Kissing Hand

About Chester, a sweet raccoon.

He went to school up in a tree,

Beneath the shining moon.

Chester was scared and a little shy,

Until his mom kissed his hand.

It sent the love right up his arm,

Towards his heart for it to land.

Just like Chester, I was brave

Because of love from you.

I made this gift so I can show

How much I love you, too!

It’s Mommy’s birthday – be nice!

It’s my birthday today and I was wondering if I’m going to be retirement age before I get to blow out my own candles again.  By that time, I probably won’t have enough breath to blow them all out.  I’ll have spent it over the years yelling at the boys to stop picking on each other.

I did try that feeble attempt today.  “It’s Mommy’s birthday. Can’t you be nice to each other for just one day?”

  • Can you please stop squirting each other with the water gun in the back seat of the car?  Wait a minute, why do you even have a water gun IN the car?!?
  • Will you please stop trying to knock each other out of the way as you clamber into the car, squeeze through a doorway, rush for a cup of milk – pretty much go anywhere or do anything?!?  Why can’t you take turns?
  • Can you please stop yelling that Noah’s fire truck noise is giving you a headache while you play your DS?  Can you please stop yelling that Micah’s DS is giving you a headache while you repetitively push the siren button on the fire truck?  Can you both please stop yelling as you are definitely giving me a headache as I drive!
  • Can you please stop wrestling around under that quilt in the middle of the kitchen floor?  Can’t you just wrestle peacefully in the living room?!?  But don’t break anything.
  • Can you please just behave like Seth does?!?  He doesn’t get into trouble. (“But, Mommy, Seth doesn’t do ANYTHING yet!”  I know – isn’t it great?)
  • Can you please go back to sleep?  It’s only 5:46 am and it’s my birthday!  Oh wait – here’s my iPhone, watch something.  (This is called the night-owl, single-mom get-a-bit-more-sleep strategy.  That one additional hour of sleep on the weekends is so precious that sometimes I don’t even know what Micah is watching!)

I think if you had asked me twenty years ago if I ever imagined myself in this place – single woman with three beautiful active boys – I would have said “no way.”  But if you ask me today if I’d change that, I’d say “no way.”  Even if I do spend much of my energy pulling them off of each other, reprimanding them, encouraging them to use “nice” words, picking them up, putting them down, moving them from one spot to another, buckling them into the car, unbuckling them out of the car, changing diapers, changing clothes (and no, not interested in washing brown stuff from underwear even on my birthday!), putting them into high chairs, taking them out of high chairs, carrying laundry to the basement, carrying kids’ clothes back up from the basement, throwing baseballs, throwing Frisbees, chasing them around the yard, chasing them around the inside house loop, pulling them off the staircase for the thousandth time, following them up the staircase for the eight-hundredth time, brushing teeth, reading just one more book, patting backs and singing lullabies….even with all that, and more, in a single day, I wouldn’t change it.

Those boys are my birthday blessings and I love them.