Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Letters to the Child Grown Up

I have been feeling ridiculously sentimental this May remembering how our first graduated from high school last year and now she's just returned home from her first year of college.

She turned 18 right before school ended and we made her a "The First 18 Years" book on shutterfly. (If you have scrapbook guilt like I do, this is a great option to make a memory book in one fail swoop...I felt much better about my lack of record keeping over the years.)

But I just realized the letters we wrote to her for that book were never saved as hard copy. 

Here they are for posterity. Along with a graduation photo (I was 9 months pregnant with her little brother--she is a very good sport), and baby photos with mom and dad (rocking the early 90s headband and teal wonder she's such a cool kid.)

Sweet Abigail,

Abraham Lincoln famously said, "Everything I am I owe to my mother." I would offer that everything I am I owe to my children. And it all began with you.

You, our first born, may have suffered the most from my mistakes. But you are the one who makes me look like a good mom.

Your smile, your compassion, your stubborn drive, your boundless dedication to finding your place in the world, your quiet gifts...all of these things shine to the world in ways that your humility refuses to see.

You are a gift. Though I miss your chubby cheeks and your tiny hands, I am in love with the grown up Abigail and look forward to sharing the world with you as you fly straight up into what God has intended for you to do all along. 

I wish I had the words to tell you how much I love you,

Abs – 
You are the best birthday present I ever received.  Sharing April 24th with you is one of my favorite things. 

As you prepare to take your next educational step, I think it fitting that you have an interest in travel and the Middle East.  I was there, in fact, when your mom learned of your impending arrival.  Since then, you’ve travelled more in your 18 years than many people will in a lifetime.

You had the unusual experience and burden of sharing your childhood with the Army, attending more different schools and starting-over more than any kid should have to.  You handled it all with a grace and poise that I admire.

Thanks for making me a father; you make it so very easy.  Thanks for being a wonderful big sister; truly you helped raise the rest of the crew.  Thanks for being a young woman of tremendous character and integrity; I am so happy to be known in some circles simply as “Abigail’s Dad.” 

Oh, and thanks for becoming one of my best friends; you are a child I love and a person I admire.  Great things are in store, sweetheart. 

I love you, Dad.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Few Things Learned the Hard Way

There’s no such thing as enough patience. I didn't get the patience I needed to be a mother until after I actually became one. Kids are amazing in their ability to forgive as we learn on the job.

There’s an entire dimension of love that you cannot understand until you become parents. Nothing my husband had ever done before moved me like the first time he took the fussy baby, told me to grab a drink and relax, then launched into the quirky, sweet lullaby of a daddy. He still knows the quickest way to my heart is to take the lead with the kids.

There is no right way. When it comes to sleep methods, pacifiers, potty training, etc., there is only the way that works for you. And, darn it all, what worked for one kid is almost guaranteed not to work for the next one.

Still trying to get it all right. Coffee helps!
 A good sense of humor is non-negotiable. Whether it’s training them to potty or training them to drive, I have realized they really need me to keep laughing to teach them that even the hardest things in life can be softened with a smile.

Children are people, not projects. Once I gave up the idea that I could ever control them, I could fully embrace the knowledge that no one will influence them more than the person who loves them best. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

American Idle

My teenager told me that given the choice she'd rather just do nothing.

"You know," she explained. "Just lie around and read and and think and eat dark chocolate."

"Mmm, yes," I said. "You get that from me."

For I am fundamentally very lazy.

That could be hard to believe coming from a mother of six with a couple of part-time jobs who works out several times a week and makes at least a little effort to put together clean, trying-to-look-like-I-care-about-the-world outfits even if I'm just hanging out at home. You will see me regularly at school functions, community events, and every Sunday morning at church. I make my kids' lunches, write a few columns a month for the local paper, keep up with the laundry, do my best not to forget to water the flowers, and sometimes dust up high.

It's all so exhausting. And, really, I would so much rather just do nothing. Nothing at all.

I am convinced that heaven will involve nothing. I'm counting on God allowing me to just lie there among the wildflowers (the weeds and itchy bugs will be in hell with Chuck E. Cheese) and watch the clouds. That's it. Please don't make me sing in the choir or watch after the littlest angels.

Keep your theological arguments to yourself, by the way. I'll find out in due time but right now the thought of an eternity filled with doing nothing is my happy place.

My favorite monthly read is Real Simple magazine. Because if I can't do nothing then I at least like to keep it real simple. They posted an article on their website about the best ways to do nothing. I'm familiar with them all and can vouch that it is expert advice.

Yoga is good. At the end they instruct you to do nothing. I like that.

My teenager asked me why I stay so busy doing so much when I'd rather do nothing. I explained as best I could to someone still in that ideal, it's-all-about-me stage of life that if I stop doing all the things I do then life will crash down around our family's collective ears. Laundry, grocery lists, bill paying, etc. have to happen. Believe me. I've tried letting them slide and it's never ended well.

There's a bigger reason I just keep swimming in the tide of busy American family life. It's the law of inertia, which explains basically that an object at rest will stay at rest until something pulls or pushes on it. What that means for your average parent is that if you stop, you might never get up to start again, and that also does not end well.

When you hear someone say the dishes will wait while you go play with your child, the truth is that, yes, the dishes will wait. And while they're waiting more dishes will pile up on top and the eggs and cereal will harden and the dishes will be twice as hard to get done when you finally get around to it. A better rule, in my opinion, is just wash the stupid dishes as fast as you can and then go. Or use paper and seriously increase your time for doing nothing.

The Real Simple expert extols the virtues of being idle. And I believe there are many benefits to being still and really listening. Like everything else in our lives, it's usually about finding the balance. And while you are finding it, here's a little tip from a long-time fan of idle:

If you just close your eyes and tell them you're praying, mostly they'll leave you alone.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Perfect 10

Contrary to the adage, I have never forgotten the pain of childbirth. I can conjure up those memories no problemo. Obviously it didn't keep me from having another, and another, and another, and another. And another.

What I do seem to forget are the details of life with a 10-month-old. It has taken me by surprise each and every time how all those new skills will affect my daily life. This time I am writing it down so I will not forget again. And also so I can easily remind my teenagers why they owe me. Forever.

Pulling up. This is so great. So cute when little ones figure out how to grab hold of the couch cushion and heave themselves up to their feet. Not as cute when Babycakes pulls up on the side of his crib at bedtime and cannot get down. Then starts the "pry little fingers off, plunk little bottom down, kiss little cheek goodnight and walk out all over again" dance. Also not so cute when the pulling up skill coincides with Mama wearing pajama pants in the kitchen. One big tug makes for two surprised people! More if others are already up and waiting on breakfast.

Self feeding. It's adorable when chubby little fingers try so hard to make squishy little vegetable bits connect with wide-open bird mouths. Not as endearing when the squishy stuff ends up in the hair, under the tray, down the diaper (how do they do that?) and all over Mama too. Am currently doing as much laundry for Baby as for all his siblings combined.

Learning to push buttons and pull levers. It's fun when Baby can finally play with all those colorful plastic toys that have been perpetually scattered across the living room floor since his birth. Watching him mash the flashing buttons and push the little cars is cute...for the 15 minutes or so that he is interested in toys. Then it's on to the kitchen cabinets and bathroom drawers. Why, Baby, why are electrical cords and glass jars so much more appealing than the latest must-haves from Fisher Price?

Smiling on cue. Click, click, click. We take dozens of photos of that adorable open-mouth grin with crooked new teeth and bright pink gums. Bright pink because there are more teeth coming in. There are always more teeth coming in. I finally got the spit-up stains out of my favorite shirts only to have them soaked now with drool. And again with ignoring the bright plastic teething toys. What works best, apparently, is Mama's shoulder and the tender skin of any unsuspecting family member's ankle.

Loving the pets. It is so sweet when your little humans recognize and develop an affection for your little animals. Less sweet is the "petting" of little animals by the over-enthusiastic, usually-sticky-fingered Baby. "Gentle, gentle!" we chide as the dog looks at us like she's been betrayed. Again.

Babies are a mess. They're sticky, whiny, unsteady, needy, rough on the skin, and did I say sticky? Putting up with them takes a whole lot of patience and energy. Which is why, I suspect, God makes it so easy to forget everything. Everything except how darn cute they are with their bright eyes and squishy soft cheeks and little pink mouths that babble "Mama". When a long day ends with a downy head burrowed into my neck as I sing that same old lullaby, I can't help but look forward to more of it tomorrow.

Why did I do it again and again? Now I remember.