The best thing I can say about today is that, when my kids are adults, well adjusted and thriving in their adult selves, they will not remember it. Today will be forgotten. They might remember the party at Grandma's house two days ago. They might remember playing with their friends at bible study last night or with their other friends at small group tomorrow. They may remember Zion's birthday party on Saturday or our trip to the Zoo next week. But Thursday May 1st 2014? It will pass unseen into oblivion.
My children will not remember this uneventful Thursday sandwiched between so much busyness, when Mama complained of a migraine and told them over and over to be quiet. When Zion screamed "I'M MAD AT YOU MAMA" before falling asleep in my lap. When Harvey sat at the bottom or the bed and whined, "I don't know what I want to dooooo!" because lying in bed and being quiet was the best entertainment plan Mama could come up. No one will remember this day, thank God. It was not good enough to plant seeds of multi-genrational contentment. It was not bad enough to sow traumas that will later come up in therapy. It was just a day.
And in this life where so many days compete to COUNT for something, I am grateful for mediocre days that silently slip into forgotten.
But God will remember. And when I stand before him in that place of reckoning he will say, "Remember that day when you had a migraine? Thursday May 1st, 2014? You put two meals on the table and brought upstairs a picnic snack, and you refilled six cups of juice. I remember that. When all you wanted to do was sleep, but instead you read a chapter of Winnie the Poo and smiled at your baby through blurry eyes? I remember that. When Harvey stubbed his toe on the door and Zion threw a lego at your head and Elijah had to nurse over and over again? For Harvey you were the face of comfort, and for Zion you were the face of mercy, and for Elijah you were the face of abundance.
"I remember that," Jesus will say. "I WAS that comfort, and mercy, and abundance when you had none."
And may also say, "Remember how you tried to solve your headache problem with chocolate? An intemperate amount of chocolate? An over-the-top, food-is-my-idol sort of amount of chocolate? Yeah, I saw that too."
And tomorrow is another day...
A moment from the week.
Zion turned three years old over the weekend. Whenever we asked him what he wanted for his birthday he said "CHOCOLATE!" So of course there was chocolate involved. But truth be told, food is not really this child's love language. What he wants most in the world is to have the undivided attention of one of his favorite people. Look him in the eye while he flops around and tells jokes. If not, he'll be happy to start hitting people and wrecking stuff until you get with the program. So for his birthday weekend I tried to spend as much time focusing on him as I could possibly stand. Which, you know, is both wonderful and harrowing. He's three, after all.
I like to give my children a special birthday outing for which they each get to pick a destination. Zion chose the zoo. Specifically the zoo with "the thing goes around and around."
That's Harvey, Zion and their best friend Ollie. We met the whole Stevens family at the Franklin Park Zoo, so Zion could have more special people to look at him while he tells jokes. That's totally the reason, and not because they have a zoo membership that gets two of us in for free.
Though my children often talk excitedly about the carousel, they have yet to brave sitting on an actual moving animal. Still, there was progress yesterday. This was the first year I didn't have to sit on the bench holding them, so I got to ride on a horsey myself. Elijah came with me because, you know, he doesn't have a choice.
As for the non-human animals, my favorite exhibit was the prairie dogs. We sat for a long time watching them pop in and out of their tunnels.
Zion said his favorite animal was the lion, but I didn't get any pictures of that because I was nursing. And, you know, because you can google a lion if you want to see what it looks like. I only make sure to document really important things. Like birthday ice cream.
Happy birthday to the funniest, best looking, most annoyingly tactile three-year-old I know. I look forward to loving you at three and beyond.
As Leah reported, we had a birthday party for Zion on Saturday. Also as Leah reported he wanted a chocolate cake, so I made him the same one Harvey had for his third birthday. It was well-received, as was the rest of the wonderful spread of food we laid out (thanks in large part to grandmas and other guests!).
The weather was fine, and most of us denied all evidence of rain and spent most of the time outside. Grandpa got a nice chunk of LyeLye time.
When Zion got bored of playing he called for the opening of presents; while he would have been happy after the first gift, his friends made sure he got everything opened.
A new bike—and one for Harvey too—were among the loot, so the party headed outside to try them out.
Eventually people had to leave, which was sad, but thanks to their late arrival Uncle Jake and Charlotte helped stretch the party out to almost seven hours, which I suppose is pretty respectable. Zion was asleep for the last chunk of that; though that was fine because he needed to recover to be ready for the rest of his birthday long weekend: supper and cupcakes and Grandma and Grandpa's Sunday evening and the zoo and ice cream on Monday. It's good to be three.
An image from the week.
Yesterday the kids were having a hard time getting into the car. I don't mean physically having a hard time getting in the car; they do that quite well. In fact, while I was trying to get their clothes and shoes on for a trip to Drumlin farm, they walked out the door shoe-less and hid from me inside the car. It's not that they didn't want to go to the farm, it's just that they had a very vivid imaginary game going on that I was interrupting. Whatever I wanted to do they did not want to do. They were trying to get away from me. I was the dragon.
Now look. I appreciate imaginative play and all, but we had friends to meet at Drumlin at nine oclock. And after packing all their snacks into the car, and the stroller and the birthday present and the diapers and the baby-carrier, and THEN having to find Zion's shoes and socks which he'd left on the living room floor, I was pretty peeved. I got into the car with a pretty big lecture. "Things are going to be different around here next time," I said. "We are NOT going to have another morning like this, do you hear me? I do not run myself around ragged just so you can meet your friends for fun outings. Next time you want to go to the farm YOU get your socks and shoes on, mister."
Rather than pouting or yelling back, Zion just smiled up at me. "You still the dragon!" he exclaimed.
Children's imaginative play serves a lot of functions for them. One of these functions is that, in a world where children have very little power or self-determination, imaginative play lets them process the million slights they receive daily. If we are hell-bent on putting them in their place, they will come up with ways to save face that do not strictly belong to our reality. It's almost genius.
As an adult I have outgrown explicit imagination games. But there are still lots of ways I play pretend.
Right now my favorite game is, "Let's pretend I'm dieting!" This is where I spend 99% of my time analyzing the nutritional/moral content of dozens of different food options, along axes of fat, calories, fiber, sugar, gluten, mouth feel, and availability to my kitchen. This game is very engaging, so much so that I can make it stretch juuuust until the power of hunger becomes so overwhelming that I run to the kitchen and throw into my mouth the nearest thing possible. For losing weight it works about as well as not dieting at all.
When I wake up, when I read to my kids, when I am driving in the car I am probably thinking about food. When I DO ANYTHING I am probably thinking about food. Except when I'm exercising or nursing. There is a magic state of calm that rests upon activities that I've labeled 'Calories Out.'
For someone who thinks about food nearly all my waking hours, I'm noticing how little I pay attention when I'm actually eating. How can this be? When I've taken an hour of hungry time, internally debating the merits of one sandwich filling versus another? Will greens detract from the experience more than they enhance the health of the final product? Which will make it feel more filling: a wrap, or two slices of bread (only 50 calories different)? Will the whole thing can hang together without mayo? With just a dab of mayo? After literally AN HOUR of doing other things, PRETENTING like I'm not obsessing about that sandwich, what happens when I'm finally sitting down actually eating the sandwich? I'm reading a magazine? I'm opening the computer? I'm looking for something to distract myself from the thing that distracts me from everything else.
Like Zion, I prefer to experience reality through the lens of my imagination. I don't want to focus on the actual sandwich. The hazy, changeable, imaginary sandwich was safer than the sandwich itself. Not just because I want to eat no calories, but because the real food is too wonderful and frightening in its every bit of REALNESS.
You see, when I force myself to focus on the sandwich, this happens:
First of all, I notice how GOOD the sandwich is. It's not only good, it's the BEST thing I've EVER eaten. Perhaps it's the best food ever created in the history of the world. When I put it in my mouth it explodes with salt and fat and melty bready goodness (I'm imagining a cheese sandwich here, but a chicken sandwich would work equally as well). As soon as I take a bite the complex carbohydrates shoot serotonin straight into my brain. The protein tells my mind it is alright to function again. The salt and the fat and the pepper tell my tastebuds: "here you go — you are no longer wanting." And all this happens in the same instant. The instant that I put food in my mouth, my body is transformed from outside in.
I am no longer just a brain, free-floating, imaging pleasures that may or may not come to pass. I am actually biting something and chewing it. That bite is an real interaction between the inside of my body and the outside world. What was external becomes internal. It's holy and crazy and amazing and baffling. It's the physical experience of God's creation, its taste and its fullness. It bursts at the seams with EXPERIENCE and LIFE!
At the same time, it's just a sandwich.
And if I really focus on it, I know no matter how GOOD it is, it's just a friggin sandwich. It's really good, don't get me wrong. But is this all that life has to offer? In its fullness? The whole wide world of possibilities? The outside world and me, connecting magically? A sandwich?
I mean, it's pretty good but then it's over. In a few hours I have to come up with another thing to eat.
If eating generates an existential crisis, then you could see how a magazine might help.
The thing about a sandwich, or a sunset, or holding your newborn baby on your chest, is that they are inescapably beautiful expressions of life, IN THAT as you enjoy them you are aware that they will soon be gone. Eating a sandwich only takes two minutes. The sunset maybe a few minutes more, depending on where you are in the season. A newborn baby takes hours upon hours and days upon days of holding, but when he is grown I will shed a tear and wonder, "How did the time go by so fast?"
The reality of this life is it is so painfully beautiful, but the beautiful bits we can't hold onto. This is the reality that faces me three times a day, or five counting snacks. Every time I open the fridge, I am up against nothing less than the realization of my own mortality.
Do you think maybe I need more of Jesus?
We were having a discussion in our church group about keeping our eyes on Jesus. When hard times come, just fix your eyes on Jesus. And I thought: I keep my eyes on Jesus like he is a sandwich I'm not eating. I am perfectly happy to think ABOUT Jesus. I think about him all the time in fact, either theologically, or how I'll explain him to my kids, or in relation to my friends who I'm trying to help. But when it actually comes to ENJOYING Jesus? I'm not so sure I know how to do that. I know how to get a quick little taste of Jesus, like a hundred-calorie-snack-pack, but then I'm running in the other direction chatting up everyone else: "Hey, have you heard about Jesus? You should really try him! He's so fulfilling!"
Maybe I don't believe Jesus really has time for me. Or maybe I'm scared that I've mostly made him up in my mind, that if I look at him, REALLY look at him, I'll say like the sandwich "Is that all there is?"
I know that's not true. I know it's really much worse. I'll meet the real Jesus, the one I didn't manufacture to be safe and portion-controlled and healthy. And I'll be so satisfied in a way I've never experienced before that I won't immediately launch into planning my next craving. And then what will I do with myself? How will I spend the next hour of housework? How will I face my life if I'm not so focused on imagining it away?
Zion brought not one but TWO clothes hangers on our trip to Drumlin Farm yesterday. They were both essential to his imaginative play. "This one makes you dead," he told Grandma at lunch, "And this one not makes you dead."
Before three children I might have vetoed the clothes hangers as weapons, or maybe just vetoed them coming to the farm with us. But with a 4-year-old, a toddler, and a 2-month old baby? I was just glad to see Zion wearing shoes and out of his pajamas.
Then today it was warm enough for babies to go without pants! I rejoiced in the first full day Elijah got to spend a onesie. Oh those chubby baby legs!
Indeed he is irresistable.
Even Zion shows big love for his baby brother. He often asks to hold Elijah. Which looks funny right now, because Elijah is almost half Zion's size (13.5 vs 29 lbs, at their harrowing doctor check-up this week.)
Harvey of course leads the way in loving all babies. I wonder how all their relationships will change as they get older. Will the two 90th percentile bruisers team up to sandwich their middle brother? Or will the smallest one be odd-man-out? Or something so different and so wonderful I can't possibly even imagine.
Efforts to capture the three of them together are not much of a success, however.
Yeah, that's pretty much what they look like these days. My singy, squishy, silly three sons.
I have a guest post on Composting Faith today. It's about living your values sometimes and sometimes not. And (ba da ba ba ba) loving it. Go and read if you want to see something 50% more edited than most of what you see here.
It's spring, and there's things to eat outside. I always like it when the garden starts to produce edibles, since it helps to justify my hobby to the world. Two and a half pounds of asparagus so far, over the first three days of the harvest, and it's still as exciting as the first time lo these many years ago now. Asparagus is definitely one of the embodiments of spring, culinarily speaking, so it pairs well with that other symbol of the season, the egg.
Something is going right when we can enjoy, as we did Saturday supper, eggs a few hours old and asparagus picked 20 minutes before it hits the plate. Plus leftover cornbread, but that doesn't signify anything.
And it's not just asparagus around here either. The woods are full of garlic mustard, a tiny bit of which I made into pesto on Friday (with almonds, cheap parmesan, and olive oil). And today's couscous (made to accompany more asparagus) was livened up with a generous handful of chopped spring onions.
The best thing about all these delicious ingredients is that I barely have to do any work for them. Sure the asparagus was a bit of work to set up, and I suppose I must have planted the first bunching onions at some point, but now the food just rolls in every spring with no added work from any of us besides bending down to pick it. Since there's plenty to do in the garden otherwise this time of year, some easy payback is very well appreciated.
Do you think we'll get tired of asparagus?
There are times in my life when I read a lot, and there are times when I feel like I barely have a moment to pick up a book. The past couple months have been the latter. And before you say I have a good excuse I have to admit that it's as much a question of interest as it is of time. Last fall I was zipping through the new books section of the library; lately I'm just not feeling it. So maybe that's why I'm not as impressed with The Penderwicks as I expected to be—or maybe it's not really that good.
It came highly recommended, and I was totally ready to like it. National Book Award winner! "Modern Classic"! New York Times bestseller! (alright, so that last one is actually more of a debit as far as I'm concerned, but you get the idea). Plus, the concept of a modern old-fashioned story is a good one, and the cover looked accordingly promising. Too bad.
My main complaint about the book is that it feels sketchy. Rather than being developed properly the characters—the four Penderwick girls, supporting players, and badies—are indicated by brief signifiers: Skye is blond and likes math; Batty wears wings; Mrs. Tifton is mean and favors high heels. The setting is similarly lacking, satisfying itself by simply mentioning the details of the surroundings. The mansion grounds where the kids get into trouble feature statues, hedges, and a frog pond, but the author never even tries to evoke any primary experience of those things for us. So, despite the acceptable plot, I had a hard time entering into the story; nothing about it rings quite true.
Take the following descriptive passage, selected more or less at random.
But she found the hedge to be thicker and more prickly than she had anticipated, and after several attempts to crawl through, she had accomplished nothing except snagging her hat twice and scratching her arms until it looked like she had fought a tiger.
Then, when she was just about to give up and go around by the driveway, she discovered a way in. It was a tunnel, carefully hidden behind a clump of tall wildflowers and just the right size for going through on all fours. ...
She emerged on he edge of the enormous formal gardens, directly behind a marble statue of a man wrapped in a bedsheet and holding a thunderbolt over his head.
Many things about that selection are noticeably clunky. "Thicker than she had anticipated"? "More prickly"? What is the hedge made of? Whatever happened to "show, don't tell"? And both "tall wildflowers" and marble Zeus demonstrate a fuzziness in who's doing the observing, or at least a lack of care: why say wildflowers without telling us what they are? And if the character can't recognize Zeus or a toga what are the chances of her pegging the statue as marble or recognizing and naming a thunderbolt? (if the statue is a copy of the one seen here the resemblance is far from obvious!).
Compare to a bit from Gone Away Lake, a good book (by Elizabeth Enright).
The spagnum grew in silver-green cushions; it oozed water at every step, dark water the color of strong tea that had a rich delicious smell. ...
Beyond a wide cluster of sheep laurel, all speckled with flowers, was the bog garden. They had never seen a garden like it; nothing was planted in a bed. It looked as though it had been the work of nature alone. By dark still pools grew leathery pitcher plants, whose urn-shaped leaves held water and drowned insects, and whose wine-colored flowers were like the umbrellas of Siamese kings.
There we have real description, artful prose, and a little bit of allusion. It was hard for me to just excerpt that section and not keep on reading, even though I've already read the book three or four times; I haven't managed to finish The Penderwicks yet.
I have a theory about why, of the two books written for kids of similar ages (grades 3-6), Gone-Away is so much deeper and more engaging— but it's bedtime so it'll have to wait for another post. Suffice it to say that if you ask me The Penderwicks, while readable and even pleasant in parts, in no way lives up to its advance billing. I'm disappointed.
Things have been pretty crazy around here lately, to the extent that I don't have a picture for a "this moment" post. I also didn't know that it was bike week this week, and Bike-to-Work day today, so I was pleasantly surprised when, on my way to work by bicycle, I found myself being offered to partake of some free breakfast in Lexington Center. I'll take it! That's really all I have to say, but in order to make this post worth reading here are some highlights of my recent blog reading.
Bike Snob NYC wrote recently about robot cars (among many other things) and expressed, more succinctly and with more profanity, some of the feelings on the subject that had been working their way through my own mind:
In the meantime, I try to console myself with the fact that people who are smarter, got higher SAT scores, and went to better colleges than me are hard at work averting the destruction of the Earth and building a better future, and indeed the key to our survival can be summed up in two words:
Sure, car-dependence is highly impractical, uses a shitload of resources, and contributes to the totally ass-tarded city planning you find in 99% of the United States, but maybe if the computers are driving the cars it will all work out, right? Yeah, that's the ticket!
Today Eric at Root Simple writes, Gluten Intolerance... Is It All In Your Head?—and also expresses feelings I agree with entirely:
I think, many people are having a spiritual crisis as a reaction to their unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the modern world and the industrial food system. This system is making us sick both physically and spiritually. This crisis is manifesting as non-celiac gluten intolerance and other real health problems.
And finally, more positively, the Cornell Horticulture blog offers some resources about Vegetable varieties worth growing. Too late for this year for me, but some interesting stuff for 2015!
A good friend Harvey's age. So beautiful she almost makes me want to "try again."
When they're not explicitly asking for something, my children are often hiding from me.
When I spot them they try to run away to somewhere else. The "jungle"...
Or a "pirate hideout"...
...dragging their friends with them as fast as they can go in a giant game of keep-away which I am only sometimes playing.
If I am trying to change Zion's diaper, then this is annoying. If I need some alone time then it's great! Either way, I appreciate how cute they are when I finally find them.
All too soon they will need me again, for supervising squelching in the water's edge.
Or for providing comfort or transportation. Sometimes I wouldn't mind a little more distance.
After all, I always have one cuddler who can't get very far.
Near or far, I always remain their lucky mama.
This weekend was the LexFun sale. If the phrase LexFun doesn't immediately start you salivating then I will provide you some context. Okay, I'm actually going to provide A LOT of context. The LexFun sale is a very big deal.
Let me start by saying that Dan and I are not rich, but we grew up in a rich town. Lexington Massachusetts, the birthplace of American liberty, is the sort of town where any tiny house sells for half a million dollars because the public school system is so good. It's so good that the math team is depressed if it's only ranked second in the nation. It's so good that the student jazz combo tours internationally. It's so good that the running question every year is HOW MANY high school seniors are accepted to Harvard. In my year it was six.
This is the sort of town that attracts a certain kind of family, the kind of family that is SECURE in their finances. The kind of family where the mother may have had a high-powered career for the past ten years, but now she is EXTREMELY FOCUSED ON HER CHILDREN.
This town has a very active mothers group. Once a year they run a consignment sale.
Man, do they ever run a consignment sale.
Imagine all the half-million-dollar homes populated by intense mothers researching THE BEST PRODUCTS for their Harvard-bound children. Imagine how many Lexington babies every year grow out of their ergonomic high chairs, how many 5-year-olds grow out of their bikes, how many kids of all sizes grow out of their JCrew polos and jackets... Every year in a rich town there is A LOT of shit to get rid of. And thanks to the amazing organizational skills of women with masters degrees who are now EXTREMELY FOCUSED on their children, all this merchandise gets dumped on the LexFun sale.
Two-hundred-dollar strollers selling for $20. High chairs going for practically nothing. You need a pack-and-play? Take a swim in an ocean of pack-and-plays. Melissa and Doug dollhouses, American Girl dolls, car seats oh the car seats, and I haven't even gotten to the clothes. Miles of brand-name clothes priced at a few dollars a piece. BabyGap is almost the bottom of the barrel for this town.
Are you starting to get the picture? The LexFun sale is a BIG DEAL.
The first year we went, Harvey was a baby and we scored clothes. A mega load of clothes. JCrew and Gap and soooo many pairs of shorts for his big baby bum. The second year he was walking and we made out like bandits with rain boots and shoes. The third year we didn't come early enough and escaped with only a few wooden toys.
Then someone told me about the "presale."
Are you ready for this?
The LexFun sale requires a mega amount of setup: sorting and displaying some thousands of donated items. The highly capable LexFun board can't do it all themselves. So they ask for volunteers. And if you volunteer to help set up for the sale you get to shop the presale. The presale is a two-hour window of time BEFORE the sale is opened to the public. This is how poor mortals get the best shot at the best of the best rich-person gear. The best stroller before anyone else grabs it. New rain boots in your child's size. A wheelbarrow filled with clothes for a family of five.
This was the second year I volunteered in order to shop the presale. You might ask: is it really worth it arranging childcare and donating three hours of your afternoon for a slightly better deal on kids' crap? This is how worth it it was for me. On Friday afternoon I dropped Harvey and Zion off at Grandpa's. Then I held Elijah in the front-pack for two hours while I moved tables across the floor of the Lexington High School field house. Then Dan met me and took Elijah and the car, while I spent an additional hour rolling concrete posts into place for signage. Then Dan picked up the other two boys and I RAN 5 MILES HOME because I didn't have the car anymore. I got there just as we were about to host Small Group, for which I had set the table and laid out snacks first thing in the morning before I left the house. All that to shop the LexFun presale.
Does that sound insane? Because it wasn't nearly as insane as the following morning, two hours before the main sale was set to open, when I queued up along the edge of the field house with 60 other volunteers all with our game faces on. We passed the time chatting with each other tensely. "What are you trying to get this morning?" I'm not sure if we were being cheerful, or just scoping out the competition, seeing who we might need to elbow out of the way if she happens to lunge at OUR child's bike.
Why was I doing this? Two words: Thomas trains.
My kids play trains a lot. Train tracks are expensive. So every time Harvey or Zion mentioned a piece they wanted I uttered this cop-out: "Maybe we'll find it at the LexFun sale."
"We need a roundhouse," Harvey would say.
"Maybe we'll find it at the LexFun sale."
"I wish we had Cranky the Crain."
"He's forty dollars. Maybe we'll find one at the LexFun sale."
Absentmindedly for months I had been building up in my children's minds this mythos of the LexFun sale that rivaled that of Christmas. And then the weekend was finally here, and if I didn't come home with some flipping train tracks I was going to have to stop at Toys R Us in order not to crush their spirits.
So while everyone else waited at the starting line, pointing their little mental arrows at the bikes and strollers, I had my eye on one particular toy table in the middle of the floor. The TRAIN table. And when the starting gun went off (okay so it wasn't really a gun but when the lady said it was okay to start shopping) I ran to that train table and grabbed everything I saw that was wooden Thomas. EVERYTHING wooden Thomas. Two sheds, two crains, two bridges. A round table that shoots trains in multiple directions. A clock tower with an elevator that I didn't understand how it worked. A box of assorted track pieces and wooden men. I grabbed ALL OF IT. $40 for what I later estimated is $120 worth of infrastructure.
Then I calmly moseyed to the baby section where no one was shopping and grabbed the best looking play-mat for Elijah. Skip Hop brand, with little dangling gender-neutral animals. Seventy Five dollars retail, and I got it in new condition for twelve.
Then I paid for that stuff and put it in the car and tried to take some deep breaths. "You did it, Leah, you got the trains. The stressful part is over," I told myself. Then I went back for the clothes.
Thirty dollars for the following items: a new swimsuit for each of my children (shorts and rash-guards, plus a swim diaper for Elijah), two pairs of pants for Elijah, several baby sleepers and onesies (I lost count), two t-shirts for each of the big boys and a collared shirt a piece.
On the way home I had to remind myself to drive slowly. "These are surface streets, Leah," I coaxed myself. "There might be runners out here. You need to calm down."
But I was ON FIRE.
Adrenaline was pulsing through my veins. I was like a mama bear coming back from the hunt. "I did it!" I thought. "I scored the Thomas! My children asked for Thomas and I delivered the Thomas. Nobody loves their children as much as I love my children. Do you hear me? Nobody fucking loves their children as much as I fucking love my children. I MOVED TABLES WHILE WEARING AN INFANT and then I RAN HOME IN THE RAIN and then I LINED UP BEFORE 8AM to bring home these Thomas trains. If loving my children is a contest, then today I am the mother fucking winner."
I burst into the door, at 8:45am, "I come to you like a conqueror returning from battle!" I announced.
The children dove into the boxes. They were amazed. They were elated. They grabbed out the toys and started playing and it was every bit as magical as Christmas.
I went back to the car and got the playmat. I tried not to look at Dan's face as he watched me bring this monstrously large thing into our household. Instead I laid it on the floor. I put Elijah under a hanging monkey. The baby grinned like a madman and batted at it.
Let me repeat that: he batted at the toy. He INTERACTED WITH AN OBJECT, the first time he'd done that in his ENTIRE LIFE SO FAR. Because clearly I'd been depriving my baby of the right kind of stimulation. Rich people know the right kind of objects to stimulate 2-month-old brains. I didn't up until today, but now thanks to LexFun, I am now loving my baby like a rich person.
For five minutes I was on top of the flippin world.
Then my LexFun high wore off. It turned out I was STARVINGLY hungry. Harvey started screaming at Zion and Zion threw a train at his head. Dan started putting all the new toys away. I realized that two of the things I had bought make a noise, and one of those noises was exceptionally annoying.
And then I started to have bigger doubts about my life. Is this really the best high I've felt in months? BUYING TOYS? AT A TAG SALE??? What is the matter with me?
Some new track pieces, a better place to put the baby down, this is my whole entire life right now. If I get worked up to the point of profanity, it's because these things are IMPOSSIBLY IMPORTANT.
It's not that I don't like the life of a stay-at-home-mother. It's the extreme opposite. I LOVE my life TOO MUCH. I love my children so much that I don't know what to do with myself. I love them so big it practically bursts out the sides of my brain. So I focus on these random things, learning toys, wish fulfillment, because I don't know how to just sit and let the floodgates of love open. It scares the crap out of me.
Then once a year the Lexington mothers host an event the intensity of which matches the intensity of my feelings for my children. And "This is me," I think. "I AM an 8am toy runner."
I'm having some trouble getting enough sleep these days, and it's not the kids' fault! Well, not entirely their fault anyways; I can't acquit them entirely! But the real culprit is the sun.
Sure, the later sunset is wonderful, and we're very much enjoying hanging out in the yard or riding bikes in the street after supper these last couple weeks. But since outside is so much more fun than in, the boys have lost the motivation for starting bedtime that let us get them in bed by 6:30 some winter evenings. Stories aren't enough to compete with warm evening breezes! Now I do need to stress that they aren't putting up a fuss over bedtime—they come in eventually, and do all the usual things without any untoward complaining—but the whole process is slower than it would be in the dark.
And actually, that isn't a problem by itself. To be honest, half the trouble is my fault: I don't want to come in any more than they do! And when they're playing happily there's a lot less motivation to get them moving towards bed than when they're feuding over the remains of their toys after a day stuck inside. They don't actually have a set bedtime (I promised a year or two ago to write a post about that; someday I will) so the time creep would be fine, all things being equal.
What's not equal, though, is that the sun is also more present in the morning. The main effect this has is to make the chickens wake up earlier, which makes me wake up earlier, because I've inadvertently trained them to make lots of noise in the morning when they want to be let out to scratch and peck in the yard (can't let them wake up the neighbors!). Again, this by itself would be fine. I love the early-morning hours: nothing makes me happier than wandering in the dewy garden as the first rays of the sun strike the top of the pea trellis.
But, as you can imagine, between those two lovely signs of summer lies an ever-shrinking pool of sleep. I can survive it for a little while, but eventually the lack starts to tell and my mental acuity begins to fade. And I'm tough—how much worse is it when the boys' sleep time is similarly squeezed?! Harvey wasn't asleep before 8:30 last night and then he woke up by quarter to six, which is far from enough sleep for a growing boy! At least he stays asleep all night; Zion, though he does manage to stay abed a little longer in the mornings, compounds his lack of sleep by waking himself up for big chunks of the middle of the night.
So today—following an afternoon where they weren't good for anything but watching an hour of shows on the iPad—we got them to bed early. Well, by 7:30 at least, which is early for summer: I didn't need the headlamp to read their stories. Now all I have to do is follow their good example myself, and my enjoyment of the summer season will be yet fuller. Too bad there's all this blogging to do...
I had a lovely day today meeting a friend at Walden Pond. Our children splashed in the water, climbed the sandy slopes, and laughed together in the sun. We all took a long walk around the pond, which not only counted for homeschool science but covered our daily allotment of aerobic activity. We even discussed the bible (a little bit). A perfect Friday for two stay-at-home mothers. Who could imagine a day gone better?
There was this moment. We were standing next to the water watching our children, lovingly but firmly ensuring that they didn't drown. This young couple ran into the water. She was wearing an athletic bikini, sports bra top and boy-shorts bottom. Still plenty of room in the middle to show off her six-pack abs. They dove into the pond baywatch style. And me and my mom friend? We stopped talking and just stared. Not with jealousy exactly... but with something.
What would I give for a body like that? That young, that fit, that sucked in together all compactly? Where you could roll a marble from clavicle to kneecap without it getting stuck in a pillowy pocket of fat?
What would I give to run and dive into the water, and just start swimming? And just keep going? Forever if I wanted to?
The money. All the money. But it's not a money thing. I can't go back to a point in my life when all I had to care about was myself.
And as if reading my mind, my friend said, "I'm probably happier now. Being a mom."
"She probably doesn't even enjoy it that much," I agreed. "She probably thinks her butt looks big."
I love my kids, love love love my kids, but still most of the time I would rather be exercising. Pretty much every moment of the day, if you asked me what I'd like to be doing that would be the answer. Whenever I see someone running I think, "Now THAT'S the life." I don't know if I'm really not getting enough exercise, or if there's just no amount of exercise in the world that can counter balance the emotional output needed to parent three children under five.
I had years, YEARS, in high school and college and grad-school, when I could work out as much as I wanted. I could ask myself "What do I feel like doing today?" and then I say Run! or Swim! or Lift Weights! And then I just, like, DO THAT THING. And it didn't blow my mind at the time. I didn't marvel at THOUGHT becoming ACTION without passing through additional steps called PLANNING and CHILD CARE. I probably didn't even appreciate it that much. I probably got pissy when my workout wasn't THAT fantastic.
My body? It used to be like a muscled marble run. Did I stare at myself in the mirror saying, "You, Leah? You fucking OWN this town!" I most certainly did not. I complained that I couldn't get thinner.
I was stupid, maybe. Or maybe we're always stupid.
Because now I look out from my baby-bearing-body, and I think, "I want to swim across this lake!" But in 20 years I'll have all the time I want to pursue athletic goals, and I will probably miss wearing a baby on my chest. I'll probably give anything to cary a little baby around the lake. I'll probably even look back wistfully, wishing I could have one more cuddle with this precious little baby, the one I'm currently forgetting about to fantasize about middle-age triathlons.
There is something about life that is wildly unbalanced, that we have to do all the wonderful things in intense spurts such that we're unholy sick of them. We say cliches like "Youth is wasted on the young" and "Enjoy them now, they grow up so fast," and hearing such things is maddening not only because it's banal but also because it's TRUE!
I want to swim and not worry about other people drowning, and I want to run without the feeling that I'm running AWAY from someone, and I want to climb mountains and slide down them as an active participant creating my reality, not just as a sherpa facilitating someone else's.
And I'm sure when I do that I'll look around and wonder where everybody else went.
Some time back—almost a year ago now—I was helping out in Harvey's kids church classroom and I couldn't help but notice that some of the other 4-year-olds could write their names on their artwork in a beautiful hand, while my own son was still working on figuring out how to hold a pencil. (Not to mention the fact that these other kids' drawings were representational while Harvey's were mostly abstract shapes and squiggles!) I was sorely tempted, in the moment, to offer some direct instruction in pencil-gripping—but I resisted. It was tough, though, thanks to the mix of my own natural competitiveness and the cultural ideal that there are things that every kids should be able to do at a particular age.
Of course, that's nonsense. Kids all develop at radically different speeds: not only are some quicker-maturing across the board than others, invariably they'll take varying lengths of time to figure out things in different domains. So while one may have a perfect pencil grip at 4, another may be able to climb to the top of the climbing structure at the same age, or ride a bike without training wheels. Harvey couldn't do any of those things—but he could memorize large parts of books and songs after only two or three hearings, and easily generate long lists of words related by rhyme or consonance. Which makes sense: if you're spending all your time working on one thing you won't make as much progress in another area.
Though maybe "working" isn't the right word. Kids who can do the climbing structure just love climbing, and as a result they get better at it. And when a kid can hold a crayon with a proper grip it isn't usually thanks to deliberate practice and work with parents or teachers, it's because they want to be able to draw more precisely and discover—in most cases—that the approved grip offers the best way to to that (because, you know, it's not like holding a pencil that way was invented by a committee of educators and artists who studied the question; it's just how our hands work). As it happens, by this past winter Harvey decided he wanted to draw with some more detail and there you go, he knew how to hold a pencil.
Whew. Because, as I mentioned above, I can be competitive. And the problem is intensified by the fact that we're planning to home-school, because homeschooling automatically puts you on the defensive: oh, is your kid really going to be able to learn anything? Will he ever read? What about proper socialization?! To compensate, it's tempting to go all-out with the parental pushiness: teach em to read before they're five, make em memorize poems, do elocution lessons... you know. That way, the offspring will be a paragon of education, simultaneously justifying the parents' decision to homeschool and advertising their excellent genetic material. It's tempting!
Intellectually, though, I pull the other way. I actively resisted teaching Harvey how to hold a pencil last summer because I knew that, developmentally, there were other things that were more important for him to figure out. And as much as he'd love to do more reading instruction now, I'm trying to hold off because I want to make sure he gets all the time he needs for imaginative play and running around outside. Theoretically, I'd be happy to follow a Waldorf schedule and not see him reading until he's seven or so.
But that's not going to happen. It's not that I'm going to bow to cultural pressure and push reading instruction early, it's because Harvey has a strong interest in language and is curious about how words are represented with symbols. And maybe a little bit because the cultural pressure makes it hard to hold the line in the other direction. But if Harvey learns to read later than the rest of his cohort, I won't mind. In fact, I might be able to be able to harness my competitiveness in the other direction: never mind that he can't read, our education is more play-based than yours!
A moment from the week.
A quiet Friday morning at home, as I prepare to spend a weekend away from my two most imaginative children. Well, a weekend away if you count one evening and one day at church where I come home to sleep in between. Still, imma miss my tiny dancer.