Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sick day

The sick leave situation around here is dismal.

I try to call in, but no one picks up.  Also, I have yet to find the right number.  Or anyone willing to take my request.

So instead I wake up to children at my bedside.  Waiting for me to get up.  To start serving.

"I'm sick, let me sleep," I say.  But who am I kidding?  They don't care.

And so it's back to the grind.  Packing lunches, making breakfasts, piling on coats and hats and boots.  Pausing periodically to lean against the counter and catch my breath.

Finally we're off to school and I'm glad for the opportunity to sit, if only for five minutes.

Because when we pull into the parking lot, I ask, "Can I drop you off in the circle?  Mommy's not feeling well."

And they answer "Okay" in such despairing tones that I find myself pulling into the closest spot, lugging the baby from his carseat, and dragging all five of us through the snow and the cold, hoping I'll somehow make it back.

I do make it back.  I sit for a minute because the baby is strapped down and pretty soon he won't be strapped down anymore.  Pretty soon he'll be loose.  And my rest will be over.

I'll try to distract him with TV, but even when I'm sick all-day-Mickey-Mouse is just too much... for both of us.  And besides, he needs food and drinks and diapers anyhow, so I might as well pull my achy body off the couch and play with him too.  As it seems today, on my sick day, he's suddenly forgotten how to play by himself.

He does choose today as an increasingly rare nap day, though, which calls into question my theory that he is, in fact, attempting to destroy me.

I need every second.  To sit and watch old episodes of Friends and to not move at all.  Because eventually, he'll wake up.  Eventually the big ones will finish with school.

Eventually they'll get sick too.  And my work load will actually increase.

Because three kids is one too many to remember who's sick and who's getting sick and who's been sick.  Who shouldn't be sharing drinks or touching each other.  Who should be washing his hands an excessive amount of times.  So I give up, mostly, and it's like a germ free-for-all around here.

And eventually we all get sick.  To varying degrees.  And one sick day turns into another, and seems to last the whole winter long.

It's fine, though.  We're just building ourselves some crazy immunity.

I can feel it.  Next year will be the year.

Next year I'll finally take zero of my zero sick days.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Why I want to want to be last

I was born with an extra dose or 100 of sensitivity.

Not many people know this about me.  I tend to play it cool and calm and very unemotional.  Or maybe I just think I do, but really everyone knows.  Maybe I'm not hiding it at all.

Either way, it's there.  The sensitivity.

I used to say it about Aiden.  That he was so sensitive.  And he was.  But it used to be endearing and sweet and I'd picture his future girlfriends and wife and think,  what a great trait!

But then he turned four or five and I realized, oh crap, this is going to be a problem.

He was sensitive alright.  So sensitive that he couldn't sleep at night if someone was mean to him at school.  So sensitive that he stopped playing soccer, which he loved, because sometimes kids yell.  So sensitive that he would come home and torture his brother after a bad day, just to release all the ugliness built up inside.

And I remembered that sensitive is sweet for a 2-year-old, but after that... it's painful.

Sensitive is seeing things that aren't always even there.  Sensitive is assigning malicious motives to a less-than-enthusiastic hello or a preemptive goodbye.  Sensitive is torturous reflections about what did they mean and were they talking about me.  Sensitive is soft and tender easily turned hard and prideful.

Because what they said or what they didn't say or what they might have said if they had the guts is so painful because it makes us feel less right.  Less heard.  Less understood.

And my immediate reaction to feeling these things is to make myself more right.  More heard.  More understood.

It's why I have lengthy, eloquent arguments in my head ALL THE TIME.  And honestly, I sound so good in these arguments.  So incredibly right.  I can't recall if the other person talks at all.  But if they do I am sure they speak words of repentance, and understanding, and wow, I didn't realize how right you were.

And then after the imaginary arguments don't make me feel any better I turn to Joel for validation.  I ask him, do you think this person meant this by saying or not saying this, or by doing or not doing that, and he looks at me carefully and says, I don't know.

At which point I insist that the person did mean what I thought they meant.  And now that we've established that we can move on to talk about just how wrong they are.  And just how right I am.  And all of the very valid reasons why I am so right.  And also, do you think I'm right?

He usually advises me at this point to talk to the person if it's really bothering me.  Which is funny because, come on, who really does that?

So in the end Joel doesn't make me feel better.  And I'm left with a frightening choice.

Decide to assume the best about others and, particularly, their feelings towards me.  Decide to admit that I might not be right.  Or decide, in the end, that it just doesn't matter.

That even if they meant the thing that I thought they meant or even if they completely misunderstood me and I was totally in the right, or even if there was a grain of truth to what they said or didn't say and deep down I have to admit I wasn't as right as I wanted to believe.... that even then, it doesn't really matter.

I don't have to defend myself.  I don't have to prove myself.  I don't have to show anyone how right I am, or how worthy.

The boys often fight about who gets the best cup or the choice of book or who's the first to get their coats/hats/shoes on and who's the first in the car and who's the first out of the car and the first in the house and the first to get snack.  We tell them sometimes about what Jesus said.  That the last will be first.  And the first will be last.

To which Finn originally answered, "Did you hear that Benji?  You're going to be first in heaven."

They don't quite get it.  Because frankly, they'd rather be first now.

I like to think that I've put these childish ways behind me.  That I'm not fighting for first.  After all, I'm not climbing the ladder to fame or fortune... nor do I have any desire to.

But I fight in a quieter way.  For what I deserve.  In defense of my absolute rightness.

I waste a lot of time worrying.

And sometimes it does take a hard conversation.  It takes choking down my fear of confrontation and saying, this is how your words made me feel.

It can go both ways from there, which can be really scary.  But in the chance that it could save a friendship, it's worth it.

But oftentimes it's not a friendship at stake.  It's my own pride.  It's my own voice inside saying, they don't understand, they're judging you, and they're WRONG.

It's all about how I look to the person who said or didn't say, who did or didn't do.  And deep, deep down, I want to look good.

But what if it didn't matter to me?  Feeling misunderstood.  Feeling judged.  Feeling last.

In fact, what if I sought to be last?

I'm reading a book by Jen Hatmaker right now, Interrupted.  In one chapter she talks about her choice to stop climbing to the top, whatever the top is, and instead to descend, right to the bottom.  She says this...

"...once you hit bottom and recover somewhat from the descent, it is shockingly peaceful down there.  It's much quieter.  The chaos of ego and pride recedes.  It's, well, kind of still and beautiful.  I find myself exhaling and thinking less about the race going on up higher.  Releasing the compulsion to be right, to be respected, to be understood, to be winning - if not natural, it's certainly a relief."

What if I let you believe whatever you want to believe about me, as long as it doesn't hurt someone? What if I even let you think that I might be wrong?  And what if I admit to myself that I, in fact, might be wrong?

What if I stop fighting for my position, and let myself be last?

It's easier said than done, I'm sure.  But I practiced it recently and, you know what?  It felt really good.

I let go of my need to be right.  To be heard.  To be understood.  And the voices in my head finally quieted down.  My racing heart slowed a bit.  I was able to focus on my family and not on the person and the thing that was said or not said.

I used to be last, or near last, a lot.  As I've mentioned before, I was never much of a runner.  Besides hating it, I'm also pretty darn slow.  But I played field hockey in high school and in order to play the actual games, which I loved, they made me run, which I hated.

I remember sometimes the fastest girls would fall back from their spots in the front, and run instead behind us slow ones.  They would shout encouragements at us, which honestly, I found quite pandering.  But I understood what they were trying to do.  That they had given up first place to push us from behind.  To tell us how great we were doing, and to keep it up.  Which I really did hate, but I wonder, in retrospect, how many runs that got me through.  I usually picked someone with an equal distaste for running to keep me company on our long runs.  And we'd commiserate, for sure, but we wouldn't push each other.  Would we have finished strong, without those girls behind us?  Or would we have started walking... like we really, really wanted to?

Anyhow, all this to say, maybe last isn't so bad.  Maybe last leaves us more concerned with the people in front of us, and less obsessed with the finish line.

Maybe choosing last can set us free from having to be first.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Start walking

Oh my gosh.  There's a mountain of dishes in my drying rack.  Again.

Seriously, I just put those dishes away yesterday!

Also, the hamper is overflowing and the laundry room floor just COVERED in clothes.

I could swear I JUST DID LAUNDRY!

Dinner's not planned and I know my kids will want dinner.  They always do.

I'm scrounging questionable food from the back of the fridge, but honestly, I just went shopping last week.

My kids are behind in their yearly check-ups.  But we were just at the doctor!  Last year!

Bills need paid, even though they were paid just weeks ago.  Bedrooms need cleaned.  Even though they were cleaned just days ago.  Children need fed.  Even though they were fed just minutes ago.

And forget about long-term projects.  Like, our car was just recalled.  Haha.  Yeah, we'll bring it right in.

My seven-year-old has to remind me about school projects.  I'm always at least a week late on any forms to return or items to send in.  But seriously.  It's like, join the pile!  Make yourself comfortable.  It's going to be a LONG stay.

Honestly, it feels like I'm drowning a bit here.  I'm fairly certain I'll NEVER catch up.  My life used to be organized.  Now my kids' vaccination records are stuck to tongue depressors and thrown in a drawer.  I don't even know whose is whose anymore.  I mean really?  Can you justify making a mother of small children responsible for any important information?  I'm already responsible for keeping them clean and fed and alive and I can't handle any more than that.   I JUST CAN'T!

I don't know how it works, but it seems that each kid increased our work load exponentially.  We just took down our Christmas decorations yesterday.  YESTERDAY!  And while Joel was piling Santas on the table I may have said the words, "Really, is this that important?"

Because there's loads of stuff to do.  Always stuff to do.  But not nearly enough time to do it.

So I guess I'll give up.  A little.  I'll write this post instead of putting away dishes, because it feels a bit cathartic and that's got to equal knocking two or three things off the list.

And I'll do what I can.  When I can.

But also, I'll learn a few tricks.  Like shutting doors.  And adding things to my to-do list that I've already done, just so I can experience that elusive sense of accomplishment when checking them off.

And I'll stop worrying so much.  About the piling up.

Because years down the road I won't even remember what was in those piles.  Except for the laundry piles.  I'm pretty sure I'll never forget the laundry piles.

But the other piles.  The "to-do" piles.  They'll get done.  In some way.  And in some time.

But I don't want to recall these years as a frantic race to get stuff done.  Because I will never, ever win.  And although I feel like everyone else is winning, in actuality, they're probably back with me, somewhere near the start of the race, impossibly far from the finish line.

So perhaps I should start walking.  It might give me a chance to look around.  Notice the others lagging behind with me.  And my kids, who only want us to run if we're chasing them.

Let's face it.  Walking is easier.  And it never hurts to slow down.  Enjoy the scenery.

Yes.  I think I'll start walking.  After all, I was never much of a runner anyhow.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Excuse me nurse, do you accept returns?

I might be dwelling too much on my baby turning seven soon.  Seven!

But I can't help it.  Because I just brought him home from the hospital yesterday.  And also, like a million years ago.

I both remember that day with absolute clarity and don't remember it at all.  So it had to be both.

I don't remember walking through the garage door, into our cozy home.  I don't remember who was there.  If anyone.

But I remember lying him down in the bassinet beside our bed.  Tiptoeing out to the kitchen.  Mostly though, I remember the panic.  And the fear.

I remember thinking someone must have messed up.  Because they just sent me home with a real, live human being.  With a small, but definitely living, creature.

They showed me how to change a diaper and give a bath, but they forgot to show me how to keep this thing alive!

I tiptoed quickly back to the bedroom.  Laid my finger gently on his tiny stomach.  When it rose just slightly I exhaled the breath I didn't know I'd been holding.

Alright.  One hour in.  Still alive.  That must be a good sign.

I don't remember what we had for lunch or if we thought to eat at all.

But I remember when he woke up and we decided to get him dressed.  What else can you do with a newborn if not dress him in the thousands of cute, tiny outfits you've had washed and neatly folded in his drawers for weeks?

But his arms were like thick, misbehaving noodles.  And he was just so tiny.  Could we break him?  They forgot to tell us how not to break him!

I don't remember if we gave up, or persevered to get him dressed, but I do remember sitting with him on the couch.  I remember thinking that I should have been holding him close and breathing in his sweet, baby smell.  That I should have been enjoying this moment.  The one I dreamt about for most of my life.

But all I wanted to do was put him down.  I was angry.  And really, really tired.

Why didn't someone give me a chance to catch my breath before throwing me right into the thick of things?

Couldn't they have given me a few more nights in the hospital?  With my baby in the nursery and my husband and I alone in the room, watching TV and sleeping.  Like it should be.

Couldn't they have let me catch up on the full night of sleep that I missed while birthing him?

And speaking of which, couldn't they have given me a bit of time to process the trauma of bringing a tiny human into the world?  Wasn't there someone I could talk to about the pain and the confusion and the fact that when I first saw my baby I wasn't overwhelmed with love because all I could think about was how badly I wanted to sleep!  (Thank you, narcotics.)

None of it was how I pictured and I couldn't even remember what I pictured because I was just so stinking tired!

I don't remember going to bed that night.  But I do remember waking up to my baby's restless grunts.  I remember pulling him into my arms, my head spinning with exhaustion.  I remember the sound that escaped from my lips when he latched and the desire to hurl something across the room (don't worry, not the baby).

I don't remember getting him back to sleep, or lying down myself.  But I remember thinking my life would never be the same.  That normal was gone forever.

And now, nearly seven years later, I can say, without hesitation... I was 100% right.

Each of our babies changed our life in his own way.  But nothing like the first.  Not even close.

We messed up a lot with Aiden.  We did things to get him to sleep that we literally can't talk about now without laughing.  Or crying.

We obsessed about his schedule and worried endlessly about doing everything right and forgot, most of the time, to enjoy him.

But he was our first.  Our learning experience, as we like to call him.

He changed our life completely.  And those first few weeks, those really hard ones, I was learning to let go.

I quite liked our life how it was.  I thought his arrival would add to it.  But it didn't.  In fact, it turned it upside down.  He added chaos and confusion and took away any semblance of a full night's sleep.

But he also added laughter and tears and deep, deep joy.

And I can say now, seven years out, that I would never ever go back.  That our old life just wouldn't do it now.  That free time and quiet and loads of sleep, while terribly appealing, just aren't that appealing anymore.

I'll take the worry and tears, the long nights and early mornings, the constant noise and the crumb-covered floors.

I'll take it all.  Because he comes with it.  And now, so do the other two.

I couldn't have known then.  How worth it he would be.

All I can say is this.

I'm glad hospitals don't have return policies.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

This is the sucky and beautiful part...

Forgiveness sucks.

Honestly.  It sucks so bad.

I used to think that forgiveness was like a cleanse.  That you could say the words, "I forgive you" and all the pain and hurt would be washed out of your body and you'd start smelling roses everywhere you went and your life would be one big ray of sunshine.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure this out, but about a year into marriage I learned a really important lesson.

Forgiveness hurts.

It sucks.  And saying those words doesn't take the hurt away.

Forgiveness doesn't make you feel proud.  Or holy.  Or better than anyone else.  It's not an immediate fix.  Or an incentive for change.

It just hurts.  It feels a lot like admitting you're wrong.  And I hate admitting I'm wrong.

Especially when I'm not wrong.

Last week I was struggling to forgive someone.  I won't say who, but if I gave you one guess, you'd probably be right.

I was sitting on the toilet (with the lid closed people!) watching the kids splash away in the bath when I pulled out my phone and opened my bible app.

I don't know why I do this.  It's like, I'm sure every time that I'll open it up and hear just what I want to hear.  That I was wronged and God is on my side.  That I am right and everyone else is super duper wrong.

Instead I heard this.

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will  not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven." Luke 6:37

Doesn't anyone care how right I am?!

So as much as I didn't want to, I gritted my teeth and said these words.

I don't want to forgive, please don't make me forgive... but God, help me forgive.

Because I learned something else, back when I realized how bad forgiveness sucked.

I learned that if it hurts.  If it really hurts.  You're probably doing it right.

I realize I'm a bit slow to life lessons.  But it turns out, forgiveness is not meant to be easy.  And the harder it is.  The more it hurts.  The more beautiful.

Because I think it's there, in the deep hurt, where the beauty is found.  Not after, when the ache starts to lessen.  When the tears dry up.  But in that moment.

It's the hardest moment.  But the best.  Because you know it will all be different after that.

Hard different.  Not happy, glittery different.  The kind of different where you hold out forgiveness, with a shaky hand, over and over again, even when you absolutely cannot forget.  Even when the hurt hovers over you and crushes you at times, you keep holding out that shaky hand.

That hurt in your heart, though, it's a lot like dough being kneaded.  At first it's so tough and the kneading is painful.  But it gets softer, and easier.

And I realize that forgiveness is not like a cleanse.  Where the anger and pain are washed right out of me.  It's like a dough.  And the hurt is kneaded and worked until it changes into something else.  Until it softens and and grows and turns into something unrecognizable.  Something that doesn't make any sense.  But something, nonetheless, that looks a lot like love.

It's not gone.  The hurt.  It's changed.  Transformed.

It hasn't been an easy lesson, but I'm starting to learn that I don't have to wait until the hurt's gone.  To forgive.  That I don't have to wait until all my points are made and heard and an acceptable apology extended.

I talk about it, yes.  And explain why I'm hurt, for sure.  But I'm trying to stop waiting for the perfect response.  For the I was wrong's and You were right's.

I'm learning to forgive now.

And then again.  A few minutes later.  And tomorrow and the next day.  Seven times, if I have to.  Or seventy times seven, if I must.

And if I miss one time.  Or twenty.  If I just can't hold that shaky hand out anymore.  I'll forgive myself.

It can be so hard.  To forgive.  To let go.

But I'm beginning to realize it's even harder to hold on.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

When the big kids are yours

My oldest will be seven years old soon.  Seven years old.

It's unbelievable, really.  I am the mom of a big kid.

I remember looking at them.  When Aiden was a baby.  And even though I didn't think I'd ever sleep again or eat a meal without a baby in my arms or shower more than once a week, I felt kind of bad for these parents of big kids.

And I may have even thought they were jealous of me, a bit.  What with my cute little baby.  Because there they were.  With their big kid.  Whose cheeks and thighs were no longer pinchable.  Whose teeth were either missing or looking much like over-sized Chiclets.  Who wore pajama pants at night in place of footie pajamas.  And really, what is parenthood without the soft weight of a baby lying on your chest in his footie pajamas?

But just so you don't worry too much, parents of very little ones, I'll let you in on something.  When the big kids are yours, they're awesome.

I mean, super awesome.  This past year is honestly the first time in my parenting career where I've looked at a child of mine and thought, Oh my gosh, I've created an actual human being.

I'm starting to see small signs that Aiden may one day be a contributing member of society.  That one day, and sometimes even now, he'll have something to give instead of taking, taking, taking.

Babies and toddlers are selfish little creatures.  I know, because I have one of those too.

Sure, they give back in smiles and laughter and love.  But that's it.  And really, don't we just say that to comfort ourselves for that fact that we are constantly giving, giving, giving.

But big kids.  Big kids can actually make decisions that aren't always best for them.  They sometimes decide the thing that is best for someone else.  Not for their siblings, of course.  But others, who they aren't in a constant struggle for equality and justice with.

Big kids can take their own showers and wipe their own butts and clear the table after dinner.  You don't have to dress big kids, or put on their shoes.  Big kids will magically learn to read their own books.  (It is magic, right teachers?  Because one day he just came home from school and started reading.  And I'm attributing it to some special teacher witchcraft or something, since, after agonizing over three letter words for what felt like eternity, I assumed it was physically impossible.)

Big kids buckle their own seat belts and can often times be reasoned with.

Toddlers will never, ever be reasoned with.

The other night Aiden was lying in his top bunk, torturing his brother below.  When he was little I would count to three before putting him in a time out.  As Finn's cry/screams escalated I found myself calling up the stairs, "That's one!"

He stopped the teasing (fairly) immediately, but I couldn't stop myself from laughing.  What would I have done if I got to three?  Put him in a time out?  The idea seems ludicrous to me now.

Of course he's not perfect and we use other forms of punishment (ie, taking away weekend technology!), but it's been years since I gave Aiden a time out.  And the thought of him sitting on the bottom step with his lanky legs stretched out before him while a timer ticks away six minutes is nothing short of hilarious.

See, parents of toddlers who are currently attempting to hold your small child in a chair with your full body weight (and still not winning), big kids aren't so bad!

And let's be honest.  The little ones are great too.  Now, with my third, I can finally say that without gritting my teeth and dying a little bit inside.  There really is nothing like a toddler who can completely control you by opening and closing his fat little fist and saying, over and over again, "Mum on, Mama."

But these big kids (and yes, I realize they will get much bigger), are pretty stinking awesome too.

Not until they're yours though.

And when they are, you'll see.  You've created little human beings too.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Love keeps us near

Sometimes I think about how far we've come in a our three and a half years here.  I imagine and relive our first few days, comparing those hazy memories to our life now.  Fear and confusion replaced by confidence and security, tinged with happiness, spotted with challenges.

I look at our family.  The boys who consider Budapest home, and the States an exotic vacation destination.  Navigating car rides and countries and kids entirely on our own.

When I drive down the street these places that were once so foreign are now filled with memories.  The bakery where we take our kids for treats.  The road to the hospital where Benjamin was born.  The coffee and book shop where he slept in my arms as an infant and dirtied his pants with crawling and now runs like a mad man, playing away with his little friend.

But the memories, both happy and hard, are tainted with gaps.  Moments of dead air where we most acutely feel our distance from home.  Those times of joy and hardship that we are simply not there for.

Three and a half years and I still haven’t figured it out.  How to celebrate new life without holding it, how to be there through surgeries and sickness without stepping through the tinted hospital doors, how to care without hands, to comfort without hugs.

And while we try to do these things from afar, we fail to accomplish that which we would back home.  There are just some moments where a phone call won’t suffice, where hundreds of words lack the simple power of presence, where hoping for help falls short of offering it.

So I simply understand that this, also, is life here.  Memories built and memories missed.  I don’t think, anymore, it’s a matter of importance.  This life trumping that one.  Just that we’re more aware of our choices.

Had we stayed back home we would still be losing out on memories.  We wouldn’t know it and we wouldn’t feel it in the hard way we do here, but I can’t imagine erasing these years of snapshots, and can’t really picture who I’d be right now without them.

I suppose this aspect of life is unchanging here.  It touched our very first days and continues even now.  It’s the same old bitter and sweet, just a slightly different flavor each month, each day.

When we chose this path I expected hardship, but hoped it would quickly fade.  Instead I am learning it changes, morphing and evolving with time.

There's one thing the distance doesn't change, though.  Love.

And I think that alone crosses distance and time zones.  I think it passes through phone lines and e-mails, from one heart to another.

And I'm thankful that while physical distance keeps us far from home, love keeps us near.