Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Love is kind, and kind is hard

Last week, for nearly the entire week, Benjamin woke before six.  In the fives.  He woke in the fives.  I know this is quite normal to some of you, but I haven't had a child wake up in the fives since my first was a baby.

I was grouchy every day during that challenging time of life.  Every day for over a year.  Not one morning did I wake up and think, well, I guess this is life, and happily go about my business.  No, I grumbled and groaned and fought against his early rising with every fiber of my being.

Benjamin, on the other hand, spoiled me from the very beginning.  He easily slept until seven or eight and sometimes I had to wake him up.  Wake him up!  I was living the dream.

Until last week.

I was in a bad mood all week.  I might have improved my mood were there not so very many Gilmore Girls needing watched, late into the night.  But that is neither here nor there because the point is it was the toddler's fault.

So needless to say, I could barely wait for Saturday morning.  To sleep in, of course.  And when I heard that baby wrestling around too early I looked over to Joel's side of the bed and thought, Great!  He's already up.  Let him take Benjamin.

Benjamin had other plans, though.  Ones that involved screaming his head off from the bottom of the stairs until I dragged myself out of bed and joined him on the couch.

To say I was mad might be an understatement.  I was mad at Benjamin for needing me so much.  I was mad at Joel for not being enough for him.  I was mad at the big ones for wanting anything at all ever when I was so stinking tired!

I wasn't too nice.  I know that now, and I knew it then.  So I went off to the bathroom.  I figure if Joel can do it then so can I.  I pulled out my phone and settled in for a moment of peace and quiet, to read something that might lift my oppressed spirit a bit.  I should know by now that these things never go as planned.  That instead of reading what I want to hear I almost always find what I need to hear.

Love is kind.  Love is kind.  Love is kind.

From multiple sources.  No clauses or anything.  Not even one for sleep-deprived moms.

And so, after some resistance, I settled on a tentative plan to be kind.  In my home.  Where my children learn to treat others and themselves and their future families.  Instead of continuing on my pre-bathroom break tear, I decided I would be kind.

And so I was.  Not overly kind, but, you know, as much as I could muster on a few hours sleep.

It was all going so well.  Until I remembered something.  Our morning plans.

We were going to Ikea.

I'll start tomorrow, I thought immediately.

I mean, Ikea, people!  The place where human behavior disintegrates and healthy family dynamics dissolve into piles of screaming children.  Ikea!

I was so glad I didn't tell Joel of my decision.  I certainly couldn't be held to it now.

Still, though, perhaps I'd keep on with the kind act for the car ride.  Just until we got there.  And so even when Joel revealed his plans to purchase items that were not previously agreed upon, items whose catalog pages were not, in fact, folded down, I took a deep breath and said, "Okay.  We can do that."

Unless Joel reads this.  In which case I should probably admit that I might have crossed my arms, glared out the window and loudly spoke the words "Absolutely not" one to five times before I remembered the whole kind thing.  But I did remember eventually.  Hence the, "Okay.  We can do that."  (Deep breath in, slow exhale...)

We arrived just minutes before the store opened and got a great spot and the kids were happy and compliant, so I figured I might as well go with the kindness thing for a bit longer.

Our big ticket item was a new couch.  The previous one fell victim to harassment by children and merciless scrubbing due to said children and, well, when a small hole turned into a giant tear, spanning nearly half the couch, it was time to say good-bye.

Luckily couches were located directly by the showroom entrance.  So we were still fresh and when Finn flipped a bit because he didn't want to get rid of our couch and, if he absolutely had to, wanted to replace it with the exact same couch, I was very understanding.

"I know sweetheart.  We've had this couch since we moved here.  We loved this couch.  But it's time to let it go."

And so after we grieved the couch for a bit he was off, leaping from cushion to cushion with his brothers, causing chaos and mass destruction in the tidy living rooms all around us.

This is the thing about Ikea.  Children are so easy to lose there.  I mean, I get lost there, so how can I expect three squirrelly children to find their way anywhere?  Also, we may have actually lost a child there once.  We found him pretty quickly, but these things tend to stick with you.

So I get a little jumpy, particularly when they split in three different direction.  Mostly I just stare at the little one, though.  I literally don't take my eyes off of him.  Not for a second.  The bigs ones I'm just starting to trust, but the little one is completely unpredictable.

Somehow we managed, with Joel inspecting prices and colors and me glancing at them for a millisecond before pulling Benjamin off yet another glass-adorned coffee table.

We took our information and moved as quickly as possible through the store.  I continued to maintain my composure, to a degree, of course.  It's just when your two-year-old is opening and slamming every single drawer in every single entertainment center, all while laughing like a hyena as your big two flash by from time to time in a frantic game of hide and seek, your husband asking you about drawer color suddenly goes way down on the list of things you care about.

"I don't care!  Just pick one,"  I snapped as I wrestled Benjamin off a shiny black surface.

Things were starting to unravel.  We needed a new plan.

"Listen, you stay here with the big boys and figure this out.  I'll keep walking with Benjamin.  We'll meet in the cafe."

We needed something.  And coffee and treats were just the thing.  

After our refresh and regroup we tackled the impossible.  The downstairs.  Joel immediately started asking if we needed things like glasses.  Glasses?  Who in the world can think about glasses at a time like this!  There are so many things that can break down here.  Who cares about glasses?  We'll drink from our hands!

I had managed to wrangle Benjamin into the cart with the allure of a tape measurer, but I knew it wouldn't last long.  I plowed straight ahead while Joel wandered the aisles, catching up to us from time to time.

At one point Joel was ready to go ahead to the warehouse.  I was feeling quite confident, and so I sent him ahead with the big ones.

The absolute second he left Benjamin insisted on walking.  Not only walking, but pushing the cart.  Without any help.  And I mean any help.  No touching of the cart at all or he would scream like an banshee and insist, "My do it!"

By the time we got to the warehouse I was covered in sweat.  I felt my cool slipping away bit by bit.  Eventually we met up in check out and all three boys actually clambered to help us.  They took each item from the belt and gently placed it in the cart.  They moved when I told them to move and stayed when I told them to stay.  When it was time to load the car they waited patiently as we figured out how in the world would we fit everything?

I didn't actually notice all that at the time, though.  I did notice, though, that we made it through an entire morning at Ikea and I didn't hate anybody.  Not one person.  Even Joel.

Joel mentioned later how nice and helpful the boys had been and I thought, wow, you're right.  I wanted to take credit for it all, for being so darn kind, but there were so many slip-ups.  So many moments of less-than-kind, if not decidedly unkind.  I was trying, really, but this kind thing just felt darn near impossible.

Because here's the thing.  Love is kind.  It's not the love that's the problem.  It's the people.  The actual people I love make kind incredibly hard sometimes.  I feel like I should have been warned about this.  Like, love is kind, sure, but it's also really, really hard.

Yesterday morning the middle child was in a mood.  I'm not quite sure what brought on the mood, but whatever it was produced nearly unbearable amounts of screeching.

Benjamin, in the hope of calming his irate brother, picked up Finn's smoothie cup and started to hand it to him.  But in his anger all Finn saw was Benjamin stealing his smoothie, and so he snatched it from his chubby little hands and shouted, "Bad boy!"

Benjamin froze where he was and stared at the ground.  He lower lip popped out and I could see he was about to break.

"Finn," I said, "he was only trying to help.  Now look, you've made him cry."

On cue Benjamin burst into tears.  But before I could scoop him into my embrace, Finn set down his cup, rushed to Benjamin's side, and wrapped his arms around him.  Benjamin turned towards Finn and returned the hug, lying his head against his brother's small chest.  His tears slowed and they stood there for a moment, quietly holding each other.

It's a moment I'll remember for quite some time.  Just a beautiful picture of grace.  One I couldn't see until I was outside, watching.

It doesn't feel so beautiful when I'm the one messing up.  When I'm the one crushing my pride and offering I'm sorry's, even when I'm sure it wasn't my fault.  It doesn't feel so beautiful when I'm the one who caused the tears I'm now desperately trying to stop.

But I wonder what it looks like from the outside.  If it's as beautiful as the screaming and the tears and the softening and the sweet embrace I witnessed yesterday morning.

Because love is kind.  But it's also messy.  And sometimes the kindness is in the grace we offer each other.  Sometimes the kindness is right there in the middle of the messing up.  Sometimes the kindness is in the trying and the failing and the what follows.

Perhaps kindness is less about perfection, and more about our response to imperfection.

Maybe love is kind, because love is full, brimming, overflowing with grace.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Surviving two (and semi-enjoying it)

The other night I was lying in bed when I suddenly felt crushed by this thought.

This may well be my last year home with a child.

Benjamin will go to school next year and, regardless of what I do, I won't have a kid there, doing everyday life with me.  For the first time in eight years I won't have a small human being in my home, all day, every day.

I can't even imagine driving away from school all by myself.  I can't imagine folding laundry without a toddler wrapped around my leg.  Writing without Curious George in the background.  To be honest, when I try to imagine a quiet house, seven hours a day, it terrifies me.

And so I'm trying to channel that terror into my current life.  The one that's loud and noisy.  The one that is controlled by the many and varying moods of one tiny dictator-like person.

And I'm trying to remember that next year, when I walk away from school with nothing but my car keys in hand, I will miss these things that currently drive me crazy.

Like when Benjamin begs for a juice box from the school cafe, only to scream and sob for fifteen minutes, or what feels like a lifetime, when I finally cave and buy it.  And when I realize three juice boxes later that he didn't want to actually drink the juice box, he just wanted to hold it, I think... I am going to miss these days.

Or when he shrieks as I go to put him in the car every morning, and I am forced to use my full body weight to maneuver his freakishly stiff body to a place where I can finally fasten him down.  And when he stops yelling long enough to pull into our parking spot, only to start up again when I try to take him out of the car.  And when the same scene repeats, in and out of the car, ALL DAY LONG, I think... I am going to miss these days.

Or when he randomly decides to run right out onto the road, and I suffer a thousand heart attacks in the span of half a second, I think... I am going to miss these days.

Oh, who am I kidding?  I won't miss those moments one bit.

I tried really hard that day after my midnight panic attack to enjoy every second with him.  I didn't manage every second.  I just couldn't.  But I did get a few.

I soaked up his giggles and the sunlight on his little blonde head as he swung at the park.  I tuned into his endless car-ride chatter, and marveled at my baby turning boy.  I snuggled him on the couch, without trying to sneak away.  I was with him, completely with him, for a few beautiful moments that day.

After three kids I know this toddler phase will pass before I know it.  Some days it feels like it will go on forever.  And others I absolutely dread its sudden ending.  But no matter what my mood, or, more accurately, his mood, one day I'll look up and there will be a little boy standing in front of me.  One who can be reasoned with and, at least partially, trusted.  But one who will need me less every day.

For now, though, his face lights up when I'm around.  And sometimes he throws his arms around my neck with such force it knocks me over.  And I realize I may never feel the power of a child's love more than I do this very day.

So I'll try my best to survive the tantrums and find one or two moments to really be with him.  Because here's the thing.  Even when we've had an awful day, when his emotions have run wild, and mine were close behind.  Even when I find him endlessly frustrating and he knows it.  All I have to do is drop to my knees and open my arms and he will run into them without hesitation.  Without any hesitation.

And some days, even the most frustrating, that one moment is the only one I really remember.