July 22, 2014

The Middle

 "It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." 

School starts soon. In just a few weeks, I will be back in college for what seems like the hundredth time. Three classes this semester, three the next, and I'll earn my associate- if, and it is a very big if- I can pass all my classes, which are mostly math. Still, it's so close that I'm beginning to get excited. I've put a lot of time and energy into chasing it, and now, the end is almost in sight.

And I think that's what I like about it. The beginning, the (long) middle, and the end. Wrapped up with a bow. Or a cap and gown. A handshake, a diploma, and a closed door on the work it took to get there.

Millie has been a challenge for me lately. I was tempted to write "a handful", but that is what you say in smalltalk to strangers, not friends. It's not the excess energy of a three year old that makes me laugh and shake my head at the end of the day. It's work. It's tears. It's frustration. It's things that neither of us understand. And it is so hard.

I run out of patience just about every day. And after another early bedtime, I tear up and ask myself why. Why am I not getting the hang of this mother thing yet, after nearly four years of practice? Why is everything I try failing? Why can't I figure this out? Why can't I do better?

And I'm beginning to realize that there will never be a leap across a finish line into the arms of cheering onlookers. This isn't a college degree with a notebook closed and a walk across the stage. It's not a recipe, adjusting spices by a half teaspoon until that first bite tastes perfect. Motherhood doesn't have an ending point. It's a day by day by sometimes grueling day. Some of those days will be heaven sent. Some of them will be a test of how many times I can take a breath and count to ten before I speak.

Maybe labor fooled me into thinking that the hard work would come, but it would be followed by an immediate reward. Instead, it's a million, tiny bits of happiness, interspersed by a million more prayers for help and guidance. I would give anything to earn the badge of "finally got this down", but I know it's unattainable. Because even when they are fifty, I won't be done being their mama. And thank goodness.

I like when I can be done, when something is complete, nice and tidy, and I can dust off my hands. But this is the middle, and it always will be.

Maybe motherhood will be like a good book, one that we go back to re-read certain paragraphs because they are magic. One that we begin to mourn when we've made it to the next chapter, to the final pages. One that collects wet tears on the last few sentences, because we want it to go on and on.

 I've got a lifetime of practice ahead of me, but thankfully, I still have some great paragraphs to re-read.

July 10, 2014

Love Song

“I was walking along looking for somebody, and then suddenly I wasn't anymore.” 

There you were. Placed on my chest and, from the look of the pictures, probably crying your first cry, announcing your newness for the hospital room to hear. It's been a year ago now.

But in my memory, there is no sound. Just your face, and the realization that you weren't a girl like I was so sure of before. Here was eight pounds, ten ounces of baby boy...what did I know about boys? Behind the rush of love, the relief that you were in my arms, and the surprise of how quickly it all happened, there was a tiny part of my heart that was truly frightened. I didn't know how to be a mama to you.

I'd been a mama already, of course, but Millie meant I could match patent leather shoes with ruffled dresses, play tea parties, and do all the things I'd done before in my own childhood. All I could see, holding you in my arms, was a boy who would grow into a man. I wondered, already, when you would be too embarrassed to hug me. I thought about you finding your first love, replacing me in an instant. You were so small, with your soft tufts of hair and your sweet, kissable cheeks.

But I kept thinking about you letting go of me.

The first few weeks of your life were difficult. We rushed you to a hospital an hour away one night for a surgery, and I've never felt so helpless. I looked out the hospital window to the sparkles of the city, and wished I could fix everything for you. But, oh, you were brave, sweet boy. And through my tears, I watched your courage and felt my own grow.

Millie was always more independent and sure of things. I was surprised to have someone who seemed to need me more. You always craved me close by. You wanted to be held every moment. It was such a sweet blessing to feel that weight of you nestled up on my chest, breathing dreamy breaths and soothing my soul.

You have changed much in these twelve months; first smiles and first steps, sitting up and wobbling to stand, chatter that sounds like "mama" and "vroom"ing sounds with your cars. You are cheerful always, and your heart is so kind and so good. You will do anything to make me smile. You point to the airplanes in your room every time you wake, because all things are new with you and you want them to be new for me, too. Walter, I have been so proud to watch you grow this first year. I am so glad you will be a wonderful man someday. But for now, I am so glad that you are still my baby.

You spent this year doing many things. One of them was reassuring me.

I can't write songs, but if I could write one, it would be a love song.

And if I could write one, it would sound like you.

June 18, 2014

The Cherry Pie

 "It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, 
and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, 
and what is done in love is well done." 

There was a list of things- some written, and some only remembered- of all I wished to accomplish before I turned 30. Lofty goals and hopeful suggestions of the girl- the woman, I suppose- I would become when the calendar reads September 18th and my twenties fade out like the porch light at dawn. I don't think I have reached any of them.

But today, I baked a pie.

I'm still six classes away from earning a degree.

But I measured, tapped, and swirled the flour, salt, and baking powder together, a cloud of white dust in a white bowl.

I'm hopeless when it comes to reading music well or learning aperture and shutter speeds, and I'm still very far from the trip to England I've dreamed of since I was little.

But I cut in the chilled shortening and dribbled the ice water into the crumbs, just how my mama advised.

Sky and I have such a long way to go before happiness.

But I looped the apron over my neck and tied it around my waist. I sprinkled the soft flour over the table, then smoothed it around the wooden rolling pin. I slowly poured the cherries tumbling into a patchwork crust, covered them with the other crust, and made a wavy zig-zag around the edge with my thumb and finger. I used a fork to make tiny holes like I was perforating a dark sky with shining, scattered stars. I closed the hot oven door, and opened it fifty minutes later to a yellowed, crumbly, sweet-smelling pie.

I can't cut hair, change a flat tire on the side of the road, start a lawnmower or weed eater without thinking bad words, pick out a pair of glasses I like longer than a week, fold fitted sheets, make an efficient grocery store trip without running through the aisles for something forgotten, or learn how to let go of past hurts.

But I can sew up tears in treasured stuffed animals, and pull the weight of a red wagon and two babies behind me. I can make imperfect birthday cakes, kiss sore knees, and exclaim bright praises of finger paint pictures. I can brush hair into curly pigtails, read library books twenty times over, and find pacifiers that were tossed behind cribs. I can buy a tablecloth and candles for his party and only cry a few tears, and I can assure her that it's her turn next and she'll have presents, too. I can weigh the dreams I have with what is truly important, and let a few of them flutter away, while holding on to the ones I value and will remember when I am eighty five and reliving these precious days.

And I can bake a pie.

June 5, 2014

Maybe They're Happy

"And all you want is to feel happy for them 
because you know that if you do, then it means you’re happy, too." 
The truth is, seeing them happy makes me sad.

It's easy to imagine them when I'm not around, so my mind wanders, and wonders if she makes him laugh and if he makes her coffee. I wonder how often they fight, and if they make up with soft embraces or a bouquet of daises. I wonder if it is easy for them to act joyful around their children, because it isn't an act. I wonder if he dances with her in the kitchen, and if she cannot wait until he comes home at night.

I watch them recall the story of how they met with smiles, because it's a good memory that brought many more good memories later. I watch the glances they give, a secret language of knowing someone so well. I watch his hand on her waist and her arm behind his back, and how it looks so effortless and easy. I watch the way they talk, no strain in their voice from crying earlier that day. I wonder if she is content when she slides on her wedding ring in the morning.

Maybe they have had the privilege of fighting against something together as a team, as if it were them against the world. And win or lose, they made it through to the other side, a stronger bond formed because of it. Maybe it's not hard for them to sit across from each other in a cafe, and discuss their relationship, their passions, their dreams and goals. Maybe they have the pleasure of trusting that nothing will change. Maybe it feels comforting to feel for each other in the dark.

Someone, somewhere must have had the conversations that we have, and face the battle that we face, too.

But no one ever, ever talks about those things.

So instead, I look at her and at him, and study every small movement and gesture, wondering if there is any chance of being in love like that.

May 30, 2014

Coffee With You : 2

"Sometimes life is merely a matter of coffee and whatever intimacy a cup of coffee affords." 

It's been a while since we've had coffee together- virtual coffee, that is. In fact, the last time I wrote a true update on our family was in November, and I've had coffee every morning since then. So I'm linking up with A Mama Collective, and summing up what has been happening since we've had our last heart to heart.

He was gone for over two months this year- his AT (annual training), usually 2 weeks long, was 3, and then at an ASQ (additional skills qualifier) for another month. I'm starting to think the Army just randomly selects initials, throws a time table on them, and makes me explain to Millie why Daddy is gone for "289SOIHERTIJLKAERH". He got back a couple weeks ago, and as far as we know, he won't have to leave for an extended period of time until next year. So he's back to his civilian job now. They give him a generous amount of vacation time (both in the summer and from Thanksgiving to Christmas), and I am daydreaming of being able to take the kids somewhere close by, like St. Louis or Chicago, for a weekend vacation. However, we're saving up every penny we can for a new car next year (ours are 20 years old), so I'm not sure if we can afford to do that. Every sweet thought of taking Millie to a zoo is interrupted by another sweet thought of being able to buy a car without getting a loan. We'll have to see how the summer goes.

She learned how to write her name. She can write 'Millie' completely by herself, and can write a few other words with spelling help. I bought a Razor scooter when they were on sale for about half price, and thought about giving it to her for her birthday, but that's at the end of summer and I wanted her to enjoy it this year. We decided that if she could write her full name, she could earn a surprise. She looked at the big box from Target sitting in our bedroom, got extremely excited, and worked so hard for several days until she could do it. It was the first time she's really worked towards something like that, and it was fun to see. She was wild with glee when she opened that box! She ended her first ballet class, and loved it, so we signed her up for a few weeks here and there during the summer. We can choose which weeks we attend, so we left room in the schedule for other fun summer things like garage sales and the farmer's market. She cannot wait to turn 4 in July, adores Mr. Rogers, and sings more than she talks.

This little pudding is cruising on furniture, as well as walking with a push toy and with Millie. He babbles often- lots of 'b' sounds, mostly- and is on the verge of so many things. I will miss him being this small and baby-ish, because it is fading more and more every second. I haven't talked about this on the blog before, but he is in physical therapy for torticollis. He was diagnosed with both torticollis (a tilted neck) and plagiocephaly (flattened head) when he was four months old (although he's had the torticollis since birth). His head shape looks perfect now because we had to hold him or carry him constantly until he could sit on his own. He goes to therapy every other week to strengthen it, and is making some progress, but still has a way to go. If you look though all his photos on Instagram, you'd probably be able to tell how his head always tilts to the right. We'll have to see what his doctor says at his check up next month. And speaking of next month- he will be one! This year went even faster than Millie's first year.

I've been thinking about school again, nearly every day. Maybe it's because a significant portion of Champaign Urbana is renting cap and gown sets this month and moving away. I think I'm only 5 classes away from my associate now. The problems are 1- I have three math classes still to take, which is akin to climbing Mt. Everest for me, and 2- I'd have to take it in person instead of online (which I dread, because I adore online classes), so I'd have to have a babysitter three nights a week for at least four months. I'm going in to the college to speak to an advisor in a couple weeks, and will get it all figured out.

I've been reading a lot more. It started with a book I won. I didn't even love the book, but I got such a reading high. I haven't read a book through, other than school books, since Millie was little. After that, I bought a Kindle when it was on sale for $75 off. I thought I wouldn't enjoy it much, but I have had a ball with it already. Borrowing library books on the Kindle is easy, and more importantly, free, so that's how I have been reading so far. (It's terribly hard for me to pay $10 for an ebook when I could buy a used physical copy for 50 cents!) So in the last three months, I've read Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and today, I just finished One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson. It feels so, so, so good to read again.

I'm also starting to think a lot about turning 30, which happens this September. I realize, while probably sounding incredibly cliche, that I'm starting to figure myself out a bit more. It's made me think about priorities, life goals, and where I'm at right now. I'll have to write a post about it.

None of this is monumental or even incredibly significant outside our little family, but a couple friends have asked me for details of these things, so here they are.

And now, it's time to close the laptop, and open a new library book while the kids are still napping!