crickets and more angel babies

I haven’t written much lately. Last month we moved from our home of nine years to a new house located almost exactly thirty minutes drive from our first place. It’s not far, but it’s a whole different world over here.

It’s funny when you leave a place you’ve loved, or hated; and both. Right? Relief mixed with laughter and sadness and bittersweet memories. In my mind love and hate are intrinsically linked. Both are feelings so passionate, and seemingly beyond our control.

But is love a choice or an emotion?

Though I am tempted, I will not explore that question here.

I’ve never moved with kids before (and I don’t recommend it). My kids are young (7 and 4) and they won’t have terribly vivid memories of this transition, but for my husband and me it has been a very big deal. One, in fact, that is still evolving as we continue to break down boxes, place books in the giveaway or keep pile (SO MANY BOOKS), and quietly realize that a particular blouse or jacket or scarf is one never to be worn again.

Our former, first and only house was built in the early 1920’s in Portland, Oregon. It was smallish, a two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow on a busy street in an excellent location. Urban. Creative. Dark purple. The house had useful and quirky things like built-in cabinets and closets. A few demographics: Our neighborhood was evolving and relatively diverse in ethnicity and socioeconomic status (SES). My son’s primary school was 63% White. He had fantastic kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers. His friends were a blend of funny, serious, kind and smart boys. The school does a tremendous job in recognizing and appreciating differences and diversity.

My son’s new primary school is 83% White and I can’t comment on SES yet. It is more well-resourced than his former school, though so far it is just the same in the best ways – we receive gentle smiles and welcomes from the teachers and staff; the parents are involved and active in activities beyond reading and math. We will see how the year goes, and we are happy to be here. There is a great deal to do and consider.

Our new place was constructed in the mid 1970’s (in fact, the year I was born). There are no stairs, which in itself makes it feel weird. And I guess people in the 70s didn’t need many closets. The neighborhood is quiet and woodsy. We can hear crickets. Crickets! The boys run out on the patio to listen at sunset, and my eyes shine with secret joy and thoughts of my childhood home, a place where crickets sang for me for many years.

The layout between living and kitchen and dining space is lovely and comfortable. And we just bought some beautiful new furniture. I am a proud owner of a spectacular dining room table today. And BENCHES. I can’t wait to host our next Thanksgiving dinner (and make my guests share their gratitudes – ha!).

But. MOVING.

It pretty much sucked.

However, the MOVING IN part is okay. Sure, we’ve had to have plumbers out on two occasions already, and had a near miss with a catastrophic sewer repair situation. And we need to rebuild a fence and rip up some carpets and build a shed. Did I mention we had no Internet access for fourteen days? And there are a lot of spiders out here in the woods? I’m not scared of spiders, but my four-year-old is now waking up in the middle of the night. 

Our treasured photos are on now the walls. We tuck our boys into their own bedrooms (super awesome for the oldest, rather traumatic for the youngest). The dog has a special corner of his own in which he can rest. There are two towering Doug firs on the property (really big Christmas trees), and we can be at the river bank in less than a ten minute walk (a kayak fund has been established for both kids, in case you’re interested in contributing). We are settling in nicely, and I had to explain recently how Santa would know how to find us.

And, best thing ever, we have two bathrooms!

So why does everyone insist on using mine? 

(just wondering)

As a result of the sale and purchase of two homes in two months, I’ve barely kept up with what’s happening beyond my personal walls (both perceived and real). But it’s a habit for me to briefly check the New York Times, Huffington Post, Washington Post, and CNN to absorb the headlines and click on what’s compelling a couple of times a day.

So today I learned another American man took up a gun and killed his own daughter and six grandkids. While I’ve been focused on my family… attending back to school night, meeting teachers and getting to know neighbors and moms and dads of the boys’ new friends….noting when and how often trash and recycling are picked up, cooking on a gas range instead of electric, dusting off my running shoes to venture out in on a path unknown…well, someone (s) out there either plotted his family’s deaths, or more likely, ended his own life and theirs due to untreated mental illness and stress.

I’m speculating here, of course. As the investigation into this particular horrible event takes place, however, I’d be surprised if mental illness and/or domestic violence wasn’t at the heart of the tragedy.

Um, doesn’t this sound all too familiar?

And here we go again, gun-control advocates vs gun-loving, Second Amendment Right-touting fanatics.

The record player keeps skipping, gets stuck and repeating one groove over and over.

A three-month old was killed today. And an eleven-year-old. And four other kids.

I won’t link up to the many brief news articles about this tragedy today. There’s little information to be gleaned from the official record.

But. Again.

As I consider the ways in which my family and I have dealt with the stress of moving… of new schools and places and spaces… of strangers and work and libraries and stores… I know that I am okay. I have strategies to deal with my anger and my sorrow.

This man did not have strategies.

He could not or would not — we don’t know — apply strategies that would help him deal with himself, his reality, his surroundings.

I don’t know what was going on in his world.

I do know that he had access to firearms, both legal and illegal according to the reports, and that police had been called to his family home on more than occasion.

As a society we are responsible for keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people like criminals and the mentally ill (I know that most mentally ill people are not dangerous).

Gun advocates claim that “Federal law requires that individuals seeking to buy a gun at a licensed dealer pass a background check to prevent criminals, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill, and other dangerous people from purchasing firearms.”

This is true. Thank goodness.

However, anyone who wants to may approach a “private seller” at gun shows, on the Internet, and elsewhere to buy guns with no background check, no questions asked.

This article released in May 2014 says that just days after new polling showed an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Americans continue to support expanding background checks, new FBI data released by Everytown for Gun Safety shows the number of mental health records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has tripled in less than three years.

This is good. But. It’s a work in progress, and it only works if people are actually required to have a background check before they take home a gun.

I am definitely not an expert on guns or gun control. I have family members and dear friends who own guns. I have no issue with ethical hunting. My boys think guns are great. They are very aware that I do not.

My takeaway, and this is not something that I came up with on my own, is that instead of focusing on making it harder for the mentally ill (and criminals, I guess) to acquire guns, we should be making it harder to get guns, period. For everyone.

I am grateful for my family. My heart breaks for the six children, their mother and yes, the man who took their lives and his own.

My record player is on repeat as I quietly lift a prayer to my angel sister:

Liz, six more kids. Six. One is just a babe, a babe like the one that you never got to have. Welcome them, hermanita. Give them the biggest welcome ever. Love you.

Here are some links that were helpful to me think this through. Thanks for reading.

5 Facts about the NRA and Gun Control

Background Checks Work

A Police Officer’s Words on Sandy Hook, 21 months later

Guns and Mental Illness

Comments by Obama after Shootings in Portland, Oregon (my most recently departed hometown)

Conservatives History on Gun Control (Ronald Reagan)

A Hunter Speaks Out for Gun Control

(and finally, a pro-gun argument) note that I do not agree with many of this author’s statements; but this one I like: “I believe we need a general shift in our attitude toward public violence—wherein everyone begins to assume some responsibility for containing it. This makes sense to me. Both gun advocates and gun-control advocates might come to consensus on this point.

morning is breaking

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I am behind in posting to this personal blog. I owe two reviews, various musings, and a special response to a nomination by The Imperfect Kitchen – a post that I am excited about writing and sharing with my readers.

But lately I’ve felt more like thinking about writing, rather than actually writing, thinking-past-bedtime-style, and thinking about the the usual suspects.

Loss, healing and love, in no particular order, because in my mind they are all one and the same.

A neighbor of mine cared for her mom during her last days this month. She gently, sadly left her family far too soon, and it made my heart ache, though I’d never met her.

It made me think, god, I’m so grateful, truly grateful that my mom and dad and sister are still here with me. 

Most nights my family sits around the dinner table and haphazardly share our daily gratitudes. It’s our “Our Father, Full of Grace”, a reflection on the day’s gifts and rainbows.

The deal is that everyone is supposed to share at least one thing for which they are grateful that happened that day, even if, and this is quite plausible, that day truly sucked and was horrible till the end.

Despite that we have shared gratitudes before the evening meal for over a year now, it’s not sinking in. Our boys dig into their food, starving, until I ask them to pause. Then they’re suddenly squabbling, hands reaching, each determined to share his gratitudes before anyone else.

Our youngest says he is grateful for the “water park” that we visited last November. He says this every night.

It’s not a religious practice, I guess it’s optional, but it irritates me that I constantly have to remind them to show appreciation for what they have. They are good at saying ‘thank you’ for an ice cream cone or a birthday gift, but less so at acknowledging a subtler act of kindness or uncommon experience.

The truth is that we live in a community that enjoys so much privilege. I want our boys to recognize this, and so I make them identify something, anything, for which they are grateful every night. Once they get started, however, they have a hard time stopping. This suggests that one day I won’t have to prompt them.

Right?

Recent gratitudes from the older brother include “watching the World Cup, especially Brazil and USA and the Netherlands, and sorry, Mom, but I’ve got to root against Mexico when they play the Netherlands, and for this dinner, and for getting ready to go to Bubba and Nana’s house…” and from the younger, “I’m grateful for this beautiful dinner and I love Mom and Dad and Miles and Coppi and our new kitchen and going to the water park and coming back from school and the dumpster wasn’t here and we didn’t need to do any more work”. 

It’s really good stuff, these gratitudes that I insist they share.

In late 2000, my two sisters visited my partner and me in southern Mexico. We were working 12-16 hour days, volunteer-style, at a guest ranch located not far from the Guatemalan border. Mostly European and a few intrepid American travelers arrived shouldering backpacks, ate great quantities of excellent home-cooked food, hiked and photographed nearby ruins before heading on their way.

We served traveling Germans a lot of Mexican beer and washed piles and piles of dishes. We also developed a healthy respect for the indigenous Zapatista community’s presence down the road as well as for the Mexican army base located less than one mile from the ranch.

I’ve written about this experience in Birds of Paradise, Part One, Two and Three. Fresh out of the Peace Corps, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to live and work in a piece of the world not well known by anyone other than its residents and the local American missionaries (I should write about them sometime – they weren’t your stereotypical missionary family).

Toward the close of our tenure at the ranch, my partner and I spent time in close dialog, not only with each other, but with members of the staff. We agreed that the way in which the operation was run (by American expats greedy for pesos and a permanent vacation) was crude and unethical. The ranch employed a hard-working staff of young men and women who completed their tasks with a serious yet pleasant attitude. For most of them, Spanish was their second or third language after their indigenous dialect. We earned their trust by working alongside them, washing dishes by hand, serving plates and drinks, and weeding the garden. It helped that we spoke the language, sharing jokes and lightening the atmosphere a bit.

Bringing this memory back today seems timely. Although we did not have children back then, and in fact did not have much for which we were responsible – no mortgage, no “real” jobs, no bills waiting to be paid – we felt accountable, to one another and to the staff and neighbors of the property.

At the end of the day we felt responsible and grateful. We coordinated humble yet delicious dinners and assisted in buying, cleaning and preparing the food alongside two talented Mexican cooks. Eventually the work took place in a rhythm that worked beautifully so long as the ranch owners were not present. It was a good, yet unsustainable situation since we knew the owners were due back any day. After six months, we chose not to take part any longer in an operation that was unkind and unjust to the very people who made it work.

Maybe gratitude can’t really be forced. Through observation and experience of humbler conditions than my own, I grew in immeasurable ways that season, and I was a whole lot older than our kids are today.

I want to live my life with eyes wide open to the blessings around me. Our boys have big hearts, even if they less aware of how good they have it.

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.

– A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

 P.S. By the time I got around to posting this, both of my boys had driven me mad, because they were tired and melting down, causing me to feel very ungrateful indeed. But we’ll try again tomorrow. 

gracias

 

 

 

the usual suspects

I’m sorry

Last week I was thinking that I don’t have anything very compelling to write about anymore.

After all, I get up, get the kids up (and generally in that order, which is wow and wonderful), hubby or I fix breakfast and get ’em ready, out the door, etc. First grade provides me with six hours to focus on work. The weekdays speed by in a busy blur of work and activity and little down time.

Afternoon/evenings are also fairly routine,  alternating with swimming, soccer, piano lessons and trips to the park. During his big brother’s lesson, I generally keep my youngest son out of the living room and occupied. It’s never been a problem. But this past week he informed me that HE is ready for piano lessons. I explained that HE then has to be six years old for that to happen, and he just looked at me thoughtfully.

A moment later, he parked himself on the sofa to watch his brother practice. He stayed there for several minutes.

Eventually I approached him and asked if he wanted to play outside or something (I mean, I am thrilled that my oldest is learning to play, but listening to Camptown Races x infinity times is a little boring).

No, Mama! I’m the audience, he stressed.

He continued to sit there, and clapped wildly after his brother completed each piece, tapping out wrong notes joyfully.

Such are the moments that make this parenting stuff worth it. Unlike, for example, grocery store meltdowns, one of which was unexpected and epic. Those are moments when I prefer to hit my head on something hard and become temporarily amnesiatic.

In line at our local grocer the other day, the cashier asked how my day was going. I offered a generic response. My youngest was in one of the those unwieldy “car carts” that are a hybrid of grocery cart and maneuver warfare strategy number one. I manage to crash into at least two displays per visit as I round a corner or pause to examine produce.

[maneuver warfare, by the way, is a term whereby your enemies attempt to incapacitate you through shock and disruption. Clearly a strategy created by a parent or team of parents who should know better.]

The cashier shook her head. I remember when my daughter was that age, and she.…I can’t honestly remember what she said next.

But this I heard.

She said, parenting, man, you just don’t know what you’re in for. It’s a hard, hard job.

Rather loudly and immediately, I agreed, that’s the TRUTH.

My response surprised her, and she looked up at me, wide eyed, and smiled broadly. We made this immediate connection. She didn’t tell me how cute my kid is or remember to offer him a sticker. She didn’t offer me a story detailing her own kid’s antics at age four nostalgically. Instead, in a reasonable voice, she acknowledged out loud that parenting is not easy.

And it sure isn’t fun a lot of the time. Sigh. I walked home feeling validated in my own feelings about parenting.

The ‘it’s worth it’ moments battle intensely with WTF were we thinking?’ moments often.

Fortunately for the small people in the house, the ‘it’s worth it’ moments won out this week.

One night we allowed the boys to watch a 40-minute show after homework, brushing, bathing, etc. They commandeered the I-pad while their father and I talked quietly in the living room. At about 10 minutes remaining in the show, I gave them instructions to let us know when it ended and added a heads up that bedtime was imminent.

More or less ten minutes later, I called out, Is it over?

No, Mama! sweet voices assured me.

Two minutes later I walked in and checked the screen. They had finished the show and were exactly three minutes into the next episode.

Promptly I shut the damn thing off and gave them their marching orders for bed.

Tears. Defense. Cries of the tricked and the innocent rang out into the night.

The little one and I worked it out. He wasn’t completely guiltless, but  doesn’t have as much of a handle of time and orders as his big brother. He was mostly sad that we skipped books.

I let my oldest know how disappointed I was in his decision to continue watching shows despite my clear guidance. It was dishonest and irresponsible. His father confirmed the message. He went to bed in tears, angry, and hardly made eye contact as I said good night.

This type of thing doesn’t happen ALL the time, but it happens often enough to be frustrating and annoying. I shrugged it off, like so many other six-year-old battles.

About twenty minutes later, the quiet but inescapable click of a door opening sounded across the first floor. I glanced up as my ninja-stealth-like boy walked over to me. He usually wants water, a bathroom break, a book, or something else that allows him to stay up late.

He often has to tell me something important having to do with Major League Soccer season stats or when How to Train Your Dragon 2 is coming out at the theater or how to spell raptorsaurus.

I was taken aback, in a most wonderful way, when he proceeded to clearly say,

Mama?

I have to tell you something.

Pause.

I’m sorry.

This is a kid whom I regularly force to say “sorry” when he’s mean to his brother or does something for which he knows better… he says it, and it’s so completely fake. Apologizing does not come naturally to him, probably because 99% of the time he doesn’t see that what or how he’s offended requires an apology.

Fair enough.

But this time, after my little speech about responsibility and honesty, well, I don’t know what happened. But something struck a chord within my sensitive boy’s strong-willed heart.

He said he was sorry. He meant it. I accepted his apology, and he gave me the biggest hug.

I know some people aren’t really into apologies. They’re just words, right? Actions speak louder than words, we claim. But hearing those two words spoken out loud sincerely can make the air feel different.

And different air means the day is no longer routine and typical, but rather unusual.

I like unusual.

Like the cashier at the grocery, I like feeling surprised by unexpected authenticity in action and in words.

Thank you, my sensitive, little boy who is age six going on seven and eight and nine and nineteen and thirty. I love you so much. miles looks

Do I title this post Creepy Bunnies?

Or Boston Strong?

I woke up ruminating on the holiday, but my thoughts quickly turned toward the runners and spectators who lined the streets of Boston this morning.  It’s been humbling and inspiring to read about how the running community moved resiliently through this first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. I was touched to learn that hundreds of runners and their families attended the Blessing of the Athletes at Boston’s Old South Church yesterday, which coincidentally was Easter Sunday.

Part of the blessing read:

May you mount up with wings like eagles. May you run and not grow weary. May you walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

I remain unconvinced that Christianity with a capital C is the way to go,  but I also appreciate how we might seek solace and inspiration in scripture. This particular piece seems especially meaningful for runners.

That said, the explanation I provided to my kids about the meaning of Easter felt inadequate.

Our eldest son can tell you the Christmas story, or at least he’ll hit the highlights… how baby Jesus was born in a manger after his parents wandered for several hours in search of a place to rest. He likes the idea of a bright star guiding the way of those who sought him, and he’ll certainly mention the fact that there were animals, too… an ox, a donkey, a camel, and maybe a dog.

Also, since the city of Bethlehem is within an hour’s drive from the Mediterranean Sea, my son is certain there was a shark or two silently lurking near the shore the day Jesus was born.

Healer, sage, leader, teacher and philosopher, Jesus was a man who cared deeply about humanity. Was he reborn? I’m not entirely certain.

Anyway.

Most Easters since our kids have been born have passed without much reflection on the day’s purpose or history. Yesterday I felt like tackling it differently, because the secular approach to Easter is focused on a creepy, man-sized Easter Bunny, and and the sugar ingestion alone is bound to hurt.

We painted and hid eggs and filled baskets with treats. Our eldest handles special treats discreetly, saving them to enjoy one at a time. His Easter Basket was still pretty full by the time the sun set. Our youngest, on the other hand, was intentional in his excessive consumption of jelly beans and chocolate. Throughout the day, he returned to his basket to dip in for a handful of sweet, until it was gone. Then he leaned in to me with chocolate breath to inquire about more.

After spending the entire day in our backyard playing soccer and badminton, gardening, swinging in the hamaca and organizing an army of Lego guys on the deck, we finally stopped to come in for the holiday meal. Before dinner, we went around the table to share gratitudes.

I said something like, Today I’m grateful for sunshine and each of you and the understanding that we are sharing this special Easter Sunday with many people around the world.

Oldest son: Um, Mom? Couldn’t there be a cooler holiday that celebrated sharks around the world? Like everyone would just be excited and celebrate about Sharks being alive in the ocean around the entire world?

After dinner, the boys scrubbed down into cleaner versions of themselves and watched an original Peter Cottontail movie from the 1970s.

Public apologies to the movie-gifter, but this film is a little scary and dated. The boys didn’t think so, but I cringed watching the dark Evil Irontail try to outsmart the innocent Peter Cottontail. The stop-motion animation is fun, and probably easier for our youngest to follow than fast-paced modern films, but it’s still a pretty terrible movie. I like to be present during the viewing of a new movie in order to interpret as needed or talk it out afterwards, but I’m also finding myself being less present lately.

More and more, I need the boys to work stuff out on their own.

When they are separated, they long to be together… or at least the youngest wants to be near the eldest. Left apart long enough, the eldest inquires about the youngest, too. Since we don’t live in the Taj Mahal, intimacy isn’t typically a problem, and we are within shouting distance at any given point.

On Easter Sunday I felt like we should feel as a family,  like a whole, curious, healthy entity, moving toward a shared interpretation of the day. Faithful or not, life really comes down to love, gratitude, family, patience, kindness and strength of spirit.

Our kids are young. Easter baskets are compelling, and they sit in the room, teasing, tantalizing as they entice little hands to dig down for jelly beans and chocolate. But if I can support those things listed above as part of my life and that of my family’s, then I feel we are doing pretty well.

And that, readers, makes for a happy Easter.

ry518BPKQq9qJWPiSgqfHqhSQT5hpRnzCpqF335_5YU (2)

 

holiday thoughts and blessings

I’m a bad mom. I yell too much and daydream about spending a week (or seven) on a Mexican beach BY MYSELF with alarming frequency. I sleep well in a hammock, enjoy light clothing and speak Spanish, so it’s terribly tempting. The sound of the ocean weakens, or prevents, my anxiety issues from taking over better than prescription medication or running six miles can do, although those are excellent strategies. I used to keep a journal – in writing, private-style, not a blog – and some of my truest thoughts came into view as I sat silently and listened to the crash of the surf, cool and salty, rippling gray to deep green to dark silver blue, and wrote down what I was thinking in front of the ocean, sometimes while chasing the sunrise.

Now I just listen to the crash of two small people as they tumble and roar through our landbound house. This afternoon I asked the older one why, why, WHY for the love of all that is good and holy (to quote a friend) he cannot get along with his brother, when he doesn’t fight with his friends, and in fact, has developed some sweet, respectful, funny and heartwarming friendships over the past few years.

His response was immediate. It went something like, Well, I get along with my friends because MY FRIENDS don’t break my stuff and MY FRIENDS don’t punch me when they get mad and MY FRIENDS don’t say mean words and MY FRIENDS don’t get too much into my space.

Okay. I nodded. I heard him.

Then later in the day there were these moments and even stretches of time when they played together and made each other laugh and think and smile and I was all like yeah I have these awesome kids before one of them started in again causing me to intervene at some point and use my strategies and my words and then finally YELL.

And then one of them — twenty minutes later – looked at me in his room and apologized. Like a real apology. Not one that I encouraged or invited or forced. Taken aback, we enjoyed a real nice hug and a smile. God I love these kids.

Earlier in the day, the same kid was playing with these tiny soccer player guys in the basement. I mentioned that there were a few more players upstairs, and he nodded.

Mom, would you be a dear and go and get them for me?

I could hear his teacher’s words echoing in his mind… and so I said of course, I would be happy to help.

Later, he asked his brother to bring him a toy from their shared room, and the little one accomodated (he likes to be a helper, especially on his own terms).

Big brother smiled and whispered to me: it’s like I have a tiny servant.

Seriously? I thought.

He did thank his brother for the delivery service.

My boys are keeping it real, thanks. All those Christmas letters (that I adore receiving – really) detailing evidence of the joy and dreamlike state in which the new babies and adorable toddlers on Santa’s laps provide for their parents make me cringe a little, tear up a little, and fake holiday cheer a little. It’s so not all adorable when one’s three going on thirteen year old tells you that he doesn’t love you anymore because I made him hold my hand in the parking lot after he took off in a public space. He deliberately did not mind me, and I confess to threatening — in calm, kind voice — to have to put him on a leash like a dog if he continued to run away from me. He burst into tears and said he didn’t want to be on a leash like Coppi (our dog).

You know those kid leashes, right? I’ve seen the occasional child on a leash at a grocery store or the county fair. I’ve thought they were horrible, and now my kid’s almost four and I absolutely get why people use them!

I’m not going to put him on a leash. The threat is already out there, folks. But if he takes off on me one more time I am… I am… I have no idea right now what I’m going to do. I’m sure there are like a thousand books out there like How To Not Get Your Kid To Run Away From You Even Though It’s A Fun Game For Him And Scary And Frustrating For You, but quite frankly I don’t want to use the Google to find them right now. I’d rather vent, and I love this space where I can put words out there and let it go.

Have a great night, especially you parents as we approach this magical time called Bedtime.

P.S. Here’s a glimpse of my non-minding child during swim lessons. He’s cute, because otherwise we’d have serious problems.

maxswims

And P.P.S. This is the photo Miles selected to send into the Lego Contest. If he wins, he gets $100 in Legos! He is super excited even though I’ve cautioned that there are likely to be many, many other six-and-seven-and-eight-and-thirty-nine-old-Lego-contenders participating in the competition.

mileslegos

Tumble and Roar

Peter Pan doesn’t wear underwear

Before we left for our walk this afternoon,  I asked our youngest son to put on some pants. We recently acquired a new dresser for the purpose of containing his clothes, and it’s been quite refreshing not to have them tossed all over the bedroom, stuffed into his brother’s drawers or hidden on the floor of the closet. He quickly learned exactly where pants, shorts, t-shirts, undies, and long-sleeved shirts belong. Since he frequently changes clothes (we’re talking three or more times per day), it’s come in quite handy that he knows where his clothes should be placed when not on his body.

When he marched out of his room in long pants, I said something like, Great job, Max, hmmm. No undies?

With the smug look of a fat worm rolling across the sidewalk in a downpour, he replied, Mom. Peter Pan doesn’t wear underwear. 

Ah.

Okay. Well, I don’t care if he wears undies or not, so we got on with securing shoes and coat before heading out into the day. The sun was shining and the streets were filled with holiday ghosts… a sparkly tiara caught  in a corner drain, a damp spiral of ribbon, empty Scotch tape rolls neglected by garbage collection.

Don’t touch! I scolded even before his little hands reached out to gather and investigate.

After my parents left this morning, I asked my boys how they were feeling about their departure. Unsurprisingly, the sensitive big brother teared up and declared he would write them a letter and would one day become big enough to spend “a hundred weeks” at their home in Virginia. The youngest, however, shook his head and said, no, he didn’t miss them, because he would see them soon “at their house!”, and moved on to immediate distractions.

(Because my parents are probably reading, let me be clear that you may invite our children to spend a hundred weeks at your place any time).

A few days ago, we took the boys to a live performance of Peter Pan at the Northwest Children’s Theatre. They loved it. The acting was wonderful and we had third row, picture perfect seats. Captain Hook was especially convincing, the tick-tocking crocodile was hilarious and sixteen-year-old Wendy’s voice brought tears to my eyes. The play was a highlight of our winter break, which, by the way, ends on Monday morning. Seventeen days of lie-ins and lack-of-routine have nearly passed, and we will soon greet earlier morns and regular afternoons spent at the playground or swim lessons or reading books before the fleeting hours spent in dinner-bath-go-to-bed! It has been mostly a lovely time off, and I look forward to a more or less normal week of school and work.  As the New Year has commenced, so have we in our family routine and togetherness and squabbles and love. I am grateful for the time our boys spent with their grandparents, and despite their endless fighting over a singular and spectacular Lego Ninjago guy, I appreciate they spent the past two weeks together.

When I became pregnant with our oldest, I knew immediately I desired a second. The potential and influence of a sibling relationship, its battles and competition and unconditional protective love, is something like nothing else. I knew no brothers growing up and now find myself raising two of them. Not always knowing what to do, I try – often unsuccessfully – to rely on their dad and teachers and friends to help me figure out how best to raise them.

Tonight, our youngest came out of the bedroom moments after tucking them in for a few minutes of quiet play before rest. They each have a headlamp that illuminates a book or two, a toy (or ten), and keeps them content in those moments before sleep takes them under.

Miles says my head lamp is a GIRL’s headlamp!

Really? Well, you know what? (after 8’clock, my temper is short). I’M a GIRL. So Girls are Awesome. Ok?

He just looked at me. Back to bed, we marched.

Did you say that your brother’s headlamp is a GIRL’s headlamp?

No! I said it was a BRIGHT headlamp.

(Yeah right).

Well, I’m not sure if that’s what he understood, but let’s say it together to be clear. Girls are Awesome. So Girls’ Headlamps must also be awesome, even though there’s really no such thing as a Girl or a Boy Headlamp.

Ok?

Head low, our oldest murmured something like okay and goodnight.

Because all I wanted to do was go and read my latest YA novel on my Kindle, I left it at that, and let them go to sleep.

But really. The Girl vs Boy thing is interesting. I’ve written before on this forum that I believe we are all born across a gender spectrum of masculinity and femininity and that eventually, sometimes painfully, we figure out how to be (or not be) comfortable and confident in owning whatever place into which we fall during our journeys across the map.

Gender is all around us. It is taught to us constantly, from the time in which we are born and dressed and announced to the world.

This morning our youngest pointed out a little boy wearing a princess dress at a birthday party and questioned his choice loudly. I felt uncomfortable. I explained that it was okay to wear all sorts of different costumes – including princess – no matter if you are a boy or a girl – and he said no more about it. But it clearly made me recognize that as the younger brother of a lively, sometimes loud, and definitely boy child, he is learning what is “normal” for a boy and what is not. He craves acknowledgement from his older brother, whether that means running as fast as he does (he can’t), building as intricate a Lego structure as he does (he cannot) or dressing himself in tough guy outfits: cowboy, police officer, fireman, pirate.

Our oldest, on the other hand, went to daycare and preschool with boys and girls who wore princess dresses and pirate costumes interchangeably, and to this day does not question choices of gender that may not conform to the mainstream. Although I can take no credit for his observations, I confess I’ve been very proud of his neutral outlook on his friends’ gender inspired choices because I believe that pushing gender identity on young children isn’t a good idea. Rather, from what I’ve observed in my kids and my kids’ friends and classmates, gender fluidity is pretty normal as kids explore different roles and spaces in their daily lives.

I’m dying to go into statistics here to discuss the percentage of female fire fighters, police officers, and others in traditional male professions, but I won’t. It doesn’t escape me that we still more commonly refer to firefighters as firemen or animal herders as cowboys.

I’ll just end by saying…. geez. I hope I’m raising these boys right.

And girls are awesome.

cheese

Another day, another drama.

This morning the boys began fighting over a single Lego piece again before school and I nearly lost it.

I made them hand over all of the Legos. I took two large containers and one small one and placed them in a closet. I then informed them that I would be giving the Legos to a two-brother family such as “so and so” or “so and so” or “so and so” except I used their real names.

I chose three families who we know and care for who are also raising two young boys. I implied that these boys play nicely together and don’t fight every single elfin’ day about Legos. I suggested these other boys respect one another’s need for space and the concept of sharing. In fact, these boys are more deserving of the Legos than ours, I said.

Knowing well that these other boys can and probably do fight like brothers do, what I said was more or less a big fat lie but it was necessary.

Instantly huge crocodile tears flooded our living room. They begged me to give them “one more chance” and that they “would be nice now” and “would never fight again”. The older one cried because he truly believed I was about to give their Legos away to his friends. The younger one took  up the older one’s song and cried because it seemed like the most appropriate thing to do. I agreed to reconsider giving away their small plastic fucking bricks IF they could manage to attempt to be good as gold for the next two days.

Good. As. Gold.

Is that a clear message?

Sorry for the profanity, but it’s the holiday season.

I do not remember fighting with my sisters like this. The fun-style wrestling, both boys cracking up when suddenly it ends with one or the other poking one’s eye out or squeezing a bit too hard. Their unmitigated physicality and arrant need to touch, spar, and scoot closer and closer until one either laughs or yells or both is often overwhelming (for me) in a confined indoor area. Despite spending hours and hours outdoors at the park, in the swimming pool and on the soccer field, their need for tease and touch is bottomless.

I’m not totally against their need to play rough. That’s not it. Often their father and I chase our boys around and pretend that the loft is a lucha libre ring and they absolutely love it. They like being swung around like monkeys. For heaven’s sake, we had a small trampoline in our living room for months.

Often new bruises are revealed in the bathtub. The littlest bumps into chairs he doesn’t see because he walks around with a blanket over his head and pretends he is a ghost. I remember the first time I sent our oldest into daycare with a bruise. Seriously, it was the first blemish on his baby soft skin. He was around one and standing up in the tub. Slipping before I could catch him, he crashed into the water and bumped his head on the side of the tub. I remember earnestly explaining to the teacher what had happened, half convinced she would call CPS. Instead, she nodded and smiled. She’d seen a lot of bruises in the under-five crowd.

Evidently, our bruised and skinned knees boys aren’t that unique.

The other day I wrote about peace talk and weapon play. Today I consider the way boys play. There is a need for control and a healthy dose of competition in their games. What I want to be sure of is their ability to control the behavior. In taking away something, I’m practicing negative punishment.  B.F. Skinner, psychologist, says that negative punishment is most effective when:

  • It immediately follows a response
  • It is applied consistently

I actually think we’re doing pretty well here. But research shows that positive consequences are more powerful than negative consequences for improving behavior, and we incorporate praise, too, and lots and lots of hugs. My youngest told me tonight before bed that I’m a “kissy mama”. I asked if that was okay and he smacked me on the lips. Love.

After the Lego incident, I dropped the first grader at school and spent the morning with the 3.5 years old. He frequently impersonates a moody, charming adolescent, but he was in good spirits and conceded to good behavior. We had a lovely time as we walked a half mile by the river and checked out the boats as the fog lifted. After a few hours at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, we made a quick stop at a local running store where the clerks watched my boy run circles on the indoor track wearing a cute peach woman’s running hat. We left, went home, he refused to nap and an hour later we picked up his big brother.

The evening proceeded more or less normally, with a few barely veiled threats about Christmas, Legos and other incentives. We enjoyed unspicy Thai food and snuggles with the dog. A showing of the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer made everyone happy. Not long afterward, our sweet, sensitive, smart, demanding, defiant boys fell asleep.

Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with Me.

max christmas miles christmas