Wednesday, July 13, 2016

I wrote this for another site and was recently asked to reshare it.....which I do so happily.

We’ve lived in our house now for over a year. As we wrapped up the renovations, I got to focus on decorating it, making it our home. I had a vision and that vision included family portraits. Our fifth baby was old enough now that she looked like herself, still little, but not so babyish. Above our mantle would hang our family portrait. I knew the pose I wanted, rather artistic. My husband and I would be in the background, our five children in the forefront, the focus of our family.  

About the time that I decided I was ready for family photos, my friend Kristie had a special deal to celebrate her oldest son’s graduation from high school. I love Kristie and don’t see her nearly enough, not to mention she has a spectacular eye for light. So it seemed like a perfect choice to meet up with her and take some lovely family pictures.  The theme of the pictures was basically show up with clean faces. This was accomplished. Yes, my older son had a ripped shirt on. Yes my younger son was missing a button on his shirt, but over all they looked fairly cared for. The sun was shining, although it wasn’t as hot as many of our summer days had been. The breeze was dancing through, giving us all a gentle windswept look.  It seemed ideal, the perfect day.  The perfect day, the perfect setting up until toddlers were added to the mix. In my excitement to have truly special family pictures taken, I forgot that it involved my family. Namely my strong willed three year old and a toddler with the attention span of a gnat. It did not go well.  The odds were never really in our favor. If the three year old cooperated, the baby had to run towards the street. If the baby was sitting still, the three year old had to climb the tree…..right then. And the older children kept laughing at the littles’ antics.

Kristie handled it like the professional she is. Although I’m certain raising her own four, absolutely sweet children, helped. She was patient and understanding. She expressed delight in the absolutely age appropriate behavior of the little ones. She was supportive and helped me see the situation for what it was.  It is where we are in life. We are a family with little ones. Babies and toddlers who throw us for a loop. And they are so cute as the wreak havoc within our plans. And that’s what Kristie captured. Our life, now, frustrating and hectic and oh so beautiful.  It can be challenging to see the beauty in the moment sometimes. Especially when you just want them to sit still for a couple minutes. I had a goal, a vision and it just wasn’t going to come to fruition. And honestly, that’s life right now. My plans often go awry, just yesterday I was peeling screaming children off the bookstore floor. They wanted to sit and stare at the Thomas the Tank Engine toys, I wanted to pick up the book I ordered. But they’re still the size where I can scoop them up. They still can wrap their arms around my neck as they wailing in protest. And there’s something precious about that. It’s a special time, all too brief, just months out a decades long life.

These moments are fleeting. And they are more valuable than can ever be expressed. There, in that moment, I chose to let go of my plans and simply work with what we had. Because that’s what family life is about. Embracing your people, where they are in life, and moving forward. Or sideways, depending on what mood strikes the children in your life. But in order to have peace, to be able to take joy in the moments that come, sometimes unexpectedly, I had to make my plans fit my children, not my children fit my plans. Because these are my moments, my moments to treasure my children, and that means their personalities as expressed by their little toddler wills. Too soon they will grow, grow into well behaved children. Children, who don’t cry because they have to sit on grass, but rather for real pain, true sadness, hurt. And I dread that time. I’m scared for when they hurt for reasons I can’t fix. When I can’t dry their eyes by offering them my bracelet. So I chose to not be frustrated or irritated, at least too much. These are the good times. The happy times. These are my children, good and naughty. They have my heart.  

This reality was made more poignant by the presence of Kristie’s eldest son. He helped with the shoot, chatted comfortably, mostly about  college. He was leaving. Moving upward and onward, as he should. As all children will.  Kristie was so proud of her little boy, now taller than her. And she had every reason to be. And she tried so hard to hide those tears, as her precious little one spread his wings. Wings she formed, wings she nurtured, wings she so wanted to see him use. But it didn’t make it hurt any less.  As I watched the mother and son work together, I glanced over at my own son. He was trying to remove his shoes. Forcefully and with much passion. And I chose to accept and treasure. Because too soon, that little boy would be a man. A man who would take on the world with as much passion as he had for not sitting still in that moment. And that man would leave my side, and quite possibly invite another woman to his side. This will be wonderful when it happens, but it won’t change the fact that his little chubby hand will no longer be in mine.

So I choose to treasure these moments, even the moments of chaos. It's where our family is right now. We'll have the perfect family photos later, at graduations and weddings. When my littles are spreading their wings. I have them for such a brief time, and Kristie captured this brief time perfectly. In all its chaos....and beauty.   

all photos by Catch Me if You Can photography.

I wrote this two years ago for another site. I was recently asked to share it again......

My head hurts, the kind of ache that comes from too much coffee and not enough sleep. I should take advantage of this quiet nap time myself, but there's too much weighing on my heart.  A couple of weeks ago, a mother of two little boys disappeared. Tragically, she was found ten days after her disappearance, dead. She had committed suicide, to the shock of her family. She left her home, so that her husband and little boys wouldn't find her, and took the only escape she saw for herself. It is heart wrenching, disturbing and confusing. Any suicide, but especially that of a mother to little ones, is horrific. As a result, we tend not to talk about it. We whisper a prayer for the poor soul and then continue on to more pleasant things. The result is the pain, the evil, the darkness that so poisons the mind is allowed to fester away in private.

Truth is a powerful sunlight. It is frightening, however, to lay your soul bare, to honestly admit that all's not right in your world. It can lead to hurt on the part of those who love you. "How can you feel so alone? We are here for you." For those who don't struggle with depression, understanding and supporting can be too confusing. Everything seems so good, how can this not be seen and appreciated? Shake it off, buck up, make your peace with God and everything will be fine. Life is full of highs and lows.  If only it was this simple.  Those struggling with depression, already believing they have failed their loving family, keep their pain inside, so not to fail or disappoint further. The result, despite best intentions, is that the darkness and despair continues to fester. The crushing burden increases. 

I sat in the sun, mulling this over the other day. We were at a local theme park and I was watching my older children embark on a water ride. It was a beautiful day, filled with shrieks of laughter. Watching my older son, I remembered that he and his younger brother were the same ages as the little boys who lost their mother. It stabbed my heart. I could still feel the heat of his growing hand in mine. I could see him waving excitedly to me. With a catch in my throat, I thought "it could have been them." They could have been the little boys whose mother was lost to the darkness.  

See, I'm the mom who has thought, often, that my children would be better off without me. I'm the mom who has heard those voices telling me I am failing my children, my husband and all those I love. I'm the mom who felt utterly crushed by what seems like daily life, and I have heard  the voices of despair telling me to quit, it would be better for everyone. I'm the mom who felt like I could never love my children as they deserved. I'm a mom who has warred with the darkness and despair of depression.  And I'm a mom who was given the strength and the grace to seek help. To drown out those voices, and to know that I could not carry this burden myself. For me, my path to light was with medication and counseling. Part of that path was recognizing that what I thought and felt wasn't right, wasn't how it was supposed to be. But it wasn't because I wasn't trying hard enough; it was because my body was out of whack. 

It's sad that it is uncomfortable to speak about this more openly. It's unfortunate that so much gets swept up in the term "mental illness." It seems to me to be an inaccurate term, as depression is often caused by a chemical imbalance. It's the body not working as it should, a state not uncommon for most adults at some point. Sleep, diet and exercise can help, but all of these are often hard for mothers. It wasn't the "real" me that was "failing" my family. It was a distorted view, caused by some out of balance hormones.  Sounds so simple. And yet, this has taken me five days to write. I feel vulnerable, exposed, fragile. I was raised in a private family. We didn't share unpleasant news. We were discreet, which is a habit I truly appreciate in today's age of oversharing. But, there is a time to speak up. There is a time to share. There is a time to say "you are not alone." I struggle with depression. Medications saved me, and my family. 

I refuse to listen to the voices in the darkness that say no one cares and that I am weak. I refuse to listen to the voices of the darkness that say I should be ashamed and that others will think less of me. I refuse to listen to the voices of the darkness. I will speak up. I will stand up and say "there is hope." I will stand beside and say "judge me along with her." I will silence those voices of darkness. Because I heard the Voice of Truth. 

As I sat in the sun, in the middle of a forested area, I thought about the other mom. I watched the light dance off of some leaves, and thought of that other garden, so long ago. The first time the Voice of Truth was drowned out, ignored. Pain and suffering followed. If we are pursuing our vocations, our paths in the Lord's light, it isn't unreasonable to think that we will be attacked along the way. Will the serpent exploit our bodies; use our physical weaknesses to beat us down? Of course he would, any opportunity to twist our view of ourselves. He sees us as weak and worthless. And yet the Voice of Truth says we are fearfully and wonderfully made. All of us. We should be a mirror of the light and an echo of the Voice of Truth, sharing with each other the truth, fighting through the darkness. 

The words of a popular hymn replayed in my mind "But the voice of truth tells me a different story, And the voice of truth says 'Do not be afraid!'.....Out of all the voices calling out to me, I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth." For the person struggling with depression, it isn't as simple as choosing to believe. But for those of us who are in the light, we should be sharing the truth, encouraging openness and honesty. Starting with ourselves, dispelling the darkness that allows despair to grow.

I was roused from my reverie as my children plunged down a steep drop and created a huge splash. Their faces were split with huge grins. They all yelled "Hi Mom! Did you see us?" And I was grateful, so grateful, that I was there, with them, loving them. Grateful for help, grateful for options, grateful for salvation. And in my gratitude, I resolved to be more open about my own journey so that there will be more mothers in the sun, laughing with their children.  

Rest in peace Jennifer Huston, and all those who were lost in the darkness. May you hear the Voice of Truth whisper in your ear "Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest."    

Monday, May 23, 2016

I have no one to blame but myself. I’m the one who said he could push the shopping cart.

The evening began with a trip to X-Man’s preschool to admire their year’s worth of art projects. In order to avoid the family movie offering in the gym, I had told all the children that we would get ice cream afterwards. So we all admired X-Man’s work, he was able to explain it to us, which I guess is gauche when it comes to art, but otherwise I would have thought his footprint duck was a chicken.

The thing about Cold Stone Creamery is that they allow mix ins, candies mixed with the ice cream to make a delightful treat. And no matter what, all small people will ask for the bright blue cotton candy ice cream. And mix in something utterly hideous like m&ms. Not that the chocolate candy is hideous….but chocolate and cotton candy? Ugh.

Happily, both Cinco and X-Man bucked the trend, X-Man requesting chocolate ice cream and Cinco asking for….pink. Of course. Both had gummy bears mixed with their ice cream. And of course, both had to dig the gummy bears out of the ice cream they just been mixed in to. I was ok with that; it’s all part of the experience. I drew the line, however, at being introduced to each individual gummy bear…..followed by the consumption of the bear. X-Man added in some screams and “help me help me” while Cinco tried extra commentary but was unable to, due to cracking herself up too much.

We then headed to shop for curtain rods. The babies, as they are still referred to by their elder siblings, like to play in the elder girls’ closet. They tend to knock the closet doors off their runners, much to the annoyance of their sisters. So we were off to experiment with a curtain instead of doors.

We went shopping for curtain rods, so of course we ended up in the shoe section. But not before X-Man asked to push the shopping cart. He selected a half cart, and could actually see over the handle, so I acquiesced. X-Man has worked hard to mature and follow directions and I want to reward his efforts. Of course Cinco saw that X-man was pushing his own cart. I braced for the meltdown and demands that she too get her own cart, height requirements notwithstanding.

But no, Cinco had other plans. She wanted X-Man to push her in his cart. And X-Man willingly obliged. So we cautious proceeded on. X-man stayed near me and I began to relax a bit. Over the last few months, X-Man has been maturing and his behavior is becoming more age appropriate daily. As his ability to communicate has improved and his understanding of himself in space has strengthened, he’s able to truly be himself. And himself is delightful. But also….a four year old boy. A younger brother, with all the mischief that includes.

As we browsed the shoes,  Baba and Baby were helpful. Down to business and no nonsense, they quickly made their selections. Baba showed the savvy of teenager by pointing out that a pair of sandals that I was hemming and hawing about would fit her as well, and since she had outfits they’d go well with, I should but them and we could share them. Her arguments carried the day.

Meanwhile, X-Man and Cinco were chattering away. He was staying close by, not running amuck, so he lacked my full attention. It wasn’t until, arms full of shoes, I turned to the cart that I realized how he and Cinco were passing the time. The half sized cart was filled with shoes. From what I saw, things were going somewhat like this:

Cinco “I like dose shoes.”

X-Man “Dese? Otay.” Thump in the cart.

Cinco “and dose. I want does too.

X-Man “Otay!

Neither child was interested in returning the six pairs of shoes they had already selected but grudgingly allowed those who would wear the shoes to actually select their own. Mac still needed to be shod, so we headed to the children’s section. On our way, we passed a shelf filled with trinkets adorned with the ever present Frozen characters. Cinco observed “I like that Elsa necklace” X-Man, wised up to the situation, said nothing but just handed it to her. Cinco realized that this was a perfectly acceptable situation. She pointed to a set of Frozen socks, as into the cart they went. As I tried to quickly and painlessly find Mac a single part of non-ridiculous shoes in his size, X-Man found Cinco three pairs of Frozen crocs, in varying sizes, two necklaces and a set of socks. He also determined that Mac wanted another set of “cool” socks and threw them into the cart. 

I gave up on my shoe hunt when I heard Cinco begin to sweet talk X-Man into heading over to the toy section.

I want to look at the toys please big brother…..”  Do people actually fall for that? 

As I was subtly returning all Frozen merchandise, Baby announced she needed to use the restroom. I took a head count of those who needed to use the facilities and sent the older girls off while I finished deFrozening the cart. Three seconds after her sisters left, Cinco announced “I haft ta go potty.” I informed her that we would head over in just a few seconds. That was not acceptable for X-Man. He took off running with the cart. I yelled for him to stop and he shouted over his shoulder “It’s otay. Cinco hassa go potty. I be right back.” Cinco helpfully added “Don’t worry mom!

I’ve paid good money to help make him more independent and verbal.  I’ve gotten my money’s worth… yay….I guess.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Baby decided to take up lacrosse. She was exposed to the game before a soccer match. It caught her attention and she decided to take me up on my offer to expose her to other sports. So we jumped in, as in our area they are enthusiastically trying to build up a girls’ lacrosse team.

Unfortunately, we did not look before we leap.

Baby saw a lacrosse game. She saw a BOYS lacrosse game. She saw throwing and running and hitting. Oh boy did she see hitting. And THAT’S what she wanted to do.

Boy lacrosse players wear pads. Girl lacrosse players wear skirts.

Boys can hit each other. Girls can’t even throw the ball over each other. Which makes you wonder “why are you running around with that pink stick?”

Baby is unimpressed. She left the first practice and announced “IT’S NOT EVEN A SPORT!

We realized we were in for a bit of a surprise when we first went to pick up her stick. She had some options…, purple and polka dots. I believe there might have even been some butterflies. Baby was not impressed. The boys had black and white sticks. They also had deeper pouches so that they can hit each other without losing the ball. That’s not an option for the girls. But, it being Baby, she expressed her lack of satisfaction at check out. The poor clerk most likely regretted his question “Did you find everything you need?

It’s this spirit that is what makes Baby such an effective soccer player. After her third face plant, due to be shoved in the back by another player, her coach pulled her off the field. She passed his protocol and groused “I’d probably get a foul called if I didn’t get up so fast.” I think she’s right.

She’s my scrapper. At eight years old she was playing a soccer game and raised her hand to come out. Her coach pulled her and she took off running. She made it a respectable distance from the field and then vomited. She then trotted back over to her coach and said “Ok I can play again.” Her coach was dubious. After a while, and Baby’s nagging, he relented and put her in. She scored within three minutes but barely made it to the sideline before vomiting again. Her coach pulled her for good.

Leaving the game, Baby mentioned she didn’t feel well, so we made a stop at Urgent Care. She had a double ear infection.

That’s Baby for you. She doesn’t play sports with skirts.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Cinco is on a tear. She's running her own birthday countdown. She's indignant that it somehow managed to not be her birthday still. She's put quite a bit of effort into making it her birthday. She's tried sweet talking the father figure in the wee hours of the morning "wake up daddy, it's my birfday.....make me doughnuts." Stunningly, this did not work.

She's also tried barging into the office while I'm working, also in the wee hours of the morning, flinging open the door and announcing "today is my birfday I am having a party."  I don't know how she's going to handle the fact that Baba actually has a birthday before Cinco does.

I also have a feeling no matter what happens, Cinco's birthday will not  live up whatever fantasies she has concocted. But considering the threeager behavior she's been exhibiting, I'm ok with a knock down to earth.

In recent weeks, Cinco has decreed everyone's favorite color. Those who know me know that me and red go hand in hand. However, Cinco has determined that my favorite color in yellow. Daddy's is red and Cinco's is purple. And everyone else has color appointed by Cinco. But I don't care enough to remember.  That, and Cinco is nothing if not capricious.

Cinco's also taken to critiquing my wardrobe. "No mommy don't wear that." Now, I'm no fashionista, but I would think if my jeans and sweatshirt look doesn't warrent a second look from my tweens.....why would my two year old care?

She also has thoughts on my hair. Now, I have thoughts on my hair too, les accepting than Cinco's even, but I also have the thought that maybe just maybe children should be seen and not heard.  And really really maybe children should not say to their mother "mommy, I don't like your hair, it's scary."

She's enjoying full run of the house. Mostly because the father figure has yet to have his fashion or hair critiqued by the toddler tyrant. So he still caters to her every whim "daddy play my song and watch me dance. " So he hops to. He did draw the line when she demanded that he take a shower with her. But the line was a princess bubble filled bath with daddy singing to her.

I've heard of Italian mothers coddling their sons. But Italian fathers raising bubbly princess tyrants.....this is new. And alarming.

Monday, February 22, 2016

“Mom, you need to take me to the beach!”

“Really, is that so?”

“Yes. I go beach now.”

“Ok, have fun.”

“NO! You hafa take me.”

“you’re not even dressed…….”

Things change between baby #1 and baby #5. Baby #1 and I would have tried to figure out what the heck she was demanding, what triggered it and how I could satiate her desire. Baby #5 and I know she’s actually demanding that I drive her to the beach….and I don’t care.

Clothed now in a sparkly blue princess dress, the threeager returns.
“Take me to the beach now! I dressed.”

“What about your shoes?”
Exaggerated sigh…..and off she stomps.

She soon returns, shoeless, but with a plastic cell phone.
“Mom! Change my battery! I need to call daddy.”

“Oh, is he going to take you to the beach?”
“I dun know, I has to ask him. Fix my phone.”

“Mom! Daddy not take me to the beach!”

That’s a shock. I’d point out the rain, why ruin a fantasy? Not to mention it’s not really the rain that’s preventing me from making the two hour drive to the beach. Anyway, she is busy carefully collapsing on the floor to weep. Making sure that her princess dress fluffs outward, creating a sparkly blue circle of sadness.

Lacking a sympathetic audience for her tears, she rises.
“I want to go to Costco. Let’s go.”

Now that we’re in the realm of reality….It’s still raining. And we don’t really need anything from there…..wait a minute, how about I don’t need to go to some warehouse store because my near three year old deems it necessary. Am I really that close to losing my edge? Aw, who am I kidding I never had an edge.   

“No sweetie we don’t need to go to Costco. Not today.”

Fortunately the blue sparkly skirt of sadness is still fully functional. And so she collapses again. Weeping tears of abject pretend. At this point, she’s basically phoning it in. Did I ever fall for anything like this?

There’s an exaggerated sniffle behind me.
“You want some coffee mommy?”

“Yum, mommy always wants coffee.”

“Yeah, coffee good. So ‘licious.”

It should be clear that this is going somewhere….but I’m tired. And distracted. Probably setting myself up for……
“you take me to Starbucks get coffee and hot choclit me?”

She’s good. She’s master level good.

Monday, February 8, 2016

I just realized that I have a 34 month old who still uses a binky. In general, I find it absurd to keep counting months at this point, but it helps to point out how far I’ve fallen. All others were de-binkied by 26 months. Well, except for X-Man. He blew that curve during a temper tantrum about 20 months. He ripped holes in each of his binkies during one “nap.” And by “nap” I mean “containment session.”  He was still young enough that his Nana thought me mean to refuse to replace them.  Of course, life has taught me that X-Man’s tantrums were usually based upon frustrations due to our failure to communicate. So, pretty much X-Man’s Nana was right.

X-Man’s failures to communicate are fewer and farther between. This isn’t always beneficial. The other day Mac was kicking a soccer ball against a wall. It’s actually a way to develop skills, so I don’t tend to object, until the ball hits a window. Of course, X-Man just ended up riding his trike in front of that one wall. Mac was fairly competent at aiming the ball over X-Man’s head. This eliminated any fear from X-Man. He quickly got bored with the whole situation and wandered off. With his trike parked directly in Mac’s path.

Mac, a fairly reasonable soul, moved the abandoned trike.  He continued shooting his ball. This was the moment of danger and excitement X-Man had been craving. He screamed “You moved my bike!” “It was in my way” retorted Mac. X-Man emphatically pushed his trike back. Mac objected “Move X-Man!

And that’s when X-Man, six inches shorter than his brother and about four pounds heavier, planted himself and bellowed “FIGHT ME!!!!!

Mac, interested in surviving both his brother and his mother, declined said challenge and continued to boot the ball over X-Man’s head. The result was X-Man yelling even louder “FIGHT ME FIGHT ME FIGHT ME!!!!!!!” He still hasn’t mastered the concept that Mac’s ignoring him was Mac’s form of fighting him.

The screaming drew my attention. There was no way I could pretend I didn’t hear it. So I stuck my head out the door and asked “Why’s X-Man screaming?” It’s a routine question in our lives. They explained the situation, Mac moved X-Man’s trike, and X-Man was dissatisfied.

X-Man was also dissatisfied with my handling of the situation. Apparently me telling him to ride his trike somewhere else was not the option he was looking for. So he followed me into the house, protesting loudly.

And that’s how I came to be sitting on the living room floor cradling a wailing X-Man in my arms. A child who was despondent because his older brother wouldn’t actually fight him. I kept trying to clarify the situation, but no, there was no confusion. X-Man wanted to fight Mac. Mac wouldn’t fight X-Man. And I was experiencing yet another new in parenthood.