Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Up, up, up

You paw my face through the blue tunnel while your brother throws his elephant down the slide, slides down, retrieves it, climbs back up and launches it again.

You crawl back and forth through the blue tunnel over and over again, each time delighted and surprised by my face peeking in the hole in the side looking at you.  And each time, you stick your fat, little hand out and swat at me.  You do this for at least ten minutes, the same repetitive motion.  You learn the way and feel of the tunnel.  You figure out what your little body is capable of doing, climbing in, climbing out, climbing in, climbing out.

And I take my time just taking you in.  My seventeen-month-old, Charlie.  Climbing, climbing, climbing up on chairs, up on benches, up on the fireplace hearth, the ottoman, the couch, constantly discovering new things to hoist yourself up on and the beam of pride that follows each new little surface you conquer.  And the mischievous grin when I tell you to sit down as you repeat, “Sit dow!” like it’s the name of the game we’re playing.  And the scream and thrash of frustration when I pull you down from something far too high and unsteady for you to be sitting or standing on.

And the fear that you will fall.  Like the day at the park a week ago when I saw that you had managed to climb up to the really tall tower.  I had been too busy talking to notice that you could make it up that high.  And the sight of your legs about to dangle over the edge.  And my heart leaping out of my chest.

At seventeen months old you want a taste of everything.  A taste of the highest view, a taste of the dirt in the pots, a taste of the toilet water, a taste of the deep end of the swimming pool.  And I am always there to pull you back. 

Swat at my face all you want, bite my hand that grips yours tight, kick me when I pull you down, but I won’t let go.  Not yet.  You’re dangerous, Maverick.  And you’re also pretty gross.  So, until you start refining your tastes and growing sturdier limbs, I’m clipping your wings, little one.  You’ll fly beneath mine.


“Finny, listen to me.”
“Finny, you’re not listening.”
“Finny, I’m going to start counting if you do not listen to Mommy, right now!”

Last Monday, after no sleep combined with the stress of showing the house combined with a Finny who wanted nothing to do with anything that did not involve pure mischief, I was at my wit’s end.
I was pulling stuff off the table left and right.

“If you don’t listen on the count of three, you’ll get no shows for the rest of the day!”

By the end of the day, he had lost all shows, all treats, and all bedtime stories.  And he still wasn’t listening.  The next day was better, but still included lots of running from me when I asked him to come and lots of harassing Charlie by taking his toys or just stalking him like a Puma until he burst into tears.  Finally, by the third day of no shows, no treats, and my incessant reminders of how important it was to listen to me, he started to fall in line.  In fact, he woke up that day talking about it.

“Okay, so Mommy, I’m going to listen to you today.”
“That’s great, Finn.  Then we’ll have a really good day.”
“Okay, so since I’m listening to you, can I watch Tarzan?”
“If you do a great job of listening to me all day, you can watch Tarzan tonight while I make dinner.”
“But I want to watch it now!”
“First, you have to show me that you are going to be a good listener.”

The whole day he listened, and he pointed it out.  It reminded me a little bit of someone else I know. (“Jill, did you notice I emptied the dishwasher this morning?”  Yes, yes, pat, pat, pat.)

“Mommy, I’m listening to you!  Mommy, I’m being so helpful!”  Yes, yes, pat, pat, pat.  Kiss, kiss, kiss.  “Such good listening, Finny.  That’s helping us to have a good day today.”

He watched Tarzan that night before dinner, and since that day, he has been better at listening. 

But then, last week, he was listening so intently that it caught me off guard.

On Mother’s Day, David’s mom and I had been talking in the car about what my career would look like when the kids are all in school.  I talked about how difficult it would be to go back to teaching, but how I really wanted to figure out a way to do it part time.  Finny and Charlie were on either side of me while I was squeezed in the middle.  I thought they were watching the cars go by.

And then two days later, sitting at the kitchen table waiting for his breakfast, tears gathered in Finny’s eyes and slowly rolled down his cheeks.

He scooted around in his chair to face me as I was peanut-buttering his toast, and just as I was noticing the big tears and the sad, sad look of concern, he said, “Mommy, when you’re a teacher again, will you still be my mommy?”

I put down my knife and I scooped him up and bathed him in kisses.  “Of course, of course, of course.  I will ALWAYS be your mommy.”

And when a big smile appeared on his face and he wiped his wet cheeks, I put him down to eat his breakfast.

But as I went back to the kitchen sink, I was marveling at him.  At the thoughts in his brain.  This kid takes a half an hour to pee because on his way to flushing the toilet, he gets distracted by a toy lion on the ground.  I’ll pop my head in five minutes later to see him standing on his stool, pants around his ankles, bathing his toy lion in the sink.  This kid won’t put his shoes on when I ask, never leaves the park when I call, and dips his hand in his milk cup even though I’ve begged him not to a thousand times.

And before I could finish marveling over his worry about me going back to teaching, a few days later, as I was just fastening his sandals to head out the door to Aunt Laurie’s house, he says,

“Mommy, I don’t want you to die for a long, long time.”
“Oh, Finny, I don’t want to die for a long, long time either.”
“Because I love you so, so, so much and I just don’t want you to die.  But everybody dies, right?”
“Well, yes, everybody does die someday.”
“But nobody wants to die, right?”
“No, nobody really wants to.  I guess everybody really likes to be alive.”
“Yeah, like Evy and Jane and everybody wants to be alive.”
“But we all have to die because we made Jesus die, right?”
“Finny, has someone been talking to you about dying?  Why are you thinking about this?”

I asked this as I put him down, shoes fastened, and he ran off to make his toy lion attack his toy gazelle.

And again I was left to puzzle at him.  Three years old.  Ponders life and death in one moment.  Launches plastic jungle animals off the couch the next.  Three years old.  Trying to understand Christ’s crucifixion in one moment.  Begging for Goldfish crackers the next.

He might not be obeying me.  But he is listening.  And he is processing.  And he is worrying.   About stuff I didn’t even know he could understand.  And so maybe I’m the one who needs to start listening…to the thoughts in his brain…which seem too big for a three year old to carry with him out the door to a play date.

Which is why he leaves them with me, I guess.  Lets them settle into my brain…while he goes off to chase Charlie around the room with a baby dinosaur in one hand and the letter z in the other.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Moving to Minneapolis

When I tell people we’re moving to Minneapolis, my favorite people are the ones who immediately tell me how wonderful it will be.  The best response was from my friend, Wendy, who immediately rattled off at least seven positive things that made Minneapolis suddenly shimmer bright and green and beautiful for me like the Emerald City of Oz.

“I just found out we’re moving to Minneapolis for two years and my head is spinning,” I said.

“Oh, that’s great, Jill!  Minneapolis is a great city.  Everyone raves about Minneapolis.  It’s supposedly really beautiful with all the lakes, really active, great place to live.  What a wonderful adventure for your family!  And what a perfect time to go!  Your boys won’t even be in school yet.  And it’s only two years.  I think you’re really going to love it, Jill.”

Immediately, I was filled with joy.  Yes, an adventure, I thought.  A great adventure for my family, and I clung to that word and am still clinging to it.  Because I like adventure.

After college, I was positively itching for it.  When it looked like my Peace Corps application was going to fall through the fall after I graduated, I panicked.  But I was supposed to have this great character building adventure!  I thought.  I was going to really challenge myself to live outside my comfort zone, to think outside my box, to be on my own, far away, learning to live in a different way, changing my worldview, really, really seeing the world beyond the Midwest.  I regrouped fast and got on a plane to Poland a month later.  And I did it.  I had my adventure.  I learned to teach, travel, hike, rock climb, eat mushrooms (the non-magical kind), use a map, speak Polish, ski, hitch-hike, walk in the snow in tall boots, take the train, the bus, the tramwaj.  I learned how to get along with all different kinds of people and I learned how to techno dance.  Badly.  I challenged myself.  I changed my worldview.  I was A-D-V-E-N-T-U-R-E-S-O-M-E.

And then a few years later, I embarked on a different kind of adventure.  I had a family.  Now, I live on a cul-de-sac in the suburbs with my husband, my two boys and my two-car garage.  I’m in a book club and a mom’s group and I belong to a health club.  I go to birthday parties and cookouts and frequently find mulch in my shoes from the playground.  I find myself admiring other people’s mini-vans and asking them how they like their double strollers.  I talk about weeds and crock-pot recipes way more than I ever imagined I would and I have a box of diapers delivered to my door every month.  And I’m excited about it.

And it’s a character builder.  For sure.  Oh yes, I’ve learned more about my character than I ever wanted to know.  I did not have to walk deep into the jungles of Africa to find my Heart of Darkness.  I found it right here in the comfort of my own home on any morning when I was expected to care for my young children after being up all night caring for my young children.  And I don’t have to dig deep to find it either.  Show up at my house around 7:45 p.m. when I’m trying to wrestle both boys into a bath and bed by myself and you will see the Heart of Darkness.  It’s wearing a T-shirt from the Gap that is covered in bath water and probably some pee-pee.

And now we’re moving to Minneapolis.  A new city.  A new house.  A new adventure.  And that too will be a character builder. 
Because the last time, I travelled, I travelled light.  A suitcase, a backpack, and me.  This time, I am packing up a house, a family and a life. 

The last time I traveled, I was fiercely independent and I wanted something big and far away and all my own.  This time, I want to pack my entire extended family up in a box and bring them with me.  This time, I admit, I am shamelessly dependent on my mom, my dad, my sister.  It takes a village and my village is in Cincinnati, a phone call away, a drive away from a little relief, from a little help.

When my kids were babies, there were a few mornings after sleepless nights when I called my mom at 7 a.m. and expected her to time travel to be at my door at 7:02 a.m.  It was agonizing if she had to actually wake up and take a shower before she could come over, felt like an eternity if she couldn’t show up until 10 a.m.  I JUST WANTED TO GET SOME SLEEP! 

And now, she’ll be much farther.  Her trip will cost money and take time and planning.  And so, I’ll have to figure it out.  I’ll have to figure out what to do when everyone’s sick and nobody’s sleeping and everyone’s crying and David has to go to work and I’m by myself and the good old Heart of Darkness shows up ready to hurl sippy cups across the kitchen. 

I’ll have to figure it out.  Because that’s part of the adventure.  The growth part.  The struggle part.  If your muscles don’t ache at the end of a long hike, well then, you didn’t go very far.

So, I’m building muscle this year.   Some big Minnesota guns to fit underneath my big poofy parka.  And we’re all gonna grow together, as a family.

And when we’re sick of growing together as a family, well, thank God for Aunt Celeste.  She’s only thirty minutes away in Chanhassen and she’s itching for some grandkids.  I am only too happy to scratch that itch.