time

Beyond The Winter Of Our Discontent

“Our winters are very long here, very long and very monotonous. But we don’t complain about it downstairs, we’re shielded against the winter. Oh, spring does come eventually, and summer, and they last for a while, but now, looking back, spring and summer seem too short, as if they were not much more than a couple of days…” ~Franz Kafka

Winter with my boys (2005)

Winter with my boys (2005)

Parenting is an intriguing journey. When I think back on my life to a time before I was someone’s mother, it is barely recognizable. I feel I’ve lived an entirely new life since those days pre-children. I’ve come to realize that parenting is not unlike a 365-day trip around the sun through the seasons. And just as you turn the calendar on a new year and suddenly find December on the next leaf, the important job of parenting too passes in a blur.

When we were expecting our first child, the freewheeling fall days of our life as married couple floated off, crisp leaves gathering under our feet, and we braced for the brisk change parenthood would bring. We geared up. We prepared for rough weather. And when our sons arrived, we immediately found ourselves housebound in a snowstorm of diapers, feedings, and nap times. A trip to the grocery store alone was my sunny day. A date night was a beach vacation with umbrella drinks. Most of the time we were holed up at home, trying to dig out from under Thomas the Tank Engine, wooden blocks, and plush animals. We uncovered solace in movie evenings with Nemo and Mr. Incredible and Lightning McQueen, which were followed by family sleepover nights in our room where we would hunker down and take long winter’s naps together. Those were some of the best nights of sleep we got during this period in our lives, and good nights of sleep were few and far between back then. We were perpetually tired, surviving on caffeine in the morning and sugar in the afternoon, and trying to find time for ourselves when we could. Everyone tells you to cherish life with your little ones but, like living through a seemingly endless, difficult winter, that was easier said than done. Continually exhausted and struggling to figure out the dynamics of our new family, we prayed for a thaw.

Gradually the boys grew, and days seemed less bleak. Toddlerhood ended. Full on youth arrived with all its exuberance and light. We emerged from our hibernation and began to go places because, well, going places was easier. Gone were the bottles and sippy cups and diaper bags and extra changes of clothes for blowouts and Baby Bjorns and strollers. We were no longer bundled up and weighed down with paraphernalia. We marveled at the ease with which we traveled. We walked to the park as they raced ahead and sat uninterrupted while they cavorted.  A garden’s worth of handmade, paper-flower bouquets sprang up, accompanied by colorful paintings and creative tales. They started school and we appreciated engaging with them as they discovered the little secrets of life we’d long since taken for granted. We introduced them more and more to things we loved. We grew as a family, figuring out who we were together and how life worked best. Sure…there were occasional squalls, and brief deluges reminded us we hadn’t reached summer yet, but I knew things were getting better when we stopped complaining as often about the weather. We breathed in the freedom and exhaled with peace.

The moment when spring ended and summer began wasn’t even distinguishable. One day we were praying for an extra fifteen minutes of sleep and the next we were waking up at 8:30 and wondering if the boys were dead. The boys began exploring their independence with sleepovers at friends’ homes and hours of Capture the Flag after dark and afternoons on their bikes at the park. Suddenly, we had something we hadn’t had in years. Quality time alone in our own home. This weekend, we had not one but two nights consecutive nights during which we got to be grown adults without responsibility for children. We weren’t even on vacation. We had lovely meals, conversation about topics other than Pokémon, and a rearview mirror glimpse of the winter years fading in the distance. We’re walking around in flip-flops with Mai Tais in our hands now compared to the days we experienced when the boys were toddlers, when we were buried under the daily tasks of wiping butts and spoon feeding. We’ve settled into this fairer weather and summer is in full swing.

With all this free time on my hands lately, though, it has begun to occur to me the added peace we’re enjoying in this warmer season heralds the earliest moments of the permanent quiet that lies ahead in our next season. The boys are growing older. They don’t hang out with us as often. They have their own interests. Their independence gives us our freedom but it also decreases our involvement in their lives as they begin to separate and form their own lives and identities. In the quiet over the past two nights, we’ve discussed how weird it’s going to be when we’re alone again. As slow as time seemed to be moving back in the early days is as quickly as it seems to be moving now. They’ll be gone before we know it.

And we now understand that this is why people tell you to enjoy your children while they’re young. As much as it sucks hearing it when you’re sleep-deprived, covered in baby puke, and dying for a minute alone in the bathroom, the universal truth of the eighteen years of parenting is that it flies by like seasons in a year. The parents who tell you to cherish the moments you’re wishing would pass a bit more quickly don’t mean any harm. They’re simply beyond the winter of their discontent and wishing they’d understood how quickly spring arrives with summer and fall nipping at its heels.

Downhill Battle

Joe is smiling because he’s enjoying his ski day. I’m smiling because things are finally falling into place. Hallelujah!

Eight years. It took us eight years to get our oldest son to spend a day downhill skiing and walk away from it saying he was excited to do it again. I’m not sure what it was that made today the day that everything changed. It was quite cold, downright blizzard-like at times, and he’d spent eight years crafting excuses and explanations about why he despised the sport his father and I love. Seemed to me like a perfect day for him to continue his protestations against a sport he’d never even given a chance. Perhaps he simply got sick of fighting with us about it and realized that after eight years of dogged determination on our parts he was never going to win this battle. No matter. Today was the day everything changed. That’s all I need to know.

“Life rarely gives us what we want at the moment we consider appropriate.” -EM Forster

I think about this quote (from one of my favorite authors) quite often. So many things in my life haven’t gone according to my appointed schedule. Oddly enough, the Universe does not seem to give a pink patootie about my carefully laid plans. For each time things have gone awry, though, I’ve become a bit wiser. I’ve learned that what’s meant to be will be when the time is right. And about that timing? Well…that’s not up to me, nor is it my job to understand why things happen the way they do. My job is to accept that I have only a modicum of control over anything in my world. Sometimes even something simple, like what to have for lunch, is foiled by a random microwave failure or a too-hot slice of pizza that falls from my hands and lands cheese side down. True story.

Now, I suspected that my son would eventually learn to enjoy downhill skiing. The majority of children who learn to ski end up enjoying it. That part is a no-brainer. As for the timing? Well…it took a little longer than I hoped (eight freaking years longer), but I’m becoming hopeful that we might become an entire family of downhill skiers at some point. It could happen.

Sometimes you just have to back off your expectations and give time some time to work. Thinking you have control over anything, especially your children, is a huge mistake. The Universe conspires to ensure things go directly downhill the minute you think you’ve got it all in place and nailed down. But, if you patiently allow time unfold, let go of your demands, and have faith, at some point in your future the stars might align and what you want and what is will become the same and all will be right in your world…at least for a moment. Then your job is to notice it and enjoy it while it lasts.

The Power of No

Random crop circles in our yard...just for fun

Random crop circles in our yard…just for fun

Some people are born speaking the word “no.” It rolls off their toddler tongues before you can finish your sentence. These are the children who know what they want and plan to get it without negotiations. I was not that child. While I in no way possess a people-pleasing personality, I was raised to be accommodating when at all possible. When I go out of my way for others it’s not because I am deeply thoughtful but because I’ve been taught it’s the right thing to do. As a result of upbringing, I often add just one more item to my already long to-do list because someone asks nicely. Consequently, my life is a non-stop blur of frenetic activity. Whirling dervish? Guilty as charged.

Last night I sat down and took a sobering look at our family calendar for the next 9 days. On March 20th at an unreasonably early hour we will be boarding a plane…destination Kauai. Between now and that moment when we’re checked in at the gate awaiting our boarding call, I have about a gazillion things to do. Yes. It is a first world problem, but it’s my first world problem and so it matters to me just the same. As I went over the calendar and my to-do list on my iPhone last night, hubby caught me shaking my head.

“What’s wrong?” he inquired.

“So much to do between now and the 20th.”

“It will all be fine,” he reassured.

“Oh…I know it will.” I don’t doubt my ability to accomplish things, just my excitement about doing them.

“Aren’t you excited about the trip?” he asked.

“Not really, no. I will be excited when we’re sitting at the gate and not a minute before. I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to fit in a well check for Joe and a trip to the vet for Ruby. The next week is packed.”

“You always stress and it always gets done,” he said.

“It always gets done because I always stress and push myself through every last detail,” I retorted.

Today, staring down the barrel of an ungodly busy weekend, I started packing for the boys and I. I dug through last summer’s clothes, which have been stored for their long, Colorado winter’s nap, and put together Hawaii-friendly outfits. I located sunscreen, snorkeling gear, and rash guards. I dragged suitcases up from the basement and began assessing what might fit where. Then, in the midst of this busy-ness, I got an email that added another layer to my stress. It was a request for yet another social visit in our already overbooked weekend. Between hair cuts for all of us, two birthday parties, a social event at the boys’ school, brunch at my mom’s, dinner with our Wine Gang (which we are hosting), and a couple book reports the boys need to have completed before we leave (not to mention packing and preparing our house for the puppy caretaker), I cringed at the idea of attempting to fit in even one more quick thing.

Being unaccustomed to disappointing people, though, I scoured our plans looking for wiggle room for the requested, short get together either Saturday or Sunday afternoon. I weighed the costs of not honoring this request against the stress it would add to an already overbooked weekend. Then, I did something I rarely do. I went against my usual habit. I said no even though it’s very likely that the persons whom I turned down will be hurt by my refusal. But even those of us who strive to be amicable and accommodating have a breaking point.

If there’s one good thing that is coming right along with the sags, bags, spots, and wrinkles of middle age, it’s gumption. I’m no longer under the impression that I have to do things to please people. I understand that there are some people who will never be pleased, no matter what kind of back bend I contort myself into for their benefit.  I’m learning that sometimes it’s not just okay to say no. It’s downright necessary. While I do feel a bit bad for shutting out this latest request, I know it was the right thing to do. This weekend will still be crazy busy, but at least it might prove I’m not insane.

Like Sands Through The Hourglass

Me and my two-year-old Luke

Me and my two-year-old Luke

Our youngest came down with a wretched cold on Sunday afternoon. By Sunday evening I knew he would have to be home with me on Monday. When our boys first started going to school, I would cringe and whine when they’d come down with a cold, not just because I knew I would be getting sick too but also because I knew that meant they would be home with me all day again. After all, I’d just gotten them into full day school and had begun to relish my emancipation from non-stop, boy-generated sound effects and full-day indentured servitude. I’d recently rediscovered the perfection in silence. I didn’t look forward to relinquishing it for even one day. That was years ago now, though, and yesterday I had a different experience when Luke stayed home with me. We ran a couple quick errands during which he was honestly helpful. Then, at home, we worked together on some of his school work. We read together. We watched Elf. Other than his constant hacking and my fear of getting in germs’ way, it was a wonderful day.

This morning while Joe was showering for school, Luke crawled into bed with me. He was crying. He didn’t want to go to school today. He was stuffy and not yet truly better, but he probably would survive the day. It was a sketchy call. If I were a parent who worked outside our home, he’d be going to school. End of story. But, I don’t work outside my home. I could tell his tears were real. He was stressed. He had so much to make up from Monday’s missed classes plus there was an additional large project he’d been working on and was hoping to complete. Last year, before I knew about his dyslexia, I would have mercilessly driven him to school despite his protestations and gone to yoga class unabated. Today, however, I really felt for him. I could understand how having all that work looming over his head at the end of a full day of school would seem an insurmountable task. I’m not afraid to admit it. I caved.

So today I spent my second full day this week alone with my youngest. We picked up a few groceries, selected a couple dress shirts for Christmas attire for them, and then we settled in at home with a goal of completing two days’ worth of school work as well as finishing most of his big project that is due Friday. I worked with him and, with just short breaks in between, we busted through all his work. By 2 p.m. I could see his shoulders raise as the weight of his heavy, third-grade world lessened on his shoulders. He was smiling more. I could tell he was feeling better. A couple times during the day I stopped to wonder if I had done the right thing, bailing him out of his nerves like that. Had I given him an easy way out? He probably would have benefited from the opportunity to fall behind and catch up slowly, finally realizing that the world did not come to a crashing halt because it took him a couple days to finish his work. Instead, I somewhat selfishly looked into his teary, hazel eyes and saw my two-year-old son, the one who used to climb into my lap every day to give me a hug and tell me he loved me. I gave into my emotions. I was weak.

At 2:20, he was starting to miss Joe so we hopped in the car to pick him up from his full day of school. On the way there, we chatted a bit. Then it got quiet. Out of nowhere, my 9 1/2 year old hit me with this.

“Mom?”

“Yeah, sweetie?”

“I’m going to miss you tomorrow. When is the next time we can have a full day together?”

With this remark, I no longer wondered if I had done the right thing keeping him out of school for an extra day. I had. I got to spend two, uninterrupted days with my youngest son. When Luke said he would miss me, I was the one who got misty. The time I have left with my boys is precious and quickly slipping through my grasp. The days when we will sit together on the couch watching movies and sharing Skittles are numbered. The passing of time is a necessary evil during this journey through life. I missed two days’ worth of yoga classes and alone time during which I could have accomplished much during this busy holiday season, but it was so worth it. Luke got his peace of mind, and I got to have two-year old Luke back. You can’t put a price on the rare opportunity to flip the hourglass over even if only for a moment with your children. I have no regrets.

My Staring Contest With Time

At Anderson Farms – October 2003

We don’t have many family traditions. With our families so close by, we usually spend the holidays jumping from house to house to join someone else’s tradition (and the months before the holidays bickering over which family gets which holiday and who had it last year). We haven’t had much opportunity to establish our own family traditions for our family of four. At first, when the boys were young, I really didn’t care. Now that the precious years when they believe in Santa are over, I’m starting to wish we had some things in place.

One tradition we have managed to establish is our annual trip to Anderson Farms to trek through the corn maze and pick our pumpkins. We have done this every year since Joe was born, so this will be our 11th consecutive trip there. That first year, Joe was all of four months old. I’ll never forget that day. It was warm, and we had Joe in the Baby Bjorn as we trekked through the corn. We had to stop at one point and change his diaper in the middle of the maze. When we’d walked as far as we could go, we set him into a decorative wheelbarrow full of pumpkins and snapped some photos. He was chubby and bald headed then. If he’d been orange, he would have blended right in with the other smooth, round, orange things.  We’ve been there when it’s been 80 degrees and we’ve been there when we’ve been out in the pumpkin patch as it began snowing. We’ve gone with friends and family, and we’ve gone through it just the four of us. One year it was ridiculously muddy after a significant rain and Joe slipped and fell into an enormous mud puddle, much to my dismay since I was hoping to capture a decent family photo. At least it was memorable. Last year we rushed through the maze in advance of a windstorm and were nearly blown back to our car and had to cut the visit short.

In the giant cornucopia in 2011

It’s not an inexpensive day. We’ve never gotten out of there for under $80 (including admission, lunch, and pumpkins), but it’s so worth it. Some things you do regardless of the cost because they mean that much. This is one of those things. So, this Saturday we’ll be up with the roosters. We’ll hit Starbucks and head to Anderson Farms by its 9 a.m. opening time. Looks like good weather, so we should be peeling off layers as we warm up during our maze hike. Our goal this year is to get all the punches on the maze punch card. We haven’t been able to accomplish that feat with the boys yet, but I have a feeling this is our year.

As the boys get older, these trips are the things I treasure most. I can look back through photos and watch the cornstalks appear to grow shorter as our boys grow taller. It’s magic. Now we just need to establish a couple other family traditions so we can have them in place for a few years before the boys move out. When you have young children, people always tell you to “enjoy it while you can because it will be gone before you know it.” That saying is so irksome at the point when you’re exhausted and up to your elbows in diaper cream and baby wipes and can’t wait to move to the next phase. Sadly, though, it is true. Mine are only 9 and 11, and it breaks my heart when I think of how true it is. Your time with your children passes in the blink of an eye. The trick is not to blink. And so I begin my staring contest with time.

Get The Rubber Room Ready For Me!

You’re never too old for the carousel.

I’ve lost my mind. It’s official. Prepare the rubber room. Put some extra fabric softener in when you wash my straightjacket. I’m ready to be institutionalized. It finally happened. Traditionally, the day before school starts has been the one day of the year I was guaranteed to be in a good mood. But, today, I was mopey. We went to the zoo to check our last to-do off our summer to-do list. I was depressed the entire time. Even the elephants couldn’t cheer me up, and they are my favorite zoo animal. That’s when I knew things were bad. Then it hit me. I’m actually sad that the summer is over and that the little buggers (who, incidentally, have been driving me crazy for the past two weeks with their non-stop bickering) are leaving me. Sniff.

No more sleeping in. No more schedule-less days. No more field trips. No more late nights. No more days at the pool. I’m back to volunteering, making lunches, chauffeuring, and early mornings. And, while all that is fine and good and part of my career as Mom, right now I’m sad because I am going to miss my little monkeys. The house is going to seem quiet. I’m not going to have anyone nearby with whom to share my flippant remarks, which means I’m going to be talking to myself a lot again. I never thought I’d see the day when the thought of a tranquil, silent house would vex my introverted soul. A mere couple weeks ago I was dancing in the back-to-school aisle at Target. Yet, today I’m mourning the end of summer and the loss of precious time with my awesome sons. I’m not sure what’s happening to me. Curiouser and curiouser.

I suppose that if there’s a silver lining here, it’s that the years as they’ve been growing older have been flying by at an ever increasing speed. That means that next summer should be here before I know it. Funny how time and the speed at which she travels is both a blessing and a curse.