The Weekend’s Low -and High- Points

October 20, 2008

His scream pierced the night. “Mommy! Mommy! My mommy!” Before I could move my heavy form off the mattress, Gruff was up and out our door. I heard Smooch’s voice louder – hitching sobs and cries for me. Gruff soothed and whispered and patted, but Smooch only got more upset.

“That’s enough.” Tired and frustrated at not being able to comfort our son, Gruff’s voice got a wee bit sharper. “Smooch, that’s enough.”

My mama-heart clenched to hear the refrain that -it seems in my memory- was lobbed at me so often in my childhood. My parents meant well, they meant only the best. Looking back on it, I think they were often overwhelmed by the ferocity of my storms of emotion. I was generally a happy, pleasant kid; but when I felt something, I felt it. Big, loud, unrestrained tears and long, wistful sighs and elaborate huffs and stomps. Those were my canvas, my oils. I wanted the whole world to know how I FELT. I think my parents were trying, in their way, to teach me the art of restraint – of discretion – of knowing how, and when, and where it was appropriate and safe to vent my feelings. But as a kid, I didn’t see it that way. I felt that my emotions were inconveniencing them (they probably were) and that they just wanted me to go away and come back when I could ‘behave’ (they probably did) – and, more importantly, I felt that their attempt to add a little temperance to my tempers was a rejection of ME.

Whew, did you hear all that? Don’t I sound well-balanced, to be able to reflect on all of that so clearly? It took my marriage nearly imploding and subsequent therapy to reach those realizations. Our therapist helped me to see that the pattern I learned (or assumed) as a kid – that my feelings needed to be bottled, and filtered, and made potable before being aired, or else I might be rejected – had become very unhealthy for me as an adult.

But back to Saturday night.

I joined my husband in our boy’s room, and I scooped his long body from his bed. He’s a toucher, my little guy – he seeks out skin contact nearly all day. It’s his thing, his love language, his coping comfort. He stretched his little arms as far around me as he could and started rubbing and patting my back as I patted his, and slowly his sobs quieted down. It was a long night, though. His tears flared up again and again as we tried to figure out what had upset him so, what would help him fall back to sleep. My emotions (and hormones) were close to the surface, and I cried a bit myself. Finally, around 2:00, we were all ready for bed again. Smooch had been able to tell us that he wanted to come to our bed, and we finally settled him down on his mattress on our floor – a compromise, since Mama’s ever-expanding girth makes it hard for me to get comfortable just sharing with Gruff, much less if we added a squirmy two year old to the bed.

As I laid there in the dark, quiet surrounding me once more, I wondered: am I really ready to add another babe to this mix? I want to be ready – I deeply love this little girl-child inside me, and I can’t wait to see her face to face. But there were moments, facing my son’s tears, upset with my husband, and wrestling with my own childhood ghosts, that I felt utterly incapable of the family I already have. How then can I handle one more human being, one who needs me completely and desperately and wholly?

I know I’m not the only expectant mom to worry and wonder. I read Mrs. Chicken’s blog while she was expecting Shaggy, and I loved the way she wrote about both the joy and the anxiety of bringing home the second baby. I know that we’ll find our way, as she is finding hers, and that somehow I will make room in our lives for Doodlebug. That I’ll manage, as millions of mothers before me can testify, to handle the new needs of our bigger family.

And my first step toward managing? On Sunday evening, fueled by a whole day’s worth of coffee and rest and food and time together, I approached Gruff about his words to Smooch. We talked about our expectations of our oldest – who is really not so very old, at 33 months – and how we can handle another outburst like that one. I talked about my need to be supported, even comforted and consoled, when I become emotional in the face of Smooch’s upsets. I talked about my childhood, and not wanting to communicate the same undercurrent to our kids. And then I listened – to his feelings and fears, and bless his heart!, to his apology. We ended our conversation in that best of ways, by meandering around a hundred unrelated topics, laughing and giggling, reminiscing, and cuddling.

It makes me believe that we will be ready, in 12-or-so weeks, when she joins us in the outside world.


Every Night

August 14, 2008

We do the same thing. Toddlers like that – the routine, the consistency, it lulls him to sleep just as much as the milk does.

First we change into pajamas, and he gets to choose between two parent-selected pairs. Then we run and climb onto The Big Bed (these days he resists our help as he huffs and clambers up – “I do it, I do it, I, I, I, I do it!” he mutters, with a new stammer of impatience and frustration in his voice these last few weeks). We climb on with him, three heads in a row on fluffy pillows. One night, we switched sides as we got onto the bed around him – Gruff on the right and I on the left – and the protests! “No! Mommy this side, Daddy this side! No Daddy on Mommy’s willow! Go, go, go, go, go, you go DERE!”

Then we sing a few songs, always Smooch’s choices. “The Alphabet Song” is in the top ten. Last night we did “Five Little Monkeys” with great exuberance for the first time. This morning he was singing “Jingle Bells” for some odd reason, so I have a feeling it will make a bedtime debut soon as well. After the songs, it’s time for prayers. About four months ago, I started saying the same prayer every night, and asking Smooch to fold his hands and close his eyes along with Daddy & I. “Dear God, thank you for Daddy, and for Mommy, and for Smooch, and for the baby.” Then I open my eyes a tiny peek and ask Smooch what else he is thankful for. The answers always make me laugh later – sometimes he is thankful for his grandparents, or his friends, but just as often he prays for the ceiling fan and his pacifier. The ways of the 2 year old mind are hard to fathom.

The last move is always the kisses and hugs. One of us parents will prompt him, and he always flies into my arms first for a big bear hug and slobbery kisses. Then he cries, “Daddy’s TURN!” and flings himself across the bed against Gruff’s solid chest. He always gives Gruff a kiss and then wipes it off his own face (why, we do not know), and then he slides off the bed. “My woom!” he usually cheers, giving out instructions as we cross the hall: fan on or off, which blanket, which stuffed animal or doll he needs to find. We tuck him in and exit. It’s a lovely routine.

And then a few nights ago, it changed. Not a big, earth-shattering change. But one that makes my mama heart both happy and sad at the same time. Gruff had said to Smooch, “Give Mommy a hug and kiss,” and Smooch said, “No.”

The next words out of his mouth took my breath away.

“Baby.”

And he pulled on the hem of my T-shirt, exposing my growing belly, and flung his arms around my gravid girth. He leaned forward and placed a tiny kiss just beside my belly button, and then sat up grinning. “Mama TURN!”

Our world is changing, and I love it, but like any change it makes me wistful for the days we’re losing.


July 18, 2008

We’ve been learning about the potty for the last few months here at the House of Fizz. I was really thrilled when Smooch initiated the process – we had already purchased underwear and a Bjorn Little Potty and potty seats for the real toilets, and were just waiting for him to show more than a passing interest.

One evening, during our before-bed routine (wherein we lie together on Mommy & Daddy’s “big bed” to sing songs, retell what happened in our day, say a prayer, and then usher Smooch off to bed in his own room) he suddenly reached down, clutched his crotch, and said, “I pee-pee!” with a look of urgency on his face. Gruff was doubtful he knew what he was talking about & thought it was a new stall tactic, but I took him off to the bathroom anyway. And what do you know? As soon as he was seated comfortably, he did exactly what he said he had to do!

The next morning, he asked to put on his “unna-way-uh” and it was just steady progress from then on, for a few weeks. He seemed to increase the amount of time he’d spend dry in his underwear each day, still accepting diapers for naps and bedtimes and excursions. Then one day he protested as we were on our way out the door. “Unna-way-uh to liberry! I do it!” I didn’t let him – the mental image of a puddle amongst the stacks just mortified me, so I wrestled him into his diaper and off we went. Upon returning home, do you know what I discovered? A completely dry diaper. I felt horrible – he could have worn his underwear. He was fine. So I emailed a few moms who’ve been down this potty learning road with a bit of panic in my tone – what on earth should I do?

Basically, I was advised to just chuck the diapers – other than sleeping, and even then, maybe try to be sneaky (let him fall asleep in underwear and rush in and change him into a diaper after he’s zonked out) – get a few pairs of waterproof trainers, especially if I could get my hands on ImseVimses, for outings – and buy a portable potty to keep in the car and diaper bag for “emergencies” when we couldn’t find a public toilet to use. Then, just go for it. Be prepared for messes and successes and just see what he does.

So I girded up my loins. I bought the necessary equipment, plus another dozen pair of teeny-tiny boxer briefs. And then… I don’t know what happened. Maybe I seemed too eager? Maybe it became less about his interest and more about mine? Whatever it was – a cosmic shift in the universe or something – my no-accident boy turned into what feels like a willful pee-er. He stopped telling me he needed to use the potty – so I started offering and reminding. Each of my comments was met with a forceful “No! No potty!” If I insisted he sit and try, say right before leaving the house, he’d hop off in two seconds waving his hands in the air. “All done! No pee-pee!” Then, literally moments after leaving the toilet? A puddle would appear.

My frustration level is, shall we say, rising. I’m sure it doesn’t help that I’m hormonal. I know for certain that it doesn’t help that yesterday, I raised my voice and got a little bit scolding at the last accident. (It didn’t help that Daddy has had social things after work the last two days in a row and hasn’t been home to pitch in during Smooch’s waking hours since Tuesday – Mommy is fried at this point.)

We headed out to the mall yesterday and stopped in at Bear Central, where, on a whim, I decided to try a motivational technique. We chose a new T-shirt for Smooch’s previously naked pal Bobo the Panda. Then we picked out a pair of underwear for our furry friend! Back at home, Bobo got dressed in his new duds and Smooch proclaimed him a “big boy!” A few times yesterday, I remarked that both Smooch and Bobo had dry underwear – how wonderful. We were accident free for the evening, which was a real blessing for my sanity.

Laying in bed just before bedtime, Smooch cuddled his panda and recalled what we did all day. “An’… Bobo new unna-way-uh and g’een shut too!” I couldn’t help myself, and piped up,

“Yep, and his underwear is still dry! Bobo is getting so big!”

Psssssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” Smooch sound-effect-ed. “Bobo go pee-pee!”

So much for motivation.

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In other news, the other thing we did at the mall yesterday? “Mama hair all gone floor!”
Photo by Fizz


A Post Worth Coming Back For

July 15, 2008

 

I’m trying to remember a lesson I thought I learned a long time ago: I choose the hard stuff.

 

In the fall of 2001, Gruff (then my fiancé) was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Two surgeries followed in the next whirlwind month, and as he recovered in hospital after the last surgery we made a decision. All those plans for the April wedding – the sage green bridesmaids dresses, the dogwood sprays we’d carry, the delicate springy flowers I would use to decorate the church – were gone. Instead, we would marry in December; the new date was just six weeks away. Amidst the new flurry of  rearranging and downsizing the plans, and the rollercoaster of Gruff’s physical recovery and appointments and meetings with the oncologists, I had a conversation with my dad.

 

“I love him. I need to be married to him, even if it’s only for a little while. I’d marry him in his hospital bed if I had to.”

 

“He’ll be sick. Chemo will be hard.”

 

“I know. But I need to be the one who takes care of him. Even if it’s hard. It should be me.”

 

But I didn’t really know – I couldn’t. I was just twenty-one years old (and barely that. I had my birthday, then started my first “real job”, then graduated from college, and then got married – all at two week intervals at the end of that year.) and I had no idea what chemotherapy would really be like.

 

One evening, midway through his treatments, my husband stood at the sink of our tiny bathroom in our postage-stamp one-bedroom apartment. Hands braced on the countertop, his shoulders shook, and he looked fragile for the first time since I’d met him. His head was newly bald – we had shaved it when his hair began to fall out in alarming clumps – and he was so pale. I crept in behind him, put my hand on his back, tried to comfort him.

 

And suddenly, he collapsed toward me. I think I let out a little scream – I was so scared. He caught himself, braced against me, and I helped him walk the few short steps across the hall to our bedroom. I tucked him in to our bed – my double bed from my parent’s home, which seemed so big to me as a teenager, now too small for my 6’3” husband – and fetched a glass of water, a pill. He was asleep before I knew it, and I hovered at the doorway listening to his breath in the dim light of dusk.

 

Then I ran to our sofa and dialed my parent’s phone number through my tears. I’m sure I scared them, calling with that voice – sobs and hitched breaths – but I told them about what had just happened, how scared I was. What would I do if he had passed out? My young heart was trying so hard to be grown up, but faced with the very real mortality of the man I loved, I just wanted to hear my dad’s voice.

 

“You chose this, hon,” he said. “You told me that day – you wanted it to be you who took care of him. You knew this was the hard part. You are strong enough. You love him enough. You chose this.”

 

Through the years, I have clung to that conversation. My dad’s voice rings in my ears now when something painful, or difficult, or challenging comes my way. I choose the hard part.

 

Today, I lay curled awkwardly on a toddler bed, my body molded around a sweaty, sniffling toddler. When we got home from our playgroup this afternoon, Smooch had a rough time with his nap. He got out of bed over and over, throwing himself on the floor and peering under the crack in the door, calling my name. I tried to stay calm, send him back to his bed, leave the room again, and pray he’d sleep – but after the third go-round I realized he was becoming hysterical. His little body was shaking, his voice was trembling, his head was covered in sweaty curls. I held him in my arms, and I heard my father’s voice.

 

We climbed into his bed together, and within moments he was fast asleep. His breath still caught in his throat, those trembly sighs that follow a long hard cry. My inner type-A wanted to hop right up and go DO something – but I resisted. Lately, we’ve been working at cross-purposes, my little Smooch and I. Two-and-a-half has been hard. He needs more independence, more control… and I’m pregnant, hormonal, and tired, so I haven’t always met those needs very gracefully. There have been potty progresses and potty battles. There have been the first aggressive incidents with little friends. These are normal things, but they are the hard parts of this age. As I tried to bend my knees a little, finding a more comfortable way to spoon my son in his little bed, I realized that I am simply re-learning this lesson.

 

The biggest part of love, I think, is choosing to be there for the hard stuff. You don’t pass it off to someone else. You don’t let the other person bear the load alone. Whether it’s your lover or your child, you come alongside them – you throw your lot in with them – you hear their hurts, feel their pain, share their fears. It sometimes pierces your heart, it sometimes seems insane. When you come out on the other side, though, it is always worth it.

 

So I stayed in that toddler bed until his breathing was still and calm. Easing my gravid belly off of the little frame, I felt a peace unfold deep inside me.


Twirly Thoughts

April 16, 2008

My thoughts are all twirled up right now, and I don’t know if I can write anything nearly as eloquent and well-thought-out as Coralie did yesterday, but I’m going to try to express myself and just see what happens.

The first part of this dialogue is here – my reflections on a lesson learned at church on Sunday.

Coralie responded in a comment, and my reply to that comment turned into a new post here.

Then Coralie opened up the conversation over at her blog – you can find her post here.

Now that you’re all caught up, it’s my turn again.

I want to start by looking at this idea:

We can tell them all day long that men are to lead and women are to submit, but if they see something different, the words will be meaningless. Nowhere in scripture are we permitted to sin, by stepping out of what the Lord has called us to do, in order for another “good” to be achieved.

While I am able to agree with that -wholeheartedly, in fact!- on paper, I struggle with the real-life meaning & impact of that in this situation. How, exactly, does a woman “submit” to a complete lack of leadership? I do not exaggerate when I say that Gruff would just as soon stay home on a Sunday morning or go out for donuts as he would, make the effort to get up and get us all out the door for church & Sunday School. I do not see prayer, Scripture study, praise music, or any of the other ‘outward expressions of an inner faith’ happening in my home if I simply stop doing all of those things and wait for him to begin them.

Right now, with a 2 year old, I’m sure I could do that — just literally stop it all and “step back” for a year and wait to see what God & Gruff will do. But my question and my worry (and yes, my fear, even though I know that I’m not SUPPOSED to be fearful) is that if there is no eagerness on Gruff’s part, and it falls by the wayside, then in a year what do I have? A husband who is still not interested in becoming a spiritual leader — and a 3.5 year old who’s gotten so out of the routine that now church is a strange new experience. Not only does that vision leave me feeling angry and frustrated, but it scares me.

Nagging only has 2 results: a. total shut down, or b. angry refusal. One of the best ways to NOT get what we want from our husbands is to pester them about it. If leading the family spiritually feels like cleaning his room as a boy every man will run from it.

I think this is the one TINY aspect I’m getting right. After several years of back-and-forth: me nagging for a while, him feeling pressured and refusing, me backing off, him taking small steps, rinse and repeat… we’re at a phase that I’d call “respectful compliance.” He is respectful of my need & desire to be in church, to find a Sunday School class we like, to keep Smooch attending his toddler class. He doesn’t leap out of bed on Sunday mornings with much get-up-and-go, but he does it. I’m respectful of his …what to call it?… lack of fervor, and I don’t press him to do Bible study with me in the evenings, or to dissect the sermon and have a big theological discussion on the way home. I go about my business – I do my own Bible study (okay, as I mentioned earlier, I *occasionally* keep up with my own Bible study), I sing songs and say prayers with Smooch, and I did institute prayer at meals.

I am SURE that there are some parts of your counsel that I need to accept and act on.

You may want to make a commitment to the Lord that you’re going to step back for a year. Commit to take that year to pray for your husband and to pray for yourself, and for your relationship as spouses and parents.

This is the part I’m not sure about:

You will give more glory to the Lord by being obedient through submission than by stepping in and doing tasks the Lord hasn’t asked you to do.

because I do feel that I’m responsible to raise my child with a love for the things of God. If I stop doing anything spiritual in my home because I’m waiting for my husband to do it — yes, he is absolutely going to be held accountable to God for what he doesn’t do in raising his son — but ultimately, so am I. To sit by and let years pass without church, without hearing God’s Word, without talking about His providence and goodness? Doesn’t it seem that that would do more harm?

I think what we’re looking at is ALMOST akin to the struggle of a wife married to an unbeliever. (I’m not saying that Gruff doesn’t believe. But to be brutally honest, he’s not living in a growing, fruit-bearing way right now.) If you are the only adult believer in your home, the task of teaching your children does fall primarily to you. You aren’t exempt from submission; you carry the burden of following the admonition in 1 Peter:

1Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.

but in such a case, I think that the submission belongs in all the other realms of your family life. For how would you submit spiritually to someone who isn’t on the same spiritual path?

Maybe this is what you were trying to get at when you said you didn’t know exactly what submission would look like for every diverse individual couple — is it? Then again, maybe I’m still just offering up justification and rationalization for doing things the way I’ve figured them out in my head.

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I’m sure Coralie & I aren’t the only ones with thoughts on this subject. Care to jump in? I’d love to hear your comments, or read your own posts (if, like me and Coralie, you find that you just get too long-winded to make it a little comment!).

 


Havin’ more church up in this here blog.

April 15, 2008

I intended to change the subject this morning & write about my mother, but a comment on my last post got my wheels turning again. I started writing a reply comment, but it quickly became long and rambling – in other words, it deserved a post of its own. So here we are.

Coralie said:

This comment may not be what you want to hear, but I’m going to say it any way.

I think you should be letting Gruff take the lead on all of this. God made him your head, and at the end of things, Gruff is going to have to answer for how well he did with that position.

I heard a wise woman say we don’t submit to our husbands because they are worthy of it, we submit because God calls us to, and HE is worthy of it.

Just my (unasked for) 2 cents.

For everyone’s future reference, I’m okay with comments I didn’t necessarily “want” to hear — sometimes those are the most needed, right?

I know in my heart that you’re right. But the thing I question is this: in the absence of godly leadership from our husbands, are we not still responsible to the principles we know & the promptings we feel? Ideally, sure, my husband would take charge, take the lead, make a decision about our church home… but in reality, his radar is not tuned in right now. We have very different faith backgrounds – he is a much ‘younger’ Christian and he has struggled over the last year and a half, especially. My big struggle is the tug-of-war over leading simply because I have more ‘knowledge’ and more ‘experience’ and frankly, more motivation and interest in doing so… versus stepping back in the hope and prayer that he will step forward to lead. The issues I face in stepping back? Things go stagnant. Nothing happens.

As a for instance, take praying over meals — how many times over the years I’ve initiated it (asking him to say the blessing!), then stopped after a few days to see if he would continue it, only to have it fizzle out. Right now we’re keeping it up, mainly -I think- because Smooch is old enough to get into it, and Gruff thinks it’s cute when he reaches out his hands toward us and bows his head…. a little child shall lead them, eh?

Just now, typing that last paragraph, I realize that it’s very possible that God is going to use just that – our little boy, the innocence of a child, the natural interest and inclination of kids to learn about the things of God – to pull Gruff closer to Him.

But in the meantime, I circle back to my earlier question. Am I not still responsible to the principles I know & the promptings I feel? I believe that I’m asked to give back of my income to the Lord’s work; I believe that I’m asked to join with a fellowship of believers; I believe that I’m asked to raise my child in the ‘fear and admonition of the Lord.’ In a household where one parent is ambivalent about the whole thing, can the other parent fill in that gap and take that lead anyway? Which is the greater need – that need for perfect submission, or that need for setting a godly example for a child? (And I do realize that I’ve got another year or so before Smooch really begins to understand and remember what he sees us doing – thank God that our kids come to us as tiny little guys so that we get a “grace period” for figuring things out, right?)


A-B-C, easy as 1-2-3

March 6, 2008

Smooch is obsessed with letters right now. A few months ago, he started playing very close attention to his little alphabet puzzle. Then I got out an old ABC chart from my kindergarten days to hang in the playroom, and we started singing the song and pointing to the letters. Before we knew it, he was asking us to write letters on his papers when he colors. He’s an exuberant and gleeful dictator as he points to the spot he has in mind: “Geen O! Pup-pew S! Bwoo E, I, O, I, S! Wew-oh Y!”

I’m torn, y’all. On one hand, I’m so excited that he is interested in print. He points out signs everywhere we go, especially if he sees one of the letters he truly recognizes (O, S, Y, sometimes E and I) and he listens eagerly when we tell him what the signs really say. I’m a lifelong reader, and it’s important to me to foster that same love of literacy in my boy. My husband struggled with reading as a kid (though, clearly, he’s managing quite well as an adult) and he just wants Smooch to have an easier time of learning the skills he’ll need. The part of me that’s excited about this wants to give him lots of opportunities to expand on this interest – songs, books, posters, doing his own ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ – and chances to show off a little bit for our friends and family. (What can I say. I’m a mom.)

On the other hand, I don’t want to push him. I don’t him to feel like I’m forcing him to do alphabet stuff all day long so that he eventually hates the thought. I don’t want to be some kind of loony stage mom making him perform a song and dance for all the neighbors, you know?

It’s hard for me to know, partly because he still doesn’t speak in complete sentences and he can’t tell me how he feels about it. I can’t sit down for a heart-to-heart, “Hey, Smooch? Do you want to work on your alphabet with me? Do you like doing this stuff?” and hear him answer, “Sure, Mommy, I’d love to,” or “No thanks, Mom, I’d rather play with my trains today.” All I can do is what I’ve been doing – I watch him, I try to read his mood and his interest level. My gut feeling is that we’re doing the right thing for the time being. It’s not a real intense, “schoolwork” kind of thing. It’s playful and fun, it’s broken up throughout the day, and I think he does honestly love it. I could probably stand to scale back a little on encouraging him to “show me the O” – especially in front of company.

This, I think, is the dance of parenting as kids get older. You take a few steps forward, urging them on toward something they seem to want or that you know they need. You take a few steps back, if they seem overwhelmed or frustrated or if it’s going to fast. You dip and sway together, feeling out the moves that will get you both across the floor. For now, we’re doing the Alphabet Hop.