Despite not having an official summer vacation in many years, my brain still feels last day of school excitement around the end of May. I dream of playing with friends in a swimming pool floating aimlessly on rafts and eating too many of those flavored ice popsicles we had to squeeze up from plastic bags. My inner nerd thinks of the endless hours I spent happily buried in a stack of library books so engrossed that I often forgot meals. I looked forward to the week of Girl Scout camp and the annual family vacation to the lake, but I most loved the possibility and potential of each day. The day could be anything – a bike ride, roller blading, playing board games, or a slumber party with popcorn and movies.
Now, as an adult and a mom of the five and under crowd, my days lack the carefree feeling of my memories. In fact, the only thing that really changes with the seasons is which environmental challenge I must conquer in order to get us all from one place to another. Cold and snow? We all need coats, but the car seat straps cannot buckle over the coats. So, we either deal with getting coats off and on repeatedly, or we make mad dashes in and out of stores with me drowning in mom guilt wanting to yell at innocent bystanders, “They would have gotten colder standing outside the car waiting for me to help with coats.” Rain? We need raincoats, boots, and maybe even rain pants because let’s face it, my children view puddles as a mandate from God for them to attempt to splash so hard that the water returns to the clouds. Sunshine and heat? We need water bottles that say leakproof though my one year old can conquer any non leakable engineering, and sunblock. Oh, sunblock. We enjoy being outside but have fair enough skin that our son got a mild sunburn in our backyard in March. So, especially in the summer sunblock is a part of our daily routine though, when it comes to our toddler, applying sunblock is more of an event than a routine.
In my wave of summer nostalgia, I realized I wanted to experience summer (and the rest of the seasons for that matter) rather than each season just serving as a signpost for which outdoor gear to haul out of the closet. As a dedicated type A person, I immediately came up with a plan which quickly turned into a project I called “100 Days of Summer with Five and Under”. I would have an epic summer with kids by planning everything. I pictured myself doing some social media post worthy summer activity each day and spending leisurely time blogging about it. My mind started racing. What if my blog posts went viral? What if the posts turned into a book? A movie? I could inspire parents all over the world. Then, two things happened. First, both of my kids caught a virus that resulted in several non photo worthy, sleep deprived nights for all involved. No problem. I thought, I can simply double up on fun summer activities for a few days and still get to one hundred. Second, I looked at my kids who sometimes answer my large life questions by just being themselves. As I was packing bags for an upcoming throwback family trip to the lake, my daughter repeatedly asked to go outside, and my son asked if we could set a day each week to go to the park. We never made it outside that day because I was too busy trying to make sure we had enough board games for rainy days and outdoor lawn games to have a good time on the next week. But, my children do not care about perfect or tomorrow. They are not counting one hundred days of summer or analyzing how many amazing things we do or do not do. They want to go outside, and when they get too hot, they will ask to add water which they will find delightful coming straight from the garden hose.
They do not need me to teach them how to have a carefree summer; they need me to remember what summer feels like to a child. The hot days meander along sometimes leading toward a goal and sometimes leading nowhere at all, but it does not matter because summer is not a countdown timer or a checklist. It is today, outside, a game of freeze tag, and a garden hose…handfuls of little, everyday moments bathed in unrushed sunshine.
So, maybe we will float on pool noodles in a backyard kiddie pool. Maybe we will read so many books that we forget lunch. Maybe one hot July day, when the sidewalk fries eggs, we will eat ice cream for breakfast. Maybe we will barrel roll down hills. Maybe we will run through the sprinkler where the grass gave up and make mud pies out of the pooling puddles. Maybe….possibly….potentially… It is summer after all.
Parenting is like signing up to become the live-in caretaker of an uninhabited, breathtakingly beautiful tropical island…full of dependent monkeys. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you have to bring the monkeys with you.
Earlier this summer my husband and I sat in a pizza restaurant with members of our extended family including four children under the age of five. The kids behaved reasonably. No one threw food, screamed, or ran in circles around tables. The adults only occasionally repeated age-old phrases like “use your inside voice”, and “keep your hands to yourself”. Not to be outdone by the adults, the two four year-olds used age-old phrases of their own like, “I have to go potty.” The babies used the sense of smell to communicate similar needs.
On my third trip to the bathroom I passed three young women sitting at a high table. They looked unrushed and unfrazzled. They wore made up faces and outfits that lacked the utility of needing to easily wipe clean of vomit while enabling nursing an infant in public without flashing anyone. Small, cute purses occupied little spaces between them rather than backpacks of parenting in public survival gear. While time ticked down at me counting seconds until someone needed something – hot pizza cut up, a crayon that fell on the floor, or a nursing session on my right side leaving me with laughable attempts to use a fork with my left hand, time seemed to count up for these ladies multiplying their enjoyment of the evening with each moment that passed.
From somewhere in my mind memories of girls’ trips and girls’ nights out flooded around me. We took silly pictures on a rock wall overlooking the Pacific Ocean, had weekly “Dawson’s Creek” watching parties, went on midnight ice cream runs, and had secret water balloon fights (for which we were never caught) in the hallway of a dorm. We had no monkeys. In fact, we were the monkeys sometimes finding laughter, sometimes finding mischief, and oftentimes finding both.
Minutes earlier while holding our infant daughter in the aisle so I could give her to my husband while I went to the bathroom, an older lady from a nearby table spontaneously brought a handful of napkins and wiped baby spit-up off my shoulder. She smiled, squeezed my shoulder, and told me she didn’t want the spit-up to get in my hair. Perhaps her interaction with me flooded her with her own memories of holding sweet smelling babies and sticky hands. This part of life, this crazy, beautiful, and exhausting island, sometimes plays out like an episode of “Survivor”, and sometimes it pauses with watercolor sunsets, swirling blue ocean waters, and the feel of the sand between my toes. That evening, as my path crossed with generations of women reminding me of both my past and my future, I thought about monkeys and smiled.
I started this blog a year ago. In some ways the beginning felt similar to signing up for a gym membership on New Year’s Day. In my mind, I could without difficulty find time to write posts every five or six days and certainly one of those posts would gain enough attention to go viral. But, just like the person without a regular running routine, who signs up in January to run a marathon in June, I failed to meet my original goals. I ran into the writer’s equivalent of overuse injuries, unaccounted for weather, and poor planning.
Despite that, I have not failed completely. I have learned. I have grown. I put my words in a public place where I could not shelter them from criticism. I have reasonable excuses for not meeting my own deadlines including infant induced sleep deprivation. However, excuses do not help me move forward. They only give me permission to stay where I am. To move forward, I must acknowledge my successes and my failures and learn from both.
Blog posts typically fall with a certain word count and occur at a specified frequency. At this point, due to a variety of factors, I cannot meet those expectations, but I can pursue them by starting with smaller, more manageable goals like aiming for the equivalent of the 5K blog rather than the marathon blog. My posts may not reach a word count, but the words I do write count. Each attempt marks a step, a completed workout, and progress forward.
As I continue my wandering through life in this second year in the blog world, I want to thank each of you for reading my words. I will continue to pursue my writing dream, and I wish all the best to each of you as you pursue dreams of your own. All steps, even the missteps, count as they all have have lessons to teach us and help propel us forward as we navigate the roads to our dreams.
Somewhere between late at night and early in the morning my arms wrap around you, and we rock in this chair. Sometimes, you cry. Sometimes, so do I. This time is ours alone both beautiful and lonely.
When you cry uncertain of how to fall asleep, we rock, and I sing. I sing songs my mom sang to me rocking in another chair on another night not so long ago. I sing songs I learned on a quiet evening overlooking a lake at summer camp, and I hum the wordless melodies from my own heart.
Like you, I feel tired, and like you, when I feel very tired, I cry. I feel uncertain of how to find moments for sleep. I feel overwhelmed at the responsibility of caring for one so small. I wonder how I will answer your years of youthful questions spoken and unspoken when I do not know the answers myself. I wonder how to keep you safe in a world full of uncertainty and change. I wonder, and I worry.
Several weeks ago, my mom sat with me as I nursed and rocked you late into the night. I wonder what she saw as she watched her adult daughter soothing her granddaughter. Did she wonder how the slow moments had passed so quickly? Did she see herself in me and me in her? She did not tell me, and I did not ask. But, her presence comforted and calmed me just as it had decades ago in a rocking chair. She no longer sang me “Silent Night”, but she sat in the quiet darkness with me. She did not give me answers to my questions, but she gave me permission to ask them, to doubt, to wonder, and most importantly, to grow. Because my dear daughter, growing never stops. It always takes struggle and effort. It requires you to push and reach into places you have never been. Sometimes, growing feels exciting. Sometimes, it feels frightening. Mostly, it feels a little of both.
Your mind will never remember these moments which, strung together, make up long, short nights, but I hope your heart never forgets. I have whispered, “I love you,” countless times, and I will whisper it countless more. I say your name aloud as I run my fingers through your silky, soft hair. Your milky breath, emitted like little puffs of clouds while you sleep on my shoulder, smells better than fields of flowers. Your features, so tiny and so perfectly human, give me reason to marvel, not once or twice but for the rest of my life.
So, my smallest one, keep reaching and keep growing. Feel excited, and feel afraid. Cry, giggle, doubt, and wonder. Whether rocking you now or someday watching you as the rocker, my own adult daughter, at you I will always love and marvel.
Many years ago, while recounting my failed attempts to overcome a difficult task and resulting personal frustrations, a wise person told me, “Sometimes, you just have to give up and make waffles.” At the time my driven, goal-oriented nature failed to see the wisdom in these words, and I irrationally felt more worth as a person ramming my head repeatedly into the same obstacle than in surrender.
Our baby, who can cry and scream with impressive persistence, sometimes calms down while being held and danced to The Piano Guys song that mashes “Fight Song” with “Amazing Grace”. I have listened to this song countless times recently without thinking anything about the combination of these particular songs until the second consecutive night I spent as the only adult caring for a young child and a colicky baby. My husband had to be away for work for several days, and I felt pulled, as I am sure all new parents of two feel, between the needs of each child while my own needs whimpered forlornly from some cast-off place in my soul. Guilt overwhelmed me. I hated myself for having to insist that my son wait over and over, not because he had to practice patience, but because I failed my job at soothing his sister. Her screams became my internal voice’s anvils landing crushing blows to both my spirit and confidence in my abilities as a parent. A small, rational part of me whispered reassurance that we would get through this phase just as we had with our son, but fatigue easily drowned it out.
I glanced at the clock and noticed it, too, ticking off my failures while I stared void of ideas at the pantry with the smallest one still screaming in my ear. Dinner should have been ready an hour earlier, and my hope of bedtime on time whimpered and sighed as it walked dejectedly to join my dream of any moment of personal time in the hopeless part of my soul. I tried to yell at my dreams to come back, but they did not hear me, and my eyes started leaking tears of their own. I put my daughter in a soft sided carrier, turned on The Piano Guys music, and cranked the volume on the stereo. As the music mixed with my tears, I let go of my attempts to change my daughter’s emotional state and instead promised to hold her close as long as she needed to be held that night. There, I found a place of surrender and graceful acceptance that also felt strong. We swayed and danced in the kitchen while my son and I mixed batter for chocolate chip pancakes. My daughter eventually fell asleep on my chest, and my son and I both smiled eating the chocolate.
As I sit here attempting to type with one hand while holding a sleeping baby in my other, I think back on the past year. The difficulty of coping with the many endurance-testing challenges has not faded, but the strength of all those who supported us, knowingly and unknowingly, grows ever brighter in conjunction with our increasing gratitude.
Situations arose multiple times over many months causing us to doubt the likelihood of holding this beautiful gift, healthy, or at one point even at all. Further, I often felt like a failure for being incapable of providing the most basic nutrition to my unborn child. As I started losing weight, I wondered what I was taking from my child. What began as a goal for a balanced, nutritionally diverse diet quickly gave way to simply attempting to get calories to stay in me. The days, weeks, and months dragged on and dragged me with them. I felt trapped and spent five and a half of those nine months within five minutes of home.
To each of you who took a step on this journey with us, thank-you. Thank you to my husband who demonstrated selflessness in every way becoming the persona of the wedding vows we promised over a decade ago. You have truly been my strength. Thank you to my son who offered untaught compassion; I am in awe and proud to be your mom. The memory of the peanut butter sandwich you spontaneously made and brought me in bed will always bring me to tears. Thank you to my parents who have showed up my entire life each time I have said, “Help!” Thank you to those who took the time and effort to drive long distances to visit us, often repeatedly. You seemed to show up at the exact moment I doubted my ability to make it one more day. Thank you to all who scheduled and rescheduled gatherings to try to include us. Thank you to everyone who called, texted, and emailed offering words of encouragement and distraction from some monotonous weeks and months. Thank you to the brave souls who attempted to cook for me when I struggled to keep anything down.
I don’t know what I would have done without our library’s programs and the wonderful people who work and volunteer there. Because of all of you at the library who know us by name, I felt like I could still engage in some part of life and spend time around other people during the many months we stayed close to home. To our friends and family who remained ‘on-call’ day and night for two months with offers to care for our young son, we are forever grateful. You took away a massive stress relieving us from the burden of feeling torn between caring for our son and caring for our unborn child. Thank you to the doctors and nurses who cared for us, the ultrasonographers who helped us see our child, the lab technicians who attempted to stick my rolling veins, and the receptionists who remembered my name. Thank you for going beyond your job. Thank you to the woman who got out of her car to take my shopping cart back at the grocery store. I drove home with tears running down my face. To all of you who read this blog, thank you. You gave me an outlet and a focus outside of difficult moments.
I do not think I can ever see life’s challenges as known, pre-planned events that result in some future good. However, I see the responses to those challenges as proof that love’s light eclipses the darkest moments. Thank you to all of you for loving us so well. May our gratitude reach you from these words, and whenever you find yourself struggling in life, may you feel the depth of the love and support you have shown to us shining on you. Thank you…