Author Archive

It’s Just What I Waited For

“Watch me as I graduate

As I move on in my life, it’s really great
[that is my favorite part, mom]
It’s just what I’m waiting for,
Now it’s time to Graduate…
March 2, 3, 4 and march. March 2, 3, 4 and march.
Watch me as I graduate,
As I march around the room, it’s really great
It’s just what I’ve waited for
Now it’s time to Graduate”
Henrik has been singing this song and marching around the house most every day for the past week [not really for practice; it’s just so darn catchy, and I think he’s proud of himself]. He has been a mixed ball of emotional disaster these past few weeks as he inches towards his last day as a Kindergartener. Big long notes about how much he loves Daddy and Mommy and pictures of him with us (and no Abbott I might add. Not even going to speculate on that one). Regression in school (behavior-wise, that is), Giant tears at dinner and accusations of being tricked (you said I can’t have dessert but there was never really dessert to begin with! Why are you TRICKING ME?!) I’m reminding myself that they say that the end of the school year can be hard on kids. Fear of the next grade, fear of missing friends, fear of having to make new friends. Fear of the Unknown.

A dear, dear, dear friend of mine had her first baby late last week. As I try and answer her questions about those first vital few days life – because it’s all a mystery to her – I start to anticipate what is ahead; It all comes rushing back to me. The first time I held Henrik after his lightening speed entry into the world. How I felt bringing him home, how I wanted to be the best parent I could be, how I cried and cried and cried and called my husband in fear, in confusion at only week three. Those nights that he cried all night and I just wrapped him up and rocked him until we both re-fell asleep; me, too, with tears running down my cheeks.

From baby to boy

Those days seem years away  – and they are. Yet part of me can’t help but be confused how we got this far. People always say, “oh, they grow so fast! You can’t get that time back,” and my reply has always been – “trust me, I remember each and every day, it isn’t going too fast.” But this year, it all changed. H leaves every morning for school. He comes home and can do things that he couldn’t when he left. I don’t know how he learned it, I don’t know who taught it to him. Most of the time it’s good – and sometimes I’m shocked and a little (ha!) embarrassed. The next day we have the same challenge of getting our shoes on, the same rush to the bus, the same conversation during dinner, the same bedtime routine. Days fly by, one by one, and I don’t even know it.
Someone said to me today – “at some point they turn from little boys into *boys*” and it occurred to me for the first time that this is happening. I feel like we just got to *little boy* and now we’re already movig into *boy*. As new mommas with teensy babes, we spent many (too many) days in tiredville and unknowns. Then somewhere along the way the littles didn’t seem so fragile, and they turn into full-fledged babies. We waited on every word, every crawling moment. Soon they were walking and talking toddlers – and with opinions and naughtiness they turned into little boys.
Kindergarten is for *little boys*. But First grade is for *boys*.
I have no doubt that H gets it, too. The magnitude of getting big hasn’t been lost on him, but as he marches around the room singing his tune with this friends next Tuesday, he’ll have a huge smile on face, and I fear that it will finally be my turn with the tears.
– EC
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Getting the World

Some days I have those moments as a parent where I feel like I’m making headway in providing a rich environment in which my kids will grow.

These are the days that I put aside the worries of having the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood because I know that their experience won’t include what I see as imperfections.  [I’m reminded of this every day when Little A sits at the top of the steps and stares out the window, anxious to see if his “horsies are open” or if they have gone to sleep, if they are twirling in fun (STOP STOP HORSIES!) or if they are waiting, eagerly, for their Little A rider.]

Days like today I’m reminded that we chose to live in a diverse neighborhood, and that it wasn’t by mistake that they go to a school where kids’ families are made up of people who love them as their only constraint; where they teach who really founded American and that African people are descendants of kings and queens and start everyone morning recent “I am Somebody” to focus their day. That to see their principal receiving an award for helping eliminate racism in our community is no small thing.  [Aside: It makes think back to my days as a young girl learning about women in science and being encouraged to think big, despite my gender, never knowing that it was revolutionary to teach girls such a thing – and because of this straightforward approach, I never doubted my abilities.] And I know that their experiences in this school, in this neighborhood, in this community, with these role models and support systems will give my children the gift of knowing that all ethnicities and cultures are learned from, respected, lifted-up without question. That every person is somebody just because they are alive. They’ll just know. And they will feel that way, too.

On some days I know that I’m choosing right when I step into “controversy” by letting Abbott pick out the pink shiny shoes at Goodwill and celebrate his happiness in wearing purple sparkly Dora glasses that make him look like a Cross between Elton John and Bono.

Little A channeling Elton John and Bono

There are they days that I feel confident when we all talk about our piggy banks, and how mommy and daddy don’t have a never-ending stash of pennies in our pig because we don’t make much money at our jobs. And it’s because we chose these non-proft jobs – On purpose.

Little A, Thug

And I feel good when I think back to February and March [ok, and April and May] of this year where I dragged my kids down to the Capitol day in and day out to protest bad people doing bad things to the people of Wisconsin. They saw (and hopefully will remember) that you don’t turn your back when someone is being hurt – you get loud. You stand up. You get involved, you care.

Big H, Thug

Now before you start to worry that I’m all high on myself as a parent, I want to introduce to you the thing that has followed every single one of these situations.

Fear.

Quite simply, I’m afraid my kids won’t understand, won’t contribute, and that I’m missing the opportunity to make them great. After all, Big H has already mastered nearly 6 years of his life and Little A is sneaking up on 3 himself. Gone are thousands of days.

And  I don’t mean great from the perspective of big jobs and titles and big salaries. I mean Great because they feel their hearts in their chests on a daily basis and see themselves with that same heart in their hand, ready to cut it into little pieces to hand out to the world. Great because they get that everyone is somebody, and that being better and happier every day because the sun is shining or because they discovered a new combination of colors or saw a building that made their knees weak is a choice. Great because they know a grey day outside means a chance to slow down and that rain is fun for puddles and umbrella walks and because ultimately, it makes the flowers – and the watermelons – grow.  Great because they met someone who inspired them or because they did something kind that inspired someone else.  Great because instead of keeping all of their pennies to themselves they know that happily giving up their pennies because someone else needs them is even better, and will make sparkles shinier and the moon glow brighter.

When I see kids who get it enough to ask to start a lemonade stand to raise money for a Food pantry, I worry that the only thing my Big H has wanted to give up his pennies for so far was to buy a TV for a friend who didn’t have one (and let me tell you, he certainly didn’t understand why his friend’s parents would Choose to be so deprived). I worry that when given the choice, instead of painting his nails green and saying “Take That, Outraged People” he’ll jump on the Fox News bandwagon.

I have a genuine all-encompassing and unwaivering fear that they won’t get it. That I’m missing out on opportunities to teach them the way. That their lives will be clouded by a misunderstanding of wealth, a misunderstanding of the equality and love in the Grace of God, a misunderstanding of what it truly means to live every day. What if they never really get that life on earth ENDS someday. That This is it.  That There isn’t time for wondering what others think – there is only time to Do, to Love, to Care, to Give, to sidle next to Wonder of the greatness of the World. When it’s done, it’s done, and you either took advantage of every dang second and did something good with it, or you wasted it. That you either loved and supported or you deprived someone of this gift that shouldn’t have really been an option to waste.

Big H

How can I guarantee that they’ll live this life that I would do anything for them to have? Sure, there are days that I’m not a perfect parent and Little A will find himself at the end of the day only having eaten graham crackers and the cookie I bribed him with while we were protesting downtown. There are days when I yell too loud at my kids or even say something that isn’t really nice and I should be ashamed to admit. I’m not out to be the perfect parent – it’s long since been passed up. But I care that I provide them with the tools that they need to really LIVE in this big wide world. And to spend their days and nights and seconds in between making change for good. I’m serious! What are you doing to raise kids who get it?

-EC

Mary, Did you Know?

The thing I remember most about Henrik’s first Christmas is that he was still screaming.  I don’t know if he was colicky, or if it was just his personality (I’d bet all my presents under the tree that it’s the latter).  Three months into my life as a mother, I all of a sudden was thrown into a new understanding of the story of Christmas.

For me, this sacred holiday became focused on Mary. Not her virginity, or her holiness – but her motherhood.   Mary was a new mom.  She gave birth (Labor!  Delivery!) to her beautiful baby in a barn full of stinky animals and hay and dirt.  And now she had this new baby that wanted to nurse throughout the day and night, that needed constant rocking, and probably some swaying or bouncing to calm his new worldly nerves.  That cradle wasn’t just designed for the pretty church nativities – she Needed that cradle to get him to fall asleep –  To soothe her screaming baby. And after the angels had gone, and everyone had brought their pretty gifts, the crying probably got worse.  And the everyday of motherhood became a stark reality.

Believe in Mary as Jesus’ mother, as the Virgin Mary, as the mother of the Savior, as a vital part of the Christmas story, as holy – or just another woman in the history of womankind –  there is something about her story that every mother can understand.  

Who of you has gotten your face so close to your babe’s that you could feel his breath, and hear her small movements?  Who has held him, swaddled, shhing her till you can see her little eyelashes come to complete stillness and feel your own heart slowed?  Who of you has stared into his eyes, and saw the Hope that she could bring to this world?  The love, the grace, the kindness, the care. Angels or just a starry sky, gifts of Myrrh or just an empty bag, Mary was a momma who knew her job was great.  Who knew her job was a gift, who knew that it would take sacrifice, sleepless nights, and worry beyond compare.  She shed tears, she loved deeper than she ever understood or would ever comprehend.  We all know how Mary must have felt that night, and those months, and years and year and years to come.

Oh, holy night.

You and me  – and Mary – we’re raising hope for the world, the feet on this earth, the ones that will bring in human form, in my understanding, God’s love to all.  They will make the decisions that help, strengthen, Give.

Moms all around the world, Peace, Love and Strength to you all this Christmas.  Shalom.

– EC

Kindergarten

There was a day this past year that I had been waiting to pass since almost the day that my son H was born.  For Four solid years, I waited for the day of the big test, the test that would give us some finality.  A decision about whether H would go to Kindergarten.

I think it’s safe to say that Most parents start feeling a bit of angst when their child reaches the age of four.  Four is this big age – toddler-hood is over, preschool has begun and the day that school begins is imminent.  School.  It’s that big word that invokes in most people images of the school bus, little kids in backpacks, and some old fashioned RRR, mixed with creativity, and well – being Big.  It’s that last word – the Big word – that provides the parenthood angst.

Is she really Big enough?  Can he handle school?  Will he get lost in the crowd?  Will she listen to the teacher?  Will he make friends?  Really the question is – is my Kid really that Big?  Am I the parent of a little kid or a Big kid?  And really, How did This happen?

It’s safe to say that I remember most every day of H’s childhood.  I remember the crying, the kicking phase, the cuddling phase, the digger phase.  I remember the waking up in the middle of the night (phase, thankfully).  I remember the needing milk 24 hours a day (long) phase, the new to big-brotherhood phase, the spitting his food out after chewing it phase, the not wanting to wear shoes phase (still in that one).  And now we’ve reached the learning phase of H’s life.  I feel most everyone one of the days of every one of these phases, probably because I’ve had to go through them, every single one of them, with him.  Because first it was the being a mom of a kid who wanted milk 24 hours a day phase, and then the being the a mom of the new big-brotherhood phase, and being the mom of the kid who refuses to pick up his toys phase.  

So for what I had been anxiously waiting for Four solid years?   I knew at the age of four, we would finally have the option to test our little guy to see if he could go to school with all of his peers.  Born just seven days past the school deadline, H had always been a part of the crowd just months older than him, kids who were 5 by September 1.  I know that H was ready, and that I was ready.  I didn’t feel the angst of the parent wondering how we got there.  I KNOW how we got there.  And we were all ready to move on, more forward, move into the world of Big.  

H passed his big Test (that big scary day for which I had waited and waited and waited) with flying colors, and the sweet, friendly teacher who tested him laughed as we sat down on the ittybitty chairs to go over his “results”  – “Wow” she said “Your little guy is quite the sponge.”  Sponge he was, and sponge he is.

Backpack!

Sure, I haven’t 100% successfully moved into this next phase of motherhood.   Yep, while other moms and dads cried on the first day of school, anxious about how it all crept up on them, I rejoiced, smile, laughed with my little guy who jumped onto the bus like he had done it a thousand times (with one last quick security hug, of course).   Still, every once in awhile, I question whether he will be able to negotiate the often painful world of friendships (“mom, no one played with me on the playground today.  Everyone said no”).  I wonder if he’ll ever outgrow his inability to just jump up an and answer the question without raising his hand, or whether he’ll figure out how to properly spell all of the words on his “word wall.”

On the bus.

But every new phase brings new worries, new challenges, new fun.  I feel confident that we’ll figure it out.  Odd to say, but in the big checklist of life, excited to say – Toddler-hood?  Check!

– EC

Busy Day, Busy People

I always thought I’d have a great little library for my kids. You know – the book shelf that is filled with great colored spines. Books that are tall and proud. Books that share the classics, the standards, interspersed with books that share my love of art, of the tangible, of the world. As an “ahem,” educated person, I’m supposed to be modeling my UNWAVERING LOVE OF READING with my little people. Good, beautiful books. Ones that we read over and over, ones that we all sit down and savor together.

After H was born, I did what a “good” parent does. Every day we’d pull out his board books. He’d chew on them, and I’d try and read them. Later on, I’d sit in a rocking chair while he turned pages faster than I could even tell what was on the page.  Then he’d whine and complain and squirm off of my lap.

Not that I was giving him the Best reading material. Big Beautiful Tall Books are Expensive. Our book collection was mostly finds from Garage Sales and Goodwill. Read – most of our books were (are) pre-broken in, dingy and a bit old. Some not even current titles. Some you can only find in antique book collections. Some that never should have made it to the Garage Sale.

You see, (oh, am I admitting this now to the general world?), I don’t really read fiction books.  This one reality has caused MUCH anxiety in my life.  If I don’t “read” books, will my kids? Will they grow up to love the written word?  Will I be shunned as a bad parent?  For Heaven’s sakes, will they be LITERATE?  

My mom is a voracious reader, and as a kid, I loved a good book. I read through the middle school paper back collection in my first year in that building.  I worked at a bookstore for several years.  It’s not that i don’t like reading. Given enough time and a nice long vacation on a beach or with a lot of train time and no children, I’m sure to finish a good solid fiction book.  

But here is the thing – I do read.  I skim non-fiction books from the library. I read magazines about art, architecture, and home living. I read sewing patterns and recipes in cookbooks and then follow their directions or sometimes make up my own. I read email, Facebook, blogs, and the newspaper online. I read out loud funny and ridiculous letters to the editor in my Food Coop’s Reader (gotta get a good laugh over the folks that complain about the Oatscream Machine being broken down). I read travel books. I read the signs at the zoo, and the menu at the bakery. I read signs on the street during our walks and bike rides. I read directions to the museum, and the little wall cards that describe the crazy art that we’re viewing. I read the bus map, and the calendar when trying to schedule fun things for our family to do.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise to me – or to any of you – that my FAVORITE kids book – one that I will read over and over and over – is an old copy of Busy Day Busy People by Tibor Gergely that I picked up at the Dig and Save.  Ah, Busy Day Busy People might be the best book of all time. Page by Page, the book describes the life of busy people from sun up to sun down.  As people are waking, bakers are baking, and construction workers are hauling dirt.  People go to work, go to the doctor.  People are taking public transportation and going out to eat, and news reporters are delivering the stories of the day while families regather at the end of the day. 

Busy People

The other day my husband and I were reviewing our shared Google calendars via Google chat (we were both at work). He was going here, I was going there.  He’d pick up the kids from daycare, I’d be home in time to swoop them up for lessons or a playdate of some sort while he went to the gym.  Then he’d come back home in time for me to meet some friends and then go grab some coffee while I worked for a few more hours and he put the kids to bed and did some needed chores around the house.  At the end of the chat, he said (ok, chatted) “Are we too busy?”  It’s a question we get frequently, and something we talk through alot, just to make sure.  

Go, Go, Go!

But the thing is – We aren’t.  Our family likes to go, do, be.  If we could be in the middle of it all, every night in the city, we would.  And on my days off I’d drive to the country and enjoy the trees, and then head back for some delicious food and an art show on a street where people bustle past midnight.  Or maybe I’d choose an evening on the lake with the kids looking at the stars and pointing out constellations, while inhaling enormous smores or counting fireflies.  The world is big, and we want to explore.  Some folks are happy laying low, living quiet in the trees.  We like to visit them on the weekends.   

Every person, every parent, every family has to figure out what makes them Go. I think about that book often, how every page, every person resonates somewhere deep inside my bones, my decisions.  It resonates in the spot that I suppose Walden and stacks of novels do for others.   

And at the end of our chat that day, my husband wrote to me “Busy Day, Busy People!”  I just smile and laughed. Impressed that he ended our conversation with a literary reference.

– EC

All Bets Are Off

I’ve been thinking a lot about last week’s post about why we have kids, and my own post a month back about our house, and how it’s less about the stuff and the size, and more about the love.  Both posts have one thing in common – they remind us that there is something about parenting that is impossible to put your finger on.

My dad once told me that the best thing about having kids is that “you get to do all of those things that kids love that you just can’t do alone as adults.”  I used to think that was the oddest thing. Really? I’m hankering more for a Beer at my favorite bar than playing arcade games when we’re on vacation.  I’m more interested in sitting in the sun and having a long conversation with my friends than I am chasing my child around the park.  I just didn’t buy it.  Events that are catered towards kids?  Not as much fun as relaxing events catered towards adults.

But yet time after time, I prove my own thoughts wrong.

Most recently this happened when I decided to return to my favorite birthday destination, Arlington Park – only this time, with several kids in tow.  Would we have fun?  Would it be a disaster?  Would it be worth it?   As a child, my family and I went to the races frequently (OK, maybe it wasn’t, but when I look back on it, it was to me).  I loved them so much, I wrote a fan letter one year to the only woman jockey at Canterbury Downs.  I once was even a jockey for Halloween.  I used to play horse and jockey with my friend in her backyard and my horse’s name was always “Whatchyagonnadonow.”  That’s serious love.

Horses

After we got home and the kids were in bed, my husband and I were comparing this trip to the last childless trip years ago.  We compared what we did (I chatted with friends, labored over my horse choices by reading all of the stats and even the daily racing form;  he sat upstairs under the large cantilevered roof and drew for an hour or two, passing in and out of conversation as our friends mingled back and forth with a drink in hand.).  This time we took turns changing diapers, corralling children, explaining what betting is, watching the kids hang off of the rails in the paddock while we watched the horses getting groomed, saying the funny names of the horses, and letting the kids pick which they wanted to win based on the color of the jockey’s silks.

Which was more fun?  Sure, if you go simply based on your standard ruler of fun – the kid-less time.  But in reality?  The time that we got pass on our love for something that made me so happy as child.  The time that I followed my youngest around as he screamed HOHHHHSEEEEEEEE, HOHHHHHSEEEEE (horsey, for those of you who don’t speak Abbott).  The time that a friend’s youngest burst out into tears every time his horse (always the one with the jockey wearing the orange shirt) didn’t win.

A and E

There must be some magical switch that get’s turned on when you become a parent.  You hear some say that whatever it is, it’s shown in the sacrifice you’re willing to pay to give your child what they need, that defines the love.  But in reality, I think it’s about remembering the pure beauty of the World and being allowed to introduce that Fabulousness to fresh eyes, bit by bit, day after day after day.

And when the day is over, and your child looks at you in your eyes and says “I am loving you SO very much today mommy.  I love you and daddy and Abbott and my Whole Family so much,” you know that they’ve seen and experienced something new, something important, something life changing, even if it’s something you never would have even taken note of as an adult.

A and the Color Wheel

And then what do you do?  You send those kids to bed, so you can breathe deeply and get ready to begin another day of discovery.

– EC

The Street We Live On

We live in a basic little house in an OK part of town.  The city we live in is awesome (I can’t imagine living ANYWHERE else) and we live within walking or biking (or short-ish drive) to most everything we love.  The house itself – it’s ok, too.  It’s what we could afford and has just enough space not to make us crazy. And wood floors. They were on the must list.

But my hubby and I always laugh because we bought the house before we had kids, and had we had one already on the way, perhaps we would have made a different decision. Busy Busy streets (where people drive too fast)  surround our home, and mostly older or single people live around us. Maybe now we would have bought one just a few blocks away (where all of the families chose to live and the streets are super quiet).

But there are a few things about our house that that I just wouldn’t want to trade.  I love to look at this list through the eyes of my wee ones. I love thinking about how they will grow into adults, probably not thinking twice about their house versus their friends’ houses (I never did), but will remember these things fondly:

  • Our neighbors. God forbid they ever move. They aren’t allowed.  They don’t have kids of their own, but have become Our AND our children’s Bestest of friends. We share gardens, we share house keys (and ovens on large occasions), and barbecue and beer on spontaneous summer nights. They back us up with the extra tables and excellent food when a party is in order and frequently make a few extra brownies to send our way. They and my littles share good-mornings out our windows. They’ll always remember B and L and their laughs, and her snake, and how B always asks my H if he wants to dig dirt and garden with him. Aaaahhhhh, they top the list.
  • Airplanes. Our house is in a flight path. Some people would see this as a detriment. But seriously – airplanes! Above our house! A zillion times a day! So close that you can see their numbers, and markings, and make our TV reception die! They bring out the kid in me every time they go over head.  My kids will always remember those airplanes.
  • Friends. We have lots of friends who live nearby. And our local community center is just around the bend. All are down a few busy streets, but that’s OK. My kids will learn to be safe.
  • And maybe Close to the Top of this List? Ella’s Deli is right around the corner. Ella’s is the place that all of the locals and tourists bring their kids to eat. Every table, every inch of ceiling and wall space is covered with moving things and collections, and lights and noises. There is an ice-cream parlor, too, that serves the best ice-cream in town. The real stuff. The ice-cream has an ingredient list that says “Don’t even ask. This is the best ice-cream in Wisconsin and it tastes so good because it has gobs of real Wisconsin cream, tons of real ingredients for boat-loads of luscious flavors. That means it’s not low-fat, low-calorie, or low-anything, and that’s why everyone loves it. You want nutrition, eat carrots.” And Ella’s even has a real carousel outside.

Ella's Deli Carousel

On random days – those without special occasions – I love to grab our bikes and strollers and walk (carefully, across a busy road) to Ella’s. We get ice-cream, and we ride the carousel. It makes ordinary days special, and being a kid awesome. It makes being a parent pretty amazing, too.

Ice Cream

And when the wind is *just right* on a summer day, the sound of the carousel floats into our upstairs windows. I sometimes see my eldest sitting at the window-sill, watching the trees (and the parking lot that sits behind our house) and listening to the Carousel. I know that someday he’ll hear that familiar sound, and he’ll tell anyone who will listen that he had the bestest home any kid could have. He won’t care about the laundry list of reasons why his mom and dad wish they could have had something just a bit different. He’ll remember this list (much expanded) as all of the reasons his OK house was an Awesome Home.

H on the Carousel

– EC