A Different Kind of Cookie Bite

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“What’s that you say? How’s that? Come again? Excuse me? Say it again?

Yeah, how about that for the top expressions you don’t want to have on your short list? But, they are mine.

Because I’m losing my hearing a bit. Yeah. It bugs me like crazy.

And, I feel old. I’d like to say that this was just another piece of the hit list that is turning fifty. But I fear that I have that more genetic loss: the “cookie bite.” (I know, so apropos of my sweet tooth, you’d think it was tailor made for me. Oh, it’s genetic, I guess it was….)

But, I’ve noticed this loss for years. In fact, the doc has called me at home after my hearing test for years to say, “You’d really benefit from a hearing aid.” I’ve dismissed it. Pssssh. Moi? Nah. Who’s got time for the fiddle factor? I don’t need to another gadget to have to fool with. And, since my ears already ring a great lot of the time and I don’t need to add hissing or squeaking to the mix. I’ve already got enough of THOSE sounds from the children.

But, I’m starting, after years and years, to finally consider it. I’m even past the point of caring much what it looks like; though I feel bad that poor Tom would have a wife that looks like a senior citizen. I have the hardest time hearing Gabey. He can be my loudest child, to be sure, but when he’s just talking, he can have a voice that sounds muffled, even if he’s talking in english versus Gabelish. I have to ask him all the time, daily, “What? Say it again.” The girls will come down and tell me that the timer on the oven is ringing or that Anthony is calling me. I can’t hear the kids from the far back seat, though, granted, my car is like an ocean liner it’s so big. Don’t even get me started about talking on the phone, it makes me nuts and is making me feel stupid. In fact, lately I feel stupid all the time. I will often guess what is being said, but frequently I’m wrong. Or I will nod and make polite listening sounds. It works pretty well, unless someone actually is talking about something that I’m supposed to respond to, say at a large table dinner at a gala or event. Then, forget it…I usually get up and cruise the room or go refill my drink (Soda, people! Ok, the OCCASIONAL vodka soda…..Gee whiz….)

It’s not that I can’t hear anything, it’s that the hearing is all wonky. Often sounds physically hurt. The TV and radio is usually just WAY too loud. Movies hurt. Unless, they are too low and then I can’t make the voices out. I can hear tiny beeps, sometimes, that others cannot. I can hear footsteps up the stairs. I sometimes have freaky ninja hearing. But I can’t hear the oven timer. I can’t hear my washer spinning though I can feel it. Erratic speaker microphones are brutal. The priests homilies are often a muffle. It’s erratic. It’s annoying, or even crazymaking, to me and to my family.

On the other hand. It might be more peaceful this way, ha! I cope. I compensate. I can’t tell if it’s pretty bad or if I’m just a perfectionist. I KNOW I’m a perfectionist. (except in housekeeping…and fashion…) But, I don’t know if I’m just a perfectionist whiner (sshhh, I know. I am.) or if this is actually a real problem that would be helped with a hearing aid. I suspect it might be. I read an article about the increase in dementia in people with untreated hearing loss. WHAT?! So, that’s a brick on my head. I’ll take the senior style look of a hearing aid over memory loss in a heartbeat!

So, I have a Cookie Bite hearing loss. It’s genetic. I might just be ready and willing to take advantage of modern technology and see if I can hear better. But……my dad has this very same loss pattern too, and he never has gotten a hearing aid. He’s made it to 80 and is still sharp and gets along fine. So, he has been my role model. My measuring stick. I wonder if I should just suck it up and deal like he has. But, I wonder….he didn’t do the hands on, 24/7 mom-raising of 8 kids.

I don’t want to jump the gun if it can’t help or if it’s just me being a drama queen. But, I don’t want to blow it, because I’d see and live with the fallout, even if I couldn’t hear it.

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The Mite and the Hydra

Last week’s reading at Mass was about the widow’s mite.  You know the parable: when the poor widow gives all she had at church. And how that offering is worth more, relatively, than the great riches offered by the wealthy man. So often the take away there is focused on how we should give til it hurts, financially. Encouraging us to generosity without fear. In some (questionable) speeches and books it’s portrayed as the sure formula to riches rebounding to you; based on the “God will return a hundredfold…” concept. Well. Yes. God will. But if you think that means that God will immediately return a literal hundred bucks into your wallet if you drop a dollar into the basket……then I will just have to disagree. And change the subject.

But, I have been mulling this over, all week.  I need to sort the tiny threads that are floating about my tired busy distractible mind. Hearing this parable, again, I started to think about how I, and so many moms I know, are just overrun. I know, hard to see that connection to the widow’s mite.  Hang with me.

In our insanely busy modern life, our insanely busy modern days are just slammed. And so many moms are just feeling that they can’t keep up and maybe, maybe, they are somehow failing a bit. Ok, just to be clear, I am now switching to all about me, me me. Because lately, my days are so slamming hectic and I pour out every single bit of energy I’ve got into the kids, the doing, the driving, the tending, the putting out fires, the driving, the soothing, the analyzing, the driving, the doing the doing the doing the doing. And then, every night, I fall into bed after 16-18+ hours of ninety to nothing……..and I feel like, maybe, I failed. Again. Like I gave it my all and fell short. Or, at least fumbled. I fumble it all. Every (literally) blessed day.Then my tunnel vision often kicks in. It’s all I can see. The fumbles and the task list. Then those two things can swiftly make up my entire sense of the day.

The list, that Hydra. It’s beating me. It’s just the same as that mythical monster, one head gets cut off, task finished, and another two spring up in it’s place.  And sometimes I want to cry or cuss because I really feel like I’m giving my all. Everything I’ve got. And it’s not enough.

Or …is it?

Last week I went to confession. It’d been weeks and weeks since I’d been able to go due to soccer games and events and…the list! No time. Literally. The Hydra eating up my time. Hydra heads popping out all over, gaping maws open.   Without confession, regularly, I get smudgy and start fumbling more and more. I cuss more and more. I feel overwhelmed. Which makes me cuss and get resentful.

So confession helped. It always always does, of course. It’s a balm. Peace. Breathing. Meeting with the priest, I started in on my other list: my fail list.  We talked. The priest told me I had forgotten; I had forgotten that I was “dear to God.” That I could breathe. I was giving my ALL.  I was giving my all. And while I felt like it wasn’t worth much (fail fumble…the hydra hissing at me)….it was worth more than I could know.

I’ve been thinking this week (self-indulgently? It could  happen...)…perhaps, perhaps, my offering is something of a “mite?”

In a vision that comes from a different perspective – a divine love – my meager offerings might be worth much more than I count. I am not a ‘widow.’ And yet, I am.  I am poor in my ability to do much, well, or enough, ever. I am poor in true love of others and patience and humility and detachment. But, even so…I was reminded that if I give my all – what I can do out of love – then it is, STILL, worth much.

Ah. Breathe. Perhaps this notion is indulgent.  But I tell you, it’s like opening a window and sucking in fresh air.  It’s ok to recenter and do what I can. That’s enough. And, that, that knowledge that lets my breathe and slash the list to a proportionate size….that is my hundredfold return. It’s not in my wallet. It’s in my deepest core. Worth so much more.

The hydra waits for me to forget, I know. But, if I can, I will work to remember the widow’s mite. My limits, they are what they are though I work, and will, to expand them. My “I can do this much” is poor and not so much.

My mite, however, can be worth much.  My mite is worth the love I put in it, not the success or task number accomplished. Hydra, slain.

“What’s your love language, Mrs G?”

That’s the question of the summer, I think.

My summer, in a way, was started with that question.  In May, a lovely young woman asked me that question at a “Theology on Tap” evening.  I kind of blinked.  I said, “I don’t know….” and then I rambled a bit, thinking out loud.  She, being young and smart and quick, said, “Oh! You’re ‘Acts of Service’!”  And I said, “Hmm…maybe….

Thus, I knew I’d better finally go and read the book.  Nothing like being stumped by a twenty-something to light a fire under me.  And so I did.

This book, it’s been around for a bit.  I knew of it, and it’s companions.  But I’d not taken the time to sit and read it through, even though it was not long.  Frankly, I kind of blew it off.  There are SO many theories and modes and ways to approach parenting stuff that it’s simply impossible to be on top of it all.  I’d been absorbed in the therapeutic parenting realm for a good while now and this seemed so simplistic that I could get a good gloss from the title; more excuses, not my mode, and so on.

But her question made me think I might need to give it another chance.  What I found was this: there is quite a bit there worth thinking about and, more, worth applying.  It’s not the be all and end all answer to everything.  But it’s another very good set of tools in the toolbox and I’m all about that! I’ll take every tool I/we can get!

So, to put it in the short gloss here: love languages are the modes that we each have, instinctively, naturally, in which we understand, give, and receive love.  It’s how we communicate love.  Sounds drippy? Maybe, but it’s got some real substance and value to consider.  We are all about communication in our  house.  We have one kid who is language impaired.  We have others who just don’t have great communication skills.  Plus, we have multiple teenagers….talk about communication snafu’s! Ok, kidding, kinda, maybe not so much…..  So, if I can find ways to their love languages, and speak to them more clearly???  What’s not to love?

The five love languages, as put forth by Chapman and Campbell, are, in no particular order: Touch, Time, Words (of affirmation), Gifts, and Acts of Service.

First, as it’s always all about me…I realized, that savvy young gal was right.  My love language IS Acts of Service.  Which explains so  much.  It’s why I DO for my family (Which works out well, as there is SO MUCH to do.  God’s no dummy).  It’s why I am tickled pink to cook favorites of returning college boys, and to give second helpings to guests.  It’s why I get so bent when I return home from the market and the kitchen has been trashed even though I asked to have it tidied.  It’s why I get my feelings hurt when no one, ever, sees the laundry bucket on the stairs and takes it up, and why the rogue shoes are no big deal until they make me come unglued.  {Why yes, I’m just all that petty, thanks for asking.}  But now I know, the temper is because I feel like no one is caring about me enough to do for me…when the reality is, they just don’t speak my love language.  All this time it’s like I was talking to them in Greek and they were just smiling and nodding because they couldn’t understand anyhow.  So I’d get bent and upset and they’d be dismayed  -wondering what was my problem and why I was so upset?  Because they didn’t/don’t understand my love language and I didn’t even realize it was mine.

That very insight made me realize I’d better figure out theirs, and quick.  Because no one likes being misunderstood and/or feeling unloved.

So, I’ve been evaluating and testing it out.  And I’ve got folks across the spectrum of love languages, no surprise.  I’m the only Acts of Service (bummer, but best to know).  I’ve got 4-6 Touch, 3-4 Time, 3 Words, 2 gifts.  If that math doesn’t seem to add up, it’s because you can have more than one love language.  And of course, there is overlap of for us all and everyone needs all of them…but the primary language is one that is WELL worth finding.  And using.

WIth this new perspective, I’ve (we, tom and I) have been trying to speak the languages of the kids, and each other.  The love languages.  Not that we didn’t before, but intentionally, more consistently.  It’s a work in progress….

But here is what we’ve noticed.  I’m not gonna go into each kid, privacy and all, but a few high points: Gabriel, who has moved into a phase of whiney and difficult over the past number of months…..is a total Touch speaker.  It explains why he has taken to careening into us and he must DIVE into a lap if it’s available and even swifter if it show signs of occupation by any other kid.  His way of getting that touch has been to bump and thump and push us around, literally, in his five year old rough and tumble way of learning a language of love.  Discovering this, we’ve ramped up the cuddles and hugs and he has been simply blossoming under it.  Not that we didn’t squeeze him and tell him we love him before, but we have stopped fussing about his careening around into us all and instead directing it toward more functional touch.  On his part, he has ramped up the affirmations and is visibly relishing the cuddles.  He crawls into my lap in the rocking chair and says “I want to rock with you forever.”  He says, “I love you you,” more and first.  His attachment needs are being met, better.  Age and stage? Maybe? Better communication in his love language? Oh yeah.

The others too, they are noticeably responding to the touches on the shoulders, the passing hugs.  They open up with the time and words, focused.  The gifts is a tricky tricky thing in a house of hypervigilant kids (with a sharp eye for equity)..but we are brainstorming on meeting that need and seeing their gifts to us when they happen.  Marking them.  The intention to speak each kid/person’s love language is a very helpful tack; it opens up paths that were narrow, makes them wider.

The defensive side of me wants to say that we’ve done all these things, the touch, the words, the time spent.  We did. We do.  But when you KNOW it’s the language that your kid receives and give love…it takes on a different depth.  And intention.  And that makes a difference.  Is our house filled with rainbows and unicorns now? Um, no.  But is there more growth in the garden of connections and is communication a bit easier to acheive? Yes, I think so. It’s all a continuum, of course.  Teens are still prickly, but might be a tad easier to soothe, to reach through the static.  Those kisses and  hugs and hand holdings are even more meaningful…what’s not to love?  The trash waiting to go out and the rogue shoes? They are still there, but now I can remind myself that it’s just that I speak greek, and not that they don’t care.  And I can switch to another language instead.

Becoming multi-lingual….it’s paramount in my big family.  Even now, I’m learning.

Eyes Open: Marking the Reading Good

So, I have done a few posts on “marking the good.” I call these posts “Eyes Open” because too often I run around with my hair on fire and I forget to open my eyes to see the goodness abounding or the small flickering glimmer.  So, now and then I luck out and it runs smack into me.  

The other day (I would’ve put this up sooner, but again, hair on fire, crazy busy w/ the freight train slow savor of summer) this bit of good literally barreled into me as I stood, per usual, folding clothes.  Marta rushed over to me from her room, carrying a book I had handed her just the day before.

This book was one where had she rolled her eyes at me.  I had been on a jag of pulling books and old homeschool materials out of the bookshelves, working up a lather on getting the kids to ‘get busy’ during summer.  The freaky slow simmering fire drill of many kids loafing around the house, bored or soon to be bored, or not nearly  bored enough because they were finding ways to maim themselves was already on my nerves.  So I had started a minor rampage through the house.  When she protested against that idea, stating firmly that there was no homework for her over the summer I just grinned a big grin and said “Oh yeah!”  And when she said her teacher only said “Read” during the summer months I said, “Okay!” and loaded her up with a few books to take.  Like, five small ones.  If I had dumped all of the books I might have in mind on her small self she would just shut down.  I got a glare and a sigh and a big eye roll.  Then she disappeared and the books with her.

I forgot all about it, went about my day or two putting out fires, folding laundry, cooking, swapping laundry, cooking, picking up towels, folding laundry and cooking.  But, as I was, um, folding laundry and thinking about what to cook for dinner, Marta came darting over to me, holding out a book with a grin and jabbering.  I had to slow her down, take the book and examine it and then grin at her.  I asked her to tell me about the book.  She did. I asked her if she read it.

She said, “Yes! Very good book! Black girl, very sad, last {page of} book very nice, so nice very happy.  Black people white people girls very friends.  Very good book!”  I dropped my laundry, I hugged her tight and told her how cool that was!!!

Now, I don’t want to make too much of this….ok, forget that, this is big.  Huge.  I know that she read more of the key words and skipped a few others. I  know that she looked at the pictures to help decode the story.  But, um, I believe that way back when I was a “Miss” that was still called ‘reading!’  That is the whole process: decoding, using cues, figuring out  meaning through context, bringing it all together to  make sense.  And, that, that is exactly what she did.  My Marta, read a book and followed a story arc.  I don’t think she was or has read this book before.  Not by me.  (Adrienne? {-her teacher} Let me know if you see this…).  So, you could quibble and say, she didn’t read every word and understand every single word.  But here’s the deal: Marta read the book, she understood the story.  She got excited about it.  She totally related to that scared little girl, which is a whole ‘nother post, I know.  Still.  Let me say that again: She got excited about it.  I mean, LIT up.  Which lit me up.  We knuckle bumped, we high fived, we hugged and grinned stupidly at each other.  And I was simply thrilled; as much as she was.  Seriously.

So, I am proud of her.  I want to go on record and mark that good. It’s SO good.  Reading is power.  No  matter who or what, thats the bottom line.  Reading opens up your world.  It empowers, excites, helps.  It’s huge.

So what’s next? I don’t know. {Yes, I do: more laundry and cooking and reading!}  But I do know I promptly got on Amazon and ordered all the copies (used, this is an old series) of the Scholastic First Biographies I could find.  I’m excited. I’m marking the good with a big shout out.  It’s an” Eyes Open to Read!”

Little Love Languages

So this week is all about love, right? We’ve got Valentines, we might still be nibbling the chocolates if we’re lucky.  I wrote a post marking the good on Monday.  But I also want to put up a quick bit about a visible love language, mark it too, if you will.  I know there are books on this topic that are all official and researched and backed up with theses and phd’s and whatnot.  I haven’t read them and this post is not that.  It’s another  marker, but personal and specific to our family and this child.  It’s one of her sweetest, so it gets it’s own spotlight.

When you bring home a child that is older, you don’t get the time to slowly and naturally lay down tracks and habits that are unique to the two of you.  You kind of hit the ground running with a presumptive relationship, but without these small but ever so important stanchions in place.  Some of those really important things are the little habits and intimate niceties that you build up over time, typically from babyhood onward.  They are the inside the jokes, the significant looks, the nose tap, the habitual note in the lunchbox, the nickname or ‘secret codewords’.  They are the tiny mundane actions and anchors of a relationship, of family.

In the intentional attachment effort, you can try to craft these things, and you should, to a degree.   But only so much can be done at first, really, so much of it just takes time.  Marta has one trait that started out as good manners, I think.  Or possibly it was insecurity and/or a needy deference.  But nowadays, truly, on a good day, it has become a different thing altogether, it a sweetness, possibly even, ssssh, an act of love or loving feelings (which are just about as good, I’ll take em!).

Specifically, Marta gives.  She defers.  Not anymore with that uncomfortable submissive twinge of the early months;  now it’s from a different spot.  For instance, when we are going to pray our daily rosary, she will grab two rosaries and hand me the one that she likes best.  Every day.  I smile at her and say, “No, that one is good!” pointing to the other, plainer one.  She says, “No! This you.  This me good.” and she pulls her hand away and/or pushes the prettiest one into my hands. And every time I smile and roll my eyes a little, and then acquiesce, often with a hug.  Which makes her grin grow wider.

The reason I know this is different than before is that she has done this for awhile now. I’ve had time to see the change in tone.  When she first came home, she might do it with her eyes not connecting, and her face with that tightness.  Her stress and connection levels manifest in her body language instantly and irrefutably.  She can almost age before your very eyes with the way her emotions play across her body and face.  There is a difference, physically visible, between a tense submissive or worried giving and a relaxed loving or playful giving.  If you see it,  you can peg it in a blink.

Anyhow, not to make too much of all this.  But I think, I want, to mark this too.  She gives to me, to her dad.  Sometimes, on those relaxed days, to her big sister.  She gives the prettiest rosary, the ‘best’ or biggest brownie, will scoot her seat on the sofa over a spot.  We have to say, “No, no, that’s for you” sometimes. Not always. She’s still a kid.  She’s still a moody teen.  But more often now, and it’s sweet.

Marta has a verbal language impairment.  But happily, her language of love is not impaired even so.  She doesn’t need language to communicate when she is relaxed and feeling warmth towards us.  She finds the way to show us, we just have to make sure we are looking. I have to make sure I am looking and seeing and marking it down.  For both of us.

Voices from the heart…of a birthday

So, sometimes this adoption stuff is a kick in the heart, not only a kick in the gut  There is such beauty and gift and joy.  But make no mistake, there is such heart-ache….and breath-take. Attachment is a lifelong gig, I think.  Attachment and the navigation of those depths and shallows of the heart is an ongoing diving expedition.  It has it’s own phases {weeks, months, days, hours} and tides that ebb and flow.

My Little Man has been working through some stuff lately.   One of the things that doesn’t get mentioned much in the blog-o-verse, or even too much in the literature and the reference books on adoption is that birthdays can be a mine-field.  Of course, right?  Well, yeah, duh.  But, too often, that’s easy to forget.  Too often, it’s easy to overlook that part of it, the loaded moment, the undercurrents.  Because the kid is excited, amped, hyper, for their birthday.  It’s all about the presents and the party, right?  And the parents and family, ideally, they are also so bonded in that it’s just another happy day, another kiddy birthday party.

But, it’s not just that; maybe not ever, I don’t know.  As my kids get older we have moved into different waters in the adoption issues.  I have posts rattling in my head and am not sure how to get them out or if I should.  Heck, even this post was supposed to be a short mention.  But it’s almost impossible to snip this stuff down to a sound bite or a visual blip.

But for this post, we are talking about the heart of a birthday.  Specifically, the backseat voice of my son’s heart on this birthday.

We were driving to basketball practice, again…the night before his birthday.  It was dark in the car, kind of quiet, he had the sniffles and it was drizzly out, we were a touch late.  A standard night.

Then he said, “Mom, I remember when I was a baby and I first met you.”

I said, “You do?”  {He was three months old}.

He said, “Yes.  Do you remember?”

I said, “Yes. I sure do.”

He continued, “I remember you cried and you said, ‘Oh, I love him so much!’ Didn’t you?”

“I did, honey.  That’s right.”  I paused, kind of holding my breath, waiting to hear if he had more to ask or say.

He did.  “I also remember the last time I saw my birth mom.”

“Do you?”  {He was weeks old}.

“Yes, she was crying.  Do you think she cried then?”

“I know she did honey.”

“Well, I remember.  I remember her kissing me and saying ‘I love you.  Blessing, blessing over him. I love him so much.'”

I was blinking now, trying to drive in the drizzly dark with my sweet tender son in the back seat.

“Mom?”

I had to gulp, “Yup, buddy?”

“Do you think she said that? I remember?”

“You know, honey, I think she did.  I just bet she did.”

“Yeah,” he said “that’s what I remember.”

Just like that we were at the gym and he was clambering out of the car, running into practice.  Just like it was any night.

I guess, it was.  But I just had to take a minute behind him, to gather up the pieces of my heart that had just broke again a  little bit for my boy.

Adoption is an event.  But it is also a thread of attachment that continues to tug.  With echoing voices from the deep….from the deep jagged shoals in both of our hearts.  Just like that.

Shadows in adoption; part 1


I’ve been thinking about shadows.

I’ve been thinking about adoption shadows – by which I mean little passing things that flit across the tarmac of our families.  I sometimes think of them as remnants.  They aren’t full blown issues that come and squat down smack in the middle of the family room, taking up too much room on the sofa.  Rather, they are shadows that flutter by, reminding you “Oh yeah, there’s still stuff here.”

Specifically, I want to talk about my sweet Gabey.  He’s been home about 3.5 years now! Already! He came  home an adorable wide eyed serious toddler, and has evolved into a LOUD funny smart sweet mischeivous prince of the palace.  He charms the socks off of all he meets, if he’s so inclined.  If not, then, he turns  his attention away, no matter their efforts.  And, I used to say that his adoption was our easiest ever – out of five.  And, in many many ways, it was. It so was.  But, as it goes in real life, nothing is ever really that simple.  It would be a grave error to think, simply because his homecoming seemed simple, and his knitting into our clan seemed so smooth…..it would be a deep mistake to think that all that meant that it was simple, or seamless.  Because, it is not.  It cannot be.  Adoption isn’t like that.  And you’re fooling  yourself and doing your kid(s) a disservice if you think it is.  Which is not to say that you should keep a klieg light on it all, all the time.  Certainly not.  But, don’t dismiss those shadows.

When I speak of the shadows, I”m not only talking about that ever so topical one: attachment.  It’s there, it’s always there…but it’s not usually a shadow so much, now is it?  Usually, if you’re talking about attachment you’re talking about that big tangly monster of issues that IS taking up so much room on the sofa.  Now, I’ve got a few different shadows that I’ve been seeing and thinking about.  This post  however, after all, might as well start with the biggie.  All that attachment stuff is the first thing that comes to mind for most of us; it’s the big gorilla, most of the time.  Sometimes, though, sometimes, attachment IS more of a shadow.  It can be a shiver glinting by at a family gathering or a after a school play.  I didn’t think my Gabe had attachment issues, not really, not now after over three years here.  But, you know what? He does.  Maybe more than I realized for awhile.  He does.

These attachment issues are more fleeting moments, but they are there and we would be remiss to not keep that on top of our awareness and work to walk through them.  More now, we see him willing to walk away with someone who is, effectively, a stranger, when we are football games.  Perhaps he is willing to walk further and beyond because he is almost five and testing those boundaries. But perhaps it’s that sometimes, deep deep down, there is a gap.  Maybe.  Maybe that’s why sometimes he still turns his back and snuggles into me backwards when coming in for a hug.  Because somehow frontward is TOO close, for him.

So, what do we do about this new awareness, this new sighting of these shadowy attachment tangles? Well, we don’t take it for granted.  We do the work.  We connect.  Every way we can.  When he needs us to walk him into the darkened room (another shadow, another post), we do it.  When I can help him with his shirt in the morning, I do.  When he wants to run to me to let me smell his breath after brushing his teeth, I breath in his little boy toothpaste.  When he sits near me and asks, “Which shoes mom?”, meaning, which feet do they go on….I say “Yup, that way,”  about his tumbly socks and shoes.

and as the little boy he is...he likes to make faces now for the camera too....

This special boy, he is getting bigger.  He is realizing the world is a much bigger place than he knew.  He is almost five now and  his shoes, his heart and understanding are all taking giant steps forward.  No matter the shadows, I want to make sure I hold his hand as he goes.

Roundup: Third Birthday at Fifteen

So, I just have to put up a little post bday roundup…..indulge me.  Big news: the big bday bash was a success.  The day, all day long, was a success.  By which I mean, it was happy, joyful  and full of laughter. By which I mean, it did NOT tip over into any sulks or tantrums or trigger rage or grief or nasty ungrateful gimmie’s.  It didn’t dwell in the land of attachment/adjustment issues, nor did it fall into the developmental zone of three year old pouts and melt downs, or just mundane teen age drama and angst (if that is ever mundane…).  It could’a.  But it didn’t.  It was her third birthday ever celebrated, officially.  And it was her fifteenth, in chrono time.

So, it was a double helix of timing, converging into one sugar coated tiara of a day.

This birthday was simpler in many ways than the previous two, and thus, it was a gift to us as well.  This birthday was kinda cool, actually…it was so much a “three year” birthday…but without the typically attendent birthday-itis of most three year olds.  And without the attitude of a teen as well.  All the gifts, big or small, were received with simple surprise and glee.

Every one.  From the zany princess crown from a friend at school – worn all day  with great pride – to the gummy bears and candy sour worms, to the coveted “cow boots” and “cow hat”….all were received with open mouthed delight and laughter and hugs and claps of joy.

Honestly, it was delightful to watch.

What was even more delightful, for me (because, as ever, it’s all about me me me), was the simple ease and joy of this birthday.  It could’a gone either way.  Holidays and big events are loaded, triggers often.  But this one went off without a hitch; and to see that ability to just be happy and enjoy, in a happy revelry…well, it made me grin with delight too.  I am gonna take it as a sign of healing and stepping forward, even if it’s a baby step.  And yeah, I know, that part of this is just dumb luck and that fact that cupcakes and cakes were liberally sprinkled throughout the day (Thanks Teach! Thanks Coach!)….but even so it was marked progress from the past two years of birthday celebrations.

We had no tension, only glee.  She got to do her favorite things in the world: be at school, say hello to all her friends and everyone she passed at school (wearing her crown), and then go to basketball practice to boot (again, with surprise cupcakes).  Then home to her favorite, chosen, meal and dessert, presents and more songs and attention.

Overkill? Maybe. You might think so.  But then again, maybe not.  She has a lot of birthdays missed to make up for.  Did she kind of wear us out leading up to it? Did we just start giggling at watching her be so over the moon over every tiny thing? Oh, yeah, surely yes to both.  But…….Why not milk it for every single bright blingy sweet moment she can?  Why not let her simply relish every last drop of it? It’s a goodness and an attention that any one of us, in our deepest heart of hearts, really maybe craves.  So, we are happy for her to have it.  Not every day, no.  But one day, or a third time in fifteen years?  Oh yeah, you betcha.

It was a very good day for that birthday girl.

This might be my favorite pic of the night, makes me grin to see it...that's a happy laughing girl!

Eyes Open: marking the good.

So, because I tend to be a cynical gal…I often forget to see, or mark, the good out loud.  I don’t know why exactly, I’m sure some therapist could buy a house in Boca spend decades unraveling it.  But, to try to offset that tendency, and to keep from only being a “debbie downer” kind of gal, I want to make sure that now and then I mark the good.  Publicly, even.  So that I never forget it (because I will) and so that you all can see that progress happens.

Eventually, progress happens – maybe only tiny moments, but those might mean so much.  I think they do, if you have the eyes to see.  I’m trying to keep my eyes open.

About a week ago we went on the one and only official family visit up to the Novitiate to see Brother Peter Joseph.  Sounds simple, no big deal, right?  Well now, consider who is traveling: my family.  That means, of course, that no, no, it’s not simple.  We don’t do ANYTHING simply.  Geez, you’d think you’d know that by now!

Anyhow, back to this particular travel weekend.  To get our crew to this event entailed a car ride that technically should be five hours, but with our quantity of kiddos takes six.  It’s just math, that: x number of kids multiplied by x number of stops for gas, snacks, potties (every time)…with integer factors of contributing age/bladder issues (young/old), equals at least one or more hours added to the trip time.  Plus we have to take two cars because we don’t fit in one (though this works out best with regard to space issues as well as personality conflicts between some sibs and the parental desire for peace and sanity).

 So, get the image in your head: it’s a mini caravan, with excitement and prickliness vying for top spot.  Fun,  huh!?  Happily enough, autumn is a nice time to travel – not too hot and humid, not icy cold – and the visuals are usually nice with the fall colors.  Any outbound leg of a trip is typically better than the trip homeward because, lets face it, the anticipation can carry the day, almost as well as a flat out bribe.  In fact, this trip up was MUCH better than the homeward trip and we won’t even talk about that leg of it because this post is all about  marking the good.  So the return leg goes “into the vault”….get it?  Yeah.  ‘Nuff said.

So, to bring this rambling back onto point:  travel with Marta can be a tricky thing.  It can be exciting and  happy and fun for her; but doesn’t tend to be so when it includes long car rides with the other kiddles all packed in.  It can be a major anxiety producer, because by definition it means a change in schedule and routine (not to mention location, time zone, weather, beds, housing, clothes, etc etc etc).  For a hyper-vigilant kid with rigid needs for routine and stability and so on, travel can be a mixed bag, no pun intended.  And if you’re going to a new place and/or event and the activities and/or venues are unfamiliar, that anxiety can simply TAKE OVER.  It can spin out of control.  It can shut her down. So, this is all to say we’ve had some tricky travel times over the past few years.  But this weekend was super important.  We all missed Chris/Peter Joseph, and we were all motivated to try to make it work smoothly to go visit.  So, Coffeedoc and I held our breath and just knew we would work  hard and hope for the best!

Now, I’m not gonna give you a blow by blow of the weekend.  You’re welcome. We had ups, we had downs…you know…”it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”  But here is where I finally say it: we had a minor/major breakthrough moment.  Seems minor. Is major. Huge, really.  You mom’s of kid’s from hard places will know just what I mean, I think.

But here it is, Mark It:  I was driving.  We were about 3-4 hours into the drive.  Marta had moved into the passenger seat next to me.  She was plugged into her tunes, seeming to zone out.  It was a beautiful, glorious, day: sunny, glittery, color explosion of leaves all around.  Gorgeous.  I was thinking about how pretty it was, just kind of savoring it.  And Marta sat up, took out  her earbuds, swiveled her head a few times, did a Vanna White hand wave and said, “Trees, much color, so pretty!”  I said, “I know! I was JUST thinking that! I LOVE it, so beautiful, my favorite!”  She nodded, “SO pretty! Very nice!”  Then she smiled at me and she put her buds back in and sat back and picked a new song.

And I marveled.

Because, you see, that’s a multi-step wow.

First, Marta was relaxed enough to open her eyes and sit listening to music as we drove.  Next, she was relaxed enough to open her eyes to see the colors.  Next, she was relaxed enough to ENJOY the colors! Lastly, she was relaxed and, ok, I’ll go there, maybe connected enough to comment on the colors.  She saw beauty.  And ya know, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think you can take in beauty, really soak it in and go “ahhh” unless you are relaxed and even a little bit happy.  And, she was relaxed and a little bit happy and we were traveling!! In a car! To somewhere NEW and unknown!

So, that’s it. That’s my marking the good.  It’s a biggie, though some of you might pooh-pooh it.  But, if you know this girl, you won’t.  If you’re a mom parenting a hyper-vigilant kid, you won’t.  This is a good, a big good and I’m gonna wrap it up in a red and gold sparkly bow and file it away under autumn healing goodness.  Because that’s what it is.

My eyes were open, they saw they beauty all around me.

Happy Birthday Brother Peter Joseph!

 

Oh yeah, it’s my son’s birthday today.  My Chris. My Brother Peter Joseph.

He’s 22.  Read that again – he’s 22!!! Just. Wow.

At Yellowstone last winter

So, he won’t see this post…which means I can write anything…he he he.  I mean I could tell about that time with the lasso, the marshmallows, and the cat….kidding.  Nothing happened!

Really, it’s a little weird honestly, what do I say? He won’t see it, and my little birthday posts are really for the bday kid..a little extra way to shout to the world that I love them.  But, for me now, I’m still gonna shout to the world that I love him.  So, if you will, indulge me a minute.

Young Chris and Baby Anthony

I am so proud of this young man.  He went from being my firstborn son, the baby that wouldn’t really open his eyes for a few days, kept them squinched up tight despite my nudging (Yes, I tortured them from the beginning)…to this amazing young man who sees more clearly than most.

I remember being SO very scared the day he was born.  He was breech and big and didn’t wanna flip so he was c-section and I was scared.  They told me it was time for the epidural, I saw the humungous needle and said “I’m not ready yet!  Just give me some time, maybe come back in a few hours…” (Actually, I said this every time, except when I was already in labor with Jon, then I think I might’a cussed at the doc who told me to stay still during a contraction so he could insert that needle…but that’s a whole ‘nother story…).  But, he did end up being safely delivered and I remember as clear as day just marveling at the wonder of this boy, a boy! And just being blown away and a little (ok, a lot) overwhelmed by the  muchness of it all and  by his perfect little head and the whole gig, the smell feel touch all of it.  Gobsmacked.  Totally.

And now, once again, I am kind of blown away, and have been of late, by the muchness of it all.  As you all know if you’ve been following this past six months.

But isn’t that just what it is supposed to be? Isn’t that just what being a mom, ok a parent (I’m not leaving you out Coffeedoc!), is all about? I think so.  We should be blown away by the muchness of it all.  And sometimes we forget to do it.  And birthdays are the day and the time that we should step back and consider and observe the arc of it all so we can remember, yes, remember the muchness of it all.

This is our "Cleaver Family" look....very retro 50's eh?

ah....love this

So, today, I can’t put my arms around  my son….but I’m saving those hugs up, with interest.  And I hope to have  him call and hear us sing, badly, the Happy Birthday Song to him. And yes, we will even eat cake to celebrate.  And yes, I made four cakes to send to the Novitiate House, plus one for us too here, (and two for his brother and roomies, sshhhh, a surprise).  Yeah, are you counting, that’s seven cakes I made.  Now THAT”S life in a big family.  And now, my son has brought me more, more sons that I send cakes.

Best Buddies, connected always, even by cake....

This one was first.  He began our status as “family” instead of just “couple.”  Now Brother Peter Joseph, my firstborn son, is expanding our family to include the Dominican family and it’s awesome.  And we miss  him.  And we love him.  And today we send him a spiritual bouquet of prayers for his birthday.  And, ever, I marvel at the muchness of it all and of this young man.  My boy.   

Happy Birthday my Chris,  my Brother Peter Joseph.  We love you so.

>Shuffling shoes in Oz

>I wrote, not too long ago, about being mom to a large family and how humbling it can be trying to keep all the pins and schedules in place.
I didn’t, at that time, write about the shoes.

Van Gogh, “Shoes” 1888.

Oh, my goodness, the shoes.
I mean, really, think about it.  We are a family of ten.  We each have two feet.  If we all have only ONE pair of shoes then that is twenty shoes, right there.  I know, I know, you’re saying “Hold up, shoes are counted in pairs.  So twenty should be twenty pairs.(So, follow me, in my house that would be forty count – to be precise you know.) Well, um, nope.  Not in MY house.  In my house we count SHOES.  Single shoes, usually unmatched, in no proximity to each other.
Sounds kind of disorganized, I know.
That would be because it is, disorganized,….that’s how we roll, er, or perhaps I should say “march?”

You all know we have more than one pair each, we are most fortunate that way.
Heck some of my kids are growing so fast that I swear they need a new pair about once a month, not kidding….

Shoes are gonna be the end of me. 
Or, more precisely, shoes are going to be the blessed downfall, eventually and until I can finally let it go, of my endless stubborn pride.
Shoes are, almost daily, my “mom fail moment.”

Let me illustrate what I mean, another “so not the great and powerful Oz” moment:
A week or so ago, I was being getting ready to take kids to another Saturday basketball game…by which I mean, I was settling down at my computer to read some emails and surf some favorite blogs.  I had just poured my first fresh cup, ok maybe my second, of coffee and had waved my hands at the kids telling them we would go to basketball in an hour or so.  See, on top of the job….

The phone rang, a number I didn’t recognize, but local so not a salesperson (which I would have ignored), so I picked up.  Turns out, it was the mom of one of my first grader’s classmates.    Now, let me clarify, this mom is one of those moms that I am  not, nor can ever be.  She has two children (there might be a .4 in there somewhere, I’m not sure) and she is practically perfect in every way.  She is very pretty, she has great hair that is low maintenance, she has cute clothes, she is  young and fit though not an amazon type that you can write off just because they are freaks of nature…. Her car is clean and tidy (I’ve seen inside at pickup, even the cargo area is organized. I covet this.  Not that I’m snooping, those rear doors open right in front of you when you’re in line, ok? But I digress), and what’s more, she’s always on time.  Plus, she’s nice.  Really.  So, you know what that means: yup, I’m kind of intimidated.  Heck, she probably crafts too.  I’m pretty sure she’s been the room mom before and will be again.  You see what I mean.  She IS “the Great and Powerful Oz!”  But that is supposed to be ME, right? Ha, never.

Anyhow, so she started talking to me about Anthony and her son and shoes.  My mind was racing ahead as she talked, trying to figure out what this meant and what my kid had done and how could I fix it?  I heard her say something about different sizes.
What? Different sizes? Same shoes?
OH! As my dear goddaughter would say, “I’ve got this!”
So I breathed a quick sigh of relief and interrupted her, “Oh! Well, hey, if X has my Tonio’s shoe I can give you the other one.  Tonio just grew out of them over Christmas! I’ve ordered up a size, no problem!
And I blathered on about how funny it was that his feet were so big so fast and he’s a size 5 now and Marta wanted his shoes because they fit her and they were the unisex school shoes and she thought they were cute…until I realized that phone mom had fallen silent.  Oh.  Dear. Then I realized what she had been saying: shoe mixup at school somehow, the boys brought home each other’s single shoe.
OH! “No, ok, right then.  You want me to FIND your son’s shoe and bring it to basketball?!! Of course! Of course we will! Sorry, not enough coffee yet today, doh!
I hung up quickly and even more quickly went to make an espresso to wake up my soggy brain cells.  Doh, indeed.  And of course, then began the great, loud, furious (because now I was totally embarrassed) hunt for the shoe.  Which gave over to much drama and loudness and gnashing of teeth, because said shoe was NOT to be found.
Finally, it was time to leave.  No shoe.  Oh, we had Tonio’s shoe in a plastic Target bag, all right.  NO, I don’t know what I was thinking I just somehow felt the need to bring it.  What can I say, I’m a dolt.
I knew what I had to do…hope like mad that we’d find his shoe in the afternoon and bring it school…..
Until my Chris, deciding to go with us to the game at the last minute, broke the news to me.
He asked me about the odd bag with the single shoe.
I told him my tale.
He said, “Uh oh.  Is it a brown shoe with a velcro strap?
Oh dear, my heart sank, I knew before he said it, what he was going to say.  I sighed, “Yes.”
Well, I found one of those all soggy and wet when I was cleaning the backyard.  I threw it in the truck and took it to the dump.  Later I found another……” and we both looked at the bag.
Yuh.  We had thrown away this boy’s shoe.
And I had to tell the mom.
You might guess, I dreaded going to that basketball game.

But I did.  And I saw her in the stands, so I squared my shoulders and took a deep breath and went right up to her.
I blurted out before it hurt too much, “I’m so sorry! Please please give me  your address so I can send you another pair of shoes, I can get the same shoe at zappos, you will get them Monday.
She looked at me, and looked at the bag and said, “No, it’s ok, see there’s the shoe.” 
I choked out, but fast, “No, this is still the wrong shoe, wesentyourstothedump.  We sent yours to the dump.  I’m SO sorry.  Tonio left them outside, they got rained on, snowed on, Chris was cleaning and saw it a mess and took it to the dump. I’m sorry! Please let me replace them.
And, because she is practically perfect in every way, she smiled over her bewildered gaze and said, “It’s no big deal, don’t be ridiculous.”
Which of course just made me feel worse.  I am ridiculous, our house is ridiculous…because we leave our  many mismatched single shoes out in the yard to get snowed on and ruined even when they are not ours.  Because I didn’t even know any of this until she called me. Because I cart single used shoes to basketball games in Target bags even though no one wants his old shoe.
She refused to give me her address. 
I’m pretty sure she thought that was a safety move.
Sigh.

So, any of you who might think that I think that I’ve got it together…..I so know better.  I am the mom who is NEVER behind the curtain.  I won’t even begin to describe the random plops of unmatched shoe or shoes that we trip on here there and yonder in our house, or my nagging to pick them up or how often or how quickly they wander out of their closet or cubby …. But just let me say “Do the math.”  Mom fail – think of the shoes, people.  And have pity. 

Still dreaming of those magic ruby slippers….