For Now…

In the future, my boys might roll their eyes in embarrassment if I try to kiss them goodbye. For now, Owen clings to me, begging me not to leave and Aiden hugs my neck and whispers in my ear, “When you come back, I want to hold you. And you’re the best Mama in the world.” I will not let the rush of life in the morning rob me of these treasures.

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In the future, I may be able to say goodnight from across the room – may even be lucky enough to get a hug or a kiss, before my boys retire to their rooms to do whatever teenage boys do before finally going to sleep. For now, I will not begrudge the long, loud bubble baths, the need to clip 40 nails that are not my own while making a game of counting the clips, the endless re-readings of the same favorite stories, the stalling for water or covers or deep meaningful questions at the door because they just don’t want me to leave, or the sweet nothings they call out before I go, “I love you! I’ll miss you while I sleep! When I wake up, I wanna hold you! I love you more!”

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In the future, when everyone has their own schedules and responsibilities and friends, I may have a quiet dinner alone. For now, I will happily cook as many meals as possible for us to eat as a family even if it means the cycle of dishes is unending, the process of getting every bite into my two-year-old’s mouth is a battle of wits and wills, the milk is always spilled, my food is always cold and up for grabs, the floor is always sticky, and chaos envelops us. I will long for the chaos later, so I will not wish it away today.

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In the future, my boys may fall down and get right back up because they’re too big to cry over scraped needs or hurt feelings. For now, I will gladly provide the kiss that makes it all better, the snuggle that makes the hurt go away, the reassurance that time heals all wounds. Because when the wounds are far more complicated, I want them to know that I am a safe place to come for comfort.

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In the future, going out with my husband alone, rather than taking an act of congress and a financial benefactor to accomplish, might be as easy as walking out the door. For now, I will cherish the few-and-far-between dates because their scarcity makes them more special and the thought and planning that went into making them happen will be missed when replaced with the casual, “You wanna go out somewhere tonight?”

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In the future, I may have all the time I want or need to write that article that will finally get me noticed or publish that book that’s on my bucket list. For now, the lives I am helping to build that demand so much of my time, are molding me into a person with a perspective worth noticing. I will not resent the delay because, “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” – John Lennon

An Early Lesson In Loss

I find myself struck, once again, by the profundity with which small children can handle the serious things of life. The most recent example of this in our home was both heart breaking and faith restoring in the same moment.

Little people can form big attachments. Whether it is the lovey they’ve slept with since they were too small to remember, or the footy pj’s they’ve only been wearing since the weather turned chilly, they throw their whole being, without reserve, into loving someone or something because they have no reason to not trust. They are open and vulnerable. Incredibly strong but weak enough to need protection. Their naiveté is both an asset and a liability that can lead to hurt. And each time the end result is hurt, they inch a little closer to adulthood. These early lessons that teach them that love and loss sometimes go hand in hand are key building blocks that determine whether their adulthood will be clouded with cynicism or embraced by hope. What a powerful witness we bear to these extraordinary little lives! What a grave responsibility to guide them well.

My eldest son, Aiden, got his little black cat, Charlie, when he had just turned one. He is four and a half now and doesn’t remember a time when Charlie was not a special part of his life. They grew up together, really, and Charlie would let Aiden drag him around like a rag doll in a way that he wouldn’t tolerate from anyone else. When Aiden was diagnosed with allergies and asthma, Charlie went to live outside (or in the garage on particularly cold nights). But if Aiden was outside, you can be sure that Charlie was not too far away. They were buddies.

When the family went to dinner two days before Christmas, that all changed in the blink of an eye. Charlie had been hiding on top of the open garage door and became entangled on the outside when the door came down. We were called by our neighbor who was working with Animal Control to take care of the situation before we came home to discover it. I cried through most of the dinner but I did my best to hide it until we could decide how and when to tell Aiden. The timing couldn’t be worse, but we decided to trust him with the truth and let the happiness of Christmas follow this sad news rather than the other way around. After putting Owen to bed, we sat down with Aiden and told him that his little friend wasn’t going to be with us any more. That he had died.

He did not lose control or freak out. He was clearly shaken, but he stayed calm and asked lots of questions. “But, where did he go?” The animal control people took his body, but no one knows exactly what happens to the life inside the body when it stops living. “Will he ever come back?” No, baby, he won’t come back. But the time he spent with you will always be part of your life. “What if we got another black cat and named him Charlie?” Another cat would be a new relationship, a new adventure, but it would not be Charlie again even if we gave him the same name. “What did the animal people do with his body?” They will bury it in the ground and, even though his life ended, it will help other things grow. “Do we have a picture of him?” We found a picture and he slept with it and carried it around for days. The next morning he tried to explain the whole thing to his one year old little brother while shoving the picture in his face. “Charlie DIED, Owen! He’s gone, gone. He can’t come back.” Owen ran around squealing, as always, with no idea what his brother was talking about. Aiden desperately wanted him to take the news as seriously as he, himself, felt it. He came back to me and said, “Mama, Owen won’t listen. He doesn’t care.” He didn’t love Charlie the same way you did, baby. You had a special relationship with him, so it’s OK that you care more. And Owen is a too little to really understand.

Now, we can talk about Charlie together without it being sad. We remember the good stuff – like how he was the only cat I’d ever known that would go for walks with his family; or how he liked to stalk and eat cicadas in the summer, no matter how hard Aiden tried to rescue them. Aiden always smiles when we talk about him. He is a brave boy with enough love to withstand even this early lesson in loss. I am so proud of him. I may not be able to shield him from the hurt, but I can help guide him as he weathers it. And he can help me learn to weather it better.

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Disconnected Thoughts On Connection

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If you do not know yourself first, no matter what partner you choose, you will end up living their life along side of them instead of your own life with them.

Don’t fool yourself into living someone else’s life. You’ve only got one. Make it your own.

You can’t mix and match qualities to create the perfect partner. You can, however, mix and match them to create the perfect you – or as close to it as you can muster. That’s the goal.

Rather than searching for the perfect person to make you happy, create yourself to be the person you’d want to be with. Then you may find that this is where happiness comes from, not from outside yourself.

It is fruitless to build yourself up into the person you want to be only to keep it to yourself. Lives are made for sharing. Open yourself up so that others can view the artwork that is you.

Vulnerability is both the hardest and most fulfilling quality you can cultivate. It is the birthplace of connection.

When you do find someone worth sacrificing for, it won’t feel like as much of a sacrifice. (Most of the time.)

If you sacrifice an important part of yourself for someone else, that sacrifice should be made with full awareness and intentionality and should be understood to be temporary. Integral parts of yourself should not be lost, but rather set aside for a time if the needs of another come first.

Falling in love happens too you, staying in love you make happen.

There IS such a thing as love at first sight, although, most of the time, the person in your sights is very, very tiny.

Happily Ever After – Learning to Love the One You’ve Found

This is a blog about finding making your own happiness and learning to appreciate all the little things while they’re happening instead of waiting till they’re gone to fully grasp their worth. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I thought that I would share something I’ve been pondering lately. Brace yourself, you may not like it. When it comes to relationships, or anything really, there is no such thing “Happily Ever After”. I know this is not a new idea. Most of us outgrow our concept of ‘happily ever after’ very shortly after we think we’ve found it. We believe that we’re mature and self-aware and recognize that relationships take work. But deep down, after so much inundation through fairy-tales and films, self-help books and motivational seminars, billboards and commercials and ads, oh my, we cling to these ideals that breed doubt and plant seeds of resentment. They consistently whisper in our ears, “if this takes so much work, it must not be right.” Or perhaps they cause us to whisper in the ears of our friends who are struggling, in a genuine attempt to encourage or help them, “you just haven’t found the right person yet,” implying that once they do find the love of their life they’ll find happiness… forever after. These latent ideas, stuck deep in our subconscious, lead us to believe that struggle is bad – having to “work at it” is a sign of a problem, rather than a part of the solution. They insinuate that happiness is easy and, by definition, cannot co-exist with pain or struggle. This is poison. And, if it takes root in your thought life, it will lead to bitterness, which, if left to grow unchecked, will turn your relationship doubts into self-fulfilling prophesies. I am convinced that the divorce epidemic in our culture is as least partly due to the fact that people don’t expect happiness to be hard sometimes. Trust me, it is. But just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s gone. It usually means is growing.

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Too often we expect to find… hope to find… believe we have found (or begin to doubt whether we’ve really found) the “love of our life”, and we hope this discovery leads to remarkable, life-changing feelings of happiness that never take a sabbatical for growth and development. But, more and more, I am discovering that, in all different kinds of relationships, be they significant-others, spouses, or BFFs, it’s not about finding the love of your life. It’s about learning to love the one you’ve found. It’s always easy in the beginning. When everything is new and exciting and every time you turn around you learn something new about this person you’ve come to admire. But what about when everything is old news, surprises are hard to come by, and you know this person so well you can finish their sentences. Or life grows ever-increasingly intense with the addition of kids, a promotion (or job loss) requiring travel or ungodly hours, or the loss of someone close to you? What does love look like then? At this stage of the game, love doesn’t always come easily to you. Sometimes you have to give it for a while before you get it back. You have to study, not what is the most natural way for you to show love, but what is the most natural way for the person you are trying to give it to to receive it. What speaks most strongly to them? As our circumstances change and our lives and beliefs and inner-selves change, we have to re-learn how to love the person we easily loved in the beginning. Yes, we have to be mindful of our own needs and communicate them effectively, but we cannot allow them to be the primary focus of our attention. Self-focus breeds discontent. Other-focus breeds fulfillment. And loving someone who is constantly growing and changing, as healthy people should, requires that the love itself also grow and change to adapt to the person it’s bestowed upon. This is tricky business. And doesn’t always feel happy. But it always builds it.

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And what is the return on all this investment? Why put forth the effort to continually re-learn how to love? Why not just move on when love gets hard or the relationship requires too much work? It will be easy again at the beginning of the next one. I think the answer to that question lies in the immeasurable value of having someone who bears witness to the entirety of the artwork that is your life and having the privilege of being that witness for someone else. Loyalty and commitment afford the unique benefit of having someone who understands YOU not just through the lens of your current life circumstance, but with a broader understanding of who you have been in your weakest moments and how those moments have produced times of shining strength. They see all the layers upon layers of your glorious painting that many who just entered the picture can only see the surface of. They appreciate the light because it’s balanced by the shadow – that they walked through with you. Darkness is where light is born and it’s contrast makes it so much more radiant. I don’t know about you, but for this reward, I am willing to put in the work.

To Owen On His First Birthday

Shortly after Aiden turned one, I wrote him a letter chronicling his first year in our lives and capturing for posterity all of those little details that we so often forget as parents. It is something I have saved for him that I hope he will one day cherish. Well, Owen hit the milestone of one year a little over a month ago and I wanted to do the same for him. Although the letter is for him, this is a safe haven for it to live and a place where, hopefully, he and I can touch the lives of others in similar places in their journeys:

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To my sweet, spunky little man,
What a year it has been! You, my darling little Owen, have been and will always be my baby boy – but this first year has also changed you into quite a feisty little kid. I am constantly amazed by the differences in you and your older brother. When Daddy and I decided to have you almost two years ago now, it was partly because we felt confident in the place we had gotten as parents. We felt strong and stable. Like we had done it once and done it pretty darn well, so why not do it again? And from the very beginning you have broken every mold and shaken everything we thought we knew as parents, demanding that we learn again and learn differently. Insisting we see you as your own person. And we love you for it. Although we did not anticipate the level of the challenge, we are becoming stronger because of it. We decided to have you by planned c-section and assumed this would make the birth process much smoother and less traumatic than it was for Aiden. Little did we know that you would decide you wanted to come out 5 weeks early! I went into early labor and then on bed rest for a month to try to protect you, Tiny Small, and keep you safe till you were ready to take on the big world without help. It was an amazingly difficult time, but also amazingly eye-opening as many friends and family stepped in to help us through. They brought food, came to stay and help with Aiden and the house, made me stay laying down for your sake, and some even gave money to help while I was off work. They are part of the reason you are safe and healthy today. Then, when the day finally came, it was beautiful! It was indeed much less traumatic and I felt so very connected to you in those first days in the hospital. It was precious and intimate. And all I kept saying was how happy I was. You completed our family and I could feel it from the beginning. You were a nursing champ, just like brother. But that’s about where the similarities stopped. You never wanted a passy or sucked your thumb. You were a booby baby and you loved (and still love) your little monkey lovey. Not just to snuggle, but to eat up. It is always soggy but you don’t seem to mind. You have never been one for schedules, much to Mama’s chagrin. But I think this will serve you well later in life – develop into a sort of easy-going, go-with-the-flow kind of nature. I think this schedule aversion may be due, in part, to the fact that we sold our house when you were 1 month old and moved a month later. Right around the time Mama went back to work. You can imagine the chaos all of that change added into your very new life and routine. But you took it like a champ. I guess when the entire world is new, a new home filled with boxes and strangers and work is, well, nothing new!  This schedule aversion also led to a very tired and frazzled Mama because it was nine months before you consistently slept through the night. Sometimes you just wanted to nurse and snuggle. Other times you were ready to be awake for hours from 1:00 to 4:00 in the morning. But as harrowing and exhausting as those times could be, they also contained some of the sweetest memories. There was nothing quite like nursing you in the dark in your room. Calming your fears, quieting your cries. Letting you know you were safe and loved. By four and a half months, you learned to sit up on your own but it was still weeks before you could roll over. This was when you and Aiden started really developing your bond because you were able to be a more active part of your environment. Laugh and respond to his interaction. In this first year, you two have developed something special that I LOVE to watch. No one can make you laugh as easily as he can. Of course, no one can frustrate you quite as easily either, but what are older brothers for, right? Currently your most frequent words to him are “Don’t” (said like DOAN), “Bad” (BAH), and “No, no” (Nah Nah), but your most frequent reaction to him is giggles. You started crawling at 8 months, just after your first Christmas. We celebrated at home and it was quiet and lovely. At 10 months you got your first teeth and since you waited so long to do it, you decided to go ahead and do it right – pushing through 6 front teeth in 2 days, poor guy. At 11 months you realized that moving around on your hands and knees was for the birds and you started walking, MUCH sooner than Brother did. The promise of running is yet to come, but you still chase each other around the house doing all manner of crazy things. Just the other day you painted his room and yourself red while I was fixing dinner! You always march to the beat of your own drum. Although you like Mama to hold you an awful lot, you also like to call your own shots. You will very independently march yourself around the yard, experiencing things with all of your senses (even taste) and fear for nothing while Aiden asks for help washing sand off of his toys ;) Your favorite toys seem to be both balls (you’re quite good at throwing for your age) and all of your various weapons. We never let Aiden have guns when he was little, but when we finally relented and got him one, we always cautioned him to “never shoot people.” Well, apparently my “boys will be boys” philosophy has gotten the better of me because now you run around shooting all of us with a loud, “BOW” and we simply play along and fall down dead. You think it is hysterical! For your first birthday we had a monkey themed party, in honor of the previously mentioned soggy monkey you love so much, and it was a great success. Many friends and family came to help us celebrate you. Although you seemed rather bewildered, you didn’t cry for the happy birthday song as both Daddy and Aiden had done for their first birthdays. I think you take a bit more after Mama in few ways – your propensity to take risks, your strong, independent (yes, stubborn) nature, and your looks. This warms my heart a little bit, since Aiden has always been a little copy of his Daddy in so many ways. I used to ponder before you were born how it would be possible to love another child as much as I loved my first-born. You proved the age-old truth that love does not divide, it multiplies. I still love Aiden every bit as much as before, but you thoroughly squashed all of those fears and wrapped me around your tiny, chubby finger from the moment you looked into my eyes. I loved you instantly then, more now, and immeasurably for the future. May every year to come be as rich and full as this first one has been and may we always remember to count all the joys and forget all the pain.
With all of my heart, always,

Mama

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