Surprising Indulgences

Yesterday was a day of surprising indulgences for a working mother of a two-year old. Personal time and relaxation are both commodities that are hard to come by at this stage of my existence. Yet miraculously, my day started with a glorious half hour of quiet solitude complete with a cup of french vanilla coffee and a cinnamon bagel. This was after I had the privilege of sleeping in till almost 8:30 since both of my boys slept till 9:00. The worrisome part of me wanted to go in and check on my little man since this occurrence is so rare, but my more rational side won out as I let him sleep and enjoyed my quiet, solitary breakfast. The level to which I savored this event is almost (but not quite) sad.

Woman in Her Bath painting by Edgar Degas

This was not even my only spoiled moment of the day. After a long and fulfilling morning working outside in the yard as a family, I got Aiden fed and in bed for his nap and then drew a hot bath with epsom salts, candles, and book and proceeded to soak away all my muscle aches, tensions, and worries and simply relax. As I laid flat on my back with only my nose and mouth above water, I began to contemplate how very lucky we are. There are so many things we take for granted. Little things like being able, at a moment’s notice, to fill an entire tub with enough hot water to completely submerge ourselves. As little as 60 years ago this would have been considered decadent. The only way you could have such a bath was if you heated all the water on the stove first (after chopping and bringing in enough wood to do so) and probably shared it with other siblings or family members, hoping you were the first in line. My mother remembers living in a house with no indoor bathroom! Even today, in other places in the world, such extravagance would never even be considered. Yet I simply turn a knob and don’t even think twice about soaking my cares away. We are indeed blessed. How many other simple, everyday activities do we take for granted. How many conveniences that we see as basic necessities were never even available to our parents or grandparents? How many of them will still be available to us tomorrow? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that today I am grateful.

The Development of a Sense of Humor

I am continually amazed (and amused) at my 2 1/2 year old’s development of a sense of humor. It’s astonishing to me that in such a short amount of time he has gained enough of a grasp of reality and the world in which he lives to understand irony and a sense of the ridiculous. It began with a firm grounding in language that enabled him to recognize which were “real” words and which were “siwwy.” He would then make up the most absurd combinations of words such as opisnook and manganash and as soon as he said them he would bust into hysterical laughter. He didn’t need anyone else to confirm that it was funny. He knew. And we could go back and forth for half an hour making up outlandish words in turn and breaking for bouts of laughter. It is so refreshing that something so simple and silly can make even a grown up laugh.

Then, as his handle on the world grew even stronger, he began to appreciate the foolish hilarity of slapstick. Recently, as I was making him lunch, I let him watch an episode of Sesame Street on Netflix. As I was getting everything ready I heard him start laughing in the other room. The laughter grew into a rolling, un-self-conscious, un-contained giggle as though someone was tickling him mercilessly and he was about to fall out of his chair. And what was causing this display? Grover continuously tripping on a banana peel and it eventually landing on his head – the first door leading to the world of the Three Stooges, Mr. Bean, and even Jim Carey. And as I watched him from the doorway to the room, I was struck by the independence of his humor. No one was in there with him giving him queues about what was “supposed” to be funny. No one was making him laugh with tickles or funny faces or any of the other gimics we’ve been using since before he could see our faces clearly. He just knew, deep in his belly, that Grover was being ridiculous and it was funny!

And last night, before bed, he told his first joke. Daddy read him a story that had a joke in it and he remembered it and told it to me when I came to tuck him in. “Who goes to bed with their shoes on?” I don’t know Aiden, who? “A HORSE!” Bahahahahaha! I know, I know, it’s a terrible entrance into his world of joke telling, but he was so proud of himself, I couldn’t help but laugh with him. I fear we are in for many more corny jokes before Daddy teaches him all the subtleties of a dry wit.

The development of a sense of humor is not one of those things you see on developmental milestone charts at the pediatricians office or in popular parenting magazines and websites, but it is one of the most sophisticated changes I’ve seen in him so far. One that marks him distinctly as an individual and a kid, and not just a needy baby or toddler. I am excited to see how it grows!

Fighting For Fulfillment

A few minutes ago, as I was reading to Aiden before bed, I fell asleep between one page and the next. There was a long pause and Aiden asked, “Mama, why’d you stop?” My only response, “Oh, sorry, where was I?”  That is the state of exhaustion in which I find myself tonight while trying to write something insightful. I was discussing with a friend recently that every decision we make as adults seems to involve some amount of sacrifice. The question we face when making these decisions is, does the gain outweigh the loss? While in the early months of pregnancy, I find that the sacrifice for maintaining my personal goals and sanity seems to be utter exhaustion. Obviously, I believe the benefits of a stimulating conversation with a greatly missed friend till the wee hours of the morn outweigh the crushing fatigue that faces me the next day. Clearly, I think it is more important for me to keep writing consistently even when my bed is calling my name like a siren, than to wait for a refreshed and inspired moment to enlighten my readers with witty repartee. And it is certainly beneficial for me to continue reading for my book club even when sleep is crowding my vision.

But, while considering these things, I realized that this is not a unique problem of early pregnancy. My current battle may be with exhaustion, but there is always something that is encroaching on our time, energy, and commitment. We always have to fight for personal fulfillment and growth even when the activities that cultivate them sometimes feel like chores. Because without them, we stagnate. We sleep. We waste. If we are not striving to be better, even while sacrificing a certain amount of ease and comfort, then we become millstones around the necks of those we care about who are trying to grow. So keep fighting for the things that make you a better person, even when you would much rather be doing something else, because in the long run, you will find yourself changed, with a greater capacity for understanding, challenge, and new growth.

Green Eggs and Ham

I hate for any meal to be a battle with my two-year old, but especially breakfast.  Mornings are crazy and chaotic at our house with everyone trying to get to work and school at various times and of course the house must always be immaculate in case someone (anyone!) decides to come look at it.  So the last thing I need is to spend an hour coaxing my son to eat something he’d really rather not.  Thus, although my primary goal with any meal is nutrition, at breakfast I try to let Aiden decide, from the options I give him of course, what he would like to eat.  This morning I ran the gambit of all the choices and each was answered with a resounding “NO!”  “Would you like oatmeal?” I asked.  Toast? Pancakes? Fruit salad? Cereal? Granola Bar?  No, no, no, no, no, and NO.  Finally, somewhat exasperated, I asked him, “What would you like to eat, Aiden?”  He answered with a challenging smirk in his eye, “Green eggs and ham!”  My first thought, as a tired, busy mom, was “Seriously, Aiden?!?  No . . . pick something else.”  But a quiet voice in my ear reminded me of one of my parenting goals – only say no if it’s absolutely necessary since there will be ample opportunity to do so.  And why not think outside the box?  So I pondered it for a second and stepped up to my little man’s challenge.  “OK!” I said, “I can do that.”

So I pulled some spinach out of the freezer and set it to boil while I cooked up some bacon (turkey for us, not ham . . . don’t tell Aiden).   When the spinach was finished, I drained it and put it in a blender with 4 eggs, about 2 servings of egg substitute (trying to curb cholesterol), 1% cheddar cheese, dill, garlic salt, and pepper.  I blended it till it was a slimy green mass of uncooked egg (yum, right?) and then put it in a skillet and scrambled it till it was well done.  Add to that some dark wheat toast and VOILA!  A balanced breakfast of green eggs and “ham”.

I asked Aiden if he liked it.  “Try it. Try it and you may, I say!”  His response: “It’s dewishous!”  To top it all off, we read the book while we ate and he kept proudly exclaiming, “Just like I have green eggs!”  It was delightful.  Proving once again that it always pays to be open-minded and stretch your boundaries a little.  And since children have very few boundaries as it is, they make outstanding coaches.  Bon Appetit!

Helping Hands

Have you ever noticed that children are extremely apt and ready to help one another when they are in need? They have not yet learned to be cynical and wary of others. They see a need that they can meet and they jump to fulfill it. For instance, if Aiden is at the park and unable, due to size or age, to overcome an obstacle, another child will, perhaps shyly, reach out his hand and offer assistance. I have seen this simple and beautiful gesture time and time again. And when it happens, Aiden will excitedly exclaim, “Mommy, he helped me!” On the other hand, if an older child, who has begun to learn that sense of self-righteousness that we all seem to attain as adults to varying degrees, refuses to help or turns his back, Aiden will look at me confused and almost hurt, not understanding that what is natural to him does not come naturally to everyone.

And it is not just other children that these little ones are prone to help. Their desire does not discriminate by age. Whenever there is something that needs doing, like the dishes or sweeping the floor, cooking supper or carrying groceries, I hear the constant refrain, “Mommy, I wanna help!” I must admit, I sometimes see this eager offer as an annoyance, knowing that his “help” will actually be more of a hinderance. It is sadly ironic that now, while he is extremely willing to help, he is not very capable and when he becomes capable, he might not be so willing. But I know that if I let my annoyance show, I will only aid in the development of his cynicism. So help me he does with undeterred enthusiasm.

As I have said many times before, children sometime make the best teachers. I count myself blessed to learn such wonderful lessons from my son on a regular basis. I am humbled by his simple, unassuming, and poignant nature that seeks out the positive and finds wonder in the smallest of things. And what a lesson this is! If we, as adults, had a fraction of the helpful attitude of children, how much happier would our lives become! Because rather than seeking to serve ourselves most of the time, we would be actively serving others and, in turn, countless people would be serving us, doing far more than we could ever do for ourselves. That is what communities are all about.