A Little Glimmer

In parenting, sometimes I need a little glimmer of hope to keep me going.  My six year old, Lily, is what we in our home like to call “feisty”.  Or spunky.  Or skilled at throwing fits that last longer than an inaugural address.  (You wanted to watch the first black president be sworn into office, Mom?  To witness an important historical event?  Who cares. You didn’t let me eat diaper cream and you will know my wrath.)  She is full of passion and drive and will make an awesome adult someday.  But right now, there are times she wears me out by 9:00 AM.

She can also be the absolute best: a sweetheart who’s generous and kind and sensitive to others’ needs.  That doesn’t happen as much as the grumpiness.  But this is where the glimmer comes in.  It’s what keeps me going, like a beacon in the dark night of the frontal-lobe-development-years, promising we’ll find land at some point.  It’s there, waiting.  And when her limbic system isn’t the one in total control, things will be much better.  At least that’s what National Geographic says.

Here are a few glimmers I’ve seen of late:

1.  We are at the grocery store.  They have matchbox cars on sale for a dollar.  “Only a dollar?” thinks limbic-system-controlled Lily. “What is money anyway?  And who cares if I spend it all on crap I don’t even want?  Not me.”  I tell her she should think about it.  That she probably won’t miss it tomorrow if she doesn’t buy it today.  That she doesn’t play with cars anyway, even if they’re pink.  I have little hope this talk will work, since they never ever do, but she stops.  Her eyes roll around in thinking mode.  “Ummm.  I’m gonna go put it back.”  And my terrible why-am-I-grocery-shopping-with-three-children mood disappears.  She listened!  She thought about it!  Her frontal lobe had a say this time!  Way to go, little girl!

2.  We are cleaning her room, attempting to organize her seven (yes seven) treasure boxes full of things like: a tiny rubber pig, an itty-bitty Jayhawk flag, a butterfly decoration from a cupcake she once ate, fun-shaped erasers, shells, rocks, plastic “jewels”, spider rings, a zipper found in a parking lot.  The list goes on.  And on.  I’m trying to teach her how to categorize.  This pile for beads, this pile for plastic butterflies, this pile to throw away.  I have little hope for the trash pile, knowing her need to keep everything, but she adds a paper frog.  Then a broken Chinese handcuff, then a bouncy ball.  And I can’t believe the giant step we’ve just taken together.  She listened!  She thought about it!  She got rid of six things and categorized her treasures into manageable piles so she can find them again.  My girl is maturing!  She’s using concrete thinking, using forethought!  Way to go, baby!

3. Mae (3) has run into my bathroom with Lily’s ring.  “Whooth ith thith?” She asks with a sly smile and a massively cute lisp. “Ith it mine?” She knows it isn’t.  She knows she’s stolen it and is enjoying her power.  Lily comes in, upset over the missing ring (which she got at Cici’s pizza in a toy dispenser for a quarter. It is precious.).  I expect to see her go-to move of grabbing it away from Mae, causing more crying, more grabbing, escalated drama.  But before I preemptively intervene she asks politely.  And when that doesn’t work she makes Mae a deal.  “Do you want another ring, Mae,” she asks. “Here, you can pick three.”  Mae gladly hands back the fake gold band and goes for the silver and pink hearts.  Which Lily also loves.  All her rings are precious to her.  I can’t believe it.  I am watching a miracle, and it’s beautiful.  Way to go, sweet Lily.

When I see those moments of future Lily shining through the six-year-old veneer, I’m completely encouraged.  They can actually buy me a day or two of energy for whatever she throws my way.  Because I know there are better days ahead.  I might have to wait fifteen years or so, but at least there are signs that she’s capable of awesomeness.  And because it’s a beautiful thing to watch.  She’s breathtaking when she’s kind, her inner beauty making her glow.  I can’t wait until I get to see that all the time.  For now I’ll have to take what I can get and keep praying for patience on the dark days.  And remember that her little brain is hard at work creating and pruning synaptic connections for her future self.  But I’m so thankful for the little glimpses.  They give me such hope, which is exactly what I need.


The Mess It Makes

Our good, good friends who moved away last summer are staying with us this week – two adults and three children added to an equal amount of Us.  It’s a bit of a zoo, but I would not have it any other way.  My kids waited anxiously for weeks, counting down the days for their best friends to arrive.  They made detailed plans involving Frozen, the pool, lego, Minecraft, ice cream, Rudy’s pizza and sleeping arrangements.  My six-year-old picked out clothes she and her bff would wear together.  Hopes were high.  And now they are here, have been here for four days, and the love is still flowing.  The kids are getting tired and cranky, a bit sassier than I prefer, but there’s still nowhere they’d rather be, no one they’d rather be cranky with.  When Lily’s little mate wasn’t home yet for bedtime last night she said “I feel like something is missing.”  She tossed and turned and couldn’t get comfy.  And when she walked into Lily’s room, with a big sigh of relief…”Ohhhhh.  I know what was missing.  It was Elsa.”

Sometimes chaos and pain and the messy things of life are worth it.  Because they mean you’re really in it.  Living inside of life instead of floating around its edges.  Having a house full of five extra people, three of which leave underwear on the floor and talk at elevated volumes at all times (in addition to three of my own who do the same), is a mess.  It’s chaotic.  And it’s what life is all about.  I could have a clean, quiet house.  I could have the brain space to make one decision at a time instead of constantly multi-tasking.  But it would be clean and quiet because I was alone.  Because I was choosing to sanitize my days instead of jumping in and getting dirty.  I could back away from friendships that are real, because they make me vulnerable to pain, to disappointment.  But I would miss all the good, messy, fun and funny moments.  I would miss out on being known.  And it’s just not worth it.

So what will we do when they leave?  That’s the hard part.  I know there will be days of withdrawal.  Crying and missing and aching.   A bit of wandering aimlessly with nothing to do but piles of laundry and feeling that “something is missing.”  That’s to be expected.  That’s the cost of attachment.  The offering you make to someone you love.  “Here, have a piece of me,” you must say.  Hold it out in your hands, be willing for it to be plucked away and done with whatever the friend chooses.  That’s the risk.  And the blessing.  Because, when the person is right, you get a piece of them, too.  You can stuff it in the very place your piece was, to stop the bleeding.  Ease the pain.  It’s not an exact match, but it helps.  That’s the way it is with these friends.  They have a piece of us, we have a piece of them – each and every one.  The saying goodbye hurts more than we want, but we have each other for the long haul.  These are forever friends, together or apart.  And that, despite the mess it makes, is worth it.

Just In Time

“What I’m about to say is kind of awkward, but if I ever need a hearing aid I want this one,” said my nine-year-old son, pointing to a newspaper ad on the counter.  Displaying the exact reason that summer break is so freakin’ great.

The end of the school year usually makes me excited for more time with my kids.  More time for the whatever, whenever of summer.  But this year I was nervous.  I was used to our schedule.  It was too crazy, but it gave structure to our days and left little room for the unknown, which I kind of like.  And I was used to Lily, who is the most “spunky” of my children, being gone for long stretches of the day.  It’s sad but true that for the last few months of school she was waking up grumpy, going to bed grumpy, and in a pretty bad mood the moment she walked out of her classroom.  In short, all the time she spent in my presence.  So I wasn’t excited about more spunk, let’s say, in my day.  The whatever whenever of summer loomed like a black hole before me, ready to devour our understandable schedule with it’s nothingness.  But here we are, a week in, and I’m remembering why it’s so wonderful.  And so very needed.

If I added up the times I say “Come on!  Let’s go!” to my kids on a given day, I would be A. horrified and B. about even with every other mother with young children.  It’s more common than “What did I just say?” and “Who ate cereal in the living room?”  Those little people are slow-moving, get distracted easily, and I never give us enough lead time.  Bad combination.  The rush of the school year is a plague, and we are infected.  Get up, ready for school, ballet, piano, language club, pottery class, homework, dinner, hurry-up-and-get-in-bed-there’s-school-tomorrow.  “Come on, let’s go.  Let’s GO!”

Poor Lily.  Maybe that explains her grouchy rants.  Maybe she needs summer just as much, or more, than I do.  I hang on to our schedule for some sort of security, being a planner and a what-are-the-parameters-I’m-working-with-here kind of person, but it serves me well to add a little whatever whenever to my life.  To be surrounded by it.  To see what happens and what sort of fun we can create.  And Lily feeds off my calmer attitude.  Can breathe a bit.  Dig for snails at 9:00 AM, color with sidewalk chalk, do a puzzle, dress up in princess clothes, start a craft involving cotton balls, glue and glitter.  None of which involves needing to be anywhere at a certain time.  And all of which allow her to be dirty, creative, and six years old.  I can already see her physically sighing with relief.

Now instead of seeing a black hole before me I’m seeing opportunity.  To explore, and relax, and be together without a rigid framework.  Don’t get me wrong.  Planner that I am, there are camps scheduled, trips arranged, craft ideas researched and supplies purchased.  I have to keep my sanity.  But there is also room for surprise.  Weeks with nothing on the docket.  Time to go to the pool and make messes and stay up late if we feel like it.  To read random ads lying on the counter without anyone telling you to hurry up and get your shoes on.  There will be days of grouchy “I’m bored”s, when we all would love some time apart.  But I understand what a gift this is – a summer with my kids.  Working moms would love a couple months with nowhere to be.  No matter if chaos ensues it will be our chaos together, and I won’t have that much longer.  My love for a schedule can wait.  Should wait.  For all our sakes.

So welcome, awesome summertime.  I thought I didn’t want to see you around this year, but I was a fool.  I like you.  I need you.  I’m so thankful you exist.  Your whatever whenever is just in time.