An Act of Love, in the Middle Years

Sophie is 7 now, and in the fall she will start second grade. We don’t really talk about Facebook at home but somehow she knows about it (school, friends, the life she’s now living for 6+ hours on her own Monday through Friday) and lately, when something funny or charming or sad or uplifting happens she says, “Don’t post that.” And this took me by surprise, so much so that I pretty much gave up blogging altogether, not sure how to handle writing about my life while at the same time respecting her—and the boys’—privacy.

But I think mothers, in general, tend to forget we also live our own lives and that even aside from the dishes and laundry and outside freelance work and capping of markers and wiping up toothpaste from inside the sink we have interesting stories to tell.

That and my husband, long ago, said I could post anything I wanted to about him.

A door open.

I walked down the street to a friend’s house for a few drinks and conversation tonight, after the kids were in bed. (To be fair, only one was in bed so I was “getting out of” two bedtime routines.) I was reluctant to go, though. We had had a lovely early evening at our local YMCA as a family, swimming at the pool. We went out for dinner, a treat, did a 20-minute clean-up at home and then Andy pulled out his dusty guitar and played songs on the porch while I sipped wine.

I had put Owen to bed (who had gotten in trouble for not helping with the 20-minute cleanup, so he had to go to bed early although I stayed with him and rubbed his back until he fell asleep, which makes me think he got away with a pretty nice punishment, all said). Sophie and James were running around in the backyard. Almost-summer at dusk. It was idyllic. Andy finished up a song and I said, “I really should go.”

I walked to my friend’s house while he put James and Sophie to bed.

Cut to midnight.

I was walking home, less than a mile, when I ran into the girlfriend of our neighbor who lives in an apartment connected to an automotive repair shop behind our house. She was distraught, as she couldn’t find her dog, Camouflage. She said she had no voice left from calling his name for two hours. So I walked with her and hollered for Camouflage, at a level I deemed loud enough for her but quiet enough for our sleeping neighbors.

I should note that we’ve had issues with her boyfriend, who lives behind us. Also, my friend was texting me, asking me if I was home yet. I worried about my situation.

We couldn’t find Camouflage. She asked if I could drive her. I have a strict “one drink” personal policy when driving rule. So I said, “no.” But then I added that my husband possibly could.

So she walked with me to our house, and I invited her in. The kids were asleep and Andy was in the basement, playing Xbox. I walked down, careful not to trip on our dirty laundry. I explained the situation. The look on his face …

And yet, he went. He looked for a flashlight, he put on his shoes, he gave me (another) look, but then he found the keys. And he invited her into his car.

He drove around for a half-hour plus.

They didn’t find Camouflage.

But he tried.

Marriage is tough, and three young children with their child demands can make it even tougher. But then, you walk home at midnight with the girlfriend of a neighbor your husband has had issues with, and you ask your husband to drive said girlfriend around to look for a lost dog. And he goes. And you think, know, that while he’s doing it a little for her, possibly not-at-all for the neighbor, and a lot for the dog, he’s mostly doing it for you.

That’s love.

We haven’t taken a solo vacation in years. I regularly forget to tell him important things involving both of us, our kids, our life. Sometimes he comes up to bed late at night only to find me sleeping in our bed, arms wrapped around one, two, maybe three children, and he simply goes back downstairs and sleeps on the couch.

And yet we love. In varied ways.

We make a banana cream pie on a Tuesday night. We drive someone around at midnight, hoping to find a lost dog. We make do. We make up. We make right.

So here’s to all of you muddling through the young-child years of marriage. And here’s to all of you who respond to unreasonable requests. And here’s to all of you who work for love, understanding that it’s simple, even when it seems that it’s not.

“Love one another and you will be happy. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.” —Michael Leunig

Sorry, My Future Teenage Sons

This gem was from May. Blame Sophie.

But gosh that was a fun afternoon. A really, really, really fun afternoon.

And it’s sometimes nice to remember those fun afternoons after evenings like tonight. Evenings in which my dear, hardworking husband didn’t come home until 6:40pm and instead of finding dinner on the table found me, in bed, hiding under the duvet.

I’m sorry.

“Fashion is instant language.” —Miuccia Prada

Love + Hate

Owen and James hit each other when angry—sometimes with their hands and sometimes with objects, like their wooden trains. We have a zero-tolerance policy re hitting. They know this but still—still—it’s something we’re working on.

Sophie is old enough to know that hitting is absolutely not allowed. Still, I watch her sometimes, so angry with her brothers. She balls up her fists and shakes—shakes with anger, shakes with the restraint necessary not to hit them.

It can be so hard, being 5 years old and 3 years old, living in the same house.

But as much as they hate, they love. They love. Like patiently help each other across the shake-shake bridge at the park love. And fall on the floor crying if they think we’re leaving one behind love. And get so incredibly excited when the other one gets to put a sticker on his potty chart love.

And then there was Sophie’s love, today.

We’ve been struggling, discipline-wise, with Owen for several weeks now. Punishments simply don’t faze him. We have to work hard to find a consequence that will make him understand the severity of his actions. Most recently, we throw a piece of Halloween candy away for each major infraction (such as hitting). Today, he lost six pieces of candy for various infractions, five at one time (it was a bad one).

Sophie was extremely upset by this (even though half the time she was the one being hit). She couldn’t bear the thought of him losing candy. Whereas a time-out was often plenty enough for her, she didn’t understand that for Owen, it wasn’t.

And so that is how I caught her sneaking some of her own candy, from her own Halloween bag, into Owen’s.

When my three children are angry with each other, the whole world knows it. And yet, like much of life, their love for each other is so much quieter—and so much bigger.

They love.

They hate.

But ultimately, they love.

“The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.” —Elie Wiesel

Changing Love

This weekend Andy and I had a night out to ourselves—Troy’s Cafe, a movie, 21c Museum Hotel Cocktail Terrace (with many thanks to my parents).

The day of I was upstairs, taking my time getting dressed. Sophie was in her bedroom, singing a song while moving her princess dolls around her room in serious play. Andy was downstairs with Owen and James.

The strappy blouse I chose to wear had a tiny, fabric-covered button that went through a tiny loop in the back. Because of its location, I’m unable to button it myself. I was just about to holler down to Andy for help when I heard Sophie attempt a high note in her song.

“Sophie?” I called.

She stopped singing. “Yes?”

“Can you help me with something?”

She came into my bedroom.

I explained to her what needed to be done, asked if she could help. I felt her fumbling through the pleats and ruffles of the blouse. I reached back, feeling for the impossibly small button.

“Here,” I said. “This is the button.”

I reached some more.

“And this is the loop it needs to go through.”

“OK,” she said.

She pulled the two sides together, tight. And then I felt them soften.

“Is that too tight?” she asked, with concern.

“No,” I said. “It’s supposed to be like that.”

She pulled again. I helped. I could feel her tiny, soft fingers on my bare back, grabbing for the button, reaching for the loop.

“There!” she said, pleased with herself. I expected the blouse to come slack again. I expected failure. But it remained tight. She accomplished the small task quicker than Andy ever had.

Sophie then took out a couple strands of my hair that had come caught underneath one of the straps. She fixed my bra straps on both sides, so the straps of my blouse covered them.

“There,” she said again. “That’s better.”

Changing love.

For five years I’ve been mothering this child. Her mothering me, if only for two minutes, was unexpected. She helped me do something I could not do alone. And then she threw in some acts of kindness, some brushes of love—she preened me and fretted over me, just like a mother often does.

For two minutes, our roles reversed.

Sometimes the smallest acts take up the largest amounts of time in my brain—during my early morning walks back from Sophie’s school, while stirring sauce in a pot, while in bed waiting for sleep to come.

This week I’ve found myself thinking about Sophie buttoning my date-night blouse often.

“And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game.” —Joni Mitchell

A Tucker Seat

All the kids love Tucker but James really loves Tucker. Tucker must know this because I’m pretty sure no one else in this family could get away with sitting on him, for a good 15 minutes, while coloring.

“I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me they are the role model for being alive.” —Gilda Radner

Big Boy Beds

I loved these cribs. In the beginning, I wished they matched. I always envisioned a twin nursery with matching twin cribs. But the white crib was free—thanks to Facebook and a friend of a friend—and that’s what our budget, at the time, allowed. In the end, I loved them. James slept in the painted white crib. Owen, in the maple one. When the boys were first born both cribs were in our bedroom. You, literally, had to suck in your stomach to move around that room—it was so tight. And so full of deep exhaustion and deep, deep love. In our new house, this house, there was more room. Room to stand between the cribs and read a bedtime story. Room to sit in a rocking chair reading a book (thanks to summer’s lengthy sun hours), waiting for Owen and James to sleep. Room for the rug that was in Sophie’s nursery. Room for fuzzy, happy, frustrating, loving memories.

I was worried the boys would be upset. But they were thrilled to use their tools to help take the cribs apart. This meant a much longer (and trying) process for Andy, but he was understanding.

And then, of course, they had to test them out—this time matching beds, thanks to Craigslist.

Two days later, we discovered a design flaw.

This has happened several times, in part because James knows we have to come upstairs and help him, when it’s nap or bedtime—he does it on purpose.

Still, the boys love them.

We gave the white painted crib away, paying it forward, as they say. And we sold the maple crib and changing table this past weekend. To a couple so eager and already, so seemingly in love with their child-to-be. It’s right, to pass these things along. To grow older. To move on. And yet, it’s bittersweet.

As is raising children, in general.

“O bed! O bed! delicious bed!
That heaven upon earth to the weary head.” —Thomas Hood

Grandparents’ Day

Sophie is lucky. Several weeks ago was Grandparents’ Day at her preschool and she had four grandparents present, including two from Baltimore. I was lucky, too. Most of my childhood was spent with four grandparents present in my life. At the time, I didn’t realize how lucky I was. They were simply a part of my life, as normal as oatmeal with brown sugar, Saturday morning cartoons, wild onions stuffed in a Mason jar. One of my earliest memories is of a birthday. It was my fourth (or fifth? I can’t remember). I got a bike, with training wheels, light blue, I think, with a white basket with plastic flowers attached to it. The details are fuzzy but I distinctly remember riding down the sidewalk, listening to my Grandpa Mangan encourage me, cheer me, push me on. “Go, Kara, go!” “Go, Kara, go!”

Sophie is now 4. I hope she remembers her grandparents—all of them—taking time out of their busy lives to be with her, for a couple hours. To watch her paint, do work, wash her hands, eat a snack, sing a song. Of course she won’t remember the details, but hopefully, she’ll simply remember their presence, their love.

Whenever Sophie and I used to have a good day—a really good day—I would become so sad at the thought that she’ll never remember. She’ll never remember me curing her newborn tears by dancing—crazily, swinging—wildly, singing—loudly to “Build Me Up Buttercup” (which she loved) in our old house. She’ll never remember nursing (which, I suppose, at 15 she’ll be glad she doesn’t but still …). She’ll never remember sleeping on my chest, or the first time she saw a giraffe or the time she and Andy rolled down a snowy hill after a terrible attempt at sledding. But I believe, and maybe I’m wrong but I truly believe, all the actions and inactions, words and quietness, dancing and stillness of her early years somehow became embedded deep inside her brain. She will never remember the details, I know. But I have to believe, deep in her consciousness, she will know, feel, that she was loved. And that will help shape who she is, who she becomes, how she will, someday, love.

So thank you, Mom, Dad, Marty and Jill, for being there. And Sophie, I hope you remember. If not, I hope you someday read this and know. You were loved. You are loved. And not just by us. Or your brothers. But the circle reaches farther. And farther still (as it should, for every child). Love like that. Live like that. Be there. Remember.

“Everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being.”—Margaret Mead