Friday, June 14, 2013

Switching Gears

I took Connell to story time at the library yesterday.  He loves other babies and he actually listens to the stories (for now), so I feel like it's an important social adventure for him every month.  However, it's not particularly easy for me to relate to the other mothers.  They're all first timers.

That's not a bad thing.  In fact, in a lot of ways I envy their enthusiasm for keeping track of how many days old their baby is or which brand of pajamas has the most durable feeties.  I admire their vigilance in reading every recall as it's published and knowing which organic baby food has the smallest carbon footprint.  16 years ago, I was that mother.  And now... I'm not.

Now I'm the mom who lives in two worlds.  I juggle college tours with fourth grade math tutors and a budding eighth grade culinary artist.  I coordinate basketball camp with theater camp and make sure summer reading is being done both out loud and independently.  I monitor internet usage and media consumption; indoor time vs. outdoor time; cookie consumption vs. fruit intake.  I say things like, "HEY.  Who didn't shower today?  I will sniff each of you until I figure it out!" (And then I hope it's not me...)

In the middle of all of that, I build block towers, whip up baby-friendly smoothies, and change a stinky little bum.  I try to make a point of having Connell-time and giving him opportunities to take part in age appropriate social activities.

I look at all the first timers and I envy their innocence.  They're still under the impression they're getting it right 100% of the time.  I feel like the outsider looking in a little bit.  I want to tell them in 5 years, feeties won't matter.  In 10 years, you'll be lucky if you can get your darling child to stop talking back to you, so please relish the beauty of baby babble.  In 15 years, you're going to suddenly be facing the reality that these children are going to leave you, regardless of how many organic veggies you've cleverly hidden in their teething biscuits.  So enjoy these days, new mommas.  Enjoy the drudgery of diapers and the sleepless nights.

I feel old and worn and cynical.

I don't say those things, though.  I sit back and feel like Connell is suffering because of my divided attention.  Maybe a big family is a disservice to all of them.  Maybe I'm letting them down because I clearly can't do it all.  And then he toddles over to me, wraps sticky hands into my curls, and with a wrinkly nosed smile, he whispers "Mama!" so only I can hear him.  I am his universe.

Maybe I'm doing okay after all.

Reluctant Reader

"Graham!  Buddy, I got you new books at the library."

"Are they audiobooks?"

"No, they're books... with pages and words and pictures."

He's not impressed.  He shuffles through the stack and walks away.  I decide not to push.  He'll hate reading even more if I continue to shove it down his throat.

An hour later, he looks at the stack again.  He grabs one book.   I offer to read it out loud while he makes block towers for his little brother to knock over.  Maybe he can have a special treat when we've finished the first chapter.

He rolls his eyes, but begins to stack blocks for his brother to demolish.

"Troublemaker," I read the title.  "Andrew Clements."

I hear the girls both say, "Frindle!" in the other room and decide they must be speaking Whovian or something else based on their sci-fi language of choice.  They slowly inch their way into the living room as I read.  The 16 year old holds up her electronic tablet as if to give the impression she's just joining us for the comfort of her favorite leather chair.  The 13 year old is less subtle and laughs out loud as I read through the first chapter.

"Woo.  That chapter few by.  Should I read another one?"

The girls suddenly find other things to look at, too cool to want their mother to read to them.

"I'll listen" sighs Katie, glancing up from her manicure.

We read on.  Blocks tumble.  Kids laugh.  I secretly pat myself on the back and add a hash mark to the "Good momma moments" column on my mental score sheet.  Lately I've struggled to feel like I deserve any marks on that side of the tally.  We predict what will happen next.  We imagine how characters feel.  We agree it's okay to use the word jackass if you're reading it as part of a story, even if you giggle so much you can't read.  We guess what would happen if the principal of our Catholic elementary school found a donkey picture that looked like her.  We wonder what Clay did with the $10 Mr. Kelling gave him.

Four chapters later and we have to move on with our day.  The book floats from one set of hands to another.  At bedtime, Graham snuggles next to me and asks if he can read to me.  Let me say that again - my 9 year old, who struggles with reading, who frequently refuses to read at all asks to read to me.  Thirty minutes later, I tell him he's done a wonderful job, but he needs to sleep.  We'll have to see what happens to Clay and Mitch in the morning.  We talk about them like they're real people.

We wake up to a gray day.  I find him curled up in bed, working his way through another chapter.  By lunchtime, he's read two chapters by himself and I have to beg him to let me have the book long enough to catch up.

The baby is napping now.  The house is quiet.  Graham has built a fort in the basement with pillows and blankets stolen borrowed from his sisters' room.  He found batteries for his Cub Scout flashlight and he's continuing to read.

Andrew Clements may have just changed our entire summer.  He may have just created a reader.  He has definitely found new fans and another grateful parent.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Facebook Status... Farewell, School Year from Hell

Dear 2012-2013 School Year: Thank you for allowing me the time to watch my children grow, take control of their own futures, and develop a greater sense of responsibility. Thank you for their increasing sense of humor, wit, and dry sarcasm (most of the time.) Thank you for offering them teachers who challenged them and teachers who gave them the opportunity to learn to respect adults even if they are difficult to relate to. Thank you for giving them a chance to learn to apologize for poor choices (Marilyn, Graham will never, ever dance on a table again, I promise!). Thank you for giving them the grace to forgive my many, many momma-flaws. But mostly thank you for letting me find moments of joy among the frustration and moments of grace in the midst of the chaos. Now, please tell 2013-2014 that we're taking it by storm and it has been put on notice! Sincerely, Momma Bear