In the thick of it

I sit between two rug rats (Rob’s term of endearment): a 2 3/4 year-old, and the two-month-old infant, in the back seat of my daughter’s SUV. Two car seats with me in between. I’m holding a bottle for the baby, and searching for the sippy cup for the toddler with my other hand. As we drive, Riley, the two year old, is getting grumpier. She’s mercurial, sometimes fun and sunny, but in typical toddler fashion, when tired, pretty awful. At this moment, she’s awful. Rob is in the front with Stephanie. Did I mention I’m in the back, between two car seats?

We’re trying to change the mood. Pep up the two-year-old. Rob begins to be a two-year-old; now he’s on her level. He’s distracting her, making her smile as he mimics her words, her grumpiness. Slowly she’s coming around. Stephanie hears the change in her voice, and she begins to ask Riley…”did you crack?” She means her smile, which Riley’s trying to hide. She wants to smile, but she wants to maintain her mood…impossible to do both. Before she knows it, she’s charmed right out of herself.

Sad Riley

Sad Riley

Bribery and a little clever humor work wonders. She’s laughing, and peace is restored, at least for the moment. We don’t kid ourselves that it will be lasting. The most we’re hoping for is the garage. Just pull in with no crying, no screaming. Just unload and begin to comfort, change diapers, find snacks, distract. That’s the job of the parent, or parent-stand-in, sometimes known as a grandparent.

I watch Stephanie and Matt, trying to hold their own against the needs and demands of the two small people they birthed. They’ll never make it, any more than we did. It’s a losing battle. A small human can overwhelm an adult with hands tied…not even a fair contest! The best you can hope for is survival, and growth. They do grow, and part of the process is they grow on you. As much as survival, the other key is falling in love. You get so caught by the spell these little beings weave that you become a willing prisoner to their smiles, their moods, their needs. And by the time you realize it, their work is done, and you’re hooked, body and soul. Well, maybe it has to be that way. Who would sign up for the craziness if they understood the commitment up front?

Jack

Jack

 

Stephanie sees me smiling at the scene after dinner, a little crazy, a little chaotic. She says I’m laughing at them, and I say no, just laughing. Not at them…just appreciating the scene, in all its joy, at this very moment in time.

This is just the age-old ah-ha that all parents experience. Only now, I’m experiencing from the second row of seats. Let me tell you, the view is pretty good from where I sit. I’m close enough to lean down and be in the game, but just far enough that most of the sticky bits miss me.

“We never give up wanting things for ourselves, but there comes a day when what we want for ourselves is someone else’s happiness.” ~ Robert Brault

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First kiss of the day

When my kids were little, baby and toddler stages, I kissed them frequently. One morning, picking up Alex, I said, “First kiss of the day!” as I was getting my first soft snuggle from his baby cheek. I knew it was only the first of many kisses I would give during the day, and it became a frequent phrase in my thought. Sometimes I even voiced it out loud. Mostly, it was a way of marking a brief moment, recognizing that for that day, I had the ability to scoop up my little ones and hold them close.

But things change. I rarely get to kiss them now. Distance makes that impossible. They’re all grown up, and the time of easy, daily interaction has passed.

Not long ago, I walked by the sofa where Rob was sitting and impulsively bent down and kissed him. I thought, “First kiss of the day!” Of course, I don’t have the constant interaction with him that I had with my little ones all those years ago. Most days, we are busy with work, errands, to dos. Most days we don’t have, or take, the time to just sit with each other. But I thought, in that flash of insight, why don’t I mark the moments with him? The big ones are easy to see, and we do mark those. But the little ones, the day after day ones, those slip by so easily. Mostly because we see each other as two busy adults. We know children are growing fast, and one day won’t be within easy reach for a kiss or hug throughout the day. But adults? I think even in good marriages, we just take it for granted, too often.

So my new thing…I’m going to mark the little moments more often. I’m going to try to really see the person drinking coffee with me, running errands with me. I’m going to practice saying, once again, “First kiss of the day!”

Rob’s philosophy

From a discussion last weekend…my philosopher at large, aka my husband, Rob…

The goal of life is hope.

The pathway to the goal is love.

The gate that obstructs the path is pride.

The key to the gate is forgiveness.

Mo betta with two

Rob is coming home this morning. After a week apart, my heart is singing to see him again. I tell him, “It’s mo betta with two,” a silly phrase left over from a vacation a while back.

I’m astonished to recognize, after thirty years together, that I feel stronger about him now than when we were young and “in love.” You would think we would be worn out with each other. We are in love now, but without quotation marks. We have been through nitty and gritty, through thick and thin. And truly, what relationship of any depth doesn’t weather the ups and downs? We are hardly unique.

But what I see now is that we are finally in a place to appreciate each other, to be together, without all the noise. Without the daily stress of family raising, career building, without the need to protect or reserve part of self. We are free to be ourselves, and to be together. If that sounds trite, so be it. I can’t explain it better.

These moments don’t come all at once. They build over time, and recognition is slow for me. I’ve known all this for a while. But separation makes it fresh, brings it home again. My partner is coming home. And while we are not always right for each other, we are always good for each other. We are perfect together. It’s mo betta with two.

Clarabell, the Christmas Cow

For a heartwarming story that has the perfect elements of Christmas…a child, animals, Santa…check out this link to Clarabell, the Christmas Cow.

For many years, my father-in-law read this story at Christmas family gatherings. We are not always with extended family at this stage in our lives. Some years the most we can do is attempt to get together with our kids. So now Rob reads this story for our little group.

If you’ve never heard of Clarabell, take a few minutes and get to know her. She’s quite a character, and more importantly, she has character. This is a story that teaches the meaning of selfless giving, and the reward of doing the right thing.

Happy reading, and Merry Christmas!

Choices

This week I made a choice I did not expect to make. I chose to not travel to my grandmother’s funeral. She passed away late Tuesday night, and over the past few days, knowing she was in the hospital, I had mentally been preparing to fly back to Mississippi. But at the moment of decision, I suddenly knew it was the wrong choice.

Rob and I have had a difficult year. We have recognized that many decisions we made in the past few years have not been healthy for us, for our relationship, and that to correct that, we needed to make radical changes. To be honest, with all the amazing adventure that Alaska has offered…experiencing the Arctic, seeing dog sled teams race, traveling to remote and beautiful locations by float plane and ferry, seeing glaciers and northern lights…if I had it to do again, I wouldn’t move here. The distance from family is too great, and adventure doesn’t replace the ability to be present.

Still, this is where I find myself today. I looked at flying out today, knowing that Rob would spend the holiday and the next week alone, and I couldn’t do it. He’s a big boy, he’s spent a fair amount of time alone in the past three years due to work and travel demands. I know he could do it. But the point is, that choice has been a bad one. We are both weary of spending time apart for the sake of work.

I considered the reality that this was a family emergency, a moment to mark and honor a beloved woman in my life, and to renew my connections with family members that I don’t see often. But in the end, I think I am honoring my family. I’m acknowledging that this relationship, even at a moment like this, has to come first. It feels a bit selfish, and I have some anxiety that this choice will not be be understood. But after a time of reflection, I am at peace.

So today I’m sharing a Thanksgiving meal with a few others from the clinic where Rob is covering call. I will miss being with my family who have gathered to say goodbye to my grandmother tomorrow afternoon. I will miss seeing the little ones who’ve grown and the ones who have joined the clan since I was last with them. I’ll miss sharing the tears and the memories, the hugs and the smiles. It hurts my heart to choose absence.

But this morning, drinking my coffee and looking at this man who has been my life for the past 30 years, I knew I was right to stay. The lesson of the moment is that we have the present, and that’s all. We may not have the good fortune to live to 90 with all our faculties intact. The choices that we’ve made, we live with, and we look for ways to re-align our priorities with family and future needs.

And my grandmother? If I could ask her, I believe she would support my decision. She was a lighthouse, staying put, watching her children roam the globe, but I don’t recall ever hearing her complain about their choices. She was accepting that life has to be lived.

Rob and I had already planned a trip back in March. I regret that she won’t be there to sit with, to share with. But we’ll visit the cemetery then with my mom, and remember her, my grandfather, my dad, my uncle and aunt…all the family we’ve lost. It will be sad, but it will be sweet, full of happy tears that these people…human, imperfect, funny, wonderful, loving…touched our lives.

And until then, I’m where I belong.

Little Girl

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I saw Riley at the end of May, and she had just taken a step or two, but wasn’t really walking yet. Now she’s running, full speed, tilted a little forward most of the time, in true toddler fashion, and occasionally her top half gets ahead of her feet and she goes tumbling. But she doesn’t stop for long.

She’s a friendly little thing, not really shy (how could she be, with her gene pool?), and she’s a talker, even though we can only understand a word or two. Never mind, the child speaks in paragraphs (how could she not, with her gene pool?). And she uses the same sounds repeatedly. She knows what she’s saying to us, we’re the ones who can’t quite get it. I’m just waiting for her to interpret herself. I’m sure she has something important to share.

Her hair has grown long enough to pull back with a little barrette, if only she would allow that. But she’s not fond of things in her hair, lovely though they be. She prefers a natural look. She likes to go barefoot, pulls her shoes off almost as soon as they’re on. She sings. She loves fruit, doesn’t like meat, calls all liquid “juice,” likes to stand in the bathtub. She snuggles after a nap, needs a few moments to wake up, lifts her hands to be picked up, plays happily in the pantry, emptying boxes and stirring in an empty container with a long-handled spoon. She loves books, although her primary interest is in pulling them off the shelf. She can be a one-child demolition crew.

She rides her rocking horse pony, tools around in her little Porsche. She’s become a little girl since I saw her last. There are a few baby remnants, but they’re fading quickly.

I watched the expressions on her face, saw the uninhibited display of emotion, the pureness of a little personality that doesn’t hide anything. She’s transparent and genuine. That’s one of the pleasures of this age. Whatever you get, it’s the real thing. She hasn’t yet learned to filter her responses, or to temper her reactions.

After a short time of togetherness, I feel my heart connecting, feel myself surrendering to the joy of belonging. Riley is a part of me, and I’m a part of her. We are not primary to each other. No, that’s the parent/child role. But we occupy unique positions in the heartland, just as it should be.

The fine art of “slugging”

I think we’ve invented our own term for one of the things we do best, Rob and I. We sometimes say we’re slugs, when we have a lazy day around the house. Somehow that mutated to “slugging,” although I think we may be the only two people using that term to mean what we mean.

The fine art of slugging…and lest you think I exaggerate in calling it an art, let me assure you that it does rise to that level of perfection…is not really about being lazy, or having a day of non-productivity. In fact, almost the opposite is true. But it is the kind of productivity that matters. A slug day is NOT about getting home chores done, or running errands all afternoon. No, slugging requires mental effort, not too much physical output.

A good day of slugging can begin early or late. We’re early risers, morning people at heart, so we’re typically out of bed before 6:00. Coffee for me, tea for Rob, and market watching, email, news, reading. But no loud noises are allowed to disturb the quiet of this hour.

After a bit (the best measurement of time) one of us is hungry. Breakfast signals a break to talk, share, catch up. If we’re at home, we sit in front of the windows in the sun porch, watch the traffic on the water. Sometimes we make a plan for the day at this point. It can be weather dependent, or there may be an errand that has to be fitted into the day. But our best slug days are lengthy stretches of “a little of this, a little of that.” Usually one of us has something we’re researching online. One of us fiddles with plans for lunch or dinner so we know what to expect in terms of timing, or if we have to include a market outing before evening.

And always, after the early morning quiet, we have music going.

Sometimes we plan things we don’t do. We think we’ll get moving and go do a workout. Go for a picnic, or a walk around the lake. Or we think we’ll start an afternoon project. And sometimes we do. But not always. That’s the beauty of a slug day. If you’re doing something that holds your interest, or having one of those rambling conversations that wraps around one thing and leads to another, and another…it’s ok that the afternoon plans don’t materialize. Part of the charm is the flexibility we allow ourselves.

The key is that you have to be in sync to do this. You can’t be on two different clocks. If one of you is on whirlwind time, and the other on island time, you’re not going to have a day of slugging. You’re not going to wonder, late afternoon, where the day went. And you have to know that spending a day like this together is guilt-free. This is just as important as painting the bathroom or doing the laundry or bathing the dog. Actually, it’s more important, because not only is it a mental change of pace, but doing it together is the thing that makes it special. I can never do this successfully without Rob. Inevitably I let myself get busy with the ought-to, have-to, need-to lists. Slugging together means spending the hours together, sharing a bit here and there, pausing to exchange a glance, a smile, a thought.

The best slugging is really unplanned time. Like many of the good things in life, it just sort of happens. About the only thing you can do to set the stage is to clear your calendars so that you don’t have obligations that interfere. After that, it’s just one of those things. Sometimes it happens, sometimes not. But when it does, you have a day of magic, out of nothing at all. Just time together, a little music, simple food, reading, talking, laughing.

Slugging…I highly recommend it for your mental health, your love life, for feeling satisfied with life. It’s relaxing, but more than that, it’s fulfilling. And the nice thing is, doesn’t cost a penny, doesn’t take special equipment, doesn’t take more than your time and your heart.

Thirty years today

We’re celebrating our 30th(!) anniversary today. Where did all that time go? It’s the never-ending question humans pose to themselves, to each other. I don’t have the answer, anymore than the next person. Sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago that we two babies (20 year-olds) got married.

We’ve been fortunate to do some amazing things in our time together. We’ve traveled, had wonderful vacations and experiences. We’ve shared time with family and with friends. We’ve celebrated in some memorable ways. Our most recent celebratory event was our sky-diving experience to mark Rob’s 50th birthday in June. (I blogged about it here.)

And what are we doing for this major milestone? Well, it may seem tame, a little quiet. We’re doing an RV trip, just us two. Spending a few days in Sedona, AZ. Biking and shopping, enjoying quiet dinners and a movie or two.

But the magic is that it will be just us two celebrating. The scenery, shopping, restaurants…it’s all fun. But the main event is all about one word: together. Believe me, spending the majority of the past two years in a commuter lifestyle has made me appreciate together like never before. Doesn’t have to be fancy or exciting to make me happy…I just want together.

Happy Anniversary to my one and only Rob ~ Sheila

Voice of wisdom

Quote of the day:

Love is friendship that has caught fire.
It is quiet understanding, sharing and forgiving.
It is loyalty through good times and bad times.
It settles for less than perfection
and makes allowances for human weaknesses.
Love is content with the present,
it hopes for the future,
and it does not brood over the past.
It’s the day-in and day-out chronicles
of irritations, problems, compromise,
small disappointments, big victories
and working toward common goals.
If you have love in your life, it can make up
for a great many things that are missing.
If you don’t have love in your life,
no matter what else there is,
it’s not enough.

~Ann Landers

(I knew Ann Landers was famous for her advice column. Turns out she was also a bit of a poet.)