Friday, December 2, 2011

Fairy Tale Christmas

 This afternoon while playing with her nativity set, Abby brought forth every Christmas figure we own-- from masses of shepherds and wise men and donkeys and sheep to Santas and snowmen and elves--to see the Baby Jesus. Actually, to see the two Baby Jesuses (we have two different nativity sets).

I like the idea of these two Christmas worlds colliding in front of the manger because, in fact, there's great truth in the idea of all Christmas traditions finding their meaning in the incarnation of Love.

But I think my favorite hybridization of the commercial and the holy came when she asked me to get "the Cinderella angel and the Belle angel" so I could set them up in front of the manger. Confused at first, I looked at the figures and realized one angel was blonde-haired with a blue gown (Cinderella) and the other was brunette with a yellow gown (Belle). Clarity.

Ah, the glorious mind of a four-year-old, where no detail is inconsequential and where every story is part of the Story.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Move

Our bodies were designed to move.

I never used to realize this. I think as a child and teenager, I was naturally inclined to run and jump and play sports. I was "active" without thinking about it and without realizing how good it was for me.

But after that, until a few years ago when I decided to ride in the annual Bike MS event, I didn't think much about exercise unless it was in the I-never-have-time-and-don't-really-enjoy-it-anyway context. So I went through my days working or teaching or nursing babies or taking care of household obligations, never realizing I was missing out on something. Big.

When I committed to the ride, a 150 mile bike ride over two days to raise money for the National MS Society, I knew I'd have to train to be able to accomplish such a feat of endurance. Ben was two-and-a-half and Abby was a baby, but they were both old enough to go into the rec center's play school program, so I began taking indoor cycling classes there.

And I finally understood what all those exercise fanatics had been talking about through the years.

After the first class, as sore as I was after, I was hooked. Addicted. Compelled to return. On many afternoons, I walked into class stressed--sometimes frustrated with my kids, sometimes angry with myself, confounded by a problem and spinning circles in my mind trying to figure out. In that hour class, though, as my body became fully engaged in pushing pedals and climbing hypothetical mountains, my mind was unleashed to process the problem d'jour. And most days, I left calm, renewed of purpose and spirit. The ability to get lost in the lyrics and rhythm of the music while pushing through self-imposed limitations left me free to recognize my mistakes, identify the source of conflict, and make a plan.

When I began teaching the classes, I lost some of this mental space because I became the one responsible for cuing the drills, keeping time, and pacing the class. But even then, I left class feeling better. Sweating is both a physical and emotional catharsis, I think.

I've branched out of the cycling room this month into a variety of other classes--Zumba, Pilates/Yoga, a ballet-based strength class--and I feel that same rush of possibility I felt when I first pedaled a spin bike. It's good to be the student again, and to push my body in new ways. I'm reminded that physically challenging myself does more than make my body stronger. It makes my mind stronger. It makes my spirit stronger. It lends perspective to every other aspect of life.

I think God made us this way.

There's a reason research shows exercise helps not just the health of the heart and lungs and muscles but the brain and mental health, too. When we cease to use, to challenge, to push our bodies, I wonder if we sacrifice one of the vehicles through which God reveals himself to us.

Jesus was the Word made flesh. To enter our reality, to draw us to himself, to accomplish the redemption of the world, he assumed our anatomy. When Jesus hungered and thirsted in the desert, when he stayed up all night praying, when he carried his cross, when his back was beaten, when his flesh was pierced--those events were every bit as spiritual as they were physical.

The body is more than mere bones and nerves and muscle and skin. Our body, our flesh, is the vessel through which our spirit experiences the world. Through our physical body, we give. Through our physical body we receive. Through our physical body, we come to understand Love.

To live fully, we must move.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Two Perfect Minutes

Sitting on my lap in the same yellow rocking chair in which I rocked him as a baby, Ben read me the book he brought home from school: Henry and Mudge and the Forever Sea. The series of books, written in simple yet lovely language for the early reader, chronicle the adventures of a young boy and his giant, drooly pup, Mudge.

These books have been Ben's favorite since we discovered them at the library over the summer. Now that we have our own giant dog, Merlot, Ben understands the canine nonchalance of Mudge, who--in the midst of Henry's escapades--remains faithful to his doggy nature: eating, sleeping, licking, snuggling, and maintaining a gentle loyalty to his boy. These behaviors usually appear in contrast to the activities of the humans in the story, to subtle comic effect. The humor is never lost on Ben.

So last night before bed, we're in the chair together, and I'm marveling at the ease and fluency with which he reads this book that at one time would have been challenging, when Ben reaches a page where Henry and his father are making sand castles at the beach. The author narrarates their contributions: Henry's father made the towers, Henry made the moats, and Mudge, true to form, makes a bed and goes to sleep. 

Something about this line tickled Ben's sensibilities, causing him to chuckle, then giggle, and then laugh, uncontrollably. Delight consumed his little face, which turned crimson from breathlessness. I couldn't help but laugh along, watching his eyes turn up with exuberance. When he finally pulled himself together and turned the page, he fell into another fit of laughter at the sight of Henry's dad's rubber lobster on top of the sand castle, poised like a flag. This time, he giggled so hard he doubled over, rocking back and forth in hysterics. 

It was two of my favorite minutes of parenting. Ever.

To witness him reading, to contemplate the growth that has occurred in six years, to see him connect so strongly with this sweet story, and to share in the joy of all his skills and experiences converging in complete understanding--it was the kind of moment I wish I could bottle to pull out on days when my soul needs some joy. 

More and more lately, I find myself watching this little boy with wonder. Parenting, at times, is like slowly unwrapping a gift in which I discover, little by little, how thoughtfully and purposefully these little people were given, and how perfectly they fulfill the desires of my heart. 



  

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Strange Beauty of Bad Days

Sometimes I wonder if everyone's experience of motherhood is a roller coaster like mine: high highs, low lows, and a sense of chugging away toward some distant pinnacle only to be swept down the other side in a sometimes exhilarating and other times scream-inducing ride to the next ascent.

Is this normal? Because sometimes I wish I were on the baby rides that pitch only slightly and never come close to evoking relentless thoughts of one's fallibility.

But the good is so good. On the good days, I think the bad are worth it for these moments of unprompted, un-reminded, unsolicited kindness, gentleness, and self-control; for these sincere displays of love and joy; for these priceless windows of peace.

I guess I wonder why that spirit isn't alive everyday in every circumstance. And the self-critical part of me says if I were a good mother, everyday would be like that.

And then grace whispers in my ear that love would not be Love without the other days, without the opportunities for forgiveness on my part and theirs, without the reminder that we are all imperfect and in need of a safe place to call home while we pick ourselves up from our failures and try again.

Somehow, it is the bad days that make us truly a family.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tenacity

"Mommy, you need to put Abby's pedals back on. She's ready for them," Ben informed me when I walked into the garage where they were putting on shoes and helmets to ride their bikes in the driveway.

At Abby's request, I had taken her training wheels and pedals off the week before so she could practice balancing on her little pink bicycle. She spent nearly two hours that morning hauling her bike up the hill of our driveway, turning it around, and coasting down. At first, she looked more like a bobble head, tipping back and forth from one foot to the other in attempts to keep herself righted. Occasionally she fell. A few times she grew teary or frustrated, impatient with the learning curve. Always, she got back up and tried again.

I sat in the driveway that morning and marveled at her determination. She would not, could not give up. After a harder fall, when the tears were slower to stop, I suggested we take a break for some water and a snack. She agreed, and we sat side by side for a few minutes. I wasn't sure she'd want to head back into the hot sun and continue wrestling her bike, but when she finished her granola bar, she tipped her head way back to see me from under her helmet and said, "Ih'm reahdy to trhy agaihn."

And back to the bike she went, dragging it up the hill one more time, turning it around one more time, hefting her leg over the seat one more time. This time, she made it to the bottom without touching down--and she smiled that coy, half smile she gets when she's proud of herself but doesn't want to let on. I cheered and clapped and made the kind of fuss only mommies can, and she continued on, growing more confident each time her body self-corrected the leaning bike without using her feet. By the time we put her bike away to pick Ben up from camp, the balance was second-nature. She had, through sheer will and perseverance, conquered this skill.

So several days later when Ben said Abby was ready for her pedals, I found the wrench and reattached them. That same coy smile graced her face in anticipation. Once the bike was ready, I had to beg her to please wait a minute before getting on so I could run in and grab the camera. I knew what was coming.

In true Abby fashion, she threw herself into the attempt without reservation, trying to put both feet on the pedals while standing still. She caught herself before falling and tried again. I encouraged her to start on a hill again so she'd have some momentum to give her time to get her feet on, and here her brother took over, explaining that when he first put his pedals back on, he started at the seam where the garage meets the driveway, using the slight slope to get himself going. Abigail listened to his coaching, moved her bike to the edge of the garage, and pushed off, stopping only after she had completed a few laps around the driveway. Ben smiled, I cheered, and Abby grinned. We now have two kids riding their bikes without training wheels. What a summer.

I learned something about both kids. Though I've always admired Abby's spunk and independent spirit, I hadn't realized just how tenacious she could be in the face of a challenge. Witnessing her resolve and stamina opened my eyes to the unstoppable force she will be when she puts her mind to something. I can't help but wonder what she'll attempt next.

And while I've always appreciated the kids' relationship with each other, I did wonder if Ben might feel a twinge of jealousy that Abby ditched her training wheels so soon after he did. But there was nothing but support and encouragement from him, like he hadn't even considered that her learning something he had just recently mastered himself would be cause for anything other than celebration.

As for me, I'm just grateful to be present to witness these milestones, to be available to coach and cheer and take snack breaks and document the monumental moments that spring out of mornings that begin so ordinarily...to live life at the speed of wonder.


Monday, July 11, 2011

The Big Kid Era

Ben's tooth is wiggling. Indeed, more than wiggling. It moves back and forth so readily, I am certain it won't be long before the small gap in his bottom teeth, newly appeared as this bit of baby bone edges out, becomes a true hole waiting for the adult replacement.

I can hear the slightest lisp when he talks, his speech already impacted by the mere looseness. I see him take careful bites on the other side of his mouth. Sandwiches, apples, and carrots require a strategic approach. He asks me to look, pushing this passport to higher childhood back and forth with his tongue. I smile and make enthusiastic exclamations over how soon it will come out. He shows me how his top tooth is just beginning to budge, and I make silly jokes about how we'll have to start calling him "Toothless." He grins, catching my reference to How to Train Your Dragon, the movie we watched together when he was sick a few months ago. 

He turns six next week. The year of five has ushered him into the world of reading, biking without training wheels, skiing, and now, officially, swimming (for a dozen yards or so, at least). He is so utterly competent, explaining to me how how the remote-control helicopter he bought with allowance money saved for months works, reading quietly the Table of Contents of his new book to decide which story he'd like me to read, pointing out the rocket boosters on the Atlantis as it prepared to launch, teaching Abby how to punch "700" into the calculator, making a sign for the rocks he and Abby decided to "sell" at our garage sale Saturday: "For Free ShinY roks." But the physical evidence of his loose tooth makes the leap to big kid undeniable.

I remember in pregnancy thinking about this hypothetical person I was incubating, how excited I felt to snuggle this newborn against me, and how impossible it seemed to conceive of this tiny person growing into a six-year old, specifically. I remember thinking, What would I do with a six-year-old? I don't know how to play with a six-year old... In my pre-mommy naivete, bigger kids seemed so one-dimensional, so removed, somehow, from my vision of motherhood snuggles and giggles.

But now, I think, six may become my favorite age yet. Each year grows more and more magical than the previous. There are still snuggles and giggles, but now our relationship has so much more dimension than the days of feedings, diapers, and naps. We hike together and discuss homelessness and reminisce about when he and Abby were babies. He teaches me things, makes me dig deeper into my resources as a person because if my five-year-old son can look at a piano and figure out how it works, than surely I can take a few minutes to understand how this toy functions so I can fix it now instead of leaving the task to Josh when he gets home.

Ben delights me with his personhood. He is self-assured enough to present his tin of rocks--curated from our backyard and polished with a little soap to make them extra shiny--to garage sale shoppers, and yet innocent enough to believe rocks from the backyard are so precious and obviously valuable that he should curb demand with a limit of one or two rocks per customer so as not to exhaust his supply.



I love him.

We are a third of the way to official adulthood. We sold many of our baby things at the garage sale; pangs of nostalgia surfaced in quieter moments. Can it be we've already left the era of babyhood firmly behind us, the once-exhausting and seemingly endless stage now only a memory?

I look at women with grown kids differently now, already understanding the way they look at young mothers knowingly, remembering what life was like in its ups and downs because they've lived those days--and many more--with their own kids. I see how quickly the time passes between infancy and adulthood. And yet a twelve-year-old or an eighteen-year-old is unfathomable at the moment.

The growing up is insisting anyway: one year, one milestone, one loose tooth at a time.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Diffusing the Fear

His little body visibly melts as he releases the burden of his nighttime thoughts. Through tears, Ben shares the images keeping him awake at night: being trapped in a web, a sword hitting Daddy, losing Teddy, falling from high places, weapons, and more and more and more.

"When I go to bed, I keep thinking mean thoughts, and that's why I can't fall asleep," he says. By "mean," he means unpleasant, frightening--not malicious.

I listen and listen and listen, thinking what a relief it must be for him to finally release all this fear. I hold him on my lap, affirming how scary those thoughts must be, how frustrating to lay awake thinking about these things. He nods his head and says, "Uh-huh," every time I put words to his emotions. He continues to share images as they come to him, as though the very act of verbalizing these mental terrorists disarms them, and he can't bear to let any go unspoken. Several times, I say, "Thank you for telling me. I'm so glad you've told me."

For a couple weeks, we've noticed how long it has taken him to fall asleep. Often, he's still rolling around in his bed an hour after we turn off the lights. He doesn't fuss or make trouble, but sleep hasn't come as readily as it usually does, and his shortened night is evident the next day in his eyes, his touchiness, his likelihood to put his head on his arms at the dinner table. I hadn't known until tonight that he was wrestling hypothetical tragedy in his bed.

I ask him if we can pray, and he nods. Together, we do spiritual battle against the thoughts holding his sleepy mind captive. We pray against fear and anxiety, we ask for peace for his room and his bed, we claim the blood of Christ over our home, our family, his life. And when we're finished, we talk some more.

I tell him that many of those pictures in his mind probably come from movies he's watched or books he's read. The web clearly comes from the Veggie Tale with the bad apple who spins webs of temptation around her targets (those Veggie Tales are often scarier than they seem). After I mention that, he says the sword is the one he saw in Peter Pan, the gun is from Fox and the Hound. There is power in recognizing why our mind dwells on certain thoughts, and he seems to draw some confidence in identifying the images' source. I tell him that these images are the reason why Daddy and I want to make sure books and movies and stories are appropriate for him before he sees them. He seems to receive this familiar phrase, "to make sure it's appropriate," with new appreciation.

He finally settles. His breathing steadies and his tears stop so that he can get ready for bed. Abby, who has been wandering in and out of his room while we talk to give him hugs or bring him Teddy, continues to tend to her brother with concern. We finish our routine of books, prayer, and songs, and I tuck the kids in bed.

Tonight, Ben is asleep within minutes. I exhale.

I love that little boy, who at times possesses such maturity and at others reminds me he's so young. I'm grateful he trusted me with his fears tonight. Still, I wonder if we've allowed too much too soon. I walk this line of wanting to protect him from themes and images that seem too mature and wanting to allow him the freedom to explore and ask questions about the conflict of good versus evil in this world, a conflict he bumps up against in his own life. I worry sometimes that I'm overly protective of what he's exposed to, and in the same breath, I wish I could go back and retract the dozen movies we've allowed him to view. And yet, he so thoughtfully processes them, asks insightful questions that strike at the heart of the films, draws beautiful comparisons and parallels between the stories and experiences he's had.

I don't know whether we've sanctioned too much, but as a mom, my greatest hope and desire is that whatever happens in my kids' lives, they feel they can talk to me about it--openly, honestly, without reservation or sugar-coating. I want to always open the door for more conversation, to lay the groundwork for future disclosures, and I think tonight was a step in that direction. So whether we've been mistaken in our decisions or not, we are prepared and willing to process the fallout with Ben, because few things diffuse the thoughts and fears that plague our minds like the ability to confess them to  someone who really loves us.

Ben and I agreed we'll try to find less intense movies for him to watch (which, for the record, he generally only watches when he's sick). I'll continue to scrutinize the content of his interests and will probably be more conservative in what we introduce. In the meantime, we'll continue our dialogue, and I'll continue to pray.

May these two kinds of conversation be constants in our relationship.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why?

Some days I wish I'd gone to medical school. Over the last two years, Abby's asthma has often left me wanting more understanding about lung function, pharmacology, and accurately assessing respiratory status. Of late, we are navigating a series of question marks about her hearing, which for weeks at a time suffers significantly enough that the poor girl says, "What? What did you say? I can't hear you," to any statement issued at a normal volume.

This noticeable hearing loss coupled with the fluid that comes and goes in her ears and her giant, golf-ball sized tonsils landed us in an ENT's office this morning, where Abby zoomed trucks across the floor while I attempted to remember from my mental catalogue of doctor visits when fluid has appeared and disappeared from her ears, how many ear infections she's had in the last year (not many), and which antibiotic she was given for said infections. 

The audiogram--dubbed "a hearing game" for Abby's benefit, which she giggled through as she put bears in cups every time she heard a "little birdy"--showed "significant, mild hearing loss" in her fluid-filled right ear. And for the record, her hearing currently is much improved from a few weeks ago when she was sick and it felt like I had to shout every question, answer, and direction to be heard. The audiologist wants to see her back when her ears aren't fluid-filled to see if the hearing loss is, in fact, a result of the fluid. 

We spoke with the ENT about her other symptoms. I did my best to assure the doctor that Abby does not, in fact, show signs of sleep apnea, but we get to do a sleep test anyway. He audibly gasped when she opened her mouth to show him her tonsils; his skepticism at my insistence that she does, indeed, sleep soundly--without the tell-tale apneic episodes I've observed in Josh--was palpable. Sigh. We'll follow up with him, too, in two months to see if the fluid has resolved and to review the results of the sleep study.

And to top it all off, the doctor prescribed a nasal steroid to use everyday until we return to help with some of her persistent congestion. If her congestion worsens, he recommends a nasal wash. Uh-huh. I can just see Abby's enthusiasm at having a saline solution squirted into her nose each day. I couldn't even do it to myself a few years ago when I was fighting a terrible sinus infection.

On most fronts, I'm happy to wait and see and do tests to gather greater diagnostic information, but in the meantime, I can't help but wonder why her body struggles in these ways. Is there an underlying condition? Is it simply a case of genetics predisposing her to some anatomical challenges? Is it the result of something in utero or environmental?  

I suppose to some degree, my frustration stems from my struggle to follow blind instruction, a remnant of my authority-challenging inner self. The need to understand why and to argue the counterpoint of a decision before accepting the outcome began when I was about Abby's age (insert laughter of my parents here) and hasn't diminished with time. But without the benefit of a medical education, I'm left to draw my own semi-educated, self-informed conclusions. And so, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I'll fall to the default explanation of genetics and anatomy and fill that prescription for the nasal steroid. 

Such is the challenge of parenthood--moving forward in faith, even when I harbor so many questions.  


Monday, April 25, 2011

Learning to Live With Imperfection: A Two-Way Street

"Soon after [toddlerhood], he learns right from wrong and has to process his own failures and feelings of 'not being good enough.' He also learns that you aren't the perfect parent, and he learns to accept and work with someone who is also 'not good enough.' Forgiveness becomes a reality. Anger toward and love of the same person is a developmental milestone. He learns that there is not a 'good mom' and a 'bad mom.' Or a 'good me' and a 'bad me.' There is a 'good and bad me' and a 'good and bad you.' He is building frustration tolerance with himself and others. And that milestone gives him the ability to be imperfect and have relationships with imperfect people--a skill that serves him for life."
          --Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, Raising Great Kids: Parenting With Grace and Truth

This principle of the duality within me as a parent is the truth I'm learning to embrace, and I needed the reminder this morning. A rough start to the day with Ben left me off-kilter--not to the same extent that the same exchange would have a year or two ago--but still with questions and doubts and feelings that the conflict could have gone better. I assert again that parenting is hard, hard work at times, and not always clear. The only constant is the imperfection of all parties and the undeniable need for love, which covers a multitude of sins, in all circumstances.

I think at times I worry that there is no room for my own sin and inconsistency as a parent, as though somehow, to do the job "right," I can never make a mistake. I don't think I had considered that by living with me, a "good and bad" me, my kids learn how to forgive and extend grace to others in their life. By seeing my own failure and, in many circumstances, repentance, my kids learn to own their own failures and to repent. I will never be perfect in this life, and so I have the opportunity to model how to handle our imperfections. I suppose the key is to recognize when I am wrong so I can confess my errors to my kids and seek forgiveness. That confession brings healing to the situation. The truth-telling of where I sinned in the conflict sets us all free.

I take comfort in this idea of imperfect kids learning to live with imperfect parents and, in turn, an imperfect world. And as my kids learn to accept a mom that makes mistakes and comes up short of the ideal, I am learning to embrace the reality of imperfect kids. I'm not sure where I got the idea that kids should be "good kids" all the time, but it's a lie that I'm better able to recognize and relinquish day by day. In failure, we have greater opportunity to love. Forgiveness, grace, and mercy are powerful mentors. 

In the end, we are all prodigals, and the point of that parable is not that the son should never have left, should never have failed, but that the Father's love remained constant, and abundant, regardless. May I have the wisdom and grace to lavish my kids with such love, and may they return the same love in the face of my own faults. 

In so many ways, they already do.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Love Bugs

Last night at dinner, Abby leaned toward Josh and said, "Ih luhv you, Daddy. Sometimes Ih talk to Jesus becoz youh're my favorite Daddy in duh whole wohrld."

Josh melted, I smiled, and Ben said, "Abby, you're full of love and silliness and songs."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Out the Door

When the doorbell rings this morning, the four of us--the kids, the pup, and I--enter a frenzy of activity at the front door. Ben and Abby fasten shoes and gather coats and bags, and I wrangle Merlot away from the door so they can get past without being trampled by an exuberant puppy desperate to greet the mom who drives the Tuesday morning carpool shift. I hold Merlot's collar, her front paws swimming wildly through the air in desperate attempts to propel herself out the door, and the kids slide out. When the door closes and I release her collar, Merlot sits placidly, empty of all trace of our epic struggle. I roll my eyes.

I don't dare open the door again, so I look instead through the window to make sure the kids get in the car without a sudden realization that someone has forgotten a backpack or lunch or library book or other necessity. What I see, though, is Abby standing in the driveway, unmoving. She's looking at me with an impish smirk. I brace myself for whatever assertion of will this three-and-a-half-year-old darling may throw down at 8:30 a.m.

When she catches my eye, however, she waves at me and, smiling, shouts, "Bye, Mommy!" before turning to the car and skipping off for her morning. It happens in a second. And I pause, right there, waving and smiling back, to give thanks for these little people whom I love.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What is True, Regardless

"I lihke your rehd cayne, NetNet," Abby says, ever-mindful of aesthetic.

We walk through the parking lot to the hospital doors, and Abby asks a dozen questions about the two helicopters landing on the helipads. She holds her auntie's hand, the one not holding the pretty red cane, and in typical Abby fashion, she motors in every possible manner but walking: hopping, skipping, weaving--in starts and stops. I say silent, smiling prayers that she doesn't tumble us all.

We navigate through the corridors of this beautiful, new facility, and Abby exclaims over the coffee stand and asks to push the elevator button and wonders aloud why the hospital is an airport when she passes the large, portrait windows looking out over the roof and parking lot. When we reach the neurology department, we sit on the bench, and she asks to play with the cane--an endeavor that proceeds successfully for approximately twenty-three seconds before she attempts raising it skyward like a baton and then grounds it against another patient's ankle.

While NetNet fills out her paperwork, I settle Abby at the table with her pink legos, hopeful this diversion will provide the focus her ever-busy body needs. She builds and settles, but her voice retains its signature boisterousness and signature volume--loud--half-narrating, half-singing her three-year-old stream of consciousness.

Her presence is a lesson in contrast. The air of the center is quiet, somber, serious--as most hospital waiting rooms are--but Abby flashes joy like a beacon from the pre-disease world. Her pink boots smack of care-free confidence, and she brushes her hair out of her face with girly, business-like efficiency. She is wholly unaware of the dozens of people around her facing new diagnoses or inexplicable loss of function or a future full of questions marks. I am aware of people watching her. Some smile, some just observe. Her auntie and I exchange amused glances and discuss whether having Abby in the exam room will be too much of a distraction. We decide we'll all go in together.

Abby plays quietly with her legos on the chair while the professional checks my sister's eyes, reflexes, strength, and balance. There has been new weakness, new numbness for the first time in two years. Little Missy worries the flashlight shining in NetNet's eyes will hurt her eyes, and my sister explains what the light does and that it doesn't hurt. I am struck by the fact that, regardless of context or ability, my sister is simply NetNet to Abby, always. NetNet's personhood, importance, role, does not change, even if her body does. Abby's perspective is the most real, the most true.

She finishes her lego creation: a tall, tall house with a swing on top. I tell Abby I would like a tall house with a swing. My sister says, "Don't you miss those days, when you get to create whatever you want?"

I am grateful for her lightness of being. I read the signs proclaiming that Colorado has been identified as a high risk zone for MS and that MS is the leading cause of disability among young women, and I wonder about Abby's future. She is more likely to get MS given her aunt's diagnosis, and we live in a latitudinal hot spot for disease anyway. It is possible that one day this beautiful, exuberant girl will receive the same news her beloved auntie did the day before her twenty-sixth birthday.

I hope fervently not, but if so, my prayer for her would be the same as it is for my sister. That she would know she is not defined by her ability or lack thereof. That she would know to her core what is most real, most true. She is loved profoundly. She is unchanged in my eyes. She is a vessel of light in a world of serious, somber waiting rooms.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What is Fleeting--And What Isn't

They sat on the couch in the early evening light: Abby snuggled into Daddy's side, Ben resting his head just under Daddy's chin. Josh read the book aloud, and the kids--content in their father's arms--grew still, and quiet. I watched them from the nearby chair, memorizing the picture, reveling in this little miracle of family, already feeling nostalgic for this togetherness, knowing they will not always tuck in so close.

Even as I wrestle with this sense of fleeting time, I remind myself that we are in this moment now, enjoying our children at this age, savoring this era's gifts. Time may pass quickly, but we're not missing it. We spend time on the couch with books now, invest ourselves in these moments as they arise, in hopes that we build a relationship that will remain intact regardless of age and size.

Their relationship to us has already changed in the five and three years we have called them ours, but it grows sweeter, richer, with time. The nature of our interactions will continue to change as the kids grow older and more independent, as they are drawn out of the shelter of our family and into the lives they build with their own friends and, eventually, families--and we will miss this time when little bodies fit so cozily, and happily, in our arms.

But I choose not to believe that this evolution of our role will constitute loss, that the future will be any less precious than the present. I am trusting that our relationships will continue to grow ever sweeter and richer as we make space in our days, in our lives, to know them and to walk with them through their worlds.

Sometimes, I watch our kids sleeping, their still babyish bodies sprawled across their beds, their faces infantile in their peacefulness, empty of the day's activity--and my heart aches with love for them, with an overwhelming desire to scoop them up and snuggle them forever. I imagine this urge will always exist, even when Ben and Abby are in the throws of adolescence or watching their own children sleep. But while they may not climb into our arms in ten, twenty, or thirty years, our love can provide the same strength and kindness, the same respite and security, then as it does now. Indeed, I pray for the grace to make it so.

In the meantime, though, I'll squeeze them as much as they'll allow while our arms are still their favorite place to be.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

He Knows Me

In the car today after Ben's ski lesson, he carefully unpacked his end-of-session goody bag full of everything from cliff bars to stickers to maps of the mountain, all a gift from his instructor. He pulled the contents out one at a time and showed them to Abby, who admired them dutifully.

At one point, Ben said to Abby, "I'm not going to show this to Mommy because she won't like it."

At this declaration, I, of course, quickly glanced in the rearview mirror to see what might be too offensive to show me. I glimpsed a plastic skull ring on his finger and began thinking about how amazing it is that he can intuit my discomfort with all things grotesque or morbid and then began worrying that I've been, perhaps, too overt in my discomfort toward such objects so that he would feel, at five, that he needs to shield or protect me from certain things--or, perhaps more accurately, protect his loot. Because I was already plotting how I might get rid of that ring. Is that terrible? And if this is the dynamic now, how will he ever feel comfortable confiding in me as he gets older and the issue becomes more complicated than a skull ring.

So I said in my most encouraging, light-hearted voice, "It's okay, Bug. You can show me anything."

At which point, he held up another plastic treasure and said, "See, Mommy. It's a spider ring. You don't like spiders."

To which I exhaled a great sigh of relief and chuckled internally and confirmed, "Yep, you're right. I don't like spiders," and then proceeded to exclaim over his creepy crawly.

Spiders. I should have known.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Social Jungle

I watch Abby show her picture to her friend. "Do you like it?" she asks, and I see her heart hanging out there in the space between them--earnest, sincere, hopeful.

Her little friend, also just three, ignores her.

"Do you like it?" Abby asks again, this time a little louder, in case her friend didn't hear.

Her friend looks up from her own art, looks at Abby's picture, and puts her head back down, saying nothing.

This intentional act of ignoring leads Abby to press further: "Do you like it? Do you like my picture, [Friend]?"

And finally, the little girls speaks: "I don't like those colors."

My mama heart catches.

"What color do you like?" Abby asks, seemingly unfazed.

"Pink," her friend declares.

"I like pink, too," Abby says. It's true. She loves pink. But this picture of the world with the sun beams streaming out of it and the continents and a few people doesn't call for pink. Instead, Abby used blue and red and green and yellow, as most maps do.

Abby returns to coloring her picture with not-pink and says, "I'm going to give this to my mom." Her tone is as light as it was when she began the conversation. She puts the lid on her marker, folds the paper up a dozen times, and brings it to me. "This is for you, Mama," she says with eyes that sparkle with pride.

And I am so, so grateful.

It amazes me how early kids learn to be cruel. So quickly interactions among children can degrade into Lord of the Flies hierarchies and power plays and the use of others for one's own social advancement. They learn how much power they can wield through silence or imitation or feigned indifference. They test each other's reactions, intentionally provoking anger or frustration or tears because, whether they realize it or not, there is a thrill to having that kind of control over another.

But it's unfair, because children don't yet realize that these social games and relational rivalries are untrue. How many adults carry around the wounds of childhood, scars from the playground wars that left them feeling ugly or stupid or weak or different? Kids internalize the opinions of those around them, even if the messengers are only three or five or ten or fifteen and hardly qualified to make judgements about the value of another person.

I'm sure my children are not innocent of these interactions. I'm sure they try their hand at these cheap tricks. I've listened in the back seat as Ben has tried to tell Abby something, with increasing insistence, as she ignores him, reveling in the power of her silence to elicit such emotion from her big brother. Once we've experienced this treatment, once we've been on the receiving end of meanness, it is all too tempting to try it out, to propel oneself out of the role of powerless and into the role of powerful by turning on someone else. It is one of the great ironies of life that we tend to hurt others in the very ways we ourselves have been hurt.

In fact, many of the kids I see playing this way are younger siblings who have likely been treated this way by older brothers and sisters who learn to be mean from friends who've been mistreated by other parents and siblings and friends. There is a heritage of cruelty that trickles down to even the youngest and most innocent around us.

But still it pains me to watch kids, my kids especially, hand their hearts to little people around them who don't recognize the significance of the gift. Children trust freely, they believe easily, they offer themselves unreservedly--and this is at once the beauty and danger of youth.

My mama heart was so grateful Abby chose to give her picture to me, because I will always see the value in her creations because I will always see the value in her. By focusing on my response rather than her friend's, her little spirit remains buoyant, unfettered by the judgements of another. I want my children to listen to me and Josh above all other voices. The more they trust us and our word, the less vulnerable they will be to the falseness around them.

As they grow, they will be, indeed have already been, hurt by those around them. But I pray that my love, that our love as parents, helps to heal those wounds, to mitigate the damage, so they grow up with a true understanding of who they are, unmarred by others attempts to establish themselves at another's expense.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Aftershocks

On October 17th, 1989, at 5:04 p.m., I was putting away laundry in my room--finishing up my final tasks before our family would settle on the couch to watch the World Series where the Giants and the A's would play each other--when the rumbling started and the house began shaking and then kept shaking and shaking. I ran to my doorway, as all children raised in California have been taught, and saw my youngest sister, just five at the time, trying to climb the ladder to her top bunk, too little to understand. I remember panicking for her and trying to coax her down. When the shaking stopped, I grabbed her and then watched my other sister finish her scramble up the stairs to my mom, her homework left on the floor of our family room where our TV had fallen.

Our thoughts went immediately to my dad, who drives all over northern California for his work, and we began trying to get in touch to make sure he was safe. He was fine, though we understood all too well how easily we could have lost him.  He was supposed to be on the Bay Bridge that day, which we learned had collapsed in part.

The Loma Prieta quake registered a 7.1 magnitude and lasted twenty seconds by some accounts, a full minute by others--a seeming eternity, regardless, when you're riding out the waves. But the worst part was the aftershocks, which triggered a rush of panic and adrenaline and fear that this one might be the one that changes our story. All three of us slept on the floor of my parents' room for a week, too fearful of being apart.

Eventually, we went back to our own rooms. Eventually, we went about life without the anxiety that it might end at any second. Eventually, we stopped running through the what if's that prepare us for life's hypthotheticals. But there were still times when I'd hear the rumbling of what I later realized was a semi driving by or, even years later in college, the approaching T in Boston, when my heart instinctively skipped a beat and my stomach fluttered with dread. The trauma of survival remains, not just in your memory but in your body. Survival changes you. Even when your experience is one one-thousandth that of brothers and sisters around the world.

When I heard about Japan this morning--their 8.9 earthquake followed by a devastating tsunami--I thought about the widespread grief and fear and panic that would ebb and flow for these people over these next several hours and days and weeks and months and years. I thought about the thin, tight feeling that takes residence in your chest whenever you wait out crisis, the feeling that makes it impossible to breathe properly and that leaves you bone-weary, teetering on the exhausted brink between stoicism and weeping.

Now they are being rocked by aftershocks as large as many countries' initial, catastrophic quakes. And they have the added mass destruction of the ocean rising out of its bed and sweeping away any hope of survival or recovery in some parts. It is heart-breaking. 88,000 missing. So many more waiting, hoping, praying. Homes, businesses, livelihoods destroyed. The enormity of their loss is unbearable. Impossible to fathom.

And the ripples of this quake reach the other side of the globe. It is extraordinary that the western coast of the Americas braced for their own waves, our global community separated--and now connected--by a mere ocean.

These disasters dash the illusions upon which we rely every day: that our world is safe and secure, that when we go to bed at night, everything will be the same as when we woke up, that we are somehow in control of our lives. It is a global wake-up call.

But even before I heard the news of Japan this morning, I'd been reflecting on how tenuous our sense of reality is. Our friends' infant son--seemingly healthy at birth--now waits in the NICU at Children's Hospital while doctors conduct test after test to determine the cause of his seizures. Each day, they wait for an answer, for any word that the crisis is over. They make it through an afternoon without a seizure and hope that perhaps they are getting close. And then his little body shakes again, and the hope gives way to unbearable disappointment and renewed anxiety. Over and over. They are suffering their own aftershocks, a personal tsunami, and I wonder how long it will take before their lives resume the illusion of normalcy.

My heart is heavy today. I know neither story is over, and I know that time will heal much, but first, these precious people must ride out the emotional marathon of the aftershocks, even as they try to piece together a semblance of their former lives.

Lord, help us all.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In Process

There is a big world my children will walk into one day.

In truth, they already walk in this big world, but it is like the dream version where bad guys are mostly fictional and the golden rule is standard and black and white has not yet melded into the complexity of gray. Where they hold the hands of adults who love them and who make sense of inconsistencies and who carry the heavier things of this life until they are old enough to manage them.

There is a big world that we walk into everyday.  Where humans are trafficked and children are exploited and people's vulnerabilities and misdeeds are manipulated to keep them in slavery.

But sometimes it feels like I walk in the dream world, too.  My reality is so far from their realities.  And yet these miseries are not so far from me. A few doors away, maybe.  A few miles at most.

I've found my mind drawn to them recently, these anonymous sufferers.  They have taken residence in my head, and I'm left wondering how to reconcile their existence with mine, wondering what to do with the knowledge of problems so deep and wide.

It's an incomplete thought, I know. But I want to keep looking past the illusion until I find an answer (is there an answer?). This is life in process.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Carpe Diem, Five-Year-Old Style

Benjamin is on the cusp of riding his bike without training wheels.
On the cusp of skiing a real mountain.
On the cusp of swimming.
On the cusp of sitting with a book for hours on end, hopelessly seized by a story.

All this latent potential, this ability waiting to be possessed, realized...

He has it.  He's growing it.  Little by little.  Day by day.

But he waits for it.  He works steadily.  He rushes nothing. There is no frustration, no impatience, no impetuous stomping of feet.

"I love riding my bike," he says as we put his bike away to head in from the cold.  "It's fun to learn."

"I love learning how to ski," he tells me at the foot of the bunny hill.

After he finishes our bedtime story, he says, "Learning to read is fun."

The outcome, the goal, the skill itself is secondary to the joy of acquiring and building and improving.

I get his perspective, understand his love of learning completely.  But I am amazed he has such insight at five.

May he always be so wise.

video

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Thermometer Phenomenon

I remember times in high school and college when friends would ask me to feel their forehead to see if they seemed feverish.  I remember obliging them but insisting I had no sense of what felt normal versus hot.  "Maybe you're a little warm?" I'd offer, unsure.  "Do you have a thermometer?"

My hands were untrained then.  This knowledge of what feels normal comes only from time and experience and a relationship where touch is so routine, so regular, any variation is instantly recognizable.

I've become a remarkably accurate thermometer.  With my kids, I know immediately when something is amiss.  I wrap my hand around their foreheads and have a sense of whether they run a low fever or one that rages.  "They're probably under 100," I can say to Josh, and I'm right.  "I'm guessing he's around 101," and he is.  Or, like yesterday, I can hold Abby on my lap and feel the heat radiating from her little body and know she's very, very sick, know that when I get the thermometer, the reading will be well over the typical temperatures that accompany run-of-the-mill viruses and infections.  104.5, to be precise.  

This skill is a gift of motherhood.  With the arrival of my kiddos, my body became so intimately acquainted with the bodies of my babies that I recognize every change, every anomaly.  Nights of feedings, days of snuggling and soothing, hours of carrying and bouncing and hand-holding and hugging have left me expert in the feel of them--and this expertise is absolute.  

So this morning when I felt Ben's face, I knew that his low fever hadn't changed, that it hadn't yet spiked into the harbinger of the flu that Abby's body fights so fiercely. And when I felt Abby's head, I knew her fever was still high but that it was no longer alarmingly so.  And later this afternoon, when I returned to the house after the kids' naps, I felt Ben's forehead and knew his temperature had finally spiked.  The thermometer read 103.2, confirming that he, too, was coming down with the flu.  Conversely, Abby's little face finally felt fine--and sure enough, the thermometer read 98.8.  

It's one of those aspects of parenthood you don't think about until, one day, you're amazed at how refined your sense of touch has become, how sensitive your hands are to even the slightest difference.  I could never put this skill on a resume, yet it's an exclusive credential, one that only a select group can boast, evidence of the hours logged loving and knowing and being present.

The thermometer phenomenon: just another of the invisible wonders of motherhood.









  

 

 

Friday, February 18, 2011

This Morning's Gems

All the World's a Stage

While I brushed her hair in the bathroom, Abby said, "Walking is like dancing!" And for her, the two generally are synonymous.  

***
You Know You're from Colorado When...

...your five-year-old says, "It's warm like summer here," and the temperature is 47 degrees and sunny.

***
Beauty Everywhere 

"Ihs this mih albutiful?" Abby asked while we did her nebulizer treatment.  When I said, "Yes, this is your albuterol," she said, "Ih cahn't say al-bu-ter-fall."  I like her interpretation better anyway.

***
The Scientific Mind at Work

While driving to the doctor and discussing possible reasons for the forest fire at the end of Bambi, Ben suggested, "You know how when you rub two rocks or sticks together for a long time it can start a fire?  Maybe when the two big deer were fighting in the movie, their antlers rubbed together and made a spark that started the fire."  Sounds plausible to me.


***
Best of All

On the card Ben made for me after breakfast, he wrote: "to mY Best mommY EveR."


Sometimes, I just want to squeeze them for being who they are.  I love those kids.






Sunday, February 6, 2011

Enough

Inventory of Week:

Saturday: trip to ER where Josh is diagnosed with kidney stones
Sunday: skiing with the kids
Monday: Ben wakes at 4 to throw up and spends the day home sick
Tuesday: school cancelled due to near-record low temperatures; we spend morning in urgent care because Josh's pain is unbearable
Wednesday: school cancelled again; the kids and I visit the Denver Museum of Art
Thursday: full day of school, spin, volunteering in Ben's class, and ski lessons, punctuated by Abby's cries of pain through the afternoon and night due to ear pressure created by lingering congestion and elevation changes on our mountain roads
Friday: doctor's appointment for Abby (no ear infection, at least) and pancake dinner to celebrate Ben's completion of another box in his reading series
Saturday: quiet day of play and errands
Sunday: skiing with the kids

It's been quite a week.  Epic in its absolute lack of reliability, predictability, stability, stasis, or any other semblance of normalcy.

And yet all the more memorable for the moments of fun and sweetness in between the crises.

After soothing Abby back to sleep for the third time Thursday night--her tears upon waking nearly inconsolable as she waited for the latest dose of pain medicine to take effect--I lay in bed exhausted, yet thankful.  I found myself praying, gratitude overflowing from my heart: that our challenges are temporary, that our family is generally healthy, that I have the freedom to be home to take care of my family when they're sick, that I was able to find subs for my spin classes, that even though it had been a hard, hard week, we managed to ski and enjoy the art museum and read books together.

That when the pain in Abby's ear grew intolerable as we drove down snow-packed Squaw Pass from Ben's ski lesson Thursday, Benjamin--concerned and desperate to help--counted down the minutes until she could take more medicine in his most empathetic, big-brother voice.

Seeing someone you love in pain is all-consuming: it taxes every emotion, focuses all your energy to survival--theirs, and when it's over, depletes you of everything but overwhelming love, and gratitude that it's over.

It was an easier week for me than for them.  I did not have to feel the pain; I merely witnessed it.  Yet we all shared in this experience of family, of bearing together the sorrow and frustration of not being able to fix it, of not knowing what's around the corner, of not being able to count on the daily routines upon which we rely.  We lived minute-to minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day, holding our plans loosely, not knowing whether pain or illness or weariness would topple our finely crafted agenda.

Instead, we said, "Maybe we could...if everyone's okay...we'll see how we're feeling..."--and then accepted each moment as it presented itself.  It felt strange, almost irresponsible, to cancel plans one afternoon and hit the slopes the next. Yet this was our week.  One day we're rushing to the doctor, and the next, all is tranquil again.

Only one thing was constant: in each circumstance, we shared life in all its messy glory.

And at the end of this tenuous week, my heart aches and bursts with love so fierce, I know I can slay life's dragons with it.  For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, they are mine, and I am theirs--and this is enough.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Change of Plans

There's a moment at 4:18 in the morning--when you enter your son's room after being woken by cries of "Mommy" to hear him say he feels like he's going to throw-up--when you face a choice: internally bemoan your exhausted state and clamber for some shred of control, or surrender.

I'm learning to surrender.

We walk to the bathroom together--my eyes barely open, his eyes showing the signs of discomfort and exhaustion--and I sit on the edge of the tub while he kneels in front of the toilet.  We wait there together in shared misery.  And wait.  After a few minutes, when it doesn't come, we return to bed, but we both know it's a temporary reprieve.  Once you've been woken at that time by a sick child, the chance of returning to sleep uninterrupted are slim to nil, and as anticipated, he calls just before five, having done the real thing.

The rest of the morning flashes before my eyes.  What was supposed to be a quiet, productive morning of research and writing followed by reading time at the kids' school gives way to the new reality: last-minute carpool arrangements and canceling plans and bathroom runs and Gatorade.

But there's no use fighting it.  Stomach bugs trump everything.  First and foremost, I am wife and mommy.  Everything else is secondary.  Rather than try to maintain any of my original agenda for the morning while he recovers on the couch, I give up my to-do list.  We take Abby to school, carefully navigating the icy roads, and Ben and I return home to snuggle up and watch a movie, together.  The time is quiet, sweet, and I receive this change of plans as a gift of alone time he and I rarely get these days.

Now he's napping, for the first time in months and months.  Abby, too, slumbers upstairs.  Outside, the snow that came down as an icy mist this morning is now fluffy and falling fast, covering our little corner of the world in tranquil, white frosting.

It is not the day I anticipated.  It's better.
 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Defying Inertia


Last night, I felt an overwhelming desire to get the kids out today.  Somewhere.  Anywhere.  Depending on the weather.  I hadn't come to any conclusions about what our big outing would be.  I just knew I wanted one.

This morning, though, the kids woke up and played and played and played while I handled the morning chores of breakfast and getting Merlot fed and walked and responding to various emails that needed attention.  The kids were so happy playing in their pajamas, in fact, that I was tempted to scrap the whole plan to leave the house and just enjoy a mellow morning in, together.

But something nudged me to find an activity and go, and so I threw the idea of an outing into the realm of possibilities for our day, and the kids latched on.  The mere mention of an adventure was enough to send them scrambling upstairs to dress themselves, and we made it out the door in less than the usual eternity it takes us to complete the steps of putting on coats and shoes and buckling into the car.

I settled on the Colorado Railroad Museum because it was close (and we needed to get Abby home for an early nap so she'd be up in time for her afternoon dance class), it was indoor with an outdoor option (so we could handle whatever the weather presented), and it's hard to pass up giant-machines-that-go when small children are involved (vehicles of any kind hold universal appeal for small people).

The museum was a hit.  They pushed trains over bridges and into the roundhouse on the train table set up in the lobby; they were enthralled by the huge model train set that ran through tiny mountain towns and tunnels and trestles downstairs; and they never ran out of enthusiasm for the offerings of the outside yard full of actual, retired trains that they could climb in and on.  Our morning at the museum was so delightful, they begged to stay longer when I said it was time to go.

Looking back at our time, I can't believe I considered not going.  I was tempted to abandon my plan this morning when the kids were playing so nicely, tempted to stay put and take the path of least resistance: leave the kids in their pajamas to play puppies and dinosaurs and whatever else their imaginations manufactured--and just hang out.  There's nothing wrong with this method of passing time--it's great, in fact--except that it is my regular default, and I probably succumb to the ease of that plan too readily.  This morning, however, I made a conscious decision to step forward, defying inertia, to create new and different memories with my cuties.  And the shifting of momentum to get us moving was absolutely worth it.

As we drove home, Ben, unprompted, thanked me for taking them to the museum.  "What made you decide to take us there?" he asked between bites of his lunch in the car.

"I thought it would be fun for us to have an adventure together," I told him--and he half-giggled to himself, pleased with my answer.

Later in the drive, he announced he wants to be a conductor when he grows up.  I could see the visions of maneuvering those mighty machines with their solid levers and mysterious switches dancing through his head.

There's nothing wrong with surrendering to the call of a mellow day at home, but it also pays to act with intention, to make a plan and stick with it.  I know this mellow mama will be looking for more opportunities to do so in the future.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wait for It

Since we live in the mecca of snow-centered diversion, it is considered a given that our children will learn how to ski.  "Have they learned how to ski?" is as commonly asked as "Where do they go to school?"  And since the slopes are so close and the resort passes for children so cheap--sometimes even free in faith they're cultivating a life-long, eventually-paying enthusiast--many children learn young.  Several of our friends' children began at two or three-years-old; some of Ben's friends are on racing teams this year.

So I'll admit to feeling a little pressure to get our kids out there and on their way to a winter full of downhill adventure.  But that pressure has always been tempered by an awareness that Ben, our prudent, cautious, calculating little man, would need introduction to this sport at the right time: start too soon or too fast, and we may kill any chance of getting him back on skis before his tenth birthday.

We contemplated starting him last year, but the logistics of getting him up with Abby still so small were prohibitive.  So we determined we'd start them both this year, figuring our fearless three-year-old would probably be happy to try anything big brother was doing and hoping the company of little sister would give Ben the added bit of comfort he might need to jump into something new and unfamiliar.   We rented gear for both of them for the season and decided that as soon as there was enough snow, we'd start practicing in the driveway as a warm-up to the big-leagues on the resort runs.

The kids couldn't wait to try their skis.  They'd put them on in the house with their ski pants and helmets and goggles and gloves and try sliding on the carpet, talking about how excited they were to learn.  We all talked about the fun we'd have when it snowed.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans, and we didn't get our first real snow dump until this last weekend, when normally we would have had half a dozen major storms by now.

We saw the weather report Friday and told the kids we'd be able to try skiing Sunday.  When we went to church Saturday night, Abby told everyone she was going skiing the next day.  I prayed the storm would work its magic so as not to disappoint.

The snow indeed began falling overnight Saturday, but it came down slowly, gently, accumulating barely an inch or two by morning.  The kids have no real sense of quantity, so as soon as they finished breakfast, they asked if they could ski.  We told them we'd need to wait a few more hours, hoping enough snow would accumulate to make it even remotely feasible.  The kids busied themselves with puzzles and games but continued asking when they could go it.  Around 10:30 that morning, we decided there was enough snow on the grass to at least get them up on their skis and begin learning some basics, even though our driveway, the perfect bunny hill, still didn't have enough coverage.

Their excitement was palpable as we bundled them up to head out.  With their ski boots on, they tromped like seasoned professionals out of the garage and into the yard.  Josh grabbed their skis, and we all stood at the top of our yard anticipating the maiden voyage.

I was nervous, I'll confess, not sure what to expect from the kids as they experienced the sensation of gliding downhill for the first time.  Would they be okay with falling?  We'd tried to explain how fun it is to fall in the soft, pillowy snow.  Would they mind gathering momentum before knowing how to stop?  We'd assured them they could always fall over if they felt they were going too fast.

Josh helped Ben, then Abby, step into their skis, and they practiced falling over sideways.  He taught them to scoot their bottoms right next to the skis before pushing up with their arms in order to stand back up.  He instructed Ben on how to step widely with his skis to point himself downhill.   Then he let Ben grab his arm with both hands, and they began: slowly, almost having to propel themselves at first, and then sliding freely as the slope increased.  Ben smiled.  He fell over near the bottom of the yard.  And he said, "I want to do it again."  Success.


Abby's start was more eventful.  We think her boots must have been too tight at first, because after one run, she wanted to be done, claiming her legs were too tired.  After we helped her out of her skis, she fell like a tree into the snow, laying there until I came to help her up.


But after loosening her boots and getting her back up again, she made another attempt and then asked for more.

We spent the next forty-five minutes pushing the kids back up the hill so they could slide down again.  After just a few "runs," Ben wanted no assistance other than to help him back to the top, where he could turn himself around, get going, and stay balanced as he slid down.  He even managed to make his "pizza wedge" and stop himself on a handful of occasions.  Throughout our time, he'd say, "This is fun!  Skiing is fun!" through big smiles of pride and accomplishment and delight.

Though Abby's three-year-old coordination left her more dependent on us, she smiled and smiled, letting go of Josh to slide to me for the last few feet of her course each time down.  I'd catch her under her arms and she'd lean back, looking up into my face with a huge grin.  I'd kiss her cheek, turn her around, and push her up once again.  Several runs in, she said, "I like skiing!"

When we depleted the supply of snow in our yard and came back in the house to warm up, Josh and I exhaled a collective sigh of relief.  Our first session went about as well as we could have hoped.  Ben clearly has the coordination and motivation to pick up this new skill and excel.  He absorbed every instruction Josh gave him, learned and executed the skills quickly, and enjoyed the process.  When he begins his official lessons next month, we have no doubt he'll be ready.

And watching Abby's process confirmed that we're right to wait another season before officially putting her in lessons.  She's enjoying a taste of it, but she's not quite ready for the full experience yet.

There are times I second-guess our decisions to wait or slow down on introducing the kids to experiences.  But our morning in the yard confirmed we are wise to listen to our gut.  We really know our kids best, even if it means they're a little behind some of their peers.  Ben's ready, really ready, and he'll probably catch up quickly--quicker, I imagine, than if we'd pushed him into learning too soon.  

When the timing's right, it's clear.  And it's worth waiting for.
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