Friday, January 29, 2010

Desire and Reality

Charlie and Manny at the zoo.

Yesterday Manny and I were in his room, preparing to change into "day-jams" after preschool. Sometimes, Manny emits a pained groan when he realizes he is still wearing daytime clothes and that he is not yet cloaked in jammies. So I was surprised when he paused to search for something in his nose. It took a while and I waited patiently because I had seen another mother at preschool speak sharply to her daughter about nosepicking and it seemed to me far too small of a thing to warrant such harsh criticism.

When the object made its appearance, I congratulated Manny on his find and whisked it off his finger to take it to the garbage. This one was too big to store on the inside of my sock for future laundering. He started to shriek, "I wanted that!" I said, "What were you going to do with it? Eat it?" I had a suspicion. "Yes!" he cried. "You can't eat boogers Manny. It's like eating pee," I said. How does one eat pee? But Manny didn't pick up on that. He accepted my explanation and got into his day-jams.

Tonight at dinner, Manny suddenly called out in a panicky voice, "WET TOWEL!", which is how he notifies me that he has sticky hands. I got him a towel and said, "You can just ask me in a calm voice and I'll get it for you right away. You don't have to get upset." He whined, "But I want to get upset!" I understood that. Fair enough.

I feel like our household is ruled by desires and not usually my own. Like when Glory ripped off her diaper in Manny's room tonight and peed boldly all over Manny's carpet. While I was cleaning that up with Glory's pants, Elena took off her diaper and crouched in the corner behind the dresser to pee. I didn't discover that until she went back later and stepped in the puddle.

If it were not for Curious George, there would have been no dinner because all three kids had to have physical contact with me simultaneously from 3:30 until 5:00 when the blessed monkey made his appearance. And the physical contact is specific to each child. Glory has to have her hand inside my bra, Manny has to be climbing on my head, my hair firmly in his grip, and Elena has to be everywhere the other two want to be, so the peace comes in very short intervals in-between a lot of jockeying for position.

And when I have the chance to go to the bathroom, I glance at the mirror and think, "Who is this person?" I don't even recognize myself. I look worn, which to me means I look like I'm in my 30s without a hairstyle, desperately in need of lip gloss and there is a stray, dare I say it, nose hair that glistens in the light that seriously needs some attention, but that would require a serendipity of opportunity and memory. I'm sure once it starts to tickle my upper lip, I will find the time. But, I also look loved and focused. And maybe some other interesting stuff, but who can say because these glances last half a second before Glory bursts in, climbs on the toilet with her blanket in hand, followed by Elena who pushes Glory onto the concrete floor and by the time I've ushered them both out, Elena has flushed the toliet at least eight times. This is seriously one of the best parts about motherhood. If you surrender, it really promotes discipleship- laying down one's self for the interests of others! Much easier to do when those others are screaming "MAMA!" at you and they are 2 1/2 feet tall, which really pulls on the heartstrings.

Most of the day today, I had a lingering desire to have a little time off. It was my morning to wake up early and Sam and I agree, the girls wake up earlier on my days. Somehow they know! But they aren't awake and happy. They are awake and somewhere on the scale between irritable and wailing. The four of us had plans to meet Kathleen and Charlie at the zoo today and I didn't think I was going to make it because it requires a hunt to kill commitment to dress any one of the children and I just didn't know if I had it in me. By the time I got to Manny, I was begging him to PLEASE HELP ME or we just wouldn't be able to go to the zoo. It wasn't a threat. It was the truth. I've heard that kids like it when you tell them the truth. Sure enough, Manny immediately stopped what he was doing and helped me. Maybe he likes my desperation. Maybe it makes him feel like he can relate.

But, thank God I didn't get time off today because some of the most beautiful things happened. The girls went right to sleep at naptime and I laid my head in Manny's lap while he watched PBS Kids and he gently stroked my hair all the while. Before they woke, Sam came home with the most beautiful book about Aslan that Carmen made for us and we wept together. Then, at bedtime, Sam and I each took long turns squeezing Glory and Elena. It's a new game where we say "SQUEEZE!" in a really strained voice, like we just whacked our funny bone on the washing machine and we jump around in circles while we're squeezing. They love it and gave me serious kisses afterward. And then, for the icing on the cake, I got to be the last one to see Manny before he went to sleep and I kissed his face and stroked his hair while he loudly sucked his fingers in my ear. What bliss.

Who's to judge desire and reality? Manny wanted to eat his booger. I wanted a day off. The reality for both of us was much better, and I'm really glad I didn't have to watch him eat his biggest one yet. It's the small things really.
P.S. Thank you Omar and Christy for your comments about Aslan. I really appreciated that.


One last snuggle.
Still beautiful, even though he was in so much pain.

Future Mr. December on the firefighter's calendar?

Watching Curious George. Glory (center) and Elena (right).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Christmas Joy and New Year Grief

The only reason I am including Christmas at all is because the first moments of the morning encapsulated, for me, the true Christmas spirit. First, the girls slept in until 6:45 or some luxurious time. It was so late that I woke ahead of them, wondering what had happened. Usually, when they wake up, they cry, but Christmas morning, I heard bits of happy noise and then quiet and then more happy noise and then quiet. Finally, Manny got up and insisted we get Glory and Elena so he could go see what was under the tree. When we opened the girls' door, they both were jumping up and down in their cribs in their completely dark room and laughing hysterically. It was magical and totally unprecedented. I don't know what prompted their joyous outburst, but it was as if they understood what a mysterious miracle Christmas is and how it, in concert, with all that followed makes all the difference, even in a world where unimaginable losses are sustained in lands that have already endured far too much. Who can hold all that? It is bleak and then there's Christmas.

On January 14, we said goodbye to Aslan, the golden retriever we brought home from the appropriately named Humptulips, Washington, just one month after we were married in 1999. He was the best dog I ever knew. As I drove past the Aurora Animal Hospital today, I remembered that I took him there for some care in his first few months and that I had given myself a headache suppressing sobs in front of the vet because I did not feel like I could care for him, like I didn't want to do the hard work required to care for him. I really wanted to give him back. He was a puppy and puppies are high maintenance. And he bit me ALL THE TIME, at least for a few weeks, which then, felt like the biggest, most worst thing ever. What did I know? The ironic part is that we became a family with Aslan, until he got downgraded to furniture status when Glory and Elena entered the picture. He also had to endure a number of episodes where I screamed, "Don't touch me!" repeatedly like a crazy person because I was that close to the edge and he was the only one to whom I could behave that way. As the girls have gotten older, I have gotten better and stopped wishing that, once again, I could give Aslan back. And then, gone. Too sudden. Too soon. I thought we would have more time and I realize now that I liked Aslan so much more than most people. I was just never responsible for all those said people's care. I wish we could have had him forever. I wish he had the lifespan of a chimpanzee or a sea turtle, so he could have sat by us as we laid down one last time. He was so much more of a faithful friend to me than I ever was to him and I am grateful for the last time he jumped on the bed after Sam got up with the kids, which he stopped doing long ago. And I am grateful for his last moments at home, as he patiently laid still (this time he had no choice) and allowed Elena to sit on his back while Glory put the baby sunglasses on him, exclaiming "glasses!" and the toy pot on his head- "Hat!" And I am grateful for the morning in early January when I found Manny on the floor next to Aslan. I asked him if he wanted to get back in bed and he said, "no. I'm going to lay here with Aslan." And I am grateful for his last smile, perhaps morphine induced, but a big smile anyway and that he let me lay myself upon him in thankfulness and regret for all the years we had and for all the ones we sort of missed while we were going through the painful process of becoming better than we are. He got the worst of us. But at least we were together and hopefully the chaos around him brought some untold joy...or annoyance. Either way, at least he is not stuck in dog pergatory, like a silly poem suggested that the animal hospital mailed us. I like to think Aslan is running with Grandpa Hal or Jesus or both, but I certainly don't like to think of him being stuck in some smallish meadow with a bunch of other dogs until Sam or I dies and comes to take him across the rainbow bridge to heaven. That actually wouldn't be pergatory for Aslan. It would be HELL. Anyone who knew Aslan knew he never met a person he didn't like and he NEVER met a dog he did like.

There has been all kinds of wonder since that day. Outpourings of kindness from friends and family who loved Aslan. Manny's imagination has taken off and every moment is a new opportunity for the creation of story or just for a passionate exclamation. Yesterday, on our way back from Trader Joe's, there was a jet flying overhead and Manny started to yell and point, "THIS IS MANNY'S HOUSE! THIS IS MANNY'S HOUSE!" It was brilliant. But around every corner, I expect to see Aslan and it makes me terribly sad. I wish I could also say it made my house terribly cleaner, but this is doubly untrue since the vacuum broke and Aslan apparently ate pounds of food every day that the children scattered all over the house. He did a good job. He was a good dog. This experience with him has taught me so much. I now understand why people have hallways crammed with framed pictures of their children from infancy through graduation. We need those visual reminders of who our loved ones have been to us, or when things get hard, we run the risk of forgetting. We must live in the moment, yes. But we best live in the moment when we allow ourselves to be decorated in all that we have known before. That is what makes us the most lovely. Our story. And lip gloss.