Monday, August 31, 2015

The Gabardine Suit

This past weekend, I boarded a plane and left my family to spend a long weekend with our dear friends Sara and Jeremy in Portland, Oregon. I had an amazing time. Sara and Jeremy have no children, but are the godparents of our sons and they adore children. Hence, the weekend was child-free but still filled with stories of my kids that they patiently listened to and laughed at because they love me and they love my kids too. My time in the Pacific Northwest was fabulous as always, and we crammed every minute full of activities that are difficult, if not impossible, to do with young children. Examples include wandering around bookstores for hours, enjoying a coffee shop and not worrying that my very presence might be disturbing the patrons around me, perusing a menu at a restaurant, leisurely nursing beers at microbreweries, crossing rivers by jumping onto slippery rocks, reading books on an airplane, and occasionally sleeping at night. I was really able to let loose and indulge while I was away, though doing so many adult-oriented activities made me miss my husband like crazy. Of course, I missed my kids like crazy as well. I thought my nostalgia might do me in when we reached the small fountain at the International Rose Test Garden. The last time I was at this fountain it was steadily raining, and I snapped a photo of Silas as a toddler in a raincoat, examining a rose petal that he had pulled from the water with grubby fingers. When I looked at that fountain and imagined my baby standing there smiling at his prized petal, oblivious to my camera, I about wept.

The funny thing is that I felt like a fraud the entire time I was gone. At this point in my life, I find my identity wrapped up tightly in motherhood--so much so, in fact, that packing a suitcase and driving away from home for three and a half days led to my initial feelings of anxiety and loneliness. In my everyday life, if I run to the grocery store or pick up a pizza while the kids stay home with BJ, I feel like I'm tricking everyone that comes in contact with me. The cashier and fellow customers (if they notice me at all) notice a mid-thirties woman by herself, and may assume that I'm sailing along in life unattached. They can't see who I really am: a mother with three invisible children hanging on her legs, wiping boogers on her shirt, serenading her with stories of thwarting bad guys by intentionally setting the faucet to "too hot" so that enemies who might choose to bathe in our home will get what's coming to them. My kids are inextricably tangled around me and in me, and walking around without them seems deceitful. What you see is not what you get, for I really come in a package deal.

I remember the first time I ever felt this way. Silas was two weeks old, and BJ's parents kept him for a couple of hours so that BJ and I could enjoy a nice meal in a restaurant. I distinctly remember standing and waiting for a table when I was hit with a small wave of panic. I wondered, how will these people ever know that I'm a mother? They probably think I'm not a mother! For once, the evidence wasn't with me, either in utero or in my arms. Why I think this matters to anyone in the least is beyond me. It is my own self-consciousness, or perhaps my own self-indulgence, that leads me to surmise that anyone may wonder if anything might be amiss when I walk into a room alone. In any regard, the feeling is real, and I suspect I'm not the only mother who feels this way.
So here I sit on a small United airplane, flying over what I presume is the Painted Desert, counting down the minutes until I hug my husband and tackle my three children's soft, good-smelling skin with kisses. Only an hour and a half to go. It all reminds me of Simon and Garfunkel's "America," in which a couple on a bus pretends that fellow passengers are undercover spies in order to pass the time. I'm not a spy in a gabardine suit with a bow-tie that's really a camera, but I'm not who I appear to be either. And the people around me will never know my ruse.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Kindergarten: The Glad Game

Half a mile down the street is a little elementary school, only a few years old. We drive past it often, and ever since it opened we occasionally have told Silas as we passed it, "Some day that's going to be your school!" That 'some day' always seemed so far away.

'Some day' finally arrived last Wednesday, the day that my little boy strode into kindergarten sporting an awesome pair of light-up Star Wars kicks and a Despicable Me backpack, and holding his mother's nervous heart. Apparently I need never have worried. The kid loves his school day, adores his teacher, and has easily made some friends in his class. The school seems to be quite tight-knit, and as luck would have it, I even know some of the faculty and staff. The lovely "Ms. G.," who has been a friend of mine since I was 17, is a full-time teaching assistant who has eyes on my boy from the moment I drop him off until he comes running into my arms with a grin at 11:48AM, which is the end of his day (we're doing half-day kindergarten). At the open house last week, I even recognized the school secretary as the mother of one of my childhood friends, and I was happy to receive her bear-hug upon our recognition of one another. The school is new and lovely, his classroom is exciting yet cozy, and his teacher is creative and personable. Silas is clearly in great hands.

As kindergarten approached, I (mostly) persuaded myself to play Pollyanna's "Glad Game" in place of wallowing in sadness. After all, I reasoned, it's not like I'm losing Silas. He's actually introducing us to this new, awesome thing! Besides, he's only gone in the morning. I reminded myself of Malala Yousafzai, the widely-recognized young activist and Nobel Prize laureate who survived a Taliban gunshot to the head and has fought bravely for the rights of girls and women to receive an education in all corners of the world. We're lucky, I told myself, that Silas has the privilege not only to attend school, but to attend a great school. Sending him to a place where he can learn how to reach his potential is not a sad occasion. There are mothers in many places who long for this opportunity for their children and don't receive it. We have our lives, our health, strong social support, and exciting opportunities. No wonder Pollyanna played this game! I felt a million times better about sending Silas to kindergarten when my perspective changed from negative to positive. As Pollyanna herself said, "When you're hunting for the glad things, you sort of forget the other kind."

Malala Yousafzai, whose book I Am Malala is fabulous, by the way

Still, despite my best efforts, it was a bit of a sucker punch during the first morning's walk home without him. I held back tears until we were off school grounds, and even then I only shed a few as I pushed my other two along in the stroller. The waves of grief that day were brief and only brought on by my recollections of Silas as a newborn. I remember so well my maternity leave with him, those bright summer days spent falling in love with a new little baby so fast and so hard. I remember the kisses on his tiny face, smelling his hair, and falling into naps with him in my arms while Ellen DeGeneres and episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress" played in the background. Those were sweet, sweet days, and I'm lucky to have those memories. I've even been lucky enough to have them three different times with three different boys, two of which are still home with me full-time for years to come. Boy, am I excited when I think about that!

A new mom
 We're a little over one week into school now, and I'm very excited about the part in our lives that this little elementary school is already playing. Silas is currently enjoying School Spirit Week, which has included such antics as "Minion Day" and "Duct Tape Day," much to BJ's chagrin (I put BJ in charge of making duct tape accessories and he excelled---a new-found talent!). At occasional points throughout my life I have felt a sense of crisp clarity that I knew I was in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing. In the millions of directions I could have gone, somehow I had gotten it right and was following the correct path. Yesterday as I was chauffeuring my younger two around, another of those rare clarity moments hit me. Our family is in exactly the right home, in exactly the right school, in exactly the right class; the five of us belong here, and we are where we're supposed to be. I take great comfort in that intuition.

Nowadays, we still frequently drive by that little elementary school a half-mile down the road, but our words as we pass have changed a bit. Now we say, "Silas, there's your school! And George, that's going to be your school too some day!"

Some day.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Seinfeld-Potter Confluence

Some serious time has passed since my last post. You're welcome. I haven't wanted to write, and I couldn't think of anything to write about, so instead I spent my me-time after the boys go to sleep devouring travel memoirs and catching up on "VEEP" episodes. Last week on vacation, though, ideas for blog posts began popping into my mind in quick succession, so here I find myself again!

Topic number one: "Seinfeld." It seems to have been one of those love-it or hate-it shows, and I loved it. Elaine, Kramer, Jerry, and George are tops in my book. I've seen every episode at least once, and BJ and I regularly quote one-liners to one another when appropriate. Sometimes in my mind I pair a scene occurring with one of our boys with an equivalent "Seinfeld" scene and I smile inwardly. Occasionally this habit is my own personal "Serenity now!" that gets me through chaotic situations. There are just too many good scenarios and one-liners to ever capture in one place, but I thought I'd record some of our personal favorite "Seinfeld" quotes with images of our kids. My personal favorite scene had no appropriate place, but I hope the resulting Seinfeld-Potter Boy confluence brings a chuckle to "Seinfeld" fans. Enjoy!

George: "My name is George. I am unemployed and I live with my parents."

Kramer: "You think people will still be using napkins in the year 2000? Or is this mouth vacuum thing for real?"

Kramer: "These pretzels are making me thirsty."


Kramer: Here's to David Puddy for helping me install a much-needed and much-appreciated garbage disposal in my bathtub.
Peggy: You have a garbage disposal in your bathtub?
Kramer: Oh yeah, and I use it all the time. Yeah, I made this whole meal in there.
Elaine: This food was in the shower with you?
Kramer: Mm-hmmm. I prepared it as I bathed.

Kramer: Well, it's a story about love, deception, greed, lust and unbridled enthusiasm.
Elaine: Unbridled enthusiasm? 
Kramer: That's what led to Billy Mumphrey's downfall.
Elaine: Oh, boy.
Kramer: You see, Elaine, Billy was a simple country boy, you might say a cockeyed optimist, who got himself mixed up in the high-stakes game of world diplomacy and international intrigue.
Elaine: Oh, my God.

George: "Jerry, just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it."

Elaine: He's like a Svenjolly.
Jerry: Svengali.
Elaine: What did I say?
Jerry: Svenjolly.
Elaine: Svenjolly? I did not say Svenjolly.
Jerry: George?
George: Svenjolly. (licking some peanut butter off his finger)
Elaine: I don't see how I could've said Svenjolly.
Jerry: Well, maybe he's got, like, a cheerful mental hold on you.

Jerry: Elaine, have you ever gone out with a bald man?
Elaine: No.
Jerry: You know what that makes you? A baldist.

Jerry: "Did you know that the original title for War and Peace was War, What Is It Good For?"

George: "The sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli! I got about fifty feet out and suddenly, the great beast appeared before me. I tell ya, he was ten stories high if he was a foot."

George: "You should've seen her face. It was the exact same look my father gave me when I told him I wanted to be a ventriloquist." (In this photo, I'm referring to our George's countenance.)

Elaine: "We don’t know how long this will last. They are a very festive people."

Elaine, on pain pills: "Stella! STEEELLLLLAAAAA!" 

(Elaine is writing a catalogue with a mail room clerk that she intended to fire, but instead promoted because she was intimidated by his gruff voice and military fatigues.)
Eddie: I think I got something here! For the Bengalese galoshes. "It's tough keepin' your feet dry when you're kicking in a skull."
Elaine: Eddie...that might be just a tad harsh, for women's wear.
Eddie: Well, I'm not married to it. 
Elaine: Oh. Well, um, in that case why don't we take the phrase, "kicking in a skull" and we tweak it, you know, just a hair, to something like, what, like "strolling through a dewy meadow"? 

And finally, of course, the greatest of all:
Elaine: "You're through, Soup Nazi. Pack it up. No more soup for you. NEXT!"