All is Merry and Bright

Last night we had planned to head to the botanical gardens and see them all lit up for Christmas, but Lower Alabama has been dumping rain for days, so we abandoned the plan.  Instead, we found a drive-through light show set up in the parking lot of the local minor league baseball stadium.  At $6 per passenger in the car, I was less than thrilled about this expensive sloppy seconds option, but I’m here to tell you it was pretty amazing.  We drove through various little vignettes – a “field” of “snow” complete with snowmen, a giant “grove” of “trees”, etc.  All of it was linked to the Christmas music broadcast on a local channel, twinkling in time to the beat.  It was really quite spectacular.  Expensive.  But cool, and perfect for a rainy day.

Side note: I usually wake up at the crack of dawn and use the few short minutes before the others wake up to have my “me time.”  This is when I write blogs, or do dishes/clean the house without kids in my hair, or occasionally (if it’s early enough) watch an episode of Twin Peaks.  Anyway, I’d written the above paragraph and then Jack snuck down the stairs and winnowed his way onto my lap.  He asked for a back scratch, so I set the laptop aside and scratched his back and chatted – “me time” was over, but “one-on-one kid time” is almost as good.  (“All three at once kid time” is kind of the worst, I’ll admit – I prefer these monkeys one at a time, when I can actually interact with them in a legitimate way.)  While I did, he read that paragraph, and then he picked up the laptop and typed this message: we saw santa and his elves singing to our music.  Then he said “what is this message for?”

Now they’re all up, so I have to cut short my musing.  Long story short – the lights were nice, Liam also had a Christmas party Friday which I went to and he loved, and he had a Christmas pageant Thursday night which was cute (he and all the other little boys in glasses were the three wise men), and Jack’s party was Tuesday because his teacher left on vacation after that and the Professor went to that one and tells me it was cute, and today I have a little work party and I have to go make cinnamon rolls for it, and tomorrow we light the advent candle at church, and then I somehow have to work two more days next week while everyone else is off on break.

THe boys are doing some sort of McGyver thing to the baby in his crib upstairs.  Gotta go.

Posted in Alabama, Holidays and Celebrations | 1 Comment

Lean Mean Weaning Machine

Well, I think I’m done pumping, which de facto means I’m pretty much done nursing.  Exit Baby-Making Stage of Life – enter Stage Two: Growing Kids and Careers edition.  I’d planned to carry on nursing fully through the Christmas holidays, since I will be home with the baby for several of those days and it’s easier than making a bottle . . . but I just. Can’t. Pump. Any.  More.  It’s such an interruption, such a flow-disruptor, especially considering that I wear professional clothes every day.  Slips and camisoles and professional, high-neckline dresses are not exactly designed to make the job of pumping easy, and keeping them perfectly pressed and not all drippy and stained is a nightmare.

We do morning and night and that’s it, and I’ll probably carry that on until I have a night or two away from the baby.  And then we’ll be done forever.  It’s been a lovely 11 months, but I’m ok with this being the end.  I feel like I have savored Craig’s babyhood, properly enjoyed him (to the degree my job allowed).  I’m really ok with him growing into a toddler, and then a full on little boy, tossing himself into the mix with his big brothers.  I truly cannot wait until he is walking – he sort of is already, a step here or there when he’s not paying attention.  Like his big brothers, he has pretty solid gross motor control and did from an early age.  I love his stocky little body, the little paunchy belly, the broad back – like a little gorilla.  I love watching him learn to use his arms and legs with increasing confidence.  I love his growing sass, his willingness to tell his brothers off (in total nonsense, of course).  He’s been a delightful little baby and he’s still a delightful big baby.  A big baby who drinks formula now, wee hee!

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A Morning at Home

The boys have a midday dentist appointment, so I’m remoting in from home this morning (rather than drive in, park, wait for two elevators, get all the way upstairs, get settled, say hello to all the coworkers as they wander down the hall asking everyone how the weekend was, and then packing it all up to leave again an hour later).  And you know what?  I’m taking an hour off and writing a blog post.  In fact, I wish I’d taken a run before I got a shower and dried my hair for eleven hours.  In the middle of a hectic holiday season, what better gift can I give to myself than an hour of relatively uninterrupted peace?  (I am still monitoring email, so . . . always susceptible to the partner emergency, of course!  But I remain hopeful that they are all tied up with the Monday morning small talk as well, and thus I will be spared . . .)

The shopping’s all done, except the teacher/postal carrier/paper delivery boy/trash collector gift cards.  The lights have been up on the house for a couple of weeks now, and the husband (a reader of this blog – hello dear!) has made the effort to turn them all on as soon as it gets dark so that they’re on before I get home, trying to stave off my tendency toward wintertime blues.  We’ve been burning the cedar logs he split from a dead tree he felled in our yard last year – cedar burns very nicely, hot and slow, lots of popping.  I’ve taken the boys for a drive around the neighborhoods to see the lights, and I’m here to tell you that you are tired of life, put some kids in a car and show them some twinkly bulbs and cheap plastic reindeer.  You will learn how to see beauty and magic again – if only in fleeting moments between their whining and brotherly fighting, that is.

I made sugar cookie dough on Friday night after the kids went to bed.  Saturday I tried to roll it out, but it was too dry – side note – I won’t use Alton Brown’s recipe again!  So I let it thaw on the counter, then re-mixed it with some more milk to make it less dry, then re-chilled it over night.  On Sunday midday we baked them, and Sunday evening the boys decorated them.  Very often, our holiday expectations yield disappointment when our kids are kids and don’t interact according to the script.  But Sunday night, they could’ve been a heartwarming Lifetime movie.  There was only one bottle of white cookie icing and yet were no fights, there was minimal spillage, and there were actual moments where each boy appreciated the other’s creative choices.  It’s like they knew Santa was watching or something.  ;)

We also had Jack’s first ever piano recital this weekend – that one went a little bit more according to the usual, which is to say that Craig and Liam were both total wiggly squirmy noisy nightmares and I had to exit the recital hall with them post-haste and sit in the car and watch Frozen while the Professor attended the rest of the recital.  We also sent to breakfast with Santa – the kids behaved admirably at this event and we even got a shout-out from an older couple seated next to us, who made a point to come up and praise the boys for being so well-behaved.  We got a nice pic with Santa after waiting in line for approximately one zillion years, as you do.

All smiles!

All smiles!

Sunday was Lessons and Carols at church.  The boys sang in a children’s choir, and had to attend both the early and mid-morning service.  The second service was a repeat of the piano recital – total nightmare – so we ducked out as soon as they had sung their piece.  They did great, though – knew the words, sang ‘em loud.  They did the best you can expect little ones to do, especially after a long weekend of having to sit quietly still and behave (at the Santa breakfast, the recital, two hours of church plus one hour of Sunday school . . .)

Now the time has come for my hour of leisure to end.  This is a haphazard recitation of the weekend, but suffice to say it had its highs and lows.  Overall we came out a Holiday Win – I’ll remember their enthusiastic Christmas cookie decorating for a long time.  And I’m looking forward to a little more holiday cheer, including a couple of work Christmas parties and a couple of school Christmas parties, a stroll around our local botanical gardens with its amazing light displays, and a trip to the parents’ house, where a real running train awaits two awestruck little men (the third will not be permitted too near the train platform, lest he destroy it all in his Godzilla/toddlerness).

Lots of love to all.  Hope to write again soon.

Posted in Holidays and Celebrations | Leave a comment

Mary Speaks

I’ve always disliked that song “Mary Did You Know” (sorry if you love it!) It plays this time of year on repeat, and I switch the channel whenever I hear it.  This is partly because it is pretty cheesy (see also: Christmas Shoes), but it is also because I feel that it is a rendering of a captivating and beautiful subject that is markedly inferior to another, less popular song.

When I was in tenth grade, I went to a high school in Virginia, one that had a nationally recognized chorus program. The elite women’s chorus was a group of 12 female juniors and seniors (3 on each part), who were all best friends. They traveled through the mid-Atlantic, performing shows and competitions, winning recognition far and wide.  All of them were also required to perform in the larger, less elite mixed-sex chorus that I was in. I used to watch their intimate, familiar interactions with envy – the inside jokes about stuff that happened on their trips, the backrubs, braiding each others’ hair, crying about boys.  I wanted to be in that group, for about a million reasons.

They sang Mary Speaks by Daniel Gawthrup in my tenth grade year. The group won awards for their rendering of this piece, and when I observed it in person, my focus was so great that I nearly blacked out.  Shortly after I heard them perform, I was notified that I had been selected to sing in this chorus.  There were 4 spots, and over 100 girls auditioned, so it was a big deal to get in.  A few weeks after that, my dad got orders to California – we would be moving in the summertime.  I told the choir director to release my spot in the elite choir to an alternate alto, and then I went out to the track and I wrapped my arms around myself and I walked, and walked, and walked.

At my new high school in California, I learned with no small amount of bitterness that there was no choir. Instead of singing, I joined the marching band and became involved in the theater program.  I made very close friends very quickly in that school.  We had inside jokes.  We traded backrubs. We braided each others’ hair.  I traveled to China with the band, and got to see Hong Kong in the last months before it switched from British rule to Chinese.  The theater program won a state competition with our performance of Little Shop of Horrors, and we traveled south to LA to attend the awards ceremony and collect our prize.  One life – the Virginia women’s choir – traded for another – the California band nerd/theater geek.  Not better, not worse, just different.  All good. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and all that.

Nevertheless, I hear “Mary Did You Know” and it makes me think of “Mary Speaks,” and I get a little wistful. I heard the popular song this morning, switched off my radio and looked up Mary Speaks on YouTube while sitting at a red light . . . stuck my iPhone in the cupholder and listened.  I have always wanted to sing this song as part of a group (it wouldn’t work as a solo).  Now that I am the mother of sons I know I never can, because it is impossible for me to hear without openly sobbing.  I would never be able to get the words out in the perfect, glossy, straight toned shining discord that is its hallmark.  Listen to it performed by a group called the Manitou Singers, and read the lyrics below.  Does it not split you wide open?  Christian or not, when you hear this song can you not occupy the beautiful sacrifice that is the center of the Christian story?  The famous Bible verse goes “For God so loved the World that he gave his Only Begotten Son,” but I’ve always thought the greater sacrifice was from the human mother, the girl who didn’t pick the path of grief that she was called to walk.

O you who bear the pain of the whole earth, I bore you.
O you whose tears gave human tears their worth, I laughed with you.
You, who when your hem is touched, give power, I nourished you.
Who turn the day to night in this dark hour, light comes from you.
O you who hold the world in your embrace, I carried you.
Whose arms encircled the world with your grace, I once held you.
O you who laughed and ate and walked the shore, I played with you.
And I, who with all others, you died for.
Now I hold you, now I hold you, now I hold you.
 
May I be faithful in this final task, in this last hour I hold my child, my son;
His body close enfolded to my breast:
The holder held, the bearer borne.
Mourning to joy, darkness to morn.
Open, my arms; open, my arms; thy work is done.
 

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“In mid-November 2014, he laid down his life for the Syrian people he came to know and love” reads the obituary of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, formerly known as Peter, the latest young American captive to be brutally murdered in the sand in front of video cameras. Although I never met him, his and my educational paths crossed at one point, and the teachers we had in common are mourning publicly on my social media accounts.  His obituary was widely shared by them today, the day that I happened to look up a YouTube video of Mary Speaks and listen to it.  Abdul-Rahman, who changed his name when he converted to Islam, is not Jesus, and I do not mean to imply that he was.  He was not even Christian.  His mother is not Mary – her name is Paula.  But – O you who laughed and ate and walked the shore, I played with you / And I, who with all others, you died for. . . 

*******************************************************

I sent a small package today, to a little family in Charleston that is sitting vigil next to their little boy, just turned two, who sleeps the long days in a hospital crib while his body is ravaged by leukemia and the cruel, cruel ‘medicine’ that is chemotherapy. The gift of hope came in the form of a late-in-the-game bone marrow donor, a total stranger who had joined the Be The Match bone marrow registry.  He got a phone call and then flew to Charleston to save a life.  Now the little boy’s family is walking the slow, torturous path through the woods on the other side of a bone marrow transplant.  The little boy suffers dangerous complications.  His mother puts up Christmas decorations in his hospital room and holds desperately to the tight thread of her sanity, while the little boy’s twin brother wonders where he is, while the rest of us wait and pray and read her facebook updates while holding our breath.  The little boy is not Jesus.  His mother is not Mary, although that happens to be her name.  This is not her song, not yet – his odds are good, he will make it to adulthood.  We continue to hope.  Open, my arms.  Open, my arms.

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Through this lovely song by Daniel Gawthrup, through the pain and sacrifice of the biblical Mary, I am Abdul-Rahman’s mother today. I am Lachlan’s mother.  I am my own children’s mother.  I exist today at the intersection of the Christian story, the melancholy season, connections made and maintained on the internet, the pain and beauty of being a mother of sons, and all of the incredible risk and courage that motherhood entails.  Sharing my sadness with you was therapeutic.  Your responses were so lovely – comments and emails of support and love.  This second post may sound sad, but it is only melancholy and pensive, which is a step up from sadness toward hope.  Mourning to joy, darkness to morn.

We put up the Christmas tree this week. I strung lights in almost every one of the rooms in my house. I continue to do the work to keep the dark at bay.  I appreciate each one of you – points of light in the dark – and I endeavor to be a light for you as well.  Merry Christmas.  And pray for Lachlan, pray for Abdul-Rahman.  Pray for their mothers (and their fathers, whose sacrifice and courage and pain is no less and no different).  Pray for me.  And pray for each other.

Posted in Dear Friends, Drama Queen, Holidays and Celebrations, Navel Gazing (and I Don't Mean Oranges) | 1 Comment

Robbed

“This season is a thief” I read online somewhere.  A thief of daylight, of the sun, a thief of warmth, green.  Even here in the deep South, with the seventy degree anomalies sprinkled in among the brisker winter days, I feel a bit desperate as the winter solstice comes on.  It is dark before my workday is even close to done.  I drive to work in the dark, drive home in the dark.  I only see our house lit by sunlight on the weekends.  Our holiday festivities are nothing but a dyke to hold back the flooding, pooling, insistent darkness.   I am aching to have our Christmas lights up, our twinkling tree.  Points of light in the black.

It is hard, then, to write here.  I’m gloomy.  I don’t like spreading gloom, but I haven’t done a good job of holding it back this season – worse than most years, and I’ve never been a big fan of winter.  Our student loans remain an impossible burden.  The baby won’t sleep through the night.  I’m heavily laden with responsibilities.  There are no breaks.  The weeks unspool, one long weary task after another, day after day of unbroken labor.  The job is a break from the kids are a break from the job, but neither is a break.  I need some friends, a circle of friends, with whom I can go see a movie on an afternoon, or invite over for wine – to whom I am not a mom or lawyer, for whom I am not responsible.   But I’ve struggled to make any here.  This place is not hospitable to new people.  I have made what I think are friends, and then I see facebook posts of all of them out together on a girls’ night.  I was not invited, am never invited.  “We’ve been friends for ten years” their captions say, and what I read is “We don’t need anyone new, sorry!”  This seat’s taken.  They don’t exclude on purpose.  They just . . . don’t think of me.  The group is set, was set long ago.  And beyond bringing them food when they lose colleagues (check, done!), inviting their kids for play-dates and birthdays and then chatting with the moms like my life depends on it  (check!  check!), asking them to carve pumpkins together, set up a lemonade stand together, carpool sometimes so we can each have a morning break (no thanks, they say, I’m set!), running into them in town and asking them to lunch (check! and they took a rain check), I’m not sure how to break in.  This is not a very mobile place (pardon the pun, those of you who know where I live).  Everyone here is born-and-raised-and-never-left-and-ain’t-leavin’.  There is no room for me in a group that’s known each other since high school or even long before.

See what I mean?  Gloomy.

There are bright spots – metaphorical Christmas twinkle lights in my somewhat lonely days.  A trip to Charleston with the Professor - I have some snapshot memories of the trip in a draft post that I’ll maybe finish one of these days. A special Thanksgiving with family, spending the day “helping” smoke a turkey on the back porch, beer or bloody Mary in hand.  A two year old sassing nonsense baby noise at my ten month old for making off with her toys.  A great game of football.  We have all the little holiday joys to look forward to – advent wreaths, breakfast with Santa, looking at lights, the cookies-and-milk-and-carols-by-the-fire at our local nature center/lodge.  These are precious moments and I do enjoy them.

But overall I feel the lack of a close-knit group.  It’s been this military brat’s perennial longing – to be known, familiar, and it cuts especially keen when the kids are so small and needy.  As another blogger once put it – I want to be able to view the elementary schools’ written demand for a 5-person-long emergency contact list, and not break out in hives wondering who on earth I could put even in the first slot, let alone the second, third, fourth, fifth.  (I end up putting my secretary and paralegal, because they could find me.  Then I put the children’s grandmothers and grandfathers and hope they are never needed urgently, as each are a 7+ hour drive away).

I’m weighed down by lack of sleep or exercise, by the dark, by the very intense job and the merciless loans and the lack of local support for my tiny, endlessly needy boys.  I wanted to post about gratitude and thankfulness at Thanksgiving, about Charleston, about Craig in all his silly, busy 10 month old glory and Liam’s cleverness and Jack’s sweetness.  But it’s all blocked up behind these blacker feelings.

So I spill them out here.  Maybe they’ll be gone or mitigated, now that I’ve put pen to page (metaphorically speaking).  It’s not really my bag to put forth a miserable face for “my public.”  But I’ve got to be honest – this thieving season has stolen a bit of my optimism, and I am anxious for it to come back.  So I’m willing to expose a little sorrow, in the hopes that sharing it here clears the way for a little more light.

Posted in Alabama | 8 Comments