Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Brothers

Sunday, God blessed me with a small glimpse of the future.

I'm talking about the boys playing together: quietly, and happily, for a solid hour.
This is an enormous milestone. Sure, since The Dude started walking 6 months ago, their friendship has been slowly developing. Aquaman is constantly begging The Dude to play with him, and they often do. However, this generally only lasts about 10 minutes and ends in either The Dude throwing trains repeatedly at at his brother's head and himself on the ground while shrieking; or Aquaman turning an unsightly purplish color due to his from-birth habit of breath-holding whenever something doesn't quite go his way. Or even more often, it ends in both.

But JT has recently installed some new dirt in the courtyard. Dirt  that looks to me exactly like sawdust, so that's what we call it. And it did not go unnoticed by my boys, who are the 1st to notice any opportunity to make a gigantic mess. First, Aquaman discovered it with his brand new monster truck.
And then The Dude descended with his shovel.

I pulled up a chair, enjoying the shade and the just-a-touch cooler breeze of the 2nd day of fall, and 5 minutes to sit in the courtyard without The Dude flinging open the gate and heading into traffic.

And then somehow, they were playing together. With no screaming and no required interventions (except to tell Aquaman that if The Dude was bothering him by putting dirt on his head he did have the right to tell him he didn't like that, but as you can see, he actually loved it).

I kept thinking I should go get a book or something, take advantage of these quiet and relaxing moments, but I couldn't stop taking pictures, drinking them in: dreaming of the future, and basking in the present.

The dimples, the curls. The pale whiteness of the elder lightly touching tanned almost-still-baby skin.

Thinking how God knew just what they needed when he made them both. Giving Aquaman a little brother, who is every bit as energetic and rough-and-tumble as he is. Who is quick to laugh and quick to recover but who doesn't just sit back and let himself be ordered around. Who has ideas of his own, but still admires his big brother's.

There are days when I look at Aquaman with just the slightest wistful twinge and wonder if he'll turn out ok despite all the expectations that have been placed on him since the birth of his baby brother.

Responsibilities that he's often not really ready to handle. But then I watch the way he stands up straighter under the weight of it all. The way he rushes to be the 1st one The Dude sees when he wakes up from his nap. And I remember how siblings are some of the most important relationships there are.

The kind of relationships that rub the rough edges off of us and make us easier to get along with. The kind that prepare us for the give and take of marriage, and teach us that people who are different from us aren't wrong- they're just different. Who teach us that some of the happiest moments in our lives are the ones when we let go of our own agendas and play something that someone else wants to play.

Siblings have the ability to incite the greatest of rage, the most terrible jealousy, the elation and sorrow of shared experiences, and the deepest bonds of love; and they better prepare us to deal with a world filled with a vast variety of people, all moving in different ways, but ultimately in the same direction.

And so today, I am celebrating brothers. Brothers who are today and will be someday, and who are learning how to live and love and work and play together.

Brothers who love the outdoors, and getting dirty, and have more energy than 10 border collie puppies. Brothers who are my boys to enjoy and teach and clean up after for just a very short little speck in eternity, and then I will release them out into the world to become whatever they were meant to be.

Who knows who they will end up being? But for today, I'm just glad they were meant to be playing together covered in sawdust. I'm glad they were meant to be brothers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Changing Seasons

Let me just start this post out by saying that I absolutely love Autumn.
I think if I lived somewhere where the leaves were changing and weather was cool in the fall, I would love it just as much, but I'm not actually sure. The impending winter might so blind me with his frigid whiteness that I'd have difficulty appreciating the changing colors.
I suppose Autumn means something different to a Florida girl, and I think maybe most of the Floridian friends will think I'm crazy, but I can feel it coming.
It's not just the Pumpkin Spice Lattes coming out, or the fact that stores are starting to get in their Christmas supplies (seriously?!).

It's the sun going down just a tiny bit sooner. It's a very early morning on the beach when the ocean feels warmer than the breeze. It's rushing to organize and clean the house during the heat of the day so that once the beautiful fall weather hits we can not only feel extra cozy inside, but enjoy as much time as possible OUTside.

I am in love with the fall, and I fell in love in the fall. And even though I have done very little surfing these past 4 years in the busyness and exhaustion of raising two of the most beautiful boys that have ever lived, the fall is when I most remember what it felt like to be a surfer. It's why I don't begrudge my husband the antsy, almost frantic behavior he exhibits when he's doing anything but surfing when a tropical system is passing by. It's one of the reasons why I find myself so often rushing the boys off to the beach during dawn patrol hours, and why I sometimes get lost staring out into the raging power of it. The feeling of change and excitement and LIFE in the air.

Life is really really good.
We've been in our townhouse over 2 years now. I am still as deeply in love with it as the day we moved in, probably more. I love the backyard with our seashell landscaping and hedges of sea oats and lots of room to run. I love the sidewalks and the nearby parks and the neighbors who wave when we're playing in the puddles that collect in the parking lot. I love that our home is small and cozy, and that we have to thoughtfully consider every single little thing that enters into it and whether it is important enough to take up space here. I love that my boys have no choice but to share a room, and that they adore it. I love that there are parts that are old and gross and that decorations are sparse, the coffee table is padded and the couch has to stay covered. I love that the ugly parts don't seem ugly at all in the light of the laughter and kisses and sunshine that always fill the rooms.

The boys are growing up into the greatest of treasures. The Dude is saying 70+ words now and has begun to respond to the phrase "use your words" instead of screaming at the top of his lungs about everything (though he does get quite bossy and fed up at times). Aquaman is beginning in a very rudimentary way to learn to add and subtract and is fascinated with numbers and words, and it is so much fun to watch his mind piecing life together (though his favorite activities still involve only things with wheels).

The Dude is losing some of his velcro child tendencies and is allowing me to attend church, which is a wonderful freedom. He is still nursing all night long, and though I look forward smilingly to a future of sleeping all night, I find myself quite content to hold on to these snuggly nights for a few months longer. Funny how different it is with the 2nd child, how much younger they seem, and how quickly time goes. Last night I found myself kneeling beside him as he lay on his mattress, the tiniest bit of milk still left on his chin, blond curls framing his tanned face, and was struck by the wonder of it all.

I had more of those moments with Aquaman. There was just more time to stare.

But I've been drinking my fill of my littlest man a bit more lately.
I love, when Aquaman goes to school, how the Dude becomes a little shy in my full attention. Though he seems so assertive and sure of himself when Aquaman is around, when he is given rein to make all the decisions, I've been noticing him hesitate. I think in some ways, the second child is luckier. He has never thought of life in terms of just himself. There has always been another to share with.

I wouldn't necessarily describe him as easy going, or even happy-go-lucky, but in him there seems to be a bit more resiliance than in my firstborn. In his being less sensitive, he seems harder to damage, there is less pressure. He has his challenges, in that he requires much more consistency and repetition to teach, but it is altogether less of an emotional experience.
Much of this is temperamental, but I am also realizing that part of it is just that I've done so much of this before. I spent hours and days and weeks and months researching about how to "sleep train" or even "night wean" my firstborn. I spent even more time than that worrying that whatever I did would damage him for life.
I'm still not really for "crying it out", but I'm pretty sure that's because it just wasn't right for my kids, not because it's wrong altogether. However, if you read or talk to proponents of this practice, they'll have you believe that you're destroying your child or setting yourself up for future boundary problems if you don't make them sleep by themselves when they're infants. And now I know enough to know that it's not true.

Aquaman and I have just plowed through what was probably the most challenging milestone we have experienced to date. I wouldn't have guessed it at his 2nd birthday when he, of his own accord, suddenly began to pee and poop in the potty. It was one of the easiest things ever, and I heaved a sigh of relief that at least one milestone was going to happen smoothly.
Until 3 months later when he contracted a stomach virus, and along with it, an irrational phobia of pooping in the potty.
We let it go on, and on, and on. We tried every kind of reward possible, and he wasn't interested. We tried backing off to see if he'd become interested on his own. We could not try having him clean himself because his poops are enormous liquidy blowouts and he would have spread disease all over our house.

 I listened to many people tell me that eventually he'd do it on his own, because no one goes to college still asking for a diaper to poop, but a part of me knew, because I knew my son, that he was not going to do this on his own.
So we set a date. 4 years old, happy birthday to him, and since he is such a strong willed and anxious little fellow, I did not make myself the enemy. He was advised that there are no diapers that fit 4 year olds. We talked about it for months beforehand, and each time he would remind me that he did not want to talk about it.
The day before his birthday I ceremoniously changed his last poopy diaper, except it wasn't his last. He woke me up 3 times in the middle of the night to poop just to finish with a bang.

Saturday, no poop. Sunday, a few halfhearted upbeat attempts to sit on his potty chair, but still no poop. He seemed to believe firmly that it was mind over matter. If he chose to never poop again a day in his life, then he would never have to.
Monday, he realized the folly in his plan. We spent all morning with warm washcloths on his belly and changing stinky spotted Thomas underwear. And crying. And screaming. And sitting on the potty crying and screaming. He was just terrified of it coming out. A dose of Miralax and a lot of screaming later, he produced 3 enormous poops. I don't know how I cleaned that little Cars potty up, as I had caught his stomach virus by then, but I do know Zofran helped a lot, and prayer even more. As Aquaman sat there stinking up that potty, looking at me through swollen tear-filled eyes and screaming loud enough to give me permanent hearing loss, I was repeating to myself "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me", so that I wouldn't vomit all over my son.  He asked me to pray for him, and he sobbed through the whole prayer.

After he went those first few times I thought that would be it...see it's not scary, you can do it, no problem. I'm not sure why I thought that, when I know my dear sweet child.

Tuesday no poops, Wednesday no poops. Thursday, he had to be picked up at school because he was found crying in a corner twice. Another dose of Miralax and he pooped in the potty soon after.
But I underestimated the power of the Miralax, and the next day he had a poop accident at school. Some children might be embarrassed for other children to see him with poop in his pants, but that is not what mortified my boy. He was worried about the teachers, and about his mom.
That night I asked him why he was afraid of my being upset with him because he had an accident. I could not remember getting angry with him in this regard, but who knows. He said, "do you remember that time when you were putting The Dude to bed, and I told you there was a little bit of poop in my pants? Do you remember what you said?" I did not. He said: "you said: 'Oh, Aquaman.'"
Yes, I said, "Oh Aquaman." And this was apparently devastating to him.
This is why having a sensitive child and being an imperfect parent can be so stressful. It's going to take a lot of faith.

But we're not done. After the accident, life became even more emotional. I did lay off the Miralax, and he did continue pooping, but each time reminding me of a woman in the throes of terrible labor. When he'd start screaming the loudest and clinging to my hand and crying for a diaper, I'd look down and see the "head" beginning to emerge. "Push it out!" I'd yell, and like that transitional laboring woman (whom I know nothing about because I experienced the bliss of epidurals), he'd yell: "NO! I can't!"

It wasn't funny. My energetic boy was temporarily replaced by a hollow eyed anxiety ridden cat-like-screaming animal.

I never considered turning back, it was too late really.

The Monday after that weekend, he called me several times at work crying.
The next day it was a little bit better.
And the next day, even better.

And this weekend, he got 5 stickers in a row (which only took him 2 days since he has big man poops 3 times a day) for pooping on the potty without any screaming and without me in the room, and Daddy took him to pick out a new Thomas train, who happens to be his favorite color purple, named Charlie, and carrying a car filled with ice cream. This boy was giddy with excitement, and I don't know if it's all the toy, or just the sense of accomplishment. To be honest, I feel the exact same way.

Because we did it, together.

And because fall is in the air, change is in the electrically charged breeze that's swirling off the ocean, and there's every reason to believe that we're approaching an even better season of life than we're in now.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thorns and the Good Soil

My quiet times have been anything but thorough lately. The Dude has been waking up long before the sun, and even Praise Baby does not hold his attention long enough for me to complete one or two verses and one or two thoughts in my journal. "Walk, WALK!" He says insistently, pulling on whatever hand he can reach. Occasionally he pulls hard enough that he loses his grip and ends up flat on the floor. Screaming. And banging his head on the tile or the wall for extra effect. Ahhh 18 months. Which seems to be the McVicker terrible twos. I like to think, like every mother does, that my children are advanced.

"NO." He says to almost everything, shaking his head dizzingly to emphasize his point. He also does yes quite thoroughly now, which comes out more like "yeah..SHHH". But it's usually to something I don't want him to have or do.

I love him. Even when he is trying to gauge my eyes out or fish-hook my mouth while declaring the names of every piece of my anatomy. Even when he is climbing on the unsuspecting Aquaman's back and pulling his hair gleefully while attempting to sink his sharp little teeth into his back after 10 subsequent time outs.
I am still slightly baffled how I, the quiet and rather amenable little girl of older parents ended up the mother of two astoundingly convicted and determined little boys, but here I am. I guess God must have known how much delight it would bring me.

But I do miss my long uninterrupted quiet times, and look forward to having them again.
For now I grab the Word in snatches. And I chew over it while chasing wildhearted boys through the grass, and when I'm snuggling them at night.

This was the verse I read yesterday morning:

1" Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”-Mark 4:18-20

And like it always does when I read it, it caught at me, pulled at me. I was so intent on understanding more about it, understanding more about myself and the soil of my heart that I found myself oblivious to the destructive tantrum going on on the floor underneath me. Until I realized it would soon wake up the whole house.
And I took him outside.
But the verse stayed with me for the rest of the day.

Because I want so much for my heart to be the good soil. And so often I find it full of thorns.

"The worries of this life."

I've always been a worrier, and I used to justify it as part of my personality. Almost like a noble or responsible part of my character. Part of it is my sensitive nature, and part of it is that as a very young child via death and sickness of family members and just being the youngest of 9 children and watching the struggles of my much older siblings, I learned that nothing in life is guaranteed. If things are good and stable and comfortable, they are probably about to change. I used to spend a lot of time worrying, and to ease those worries I'd move on to problem solving. If A happens then I'll just do B, and if B happens, then RIGHT on to C or possibly Ca. It can be comforting to have a plan. Problem is that spiralling rabbit trail always ends up at a point where I realize, if D happens, well that's it. I'm done for. I'm just going to have to trust God.
Probably should have just stopped at A.

Once you have kids, you have much more to worry about.
Which segues right into another thorn that keeps popping up:

"The deceitfulness of wealth."

This morning (which happens to be payday), as we speak, a wonderful thing is happening. The last installment that will bring our emergency savings back up to the acceptable level of 3 months' expenses is being deposited from our checking account into our savings.
It's been a long road. We plowed through those savings (which used to be quite a bit more than 3 months') like lightning since my pregnancy with The Dude began. First, we bought a townhouse and put in all new floors, ceilings, toilets, and slowly replaced the failing appliances. Then the medical bills for the pregnancy, unpaid maternity leave, and unpaid leave for fire academy. Since then we've been plugging away dutifully but it takes us a looong time to save much money these days.
It feels good to have that security, there in the bank. Maybe a little too good.
And then we start thinking what to save for next. And there's too many seemingly unattainable goals. Like new cars when ours start to fail in 5 yrs or so. And since we're completely debt free and intend to stay that way, that's a lot of money to save. Orthodontics, we've been informed, will need to start in about 3 years for our oldest. A new baby in a few years? A bigger house someday? And that's not even counting the long term savings we need to be doing.
It's enough to put me in a sweat, because before you know it, the air conditioning breaks anyway, and you're back to trying to pump back up that emergency savings again.
And that's exactly why riches are deceiving. Because it doesn't matter how much you have, it will never ever be enough.
I've heard it said that you should make it your goal to have enough money not to have to worry about money. I think that's a lie. Honestly, the more money we had the more I would worry, which is probably why we have just enough. I would worry that I had been entrusted with an enormous responsibility, and that I would be held responsible someday for the fact that people are starving somewhere and I'm eating the finest of foods. I already worry enough about that, since, even though we've been going meatless 3 days a week and carefully meal planning we happen to spend an appalling amount of money on groceries.

But, on the other hand, there are some benefits that come with money. Like the freedom to be generous. Not just tithing generous because we already do that. But really generous. And not just with money, but with time. JT and I have had the incredible benefit of not only growing up with supportive and loving intact families, but with parents who shower us sacrificially with time, love, and even financially. Which is one of my motivations in being wise with our money now. I hope to be able to keep the cycle going with our children.


In the meantime, working part-time with two small children, and spending 1/3 of our income just to eat, there isn't a whole lot of time or money available for others.
Which is why I am so excited about this morning. Because Justin's co-workers have agreed to let me take care of their 3 month old while they go back to work...weekly this month and then twice a week after that. It is a win/win for everyone it seems. She doesn't have to go to daycare, and it will give them a boost financially. And I have the opportunity to love their baby even when they can't be there, like our parents have done for us (not to mention get a lot of baby snuggles, and have the opportunity to teach my rambunctious boys how to treasure and treat a girl)

I recently read the Treasure Principle, and I loved how it put things in perspective.

"Financial planners tell us, 'When it comes to your money, don't think just 3 months or 3 years ahead, think 30 years ahead.' Christ, the ultimate investment counselor takes it further. He says, 'Don't ask how your investment will be paying off in just 30 years. Ask how it will be paying off in 30 MILLION years."
-Randy Alcorn

Godly investments involve time too, not just money. And the most lasting investments we can make is in people.

"The Desire for other things"

Like gymnastics classes. Which, after researching and getting excited about for Aquaman; I had to admit were not really a financial priority for our family right now. (And guess what, he's just as happy running around on the beach for free, and probably less stressed from adding one more thing to our  hectic schedule).

 Or a large house with nice stuff in it that honestly we would just mess up anyway and wouldn't have time to adequately clean.
Sometimes the things of this world don't even cost money. Sometimes it's just something I like doing more than something I really SHOULD be doing. Something that, in the grand scheme of eternity, I know is really not going to matter a whole lot.

I really want my life to be fruitful. Like 30, 60, 100 fold fruitful.
I should probably stop focusing on those thorns, and just start being a good listener.
The kind of person who not only hears the word, but ACCEPTS it.
Not for what I'm wanting it to say, but for what it really says.
Some days that soil feels so fertile and soft and rained upon.
But some days, I'll admit, those seedlings start to feel a little choked out.
Those are the days I stop listening, or stop accepting. Or start looking around me at the deceitfulness of this world.

"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these."
1 Timothy 6:6-8

Contentment. I love that word. Whenever I hear it, I picture my boys when they were infants. Having fallen asleep in my arms, mouths hanging open, the slightest bit of milk dripping from the corners.

And that is my own goal of contentment these days. Safe in the arms of Jesus, having stopped my striving and reaching; letting the last bit of warmth of His provision drip from my stilled soul and water the seed He planted there. Watching it bloom and grow in its own time.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Name

4 years ago today, at 10:35 am, Aquaman changed my life forever by making me a mother.
It wasn't a smooth and predictible birth, but then, when does the first born ever come easily?
He didn't sleep 18 hours a day like I thought newborns did. And when he was awake, he was either sucking on me furiously or crying.
And I learned more about love in those first few days and months than I had learned in all the 27 years before them.
He didn't know me like I thought he would, and I didn't know him. I thought there would be this instant connection. This instant trust on his part. I still feel slightly ashamed and inadequate as a mother to admit that he did not know me and he did not trust me one bit. I will always remember the first time, nearly three weeks after his birth, that he heard my voice from across the room and stopped crying. That was when I finally knew that all the pacing up and down the halls and letting him suck on me until I wanted to scream and responding to him the first instant that he demonstrated a need were getting through to him.
Aquaman has taught me that love is about fighting past your own insecurities and your own selfish need to  have someone need you and make you feel good.
Even though I knew it in my head before, he taught me in a deep place in my heart where I'll never forget: that to give is far better than to receive. In a way, he began early to prepare me to let him go someday. To teach me that he is his own person, not someone that I and his father created, but someone created by God with his own special purpose.
Sure, he gets his muscles from his dad, and his way with words from his mom. He gets his energy and innate knowledge of painful pressure points from his dad and his need for very little sleep from his mom. But where does he get that uncanny confidence and lack of desire to conform? How on earth did he come with such red hair and blue eyes?
It didn't take us long to find a name for this little guy, tucked away inside my womb. For a while we just called him Aquaman. The perfect name for the submerged little character who seemed capable of breaking my ribs with his feet.
We searched the Bible, and we always stopped for some reason at the 12 tribes. It was when we found that one of them meant "happy", and was also the name of a surfer on the world tour at the time; that we knew we had found our match.
He came out of me with the broad chest of a surfer, and at age 4 has declared, because I think he believes it will hurt us deeply and further assert his independence; that he will "never surf. not ever. even when he is grown up."
Even though he can't seem to help but love the ocean. And be drawn to it in the magical way that his father and I both were.
I have always admired his spirit and determination. I imagine that I always will.
But if there's one word I'd use to describe these past 4 years, I know what it would be.
The feeling of walking to the beach with my heart pounding. Looking into my husband's eyes, as green as the ocean; and watching them fill up with tears when I told him he was going to be a dad. The rush of emotion that changed something in my brain forever the first time that my baby smiled at me. Looking at the angelic expression of sleep and wondering what was the matter with me that he had driven me so crazy that day. "He's cute...he's really really cute." as my son looked into the nursery basinette where his baby brother was sleeping.

Happy. That's the word I would use.