Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summer Bucket Lists

Just like that, summer seems to be coming to a close.

School registration and teacher meet and greets loom just around the corner of the next few weeks, and while this has been a busy and tiring summer, and I have at times despaired at the lack of structure and routine involved in combining school break with a brand new baby, there is a sense of wistfulness at its ending.

It's been a hard summer, to be sure. 2 extremely "busy" boys (I prefer to call them kinesthetic learners and not least when I am feeling fresh and upbeat), unbearably hot weather, and the delicate skin and erratic sleeping and eating habits of a newborn are not a very comfortable combination.

The older 2 have been endlessly patient with the hour that it takes us to get out the door...because sweet Greystoke's nap extends a little longer than planned, or he just spit up all over himself, or he wants to eat a little sooner than expected. They've been relatively understanding when our beach and pool jaunts are cut short for fear of sunburn or overheating.

They have jumped on the couch and off the top of their bunk bed far more than I care to admit. They have watched many more episodes of Magic School Bus and How It's Made than I originally intended.

I have fussed at them for developmentally appropriate behavior on more than one occasion. And for outright disobedience almost as often.

When the summer started, I wondered if I would survive it. But really, it just took us some time to get in to the groove. It took Aquaman and I several weeks to become more understanding of each other. He is concrete and sequential ("how am I supposed to read between the lines when there is nothing there??".) I am abstract, and totally random. I live between the lines.

 I think it is safe to say that we have begun to understand each other better, if not totally. I have always respected him, but I have begun to respect him more. If only the courage and strength it takes him every day to face life. For some people life just rolls off of your back. For others, life is a constant struggle. And I have been learning more and more how much of his life so far he has spent just growing into and learning to regulate his complex and intense personality.

I have watched him seek spiritual knowledge this summer. How every time he has a choice as to what story we read it is his tried and true Jesus story book. How he has begun to realize that there is more to the word of God than just those stories, and how he asks me to tell him more "from my Bible."

I have also seen his frustration. He listens to the same stories over and over, but he is not satisfied with mere memorization of them. He wants to understand, and while I feel certain that God is working, Aquaman has not yet experienced Him fully. I've watched him struggle with that. I've trusted that He will make it beautiful in His time.

This summer, though little brother Dude still lays as close to right on top of me as he can get during before-bed snuggle time, Aquaman has drifted further away. He loves it when Greystoke joins our snuggle sessions, and he allows me often to hold his hand, but he needs it less.

What's more important to him now is that I answer his many many burning questions.

A few nights ago, watching Greystoke working hard to lift his head off of my chest, I flashed back to Aquaman's bald head and the little puddles of drool and that concentrated expression as he tried to do the same thing. I told him what I remembered, and for a moment he quieted from his endless bouncing on the bed to search my eyes. I told him how he used to lay on top of me, and when he was The Dude's age he hung on me as often as he could, and now he barely needs more than a few hugs every day. I could sense his anxiety as I told him these things, and then I said: "but that's ok. That's what you're supposed to do." His relief was palpable. "Thanks, mom." He said.

Off the hook.
I held JT closer that night, remembering that he is the only one of my boys that I get to keep forever.

We've crossed a lot of things off of our bucket list this summer. We've visited 4 different libraries, many more than once. We've read a lot of books, almost 100% about cars, trains, trucks, and boats.
We've played at McDonalds and Chick-Fil-A play places, made a shaving cream toy car wash, sent marbles whistling down the inside of pool noodles. We've completed swim lessons and gymnastics class. Aquaman has become a proficient swimmer and has surprisingly gotten very confident and skilled on his body board. The Dude has learned to swim under water by himself. Thanks to a visiting friend, we finally made it to Sebastian Inlet last weekend, and loved it.

We survived our "vacation" to Clearwater.

We've had the chance for a job change for JT and turned it down (the pay and the job were great, the insurance was too expensive).

Aquaman has not practiced reading and writing like he should have. I just got tired of pushing him.

But considering he gets to start kindergarten all over again this year, and he did great academically last year, I'm not terribly concerned about it.

We have fallen wildly in love with our newest addition, and wondered how we could have been blessed with such a happy little child. He is as sunny as a Florida summer, without any of the thunderstorms.

He is still sleeping like an absolute charm. I can drink all of the milk and eat all of the food I want to, and his stomach never hurts. I have not stopped thanking God. I probably never will.

I have wondered how I survived those difficult baby days with the other 2, and have learned as much through the ease of this baby's days about God's provision for me during the difficult ones as when I was living them.

And now, in a panic, I am looking back at the list of things I wanted to do during this busy, just-learning-how-to-be-a-mother-of-3-kids time, and trying to squeeze those last few bucket list items in.

I've ruled out anything that involves paint, and if you spend any time on Pinterest, you know that a LOT of recommended things to do with preschoolers have to do with paint. No thanks. Not at this point in my life. I have enough to clean up, and those activities seriously only entertain my children for like 10 minutes, and clean up takes 20 sweaty ones...

But I think we're definitely going to float some ice boats down a pond somewhere. Gonna have to make a "sand volcano" on the beach. And some sand slime.
We need at least one water balloon fight.
A picnic on our new picnic blanket (which has primarily been used as a "tummy time" mat up until now)
A free game of bowling.

And then there'll be school haircuts. All those beautiful red curls on the floor.

The Dude already has a new "Benjamaturtle" backpack. He says he doesn't want to go to school unless it's Kindergarten, but I think he'll change his mind. He might scream bloody murder the first day I drop him off.

It will be embarrassing, but then again, parenting little boys in public is embarrassing  most of the time.

Last year at this time, I was preparing to increase my work schedule, and the boys were 2 days away from their first and last days in daycare. I thought God was moving my cheese, and I was following it. How much can change in a year. Or really, in just a few short weeks. The daycare didn't work out. The egg I was getting ready to drop turned out to be Greystoke.

Now I am working less outside of our home, working more inside of it, and full of energy I never even knew I had.

God gives us just what we need, not what we expect, and I am so thankful for that. Bucket lists are nice. The unexpected is even better.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Beautiful Mess

I'm not sure why, but on the way to Regionals this year, somehow the fateful unsurfing trip JT and I took to Peru just before Aquaman was conceived came up.
It's been almost 7 years, but even the laughter of it still has a bitter tinge.
Everything seemed to go wrong on that trip. There were no waves, there was no water. The value of the dollar had recently plummeted. The locals weren't terribly friendly.
We've never been happier to get home.
"Everyone needs to have a trip like that sometime in their lives", I laughed merrily as we drove along. "At least we got it out of the way."

JT was eerily silent

He had spent the morning driving from one end of the county to the other to collect donated bottles of water and watermelons. He was exhausted before the trip even started. But at last we were on our way. All those months of training and preparing were coming to their culmination. The drive was smooth, hearts were high.

The hotel wasn't exactly luxury, but it wasn't gross either. They "upgraded" us to a suite since we blocked off such a large chunk of rooms.
It was evening by the time we got there. The boys were tired and excited and full of themselves. The battle was immediately waged as to who would "help" with the dollie.

JT, already feeling a bit mangled, was summoned to drop off equipment in preparation for the morning. Though he had tried desparately to avoid a late night meeting, a late night meeting was called.

With Grandma holding baby Greystoke, the boys and I made an attempt at the pool. It was freezing, but fun. We were tired, but this was our vacation. Tomorrow the real adventure would begin.

I found myself hoping for a nagging rain.

The older two spent the night in Grandma's room, but were ready to go quite early.
JT trying to round up everything he needed following a late night meeting in order to have an early morning meeting by 7 am.

For a few moments, we enjoyed the construction outside of our balcony. The kind of construction that would make most people groan, but had the boys elated.

 We loaded up for the half mile walk to the beach. Yes, half a mile one way to the beach where the competition would take place.

With 3 small children.

Oh, and no stroller. Just a front pack for the 2 month old.

There wasn't a cloud in the big beautiful steaming hot sky.

The venue was the most commercialized yet, a stark contrast to last year's gorgeous Pompano Beach.
Every inch was being squeezed for a dollar. Every resource dirtied from use. It did not feel like nature. It felt like prostitution.

The playground was nice, and delightfully shady. We spent many an hour there, because for some odd reason there was less breeze by the ocean than up there. And besides, you can only ask two little boys to stay under a couple shade tents for so long with their monster trucks.

Greystoke was just along for the ride. He smiled, he slept, he ate, and he didn't care that he was doing it in a different place.

The 2nd day he was so creepily sleepy, and it was so hot, that he was stripped and sponged down. He continued to play opposum until I dragged our motley crew across the street to Walgreens. Walgreens with an escalator, no less, where the air conditioning brought an immediate smile.

There was only one small incident in which I had to drag the boys out screaming because they were not being responsible with their shopping carts. And then, whether in protest or desperation, I will never know, The Dude attempted to urinate in public.

JT was busy working. Or playing. Or whatever you would call getting 1st in his age group in the international ironman, 2nd on the paddleboard and beach flags, and 3rd on the surf ski.
Plus coaching his team.
And trying to make sure everyone had enough water and food.

After beach flags, he mysteriously lay down, and didn't get up much again.
Gone was last year's exuberance and adrenaline.
Before the open event was even over, we were heading back to our room.
 But of course his night wasn't over. By some crazy compulsion, he felt the need to make sure everyone else had enough water and ice for the next day.

By the time he got back to our room, all he could do was get sick and go to sleep.

It was an awesome "vacation".

And then there was day 2.

Day 2, the boys and I wisened up and stayed in our cool, comfortable room watching cable tv for the first several hours.
Greystoke and I watched the busy world go by from the balcony.

We pulled up to the competition just in time to hear a bunch of screaming and see JT come racing toward the finish line, where he collapsed.
He didn't get up for a while. Water was rushed to him. The ex Heisman trophy winner and NFL quarterback who has befriended JT and came along as an associate member of the team regaled me with the details of what had just transpired:
"It was one of the most INSPIRATIONAL things I have ever seen!! The other guy was AHEAD. He was stronger, he was better, but JT made it happen!"

It was sweet and touching, but it was mostly hard to listen or even care as I watched my husband writhe in agony at the finish line.

Was it really worth it?

I wondered.

I thought he might have to go to the hospital then, but somehow he dragged himself up and made it through several more hours.

They ended up getting 4th this year. The other teams were bigger and stronger and extremely competitive. 4th out of 18 isn't bad at all.
And the team was as excited as ever. Most everyone had a really great time.

But it was another stark constrast to the year before. There was no waiting with baited breath for the results. Somehow JT made it back to the hotel before he started getting sick again. And kept getting sick.
By the time competition was over, his mom and I were at the front desk trying to determine the best and closest healthcare facility.

Thank goodness for my sister, C, who showed up with her two girls and lent a bright spot to our tired trip.
With 3 small children, the most helpful thing I can do for anyone is just...take care of my children. And so JT went with his mother to the hospital, and the 4 of us strolled down to meet C at the only inside restaurant within walking distance: McDonalds, to eat our first meal in 2 days.
No offense, dried fruit, but even McDonalds tasted good at that point.

By the next morning, we were tired, but relieved that it was over. JT felt almost back to normal. As I sat on the bed staring into space, JT asked me if anything was wrong, and all I could say was: "This is pretty much our only vacation all year, and this was a pretty awful vacation."

He agreed.

Tired, and defeated, we decided to go ahead and stop at the children's museum in Tampa, as we had previously planned, in an attempt to salvage some of the wreckage.

We did.

And this morning, in the car, I heard one of my favorite songs on the radio, likening back to my days of hourly waking to screaming Aquaman reflux cries:

"God loves a lullaby, and a mother's tears in the dead of night better than a Hallelujah sometimes....We pour out our miseries, God just hears a melody. Beautiful the mess we are, the honest cries of breaking hearts are better than a Hallelujah"
-Amy Grant

I'm passionate about honesty. Passionate about being real.
I love the mess of it. The brutality.
Ultimately the deep vulnerability.

I think that's why I feel more comfortable with the poor. Why I prefer Aldi to the beachside Publix.
Not just for the cheaper prices but because the people there, their hair is a little askew, and their eyes are tired, and their smiles are genuine.
They don't have the time or the pride for a facade. So I don't have to play along either.

It's why I adore children. Because they haven't learned how to fake it yet.

Why I love the sick, because they don't have the energy to pretend.

We try so hard to please and help others that we end up needing IV fluids.
We line our hyperactive boys up against the wall outside the store, and wonder if we are watching an episode of Nanny 911.
We are not superhuman. We are just frailty.

 Made up of water and mistakes.

What a beautiful mess we are.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Journey

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end
-Ursula K Leguin

The morning is quiet as the sun pinks the sky outside my window.

Another late summer night. The last big competition meeting. JT's long days away from home stretched to 14 hours some days this week. Next week is the final destination for this season. Another regional competition will come and go.
I am awake before my children. A day I never thought would come, especially not when I just had my 3rd child, and he is only 2 months old.
"The days are long, but the years are short" -Gretchen Rubin
The most accurate description of parenting young children I've heard.
Greystoke is still Baby Jackpot. He still rarely cries. Every week his night sleep duration average shifts's at about 8 hours now.
Sometimes one of the other 2 is up at night, but only a short while. A nightmare, a wet bed, cold feet to snuggle me with.
By the end of the day I will be so tired. My body will hurt. It will be hard to keep patience during bedtime battles.
But this morning I set my alarm to wake up early because I can. Because though the days are long, the years are flying by, and I want to clutch at them for a moment.

Because my mind has been on the journey a lot lately. Though some days it seems like the only destination I can aim for is bedtime.
This is such a busy time of life, but it feels so rich. There is the temptation at times to cross the everyday off of the to-do list and just get through to the fun part, but if you do that, you can spend all day just crossing things off and miss the real moments.
Parenting small children is ripe with conflict, and it can be easier just to stay home, but out we go into the world because I want them to experience it with me.
I love the sweat, and the forgetting of favorite cups, and the mental exhaustion of learning how to outwit to teach them what they need to know without them realizing they are being taught.
Every year I watch JT during competition season. Every year it grows, and he grows, and they spend hours upon hours aiming for those 2 days when they will all come together to put their skills to the test.
By competition day, they'll all be in fighting shape, and they'll have their matching shirts and swimsuits, and the competition will be fun, and all that training and fundraising and coordinating will be worth it.
But every year I see how the real purpose of the competition is just to give everyone something to work for. And something to come together for.

 And the real value in all of it isn't the end destination. It's the journey to get there.
As a parent, in order to maintain your sanity, you have to have an end goal.
Some days, it's bedtime, those are the short term goals.
But the goals I've been trying to focus on are the longer term ones. The ones that some days seem an eternity away, but will be here in the blink of an eye.
A picture for the future, though it finds me with graying hair and tired lines around my eyes.
Not successful young men, at least not the world's definition of success.

But men with hearts who are like God's heart.

Then the goal becomes, not to control them, with their boundless energy and iron strong wills, but to direct them, to point them. To shepherd them.
And then there is more meaning in the journey.
I remember looking at Aquaman when he was little like Greystoke, and wondering how I would teach him. I'm not really a teacher.

Not the homeschooling type. I'm not terribly into rote memorization of bible verses, especially given my oldest son's personality that is so resistant to performing. It feels empty.
But now that he is growing and understanding more, I see how it's really not about assignments or memorizations, and it doesn't matter if I'm crafty or organized.

We don't have to have all these complicated methods and schedules and routines, all we have to have is Christ in us.
You can't teach a relationship.
But you can walk together. And they will watch you walk.

You can love, and seek after Him and they will watch you seek.

Of course some days that is terrifying, because we all miss the mark. We all go in the wrong directions, and get our eyes off course.

But when Aquaman comes running into my room in the middle of the night, he won't even tell me what his bad dream was, he just says: "we need to PRAY", as he clutches his hands in mine. And then I know. That this isn't just a rote passage of bedtime ritual. This is dependence.

Because he sees our dependence.

When he sits at my feet and asks about the chapters I am reading in my bible, and I don't find myself afraid that I won't explain it right. I just take a deep breath, whisper a prayer, and tell him about my Father. My Savior. The one my heart loves most.

The sun is higher now. Aquaman has climbed into bed with JT for a few minutes of snuggles. I just checked on The Dude- he's hanging half off his mattress that is on the floor. Greystoke, true to form, hasn't moved an inch. But any minute now he'll be up to eat.

Our journey into this new day will begin soon. It will be long and hot, filled with teachable moments and failures. When I need a moment of encouragement, I'm going to look to the end.

To a quiet house again as I fall into bed.

To watching my sons venture out into the world, knowing I missed the mark so many times, but that in the end I took my hands off and placed them in the hands of One endlessly capable.