On Boys, Again

Adolescent boys can be, well, juvenile.  Boys will act without thinking. Boys will be rough with each other. Boys will be loud with each other. Boys will insult each other. Maybe they laugh too often or too loud, or talk way too often about farts or run too fast in the hall, or maybe they wrestle with each other when they probably shouldn’t be wrestling.

These same boys have a side to them that doesn’t show to most people.  It’s the quiet side.  The thoughtful side. The sweet, tender side.  It’s the side that is fearful, and curious, and excitable and loving. It’s the side that still wants your face to be the last thing he sees at night, and still embraces you first thing in the morning.  It’s the side that wants you there, that needs your approval, and craves your love.

They are still little boys.

Half of them haven’t hit puberty yet. Their little brains haven’t come close to being mature. According to some scientific research, they aren’t even close to half way there.

And yet we expect them to sit still for seven hours in school, to be quiet all the time, to be focused, to be serious, constantly. Why are we preparing kids for college in 6th grade? Why are we trying to train them into elite athletes? It bothers me that we feel like every minute of their day should be scripted, scheduled, planned out.

It bothers me that we try to catch them misbehaving, almost as though we are trying our best to catch them doing something wrong. It bothers me immensely that we, as adults, are using cameras and surveillance to do so. And it bothers me that we are punishing them for doing something that is simply characteristic behavior of little boys. Typical, smart, generally well-behaved boys. Boys that do well in school, are well-liked by their peers and come from good families. Boys that are simply having fun with each other…goofing off and laughing and yes, rough-housing with each other the way boys do. The way boys *should* do.

At what point do we stop micro-managing them?  At what point do we give them a chance to relax a little?  And when do we let them just be what they were meant to be…to learn on their own…to make mistakes and learn from them without interference from us? When are they allowed to be boys?

Maybe the question is when will we allow them to be boys?  When will we begin treating our children like children again?  When will we remember what it was like to be 12 or 13 years old, and feel like every time you turn around you are doing something wrong again?

For more of my thoughts on boys, read here.

Forgetting

I was sitting there, taking a bite of my banana and I thought of him and how he says bananas make his mouth itchy and stinging lately.  I was driving.  And right then I sobbed, silently and so unexpectedly…so abruptly I didn’t have time to even think before I gasped.  Because right at that moment I remembered the first time I held him. The first moment I kissed his tiny, precious face.  The first moment I smelled his new baby skin.  That giant ache you get in your throat when you do the ugly cry…it nearly knocked me off my feet that morning.

The other night at dinner we were talking about the things I liked to eat when I was pregnant with each of them.  I ate strawberries and chef boyardee when I was pregnant with Kate…black licorice for Henry, and lots of french fries and ice cream when I was pregnant with Ella.

What about me he says.

I don’t remember.

I’m the forgotten child he says.

Never.  Never ever.  Your cells became knit with mine long before you were born.

But there is the fear of forgetting…forgetting something precious you said…how your shiny hair bounced up and down in the back when you walked, or how your belly used to stick out past your ribs.  I fear forgetting that your first word was “quack,” or how you used to like to wear a tie and dress pants to preschool, or that your favorite song was the Little Drummer Boy, which you called Rum Pa Pum.

And now…I don’t want to forget you now…how soft and fuzzy your hair feels.  How you say “wow, Mom” when you disapprove of something I’ve said.  How soft your embrace is every morning. And that whistling thing you do all the time now. (Why?)

Tiny little memories as countless as the stars in the sky, Will. You will never be forgotten.

 

 

March Days

I need sunlight.  On more than a few occasions this long, long, looooooong winter, I have marched myself straight into the laundry room and plunked myself down on the floor with a book and a cup of tea.  It is the warmest, sunniest room in this entire house.

The window is smeared with Poppy’s nose marks. And there is a bit of her hair on the floor. She likes this room, too. Sometimes she sleeps in the laundry basket, sometimes on the rag rug. Sometimes she stretches out behind the door so that it is nearly closed, and she can’t get out.

I have a bag of chocolate eggs hidden in here. When The Four were younger, when I was younger, I would hide in here with chocolate. I needed chocolate then. Now, it is sunshine I need.

From my spot on the floor I sit with my eyes closed and my face turned to the sun pouring through the window.  There are chickadees perched in the redbud outside my window. Soon flowers and tiny, tender leaves will emerge from that little tree’s bulging branches.  The days are growing longer, even if spring is taking it’s sweet time.  But it doesn’t look terribly warm.  It isn’t actually terribly warm.

I am sincerely tired of pulling on thick, wool socks over my dry scratchy heels.  My little feet are screaming for sunshine and sand and heck, they’d even settle for chlorinated water and burning hot pavement over the feeling of another suffocating sock.  I watched a show about Norway this week.  I could never live in Norway.  How do people live with their bodies bundled up, hidden from the sun forever?

I saw Ella’s teeny little buns today when she was dressing for school, and last night, William’s bare arms. I am moved by the sight of them. I am buoyed by the scent of them, the pattern of their freckles, the whorls of downy hair on their backs.  I miss seeing the sun’s highlights in their hair, and their sunburned noses and shoulders.  I miss smelling their outdoor smell.  I could fill up the internets with all that I miss… I always think the threat of a long harsh winter sounds fun what with the hot cocoa and all, but then it actually happens.

I went into the yard yesterday to check on my gardens.  There was not much to see.  I reminded myself that it is just early March.  And from where I sit, it still looks a heck of a lot like winter.

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” ~Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

 

 

Five Little Years

I sat in the dark last night, thinking about how he is a teenager now.  My heart did one of those heavy beats–do you know the kind I mean?  The kind where your heart is just trucking along like normal, and then some thought or memory surfaces in your mind, and your heart drops…it beats, but it is a muted, heavy beat that you feel…something like a wave that ripples slowly through your body and soul, and time seems to slow for just a fraction of a second.

It happened when I realized I only had five years left with him.

Will 2014 2 NST

Just five little years.

Thank you God, for every minute with this boy.  (Yes, even the frustrating ones.)

Thank you.

Yesterday

The punks Fall 2014 NSTDavid sat down on the couch with me before the kids got up and he sipped his coffee.  And then he would swallow his coffee, and I swear it was the loudest swallow I have ever heard.  Over and over with the swallowing.  And then Ella came down. There were about 8 inches between me and the swallower and she managed to wiggle her little self right in there, right in that spot, so that my arm couldn’t move and I could tell right at that moment that it was going to be a bad day.

Everything irritated me.  E.Ver.Y.Thing.

And the loudness.  Some days I just cannot take it.

So, I ate some m&ms, and frankly, I’d like to know why there are blue m&ms.  I liked it when there were tan m&ms, and no red m&ms, and no blue m&ms.  I wish they would go back to regular old m&ms.  Why did they take away the tan m&ms? It’s an outrage, that’s what it is.

Anyway, later in the day I gave everyone a little tiny chore to do because otherwise they would have been playing Crossy Road all day.  Or Fun Run.  Am I the only one whose kids are, like, super loud when they play that game?  Sheesh.  I actually told them to go away from me.  To find a room in the house with a door on it that they could close.  And to make sure they were on a different level than me.  They wanted to go sit on my bed (because it’s awesome).  I said yes, but they had to promise to put all the pillows back and fluff up the comforter.

Who am I kidding?

They’ll promise anything but they’re shaky on the follow through part.  When I saw the mess in my room later I just sighed a big giant sigh and walked away.

They are good kids. They did their homework…they did their chores…they played together (albeit loudly).

After supper we put on Kung Fu Panda.  I sat across from the kids and looked at them and felt just plain sucky.  I knew the whole day through that I would regret the wasted time…I warned myself that I would be sorry…I just couldn’t shake it.  But looking at them like that, in the dim light of early evening, it all melted off.

I told them I was sorry for being such a grump.  And they said

It’s okay Mommy.

This morning Henry was upstairs.  I sent him upstairs to shower before school.  He was running around, in his underwear, singing “Story of My Life.” He cannot carry a tune, which I love.  But really, he cannot.  And also, he was really loud.

I looked at the other three around me and I smiled.

I want a million more moments like that in my life…

Like it used to be…

It’s a little after 7:00AM, and still dark out.  The clouds are heavy with a freezing rain, or sleet or whatever it is that caused them to close schools today.  I’m sitting here by the fire listening to the tapping of rain on the roof and wondering when the kids will wake up…surely not late enough.  Except for Henry.  Henry will roll out of bed around 10:00.  I always did like him best…*

I had planned on getting a lot done today…laundry and bills and putting the final bits of Christmas away.  Now I’m not so sure. I think maybe we’ll have another movie marathon and some cocoa.  As dampening as another day off school is to the normal routine, there is something so comfortable about having them all here with me.  It’s like it used to be.  Around 3:00PM today I am sure I will be well-reminded of how it used to be while I am desperately searching for something to eat that is not particularly good for me…frustrating, messy, crumby (and I mean actual food crumbs will be everywhere), loud, whiny and perfectly, beautifully heart-melting all in the same breath.  Hard to believe that is at all possible, but that’s life…the beauty is always there, you just have to choose to see it.

Is there anything beautiful about dust, though?  I fail at the moment to see any beauty.  I’m taking bets as to which child is lucky enough to give voice to their boredom first today.  I see dusting in their future.

Any guesses?

Hey Mooooooooommmm…what can I doooooooooooo?

______________________________________

*Not actually true.  Theoretically, if I did have a favorite child, it would probably be the one that dusted.  (Which none of them do.)

Stepping Stones

I hadn’t wanted the Christmas vacation to end…I hadn’t wanted everyone to leave, signalling my return to adulthood and the reality that there was no one other than me that was going to actually clean the house and do the shopping, the cooking, the scheduling, etc.  No more cookies.  No more sleeping until 8:30.  No more lego marathons with Henry.  And when I say “with” Henry, I actually mean I pretty much have a lego marathon all by myself.

Henry: Hey Mom, want to do legos with me?

Me: Okay!  We could have a lego marathon!

Henry:  Yay!

Me:  We could build the entire Christmas village!

Henry: Yay!

We begin to build, sorting through thousands and thousands of legos as we go.  And then Henry says “Hey Mom?  I think I’m going to take a break.”

“Okay Buddy!” I say.

Only he never returns.

So I spend the next 4 1/2 hours finishing the kit all by myself.  And then, the next day, Henry says to me

Hey Mom, today let’s do legos all day!

Me: You said that yesterday, Henry.

Henry: No but today I really want to!

Me:  Okay!

And then once I’d tasted the lego elixir, he “took another break.”  Suckered. So basically I built the whole entire lego Christmas village over a three day period.  And with little assistance, I might add. Anyway…

Henry was sitting next to me last night, reading.  I looked at him, and ran my fingers through his hair.  I remembered the first book I read to him after he got his hearing aids.  He was a toddler. It was only then that I knew why he had hated reading at bedtime…he couldn’t have heard the words before.

I thought about his red curls.  And before he had freckles, the ivory of his skin, how soft it was.  And how round his cheeks were.  And his little fat belly.  We used to call him Pork Chop.  I remembered how afraid I was of what lay ahead for him. I thought his hearing aids would be a stumbling block.  Someone once said “the difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them.”  And I realized it then…

I am not afraid for him anymore.

Henry 2014 edited NST

What We Live By

The Woods
This morning is another gray morning, our landscape blanketed in clouds.  Most mornings, lately, have been gray.  Our family room faces the woods, and beyond the woods is woven a river.  The trees are old and grand — their gnarled bark painted with lichen the color of a seafoam crayon.  Beyond the treeline, above the river, you can see eagles soaring.  Somewhere across the river lies a range.  The echo of gunfire easily drifts across the river in this still air to rest here in the quiet winter landscape.

Last night, for what seemed like hours, there were helicopters circling above these old trees…their searchlights illuminating the darkness, seeking something, someone.  Over and over they came and left, flying so low the house shook.  I wonder who they were looking for.  I wonder what finally made the helicopters rest.

This little woodpecker climbs up and down the tree about ten feet from the window, completely oblivious to my presence.  Completely ignorant to the world’s problems, to my problems, to helicopters and conflict and tragedy.  Sometimes I think we are like that…oblivious to each other.  Ignorant of what is really happening in each others’ lives.

We’ve (inadvertently maybe) taught our children to believe that Christmas is about celebrations and presents and lights and overindulgence.  That the measure of living a good life is about what kind of car you drive and how many vacations you took, not about how well we are looking after one another.  And even though we teach them the story of Jesus’ humble birth, and we take them to Mass and we think we live like good Christians because we share what we can, they still don’t really understand.  Is that just the nature of childhood?

When Kate was little, I remember wanting her to feel as though she was safe.  That the world was a good place, full of good things.  I didn’t want her to know that some children go hungry.  I didn’t want her to know that some children will die, or that some will live lives that no child should have to live, and that just as there are good things in the world, there are some very bad things. But slowly, my children are beginning to understand the problems some face. Someday, they will understand that someone’s problems last night were bad enough that helicopters were circling above us while they were nestled in their soft, warm beds. And they will understand that there is poverty and there is hunger and there is violence. And just as they will understand all of that, I hope they will understand what it means to love one another.

Leo Tolstoy wrote this passage in his story “What Men Live By”

And the Angel said:

“I have learned that every man lives, not through care of himself, but by love.”

“I have learned that God does not wish men to live each for himself, and therefore He has not revealed to them what they each need for themselves, but He wishes them to live in union, and therefore He has revealed to them what is necessary for each and for all together.  I have now learned that it is only in appearance that they are kept alive through care for themselves, but that in reality they are kept alive in love. He who dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him, for God is love.” 

The Still Points

Today I found this, and I was struck silent with understanding…

“At the still point, there the dance is.” — T.S. Eliot

Those epiphany moments — for me those are the still points in which I can see the dance.  Thank you Lindsey, for pointing me in the right direction.

The Trappings of a Life Well-Lived

The six of us sat there at 10:00AM in our jammies, watching a new movie Will gave Henry for Christmas.  The scattered remains of the trappings of Christmas were all around…bits of festive paper and tape on the floor, pine needles, Christmas books and movies, boxes of cocoa, cookies, leftover fasnachts, snowflakes — elaborate, beautiful snowflakes cut by the children — all taped to the windows, and piles and piles of gifts.  And among all that is dust…a lot of dust.  The sun cast its warm light in a small patch on our floor, where I could see dog hair, powdered sugar, and what appeared to be cookie crumbs.  I didn’t care all that much. I looked at Kate. The light from the windows illuminated her face and cast just the slightest shadow which puddled in the shallow dimple on her chin.  Her hair lay across her shoulders in long tangled strands. She’s in that awkward middle place between childhood and adulthood… She is the most beautiful kind of awkward I’ve ever seen.

I did some cleaning today.  And laundry.  The Laundry and The Cleaning have a mutual agreement to never take a holiday, though I really feel they should consider doing so.  I made my mom’s beef stew today. It was way better than my beef and barley soup, according to Will, and pretty much every one else including me.

I spent some time looking at the antique jar Mom and Dad gave me.  It is full of the most beautiful treasures — bits of rock, and coral and shells that they themselves picked from the beach. I love that gift. And then we walked to the river and hung the bird feeders we made.

I think I will remember today. (And I will remember how every time I type the word “will” it is autocorrected to “Will” because a child in my house made his name the default correction for “will” on my iPad and every other device in this house. Very clever. Also, that particular child and his hooligan big sister changed “yes” to “yaasssss.” And “totally” to “totes.” And I am just inept enough to not know how to fix it. Good times.)

The last few days have been full of good moments–moments that stood out to me for whatever reason.  Like looking down from upstairs on Christmas Eve to see Henry fully dressed in his finery — silk tie embroidered with nutcrackers, wool herringbone trousers, white button down shirt — yes beautiful red-haired Henry all dressed up and sliding across the kitchen floor on his belly in an attempt to crash into the house of cards he built.

And Ella, who has about one thousand pairs of matching jammies, 75% of which could be considered in a Christmas theme, and yet what she chooses to wear on Christmas Eve is a red flannel nightie with tiny pink and yellow flowers, along with olive green pants with chocolate brown labradors all over them (hand me downs from her brother).  She looked at me and pushed up her glasses in that way that she does, and I thought, why?!  And then I  remembered that this is the part of her I love.  This is the funky. Right now she is walking around in her new earmuffs, stretching silly putty into long, thin strands all over the floor. Boy do I love her.

Will appears to have fractured his arm last week.  Again.  I’m skeptical about whether or not it’s actually a fracture, but I’m also not a doctor so I guess that pretty much renders my opinions on the matter a bit worthless. Anyway, he sits here on the couch, in his undershirt and jammies and arm brace and stocking hat watching Andy Griffith with David, who appears to be biting his fingernails.  Will has worn that knit stocking hat for two days now. It was a gift from his little brother, who used his birthday money to buy presents for his brother and sisters.

Christmas brings these moments…I call them epiphanies…where for a few brief, intense beats of my heart I feel His presence in my life.  These instances are never the grand, planned and shiny moments.  They are always, always ordinary, often messy and disorganized, and without pretense. And all of the sparkly, twinkling things I think I need mean so little in comparison to the beautiful lives that surround me right now.  (I hope I can remember this feeling when I’m scraping scotch tape and snowflakes off my windows in January.)

In all seriousness, these are the moments that give my life meaning.  These are the trappings of a life well-lived.

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Copyright 2008-2014 Kristen Johnson

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