Saturday, June 28, 2008

In the moment

As a mother, I am always trying to savor the here and now of my son's childhood. I rarely encounter a stranger who does not tell me to enjoy Josh while he's young or warn me of the speed with which the early years evaporate. It is a universal truth that everyone feels compelled to share, yet so often, my mind can't seem to stay in a given moment. It prefers to be making mental dinner plans, brainstorming weekend outings, or adding and deleting to-dos from my neverending list. Joshua climbs up the playground ladder and slides gleefully down the spiral slide as I calculate how much of this week's budget I have already spent or try to remember whether I replied to a client's e-mail. It's not until I hear him cry out after bumping his head on the railing that I am jolted back to the moment I was supposed to be soaking in.

As Catherine Newman, one of my favorite introspective writers about all things child-rearing, once wrote in her Wondertime magazine article about the art of mindful parenting, "I had mastered a number of skills in my life — to be smart, capable, efficient — but it turned out that being still wasn't one of them. Even with a newborn, I found myself constantly in motion: toward a different moment, a different place, a different experience."

There are plenty of parenting moments I can't help but absorb. In fact, many times I'm downright stuck in them. Like the ones in the middle of the night when Josh vomits all over himself and his bed (or even worse, my bed and me), or the ones where I have to drag him across the floor just to get his clothes on or off. The problem is that those are not the moments I want to gather in both arms and carefully pack away in my cedar chest. Those are the moments that long-time moms quickly forget, especially those who are considering just one more baby. Those moments disappear as quickly as the pain of childbearing once you hold that small pink baby in your arms.

But it's not even the big moments I'm desperate to hold onto — not the trips to Disneyland or Christmas morning or his first day of kindergarten. Those memories are predestined to stick. I'm concerned about missing the unexpected surprises. The gleeful smile of my infant when he learns to put his toe in his mouth while I'm absentmindedly matching up socks. The sweet cadence of my toddler's voice when he turns to me out of the blue and quietly says, "I love you, Mommy" for no particular reason while I'm chatting away on the phone. Or the triumphant sigh when my preschooler figures out how to slide down the pole at the park all by himself while I'm watching the cars pull in and out of the parking lot.

As a parent who works (albeit part-time), I often worry about what I'm missing while my son is at school or at his grandparents' house. He inevitably bursts through the door in the afternoon with burning news — anything from "I got to hold a duck and two chicks!" to the ever-popular and ever-exciting "I ate a cookie!" But I'm realizing that the adventures I miss while I'm stuck at my desk are not truly the lost moments. No. The lost moments are the ones I'm actually present for yet completely miss. The moments I held in the palm of my hand yet let blow away with the wind. Those are the moments I will never get back. Yet ironically, they're the ones I will never even know I missed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?

Because it is driving me crazy, the other day I counted just how many times Josh said, "Mommy?"

204 times.

That's 17 times per waking hour (on a good day).

That's once every 3.5 minutes.

That's 204 times I tried to sweetly say, "Yes, honey?" while waiting for no reply, or a string of gobbledygook I call "speaking Goofball," or a really hard question such as, "What is the Earth made out of?" 

No wonder it seems like a lot. 

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The painful side of parenting

Before you have kids, people always tell you about the highs and lows: the happiness and disappointments, the exhilaration and exhaustion, the pride and the worry. It sometimes seems parenting is defined by its dichotomies. Yet no one tells you about the pain. 

I'm not talking about your wounded ego when your grade schooler wants to walk to school alone because she's too embarrassed to be seen with her mom, or the hole you feel in your heart when you find a thong in your teenage daughter's laundry or your adolescent son is caught cutting the whiskers off all the neighborhood cats. I'm talking about the physical pain — the kind I feel when my three year old stomps on my bare foot with his hiking boot or kicks me in the chin when we're snuggling or pokes me in the eye when he's trying to get my attention by waving his hand in front of my face or pulling my chin toward him. I'm talking about those eye-watering, breath-holding moments when I want to scream the F word and check the mirror for blood. No one ever told me about that pain.

Last weekend, Josh decided at the last minute to jump off the kitchen stool that I was helping him down from, and he ran his head into the underside of my chin, causing me to bite a chunk of my lip off while simultaneously banging my jaw shut. Then later that night, he decided to give me a kiss on my cheek that, without warning, turned into a bite. And he has developed this nasty habit of suddenly walking right in front of me on purpose, so that I trip over him. It's not enough that I trip multiple times a day over his toys or the bathroom stool, but now he must actively (and unexpectedly) throw me off balance as well. 

This physical abuse has become so common that I can't even remember the story behind every cut or bruise I have at any one time. But I know they are all preschooler-induced. And I am never surprised to discover a new one. 

To add insult to injury, when Josh isn't inflicting unintentional physical harm, he's inflicting unintentional stains. Dirty fingers, overzealous conversations with his mouth full, and careless leave-behinds on the tabletop wreak havoc on my clothes. There's no such thing as a white shirt in my closet anymore. I often can't wear a clean pair of pants for more than ten minutes before they are dirty. And if I dare to dress up, I regret it. 

So I hobble around in my mommy uniform — a dark T-shirt and cargo pants — avoiding the plastic garbage trucks and little plastic hockey guys in my path, favoring my right arm and re-bandaging my left knee, hoping all these bumps and bruises won't leave any permanent marks — only permanent memories of a boyhood lived out loud.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A little bit of magic

According to my son, I am magical. I am able to perform impossible feats with the wink of an eye and a nod of the head. I'm like a genie, a superhero, and God all rolled into one. Don't I wish that were true, especially on those days when he won't nap or goes boneless when I try to remove his tantruming little self from the middle of the aisle at Target only to be kicked in the face by a miniature Croc. 

Yet no matter how many miracles I fail to perform, Josh continues to request them. And he is genuinely disappointed (and sometimes downright angry) when I cannot perform them. Take snacks, for instance. I'll pick him up from preschool bearing a treasured fruit bar he couldn't get enough of last week only to find that he wants almonds. When I break the news that I don't have any almonds, he demands them louder. I try to be a good mom and ignore the outburst — starve it of attention. So I start driving. This only angers him more, and he starts demanding that I pull over and give him some nuts. So I calmly try to explain to him that I am good at many things, but I do not possess the necessary skills to pull food out of thin air. We eventually work it out, without the expected miracle, but that doesn't stop him from asking me to change the weather when he wants to go outside and it's raining or to instantly heal his cut finger. 

As I have learned how to mother, I have discovered that I actually am magical, just not in the ways Josh wants me to be. I can carry 15-20 separate items, large or small, AND my 30-pound son through shopping malls, across parking lots, and down stairs with only my two arms and ten fingers. I often laugh when grocery store clerks ask if I need help out to the car with my small two bags. 

I can also do several things at once, even things that are seemingly unrelated. Since Josh arrived, I have become an extreme multitasker, working on six or eight tasks at once when a few short years ago I could accomplish only two or three. I can often cook dinner while simultaneously soothing the grumpy preschooler wrapped around my legs, answering the phone, setting the table, checking e-mail, and cutting my toenails. It's not my preferred mode of operation, but it has become a necessary survival skill in my world. (And when I fall into bed in an exhausted heap at night, I no longer wonder why I'm so tired.) 

And I can often still outsmart Josh into doing what I need him to do. It takes more and more brain power these days, but I continue to amaze myself with my ability to sidetrack, redirect, and motivate a very stubborn and very smart three year old. That's magic in my book. 

Now if I could just find the spell that keeps Josh my sweet baby boy forever, that would truly be magical. 

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The last time

As the weeks, then months, and now years tick by and Joshua grows, I often realize he's no longer doing this or that cute thing anymore, yet I have no idea when the last time was that he did it. I so wish there was some way to be alerted that this is the last showing of one of the endearing mannerisms, traits, or habits he displays and then so quickly discontinues. 

When Josh was a newborn, I loved the way he would stretch backward with his hands over his head when he was full and ready for a snooze. And as he got a little older, I would always crack up when he sucked his lips in and puffed his cheeks out, making the perfect round baby face. When he finally learned the sign for "more," he banged his fists together with gusto. I always assumed that sign would disappear the minute he could say the word "more." But it didn't. Josh hung on to that sign for more than a year after he was speaking, and he used it judiciously, especially when his mouth was full yet he still wanted more food. But that too is now gone.

One of his first words was "Melmo," his custom moniker for the lovable red Sesame Street character. And when we took him to Hawaii at 2 and he had trouble pronouncing words with the "l" sound, he ran around Kauai saying, "A-yo-ha!" and "Ma-ha-yo!" Alas, when we returned to the islands last month, the cute "ys" had been replaced with the proper "ls", and if we pronounce those words the old way, Josh simply gives us a puzzled look.

As a compulsive journaler, I have recorded so many firsts over the years, from the major milestones like rice cereal, crawling, and walking to more minor feats such as first signs, first laugh, and even first Sharks game, but I have been unable to capture the last occurrences of so many things he has simply grown out of. I don't know when he last nursed or sucked his pacifier or spit up or fell asleep in my arms as I rocked him. When did he stop referring to himself in the third person ("Josh do it") or reaching his arms up to me without words when he wanted to be held? When did he stop asking me what everyone we saw was doing or where every other car on the freeway was going? And when did he lose those chubby cheeks and legs?  

Some progress I can almost piece together with pictures, lining them up chronologically and straining to see the evolution. But other advances are a complete mystery. And often I don't know he's lost a special word or gesture or quirk until long after it's gone, leading me to miss it all the more.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Josh's big snow day

Little did we know when we planned our late May weekend trip to Lake Tahoe that we would be vacationing in the snow. What was even more surprising was that Josh's first snow experience was documented by the local news.

While Josh loves watching the video clip, he doesn't have quite the appreciation for it that a kid growing up in a different era might have. Every year for his birthday, I take all the video clips we've shot and edit them into a 15-minute highlight reel, complete with music, titles, and a DVD menu. This is affectionately referred to as "the Josh movie." 

So for Josh, this clip is yet another of many Josh movies he has starred in throughout his (short) life. He will be signing autographs somewhere near you later this month....

Saturday, June 7, 2008

So much and yet so little brain power

I am constantly amazed by how much I know, when tested, and conversely, how little I know. Ever since Josh entered the "Why?" stage, I have been surprised (and sometimes even amazed) by the tiny gems of knowledge hiding in the dark pockets of my brain. While explaining everything from why a lake is different than an ocean and why we can't drive any faster than we are already driving to how windmills, cars, airplanes, and hair dryers work (and all the whys that inevitably follow one of those explanations), I am surprisingly quick at fetching simple, basic knowledge that I'm not sure I would have claimed to know before Josh was born. 

I am also astonished by how many insignificant details I can retain, not to mention how many I am now required to retain, as I chase my son through each day. At a moment's notice, I can tell you where each of his 22 die-cast Pixar cars are, name every child in his preschool class, recount insignificant tales from playgroup two months ago, remind him what he had for dinner the night we went to that place with the red umbrellas, and immediately locate each of three rotating sippy cups, no matter where Josh may have dropped them when enthralled with something infinitely more interesting.

However, all that data is evidently overwriting precious memory space in my brain — space likely already allocated to more basic (and lifesaving) knowledge: remembering to turn off the stove or toaster oven when I have finished cooking, finding one of my things when it is within arm's reach (or on top of my head) without tearing up the house for an hour before I realize it is right in front of my face (and sometimes even on my face or in my hand), and recalling basic personal information when unexpectedly asked, such as my name, phone number, or address. It turns out that those skills are rarely readily accessible. So for all the time I save being able to magically find Josh's missing shoe when we're already late for school is often spent later in the day when I make fifteen phone calls to research something I later realize I already researched, such as where's the best place to take my car for a major service. 

Even speaking is sometimes difficult. I struggle to find the word I'm looking for, even when it's a very basic adjective or synonym. I forget appointments. I make promises I can't remember long enough to write down so I at least have a chance at fulfilling them. And I can't tell you how many times a month I buy the wrong thing, whether it be whole milk instead of 1%, pasteurized instead of unpasteurized orange juice, or conditioner instead of shampoo. For someone who makes a living as a detail-oriented freelance copy editor, I provide my husband endless entertainment. Sometimes he can't believe I can find my way to Josh's preschool twice a week, let alone find subtle inconsistencies in 50-page technical documents with topics I'm not versed in.

Yet somehow, I manage each day to stay alive. And more importantly, I manage to keep my kid alive, which I guess are my two most basic responsibilities as a parent. The peanut butter sandwich may have ketchup on it instead of jelly, and the park we tell the playgroup moms to meet us at may or may not be the one we actually show up to, but Josh still thinks his mom knows everything (and at his age, that's still a good thing). And I even manage to occasionally impress myself with nuggets of knowledge pulled out at precisely the right moment. After all, I am the only mom I know who can name the starting goalie for most NHL teams. And I try really hard not to worry about what crucial data that trivia has overwritten inside my head. Watevver itt is, I'mm shure it'z nott impoortent.
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