Friday, January 28, 2011

Feast or Famine (Babble)

My husband and I have always managed to arrange our lives in such a way that one of us is always home with our kids.  When Aden was born Ian was in school working on an engineering degree, and I stayed home with an occasional escape to play a wedding gig or concert.  Eventually I was able to go back to work in the mornings and Ian would stay home with the baby. 

When Mona came along we were sometimes both home, because our expenses were low enough that we could survive on Ian’s weekend Army Reserve pay and my freelance work and part time violin repair job.  We don’t have cable, we like ramen, and taking the kids to the park is more entertaining than any activity we would have had to pay for anyway.  That period of time when we just had two kids was the most equal in terms of time and responsibility for us as parents.  We do things differently, but I truly feel like a co-parent in this child raising adventure of ours.  Ian is every bit as involved as you could ask a parent to be and I appreciate it greatly.  We feel very fortunate to have the kind of time with our kids that we do.

But with Ian’s first deployment the balance of time with our children didn’t just tip the scales one way or another, it left the scales mangled in an unrecognizable heap on the floor.

I had all the children (including the newborn who arrived halfway through that deployment) all the time.  There was always at least one with me in the bed or in the bathroom or on the stairs or in my lap or in the kitchen or in the car….  There is a particular kind of parenting overload that comes with deployment that I suspect is different from other kinds of single parenting situations.  There is an underlying fear and desperation at work that accompanies the average level of stress of trying to parent alone that affects your choices.  As much as I needed a break, simple options like hiring a sitter didn’t feel viable.  It’s not just that the kids didn’t want to be apart from their one remaining parent, I didn’t want to be away from them either, even as they were driving me insane.  Fear makes you clingy.  You know how sometimes when you hear an upsetting news story it makes you want to just hug your kids?  Deployment means you are living in the news story.

The second deployment was slightly easier than the first, partially because it was shorter, and primarily because I didn’t spend any of it pregnant or nursing a baby.  But it included the new complication of my trying to run my own business with the kids in tow.  I love having my own violin store, but it takes a lot of time to repair and maintain instruments.  I’m amazed we ended the year in the black considering just how often I had to keep the store closed because it was too hard to work with all the kids along.

In any case, all sense of balancing time between parents has been distorted in our home.  I have had so much time completely alone with the children that there is no demand I can make about using time for myself when Ian is here that sounds in any way unreasonable or undeserved.  I could announce I want to flee to a cabin for a month to write a novel or just do my nails over and over and no one would object.  Except my children.  And I don’t want to flee my children.

But after each deployment the shift in time spent with the kids was huge.  I love my work, I do it better when I’m alone, and with Ian available as the full time stay at home parent I shouldn’t have any qualms about going off to do it.  But I do.  It’s hard to go from being there every minute to having long work days apart from my children.  When Ian was in Iraq the Army provided us with steady income.  Now that he’s home, I’m the one who heads out to earn us money.  There is a weird lopsided sense to this, where the balance comes in large unwieldy chunks.  Instead of two parents trading off time by the hour or the day it’s like we’re doing it by the year.  As if Ian headed out the door in his Army uniform saying, “You watch them until next autumn, and then I’ve got them after that.”

I am not complaining about having a job, and I’m aware that we have more flexibility in our schedule than many could ever hope to have, but the transition is still hard.  Especially during a period like the last couple of weeks.  After returning from Detroit there was a lot of work piled on my bench so I had to put in a lot of extra hours.  Plus I had rehearsals three evenings a week.  On Wednesday I literally saw Aden for a total of forty minutes.  I’ve been home long enough to eat with my family and hug everyone before running out the door again.  That’s just not right, but I don’t know what else to do.  After my concert on Sunday my evenings should free up again and it won’t be so bad, but right now it’s hard.

Ian does all the pick ups and drop offs, arranges play dates, cooks, does laundry, takes the kids sledding, makes them cocoa….  He’s remarkably patient, especially with Quinn who is still having trouble adapting to his dad being home.  Most of the time things are fine, but there are moments it’s clear that Quinn is attached to me as the real parent in his mind and he doesn’t understand why I’m not around as much.  There are days Ian picks him up at school that Quinn gets morose and whines, “You do EVerything!”  And Ian responds, “I know!”  Talk about feeling unappreciated. 

But you can’t make someone love you.  It’s hard to explain to people sometimes how Ian’s return home was all downsides from Quinn’s perspective.  Ian left when Quinn was two, so Quinn accepts him as he would any other well-meaning relative, but I don’t think he remembered what a ‘dad’ really was.  So this man comes to live in our house and now the food is different and mom is gone all day and he sleeps in the bed Quinn prefers and all of that is difficult to accept, especially if you are only four.  You can’t just tell a little boy, “This is your dad and you’re supposed to love him now.”  We took as much time as we could afford to have Quinn get accustomed to Ian with me around, too, but now it will just be up to them.  They are starting to forge a closer relationship out of shared experience and habit, but at the moment Quinn’s cuddly kind of love is still reserved for me. 

It’s getting better.  Mostly because Ian is patient and kind and letting his son dictate the pace.  Quinn won’t be able to resist him forever.  One day, I hope sooner than later, Quinn will come around and realize what a remarkable dad he has and love will be easy.  He just needs time, and right now that’s something Ian has to offer, even if mine is in short supply.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Full Orchestra (Babble)

Like many, I had strong reactions to the now ubiquitous Tiger Mother article and all the controversy surrounding it.  It’s not my parenting philosophy, but I also think there was more humor intended in her writing than many were willing to see.  Regardless, there was one element of this strict parenting concept that I haven’t seen addressed that I felt compelled to write about.

As a musician and violin maker the requirement on Ms Chua’s list of making children play violin or piano jumped out at me.  I understand why of all the instruments available in the world that these two (or four if you lump viola and cello in under the category of violin) were singled out.  They are among the few that can be taught as early as a child is ready because physically they rely primarily on finger dexterity.  (I’ve written about this before in a post about music lessons for kids.)  It’s not that these instruments are inherently better than others, it’s that they are available to children at a younger age.

But an orchestra needs more than violins.  And this is the thing that bothered me about such a narrow definition of success.  The world she wants for herself and her children depends upon a greater population that does not raise their own children in this way.  I certainly enjoy playing viola, and I like playing with my string quartet, but there are no Beethoven symphonies without horns and flutes and percussion.  There is no Handel’s Messiah without singers and bassoons and trumpets.  To imply other instruments are inferior is to insult their value to the whole.  A successful orchestra has balance.  If we all play the same part we lose the complexity and the beauty available to us.  Ms Chua, I am sure, would want nothing less for her children than to have a full orchestra available, and yet she holds up a model for educating a population of musicians that would make such a thing untenable.

This idea, of course, extends beyond music.  If everyone were raised with such limited choices of expression, such as not being allowed in school plays, there would be no school plays, and eventually that means no plays (or movies or TV) period.  In a world of science leaning professionals and violinists, there is no one to design our clothes, build our homes, fly us across the world or cut our hair.  There would be no restaurants, no novels, no art, no sports….  It’s inhuman, unsustainable, and frankly very, very dull.  To label one path superior, but not to acknowledge dependence on the rest of the world taking different paths that support your own is peculiar, and a tad insulting.  I’m pleased her own daughter is an accomplished pianist.  But her daughter depends on someone else to build pianos and keep them maintained for that to happen.  What is gained by labeling that career and those talents as inferior?

I once had a neighbor who told me one afternoon as we chatted on the porch that it was the 20th anniversary of when she began waitressing.  I helped put myself through violin making school by waitressing for a bit, and I was good at it, but it wore me out and I was relieved when I was able to give it up.  In regards to my neighbor my first thought was to project my own cumbersome attitude about the job onto her too, but then she told me how proud she was.  She loved being a waitress.  It was social, it was active, she made good money, and her schedule was predictable.  I was so glad to not be a waitress that I honestly had never considered that someone else might enjoy it.  I felt so much better about the world to know that she was in the right job.  There are so many niches to fill and jobs that need doing to make everything run that I think it’s marvelous that there are enough different types of people in the world to do them.  It would be great if everyone found the right match for their talents and abilities.

I don’t think you improve the world by forcing people into niches against their will, and there are too many options out there to hazard a guess of what is the best fit for someone else, even your own child.  My mom is an artist and my dad a poet.  I’m sure if you asked them when they met who their children would grow up to be they wouldn’t have guessed an entomologist, a neuro-scientist, and a luthier.  My dad once told me it was wonderful to be led so many unexpected directions by his children and to learn things he never would have come across if it weren’t for us.  I can’t wait to see what my own children will do and what they have to teach me.

My parenting style is very loose compared to anything discussed in the Tiger Mother article, but I can live with that.  And I suspect parents who actually abide by those strict standards are glad that many of the rest of us don’t.  If your goal is to be superior, you need something or someone to feel superior to, but at some point you may need a plumber, or a mechanic, or (dare I say it) a luthier, and you should pay people with necessary skills you don’t have some respect.  Because the world I want to live in has many definitions of success.  Almost as many as there are people in it.

Violins are lovely.  But the full orchestra is superior to the whole lot of them.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Home Sweet Hugs (Babble)

I’m home!  As in Milwaukee-home-where-I-live-now, and not in Detroit-home-where-I-grew-up.

A week and a half away and my kids didn’t change that much.  See?

(They’re all wearing the bee shirts my mom made for them, which they weren’t able to open on Christmas.)   Cute as proverbial buttons.  Or even literal buttons, assuming said buttons are darned cute.

Returning home is always an interesting experience to me.  Either direction, actually.  This was the longest period of time I’ve spent in the home where I grew up since having kids without my kids along.  It was roughly the same amount of time I spent apart from my kids when I was in Alaska a couple of years ago.  When I think about how hard a week and a half away from my children was, I’m struck anew at how big a sacrifice it was for my husband to be away from them for a year or more.  I don’t think I could stand it.

Being in my childhood home with my mom and my brother was nice.  The hospital wore me out, but dad got stronger every day so the experience was a hopeful one overall.  I forgot just how noisy the house is in the winter when the radiators ping and bang, and my mom has finally had enough of our complaints about the shower and is getting that improved.  I fixed the toilet myself.  Arno helped my mom set up her new computer and even got wireless internet working in the house after a long drawn out phone saga with all kinds of tech people around the world.  I introduced my mom to the joys of Project Runway on Hulu.  I wish I’d had more time with my niece and my other brother and his girlfriend, but our visits overlapped just long enough to say hello.  My shift was done.

I love my family so much and they are so interesting that I always think of myself as the lucky one for getting to be in their lives.  I never think of anyone as being lucky to be with me, particularly.  But my dad was so happy in the hospital every time he woke up and saw me sitting next to him.  Just being there made a difference.  My mom made sure I knew how much she loved having me home. 

And Arno said, “Apart from the hospital, hasn’t this been fun?”  I never think of Arno as missing me, really.  I know he lovers me, but his life is busy and filled with colorful and brilliant characters and I’m just me.  But when I left after breakfast I said goodbye to mom and Krisite in the kitchen, and Barrett and Ellora outside as they went to walk the dog, and Arno put on his coat just to come give me one more hug.  Then he stood on the sidewalk and watched me drive away.  When I looked in the mirror before turning the corner at the end of the block and saw him still there I burst into tears.  How strange life is, that dark circumstances can offer up some of the greatest light.  Who knows the next time I’ll have the opportunity to spend that much time with my brother again?  What a rare and lovely thing.

The drive home was snowy and long and grey and dull, but I didn’t hit traffic jams in Chicago or construction in Indiana or need to call Triple-A for anything, so that was great.  And then I got to be home.  The new home at the other end of the drive from the old home.  I love being home.  I missed my husband and my kids and my bed and my regular shampoo.

Ian said the kids did fine without me.  Quinn wouldn’t speak to me on the phone when I called because he was mad, but otherwise he went about life as usual.  When I came in the back door last night he was all smiles and hugs and seems to have forgiven me. 

Considering this was how he looked when I told him I was leaving I’m relieved.

I was braced for some kind of cold-shoulder, tantrum-like punishment, but he’d rather just draw me pictures and hug my legs while I try to walk, so I’m not complaining.  Aden was cheerful on the phone when I would check in and didn’t seem to have a problem with my being away, but when I returned she spent a few hours being rather tearful and clingy.  Mona, who I would have expected to weather things the best, cried a little every night about missing me, and wept on the phone.  She asked if she could please sleep in my bed last night, so Ian graciously agreed to sleep in Quinn’s lower bunk so I could get some snuggle time in with my little girl.  She said she’d be fine with going back to her own bed tonight.  I sometimes think experience with deployment may have left my children more skittish than average when it comes to a parent being absent for any extended period.  Or not.  I may never know.

The funny thing to me about travel is how fast the experience can seem to close up behind you when you return home.  I remember after spending a month in India (before we had kids) getting into the bathtub soon after we walked in the door and lying there past the point where the water was warm because I knew if I got out and walked into my old routine that India would start to fade, and I wasn’t ready for that.  I wanted to keep India and the new things I’d learned a little longer.  But there is no haggling with auto-rickshaw drivers in Milwaukee or eating off banana leaves or leaping on or off of moving trains.  It all receded into a distinct place known as the past with astonishing speed.

Same thing with my time in Detroit.  It felt very long while I was there.  I created a new rhythm for my days from hospital hours and my parents’ needs and my brother’s availability.  It’s odd to have that time shrink in my memory as I get back to life with Ian and the kids and the violin store.  It was difficult to see my dad in pain, but inspiring to see him improve.  I have complete confidence that he’s in good hands with the help he has currently, so it’s not as nerve wracking for me now that I’m back in Milwaukee.  I need to return to the life I’ve created here, and I don’t feel guilty anymore for leading it, which I did before the trip.

It’s nice to feel helpful, needed, welcomed and loved, at either end of my journey.
(Arno, Barrett, Kristie and Ellora–some of the best company for breakfast ever.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hospital Mysteries (Babble)

My dad just moved into in-house rehab.  This is good news.  He needed to fit into a very narrow band of criteria in order to qualify for it; too weak, not a candidate, too strong, they can’t take him either.  He’s just the right amount of upright but wobbly to qualify.  This will give him a chance to gain some strength while buying us some time to prepare for him coming home, so we’re happy.

In the meantime, I’ve had many long days to contemplate things about the hospital.  I think my biggest complaint would be that there is no organized system of making sure the different specialists can talk to the family.  It’s very hit or miss.  Out of 12 hours by my dad’s side yesterday, the 20 minutes I left to walk around and get some feeling back in my legs was the same time a flurry of doctors came through to provide an update.  I love my dad, but he is not a reliable source for relaying medical information, so we have no idea what the doctors said.  I know the medical people visiting his room have charts to refer to, to keep them up to speed, but there should be a layperson’s version.  A single page report at the end of the day listing the doctors who visited and what they had to say, along with times of blood draws and what medicines were administered or any tests that were done along with their results, etc.  How hard could that be?  Boy that would be helpful.

Also, the food service seems to have no connection to the doctors’ orders.  We kept receiving trays of food for my dad filled with things he wasn’t allowed to eat.  Why isn’t the hospital menu divided clearly into categories, like ‘liquid diet’ and ‘soft diet,’ etc.?  My dad is easing his way back into eating real food and the kitchen sent up potato chips.  We had to argue with him about how they were too much for his system and confiscate the bag like he was a kid, but they never should have sent it up in the first place.

On a less medically related note, I’ve also had time during my average 12 hour shifts at the hospital to explore the gift shop, parking lot, and cafeteria here.  And there are some things we just don’t understand.  These are my hospital mysteries.

There is the lady in the booth in the parking lot.  She waves to us every morning.  When nobody is in the booth the gate still goes up on its own to let us into the lot, so that appears to be automatic.  We have no idea what the lady in the booth is really doing.  But we wave to her and hope she likes her job.

There is a dramatic staircase to nowhere that I don’t get.

The cafeteria appears to be filled with food, but there is not much to eat.  There aren’t many places to go to get a break from the hospital room, so we end up in the cafeteria a lot.  I think I’m hungry until I get there.  And then I look at each thing and think, “Nah.”  Arno ended up with a tray of cottage cheese, beets, yogurt and a banana.  He says his only regret is he didn’t put more beets on the cottage cheese.  Although, to be fair, that didn’t look that different from meals I’ve seen Arno assemble by choice, so hard to judge.  But I paid almost five dollars for a sad little turkey burger which I ate while walking around and then was bored again.  But I keep looking at all the food and wondering why there’s nothing to eat.

But here is the real mystery in the cafeteria:  The “multi-purpose spoons.”

Apparently the knives and forks can only serve a single purpose, but spoons are multi-functional.  In my opinion this merely shows a lack of imagination on the part of people labeling the knives and forks, but still, it’s intriguing.  (If you are bored out of your mind and paying your third trip of the day to the cafeteria because it is the only place to go.)
In any case, my dad is looking more like himself, and soon my brother, Barrett, will be here to assist for awhile and I can head home to Milwaukee.  I’m glad I’ve been able to help here, but I miss Ian and the kids, and I’m sure there is a lot of work waiting for me at the violin store.  But maybe I’ll get caught up sooner than expected now that I know I can count on the versatility of all the spoons I have lying around.

I’m looking forward to being home–no mystery there.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Being A Daughter, Missing My Kids (Babble)

Hospitals are strange places.  They are environments entirely about providing care to vulnerable people, with little in those environments that succeed in making those people feel comfortable.  Health care workers are people just like anyone else, so most of them are attentive and kind and a few are brusk and dismissive.  But it seems to me the whole experience of being stuck in a hospital room could be improved if we could just get some clever design people on the problem.

Spending days in the hospital in Detroit with my dad has been both sweet and disheartening.  I’ve had time to observe what things here work well and what things could be better.  It’s amazing how far a gentle word from a nurse can go, and frustrating to see how much can (and does) go wrong when people don’t communicate.  My dad right now has me and my brother and my mom, as well as friends who happen to be doctors popping in from time to time to check on everything, and all of us advocate for him, double check what we’re told, and are working to keep my dad’s spirits up.  I can’t imagine what the hospital experience is like for people who must endure it alone.

In terms of my dad’s condition, everything seems to be one step forward and another step back.  Recovering from surgery is more difficult since he also has a broken arm.  Certain elements are in conflict.  One minute we’re being told he needs to start walking, and the next they discover something which requires he keep still.  Nothing is simple.  All of it is painful and confusing.

But I am here.  I am my dad’s daughter, and although I’m not a doctor I can prop his hand on a pillow when it gets too swollen and scratch his back when he sits up and write emails as he dictates messages to people.  It was more upsetting dealing with the fact of my dad being in the hospital from afar because helplessness is stressful.  If I can make my dad smile I don’t feel as helpless, and it’s easier to make him smile from his bedside.  I’ve been playing my viola which my dad has enjoyed.  (The staff asked if we could please leave the door open so they can hear it in the hall, which is flattering, so I had a larger audience than I had anticipated, but the only listener who truly matters right now is my dad.)

It’s interesting being once again firmly a member of my original family.  Ian is home with the kids managing our life in Milwaukee where I am the mom, and I am back where I grew up being a daughter and a sister.  It’s a strange shift, but not an unwelcome one.  My brother and I are trying to tend to my mom as much as dad.  We’re making sure she gets time to sleep in and finish some work while we’re at the hospital, and in the evenings together before we go to bed we laugh.  It’s good to hear my mom laugh.

I miss my kids, though.  I know they are fine, and I’m sure they miss me once in awhile, too, but as much as I like the break from being responsible for their needs for a little bit, I miss the snuggles and the hugs and the little voices and the unexpected cute moments.  The only other time I’ve been away from them this long was when I took a trip to Alaska a year and a half ago.  I hadn’t realized how much I’ve liked Mona’s recent habit of seeking me out for a quick snuggle before she goes to sleep until it was missing.  She finds me wherever I am in the house after she’s brushed her teeth and put on her pajamas and says, “I thought you’d like some company.”  And we hug and cuddle before I tell her she needs to climb in bed.  I miss Aden showing me how far she’s gotten in the book she’s reading.  I miss Quinn looking at me like he can’t believe his good fortune that I’m there.  But I’m not there.  And I won’t be for several days yet.

But this is part of being in a family.  Love comes with responsibilities.  My children are safe and warm and fine at home with their dad and they can survive without me for awhile.  My dad and my mom and my brothers need me now.  I want my children to know they can trust me when I say I will do everything I can to be there for them, and this is part of the proof.  I’ve made that same promise to the family I grew up with, and my children can see me following through.  Love needs to be stronger than our individual comforts and desires.  It means doing the right thing even if it takes me away from my kids from on occasion.

Here in the hospital, I’m enjoying time with people I seldom get to spend so many hours with.  I like filling in the spaces on a crossword puzzle for my dad since he can’t use his own hand, and helping my brother find the right word for an email he’s working on, and getting to sit quietly and have lunch with just my mom.  Despite the scary circumstances and the assault on my father’s dignity, time in the hospital is not gloomy.  We’re taking each challenge as it comes and finding humor and beauty where we can.

I apologize if this post is more disjointed than most.  Time in the hospital is strange.  It’s like waiting in line.  There is a lot of time, but just enough constant interruption that you can’t get anything done.  Most of these sentences were written many hours apart.  We sit.  We entertain dad until he needs to rest.  We stop everything for pulmonary specialists and surgeons and people checking blood sugar and blood pressure and fluids and oxygen….  Sometimes we go with dad as they wheel him in his bed downstairs for more tests and we wait there for a long time.  Lots of time and no time at all.  Being in the hospital is the temporal equivalent of “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

And now I’m just homesick and I miss my kids, so here is a mess of photos I just downloaded onto my computer and want to post purely for my own amusement.  In the spirit of this weirdly cobbled together post, enjoy:

Mona’s favorite Christmas gift this year was a potholder kit.  We now have many potholders.

We recently made applesauce.  Quinn liked to stir and add apples to the pot.  Mona and Aden did a bunch of peeling.  There were peels everywhere, but the applesauce tasted great.

A neighbor gave us a gingerbread house kit.  I was impressed how well the kids worked together on a single house.

These were habitats Mona was supposed to make for some reason for some other kid’s presentation at school.  I still haven’t figured out what the whole story was there, because I don’t believe (the way Mona tells it) that the teacher announced the night before it was due that she was supposed to build three habitat displays for some other kid’s report, but she got her sister to help and they were busy all evening with paper and scissors and tape.

And this was the last picture I took of my kids before I hopped in the car to go to Detroit.

Love those little faces.  Time to finish that crossword puzzle with my dad.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I'm Saying Two-Thousand-Eleven (Babble)

I keep coming across articles insisting we call this new year “twenty-eleven” and that we should have been saying “twenty-ten” and that the whole “two-thousand” thing is wrong wrong wrong.  I think this is the dumbest thing to be upset about ever so I’m sticking with saying “two-thousand-eleven” just to bother the people it bothers.  Plus I like the sound of it better.  We don’t all have to agree!  As long as people understand what you are saying, we don’t all have to say it the same way.  This is true of issues that are actually important, so why anyone wants to fuss over the ones that aren’t is beyond me.  Are people just that easily bored?  I have some yard work those people can do.

Anyway, I’m glad 2010 is over, whatever you want to call it.  There were some incredible highlights, and we have arrived at a place of balance and contentment (as much as life with three kids and our own business will allow), but I was surprised when I looked back on this past year at how much of the struggle I had already blocked out.  I don’t think of myself as a person who is able to completely live in the moment, but I do tend to develop a myopia from wherever my current vantage point is.  I have a hard time dressing for weather I know is coming later in the day, for instance.  When the kids are playing sweetly, I feel as if they will always play sweetly.  But things change from minute to minute (both the weather here in Wisconsin, and the moods of my children), and even though while it’s winter I can’t believe spring will ever arrive, I do know better.

When I look back a year ago and I think about the kind of stress I was under I’m not sure how I got through it.  Living with Ian in Iraq was like a constant pressure weighing me down all the time.  Living with that level of fear underlying everything for such a long stretch isn’t healthy.  I’m calmer.  I’m getting more sleep.  Just imagining myself at this time last year I get a clenching sensation inside my chest.  So I try not to think about it.
Having Ian home again also makes me realize how abstract the wars are for civilian families.  It’s something I keep track of, but on the same level I keep track of other news, and it makes me sad but not desperate anymore. 

My own kids even said recently how nice it is that the war is over, and I had to correct them.  I told them other people still have soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But if it doesn’t touch you directly it doesn’t have any urgency.  It’s just one more depressing story among many.  Now that Ian is home we are on a level with everyone else in terms of being asked to sacrifice for the cause, which is to say, nothing is asked of us at all.  No wonder the wars continue.  They are easy to forget for most of the population.  When I think back just a few months ago to how I followed war coverage vs. now, I’m sort of stunned.  But I need a break.  I can’t hold it so close anymore.

2010 was the year we moved.  I’ve blocked a lot of that experience out, too.  How did I move with three kids and my husband away?  It took so, so long.  Months and months and a million trips back and forth across the street….  When I think about the adjustment of making the new house a home it’s weird now.  Our new house is home.  When I think back to how claustrophobic I sometimes felt when trying to organize the old house I remember why we moved.  I love our new home.  And I love being settled in it and knowing what parts of the floors squeak and which rooms are chilly in the winter and listening to my kids run around like we own the place because we do.  We won’t have been living in this house for a full year until April, but it feels longer.  Because when home feels right it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t always that way.

In 2010 my son started school!  That’s a strange transition to think back on.  A year ago he was at my side all the time.  Quinn slept in my bed, and came with me on all my errands, and accompanied me to work.  I loved all the time I had with my little boy.  There are still some lingering effects of all that single parenting, though.  There is no way for us to know if he would have had trouble warming up to his dad if Ian hadn’t been deployed.  They get along fine, but no one would dispute that the boy prefers me.  I cling to the stories of how my Uncle Joe at age two wouldn’t have anything to do with his father when grandpa returned from the Second World War, because you would never guess that was possible years later when they were so close. 

Few things mark the passage of time more dramatically than getting to observe the development of small children, and it’s incredible how much my youngest has grown.  He was my baby at the beginning of 2010.  Sure, a baby who knew all the countries of Africa, but he had baby fat and wispier hair and only pretended to read.  Now he can actually read, and he’s teaching himself cursive.  Shirts he was swimming in last January are starting to look tight.  (And Mona and Aden are practically exploding out of their clothes they are growing so fast.)  My baby isn’t a baby a year later.  He’s a big kid (as he likes to remind me frequently) with his own friends and his own work to do.

I’m amazed the violin store managed to survive 2010.  While Ian was gone and with Quinn to care for all day we had really erratic hours.  The sign on the door for most of the year read: “Open by appointment or chance,” which people found amusing unless they actually needed something.  I am so grateful that we have loyal customers willing to work with us, because I know how much more convenient it is to deal with a store that simply has real hours every day.  Even in a bad economy we still came out in the black so I feel like our little shop is a small business success story.  2011 starts the fourth chapter of that story and I hope it’s a good one.

I lost my grandma.  I found a new friend.  I got my husband back in one piece.  We settled into the home I plan to die in because I never want to deal with moving again.  I learned how much I can really handle and when to ask for help.  2010 makes me tired looking back on it, but it was a year with a lot of important moments that will make it stand out from others in the decades to come.  I hope people reaching for great dreams achieve them in the coming year, but I for one would prefer to ride the status quo for awhile.  I would like this new year to be far less interesting than the last, no matter what we call it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Don't Suffer Before You Have To (Babble)

I worry.  I’m not obsessive about it and I enjoy my life, but I like to feel prepared.  Most of the time when I worry, it’s merely a way of analyzing a concern and getting a jump on addressing it.  If I didn’t worry about my kids getting cranky on a long outing I wouldn’t have thought ahead to bring a snack.  Many moms in particular spend time worrying as a kind of preemptive strike.  Worry now prevents a meltdown later.  As long as it doesn’t drag you down, worry can be constructive.

But there is a limit.  Worry with no endpoint can be debilitating.  If something is too large or unsolvable worry can gnaw at you until you are ragged.  And if worry stretches on too long it hurts.

My family found out this week that my dad’s health is in trouble.  He went into the hospital on Christmas day, and recently had surgery.  I don’t have enough significant details to write about even if they were mine to share, but suffice it to say we’ve all had to stop and shift what we are doing to accommodate this new situation.  My brothers and I are all looking at what responsibilities in our own lives can be set aside, and when, so that we can coordinate a tag team effort to go out to Michigan and help.  I’m in line first for when dad gets out of the hospital.

My first reaction to the news that my dad was in pain and my mom was possibly overwhelmed was akin to panic.  There is nothing more upsetting than feeling helpless, especially where loved ones are concerned.  A serious situation deserves a serious response.  And I am in a different state with nothing to offer from here and it’s frustrating and scary.

But the night we got the news my brothers and I tried to communicate using Skype.  The group conversation was too awkward, so Barrett Skyped me directly.  He’s in Germany at the moment, and it was really the only way to talk to him.  We said the couple of important things that needed saying, and then we started to laugh.  Not in any riotous kind of way, but Quinn was lining things up on the bed and Mona kept appearing and calling Barrett the wrong name the way she usually does, and, well, seeing my brother makes me happy.  So we laughed a bit.

I was really conflicted about that.  It seemed disrespectful of my dad’s troubles.  If his pain mattered to me, how could I laugh?

The truth is that life is more complicated than that.  I remember crying during my first miscarriage and feeling as if I would never smile again, but at some point you can’t keep crying.  Eventually you sleep and you eat something and you get dressed and move on.  And if you have small children as funny and sweet as mine, you laugh.  Whether you want to or not, you laugh.  Because it’s disrespectful to ignore that side of life, too.

The morning after I talked to my mom and my brothers I got an email from my friend, Sarah.  She has had more than her share of dealing with long term illness and hospitals, and she gave me practical advice based on her experience.  All of it was interesting and insightful, but at the moment the most invaluable thing she said was, “Don’t suffer before you have to.”  Because if a fight is long you can burn out on suffering and not be useful.  She also advised me to not turn away humor when it presents itself.  A good laugh is sometimes the best thing.

This has been immensely helpful to me.  I feel as if I’ve been given permission to laugh.  I didn’t realize I needed that until it came.  The same way it was all right to enjoy the company of my extended family at my grandmother’s funeral, despite the sad circumstances, it’s okay to laugh with my brothers even if our dad is sick.  When I think about myself when I’m sick, do I prefer it if my kids are in some kind of mourning because I’m in bed, or giggling together down the hall?  When my kids are happy my world is better.  I’m still someone’s kid. I can’t imagine my dad wouldn’t choose the sound of his own children laughing together over our worried mutterings.

So when I need to cry I will cry, but if I feel like laughing I will allow that to happen, too.  Because if I didn’t, what is the point?  Of anything?  I will not suffer before I have to.  And I will worry in small doses–just enough to keep the meltdowns at bay.