Falling Back

imageI’ve never been that mom–the one who whittles miniature squirrels out of sticks gathered from nature walks with her children, then uses the excess shavings in a homemade, wholesome kale and wood-chip soup.

When I had all of the time in the world to play with my daughters, I took food-coloring to pudding–once–and let the girls muck around with it for an hour or so.

It’s a blur now, what I did when I had all of that time. My kids are here living with me, still, so I must have fed them.

But I’m back to work now, and in my quiet hour of the week, when I have time to reflect, I think–if only I were home with the girls again, I would teach them Italian. We would build patio furniture from teak wood. We would solder together puzzle pieces of stained glass, arranging them into beautiful patterns.

I am not a multi-tasker. I don’t have that instinct. My husband and I joke that if I were on the show Survivor, I would die, instantly.

Even in the comfort of my own home, when I have too much to do–clean, shop for groceries, go through the piles of papers coming home in truckloads from my kids’ school, grade my own stockpile of 7th grade essays and quizzes–I tend to react by sitting down and checking my email. Then I’ll turn on Pandora and have a genuine discussion with myself about which channel to listen to. I just don’t get a lot done these days.

I get to the wine store.  I fill the pantry with on-deck coffee. And the rest is a complete crapshoot.

Before, maybe (this is just not true), I was more patient with my children. I thought by employing myself while my girls were in school all day, I would better appreciate the time that I have with them. But just this past Friday, our family movie night, when we all decided to watch the DVR’d episode of The Voice, when Lexi kept moving around, jamming her foot into my leg as we “cozied” on the couch, I found I had the patience of a lit firework. I kept saying, “Okay, Lex,” which in mom-speak means, “Can you please just stop fidgeting and distracting me from this mindless television program?”

Don’t get me wrong, teaching Lord of the Flies to a roomful of 7th graders is super-relaxing.

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We’ve fallen back an hour, so at 5 a.m. I am awake with no going back. As hard as I try to stay in bed, eyes slammed shut, my mind starts to spin together a list of what really should be done by the end of the day. So I get up.

On my way to make coffee downstairs, I peek into the room my daughters share. A trace of light from the hall reflects and reveals something heart-crushingly big: Lexi on one twin bed, miraculously both sheet and blanket cover her wholly so she is warm. And Caroline, beside her on the other twin, wrapped up comfortably, too. They face each other: Caroline’s sighs are louder because of a cold, so even with my eyes closed, I can differentiate between the two.

But I take them in together, their steady exchange of breathing, back and forth. I stand and stare at my little dream girls, listening to their early morning song.  I stay a little bit longer. I stare a bit more.


Counting Colors

“Cerulean”: Caroline’s go-to blue Crayola crayon.

“Cerulean”: From Latin caeruleus “blue, blue-green,” perhaps dissimilated from caelulum, diminutive of caelum “heaven, sky.”

“I had trouble sleeping last night, Mommy. So I counted the colors of the rainbow; then I counted the letters of the alphabet, and then I said, aaagh, I’m just tired.” Must be the engineering gene from her father’s side— Caroline’s got a knack for numbers. My head hits the pillow and churns in the way of an English major’s; sleeping comes second to sifting through the stories of the day. But I appreciate the cut and dry of numbers and am glad Caroline has found them. Mathematics, for me, is crazy Mrs. Carrazone jumping on tables singing of vectors, planes, and angles of inclination. It’s an 8 a.m. class in college I didn’t get too very often. It sometimes involves counting on my fingers. I joke with Dave that sooner not later, he’ll need to help the girls with their math homework.

For now I’m okay with shapes and sorting. Read the rest of this entry »


Lexi, my little love . . .

(I wrote this last February and just rediscovered it. This one’s for you, Lexi-Loo!)

Lexi was up last night—started to cry around 1 a.m. She and Caroline have been trading viruses like baseball cards, even though the doctors have said that what they have is bacterial and not contagious. Three rounds of antibiotics later, and I’m a little suspect. Caroline’s cough seems to have waned, but Lexi sounds like a goose. She is 18 months old; she should be sleeping through the night. That’s one of the MANY things you don’t read in parenting books—that newborns aren’t the only ones who deprive you of sleep. It’s those toddlers. Lexi cried so loudly and for so long, that Caroline woke up from the adjacent room: “Mommy, I want Lexi to stop cwyyying!” (I’m right there with you, Caroline.) “Mommy, I want Lexi to stop cwyyying!” (Say it again, sister.) “Mommy, I want Lexi to stop cwyyying!” Dave caved in the direction of Caroline’s room, and I caved towards Lexi’s room, and eventually, we all met for a little pow-wow in the hallway.

To backtrack a bit, neither kid ate any dinner. To backtrack a bit more, right before non-dinner, the girls and I walked home from our neighbors as Caroline sobbed hysterically, “The WIND is going to BLOW me AWAY!!!!” Hers was not a cry of joy, but rather a cry of terror ringing through the Windgate Townhomes. I was carrying Caroline (Note: She’s the older one, the almost 40 lb one), while Lexi was waddling after us down the path, facing the wind, spreading her arms wide and grinning as her eyes watered. Lexi was Sunday driving in sub-tolerable temperature, and her sister wanted the fast lane home. If fresh air is actually good for us, then, we were good, but it took us a year and a half to go 300 yards, and when we arrived home, only Lexi was okay. She seemed to be searching the warm room for something—an après-ski cocktail?—but she was content. Caroline and I, on the other hand, were ready to rumble.

That gets us to non- dinner, how I boiled pasta, reheated a sweet potato, sliced carrots, and nuked some peas, and, neither kid ate any dinner. Too many crackers and grapes at our neighbors. I should have accepted that, but, when Lexi starting chucking veggies on the floor as I swept, and when Caroline kept crying for the yogurt that we just did not have in the fridge, I crossed broom to heart and made a solemn vow (at high volume) that “When your father gets home, I’m done! Mommy’s not giving you a bath. Mommy’s not reading you books. Mommy’s taking a little vacation!” That went over well on all accounts. The girls were pleased with my pledge and my tone, and Dave was tickled pink when he heard the news upon entering the house. He mentioned something about an elderly man almost plowing into his car outside of the mall, but, really, that wasn’t important.

All through bath time, I sat downstairs and “relaxed” with a cup of tea. I tried to check emails but was having trouble focusing. The wind was still knocking around outside, so I was musing about where that might put our trashcan come morning—that may have been distracting me. Or, it may have been the fact that I could not completely unclench my fingers to type since both my daughters were yelling “MOMMA! MOMMA!” from the top of the stairs. I could hear the baby gate shaking and had a clear visual image of Lexi trying to prison break from the second floor. Dave was actually enjoying himself—he must have been a Catholic nun in a previous life because he just kept talking over the screaming, “Well, next time you’ll listen to your mom and eat your dinner!” I gave in early—post hair rinse but pre-towel snuggle. I couldn’t do it to Dave, and really, I do hate to miss the towel snuggle.

Caroline’s current book of choice is Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, a classic, but a long one, especially when Caroline prolongs and repeats the name of the antagonist, “Henry B. Swaaaaaaaaap.” She’s also taken to saying the word “boobie” at random and then breaking into hysterics. Simply reading a book before bedtime has become less simple. I speed read; I diverted attention; I laughed; I grew irritated. All the while, as Caroline squirmed in my lap to get comfortable, I tried to tighten abs and suck in surrounding gut so I’d feel more like a chair than a pillow.

Caroline is not yet potty trained, but the seat itself has not been idle since it’s where Lexi sits while she brushes her teeth. “Sitting” is relative, though—a momentary thing. Lexi’s up and away, toothbrush in hand, running head first full speed towards our room. Even Caroline refuses a book when Lexi rounds a corner like that, with eyes ablaze, with all eight teeth lighting her way, with joy unbridled evident in her every move. Caroline’s eyes will dart from page to sister and then linger. If an adult fails to corral the little one within seconds, the big one is gone. It was just so last night when Caroline’s hand reached back for support so quickly that my stomach was caught—soft and unawares—as she sunk into me and then rebounded onto the floor to join her sister. I thought, “I have got to get to the gym.” I thought, “We need to get these girls to bed sooner.” I thought, “Where did I last see the Ibuprofin?”

Finally, I sat again on the rocker as Caroline faded to sleep. Mrs. Potato Head’s arm, alone, bent rigid beside the hamper like the striped stockings of the Wicked Witch collapsed under Dorothy’s house. Hoping for the best for the rest of Mrs. Potato Head, I made my way to my room, ready for a good night’s sleep.

*****

But, finally isn’t all that final all the time—just like a simple bedtime book isn’t always simple. We did not sleep well that night. It took us a few more nights to realize—as Lexi’s cough and mood worsened, and her breathing quickened—that she was awake at night for a reason. She’s okay now, but Dave had to take her to the Emergency Room and there she stayed in the Pediatric Ward of the hospital for three nights. Bronchiolitis, the doctors said. NO WONDER she was having trouble sleeping. NO WONDER she was grouchy and not eating. Such a wonder, my little love, that she–days before her hospital stay — was breathing in the best she could the crispness of winter and the comfort of her sister’s company. She did without them both for a few days, and boy was she fired up about that. She was hooked up to oxygen and IV tubes; she was stuck solitary in an industrial sized crib; she was as unsmiling as I’d ever seen her, but in the mornings she woke saying “CC”—her name for her sister—and her smile arrived just as Caroline, cheeks flushed and hair tousled, toddled into room #119 for a visit.

Viruses—just a start of what these two will be sharing.