Friday, March 18, 2011

Confessions of a Spring-Break Mother

It’s the first warm weather of the year, and all the neighbor kids gravitate to our backyard. I’d like to say it’s the magnetic personalities of Oldest and Middle that draw them, but I’m afraid it’s a rusty old trampoline sans net and protective vinyl lining over the springs. Some of the neighbor children have permission to perch atop the trampoline but have been admonished by their parents against bouncing and jumping. Of course they conveniently forget, and I can witness any one of them doing exactly what they shouldn’t any time I catch a glimpse out the window. (My husband and I are dismantling this beast this weekend so it will soon not be a temptation.) For the time being, this reduces my afternoons to backyard policing of the trampoline and other matters. There was a group ice-cube fetish today and, while I changed Tiny’s diaper, the pack raided the kitchen, slamming ice cube trays against the table, dragging out my measuring cups (as “ice cube holders,” to take outside). They are supposed to remove their muddy shoes but have found a short-cut around shoe removal by simply wearing socks during their muddy backyard play. It takes me a while to catch on, and dirt clods and leaves accrete on the kitchen floor. I had to chase after those measuring cups too, which they promised to bring directly back and didn’t. And then one child burst in, indignant over another child’s threat of hurling a rock against her. “Did he throw a rock at you?” I ask. “No. But he was going to!” “I’m glad he didn’t,” I sigh and usher them back outside.

I hate cleaning, but I like a clean house. And I know children: they aren’t likely to halt at the first sign of their own muddy footprints and ask me for Murphy’s Oil Soap. They will drag my baking supplies to the backyard and forget about them in the sandbox. I muster patience. I muster tolerance and call out directions. I try to hide my grinchiness, remind myself about the importance of hospitality, and hospitality to children no less. As I washed the kitchen floor this afternoon, Oldest came in again for ice or kleenex. I asked, ashamed of my grinchiness, “Am I a friendly mom?” She shrugged and smiled, “Well, yeah. You’re friendly.” I guess she was telling the truth since she’s pretty good at that.

I decided I’m done with kitchen invasions for this afternoon. Now, when I hear the back door slam, which it does about every four minutes, I sing out, before knowing who it is, “Stop right there! What can I get for you?” like I am their own personal cruise director. But that’s okay, because cruise directing is much easier than cleaning detail. The last request was “just to stay inside for a while.” Everyone was playing hide and seek and she couldn’t find a place to hide. I realized that indulging the refugee was practically like beckoning a full on game of chase indoors. “That’s probably not very fair, is it?” I asked. “Do the other kids think it’s okay to hide inside?” She refugee sighed, acknowledging this truth, and returned outdoors.

Someday they’ll be so independent I’ll probably wish for a couple interruptions now and then. But right now, I am so ready for this mud to dry out and for Monday to come—because that’s when school’s in session.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

But There Are Always Reasons for Leaving

In spite of the cold, there were many reasons for leaving Raven Street this winter, mental health being chief among them. Because who can stay home with only the company of three small children all day every day? So I go out with children when it’s not too cold, and sometimes when it is. And I leave by myself sometimes even when I think I should stay and put said children to bed, or read to them, or play cards. Sanity is important.

But there are other reasons, good reasons for leaving.

I’m reviewing a book for Fore Word now that is an elegy of sorts to a woman’s therapist. In it, she paints a compassionate and wise man who saved her life, sort of, as well as the lives of many other patients. I’ve had therapists, counselors, social workers in my life who have saved it, sort of, along my way. And once in a while still, I go see A., a woman who talked me down from many ledges many years ago when there were parts of my life that were much more broken than they are now. She has become a confidante, a pseudo-mother/girlfriend who happens to have a degree in psychology and whose armchair assessments of people and dynamics in my life are dead-on, breathtakingly so. I leave Raven Street for A.

And then, there’s this coffee shop downtown Iowa City that I show up at Tuesday mornings, below zero temps or no, and meet these three guys I’ve been meeting with the past three years, more or less. Capanna is where we order drinks at 8 a.m. or 8:15 if we’re late, and then we sit down and we talk about everything happening in this church we are trying to grow well and honorably and creatively. I show up with agenda items written into an app on my phone; I show up with notebook and pens and scribble away and draw arrows and make asterisks, and look at the time on my phone a bit compulsively. I ask questions and make commentary and sometimes dry, ironic and/or sacreligious quips that make them laugh. And they do the same. But underneath it, we’re serious, very serious, about wanting our church to grow well. And of course, there are Sundays, were I leave for LIFEchurch, arriving before the first service and leaving after the second--unless I have meetings afterward—and offer what I have to give, which usually has an administrative/organizational ring to it, and a prayerful, worshipful ring as well, I hope.

Since Tiny arrived, it seems I've hardly spent a spare moment with my dad. But at the urging of his girlfriend, we have now instituted Family Dinners at Grandpa’s house. It’s a great deal for us: Dad and Diana insist on doing all the cooking, and they take requests from family members in turn. The only dinner that didn’t float my boat was Middle’s pick, the Mostly-White Dinner: chicken, rice, potatoes, (and bread, too? I can’t recall). Initially, I was not allowed to eat salad with the meal, but Middle relented at the last moment.

Haircuts. Yes.

Groceries. Middle cannot live without milk. I cannot live without vegetables and cheese. Oldest, will pale without garbanzo beans. And the Husband longs for seltzer water to make his own natural juice-based sodas.

As winter turns to spring, it seems there may be more, daily reasons, for leaving Raven Street, though not because of any faraway destination. After weeks-long bouts of illness in the family and after nine months of trying to home school and home-run all within Tiny’s tiny naps, I am waving the white flag of surrender. My home-school ship is going down. At least, I hope it is. Today, we left Raven Street, taking Middle and Oldest to a trial day at Lemme Elementary. Middle takes it all in stride. She’s been begging for this since preschool. She arrived in the kindergarten class this mornign and helped the teacher ready the room for the school day, unmounting the turned-over chairs that were perched atop the students’ work tables. Oldest has less confidence, but hopefulness that she will make friends and enjoy herself. She’s a smart cookie, that Oldest. She knows more than she lets on, and she sees things in the world that might pass most grown-ups by. Sometimes seeing like that is a blessing as well as a trouble. If you think of it, say a prayer for Oldest today as she explores her new surroundings. She’s looking for a gift.