9 1/52

I’m feeling guilty about this, my Levi, and you don’t even know anything about it. I wrote your brother a blog post on his birthday. I meant to do one on yours, and the day got away from me. Then the week turned into one of those weeks, and here I am, a week late.

That’s one of the things about you, though. You forgive quickly. If I brought this up to you, you’d say, “That’s okay, Mom,” and give me a hug. I love that, though I try not to take advantage of it.

You told me the other day that you can’t wait to be ten. I’m not sure what’s magical about that number. Maybe the double digits. But I’m asking you, sweet boy, to enjoy nine while you’re here. You are learning to do all sorts of things, and you think you have way too many chores. I have bad news: the chores do not become easier at ten. Or at forty. The gross things are still gross, and there are more of them. (If you’ve never caught vomit in your hand to keep it off the carpet, are you really a mom?) Lots of things are really good when you’re a grownup, but the hard things just get harder.

Nine is fun. Your front teeth are still too big for your face, and it’s still adorable. You can do things on your own, but you are not too cool to shriek with glee when you see one of your best buddies at the store unexpectedly.

You will leave me someday, and probably all too soon. I won’t know where you are all the time, and how you’re doing, and whether anyone has been mean to you that day. I’ve joked that my favorite time of the day is bedtime, and I do treasure the quiet of the house when everyone else has gone to sleep. But I also love the knowing. I know you are safe, and I know you are warm, and I know you are okay, because I saw you there under your comforter with my own two eyes.

Don’t be in too much of a hurry for eighteen, or for ten. Please, enjoy nine. I plan to.

Cake for breakfast, on the actual morning. Because I am not always heartless.

Mourning

I was at two funerals yesterday.

It was a long day. The two services were different, and they were the same. Both men will be missed terribly.

I think sometimes it can be confusing to be on the periphery of grief. Mostly if you’re in the center, you know your role. Your role is to grieve, whatever that looks like to you. It is to eat some of the food that people put in front of you, if you can manage to. It is to show up at the funeral home and the church, and to decide which songs will be in the service. After all of that is over, it is learn to go on with a gaping hole in your heart. None of that is easy. But it’s pretty clear.

But what if you are just a friend of the bereaved? What if you are just a coworker? A cousin? There’s the food bit. There’s showing up to the calling hours. After that, it can get a little hazy. What can you do?

Because we are do-ers, most of us. We want to show up with a gift in our hands; we want evidence that we have done something. It is hard to decide what to do.

This is even harder, I think. Because I think what we need to do for our friends and our neighbors and our cousins that are grieving is to show up.

We want to avoid suffering, all of us. We take medicine to avoid physical pain. For emotional pain, we choose avoidance. It is hard to watch people suffer. It makes us suffer a little ourselves. It’s easier to stay away. To bring a meal and get out of the kitchen and away from the suffocating sadness as quickly as we can.

We need to pause instead. To ask, “How are you right now?” and then — this is the hardest part — to shut up and listen. Maybe for a minute. Maybe for a long time. Whatever they need.

More than anything, we need to stop running away from pain. We need to show up. To mourn with those who mourn.

First and Third

Here we go!

I know lots of moms are sad today, and I support their right to the sadness. But I’m good. Besides getting a nice regular routine back, this will be the first time in quite a while that we aren’t paying for regular childcare. I would make the standard jokes about it being like getting a raise, but we just started making payments on an orthodontic plan, so it’s more like just a relief.

First try at a picture.

Elias is a little nervous. I don’t know what Levi’s face is about.

Better.

Balancing their stuffed-to-the-gills backpacks on the way down the lane. I told them they’ll never be this heavy again. Until they start bringing rocks home again, I guess.

Thumbs out so the bus driver will see us.

She did.

And they’re off.

I think I recorded first-day conversations last year, and I decided to continue the tradition.

L: Mom, why do we have arms?
Me: So we can keep our hands with us all the time.
L: Oh.

E: Why do we have to wear nice clothes and stay clean on the first day?
Me: I just like your teachers to know it’s possible.

Seven

Seven years ago, in the evening, I was leaving a board meeting for a chorus I was singing with, and my cell phone rang. It was our caseworker. “Baby was born,” she said.

She’d called the house a couple of times, finally rousing Paul from sleep for a confused conversation. He’d managed to wake up enough to convey the information that I was at a meeting just a few miles from the hospital. She’d caught me in time, and I could go and see the baby, if I wanted to.

I did.

So off I went, entering through the ER department because it was after hours. A busy nurse pointed me vaguely in the direction of the OB wing, and I explained who I was to the nurse guarding the door there. There was a side room in the hall stuffed with unused-at-the-moment equipment and some chairs. I settled into one, the plastic creaking as I shifted during the wait.

And then there you were. The scrawniest little brown boy you’ve ever seen, all huge dark eyes and wild black hair and chicken legs. I could not have imagined at that moment that at five, you’d nearly be able to knock me over with an enthusiastic hug around the legs.

Scrawny or sturdy, I fussed over you from that moment. Were you eating? Were the nurses holding you enough? Most of all, would you truly be mine forever? Would all the right papers be signed, the Is dotted, the Ts crossed?

I fuss over you still, over your health and your heart and your sweet little soul. You are almost never sick, and I wonder whether we brush you aside too often because we’re worrying over your brother. You are stubborn as sin, and I wonder how to help you learn to channel it into persistence instead of petulance. You are the most curious combination of temper and tenderness.

You are seven. You love your family and your duckling and you hate not being able to do everything Levi does. I cannot freeze you here in this moment, when you are reaching and stretching and learning to do without me, but still need sleepy cuddles in the morning. And I wouldn’t if I could. Not really.

But I will write you down, and I will take your picture. And I will answer the question you ask me the same every time. Every day, every year, every decade, whenever you ask me, and whenever you don’t. Yes. You will always be my baby.

Happy birthday, Elias. Thank you for being part of Us.

 Virtual Riders

(Quick links for Paul and Carol, if you’re returning and want to access donation sites without reading.)

*****

Paul and I have been participating in a ride to raise money for cystic fibrosis research for several years now, and because of the generosity of our friends and family, our team of just two riders has been on the leaderboards every year. The ride is usually at the end of September, and I start paying attention to it sometime during the summer and getting ready.

Unfortunately, I was not paying close enough attention (I’m sure you are shocked) and I recently discovered that the wonderful folks at the CF Foundation moved the date of the ride to avoid conflicts with other big rides in the area around the same time. This ride is now at the end of August.

This would not be a problem except … we can’t go that day.

I’m sad about it. I always enjoy the ride, except that one year when it rained the. whole. time. and I had an epic mud stripe up my back, and even that was kind of fun in an awful, this’ll-be-funny-later way. I found a picture. You’re welcome.

mud

Elias gets to go now (Levi stays home to avoid cross contamination with other CF patients), and he likes it too.

mamaelias

lias

Paul mostly likes the chicken wings at the end, I think.

So we’ll be missing the experience this year. We’re signed up regardless, though, and any money we raise will still be going toward research dedicated to finding a cure for cystic fibrosis.

If you’d like to contribute to our ghost ride, links are below.

You can support Paul or you can support Carol. We usually have a little friendly competition, but we don’t throw elbows.

And if you think you’d like to join us on a future ride, let me know! I’ll start a list for next year, when I will (I hope) be paying better attention to the dates. We’d love to have you along!

Make Do and Mend

I so want to be that woman; the one who can just fix those pants in a jiffy and smile beatifically while doing it. But we must all deal with how things actually are.

How I Mend Clothing:

  1. Procrastinate for at least a month, promising every day I’ll do it tomorrow.
  2. Get out sewing machine and put it on the kitchen table. Dust the case.
  3. Make a snack for fortification.
  4. Plug it in.
  5. Do a little a laundry. There’s always a little that needs to be done and even laundry is better than mending.
  6. Get the sewing bag.
  7. Dig out a color of thread that matches the material, sort of.
  8. Put the spool of thread on that thing that sticks up on the right side of the machine.
  9. Find the box of bobbins and check for a bobbin already loaded with matching thread.
  10. Decide it doesn’t matter and pick a color that’s close.
  11. Place the bobbin in the bobbin hole. (Be quiet. You’re lucky I remember what the bobbin is called.)
  12. Consider calling my mother-in-law and asking her to do it.
  13. Remember she is currently in another state.
  14. Cry a little.
  15. Get a drink of water to rehydrate.
  16. Take a deep breath and pull the thread from the spool through the machine, following the arrows put on the machine for idiots like me. I’m sure these arrows were not necessary back in the day when people knew how to do things.
  17. Pull the thread from the bobbin around the little hook thingie (again with the arrows) and replace the plate over the bobbin hole.
  18. Place the garment on the machine, lining up the seam with the guiding marks.
  19. Say a little prayer.
  20. Press the pedal gingerly.
  21. Stop, try not to curse, and carefully cut the resulting knot away from the material of the garment.
  22. Ponder whether it could wait until my mother-in-law gets back.
  23. Decide I am not dumb and I can do hard things.
  24. Take the bobbin out of the bobbin hole, and carefully reexamine the idiot arrows.
  25. Realize it was going the wrong way.
  26. Spend some time feeling like an idiot.
  27. Get up and switch the laundry to the dryer.
  28. Sit down again.
  29. Rethread the needle.
  30. Place the garment back in the machine.
  31. Say another little prayer.
  32. Press the pedal gingerly.
  33. Check the seam.
  34. Marvel that there seems to be one.
  35. Finish that side of the pants and do the other one really quickly before I forget how.
  36. Put everything away and congratulate myself for not actually incurring an injury.
  37. Blissfully decide that it won’t be nearly so bad next time since I won’t wait so long to do it and I’ll remember how.
  38. Contemplate my own naïveté.
  39. Realize I’m late getting supper started and panic.

As I write this and castigate myself for not knowing how to do stuff, I am reminded of a story about my Aunt Wilma. She was also not much of a seamstress, so maybe it’s familial, but it was the Depression and there wasn’t a lot of money and she was trying to make a dress. She worked on a sleeve. And worked on it and worked on it and worked on it and the blasted thing just would not fit into the sleevehole. It wasn’t even the right shape, and she couldn’t figure out how anyone managed it, ever. Before deciding to throw the whole thing on the burn pile, she went over to the neighbor’s house and asked her to look at it.

“Oh, Wilma,” the neighbor said. “How on earth did you get this sleeve into the neck hole?”

And my Aunt Wilma, who I possibly take after just a little, said, “WELL IT WASN’T EASY!!”

 

Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

What a weekend we had.

It started early with a parade (SO LOUD).

We dropped the candy haul off in the car after the parade, and on the way back up the hill to the festival, the boys were holding hands. Without being prompted. My niece pointed it out to me and I snapped a few pictures. My sister wondered aloud if I’d recorded the last time it’ll happen.

Then Saturday night we had a party and there were at least a hundred kids in the pool.

Oh, fine. It was more like ten. It sounded like a hundred, though. They had quite a good time. There were lots of grownups there too, although they generally hollered a lot less.

I’d been watching the weather forecast all week because of the party, but also because we’d been offered Indians tickets on Sunday afternoon. Things were not looking good. For most of the week, the forecast was for rain the entire weekend. Saturday morning looked pretty bad, but things cleared up nicely. The Sunday forecast was still very wet, though.

Sunday morning early I checked and things had improved. Mostly sun and clouds with a probably thunderstorm at 2:00. Well, I thought, if we get a little wet, it’s not the end of the world. Around 9:30, I checked again, and the thunderstorm had shifted to 6:00. I don’t think it actually ever arrived, and the day couldn’t have been prettier.

The boys got duded up in their Indians gear, special not just because it was appropriate to the activity, but because it was all part of a previous gift from our friend John, who was also the benefactor providing the tickets for the game. (As it turned out, the guy on the shirt was pitching and the one on the hat hit a home run as we watched. Serendipity was strong for our outing.)

Not very far into the ballpark, we ran into Brayden, a neighbor and Levi’s classmate. With 30,000 people in the stadium, it wasn’t surprising that we knew a few, but it was a little surprising to actually encounter them in the crowd.

I had to encourage the boys to stop staring and keep walking, especially as we got farther into the park. These are children who still get thrills riding the one-floor escalator at the children’s hospital, remember. There was a lot of looking around to do.

I’d warned them about wandering off or not paying attention as we walked down the sidewalk on our way in. “You need to stick close,” I said. “You’re just not used to crowds like this.” They clearly felt maligned, but quieted down when we got closer to said crowds.

Still, as I craned my neck around someone to see if we’d found section 172, I called Levi by name, and a voice said, “Levi? And are you Elias?”

It was Mike. John had intended to join us, but couldn’t, so he sent someone down to greet us. With goodie bags.

These boys are absolutely not spoiled rotten, and I don’t know why you’d even ask that.

Here they are just before finding our seats …

… and here’s the view we had. Pretty great.

The boys and I missed most of the last two innings to stand in line to run the bases after the game. It was worth it. Paul stayed in the stands and watched the end of the game, and texted to see where we were and when we would appear on the field. We waited in a line stretching several floors up a concrete ramp, descended back down the ramp and then even deeper into the bowels of the stadium, and at one point we had turned around so many times I texted Paul: I could not find my way out of here to save my own life.

About thirty seconds after that, I saw daylight around a corner, and about a minute after that, the boys stepped out onto the field.

We jogged – with pauses to high-five a mascot or two – to third, where there was a bottleneck. That was fine, since it gave me the opportunity to get this shot.

The nice Blue Jays fans behind us took this for us when we’d rounded home and were standing by the dugouts.

Which is where we accidentally backed up and stepped on the grass because we weren’t paying attention and also we didn’t know it was a sin. (They were very nice about telling us to move.) Levi had some questions about this on the way home, probably because because no one in the family golfs and we have no respect for our yard, so the concept of grass with which you must be careful has never come up in his young life.

Paul’s knee was twanging hard, so I offered to get the car and come back. (I was driving anyway. I do cities, he does highways.) The boys wanted to go with me, but came to regret their choice. I walk too fast.

They did make it back to the car with me, where they fell into their seats with abject relief.

It really was quite a weekend.

And, I realized on the way home from the game, it was a really fun one. They are still young enough to be openly thrilled by cool new things, but they’re old enough that sitting in a stadium for the length of a baseball game is no longer an exercise in taking someone to the bathroom every twenty minutes and wondering what on earth you were thinking. They can do the walking, even if they whine. They can be made to carry their own snacks. They can ask questions about what’s happening on the field instead of what they’re going to eat next. (Mostly. Snacks are still very important.)

Going to the ballgame was not a chance for the children to have a new experience and the parents to manage juvenile enjoyment. We all had fun. What a revelation.

It was a very good weekend.