Wednesday, April 16, 2014

We survived one.

Yesterday, my second-born turned one-year-old.  This means several things.  It means that we have an almost walker.  The week of his birthday, Kyle took four steps to me in music class.  He’s capable of more but taking it slow, dropping to his knees after his short jaunts.  Being one means that we have a little human who is busy discovering new ways express himself, my favorite of which involves him popping off my boob and signing and saying, “All done!” with a toothy grin.  Glad I could be of service to you, little dude.  Kyle being one means that we are closer to weaning, which is both exciting and terrifying to me all at once.  I’ve read the blogs, the articles, all the stories about weaning and the emotions that come with, and I have to say, I’m a little worried.  But, we’ll cross that milk-stained bridge…  One is having two kids who (mostly) sleep through the night.  It’s no more purees or spoon-feeding.  It’s the cacophony of laughter, tears, and yells.  One is something we can say we’ve done.  A checkpoint.  A milestone.  A step closer to civil family dinners and vacations where the kids carry their own shit.

Our baby has turned one, and so has our family, our marriage.  Angus and I have survived a year with two children.  For us, that sentence means we survived the most difficult year of our lives.  Angus is the best father in the entire world, and I’d say I’m a pretty good mother, but this has been by far the hardest responsibility either of us has faced.  Harder than building radar for fighter planes.  Harder than teaching drug addicts about coping skills.  Harder than owning a start-up.  Harder than convincing unruly middle schoolers to care about Atticus Finch.  I often wonder why my brain lands on the word “hard” when I think of this past year.  Why doesn’t it say transformational?  Amazing?  Rewarding?  Why has it been so hard? 

I don’t know if these women exist, but let me first say, I am NOT one of them.  Our pediatrician, who is more like my therapist, says they are an illusion.  A figment of my overly active imagination.  These women I’ve conjured up (correct me if I’m wrong and you’re one of them) are the ones who seem to glide through the first year of two kids with a tired grace.  The mess who is me postpartum probably just assumes that everyone else does it better when in fact everyone is just as crazy.  So assuming you all will understand, I will go there.  I was a disaster.  Within the first few weeks, I had a sinus infection, which afflicted Kyle as well.  I had mastitis, which kept me in bed, barely capable of my only duty: nourishing my child.  Forget taking care of the older one.  He was daddy’s responsibility.  My butt.  Oh my poor butt.  Let’s just say that my butt turned one too.  And it was just all so much for me…the needy toddler, the sleepless nights, the early mornings, the Ergo that was a part of me, an injured foot, the hormones.  Oh, the hormones.  So much that Angus barely worked for close to twelve weeks.  The spirals of self-doubt, of wondering why I couldn’t after six months put two kids down for a nap at the same time without melting down.  I was freaking tired, but where was my grace?

People have been saying that this year went fast.  That I look amazing, like this year hasn’t aged me at all.  (Thank you, thank you.)  Despite what it looks like, I have sprouted at least a dozen more grays and inherited a bundle of new stretch marks, but more importantly realized so much about myself.  I’ve come to understand that everyone does this parenting thing uniquely.  Everyone’s capacity is a bit different.  Their standards, values, priorities vary.  Everyone I know is doing their best to guide little humans who will eventually shape our world.  I have realized that I need help doing it.  I don’t do well alone.  I need sweet friends, near and far, schools, nannies, family, and my husband.  And that’s OK.  My perfectionist tendencies can go pound it.  I’ve created a network over this past year that is working for me, that is helping me be a great mom.   I have come to understand that it is all right to be a mess, and for me, it’s best to reach out during the spiral, not after it’s bottomed out.

Of course, like everyone tells you it does, the months slip by and it gets better.  I will not use the word easier.  But we are here.  We made it.  My second born is one-year-old.  We have added another unique individual to our world – to our family – which is so amazing.  Kyle is a bright light.  He is easy-going, tolerant, and social.  He lets anyone hold him and loves shadowing his brother around the house.  He’s independent and smart, making up his own games in the playroom.  Kyle eats like a grown man and will not balk at anything, even the darkest and most bitter greens.  He’s funny and snuggly, a great napper and a sweet nurser.  And he rocks a super cool hairdo. 

Someone recently asked Angus and me what we were doing to celebrate Kyle’s first birthday.  I answered, “We are going away for the weekend…ALONE.”  It’s the truth.  We did, and it was ridiculously amazing.  Angus still has the valet tag on his keys because he can’t bear to forget our 24-hour stretch of being just us.  But, rest assured, we celebrated Kyle as well.  And it was during the birthday song, like it is every time, when the tears came.   Something happens to me during that song.  I love seeing my family and friends sing to my babies, the ones who were once physically a part of me.  I feel like they are singing to me too.  Celebrating us, that we made it this far.  It happened in short jaunts, many times falling to our knees, but we made it, babe.  We are “All done!”  We survived one. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dear Sister, I'm Sorry.

Sibling love can blossom early as it did for my boys.  The way they looked at each other – no, saw each other – in that first meeting was magical.  “That’s your brother,” I remember telling Calvin. “Isn’t he cute?”

He nodded.  “I made this.  Here you go, Tyle,” he said leaning over to place a homemade card next to his brother’s tiny, swaddled body.

For Calvin and Kyle it was almost as if they’d known one another before, maybe in a different lifetime; they were connected instantly in that soul-tugging way.  Their first meeting is something I feel so honored to have been able to witness as it deeply affected me and solidified my bond to Kyle knowing he was accepted without question by my firstborn.

The memory I have of meeting my own sibling for the first time is probably my earliest one.  I knew I was going to the hospital to meet my baby sister, and I clutched my dad’s hand as we walked down the endless hallway with green tiled floors.  When I saw my mom in the bed cradling Katy, my heart threatened to leap out of my chest.  Holding a stuffed red dog we bought in the gift shop just moments before, I climbed onto the bed and placed the dog next to her.  When it was time for me to go, I protested.  I did not want to leave her yet, for I just met her.  My dad gave me a ride on his shoulders, and I cried all the way to the car.

Sibling love grows in fields wide and lush where the bottom-feeder weed, the vine that wraps through the field like a snake, is rivalry.  There is something innate, cloaked within the undeniable love that siblings share, about rivalry and the behaviors that come with it.  Rivalry can be helped or exacerbated depending on the parents’ involvement, but it exists in every sibling relationship I’ve ever known, including that of my own boys.

Just as I’m reentering the playroom after peeing in semi-peace, Calvin snatches a matchbox car from Kyle’s pudgy palm, and I hear the roar of one-year-old dissent.  “Give that back to him now, please,” I say.  “You can’t just take a car from Kyle when he is playing with it.”

Calvin gives the car back to his brother, pouting dramatically.

Then this happens which I’m not sure is much better than what happened before, but I’m in shock, so all I can do is stand open-mouthed and watch:

Calvin: “Kyle, can I have that car?”

Calvin answering for Kyle in a high-pitched voice: “Sure!”

Calvin takes the car from Kyle.

Kyle roars once more.

In observing my own boys, seeing the role Calvin plays as the older brother, I have started to understand at a new level some of the pain I caused my own sister.  Most of it we can laugh about now, but some of it cut deep – figuratively and literally.  I have a scar on my hand from my sister.  It involved church camp of all places – a flashlight beam in the eyes, a warning, another flashlight beam in the eyes, the final straw.  Her nails dug into the back of my hand between two veins causing a mark that looks a lot like a bite.  It is a well-deserved scar.

My fingers hover over my keyboard, for they don’t want to keep record of the worst.  I am uncomfortable writing about the things I once said and did to the one I now call my best friend.  She knows these regrets.  We’ve analyzed to death why we tormented each other, and luckily we’ve moved past it.  But just in case I will say it once more: Dear Sister, I’m sorry.  I love you.

It is love that outweighs the rivalry, the snapshot moments that exude so much love that you forget about any contention that may have existed seconds before.  The moments like this morning when I’m scrambling to make breakfast, pack Calvin’s lunch, and start our Crock Pot dinner for tonight, and the boys are on the floor crawling around, pushing stools, throwing old Play Doh – making a mess.   They crawl over to where I’m chopping fruit for a smoothie and both kneel, bounce, and yell just to hear how their voices blend together. 

There is one my mom documented in a journal about my sister and me in the bathtub.  We are splashing around, really getting it going, sending the laps of water up the sides of the tub like we are in a tumultuous ocean.  I fill up a cup with water and dump it over Katy’s head.  She laughs like a maniac, so I do it again and again.  “She likes it, Mommy!” I say as water cascades through Katy’s white blond hair and over her naked body.

The ups and downs of loving and hating our siblings would drive us to a breaking point in any other relationship.  But with our brothers and sisters, we feel a bond that keeps us coming back for more.  Maybe it is that we shared the same woman’s womb, and if we didn’t, maybe it’s a past life that draws us near or something else entirely.  It’s kind of mystical and hard to write about because writing involves words.  Relationships like these can’t always be explained.

Before the sun is up, we lay together in bed.  There’s Daddy, who’s a separate entity on the left side of the bed.  And then there’s us.  We are one, limbs intertwined, heads resting on each other, the youngest suckling at my breast, the oldest wrapped up in my opposite arm.  Sweet boy reaches across my chest to find the hand of the baby.  Their fingers lace together and twist around, feeling one another, the many stories they’ve created before this one.  Their hands do a dance together in the dark above me.  

We are brothers they seem to sing, we are brothers for life.