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adventures in adulthood, parenting

The Numbering System

Dear Boys,


Dad and I have a confession to make.  We’ve numbered your gifts this year.  Yes, as in we have predetermined what gift you will open first, second, third, etc.  We loved doing this so much, it will most likely happen every year after this one.  Sorry, not sorry.  Dad and I fully know that this is neurotic and some day you may be telling your therapist about our obsessive-compulsivity to order and control.  At the very least, you will probably be sitting around a table in a bar with your buddies, exchanging stories about how weird your parents were and how they completely traumatized you on your childhood Christmases.  You’re welcome for the hilarious conversation material.  Your friends will love your endearing, broken selves more as a result.  Like I said before, you are welcome.  


It will be a few years yet before you realize that most other parents just let their kids open up gifts all willy nilly, in any old order.  Ridiculous and unsavory, those other parents.


Just so you know, Dad and I did have a 20 minute conversation where we considered the pros and cons of the numbering system.  But Dad had already created a Christmas spreadsheet to track the financials and to make sure the presents equaled up between the two of you in money, size and number terms.  I had already gone to Costco and bought a lifetime supply of the same exact wrapping paper because there cannot be presents under our tree with different prints or varied colored wrappers.  Uniformity is close to holiness for me.  Dad agrees.  And of course, there is the issue of some presents needing to be opened before others because one gift will give away another.  See? We had already jumped into this OCD cavern.  There was no use in pretending our heads stuck out breathing normalized air.  We were in deep and the darkness welcomed us.


The only con in our discussion being the issue of traumatizing you, which really, we already knew was going to happen, numbering system or not.  So the predetermined present order won out.  And I have to tell you, it was so much fun.  Cue: maniacal laughing.  There were numerous things to consider.  We wanted to start out with an exciting present, mix in the boring stuff like clothes and underwear and toothbrushes.  We thought about your reaction to receiving each one and we couldn’t lose your attention with the opening of socks so we mixed in the fun items.  Of course, like the crescendo at the end of a song, we saved the best gift for last.  That one labeled with the final number.  We split apart certain gifts so we would have more to wrap and you would have more to open.  Christmas morning needs to last as long as possible.


Back in the day, Dad used to make me artful and sentimental mixed cds.  I know you don’t know what these are, but stay with me here; they were kind of like creating a playlist on Spotify, but instead you burned them onto this round plastic thing that you put into your car’s cd player.  Well, not burned in the sense you think of, well, nevermind, this example is horrible.  All of a sudden I’m realizing your mixed cd schema is nonexistent so I am going to have to ditch this description, sorry.  Just know that Dad has a lot of practice putting the exact right order to things.  You don’t put all the upbeat songs all clumped together.  You have to mix in the slower, ballad-y ones.  It’s good for your psyche, just trust me.  He was a master at these magical mixed cds and now we have used these skills to create the best possible order for your presents.  


So boys, please consider the bigger picture here.  I know that you are flipping out with excitement right now.  Counting down the days and setting your alarm for 4 a.m. on the Big Morning.  I know you are excited to rip into these carefully numbered packages, but hang on for a second.  Dad and my neuroticism is a prime exhibit of the saying, “It’s better to give, than to receive.”  Really, it is.  You may not understand this until you have kids though, or at least when you are in the position to give to someone whom you love more than the entire world.  Someone with no means to give anything back to you.  That’s where the real joy comes in.  


Dad and I scoured the Amazon reviews and looked into all corners of the internet, in order to make sure each gift was perfect for you.  We recorded each of these onto a spreadsheet, then wrapped them in monochromatic wrapping paper and labeled them lovingly with numbers.  All of this because we receive so much joy out of giving you these gems.  We want to stall in this moment of giving so we extend the process with spreadsheets and labels and numbers.  Think of your excitement level right now, then multiply it by a million, or a billion.  That number doesn’t even come close to our level; it’s like an ant crawling around on a hillside of apatasauruses.  I don’t know if you’ll fully understand our weirdness and that’s okay.  I just hope you’ll come to discover that the pure joy is found not when you fill up with things, but when you empty out for someone else.  And when you find that moment, sit there a while.  Enjoy it, even if it means processing it through spreadsheets.


Receiving gifts is great fun, but giving them, oh my gosh, so much better.  Especially when you add in order and control with a side of crazy.

Love, Mom

life, parenting

The Pendulum Swing

Sometimes there are magical, shiny moments where all four of us are sitting together in the same room, either doing the same thing or separate activities in a solidarity of simple togetherness.  In these moments, the house is put together and deep cleaned four times over.  The pets don’t shed a hair and never scoot their behinds on our carpet.  Homework  and workwork is done and we are either doing deeply educational activities or wrapping ourselves in fuzzy, warm quality time.  We are all prepped for the duties to come and the chores have been done with reckless enthusiasm.  All is well in our humble life and the flutters travel from my core to my limbs.  I think I want to live in this moment forever and I want the boys to use this exact moment as the defining cornerstone of their childhood.

Enter the conflicted gremlins.  I panic in my ideology struggle.

These times are real, but so are the messy, falling apart ones.  Times when the house is seeping black goo from its seams and we step over mysterious sticky spots for the 144th day in a row.  Times when we argue, lose patience with each other and spit nasty attitude venom.  There are moments when everyone insists upon slurping their cereal and half-assing their table wipe-downs and laundry detail.  In these times school is hard, extracurriculars pose problems and work is impossible.  Life just plain sucks.  All four of us squint at each other in an effort to wrack our brains to rediscover the good times.  Was it all just a myth?  Our memories betray us.  Instead we wallow in despair and cannot remember any sunshiny days.

In theory, I want the boys to know that this is real life too.  It’s a hard one because I want them to have a realistic view on everyday living, but I don’t want it to be traumatic either.  Maybe I do want them to remember the sticky, gooey times as being the cornerstone of their childhoods.  Then, when they fly out of the coop, they won’t believe they are failures when everything doesn’t go their way.  When failures come or hard times knock, they will remember this isn’t their first experience with the ugly.

When I am clear headed, with both the flutters and gremlins pushed away, I realize that both are equal parts truth.  Both tell the whole story and sing the whole song.  I hope they remember that life is both beautifully easy and disgustingly hard.  I want them to appreciate both and not feel guilty for either.  I want their picture to be whole and unedited.  I hope they remember that there are lessons to be learned in both the ups and the downs.  The life pendulum will not always be stuck in a lopsided position.  When life is hard, I hope my boys sit there a while and realize this is not the end and there may be enlightenment given.  This is only part of it.  When life becomes easy again, I hope they don’t feel guilty for enjoying that other section of living.  Learning may come in those times too, or they can be used as resting periods when it becomes easy to breath again.  The boys don’t have to be looking over their shoulder for tragedy either, instead using these times as a refill station.  Enjoying the moment, learning and taking huge gulps of fresh, bright air.

How the hell do you try to create a beautiful childhood for your children, but still keep them realistic and un-entitled, safe but un-sheltered?  I certainly do not want to be chasing after my boys, putting up fake plastic scaffolding and demanding that magical memories be made.  That’s just childhood trauma waiting to happen.  I also do not want to push them into a pessimistic life view.  The balance and realism is hard to find sometimes because when we are in one stage, good or hard, that’s all I can see.  Of course, I never overgeneralize anything.

I swear to tell my boys the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  I hope they see their childhood in the light of full honesty.  It’s hard though when you are in the moment of either extreme.  Maybe my boys will turn out to be more even keeled than their tipsy mom.  Even if they don’t, I guess I’ll be able to guide them through the swingy seas.


family, life, parenting

The Grace Umbrella

I hit the jackpot with Tim and the boys as my family.  Even when we have gone through our hard times it has been relatively easy.  When outside forces come knocking, or even the inside ones, threatening to make a mess on our living room floor, we have gotten through.  We all made it out alive.  I got lucky with them.  They are my people; my small little circle is tight.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our fair share of issues.  Marriage stuff, parenting ordeals, relationship crap.  Everybody has it,  just like us.  It’s different of course, because it involves different people, different situations, different everything.  But then again, it’s all the same.  We all have our “stuff” just the details and characters have other names.

Tim and the boys have always been a safe warm place for me.  They are my home.  My sanity.  Our zip code has changed, some have come and gone from our outer circle, some have stayed the same.  We’ve weathered a lot and grown up immeasurably, but it’s always been the four of us and for that I’m grateful.

When I say I got lucky with them, I guess it’s really not luck at all.  It’s been an enormous amount of hard work and many a time being crumpled up on the floor, teary and red faced.  Tim and my boys are my safe place, not because it’s been easy and the world has been kind to us, but because we all practice grace.  Emphasis on the practice part.  Mess-ups happen, hurtful words spewed, bad decisions made by all parties.  But here’s the funny thing about grace and forgiveness, even when you screw up those very concepts, you can still move on to higher ground.  Even un-grace-filled times can be covered over later.  Each day the sun rises and we begin anew, some days its each and every minute we have to begin again and move on, but the fact remains, restarts are a way of life when grace is your umbrella.

Last week, Tim and I were sitting in each of the boys’ classrooms.  Their teachers raved about what good boys we had.  I waved their comments away with, “Oh, yeah, we got lucky with our boys.”  I don’t know why I said that.  That is even my usual response to compliments like that.  “Pshaw, yeah, we got lucky.”

It’s not luck though and our good fortune didn’t just fall into our laps.  We put a huge amount of thought and effort into our family relationships, but that doesn’t fully explain it all.  Tim and I fully know we are going to make mistakes in how we parent the boys.  We don’t know it all, but that won’t stop us from trying to learn how to improve.  We will always be in search of creating closeness and trust and love with our boys.  As their needs grow and evolve, so will our love and support.

We also have a goal to make sure they don’t grow up to be total assholes.  Yes, they’ll probably end up sitting on their therapists’ couches talking about their abundance of issues, but I sure hope assholeism won’t be one of the diagnoses.

Our hard work and parenting effort does not produce “good” boys.  I don’t agree with that because the adverse is also not true.  If our kids were “bad” it would not be because we are “bad” parents.  They make mistakes as kids, so do we as parents, but the mistakes do not define us.  The successes are not our trademark either.  The new beginnings, the restarts, the grace and forgiveness, that is what I hope is our calling card.

When our boys step out into the world, I hope they can use this relational practice.  We don’t even have to create synthetic scenarios, all four of us make enough mistakes as it is.  By the time they become adults, I’m sure the list of authentic situations will be too large to count.

This is not to say I want them to stay in damaging or abusive relationships.  That is a whole different bag.  Critical thinking and emotional intelligence will come in handy if they ever encounter something like that.  I just want them to know that people are messy and that it is normal.  They themselves are allowed to be messy too, as long as they show grace to themselves and to others in the process.

I think that is what the teachers see in our boys.  When they say they are “good,” they aren’t talking about merits or the fact that they checked off boxes of rules followed.  I know this because I’m pretty sure “good” boys don’t end up in the principal’s office.  My boys are not strangers to getting in trouble at recess, but again, those mistakes don’t pigeon hole them.  They have their ugly moments and their beautiful, standing in glory moments.  Isn’t that what life is all about, embracing both kinds of moments?  And never being defined by one or the other.  That is what is real.

It takes a lot of guts to be okay with the face down in the mud times AND the head held high moments.  I hope my boys will be brave and real and not let either singularly represent them.  I hope they learn from both the highs and lows.  Mostly I hope grace and love will be their ultimate goals.  I want them to be mine too.